Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Monkey See, Monkey Do | Wising Up To Tradition

Many people know me as a drummer or an educator. Some know me as a mining consultant or all around bad ass at whatever needs to be done, as long as no one is in my way. But many people don't know that the majority of my graduate education and much of my undergrad is anthropology.

For those of you who don't know what anthropologists do, they study characteristics of humans in societies by analyzing aspects of culture. This means a lot of things, so the field is divided into areas like archaeology, linguistics, and physical anthropology, to name a few.

I studied cultural anthropology, focusing on music as culture and music in culture. In the words of John Blacking, music in culture is "humanly organized sound," and music as culture is "soundly organized humanity."

What does this have to do with anything?

Culture is developed by humans for the purpose of surviving more successfully. It is also taught to those who do not already have the knowledge, skills, or tools. Some people question what is taught. Some don't. Watch this video about the five monkeys experiment and think about something you do without knowing the reason or origin.

I thought of a few ... (1) Taking your hat off indoors; (2) "It's raining cats and dogs"; or how about (3) punch buggy (or slug bug)? We know why we do these things, but we don't always know why we do these things.

Hats off – probably dates back to removing battle helmets as a sign of peace and trust. Many hats got dirty and were worn to keep hair clean when our economies were more agrarian. Imagine walking into someone's house with a hat that smelt like horse manure. You'd take it off if you cared about the comfort of those in the house. At Holliston High School, where I teach, hats can be worn indoors. Everyone's hat is clean, and it's an outdated tradition without much relevance to its original functional benefits. This is especially the case in a school of teenagers whose brains will be primed for anything but learning if you keep shoving antiquated traditions at them. No offense grandpa.

"It's raining cats and dogs." – This one is simple. Cats and dogs would rest on grass thatched roofs. When it rained a lot, they slid off. There's so many of those sayings and idioms that people don't understand but say anyway. The saying could also be referring to dead animals washing down the street in a heavy rain storm.

Punch Buggy – No one knows. It started in the '60s, probably for no better reason than why we do it today.

Just thought of a couple more ... One or two spaces after a period that ends a sentence? "Milk – it does a body good." Sure, if your body is a baby cow or would like to look like one. ;)

These examples are rather benign compared to the way we decide to support a politician or remain loyal to religious traditions mostly on faith (not that I have a problem with the latter). Be honest. Not many people check facts – do they?

I can't tell anyone to support one candidate over another or why one god is more true than another. But I will say that there is always an origin, and that it is often not nearly as grand as the mysterious tradition that so many follow for no known reason of substance.

We are social. It's how we learn, and it's how we play the game of survival. Don't feel bad if you're not much better than the replacement monkeys. And if you've read through this whole post and still don't feel like a monkey, do you trust everything your doctor tells you?