Here is another part of the asifological research notes of my extraterestrial friend Tsish (see Part 1 here). As you mght know, Tsish is an extraterestrial scientist studying terrestrial culture. He recently sent me his research notes and I have decided to publish some parts of them since it is interesting to get an outsider’s view of our culture.
“Ownership” is an as-if-construction by which certain people (the “owners”) get some exclusive rights on using some resource. This might be a subsection of the surface of the planet or some object. Other people will pretend that they don’t have the right to use the resource, the “owner” pretends as if he has that right alone.
Interestingly, the dominating cultures of the T-planet do not include mechanisms to limit ownership. An owner might also completely destroy the owned resource, thus infringing the rights of future generations. As a result, the resources of the planet, especially its ecosystems and its genetic diversity, are increasingly destroyed (another reason more funds should be granted to do some quick research before this very special culture has finished its self-destruction).
An interesting complex of as-if-constructions I have discovered is “status”. This is an artificial measure assigned to people in varying degrees. Some people have more or “higher” status than others. In the dominating growth-economy-culture, status seems to be correlated to “ownership” of certain goods.
A typical status-object is the car somebody owns.
The topic of cars requires some explanation. As I have noted elsewhere, the terrestrials are normally arranging their settlements in such a way that different places they have to visit regularly are normally not near to each other. Places where they stay to rest, places where they work or educate themselves and places for other kinds of activities, like getting goods needed for everyday life, can normally not be reached by walking (terrestrials have a two-leg-anatomy without a tail) since the distance between these places is to large. This surprising principle of organizing settlements seems to have developed after the introduction of the motorized vehicles called “cars”. In many places, people own such a motorized to do the many small trips that they need to do all the time as a result of this inexpedient arrangement of their settlements. The terrestrials, as a result, spend a large fraction of their time moving inside these vehicles. People tend not to realize the inefficiency of this settlement system.
There seem to be as-if-constructions involved here that need more research. Pople pretend as if this strange system is normal and even good. Many people want their homes far away from the centers of the settlements although the places they need to attend most often tend to be in the centers (there seems to be a status-factor in certain places but this has to be researched).
The vehicles now have developed into bearers of “status”. People pretend as if it is better to have a vehicle of the kind that is assigned high-status. This is normally not a vehicle maximizing economy. Instead, and quite surprising for the observer not acquainted with the terrestrial way of thinking, larger, heavier, more uneconomical vehicles have the higher status attached to them. In some cases, even louder vehicles gain a higher status than silent ones. Since they use more resources, these vehicles are more expensive.
My current working hypothesis is that this type of “status” has the purpose of showing how much of resources somebody has. There is a competition between people to show their ability in using up a lot of resources. Since the growth economy leads to a situation where slow-growing economies are outcompeted and overgrown by fast-growing ones, the emergence of such an as-if-construction would lead to a higher turnover in the economy that contains it and therefore to a faster growth. As a result of this feedback process, it would be amplified along with the expanding economy. However, there seems to be an ideological component here since it is not easy to understand otherwise how such an irrational way of thinking could stabilize itself. Clearly, more detailed case studies are needed here.
(Idea to be worked out: there seems to be a status element in “fashion” as well, complicating the topic of clothes even further.)
The phenomenon of status requires more research. It is quite complex. Generally, the hypothesis “more resources, more status” seems to fit, but there is some evidence for a somewhat parasitical mechanism called “brand” by which companies can increase the status of an object without adding resources. The objects can then be sold for a higher amount of money. This is done by attaching some semiotic tag (e.g. a label) to the object and then using advertising to convince people that they have to buy objects with this tag rather than buying objects without it. The aim of that advertising obviously is to attach “status” to the “brand”.
It is even possible to sell the tag without any attached product. For example, I have evidence that people spend money for acoustic tags produced by communicators they are carrying around. More research is needed to clarify the phenomenon of brands.
While normally, high status is obviously coupled to the use of high amounts of resources, the brand-phenomenon leads to its coupling to money but decoupling from resources (or money itself turns into a resource giving status – I need to put more research into the phenomenon of money in terrestrial culture. My initial hypothesis might be wrong and actually status is about money).
It seems that the arrangement of settlements where different places people have to attend are far apart has the purpose of creating another opportunity for the use of resources (“economic growth”). It creates the need for vehicles and ways for these vehicles, energy for the transport processes etc. More generally, a growth-based economy will not increase the efficiency of the use of resources, but will create opportunities for using more of them more quickly.
Terrestrial culture is in some way unbalanced: on one hand asifomatics is highly developed. The as-if-constructions created in terrestrial asifomatics are among the most complex ones found in the galaxy. In contrast, asifology is still in its infancy. As a result, terrestrial culture is rich with complex as-if-constructions in which terrestrials are tending to get caught since they don’t understand them. So, terrestrial culture can be characterized by a combination of highly developed asifomatics and totally underdeveloped asifology.
I recently got some insights into why asifology might be so underdeveloped and not even recognized as a scientific discipline among terrestrials:
- As mentioned before, the economy of the terrestrials is growth based. Therefore, they had to develop mechanisms to increase turnover. In order to increase the amount of products that people buy, they developed something called “advertising”. Advertising is the systematic creation of deficiency-type as-if-structures. People are made to believe that they are lacking something. Companies can then sell them products to close the perceived gap. If asifology was highly developed, people could apply it and see that the perceived needs are only as-if-constructions. A highly developed asifology would therefore undermine the advertising-mechanism. It would cause people to buy only the things they actually need. Mechanisms like the fashion-mechanism described before would not work. Companies therefore have an interest in keeping asifology and the level of general education on it very low.
- There are a number of ideological as-if-constructions (mostly of the religious type). The majority of terrestrials belong to one or the other of these as-if-systems. As is generally known, ideologies are as-if-constructions pretending not to be as-if-constructions. They are generally infectious, self-stabilizing structures. A highly developed asifology would make it easy for people to realize the ideological nature of these structures. Therefore, the members of these ideologies are suppressing the development of more advanced asifology (an interesting hypothesis requiring more research is if the underdevelopment of asifology caused by the presence of ideological systems enabled the unlimited-growth-as-if-structure to arise).
(The picture is from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2011-03-04_Autosalon_Genf_1205.JPG.)