Star Ford

Essays on lots of things since 1989.

Culture clustering

People have often splained me that I’m nothing like people on the “other end of the autism spectrum” – I’m practically normal (oh yay). Yet I feel closer to those “other” nonverbal can’t-hold-a-job types a lot more than I feel normal. It feels like a sharp divide, as if a single gene drives the trait and people either have it or they don’t. Rationally I know that it isn’t a single gene, and that nearly all mental traits are allocated to us in a normal distribution, with one mode (one hump in a distribution graph). How could we be a smooth continuum when it feels so bi-modal?

I offer the following as a possible explanation.

In a storm it is safer to be out on clear sea, or up on land, than to be near the beach between land and sea; as conditions worsen, people flee from the beach. Likewise when a slow train rolls through a village being evacuated, with its giant gravity, people run towards it hoping to grab hold, but it is safer to be either fully in the train or far away from it; the most dangerous place is the in-between where you might get hit by it or be dragged as you partly hold on and partly fall off. Viewed from far above, as the train heads out of the village, you would see a line of people spreading out, the faster ones gaining on the train and the slower ones losing ground. Then there would come a sharp point in time where a fissure develops; those who are ever going to reach the train split off from those who are never going to reach the train, and they coalesce into two distinct groups – the evers and the nevers.

Likewise in culture there tends to be a danger zone between being with it and being out of it, and the same phenomenon holds: the beach, the edge, is deserted; there is a gap and we migrate to camps. Those on the culture train or who are gaining on it are the evers and the others are the nevers. There may be a certain natural distance from the train (the genes, the normal distribution), but then there is the choice – do I run for it or not? People close to it are overcome by its gravity and run for it as if they have no choice. People far away may notice the train and don’t presume to have the choice; or they are so far that they don’t notice the train. Those in the intermediate zone feel the gravity but it is not consuming; we have to choose to run for it or run away, and thus there is a vacant area between the two groups of people.