Tuesday, September 29, 2009

∆ difference ∆ change

Their theory is simple. Where diseases are common, individuals are mean to strangers. Strangers may carry new diseases and so one would do best to avoid them. When people avoid strangers—those outside the tribe—communication among tribes breaks down. That breakdown allows peoples, through time, to become more different.

Differences accumulate until in places with more diseases, for example Nigeria or Brazil, there are more cultures and languages. Sweden, for example, has few diseases and only 15 languages; Ghana, which is a similar size, has many diseases and 89 languages. Cultural diversity is, in this view, a consequence of disease. [...]

Fincher and colleagues tested their theories by simply looking at whether there were consistent patterns in how cultural practices vary among regions of the world, and whether the prevalence of disease varies in a similar way. Are the places with the most diseases also the most xenophobic? Yes, they found.

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