Good Morning John! It is 2015 meaning... nothing.
The orbit of the Earth is an ellipse; there's no point on it that is the beginning of that
ellipse. The Earth's day has nothing to do with the Earth's year. We catch a glimpse
of this when we wake up in the morning and it's already New Year's in Australia. We're
all like, "Well, I mean, what, but, come on!" The perils of living in a global culture,
John. We don't get to ignore all of the seemingly fundamental things that are actually totally
arbitrary and just made up.
So that's what I'm going to talk about today here on the second day of 2015: just a short
list of things that seem intractable but are totally made up.
Gendered Names: Allison, Hazel, Ashley, Carol. They all seem like girl names to us but 100
years ago they were more commonly used for boys.
Alphabetical Order: There's nothing special about 'A' that makes it go first. The alphabet
is seemingly just completely randomly ordered. All the vowels are mixed in; most commonly
used letters are at the beginning and the end. There are some things that have order,
like 'U', 'V', and 'W' are together because they were all once one letter. The interesting
thing about this completely arbitrary order of letters, though, is that we've been using
it roughly the same for over 3,000 years. That's longer than any of the words in our
language have existed. If you're wondering why they're in that order, no one knows.
Base 10: When we count we do 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and then we get to 10 and we
take the 1 again and put a zero after it. There's no reason why that has to happen at
10. It could happen at 12. It could happen at 18. It could happen at 3. It could happen
at 5. Binary is when it happens just after the 0 and the 1. Base 10 isn't special at
all. It's actually probably more annoying than some other systems we could use. Base
12 might be better. We, in fact, use base 12 a lot when we talk about dozens. Probably
we use base 10 just because we have 10 fingers. That's the reason.
Bugs Are Gross: The culinary preferences of different cultures are wildly diverse. Now
we think that the idea of consuming grub is just, no, just bleaaagh. But 80% of studied
cultures eat insects so we are, in fact, the weird ones.
Pets are Cute: Lots of cultures think that we are crazy for letting animals live inside
of our house, and when my dog comes in from the yard after stepping in her own poop, I
kind of agree with them.
Dirty Dancing: If the pole is horizontal, that's gymnastics. If the pole is vertical,
Guys Can't Wear Skirts: There's absolutely no reason why men's legs have to be confined
to separate cloth cylinders. Of course, I have seen this norm broken, but not without
feeling that little bit of, like, "Wow, this is weird" feeling that you get when you see
a norm being broken.
Money: This is a piece of paper. It's a very fancy piece of paper but it's just a piece
of paper. There's nothing that makes this worth $20 except that we just sort of agree.
This becomes weird to me when I see these, $2 bills, which are worth $2, like, they're
a legitimate currency, but they look fake to me. They look like they... no. Weirdly
enough, I like $2 bills. I hate $1 bills, but twos... It's just 'cause they're weird.
Even weirder, nowadays there's actually a number on a hard drive somewhere, then that's
the thing that decides whether or not I can buy food or a house or a Tesla or a yacht.
This video is just a few silly examples, but by forming our language, culture very literally
controls our thoughts. We can't think with words that we don't have. It's hard to separate
yourself enough from culture to be able to examine it. If you separate yourself too much
it can be really uncomfortable. I have been there! It is!
We need culture, we need norms, we need there to be an order to the alphabet and for there
to be a first day of the year. But there are some bits that, while being convenient, are
not innocuous, and it is our job to pick those out and say "You! This don't belong here anymore."
That's something that we can do but only if we take the time to step back and examine
our culture, which is best done by examining other people's cultures. Which is why, if
you can, you should study broadly and deeply and watch Crash Course World History. And
all of Crash Course. And also SciShow. And yeah. Okay.
John, thank you for your amazing video on racism this week. If people haven't scene
it, you can go check it out, youtube.com/vlogbrothers. That's where we're at.
Okay, John, I'll see you on Tuesday.