Monday, May 23, 2011

Chapter 6 – Harlan, Kentucky

Harlan, Kentucky was a small town in the Appalachian Mountains where two, warring families fought each other to the death during the early 19th century. Harlan wasn’t the only town in the Appalachian Mountains that grew restless, but several others as well were erupting in bloodshed. How could the living in mountains be much more aggressive than those living anywhere else? Easy. Take a farming town in the Midwest for instance. They grow crops, rely on each other, sell their surplus for capital, and exist on established property. However, in the untamable land of the Appalachians, herders must migrate their livestock and protect their animals at all times. This insecurity causes hostility between neighbors and competition arises. Similar characteristics of these unfriendly villages were compared to Ulster in Ireland and other various towns in Italy and Spain, all portraying a proud and assertive heritage. It is theorized that the geography of one’s ancestral origination plays a key role in future family values.
                Two psychologists at the University of Michigan constructed an experiment in the early 1990’s. They wanted to find if swearing at someone would change their behavior during a test.  The control group was a group of boys who completed a questionnaire while a professor observed them. The experiment was a similar group, only this time, while trying to get to their seats, the confederate/administrator called a random boy an “asshole”. To check the results of the insult, saliva samples were taken and even a handshake at the end of the quiz was part of the experiment.  The results were similar to that of herders and farmers. Northerners, cultured farmers, were amused at the insult and they remained unchanged. The southerners, however, those who had a cultural background of cowboys and herders took a personal offence to this.
                From this other example, Gladwell makes another firm point that outliers arise from those with proud heritages who are striving for a fight, always want the best, and won’t be insulted. In the next chapter, we’ll see how these two cultures become distinct.

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