Anthropology or “What you Readin’ For?”

In this week’s Economist I read a piece on the discovery of a cluster of 9th century, super organised (and now defunct) cities embedded deep in a part of the Amazon rainforest that was previously thought of as uninhabited by humans (read Amazon Garden City). I was especially intrigued by the fact that these “cities” had plazas: open places for gatherings, political or as a marketplace, a cemetery, a place for commmunity. Like the greek agora and other european models.

So the idea of assembly, the hard-wired human need to congregate and exchange ideas and wares, is so basic that the way these instinctive characteristics materialise themselves in modern times is indeed revealing.

I am constantly trying to understand human nature, to explain our existence in a meaningful, spiritual way (yet non-religious): to prove that there are greater forces at play, instinctual tendencies that inform us.

I immediately coupled this commuanal tendencay with another study: one that found our personalities can be described by the kind of music we listen to. Findings are as follows:

PEOPLE INTO MUSIC

Blues: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing, gentle and at ease.
Jazz: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing and at ease.
Classical: High self-esteem, creative, introvert and at ease.
Rap: High self-esteem, outgoing.
Opera: High self-esteem, creative, gentle.
Country & Western: Hardworking, outgoing.
Reggae: High self-esteem, creative, not hardworking, outgoing, gentle and at
ease.
Dance: Creative, outgoing, not gentle.
Indie: Low self-esteem, creative, not hard working, not gentle.
Bollywood: Creative, outgoing.
Rock/Heavy Metal: Low self-esteem, creative, not hard-working, not outgoing,
gentle, at ease.
Chart pop: High self-esteem, not creative, hardworking, outgoing, gentle,
not at ease.
Soul: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing, gentle, at ease.

I mean its kind of silly to suppose for a moment that music and personality are not connected: music and art are such a bottom-line part of culture, and the bits of culture we choose to like or identify with define who we are. So in some ways I find the “study” a little on the redundant side, but with a certain beat-you-over-the-head validity.

Can we take these two ingrained traits together, and further? If gathering together is a primal instinct, then how do the musical tastes defined as “introverted” differ from those that are “outgoing”? Culturally, identifying with music and congregating at a concert to share in an experience attests to this idea: that even a genre that boasts fans with low self-esteem, introversion and laziness still compells its audience towards community?

It explains a lot – physically and digitally – of the hipster indie rock culture: of the Stilleposts, Pitchforks, Brooklyn Vegans, SXSWs and CMJs, Pop Montreals and Pop Explosions, and the kinds of euphoric/frustrating experiences they beget.

Even xenophobic misanthropes can’t deny their need to be among other people, belonging to some kind of self-affirming culture.