Thursday, October 12, 2006

World Peace: Or Why Members of a Collective Tend to Do the Same Things, Part I

People in a given collective and most especially those who are members of the same field have an amazing tendency to behave the same way. This can be accounted for by the fact that people within these collectives and most especially those within the same field generally have a shared sense of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate practice, what constitutes good and bad or right and wrong strategy in pursuit of stakes that are generally accepted to be worth striving for. Those who behave differently most probably do not have a sense of appropriate or inappropriate practice, do not have a sense of what constitutes right ot wrong strategy or do not believe that the stakes involved are worth fighting for. Given their behavior, they will, of course, not be expected to get very far within that field.


International beauty pageants are a prime example of this homology of practice. The contestants have very similar deportments. They stand the same way, they walk the same way, they have broad smiles (unlike models in photo shoots who sometimes are not encouraged to smile), their tone of voice is the same. Their responses to questions are similar (partly because the questions tend to be similar) and the running joke is that if a contestant does not know what to say, the correct default answer (with a corresponding exclamatory tone of voice) is “World Peace!” Of course now that these beauty contests are being accused of being sexist and that they constitute abuse of women's bodies, most contestants now talk about the value and strength of women while wearing their two-piece swim suits in front of an audience of millions of people and in a fully airconditioned hall.


This homology of practice of beauty contestants is a product of a shared sense of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate practices and good and bad strategy in pursuit of the title. This sense is drilled into them by watching the practices of previous contestants (especially winning contestants) and it is also drilled into them by professional beauty contestant coaches who provide rigorous training for these contestants in the proper deportment and the proper practices. The goal of the training is for the contestant to engage in the correct practices and to carry herself in the right way as if it were second nature to her. The contestant must have such a keen sense of the right practice, especially in answering questions (because for everything else, there is really very little room for creativity), to the point that she can come up with an answer that is appropriate and yet original. Maybe this is why beauty contests always end with a question and answer portion. The winning candidate is not necessarily the most beautiful contestant but the contestant for whom the proper practices come naturally and who has such a keen sense of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate practice that she can come up with something intelligent within the bounds of acceptable practice.

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