From the Center for Peripheral Studies (OAC Branch). After Lance, the sky's the limit!

The papers discussed in our online seminars are often excellent, but this one is apocalyptic, as well as being an exercise in fine writing. Lee Drummond was once a Chicago anthropology PhD specialising in the Caribbean and later in San Diego's tourist attractions. He taught at McGill University for over a decade before retiring to the wilderness (Palm Springs!). July and August there are his winter when he withdraws into his airconditioned study to avoid the heat. The OAC is a principal beneficiary of this aestivation, as witnessed by the paper attached here. All I can say is you gotta read it, whether or not you participate in the seminar.

Lee's point of departure is Lance Armstrong's confession on the Oprah Winfrey show. The man who perhaps deserves to be known as the greatest American athlete ever admitted taking performance enhancing drugs, thereby triggering an intense public outcry. Lee deconstructs what he takes to be a key feature of the American ideology, the opposition of nature to culture, showing that biology and technology have been inextricably woven together throughout human evolution and even before. If it is impossible to identify the unequal influence of technology in sporting performance, what about other areas of cultural achievement, like literature for example? Should Hemingway's Nobel prize be taken away or Coleridge's poetry eliminated from the canon because they wrote under the influence of mind-altering substances?

Not content with this reductio ad absurdum, Lee then launches into a savage critique of American civilization and of the cultural anthropology it has spawned. Drawing on Marx's happy phrasing in the 18th Brumaire, he argues that the American tragedy (New World genocide) now reappears as farce (reality TV shows), one of which actually replayed the former in a grotesque reenactment of the competitive ideal. Anthropology tends to celebrate cultural achievement around the world, whereas in Lee's view, the current state of American society suggests that culture may be a disease killing off its carriers just as their ancestors once killed off the original inhabitants of what passes for the land of the American dream.

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Generally speaking, the productivity of labour is highest when the available land is abundant. As soon as production is permanently concentrated in a limited area, more labour is required to achieve a comparable result

Following from that, and Jessie's comment (and Mark's in a sense) that anthropologists are amongst the people blind to these issues I think it is fair to say that anthropologists (social anthropologists, that is) have been amongst the very few who have tackled these topics. Leaving aside Bateson, the list of anthropologists who have taken on the relationship between ecology-productivity-symbolism-and-human-relationships includes Audrey Richards, Raymond Firth, Evans-Pritchard, Meyer Fortes, Edmund Leach - all the way up to folk like Tim Ingold.

Leach's book, Political Systems of Highland Burma is arguably the most carefully thought out of all these views of how ecology is interlinked through symbolic thinking and thence to systems of human production-reproduction. For the Kachin highlanders, who practice slash-and-burn agriculture, the extreme hierarchy of the valley dwellers is partly impossible to achieve because of ecological conditions in the mountains (no way of instituting labour intensive wet rice cultivation), but is also correlated with marriage systems that make build up of labour investment extremely difficult to sustain; and so on in a feedback pattern. While there is an ideology that pushes for labour intensification and hierarchic relationships between individuals and groups, there is also a counter-ideology that protagonises more egalitarian production-reproduction relationships and more modest exchange practices. At the least, it is a thoughtful allegory of the relationship between people, the symbols they use and the ecologies they work with.

Mark,

You use the term "environment" as a charter to pick your own favourite topics as being decisive. I have always taken seriously the social history within which thinkers such as these did their work. In my recent post, I drew attention to the main class division in England's 17th century civil war. It may give you a feeling of superiority to draw up a list such as the above, but the generalisations you seek are achieved at the cost of riding roughshod over detail.

London had a fifth of England's population in the 17th century, not to mention the Royal Society. Agriculture anyone?

Kant thought the two transformative events of his life were the French revolution and reading Rousseau's Emile. His late work was shaped by the Napoleonic wars and the international movement to abolish slavery.

Rousseau converted to Catholicsim when he ran away from home at 15, but thought better of it later.

Does "environment" replace "history"? It is not that we ignore your questions, but that you leap to generalisations that often seem to be misleading or factually wrong. Who can master the encyclopaedic knowledge needed to make these sweeping comparisons stick?

I enjoy reading what you have to say and often learn from you. But I find it tedious for you to keep banging a drum for a larger perspective that exceeds your grasp.

John:

Target (military term)!  Objective (military term)!  Could advertising (particularly in Japan) be a MILITARY exercise?

What is the environment?  Concurred nation (WW II).  Dominated by social engineers, lead by anthropologists like Ruth Benedict (who never even went to Japan) etc.  Cold War bastion in the attempt to build a one-world "consensus" (i.e. third-leg of the Trilateral Commission).

What does that environment (or whichever one you'd like to substitute) tell us about Japanese behaviors and attitudes?

Is this environment widely understood and discussed?  How has it changed in the past 50 years and does this matter?

Keith:

"Does 'environment' replace history?"  Yes, for the purpose of this conversation, in which "history" is very often written to *obscure* the environment and, in particular, uniformly ignores the importance of communications technologies.

Do the details matter -- of course!  Does the "structure" matter -- of course!

Ideas without biography is fraud.  Biography without socio-economic-cultural-technological environment is worse.

Do I claim to have mastered the "encyclopedia" required to really sort all this out -- of course not!  Do I make pointed statements about the enduring importance of the ideas of various Enlightenment figures -- of course not!

Do I claim that those who haven't understood that encyclopedia is for them to make meaningful comparisons between people who lived in very different environments and those today should be much more cautious -- yes, I do.

(Does the environment in which people live have a lot to do with the issues Jessie is raising about "conceptual" thinkers?  Yes, it does.)

Does that make me TEDIOUS?  Of course it does . . . !! <g>

Mark Stahlman said:


Do the details matter -- of course!  Does the "structure" matter -- of course!


For me STRUCTURE (and SYSTEM) is the problem. For all his genius and the delightful memoir he left us of his egocentricity, Levi-Strauss reinvented that great 19th century German intellectual paradigm of domination through omniscience. Who invents the oversimplified structures? Why the master builder of course. The notion that human detail can be meaningfully reduced to a few rules has as its flipside, yes, the GENIUS. Forgive me if this takes us back to a persistent thread of this conversation. What is the genius's method? To repel all boarders and to tell his critics that they are small-minded.

Althusser killed his wife, Poulantzas threw himself off a bridge, Barthes was run over. I know it is cruel, but for me their structuralism sinned against a dialectic that insists on running ideas and life together. Give me Shakespeare or Dostoevsky any day (and I don't mean their politics).

Keith:

Agreed.  The "architect" is the problem!  Human detail (i.e. behavior and experience) has to be first perceived and not conceived.

Conceptualizing is *dialectics* and it cannot provide its own premises, so it tries to "oppress" reality instead of understanding it -- just as Jessie has been describing.

But that just means that the "wrong" approach is being taken -- bringing us back to the Trivium etc.  Perception trumps conception everyday.

As I recall, you earlier said you were deeply interested "rituals," right?  Conceptually or perceptually?  As "description" or "participation"?  As categories/rules or as an experience?

"Structuralism" is a *dialectical* (i.e. logical and not analogical) activity,  The problem isn't that the world is impossible to understand because it has too many "details" but that trying to grasp the overall by making lists and "encyclopedias" is approaching the world in a self-defeating way.

A while back I suggested that Jessie could be defeating herself by using the term "system."  NATURE is *not* a system.  But that doesn't mean nature cannot be understood!

We have an alternative.  Call it intuition or insight or genius or whatever, but if we can perceive it, then we can appreciate it!

All,

 

Blind Men, Elephants, Environments . . . and Our Boy, Lance 

 

Mark:   Do the details matter -- of course!  Does the "structure" matter -- of course!

Keith:   For me STRUCTURE (and SYSTEM) is the problem.

 

    Ah, but so many structures, so many systems (might one even say “intersystems”?). 

    Let’s begin by taking up the exchange between Jessie and John, on the parable of the blind men and the elephant.  In that discussion John makes the invaluable point that the parable in its classical form depends entirely on an observer enjoying a sort of Archimedean perspective on the scene:  Laid out before his all-seeing eyes is the tableau of the elephant patiently standing there while several blind men grope its various body parts.  Being all-seeing we as observers are also all-knowing: We find it interesting, even rather quaint, when the blind men provide their discrepant reports – after all, we know the truth.  That perspective, of course, is an insupportable conceit.  We are not extraterrestrials, and if our subject happens to be, as it is in this case, a group of persons who are interacting, communicating with one another, then our perspective on things, sighted or not, is of a piece with those whose experiences we document and study.  And a crucial point here: As observers we inevitably arrive late; God or the elephant has departed and we are left with the Babel of reports about him.  We have no privileged position or access to an a priori truth (with apologies to German rationalism); what you see is what you get – and we’re left to make the best of it.  If we happen to be hard-headed, objective “scientists,” we will hold ourselves apart from the group discussing their various experiences of the elephant.  We will take meticulous notes and photographs, that is, assemble data and from those make logical inferences.  If, on the other hand, we happen to belong to that upstart breed of “ethnographers,” we will join the group in its discussions, asking questions, getting answers, asking more questions – in short establishing a polylogue.  Whether doctrinaire scientist or liberal ethnographer, our aim will be to “make sense” of the discrepant reports, to identify patterns in their accounts – patterns which we may even wish, for whatever reason, to call a “structure” or “system.”     ………………………….

    To all:  I must apologize; I have to break off here, probably for several hours – I know that messes up time zone restrictions on the flow of discussion.  Will try to continue where I left off as soon as possible.

  

All,   For clarification, my concern is with scientists tending to trust their information, and treat the world as if it worked by the theories they deduce from it.   Most people see that as "what science is for" and I see it as making hollow images that deny appreciation of the realty, and really dangerous to trust.  

It shows a defect of conceptual thinking, that undermines its validity as science, to take one's own way of explaining limited information to represent the world you live in.  It seems scientists could use the more sensible approach, considering theories to be a "guide" to the world, instead of defining it, but somehow creating theories to trust as reality became what science is known for.  Partly it seems by having it hard to do anything else with logic, as logical model with undefined parts is not a model at all, so undefined issues (like what you might discover as you change the world with your rules) just have no place to connect.    

When using a theory for a hands-on activity there’s less of a problem, as your mind is then has lots of fresh information about the reality.   Economic theory is about as distant a “hands off” activity as you can have, understood only by abstract reasoning, so being unable to see new information in relation to the whole, it just doesn’t count.  I think that’s why it’s also where many of the worst errors keep cropping up.   

For Economics we also have the problem of there being universal theories for the failure of the theories, such as "something else will turn up".  That is regularly successful in putting off suggestions that limits of growth in one thing could be looked at to see if it implies limits to growth for other things.  It’s a rule that says "if tempted to open your eyes, just close them".  It’s working very well now to explain away the ever mounting scale frequency of failures of endless growth expectation.   It somehow still works to just say "Oh, we'll grow out of that"!!

Lee, Regarding the 6 blind men and elephant, I guess you didn't closely read my reply to John on.  I don't disagree with your view, but think if we set up our different views as being unconnected when referring to the same parable, then we're taking the roles of "3 blind men" seeing different worlds.  We might look for how the various views might be connected, the thing the 6 blind men don't think of... :-)    

Wouldn't actual blind men normally “feel around” to understand the extremities of what they touch if they don't understand it as a whole at first.  The blind become highly adept at using their other senses to get around.   Why don't they use them here?   These blind men act abnormally, then.  They don't even call out for help from the silent observer you suggest might be there either...   They just quickly become certain of their misinformation.   Might they do that naturally, by being in the habit of defining and trusting what they think as reality, what conceptual thinking tends to do.  

Might the question then really be "how could anyone tell the difference”, asked as if in the roll of one of the blind men being misled by their own thinking that way?    Is there any difference?   Would there ever be any benefit in being able to easily tell?   

Wow! This thread is moving in so many, highly interconnected directions at once. Here I will confine myself to Mark's recent remarks.

In one message, he urges us to consider the environments in which thinkers think: agricultural, transitional, or whatever it is we call our current global stew. Yes, yes, yes. When I think back to "theory" classes, what immediately comes to mind is how ahistorical they were. We read Malinowski, for example, and instead of trying to understand what a  highly intelligent fellow was thinking and writing in particular times and places had on his mind, we reduce him to a cartoon that we dismiss with extreme prejudice (Yes, pun intended: It's Oedipal murder we're talking about). 

Find someone who understands those differences and the way they substantially shape what most people think and you will find someone who understands FORMAL causality and, therefore, the "structure of society" and the "life of humanity."

I am still not sure what the specific relevance of "FORMAL causality" is intended to be (I can only vaguely imagine something like Ruth Benedict's patterns of culture/cultural gestalts, revealed in patterns that recur on many levels, e.g. the Confucian/Legalist synthesis that pops up in both Chinese intellectual history and Chinese child rearing). But, putting aside my confusion, I would suggest that the best efforts along these lines to date are those of historians. I think, in particular, of Stephen Kern's The Culture of Time and Space 1880-1918 (Harvard U. Press, 1983), which is concerned with what I would call "the great acceleration" that occurred in Europe  in the decades surrounding the start of the 20th century, when the fluorescence  of new transport, communication, and documentation technologies: railroads, aircraft; telegraph, telephone; photography and lithography radically transformed the terms in which people saw themselves. It is a book in 11 chapters. The first nine examine changes in art, science, business and government under the following categories: The Nature of Time, The Past, The Present, The Future, Speed, The Nature of Space, Form, Distance, Direction. These are followed by two chapters that deal specifically with the lead up to and nature of World War I, titled "Temporality of the July Crisis" and "The Cubist War." As a work of historical synthesis, rich in detail and big ideas both, this book is hard to beat. Others that come to mind include Michael Kammen's Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture (Vintage, 1993) and Frederic Jameson's Postmodernism or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Duke, 1991). I observe that all are very large, fat books — and have to be to embody the richness of detail as well as the careful exposition of ideas found in them.

In a later comment, Mark asks if  use of terms like "target" and "objective" borrowed from the military suggest that Japanese advertising is a military operation. To which i can only answer, "Of course," but the point is not confined to Japan. We are talking about the near-universal language of sport, business, and government that pervades our current culture, an observation that dovetails nicely, by the way, with what Jessie has said about people focused on competition, conquest, and endless growth.

I first became aware of this issue in 1979, while working as a research assistant in the Yale Artificial Intelligence Project in 1979. My specific task was to code concept and story frames for a program called FRUMP (Fast Reading, Understanding, and Memory Program) being put together by one of Roger Schank's graduate students Jerry DeJong. The idea was to take advantage of journalist's being trained to write the essence of their stories in their lead sentences, parse those sentences, identify the underlying concept, and then evoke appropriate story frames to search for additional information. The biggest practical problem was the program's lack of what we called "world knowledge," the contextual information that humans use to disambiguate uses of words that recur in multiple domains. That led to recognition of how much of standard news reporting, on all sorts of topics, uses the terminology to which Mark refers. A dark joke we came up with illustrates the problem.

Imagine a near future, where to maintain peace on earth, a satellite loaded with hydrogen bomb tipped missiles endlessly circles the planet, ready to devastate any country that gets out of line. On Earth, a programmer is typing furiously, "No FRUMP, no. 'Russia crushes Israel' refers to a soccer match."

@Lee,

Thanks for the stroke. As I read "makes an invaluable point," my ears turned a pretty pink.

But more to that point: The Archimedean perspective not only oversimplifies the problem, it also ignores time and resource issues.

I am currently acutely aware of such issues because they directly affect my current research project. As I have mentioned before, I am working on the relationship between SNA (social network analysis) applied to data from an annual Japanese advertising contest and HER (historical and ethnographic research) on the industry and the key players identified by the SNA. I don't suffer from lack of data. My problem is lack of time and money to do everything I would like to do.

As I've learned SNA, I have become aware of mathematics I ought to study if I want to really understand the software I use. I should also teach myself R, a statistical programming language with which I could deepen my analysis, if I understood the math well enough to suggest improvements in the algorithms.

I am working with a limited data set. The contest whose results I am studying has been held every year since 1963. I am currently working only with data from the 1981, 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2006 contests. Would I like to have more? Sure. But I don't have the time to manually enter more data, and I've already spent US$5,000 to hire someone to input what I've got. I love my hobby, but spending an additional US$50,000 to input all of the data to date isn't in the cards. Plus, the database and coding system would need additional work —the way in which the ads are classified by the annuals has changed from time to time. 

Meanwhile, my library of books and articles by the top creators I want to learn about continues to expand, and I am already several thousand pages of reading (all in Japanese) behind. And some of the people I most want to talk to are as old or older than I am. Several have died since I began the project. Whoops! No interviews now. 

In short, I think Jessie's idea of looking beyond the abstractions captured by SNA to dig into the social and cultural processes to which they only point is a great one. But even my one, slightly off the wall project, is forcing me to make choices. Do I work on the math? Do I read more of the literature? Do I get more interviews while I can? How does this all fit into the rest of my life, the business that funds my hobbies and the Japanese mens chorus I sing with? Choices have to be made, and deciding that I need to do it all is not possible. 

When, writing from this experience, I try to imagine research scientists, even those on well-funded projects, trying to do everything they should—hypothetically speaking—look at, I don't see it happening. And I don't hear people talking about what sorts of cooperative arrangements would be required to get even close to providing opportunities to pursue less traveled paths (especially for young researchers in the career-building phase of their lives). We're all still stuck in that "We (by which I really mean You) should do what I'm recommending mode, and our Archimedean You is an individual who isn't, after all, Almighty God. We need to think about the practical implications of what our ideals and feelings call for.

That's my two yen.

The following paper was mentioned on Anthro-L. Looks like something that Jessie, in particular, might be interested in.

http://www.tabel.tcu.edu.tw/Abel-CultureInCycles2013.pdf

John:

Let me try it this time -- thanks, you made an *invaluable point* . . . !! <g>

Advertising (as we know it), as well as journalism (as we know it) are BOTH the products of WW II "psychological warfare" -- directed towards the "civilian" population by people who were trained by the same "social engineers" (or their epigones) who first figured this out in the 1930s.  Here it would be good to look into the Radio Research Project (at Princeton and Columbia.)

Japan and Germany (as well as Scandinavia etc) are *special* places because they were "taken over" by these people after WW II, since any "indigenous" elites who might oppose them had been defeated and the victors (i.e. the psy-warriors) called the shots.  The Finns giving up their children at 8 months to be raised by the "state" is a particularly egregious example of how "human rights" (one of the most important "psy-war" slogans) has been applied by these engineers in an attempt to force-feed an "artificial" culture.

Kenneth Boulding was right in the middle of this!  He left the first meeting of the Ford/Rockefeller Foundation's CASBS in 1954 with a plan to "brainwash" everyone with a new "culture" -- in a process which he called EICONICS (in this 1956 book "The Image.")  His notion of using "free-floating" ideas to get the population to *program* themselves is close to what was later termed "memetics" (a field promoted by, among others, Dan Dennett and which once attracted the attention of my business partner Douglas Rushkoff.)  It's also the "observer problem," as expressed by Heinz von Foerester -- who retired in 1972 when the military stopped funding his "second order cybernetics."  WW II -- in social science -- didn't end in 1945!

Another hardcore psy-warrior was Gregory Bateson.  He called the process one of leading people to falsely believe that they have "free will" as if they were "rats" in a "rigged maze."  His greatest contribution was arguably the "Whole Earth/Earth Day" version of the *environmental* movement and he learned his skills working during WW II on "National Morale."

This was classic "mis-direction" by Bateson et al in order to shut-down "conscious purpose" -- which is the only thing that can stand up to Batesonian "programming."  "Gaia" is not any immediate danger.  Humans *cannot* destroy the Nitrogen Cycle (which was the "threat" at the center of his 1967 Austrian conference.)  It is, to use diplomatic-speak, a FALSE FLAG to get people all riled up so that they will do what you want and wouldn't THINK too hard!

Your "world peace" sci-fi scheme was another.  As you might recall, the BOMB was *deliberately* designed to engineer such a "peace" by Leo Szilard et al -- following the script written H.G. Wells in his 1910 (?) "A World Set Free," a book he wrote after attending a Rutherford lecture on the potential split the atom.  Wells' 1929 is his "Blueprint for World Revolution" and the impulse behind Aldous Huxley's 1932 "satire" (against his "godfather" Wells and his brand of engineers) "A Brave New World."  To understand the 20th century, one really has to read Wells carefully.

Unfortunately, these are the same people who were behind the "holistic" movement -- which really just means that you need to use psychology to get the population to do what you want instead of threatening to throw them in jail.  What is "left out" of the "whole" are those with the "special knowledge" (and power) to "rig the maze."  As in "leaderless groups," is the environment (e.g. the rules of the MAZE) that point to the outcome.  At one level, this is what "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" (refering to radio) was all about in the "Wizard of Oz."

Radio gave us Hitler and Stalin (and Mao etc).  TELEVISION is, on the other hand, a *very* different environment.  Whereas radio is "explicit" in its messages (because is just a loudspeaker), television could get much more sneaky and "subliminal" by hitting you with multiple sensory inputs and, as early researchers learned, produce a sort of "trance" that was akin to getting "worked over" by a massage.  Radio, to use McLuhan's terms, is HOT, while television is COOL (i.e. requires you to "fill in the blanks," as if you had "free will.")

Formal causality (for the purposes of this conversation) is simply understanding how this *environment* of our communications technologies shapes our behaviors and attitudes -- "programming" us, if you will, as long as we don't think too hard and we follow the bouncing "memes" (i.e. keep bouncing off the walls in that *rigged* maze).

That's why formal causality is captured succinctly in the phrase "The Medium (i,e. the communications environment) is the Message (i.e. the effect that causes your life).  It is also captured in the related pun, "The Medium is the Massage" (i.e. you are being "worked over") and its related "The Medium is the MASS-Age" (i.e. you aren't an individual but instead a part of a "mass" of people who are being manipulated by psychological warfare.)

Half the 5000+ books in my library could probably be categorized as "history" books.  I've got some experience with historians and their versions of history.  Lots of BLIND MEN hunting for the elephant . . . !! <g>

If they don't at least try to situate their accounts in the context of the changes in the TECHNOLOGY environment in which their subject is situated, then they are going to be groping around in the dark for a long time.  They will have missed what the Renaissance West and the Chinese understood and the Enlightenment West "forgot" (because they were all done and just cleaning the place up for the eschaton) -- this world and, in particular, human society operates on "formal" principles which *cannot* be discovered by any amount of logical argument.  Grammar always trumps Dialectics.

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