Diamond S. In Search of the Primitive: A Critique of Civilization. Transaction Publishers. New Brunswick, NJ. 1974.
“The dream of reason produces monsters,” Goya
“General and abstract ideas are the source of the greatest errors of mankind,” Rousseau.
Ch 1. Civilization and Progress
(1) Civilization originates in conquest abroad and repression at home.
(39) ..faith in progress as the outcome of their techniques and ideas justifies Western civilized men to themselves. One must acknowledge further, that faith is the dominant idea of Western civilization…he cannot surrender the notion of progress without destroying the rationale for his entire civilization…he clings to his progressivism as he would to his sanity. It is the notion of progress that mediates his alienation, and makes it possible for him to construct a reality which he does not actually experience.
Ch 3. Anthropology in Question
(110) We at our leisure convert the experience of other cultures into a kind of sport, just as Veblen’s modern hunter mimics and trivializes what was once a way of life. Relativism is the bad faith of the conquerer, who has become secure enough to become a tourist.
- note 106 ch 9, HP Duerr, Dreamtime
Ch 4. The Search for the Primitive
(117) Physicists are not at all certain about the attributes of atoms, not to mention the lesser particles, which no human eye has ever observed directly; they seem infinitely divisible and complex, they appear in a variety of states, and it is hard to determine where they begin or end. Yet the atom continues to exist as a conceptual model, as a shorthand way of organizing confusing data and inaccessible data. The concept is operative, even if a few hyperpositivistic physicists would deny its descriptive validity. With appropriate modifications, we might similarly describe the relationship of biologists to cells, the geneticists to genes.
The point is that this ambiguity is not the result of too little information or not enough quantifiable science. It arises, rather, from a fashionable mode of looking at the world, a way we have of disorganizing, or disintegrating our data…This hyperanalytic attitude would seem to be, more than anything else, a reflection of the minute division of labor demanded by our contemporary industrial society, of certain cultural assumptions and of the equation of science to the machine. It is the very opposite of the primitive view, which is synthetic or holistic..
(119) In order to understand ourselves and heal ourselves in this age of abstract horror, we must regain the sense of the totality and the immediacy of human experience…the sense of history is for a society in crisis what relentless self-searching, psychoanalytic or otherwise, is for the individual in crisis – it is releasing and enriching, cathartic and creative…history implies exhortation, because it is confession, failure and triumph…the lack of a sense of history, or the mechanistic view of it as immutable and inevitable, is the death of man.
- and not school history, 10 o’clock news history, mass media history, but real history.
- “whole person” of Fromm in Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis.
(120) All those who assimilate human history to natural history, or mechanize it, help dull the sense of history and prevent people from confronting themselves. The penalty we pay for blunting the historical sense is dissociation, both social and individual; the tripping of the fuse on the bomb will under such conditions become only the ultimate incident in the course of a chronic cultural illness – something abstract that we nevertheless do.
(120) “When we contemplate the past, that is history,” Hegel said, “the first thing we see in nothing but – ruins.”
- vs the living, cyclical myths of nature based societies
(120) Modern anthropology itself is germinated in a search for the historical contrast to our own intolerable condition, in a search, that is, for the primitive. It was, no doubt, an expression of remorse for the ideological and technical conquest of the planet by western Europeans, themselves restive in a culture they had learned to wield as a weapon.
(124) No pejorative meanings in the etymology of “primitive.”
(133) Just as primitive society is not competitive in a basic structural sense, it lacks a genuinely acquisitive socio-economic character. In the words of Evans-Pritchard “in general it may be said that no one in a Nuer Village starves unless all are starving.” Laurens Van der Post spoke to this point as follows: “An old hunter in Africa, the simplest and wisest man I ever knew, once said to me, ‘the difference between the white man and the black man in Africa is that the white man ‘has,’ and the black man ‘is.’
- “the lust for possessions is a disease among them” Sitting Bull.
(133) While civilized money tends to alienate man from his labor by transforming his labor into an abstract commodity, by detaching it from him and by transferring considerations of ‘worth’ and ‘value’ from a human to a marketing context, primitive exchange has the contrary effect; social value and social effort are always directly expressed and understood; they strengthen the sense of community. Indeed, the major emphasis in most forms of primitive exchange is giving.
(137) Among primitives there is no body of law and no permanent supportive militia standing apart from, and above, the people at large. Thus, that curious aspect of alienation that arises in all political societies, the division between ‘we’ and ‘they,’ the citizen versus constituted public authority, does not develop. The people and the militia, the people and the tradition are for all practical purposes indistinguishable. Among primates, the public authority is representative in fact; there is no constitutional theory. In civilization, the theory of public authority adhering to one or another form of government is paramount, but representation, in fact, becomes problematical.
(137) Primitive societies tend to be conservative; they change slowly compared with technologically dominated cultures; consequently, they do not manifest the internal turbulence endemic in archaic or contemporary civilizations.
- the anxiety of progress, always believing that one is, or should be, moving toward something else. Symptom of linear time. There is no cyclical repose, no trust in the natural order of things, just a continuous thrust to an abstract and culturally reified and ratified forward.
(141) “All our inventions,’’ said Marx, “have endowed material forces with intellectual life, and degraded human life into a material force.”
(142) Civilization is compelled to dissect the corpses it creates…the Primitive’s society is nether compartmentalized nor fragmented, and none of it’s parts is in fatal conflict with the others. Thus he does not perceive himself as divided into homo economicus, homo religiosus, homo politicus, and so forth. For example, the Yir-Yiront, an Australian people, make no linguistic distinction between work and play. The primitive stands at the center of a synthetic, holistic universe of concrete activities, disinterested in the causal nexus between them, for only consistent crises stimulate interest in the causal analysis of society. It is the pathological disharmony of social parts that compels us minutely to isolate one from another, and inquire into their reciprocal effects.
(143) The average primitive, relative to his social environment and the level of science and technology achieved, is more accomplished, in the literal sense of that term, than are most civilized individuals. He participates fully and directly in the cultural possibilities open to him, not as a consumer and not vicariously, but as an actively engaged, complete person.
(143) However we may conceive the future of civilization, primitive society was certainly the source of this aspect of Marx’s definition of communism; it will become possible for people “to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner…without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd, or critic.”
- Sartre cites a cafe waiter, whose movements and conversation are a little too ‘waiter-esque.’ His voice oozes with an eagerness to please; he carries food rigidly and ostentatiously; “his movement is quick and forward, a little too precise, a little too rapid.”
His exaggerated behavior illustrates that he is play acting as a waiter, as an object in the world: an automaton whose essence is to be a waiter. But that he is obviously acting belies that he is aware that he is not (merely) a waiter, but is rather consciously deceiving himself. [Sartre’s concept of “bad faith.”]
- Sartre, quoted in R. D. Laing, Self and Others (1969) p 44
- Sartre, Jean-Paul, Essays in Existentialism, Citadel Press. 1993, pp. 167-169
(143) A major reason for this functional integrity is in his mastery of the process of production; that is, the primitive, in creating a tool, creates it from beginning to end, uses it with skill and controls it. He has no schizoid sense of it controlling him…in contrast, glance at the frequently drawn portrait of the fractioned worker emerging in modern civilization (not to mention the serf or slave who occupied the stage before him), compelled to sell his labor power as a marketable commodity. Indeed the worker who appeared after the industrial revolution began to regard himself as a commodity, as a tool or an extension of a tool – the very opposite of the primitive view of the tool as an extension of the personality…
- Edward T Hall, extension transference, Beyond Culture.
- "Extension transference is a phenomenon that occurs when we create systems to help us do things more efficiently and effectively and in ways that we can measure and control. Often these are processes that we once did quite naturally on our own…Transferring human needs and basic drives into complex systems may be a natural progression, but it has it’s price. Eventually the extensions control their creators…after a while, we are fooled into thinking the natural drive itself resides in the system. Thus, we send our children to schools to get learning. Learning no longer resides in the person as a natural creative drive. Rather, it resides in the educational system. We are led to believe that we do not understand learning; the school system knows what’s best for our children. By the time we got around to asking parents to get involved, many of them had given up or become convinced that they did not know enough to say anything. In the words of a frustrated parent at a recent PTA meeting, ‘I didn’t show up to these meetings for a long time because I was afraid that I would look stupid if I said anything..’
“...Another example of the extension transference phenomenon in our lives is the transference of our natural drive to work to large organizations and institutions. We literally drive great distances to work in cars that we don’t even understand, because they are better at transportation than our legs are, to get to a workplace that defines the meaning of work for us." (Hanson, 1996, A Place to Shine. p. 43.)
- in extension transference, we allow the complex extension to define our more basic needs/desires
- cars, trains, planes, instead of walking, therefore, dependence of fossil fuels/natural resources that eventually destroys environment
- rigid, denotative sense of writing, digital information, instead of connotative sense of storytelling/myth
(144) …The modern worker, and to varying degrees his predecessor in archaic civilization became alienated, specialized and morally estranged in the process of production. This is evident in the history of the industrial process; when the worker is reduced to motion, he can be replaced by a machine…Correlatively, the power of the ‘owners’ or chief executives, became an inhuman power.* But their freedom is a psuedo-freedom, for it is based on the coercion of subordinate groups; they are bound to those whom they exploit. Their social ties grow manipulative; their privileges, irresponsible. Nor do the managers, technicians, bureaucrats and clerks escape this fate. It is the present agony and peril of all classes and grades in civilized society. If civilized production has helped disorganize modern man and deprive him of his moral center, primitive production helped to integrate primitive man.
* Goldenweiser gives an interesting linguistic illustration of this: ‘when the executive speaks, words emerge from his lips not unlike mechanical tools which, having established contact with those spoken to, make them go through their paces. Such words are brief, as precise as possible, and thoroughly impersonal.’
- Moral Man, Immoral Society, Niebuhr; Fromm’s pseudo freedom.
- “managerial diseases” in P Sheperd Tender Carnivore, not only from the puppeteering of arbitrarily complex systems, but also from the inherent exploitative, manipulative, morally sketchy nature of the managerial/bureaucratic position.
(145) “In the white way of doing things, the family is not so important. The police and soldiers take care of protecting you, the courts give you justice, the post office carries messages for you, the school teaches you. Everything is taken care of, even your children, if you should die, but with us the family must do all that. Without the family, we are nothing, and in the old days before white people came, the family was given first consideration by anyone was about to do anything at all. That is why we got along. With us, family was everything. Now it is nothing. We are getting like the white people, and it is bad for the old people. We had no old people’s homes like you. The old people were important. They were wise. Your old people must be fools.” (Man in the Primitive World, E Adamson Hoebel, p 355-56).
(145) This personalism is the most historically significant feature of primitive life and extends from the family outward to the society at large and ultimately to nature itself.
(146) Non-Platonic Mode of Thought: concrete, existential, nominalistic, personal, emphasis on function
(147) “Our European languages have been molded to a great extent by the abstract thought of philosophers. Terms like ‘essence, substance, existence, idea, reality,’ many of which are now commonly used, are by origin artificial devices for expressing the results of abstract thought.” (The Mind of Primitive Man, F Boasp 216)
(151) Civilized participation in culture becomes increasingly passive, as culture becomes increasingly secularized.
(160) The primitive realization of the person can be termed individuation, and it is the antithesis of ideological individualism. Ideological individualism is a reflection of what Redfield calls individualization; the latter is a symptom of civilization and denotes the increasingly mechanical separation of persons from each other, as a result of the shrinkage and replacement of primitive, organic ties by civil, collective connections. The pathological loneliness, the schizoid character that [H.S.] Sullivan identified as a prevailing pattern in American life and as the substratum of psychoses is the corollary of civilized individualism. This obsessive ideological individualism is, like values, a reification; indeed it is one of our most reified ‘values.’ The more assiduously we pursue, discuss, and examine ‘individualism’ the more its ‘essence’ eludes us.
(161) Since the resolution of dependency needs is basic to the reciprocation experience of love, the romantic lover falls ‘in love or, as one popular song complained, ‘falling in love with love is falling for make believe.’ It is love as an abstraction, rather than the actual loving of a person as a being in the world, that dominates the romantic consciousness and transforms the whole notion of the romantic, which implies empathy with the inwardness of the other into its opposite - a sentimental longing, a desire to incorporate the other.
The projections of romantic love, then, are the result of the deprivation of affect within the nuclear family immobilized within a bureaucratic society. To the person ‘falling in love,’ the other is the epitome of all stimulated but unresolved, imagined but unexperienced relations with the family - father, mother, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, baby…The anticipated romantic union wears thin at the moment when one party surrenders the impossible demands in frustration and seeks another surrogate for all the differentiated affective relations of which he has been deprived or, more rarely, suddenly sees the other as a person with comparable needs and resources. Divorce or estrangement is the usual result of the unrealizable promise; and it is no more than an acting out of the bitterness of estrangement in the most intimate phases of socialization in the family origin. Romantic love, culturally defined, is not an expression of feeling, but of frustration at feeling’s absence…
Among primitive peoples, of course, the experience which we define as romantic love is largely unknown; affective relations are differentiated and discharged throughout the life cycle and kin groups or kin surrogate groups are the center of cultural activity.
(165) What we violate, do violence to, we hypostatize: our moral syntax has no predicate. Hence we speak of doing good, good for its own sake, or evil. We convert each into a pure substantive, beyond experience, abstract. That is what Paul Radin meant when he observed that the subject (or object) to which love, remorse, sorrow, may be directed is regarded as secondary in our civilization. All have the rank of virtues as such; they are manifestations of God’s if not Man’s way. But among primitives, in this instance the Winnebago, whom Radin knew intimately, the converse holds. Morality is behavior, values are not detached, not substantives; the good, the true, the beautiful or rather, the ideas of these things, do not exist. Therefore, one does not fall in love, one loves another; and that is an intricately learned experience, as hate, in a certain sense, also is.
(166) The psychologically isolated individual, cognitively, instrumentally, and affectively dulled by the division of labor and threatened by leisure yet somehow treasuring the idea that, in his name, society functions and battles are fought, is unknown in primitive society. To be “detached,” “unattached,” or “objective” (that is, object oriented) becomes, as civilization advances, both the symptom of a social condition and the expression of an intellectual attitude. Yet it is, precisely this kind “individualism” that inhibits the growth of the indivisible person, that inner union of contraries.
(171) Socio-economic support [among primitives] is a natural inheritance. Conversely stated, socio-economic risk is equitably distributed throughout society. Therefore, no crippling anxieties or doubts about personal worth derive from that fundamental source. This explains the minimal occurrence, or absence, of civilized types of ‘crime’ in primitive society.
(1) existentialism: “being born with others”, a “co-nassaince.” emphasis on existence rather than essence. The responsibility of the individual to society. lack of concern with analytic modes of thought.
(2) personalism: the organic community. apprehension of consciousness throughout society and nature.
(3) nominalism: emphasis on concrete particulars and contexts. ideas are not typically hypostatized or reified.
(4) individuation: intensely personal socialization process.
In each of these critical areas – critical because it is within their parameters that the crisis of civilization is expressed – civilized behavior may be characterized as increasingly (1) essentialist; quantification becomes etherealized, which is, as we have seen, a political, philosophic, and finally, a scientific process. Western science is conceived by Galileo, but Plato is the Godfather; (2) abstract and analytic; (3) impersonal and mechanical, in short; (4) collectivized, that is, involved with aggregates of individuals, in pursuit of specialized activities that tend to transform their human associations into technical, or even merely spatial, arrangements. Personae are substituted for persons.
(173) Our illness springs from the very center of civilization, not from too much knowledge, but from too little wisdom. What primitives possess – the immediate and ramifying sense of the person, and all that I have tried to show that that entails – an existential humanity – we have largely lost. That is what civilization must selectively incorporate; we cannot abandon the primitive; we can only outgrow it by letting it grow within us. For thousands of years of a cultural development antithetical to our ours, man deeply defined his nature; let us make that, which the poets have always known, very clear.*
- * Gary Snyder exemplifies this consciousness:
As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth. They go back to the paleolithic: the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals. The power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth, the love and ecstasy of the damned, the common work of the tribe.
There is a level of mind which must be distinguished from the purely ecstatic, where the most immediate and personal perceptions fuse with the archetypal and ritual relationships of human society to the universe..
- “ecstatic” as “out of body.” Therefore, there is a “level of mind” which is completely and necessarily “in body.” …found in archetypal images and ritual practices..
(175) The problem, and it remains the central problem of anthropology, is to help conceptualize contemporary forms that will reunite man with his past, reconcile the primitive with the civilized…what better place is there to begin than with the rational devolution of bureaucracy, the common ownership and decentralization of the basic means of production, for which we have the techniques at hand and for which we must develop the circumstances before, we learn from anthropology, and it seems essential that we learn to so again, albeit on a higher level and in different forms. Reflexive, merely determined behavior, condemns us to the destructive course of our civilization, to the irresponsibility of our fate.
Ch 5. Plato and the Definition of the Primitive
(179) Denying the Family: [Socrates on the Republic] “They will begin by sending out into the country all the inhabitants of the city who are more than ten years old, and will take possession of their children, who will be unaffected by the habits of their parents; these they will train in their own habits and laws, I mean in the laws which we have given them: and in this way the State and constitution of which we were speaking will soonest and most easily attain happiness, and the nation which has such a constitution will gain most”
The republic is to begin, then, by severing the bonds between the generations and by obliterating the primary kinship ties. This is, of course, an extreme statement of the general process through which states arise..
(181) In the Republic, no man is to engage in more than a single task…”in our state…human nature is not twofold or manifold, for one man plays one part only.”
In other words, it is imagined that the identity of the individual is exhausted by the single occupation in which he engages. The occupational status, so to speak, becomes the man, just as his class position is, in a wider sense, said to be determined by his nature. In this way, the existence of the state is guaranteed, but the life of the person is constricted and diminished.
(182) The Republic is to be divided into three classes: the guardians, or ruling elite; the auxiliaries, including the soldiers; and the lowest class, consisting of all those engaged in economic production, particularly the artisans and farmers. We see at once that the manual laborers are at the base of the social hierarchy, being considered constitutionally unfit to rule themselves. This is of course quite a typical attitude, however rationalized, and we find it associated with the rise of civilization almost everywhere.
(183) The class structure of the Republic is based on a theory of human nature, assimilated to Plato’s doctrine of essences. Here we confront a perfect example of the convergence of characteristic Platonic concepts to an immediate political issue, a technique that weaves throughout the dialogue and accounts in part for its great dialectical density. The final nature of the individual is viewed as unambiguous, since even human nature is a matter of distance and single higher and lower essences, subdivided further into occupational essences. That is to say, the division of labor and class in the Republic is reflected in the division into essences or vice versa, if you will. The important point is that the whole structure is guaranteed by human nature, watched over by guardians, justified by philosophy and sanctified by God, as the allegory states.
- Chomsky’s “we don’t know anything about human nature”
(184) “the wives of our guardians [ruling elite] are to be common, and their children are to be common, and no parent is to know his own child, nor any child his parent.” The children are to be reared collectively by special nurses who “dwell in a separate quarter.” The mothers will nurse them but “the greatest possible care” will be taken that no mother recognizes her own child nor will suckling be “protracted too long.” The mother will “have no getting up at night or other trouble, but will hand over all this sort of thing to the nurses and attendants.”…Plato clearly sensed the antagonism between state and family, and in order to guarantee total loyalty to the former, he simply abolished the latter.
(186) The ordinary people are to live under ordinary family circumstances. No extraordinary behavior is expected of them…their worldly concerns, their emotional ties and their inferior natures are conceived as making such behavior impossible.
Censorship of the Dramatist
(187) The poets are perceived as impious and corrupters of youth. They misrepresent the nature of God, which is absolutely good, by spinning tales of rage and ribaldry in heaven. If at all possible, the children in the ideal state should be told that conflict is unholy and has never existed among the gods or between citizens…The task of the poet, then, is to justify the ways of God to man, to buttress morality in the republic.
(189) The existential absurdity of the “trickster” figure vs the “political” absurdity of modern bureaucracy.
- The trickster is a bestial, human and divine being, knowing “neither good nor evil, yet…responsible for both…at the mercy of his passions and appetites,” is devoid of values, “yet through his actions all values come into being.”
(193) In the Republic, in the ideal world, Plato’s division of labor and conceptual capacity is said to be genetically determined. The social accident is nullified, yet the division remains artificial because it isolates the abstract from the concrete, the intellectual from the emotional, and considers the craftsman and the farmer useful but inferior beings, not from the perspective of the priest or noble, but from that of Plato’s philosophy.
I submit further, that the Platonic definition of the abstract has become so entrenched in Western thought that the frequently encountered attitude toward primitives, that they are incapable of or deficient in this capacity, is a manifestation of it.
(194) Primitives tend to live, as Radin has put it, in a “blaze of reality.”
(194) There is a radical split between perceptions and conceptions in Platonic discourse, a split that has been elaborated endlessly in Western science to the point of morbidity and at the expense of the senses.
(195) The Platonic abstraction is, above all, the basis of the deductive, theoretical proposition which serves as the ground of what we call science. The notion of systematic forms (or alternatively put, of underlying formal systems governing perceived reality, that is, the notion of logically deducible, conceptual meta-realities) dominates our definition of science, of knowing. In the Platonic view, these conceptions are eternal. They do not enter directly into the perceived world; they are the unmoved sources of all process, dialectic or otherwise; and they have no history. They are the ultimate structures, regularities, laws governing the universe; and they find their analog in the laws governing the Republic.
(196) The uniqueness of the object inheres in the immediate, concentrated response of the unaided, humanly experienced eye. The object is connotative. Through the structure of analogy and metaphor that defines a discourse among primitive people, it reveals a manifold and spontaneous reality. No decisive denotative statement can be made about the object, no mathematical or metaphysical statement can define it. This heightened perception is, of course, an aspect of the definition of art commands a focus on the singularity of the object to such a degree that everything seems at once marvelous, strange, familiar and unexpected. No category can exhaust such an object; it saturates the perceiving subject. That is what William Blake, who despised Plato, meant when he said that he could look at a knothole in a tree until he became terrified. This existential perception, which is also that of the artist and the Mystic, cannot be trimmed to fit a metaphysical class, and it is the converse of a theoretical construct.
- connotate: to imply/suggest, to point toward, subjective meaning.
- denotate: to define, rigid isness, objective definition.
(197) Plato's theory of cognition is, therefore, not only an aspect of his aesthetics, but logically defines his sense of justice or rather, demonstrates once again how astonishingly integrated, how final his thinking is. Justice, the aim of the Republic, can find one man to one vocation; that principle of aesthetic in political order is extended to assume single realities behind the multitude of appearances. Indeed, Plato's ontological ethic inhere's precisely in this: for a man to engage in many jobs is to deny his essential nature, for men to concentrate on the uniqueness of things in this world is to deny their essential natures, and for men to presume above their natural stations is to deny the essential nature of the state. Justice in the Republic inheres in the given structure and indivisibility of essences.
This is not only a reflection of the political imperatives of civilization - it is, at the same time, the basis for a definition of evil (violation of the order) and an affirmation of the meaning a virtue (appreciation of the order). In the platonic order, we discover the link between political, metaphysical and scientific classification and, therefore, the significance of the platonic abstraction, the essence of civilized modalities of thought.
- eternal laws, essences, natural order
(202) The royal or noble lie, the manufactured or applied myth filtering down from above, that is, official propaganda, is to provide the popular raison d’être of the Republic. The youth are to be told, in morality tales, that they live in the best of all possible worlds. We have already quoted the fictions which justify the class structure. These lies, these political myths as opposed to primitive myths are the means for fixing personal and social identity for the majority of people in the ideal state in the absence of the artist, both as a specialized figure and as an inherent aspect of the personality of every man.
But if the philosopher kings can lie in the name of the public good and in the interests of the higher truth accessible only to them, the common people cannot. Socrates says, “it seems that our rulers we'll have to administer a great quantity of falsehood in deceit for the benefit of the ruled.”
When Plato finished constructing his heavenly city, we confront a shining, impervious structure, a luminous monolith, a society with no problems, no conflicts, no tensions, individual or collective. As the republic approaches its end of perfect justice and harmony, it becomes perfectly inhuman. It is so abstractly and ruthlessly wise, so canny and complete an exercise in statecraft, that were we to disregard Plato's temperament, we should have to consider him one of the most skilled totalitarian thinkers in history, the first state utopian, as opposed to the primitive utopians. His historic fault, which speaks to us across millennia, is not merely in his anthropology, it is not in his intoxication with God, abstract though that was, but rather that he, who so fastidiously shunned politics, should have insisted upon the politicization of his faith.
- noble lie, machiavellian
Ch 6. The Uses of the Primitive
(203) The concept of the primitive is as old as civilization because civilized men have always and everywhere been compelled by the conditions of their existence to try to understand their roots and human possibilities. But the converse does not hold. Primitive societies, as far as I know, have not generated any systematic notion or idea, certainly not any vision, of civilization…History to them is the recital of sacred meanings within a cyclic as opposed to a lineal perception of time. The merely pragmatic event, uninvolved with the sacred cycle, falls outside history, because it is of no importance in maintaining or revitalizing the traditional forms of society…Primitives have no secular sense of history and no lineal idea and hence no prophetic ideal of social progress. Moreover, progress as an abstraction has no meaning for them.
- when have we ever heard of indigenous peoples willing to give up their way of life in favor of a more “civilized” way of life, because they see how it’s better??
(204) Acculturation has always been a matter of conquest.
(206) When we examine archaic civilizations or contemporary commercial industrial civilizations, we find that the life pace set by the demands of the market, this civil authority or the machine increasingly displace human and natural rhythms. In both slave and machine based societies, the expressive, musical movements of the primitive, communal work group have been abandoned. The primitive work group is traditional and multi functional; labor is utilitarian but it is also sacred – a sport, a dance, a celebration, a thing in itself. In civilization, group labor becomes a compulsive means.
(207) Primitive society may be regarded as a system in equilibrium, spinning kaleidoscopically on its axis but at a relatively fixed point. Civilization may be regarded as a system in internal disequilibrium; technology or ideology or social organization are always out of joint with each other–that is what propels the system along a given track. Our sense of movement, of incompleteness, contributes to the idea of progress.
- “Progress” is propelled by a sense of incompleteness, disjointedness, disequilibrium…of “there must be something better if we keep working, keep going” or “what we do/have now is not good enough, but it will be if we keep going forward into some better circumstance.” Therefore, make more money, more technology, more information, because it will eventually solve our incompleteness. That’s the genius (and/or the rub) of the idea of linear progress. It actually is never supposed to end. We’re always supposed to be on edge, anxious for a different way of life. Populations are more malleable that way. The Anxiety of Progress.
- Fascination with, popularity of“uncivilized, back to nature” life on cable tv:
Frontier House, Man vs Wild, Alaskan Bush People, Dual Survival, Alaska: The Last Frontier, Naked and Afraid, Yukon Men, Survivorman, Ultimate Survival Alaska, Survive the Tribe, Survivor, The Legend of Mick Dodge, Mountain Men, Live Free or Die, Doomsday Preppers, Life After People, Man Woman Wild, Out of the Wild: The Alaska Experiment, The Boonies, The Great Human Race, The Last Alaskans, Life Below Zero, Mygrations..
(215) Rousseau, as well as Monboddo, the early Herder, Schiller, and others represent the retrospective tradition, that is, the conscious search in history for more deeply expressive, permanent, human nature and cultural structure in contrast to the nascent modern realities that were being generated by the revolutionary bourgeoisie.
(220) There is no doubt that the Discourse on the Origins of Inequality (Rousseau) is the earliest systematic modern effort of any consequence to build a grand theory of human and cultural evolution; and it is the first outline of a general text in anthropology… Modern anthropology then is the natural heir of the Enlightenment, the axial age of contemporary civilization.
(221) “the signs are plain that this era of freedom is drawing to a close, and there can be little doubt that the study of culture and society will be the first victim of the new order. The totalitarian state has no place for it. In fact, for men to take an interest in such matters is in itself a criticism of the existing order, an indication that they doubt its perfection. Unless all history is at fault, the social scientist will got the way of the Greek philosopher. However…[he] will leave a heritage of technique for investigation and of discerned but unsolved problems; a new frontier from which free minds will sometime press forward again into the unknown. When this time comes, perhaps after centuries of darkness and stagnation, men will look back to us as we look back to the Greeks.” (Ralph Linton, The Study of Man, 1936; The Tree of Culture, 1955).
- Spengler, Chomsky, Zinn, etc..
(224) Linton proposes that the decay of the local group in contemporary society, that is, of the sense and reality of community, is the fundamental problem of modern man - since it is through the local group that people learn to realize their humanity. This is a critical anthropological concept, and it is drawn from experience in the primitive locality, composed of reciprocating persons, growing from within, as opposed to the imposed, technically estranging, modern collective.
Ch 7. Schizophrenia and Civilization
(228) …the implication that schizophrenia is subject to clinical analysis, definition and handling remains constant. And it is, I believe, tragically wrong. What is the source of this impulse?
One must recognize that the mental health establishment, which the National Institute [of Mental Health, NIMH] represents, assumes (a conventional assumption in this society) that the expenditure of vast sums of money on so-called research will eventually reveal the cause and cure of anything. This is not merely a scientific idea, but is deeply related to the fact that the tragic contradictions of life have little or no standing in our society. We seek to cure people of everything; we tinker with the machine. All the ills that the flesh and spirit of man are heir to are reduced to abstractions. We are dedicated to the proposition that pain can be eliminated. An instrumental, hyper-civilized, consumer and clinically oriented culture such as our generates, and simultaneously avoids acknowledging the contradiction s that are the occasions for tragedy. Moreover, we are led to confuse the merely pitiful with the tragic. We perceive the crack-up of the individual in society as we would an automobile accident: hardly as a struggle for awareness that is at once moribund and transcendent…
In reducing schizophrenia to a problem for research, one must assume that its essence can be analyzed (that it is an “it”), that knowledge is attainable, and, above all, that the problem can be confined in a laboratory or quasi-laboratory environment. Converting schizophrenia into a research problem, while identifying it with psychopathology in general has the effect of converting all psychopathology into a series of discoverable essences. By calling something or other schizophrenia we conspire linguistically to establish an entity, a mental contract that pre-judges, presumes the ‘reality’ (actually multiple realities) to which we seek to address ourselves. NIMH and the mental health establishment generally, is a latter-day Platonic academy enfranchised by the society it represents to search out the essences that are hidden behind what are taken as the signs of mental disease. Thus, NIMH is symptomatic of civilization’s investment in the expert, who, segregated in specialized institutions, works on problems that are necessarily isolated from the contexts that generate and define them. Such problems inevitably take on the character of reifications.
More specifically, bureaucratic research manufactures the idea of research as a product; that product is then falsely concretized in a series of objects, ‘the objects of research.’ These objects - ‘schizophrenia,’ ‘juvenile delinquency,’ ‘aging’ - are further subdivided, and have the ultimate effect of justifying the continued existence of the bureaucracy. At the same time each bureaucratic sub-division struggles to make the object of its research primary by converting it into a major problem of society at large. But in fact the bureaucracy becomes the custodian, not the resolver of such problems; converted into entities, the problems are somehow administered or researched out of existence without the basic changes in society having been achieved. For, above all, the bureaucracy must not be self-liquidating. Its latent function is to freeze the society from which it has emerged and on which it depends. Therefore, not only is the bureaucracy incapable of solving the problems generated by the society, but it must not solve them; the logic of the culture forbids it. It is in this sense that all professionals, linked through the particular bureaucratic establishment to the bureaucratic structure of civilization as a whole, maintain a stake in the very afflictions they are supposed to heal. The medical profession, for example, has a a stake in disease; the average physician is under great pressure to become a pill-pusher for the pharmaceutical industry, a pressure increased by the expectations and demands of the patient. Thus, the average physician knows and cares little or nothing about preventative medicine, or, if he does, his approach to it is inevitable restricted. He is bounded by the limits of his society and must adapt himself and his patient to its structure; the reactionary character of the American Medical Association amply reflects these cultural compulsions on a broader scale.
(231) The predictable reflex in our culture when faced with a person identified as mentally ill is to commit him to a custodial institution. This may be a mental hospital; as psychiatrists know, it may also turn out to be a jail. In the ordinary course of events there is simply no place for such persons in a class-structured, urban society, cross-sected by a highly technical subdivision of labor. Nor can the shrunken nuclear family or it’s quasi-kin network accommodate people who make extraordinary demands upon their day to day resources [schedules].
(253) This brings us to the ultimate cross cultural question of whether schizophrenia exists among primitive people. I believe that as an essence it does not, but the process is identifiable. That is, schizophrenia as a diagnostic category is irrelevant in authentically primitive societies. The reasons for this are as follows:
1. The rights to food, clothing, and shelter are completely customary; each person learns as an organic part of the socialization process the requisite variety of skills. Functionlessness is not a problem in primitive society.
2. Rituals at strategic points in the bioculturally defined life cycle permit the person to change roles while maintaining and expanding identity. His ordinary humanity is celebrated in an extraordinary way. The life cycle is a normal curve; it does not collapse in the middle, leaving the aged without wisdom, work, or honor, their only alternative being the dissimulation of youth.
3. Rituals and ceremonies permit the expression of ambivalent emotions and the acting out of complex fantasies in a socially prescribed fashion. It is customary for individuals or groups of people to ‘go crazy’ for self-limiting periods of time without being extirpated from the culture.
4. The ramifying network of kinship associations sets the developing person firmly in a matrix of reciprocal rights, obligations and expectations. Social alienation as we experience it in civilization in unknown.
(254) Primitive cultures realize the major function of culture which is to make men human, and at the same time to keep them sane. That is what civilization, as we know it, is failing to do. Schizophrenia, then, is no less and no more than the subjective aspect of the socio-economic dynamic of alienation.
- Fromm, The Sane Society
Ch 8. The Rule of Law Versus The Order of Custom
(258) The very force of law depends upon ignorance of its specifications.
(259) Marxists, insisting on both a historical and normative view of man, define the state as the instrument of the ruling class.
(259) “Property and law are born together and die together,” Jeremy Bentham.
(260) Custom - spontaneous, traditional, personal, commonly known, corporate, relatively unchanging - is the modality of primitive society; law is the instrument of civilization, political society sanctioned by organized force, presumably above society at large and buttressing a new set of social interests. Law and custom both involve the regulation of behavior but their characters are entirely distinct. No evolutionary balance has been struck between developing law and custom, whether traditional or emergent.
(260) The Vietnamese say, “The customs of the village are stronger than the law of the emperor.”
(263) As the state develops, according to [Henry] Maine, “the individual is steadily substituted for the family as the unit of which civil laws take account.” And in [R von] Jhering’s words, “the progress of law consists in the destruction of every natural tie, in a continued process of separation and isolation.”
- as in Plato’s Republic, the model for modern political structure.
(271) What the king permits, he commands; what he ‘protects,’ he taxes.
(274) If revolutions are the acute, episodic signs of civilizational discontent, the rule of law, from Sumer or Akkad to New York to Moscow, has been the chronic symptom of the disorder of institutions. E.B. Tylor stated, “A constitutional government, whether called republic or kingdom, is an arrangement by which the nation governs itself by means of the machinery of a military despotism.” (Anthropology: An Introduction to the Study of Man and Civilization).
The generalization lacks nuance, but we can accept it if we bear in mind what seems to be Tylor’s point of reference: “Among the lessons to be learnt from the life of rude tribes is how society can go on without the policeman to keep order.” When he alludes to constitutional government, Tylor was not distinguishing its ultimate sanction from that of any other form of the state: all political society is based on repressive organized force. In this he was accurate. For pharaohs and presidents alike have always made a public claim to represent the common interest, indeed to incarnate the common good. Only a Plato or a Machiavelli in search of political harmony, or a Marx in search of political truth, has been able to penetrate this myth of the identity between ruler and ruled, of equality under law. The tradition of Plato and Machiavelli commends the use of the ‘royal’ or ‘noble lie,’ while that of Marx exposes and rejects the power structure (ultimately the state) that propagates so false a political consciousness. On this issue, I follow Marx.
(275) The evolution of the state toward what Max Weber called maximally politicized society, the unprecedented concentration of bureaucratic and technological power, which economically and culturally dominates the rest of the world, creates a climate in which all problems cast a political shadow. We may flee from the police dimension of our experience or we may embrace it in order to do away with it, but we are obsessed by politics. It was perhaps Plato’s primary virtue that at the very origin of the Western intellectual tradition, he understood that, in civilization, all significant human problems have a political aspect; and he insisted upon the solution of a political problem as a coefficient of the creative resolution of the human problem. The Republic is the first civilizational utopia, and it maintains its force both as a model of inquiry and as antithesis to all projections of the nature of primitive society. Any contrary view of the possibilities of human association must take the Republic into account.
(276) Engels writes: “The state, then, is by no means a power forced on society at a certain stage of evolution. It is the confession that this society has become hopelessly divided against itself, has estranged itself in irreconcilable contradictions which it is powerless to banish. In order that these contradictions, these classes with conflicting economic interests may not annihilate themselves and society in a useless struggle, a power becomes necessary that stands apparently above society and has the function of keeping down the conflicts and maintaining ‘order.’ And this power, the outgrowth of society, but assuming supremacy over it and becoming more and more divorced from it, it the state..” (The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State).
(277) There is, as Montaigne noted, an ‘amazing distance’ between the primitive character and our own. In the contrast between these two sides of our historical nature, which we existentially reenact, we come to understand law as the antonym and not the synonym of order.
(278) From the study of porto-states we learn that the citizen must be constantly alert to laws which seek to curb his rights in the name of protection or security. Restrictive legislation is almost always a signal of repressive institutional change, but of course, is not the cause of it.
(279) “Law has it’s origin in the pathology of social relations and functions only when there are frequent disturbances of the social equilibrium,” (Seagle, The History of Law). Law arises in the breach of a prior customary [custom] order and increases in force with the conflicts that divide political societies internally and among themselves. Law and order is the historical illusion; law versus order is the historical reality.
(279) In the tradition of Rousseau, Levi-Strauss in a moment of candor declares, “We must go beyond the evidence of the injustices and abuses to which the social order gives rise, and discover the unshakable basis of human society…Anthropology shows that base cannot be found in our own civilization, our is indeed perhaps the one furthest from it,” (Levi-Strauss, A World on the Wane). The progressive reduction of society to a series of technical and legal signals, the consequent diminution of culture, that is, of reciprocal, symbolic meanings, are perhaps the primary reasons why our civilization is the one least likely to serve as a guide to ‘the unshakable basis of human society.’
Ch 9. Job and the Trickster
(283) The book of Job, like Plato’s Republic which was composed at roughly the same time, is bent upon denying human ambivalence and social ambiguity. Thus Job and Plato insist upon the obliteration of injustice. Plato tells us that the Republic is conceived for one major reason: in this world as we know it, there is no remedy for injustice. As Socrates says, many a blackguard goes to his grave with reputation for virtue and many a virtuous man dies a scoundrel in the public eye. (There is a perfect parallel in Ecclesiastes: “There is a vanity which takes place on earth, that there are righteous men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous.”) Therefore Plato constructs a heavenly city in which the divine and the human reflect one another in complete harmony. Evil is eradicated for God cannot be the author of evil, and the principle of ambiguity is denied. In the Book of Job, there is a parallel effort to understand and come to terms with the blind injustice of the world. If Plato represents the civilized consciousness projected as a utopia and brought to its highest pitch, Job represents the religious conscience of western civilization, more nakedly expressed than is the case with Plato and with no effort at asocial prescription. Plato and Job must be understood with reference to each other; together they explicate the root of western ethics.
In Plato and Job the relationship between the human and the divine is no longer played out in dramatic form, but is orchestrated in imposing intellectual dialogues which rationalize the very basis of our civilization.
- rote dialogue replaces drama/whole life ritual. intellect/logic replaces whole life experience.
(284) At the beginning of the Book of Job, the concrete ambivalence of the human conditions denied; good and evil have a dual rather than a single source as in the complex unity of the primitive consciousness. In the Book of Job integrated acts have disintegrated into contrasting ideas; human behavior is now seen as representing and being riven by principles that are abstracted from the reality of actual behavior. Actual behavior is never wholly good nor wholly evil; such purity is never encountered, least of all in primitive societies. It is only with the civilized reversal of principles and persons that such an attitude become inconceivable; the abstraction becomes a weapon against the person.
- Obsession in modern west to have certainty, to pit absolute truth against untruth, to posit platonic abstract “forms” as the real rather than everyday experience. The “purity” of ideals/ideas/platonic forms/essences/abstractions become the ‘truth’ that denies the unpure, ambiguous, corporeal experience of everyday life.
- Jung’s individuation - the maturity of being able to mentally hold two opposing views at once.
(285) The Book of Job, then, is best understood as the theological reflection of a patriarchal and theocratic state. The order of society is never seriously put to question; the resolution of the tale is fully in accord with the status quo.
(289) The key to an understanding of the Book of Job is in the triumph of orthodoxy…And the abstract recourse to principle, punishment, reward and God-as-concept reflects the patriarchal, theocratic polity - as the antithesis of the classless, ambivalently structured cultures of primitive peoples.
(290) In both Plato and Job, it should be noted, the abolition of injustice depends on the obliteration of ambivalence, and the obliteration of ambivalence is the death of tragedy. [The comedy/tragedy of everyday experience]. The Book of Job is in no sense a tragedy but something very different, a theodicy, an apology for the projection of a certain concept of God.
- again, in civilization, reality must be denotative - clearly defined, quantitative, taxonomic, linear. In nature based societies, reality can be connotative - diffuse, qualitative, fundamentally malleable at its core, yet (paradoxically) cyclical (eternally recurring)..
- why? Control. Manipulability. For a minority to rule a majority..
(290) Among primitive peoples, all antinomies are bound into the ritual [comedy/tragedy] cycle. The sacred is an immediate aspect of man’s experience. Good and evil, creation and destruction - the dual image of the deity as expressed in the trickster - are fused in the network of actions that define primitive society. Therefore, moral fanaticism, based as it is on abstract notions of pure good, pure evil and the exclusive moral possibility or fate of any particular individual - what may be called moral exceptionalism - is absent among primitive people.
Ch 10. The Inauthenticity of Anthropology: The Myth of Structuralism
(296) “Facts,” like Scripture, can be quoted to fit almost any systematic hypothesis. In marshaling so many details, Levi-Strauss pays ironic tribute to empiricism, while proving that the data never speak for themselves. It is the organization of Levi-Strauss’ ideas that creates his facts - as a cyclotron creates subatomic particles.
(297) One recalls the struggle of Pascal against Descartes, of Rousseau against Diderot and Voltaire. Now, in a somewhat diminished arena, Levi-Strauss challenges Sartre for the undivided attention of France and, perhaps, of all Western intelligentsia. For structuralism, epitomized in Levi-Strauss, in the intellectual ideology, and the immanent logic, of a new, technocratic totalitarianism.
(304) Levi-Strauss’ instrumental ambiguity is evident here…In order to make his particular notions about the universal functioning of the human mind consistent, he is obliged to say that primitive modes of thought are identical to civilized modes, the difference being in object. Among primitive peoples, the mind is directed to myth; among civilized peoples the mind is directed to science. This would seem to imply that myth is the science of primitive peoples and science is the myth of civilization. In turn, that leads to the conclusion, more frankly arrived at by Spengler, that the scientific worldview must be understood as an ideology. But for Levi-Strauss science represents a superior myth; it not only presumes to be, but actually is closer to the truth, since science can reveal myth, but myth cannot explicate science. Thus at one stroke Levi-Strauss rationalizes myth and mystifies rationality. He has tried to modify this position on a number of occasions, but he is always forced to conclude, as did Husserl, that his civilization provides him with a superior from of understanding. By making abstract conceptual thought a human constant, he universalizes a process which the Western academy epitomizes.
- “science can reveal myth” ?? what does that mean?
- binary dualism as modern fetish
(313) Heaven and Hell are civilized inventions; neither the projection nor the abstract polarity of these two concepts exists among primitive peoples. These polarities, developing with civilization, can be located in religious, legal, or other institutional codes; they tend to reduce the behavior of persons and thus the persons themselves to essential binary characteristics, Thus, we are led to refer to rich and poor (an economic division), we and they (a political division), and then demand that a person identify himself as, say, a carpenter or a plumber (an occupational division).
- “steep” personalities of “vertical/hierarchical societies” vs “leveled” personalities of “horizontal/egalitarian societies in Wandering God (M Berman).
- constant liminal holding of opposites in Jung’s mature/individuated person, vs the giving up of critical thinking in accepting one or the other of opposites as reality, “you’re either with us, or you’re a terrorist” etc..
(314) In civilization there is the sense of acting in accord with or in violation of absolute principles which take no account of the actual complexity of human behavior. There is, therefore, the alienating sense of being driven by forces beyond one’s control. Analogously, Marx refers to the fact that separate individuals have, with the broadening of their activity into world-historical activity, become more and more enslaved under a power alien to them (a pressure which they have conceived of as a dirty trick on the part of the so-called Universal Spirit), a power that has become more and more enormous and, in the last instance, turns out to be the world market. Society itself is hypostasized as an antagonist to the individual; this is the antithesis of the primitive conception of the person in the community, (Marx/Engels, The German Ideology).
(316) When I was engaged in fieldwork in North Central Nigeria, I was identified as both a spirit of a certain type, and as a man. No binary opposition was evident; I was understood simultaneously as both. One might say, in this case, that the synthesis had taken place in the minds of the Anaguta, but that would be reading into an a priori opposition of the matter. The point was that the view of the Anaguta was integrated, and there was no need to disintegrate it for the sake of a fetishized Western logic of polarities.
(320) Rousseau’s unqualifiedly revolutionary critique of modern civilization, linked to his consistent respect for the primitive and, above all, his refusal to consider the study of man on the analogy of the natural and physical sciences - that is, his denial of a mechanical or physical determinism in human affairs - remove him from significant affiliation [with Levi-Strauss].
(331) Man cannot be known abstractly as man; man is a constitution, a creation, and the revolution that our civilization demands, demands our full attention. We are impelled to this revolution by the recognition of our inauthenticity, that lies like a shadow upon black and white…objectifying thought and reducing the universe to an equation.
Ch 11. What History Is
(341) [Leslie] White is a mechanical or mechanistic as opposed to a dialectical materialist. This latter distinction, which is, of course, familiar to students of the history of thought, warrants a brief recapitulation. The major difference between the varieties of materialism is that the dialecticians emphasize the person in his interaction with the world of nature and the inheritance of history; therefore, they deny the validity of the separation between theory and practice.
(354) Fascism is grounded in state capitalism, bureaucratic autonomy, and class collaboration; its goal is the ‘integration’ of all into hierarchical system, by reducing persons to integers.