Re: History

Richard Spear (rspear@PRIMENET.COM)
Mon, 28 Aug 1995 18:07:08 -0800

On 28 Aug 95 at 6:51, John Mcreery wrote:

> Rick Spears writes,
> "The idea that people make history and that they are shaped by their
> histories is acceptable to me ."
> Me, too. I've just never been fond of confusing "people" (a set of
> individuals, each with his or her own memories and point of view)
> and "People" (an artificial construct that demands that individuals
> subordinate themslves to theofficial dogmas of their tribe).

Anthropologists have no problem differentiating between "people" and
"People" ... the first refers to individuals and is best understood by
psychologists while the second refers to *cultures* and is best
understood by anthropologists.

> As I write, there is a vigorous debate going on, both inside and
> outside Japan, on whether or not the official history taught in
> Japanese schools should ignore the claims of other Asians in
> presenting WWII, and present Japan's role as that of a well-meaning
> liberator, driven to excess by Western oppressors....The Chinese
> and Koreans have, of course, a rather different perspective.
> Am I to assume that you would approve the Ministry of Culture line
> on the grounds that it is, which it is, the official representative
> of the Japanese "People" in this matter?

I've stayed in Japan for short periods of time and I'm superficially
familiar with Japanese xenophobia (and racism). I do not approve of
the official representation of history as presented by the Minister
of Culture. Why would you assume that? My position merely proposes
that any history (Japanese, let's say) should not be written without
the Japanese ... I'm not suggesting that the outcome would be more
"accurate" (whatever that means), merely that it *cannot be done*
without them ... unless you feel that *your* (or my, or the AAAs, or
your department chairperson's) rendition would be more accurate.

> Allow me to note, in passing, that I have actually r Said, Foucault,
> Derrida, Baudrillard, Clifford, Rosaldo, etc.None have succeeded
> (or even attempted, on my reading) to overturn Boas demonstration
> that race, language and culture are utterly uncorrelated; a
> point charmingly illustrated by Linton in "A 100% American."

I'm not sure what this means ... I haven't said a thing about
language or race. Boas of all folks would support the idea of the relative
nature of a particular culture and the need to understand it from the
inside. I, on the other hand, am *not* a cultural relativist and *do*
believe that we can understand the Other without becoming the Other
... that there is a universal quality to humankind.

[stuff about the value of newness deleted]

> Now a P.S.
> I recognize that my view of a "People" as an artificial construct reflects
> the mores of my own tribe. I grew up in Virginia, a few miles from
> Williamsburg and Yorktown and got a good dose of the Jeffersonian notion
> that institutions are made for people and not vice versa--a position plainly
> stated in the opening to the Declaration of Independence. By birth I am a
> mongrel: Scotch-Irish on my father's side, more German than French on my
> mother's. My history is the history of people who left their native places
> to pursue a dream of becoming something new in what they called "The New
> World." Many of them were I'm sure right bastards--in every sense of the
> term. Doesn't mean that their myth is invalid. That conclusion is pure
> ad hominem. I think that it's a wonderful thing that people whose voices
> have not been heard are writing their own histories. The more voices we hear,
> the closer we'll come to a full and accurate picture of what's gone on. It's
> no disrespect to listen to those voices with the same careful and critical
> attention we give to people writing in our own traditions.

This is exactly what Johnson, myself and others are saying.

> I know far less than I ought to about North American Native Nations. My
> hands have been full with China and Japan.So the following remark may be
> in considerable error. I am ready to be corrected on the facts. The logic is,
> I believe, impeccable.
> I mention Jefferson. Do we dismiss his ideas on liberty and the relation of
> people to institutions because he was a slave holder?
> I could mention Black Elk. do we dismiss the beauty of his visions because the
> people to which he belonged were, during some of their history, to other more
> settled Indian peoples along the Missouri as the Mongols under Genghiz Khan
> were to Chinese behind the Great Wall?
> My answer in both cases is "No." Knowing where someone is coming from may help
> us to understand what he produces.The value of the product is what it means to
> others who come after them. Some will be their children. Some will not. What
> a strange and dangerous world it will be if only the children talk to each
> other and those who are not are not permitted to listen in and add their own
> bits to the conversation.
> John McCreery
> Yokohama, August 28, 1995

Maybe we are more in agreement than either of us might think.