Re: Subtlety [Was Re: seeking refs on comparative work]

John McCreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Wed, 7 Aug 1996 23:50:02 +0900

Whoops, this didn't get sent to the list. Mea culpa.

>Date: Wed, 7 Aug 1996 08:49:18 +0900
>To:Robert Snower <>
> (John McCreery)
>Subject:Re: seeking refs on comparative work
>>At 10:27 AM 8/6/96 +0000, John McCreery wrote:
>>>Snower writes,
>>>>The battle has to be fought on all levels.
>>>Bob, how would it be if you just for a moment and listened to what Tom
>>>Kavanagh said in his last post. Nobody is denying the competition and
>>>conflict are endemic in human societies, but a statement like "The battle
>>>has to be fought on all levels" is simply, empirically false. What Tom's
>>>hunting-and-gathering bands and the corporations I was talking about have
>>>in common is that people can, and frequently do, decide to walk away. The
>>>ablity to walk away alleviates the need for ritual or other
>>>conflict-management techniques. As I will now demonstrate by ceasing to
>>>attend to this argument.
>>>Peace. It's wonderful.
>>>John McCreery
>>>3-206 Mitsusawa HT, 25-2 Miyagaya, Nishi-ku
>>>Yokohama 220, JAPAN
>>I'll grant your point. You can walk away. But with two proviso's. What if
>>the other fellow does not? Then you could be in big trouble. Or, what if
>>too many people walk away from too many issues? That is the end of
>>change--stultification. Novelty relies on competition. A renowned
>>economist made a big point of that. "The creative destruction of
>>competition. Shrumpeter?sp?
>>Best wishes. R. Snower
>OK, one more time.
>"Then you could be in big trouble." Sure, but then again, you may not. And
>that's the point that Kavanagh, Cole and I have been trying to make over
>and over again.
>The classic 19th century thinkers of whom you are fond were not stupid
>people; they were often brilliant thinkers basing speculations on what was
>still very thin evidence. Sure, they had tons of stuff to work with (just
>look at The Golden Bough). Still thin, however, since what they had was
>masses of bits and pieces, arbitrarily selected because they caught the
>attention of whatever missionary, merchant or soldier happened to find
>them bizarre enough to be interesting. These were then refiltered through
>whatever ideas the thinkers in question brought to the party. When Frazer,
>for example, talks about contagious and sympathetic magic he is doing
>straight-line application of the associationist psychology/epistemology
>developed by Locke, Berkeley and Hume.His logic is that of what Sir
>E.E.Evans-Pritchard called the "If I were a horse argument." To wit, "If I
>were a savage and didn't know any better, I would make the usual kinds of
>mistakes and assume that similarity or contiguity have causal
>consequences." When it came to whatever environmental or institutional
>factors were involved in making some similarities and contiguities look
>more significant than others, he didn't have a clue.
>In the case at hand, you keep going back to a classic, simplistic
>opposition between the "individual" and the "collective." Lord knows, it
>drags along a lot of intellectual baggage. To me it evokes Freud's fable
>about the primitive horde and the murder of the father as the first step
>in individuation and development of autonomous egos in his sons; Durkheim
>tracing the shift from mechanical to organic solidarity; the Whig
>interpretation of history as leading inevitably to the liberal but still
>aristocratic forms of parliamentary democracy characteristic of imperial
>Britain; the history of science as strokes of individual genius breaking
>through collective stupidities.
>Thus, when I hear you setting up the individual and collective as
>categorical opposites and writing "the battle has to be fought," what you
>say suggests that you simply aren't aware of the ethnographic data that
>anthropologists have spent the good part of a century collecting, data
>that show, if nothing else, that the human condition is rather more
>complicated than that. What I hear is to me ideology--obsession
>masquerading as reason.
>None of which is to say that I disagree with everything you say. I would
>even agree that we share a good many opinions. This particular line of
>chat, however, makes me feel like a Sorbonne-trained Jesuit discussing
>doctrine with a Bog Irish member of the IRA. Please, oh please, could we
>have some subtlety?

John McCreery
3-206 Mitsusawa HT, 25-2 Miyagaya, Nishi-ku
Yokohama 220, JAPAN

"And the Lord said unto Cyrus, 'Shall the clay say to him who moldest it,
what makest thou? Let the potsherd of the earth speak to the potsherd of
the earth." --An anthropologist's credo