Sacred Unity (1)
Scott Holmes (sholmes@NETCOM.COM)
Sun, 22 Jan 1995 11:44:45 -0800
Ecology of Mind_. It is an anthology of essays, lectures and publications
by Gregory Bateson, edited by Rodney E. Donaldson (1991). As I read through
it, I would like to summarize each of the articles both to facilitate my
understanding and possibly spur some of you to provide feedback on the
ideas. I will make no attempt to criticize the material or ideas presented
but I would like to hear from you, readers of this list, critiques, comments
and insights. Please consider this offering as a sort of student's
The first article is: _Cultural Determinants of Personality_. Originally
published in _Personality and Behavior Disorders: A Handbook Based on
Experimental and Clinical Research_, vol 2, 1944.
The theme is the synthesis of the various theories developed by
psychoanalysts, physiologists and from experimental learning. Bateson
notes that his own contributions come from observations of preliterate
people. And, he disavows "cultural determinism" saying that "culture" is
an abstraction "... a point of view from which those scientists have
achieved some insight".
Bateson then goes into a discussion of the development of the field of
anthropology. "The early days of anthropology" was concerned with
generalization of phenomena found in diverse locations. This resulted in
a controversy between the concepts of evolutionary process and of
cultural contact and diffusion. Then came Darwinism, which he characterized
as "parochial squabbles within the general assumption that phylogeny was
At the time of writing this article, Bateson characterizes anthropology
as "in place of arguing points of cultural phylogeny, we discuss the fine
details of cultural change, and ... internal organization within a culture
at a given time". He characterizes this as "cultural physiology" or
"cultural genetics". And, this is what he means by "cultural determinism".
The first step toward developing this cultural determinism paradigm was
the concept of "culture area", from Boas. It ..."set us free to think
about differences between cultures within such a cultural area". The second
step, he describes as "recognition of the fallacy of `misplaced
concreteness'". "...that theories which ascribed causal effectiveness to
`religion', `geography', `language', and the like, would not fit the facts."
Again, he attributes this to Boas.
Overlapping the work of Boas was Malinowski. "[T]he behavior pattern in
any community formed an interlocking, interdependent unity; that the
`culture' of any people is not to be seen as a set of parts, each
separately investigable, but rather... as an interlocking functional system.
Radcliffe-Brown "...accepted as a matter of course, this enormous
interdependence..." and asked "...`what are the salient features of this fine,
intricate design?' Which he called `social structure'". Bateson goes on
to say that Radcliffe-Brown's work "...was perhaps the first push which
deflected the study of culture and society toward a study of psychology".
With "...a presumption that human personality is, in some measure, constant".
"The next great change in anthropological approach ..." he attributes to
Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead. This he characterized as a realization
that "human personality is not constant". Human personality is now
dependent upon cultural milieu.
The state of the field, as of the date the article was written was
"...research into problems of culture and human behavior has developed
along many different lines, all of them ultimately contributing one to
another, but as yet imperfectly synthesized together". The section headings
from this point are:
Typology and Psychiatric Syndromes;
Description of Personality in Terms of the Socialization Process;
The Study of Interpersonal and Intergroup Attitudes.
Typology and Psychiatric Syndromes:
Here, Bateson mentions Seligman using a typology of "introvert" and
"extrovert", and Ruth Benedict applying a "Apollonian" and "Dionysian"
dichotomy. His feeling is that "...the attempt to describe cultures in
terms of the types of individuals which they foster is, I believe, sound;
but a greater difficulty in the way of such an approach is that the
typologies upon it is based are still very unclear". "Our solution is
to supplement this technique with others".
Description of Personality in Terms of the Socialization Process:
"This method is, in a sense, historical, rather than scientific. It
assumes that a description of personality can be arrived at in terms of the
experiences through which the individual has lived. The method accepts
the fact that we have virtually no vocabulary for description of what
people are like, and substitutes for such descriptive statements about
their past". Here, Bateson discusses Sigmund Freud.
This approach assumes that the same processes occur (eg repression,
displacement, introjection, projection, etc) "in all communities",
but will have various levels of importance. Of fundamental importance
is the idea that "...the cultural milieu may determine the manner of
organization of the learned behaviors".
The Study of Interpersonal and Intergroup Attitudes:
"...a systematic classification of behaviors rather than a systematic
accounting for behaviors". This approach requires "...the use of strict
operational definitions and the techniques of mathematics and symbolic
logic". Bateson lists several ways of organizing data:
View of the World;
Affective and Postural Patterns;
His conclusion is:
"The whole of human behavior as we know it (with the possible exception
of some reflexes) is either learned or modified by learning, and learning is,
in large measure, an interpersonal process. The contexts in which it occurs
vary from culture to culture, as also do the methods of reinforcement."
"Our task, as anthropologists or psychologists, is to recognize and define
the regularities in this complex tangle of phenomena".
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