Re: Survival of the Fittest

Adrian Tanner (atanner@MORGAN.UCS.MUN.CA)
Mon, 18 Sep 1995 15:47:56 -0230

On 15 Sept you wrote:

>At 04:13 PM 9/14/95 -0500, Nick Corduan wrote:
>> there are still things which separate, in general, American Indians
>>and Europeans. Things such as the centralization of ritual,
>Europeans and Euroamericans get up every day, perform Horace Miner's Body
>Rituals, go to work... etc. all of this is scheduled and highly
>ritualized... just like a few of the more highly organized American Indian
>rituals. If you mean 'centrality of ritual', well, we should be arguing
>about how anybody might rationally measure such a thing.

I have always had a problem with taking Miner too literally. But whatever
Miner's intentions were, I do not think 'ritual' can simply be reduced to
any action done according to a strict routine. Ritual has some additional
characteristics; it is 'sacred' in Durkheim's sense - that is, it is
explicitly set apart from, and in relation to, some more mundane aspects of
cultural behaviour, everyday activities. Secondly, ritual begs for
explanation, even for the participants themselves - the reason
conventionally given by the participants for why a ritual is performed does
not seem to follow self-evidently, so that it requires some cultual
specialist to explain to us why a ritual must be done, and done in the
required way. Ritual also has an elaborate and necessary set of ideas
underlying the performance, in a way other behaviour does not.

When I first read Miner I thought it was an undergraduate joke, saying
something like, "look how easy it is to mistake something that is not ritual
for the real thing."; I did not think he was saying that the two were
iundistinguishable. To call North American bathroom behaviour 'ritual' in
anything but a metaphoric sense (and why stop there, what aspect of
bahaviour is not in some sense routinized?) is to make the notion of
'ritual' have virtually no meaning. That I do not accept, nor do I think,
from the way the term continues to be used, do I think others use the term
in this way.
>>anthropomorphizing of Deity,
>Most Europeans/Euroamericans have made their god(s) in the image of
>themselves. Of course, if you believe their origin myth, it's the other way
>around. I see the origin myth as an act of creation in and of itself.
[the rest of your points have been deleted]

When I read the original item by Corduan, I assumed the claim was being made
that Europeans differ from North American aboriginal people by their being
*more* anthropomorphic in their thinking about dieties than are the North
Americal aboriginal people. Those aboriginal people I am familiar with,
apart from seeing the world having a more numerous set of dieties, see them
as associatied with, and usually resembling certain aspects of, a much wider
variety of entities, including animals, inanimate objects, geographic
features, etc. The activities attributed to these dieties seem to me to move
them much further away from the anthropmorphic end of the specrum than do
the European ones (e.g. the Christian God, Jesus, the angels, the devil, and
so forth, all of which seem to me to be much more closely anthropomorphic.)

Adrian Tanner

Adrian Tanner, Dept of Anthropology, Memorial University, St John's,
Newfoundland, Canada. A1C 5S7. email Tel 709 737
8868 fax 737 8686