Re: culture as gene-flow regulator: the arunta

Len Piotrowski (
Tue, 1 Oct 1996 16:29:30 GMT

In article <52q49g$> (Robert Snower) writes:


>Both Levi-Strauss and I see the constructed system of knowledge as a
>hypothesis. He sees the anthropological significance of that
>hypothesis in its parallels, its correlations, with real nature, or
>with our real modes of thought. When all such correspondences have
>been discerned, anthropology has concluded its task, and everybody can
>go home. I see the correspondences of the hypothesis with nature,
>etc., as utterly devoid of interest. We are not dealing with a
>scientific hypothesis, where the interest is properly in empirical
>verification. We are dealing with a pretense, a metaphor of reality,
>whose value lies in its departure from that reality. It is a fiction,
>admittedly. The measure of its value is not degree of correspondence,
>but degree of success--success in being selected for, in prevailing,
>over alternatives. Anthropology's task is to reveal the course of
>this process.

I guess I don't see structuralism as the same dead-end as you do. I think it
can inform quite a bit about the particular form of symbolic meanings emergent
in human social situations, and why these forms tend to persist.


>>You don't think that any person before the appearance of Western civilization
>>was capable of individual thought and action?

>It is not a question of capability. It is a question of values. Of
>what people see fit to think and do.

I guess in the realm of values I perceive culture as relative. To choose one
value system and relate it phylogenetically against another is presupposing a
historiography of values instead of an immediate understanding of meanings in
contexts and situations in which they are enacted in relations between human
actors. A difference of social-psychological metaphors I think.


>I can't put my finger on anything much to disagree with here. Perhaps
>I don't understand you.

I guess I'm saying that I understand the changes you refer to as wholly
cultural, understandable in it's own sense, yet not beyond the capabilities of
any human group, even prehistoric.

>>> "Self-interest" has
>>>become normative. It is a virtue. This is unique.

>>Not so! Thus my Ik example.

>Juat a tiny speck of diversity. An archaic bud that never bloomed,
>enduring unchanged down through the ages, as a monument to its own
>failure. The faint glimmer of a future for which it cannot claim any
>responsibility. Like me.

Unfortunately, it is a state reflected in many other places on the globe and
throughout time.

>>>Capitalism is the
>>>economics of self-interest. Democracy is the politics of
>>>self-interest. Similarly, "rights [individual]" has become uniquely

>>None of these 'ideas' are particularly unique, nor restricted to Western

>They are amazing fantastic constructions, definitive of 'historic,' as
>against pre-historic, culture. I am surprised you did not take issue
>with that characterization of democracy.

I don't know of any pure examples of "democracy" as you imply. The American
notion of democracy, interestingly, owes a lot to the practices of Native
American culture, which, although historically known, did not develop as part
of the Western tradition.