Re: culture as gene-flow regulator: the arunta

Robert Snower (
Sat, 28 Sep 1996 16:17:20 GMT (Len Piotrowski) wrote:

>As I've discussed earlier, the mere use of animal and plant terms to
>associate aspects of meaningful human behavior is not disputed. What's
>disputed is the classification of these propensities as "totemic."

Levi-Strauss has it wrong. He has made the same mistake as those who
presume there are genes for concepts. Regardless of the distinction
between "the savage mind" and the scientific one, if there is such a
distinction, there is a distinction to be made between the
direction of biological process, and the process of logical thought.
For Levi-Strauss totemism is on a par, developmentally, with any other
instance of classification in general. Therefore it, nor any other
specific, can be seen as 'origin.' I see process as proceeding from
some very specific primordial origin to its metaphors, a point of
view whose paradigm was generated beginning with the "associationist"
tradition of the British empiricists, then Wm. James, Freud, James
Joyce. That is how biology works, how the genes, and their mutations,
work. It is not a relation from particular to universal, nor universal
to particular.

>> . . . It seems to me the one word which applies to the evidently
>>enormous diversity of prehistoric culture is 'collectivist'--sexually
>>restrictive and economically redistributionist.

>The first, "sexually restrictive," essentially describes all cultures and thus
>has no value in setting prehistoric cultures apart from any other culture.
>Secondly, "economic redistribution" is only characteristic of certain complex
>cultural forms usually associated with the appearance of chiefdoms. Sharing
>food, resources, shelter, etc. appears to be a primary and universal function
>of all primary social units, even among non-human primates. Thus, I fail to
>see these two dimensions as significant in segregating classes of culture, let
>alone levels or stages in the development of Culture in general.

Your citicisms are very much on the mark here. I stand by the
'collectivism.' The two specifics were very bad, the one, as you say,
not sufficiently unique, the other not sufficiently typical.
Pre-historic culture is collectivist in the literal sense of being
classificatory in all things, whether sexual, economic, or
philosophical. The normative bias was in favor of a subordination of
the individual to the category.

>>On the other hand,
>>modern cultures talk about, as innovations, freedom, the individual,
>>self-interest, the free market, privacy, rights, etc., etc. A denial
>>of the pre-historic, but not a very clean one: a novelty unto itself.

>I think you're implying that modern culture is somehow different from
>prehistoric culture along these dimensions. Some, like free market system,
>or ideological concepts of "freedom" and "privacy", etc., may indeed be
>inventions of highly integrated cultural systems that can't be implemented
>any where else. But some like innovation, self-interest, and rights are
>clearly not novel to one cultural type or another. I don't dispute that there
>are differences in cultural development and that these differences create
>systems in which unique forms and processes can emerge, while also prohibiting
>or restricting other possible choices. I just don't see how the dichotomy of
>denial fits into what we currently know of the empirical cultural record.

Take 'innovation' out: you misread the sentence. "Self-interest" has
become normative. It is a virtue. This is unique. Capitalism is the
economics of self-interest. Democracy is the politics of
self-interest. Similarly, "rights [individual]" has become uniquely

Best wishes. R. Snower