Re: Anthro-L

John Pastore (venture@CANCUN.RCE.COM.MX)
Mon, 22 Apr 1996 18:09:18 +0000

On 22 Apr 96 at 14:52, David H Weinlick (David Weinl wrote:

... It is
> >also ironic that the "socio-cultural folks can't even agree on what
> >the hell truth is.

So, what's the truth?

...It seems to me that you cannot be a
> >scientist if you can't at least accept the concept that the world
> >is knowable.

Of course its knowable. But are you suggesting that it can be all
knowable? The last time I checked this was an expanding universe, not
a static, or collapsing one. In other words there are new things to
be learned everyday, simply because there are new things coming into
being. No? Is a real scientist suppose to limit him or herself by
ignoring that fact?

...On that topic the concept of "subjective" truth is
> >baloney. How the heck can there be "more" than one truth in a given
> >instance.

In that given instance, has time come still?

...What ones thinks they see is not necessarily the truth.
> >If one were to allow for relativistic and subjective truth then we
> >give power and creedence to ideas like racism.

To the contrary. If you don't make relative, and, even, subjective,
allowances for the differences between cultures you are foisting your
values, and value system, no matter how "scientifically" construed on
others, and that not only cannot constitute anthropology, it in
fact constitutes the worse kind of racism. Please note:

On 21 Apr 96 at 22:54, Richard G. Calo wrote:

>... in its attempt to understand something fundamental about
> human beings and being human. I read something once (can't recall
> where) which I liked very much. It said, that when you can tell a
> joke in a native group, and they laugh at it, then the group and you
> are well on the way toward some degree of mutual understanding. I
> can think of no 'softer' a methodology than that-- and probably a no
> more accurate one where human beings are concerned.

Unless you don't agree that say in studying the Maya as a culture it
would be incorrect to merely treat the Maya as lab specimens and
effect a valid result you must involve yourself in their culture, so
as to understand it too. If so: it's been my experience that, among
the Maya, humor is the greatest diplomat. And if you can't gain
friendship, you gain nothing, and the Maya are very responsive to
humor. They enjoy having a sense of humor and consider it an honor
when other people will think well enough of them to share their humor
with them.

They will often ask me why I live here. I tell them the following
joke as an answer (keep in mind that the Maya here will tell you at
first that they are Mexican, and Maya only later):

There were three men marooned on a desert island: an Englishman, an
Ameican and a Mexican. After five years a genie appears and tells
them that they have three wishes, but since there are three of them,
they each must have one wish each. Asking the Englishman what his
wish is, the Englishman replies:

"Are you kidding! After five years marooned on this island with just
those two guys? To be back home, having a beer in the pub with my
mates, throwing the darts, I wish I was home." -- and PUFF, he's

The genie asks the American what's his wish? The American replies:

"Are you kidding! After five years marooned on this island with just
those two guys? To be back home, running the lawnmover, running the
kids to school, taking my wife out to dinner, I wish I was home." --
and PUFF, he's gone.

The genie asks the Mexican what's his wish? The Mexican replies:

"Gee. The weather its nice. There's plenty of fish in the ocean.
Those two guys --those two guys are my AMIGOS, I wish they were
back". PUFF.


After breaking into hysterics (because of the Englishman and
American being the stupid ones?), the Maya will respond with their
own favorite joke:

"Do you know why Maya don't live in houses with balconies?"


" Because if they did, and they leaned over the rail to say hello at a
passerby, they'd fall over."


It is their joke, and they love telling it. They don't mind being
progressively stouter from the ground up and having big heads. That
is who they are, and they don't mind being who they are, and their
smart enough to know that even if they wanted to do anything about it
to change it, they can't. Besides its well known that after living
here for a while alot of people who you might have thought previously
to be physically attractive people, don't look so good anymore until
at least they get a pretty dark tan. In any event, the Maya came to
terms along time ago with the fact that people are different, and so
be it. If you might think it racist read on...

> I do wonder
> though, wouldn't this methodology already argue for a degree of
> commonality, at some level, between different social groups?

Social groups? I don't know. In the States, and apparently Canada now
too, I think there was a time when people were far less hyper about
making jokes or even poking fun at themselves.

In such highly differing cultural groups, it is not easy, and I'll
tell you why. In Mexico, people, believe it or not, so
automatically grant such total dignity to others as not to regard
anyone as being superior or inferior for any physical reason: be they
short, tall, fat, male, female, one color or another. It is regarded
as the greatest stupidity not to, and their culture is not innured
with 'Hollywood'-style role models for so-called beauty, or any
special importances attached to being so-called beautiful. A man with
moles on his nose can be a game show host for no other reason than
he's a nice guy (and probably has some important friends). An actress
does not have to look like Robert Redford to be a lead player. Even
transvestites go unmolested. Because everyone is so comfortable in
the knowledge that their dignity is never at stake, when someone
doesn't know or remember your name, they will call you established
nicknames like "Gordo" (fatperson), "Guero" (blondie), "Negro"
(blackman), "Moreno" (brownman), and even "Gringo" (Yankee), and no
one ever doesn't respsond without a smile on their face being glad
that someone desires there attention. If someone is fat, and they say
"Oye, Gordo!" ("Hey Fatso!"), the fat person does not take offense
because no one regards anything being wrong with being fat, including
the fat person. The same with everyone else. Mexicans will be very
patient explaining to "gringos", not to take offense, after all:
"Gringos are Gringos just as Mexicans are Mexicans". They perceive a
difference, but they make no more of an issue out of it then when,
say, percieving purple grapes from blue grapes. It is not important.

But watch what can happen with two different cultures, when
something can happen which is not even a joke --but very
"relative", and very "subjective":

One day I and friends were sitting at a side-walk cafe when an
American blackman was passing with his friends. A Mexican
salesperson, as freindly as could be, called for his attention
saying "Oye, Negro!" The American went crazy, threatening violence
screaming: "No one calls me a Negro!" The Mexican was absolutely
shocked. He had absolutely no idea what could have elicited the
response. It was obvious that it had never occurred to the American
that he was not in the United States anymore, and that other
countries are different.

Now if Mexican jokes can be like they are where's the "communality"?
Is it in teaching the Mexicans the supposed error of their way and
just getting everybody hyped up over a problem that never existed
before? Many do realize that people from different cultures can
attach different values to humor, but that doesn't mean that they are
going to be, or should be, convinced that they should change theirs.
If a foreigner takes issue with their humor, it is the foreigner who
they think is "agrio" (suffering from dyspepsia -a sour stomach), and
while they won't agree, they will respect the foreigner's sourness
and simply not joke around with them anymore.

Similary, Mexico is not a puritantical society. Women's talk shows
are interspersed with commercial time where when ad space goes
unsold, the camera-men will stroll down some beach and just start
shooting all the cleavage, topside, bottomside and sideways.
Sometimes they import footage from as far away as Acapulco. With the
tourists they will give away tanning lotions to sunbathing girls if
they let the guys wipe some on there backs while videoing. Everybody
thinks it just great fun. Nothing more, nothing less. Just that
simple. What happens when a foreigner objects? "Gee, that's getting
awfully dispepsic!" --and both the Mexican men and women will think

So how will some jokes go with "Gringas", and not be regarded as
"sexist" --or for alot of "Gringos" for that matter too?

And if you can't joke around about people, than what's left? Religion
and Politics? Well they've got that too. And whose the stupid ones?

Bush, Thatcher and Salinas were on an airplane together when
something goes wrong with the engines. The pilot and crew announce
the failure by casually taking all the parachutes but one and
jumping. Bush says he wants the parachute because he is more
important to the world being from the most powerful country, Thatcher
wants it because its ladies first, Salinas claims what a great
gesture it would be to the third world if he got it. With time
running out, they decide to take a vote, and Salinas is selected to
make the count. Counting the ballots, Salinas grabs the parachute and
heads for the door, while Bush and Thatcher are shouting: "What was
the count?" "32,568,090 to 2 --Oooo."

...Anyway, I am
> >unsubscribing to this list because the socio/cultural folks have a
> >definite stranglehold on it.

"Socio/cultural folks"?

Isn't that the kind of categorizing that is essentially what is
repugnant about racism whether those "folks" may be even one race or
the other?

...This is clear when the next ten or
> >fifteen posts after a legitimate post are meaningless drivel. This
> >it also should be pointed out is norm on Anthro-L since I have been
> >on it Maybe one out of every ten posts has
> >been specifically focused on anthro and even fewer on phys. or
> >arch. The irony of this letter is that it will get many more
> >responses than my posts that I wanted responses to.

I disagree Matthew, I think the real irony of it is that just when
the issue of how anthropology can study the relative differences of
cultures and their associated races, that they can't proceed because
of these notions of what is absolutely true even among differing
value-systems by having some who seem to have an absolute insight on
just what the "truth" of racism is, and how their value-systems
should be imposed --no matter how scientifically contrived-- on the
value systems of other cultures. It gets so silly, you would think
that anthropology is actually the science of racism, which it is not
--no matter how zealous the crusader.

And don't tell me that my arguement, being based on humor is just a
joke. If one culture can't understand the humor of another --their
"differences" and their "commonalities"-- and if anthropologists
can't understand, that what is there to understand?

Ka Xiik Keech Ya Utzil,

John Pastore
Writer/Guide in 'El Mayab'
("The Mayan Homeland")