Re: Truth, Knowledge, Power (Read2)

Somniferum (2453mauri@UMBSKY.CC.UMB.EDU)
Fri, 26 Apr 1996 00:57:24 EDT

On Wed, 24 Apr 1996 Dwight Read wrote:
<<"Aurin replies like a good native defending his constructed reality,
which is fine except that he used his own constructed reality to provide an
"interpretation" of what I wrote that does not correspond to the written
text. E.g. "He [Read] <plaintively> asks: "Is there any extant theory in
anthropology that is applicable to this very real problem?" " (emphasis
added). I asked a factual question whose purpose was to engender
discussion on a comment made by Calo; namely, studying ourselves. Aurin
may dispute whether there is a "very real problem"--which is where his
constructed reality comes in--but my question simply asked if there is
theory relevant to this matter, not because (as Aurin reads into my text)
the topics of the two articles have "mytho-ideological significance for him
[Read]" but because (a) these are matters of issue to the natives/culture
bearers of the society (U.S.) in question and (b) the two articles seem to
come from diametrically opposed naive [sic?] beliefs about (1) is there or
is there not a problem in families today in U.S. society and (2) the nature
and/or cause of said problem. In other words, I was using the context of
news article to query about a more general concern: to wit, To what extent
has anthropology developed theory that is applicable or relevant to what
the natives/culture bearers perceive to be problems in their (U.S.)

Several problems have been conflated here: 1) What Read referred to (on
4/21) as "the breakdown of families as they have been traditionally viewed"
in an "objective" sense, i.e. from the point of view of an
anthropologist/scientist (an observation he deems valueless as an objective
non-participant, although he does wonder what anthropology can offer "that
is applicable to this very real problem"), 2) "What the natives/culture
bearers perceive to be problems in their society," and 3) the conflict
between the two "camps" represented by Read via the two LA Times articles.

If Read posited his question, "to engender discussion on a comment made by
Calo; namely, studying ourselves," why is he so quick to remove himself
from the picture? Perhaps I was a bit forceful in the way I thrust him into
the picture to begin with, but in my opinion this "objective" stuff is
rather obfuscatory. My point was that to pose his question in the way he
did, comparing popular journalistic accounts such that they appear on the
surface to be "opposing" viewpoints, merely sets a discursive stage with
witch to replicate the values implicit in "family values," a phrase that
Read made no effort to clarify. Merely suggesting that these articles
presented "diametrically opposed viewpoints" implies that they are somehow
related. What is the relationship between day care and a teenager's bad
behavior? Did that teenager go to day care? Is day care equivalent to
"insufficient parenting?" What does the belligerent teenager in article two
have to do with the is-day-care-family-values discussion? How is the
breakdown of family values (or "of families as they have been traditionally
viewed") that is symbolized by day care related to the family situation in
article two? On what issues are these viewpoints opposed? Why did Read
juxtapose these two stories?

To Read's question about what anthropology has to say about
"natives/culture bearers" and how they perceive their own societies, all I
can ask is, what else do cultural anthropologists do?

<<"I made no statement whatsoever about what my personal viewpoint (or lack
thereof) on so-called `family values.' I was writing in the capacity of an
anthropologist/scientist about what the natives/culture bearers are saying
about their own (U.S.) society">>

I have always been fascinated by the way that scientists are able not to
have points of view on the things they talk about. I wonder how they become
interested in things. I guess I'm not a scientist. I will say that I'm sure
that I never said anything about "validity," in effect or otherwise, and
the chess metaphor is entirely Read's ("in effect, Aurin is saying: The
folks in ______ may be passing laws about `parental responsibility,' but
their model that posits a breakdown in family values is (as Levi-Strauss
has commented about native models in general) not necessarily valid and (as
I read Aurin) they are merely pawns in a larger struggle over the
`consolidation of power and authority within centralized, larger scale
(trans kin-group) governing bodies.'") I chose to interpret the "problems"
implicit in Read's postings in terms of value judgments as a way of
analyzing the various motivations involved--Dr. Eleanor Macoby's, the town
of St. Clair Shores, [detective] McFadzen's, "the son," "the father" and
"his wife," the journalists, and Read's. What is culture made of if not
"value systems?" Rather than validity, I would asses the "models" of "the
folks passing laws in _____" in terms of effectiveness: if they are passing
laws their models must be working. In this sense I think that the "family
values" nexus as a model _for_ action is a rather effective cultural
paradigm, its vagueness being one of its greatest strengths.

And what's wrong with manifestos anyway? ("Other than looking like an
ideological manifesto, Aurin's comment...")

--Marcus Aurin

P.S.--"He said...`[The scribes] devour the houses of widows and, as a
pretext, recite lengthy prayers'...He sat down opposite the treasury and
observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in
large sums. A poor widow also came and put in *two small coins worth a few
cents.*" Mark 12:40-42, New American Bible. (the New English Bible has:
"Presently there came a poor widow who dropped in two tiny coins, together
worth a farthing.")