Re: Developmentalism and the primitive.

Robert Snower (rs222@WORLDNET.ATT.NET)
Thu, 1 Aug 1996 15:34:16 +0000

At 02:00 PM 8/2/96 +0000, john cook wrote:
>R. Snower July 23 comments
>> There are only two cultures: the prehistoric one, and the historic one.
>> The prehistoric originated out of a rejection of natural selection at the
>> individual level. It was (and survives as) very collectivist in nature,
>> employing its fantastic devices to generate a highly differentiated
>> cooperating social group, by quelling reproductive competition, and
>> extending real kinship to metaphorical kinship.
>> Historic culture is, in turn, the rejection of that collectivism. Western
>> culture is its only exponent. For where is the Oriental Athenian democracy?
>> Where the Indian Magna Carta? Where the Chinese Patrick Henry? Where the
>> Arab Darwin? Where the Japanese Adam Smith, Milton Friedman? Freud was
>> Viennese, not Vietnamese. African art is not revolutionary, Picasso's
>> version of it is. But of course, this denial of the collective is not a
>> regression to the old natural selection. It is a novelty unto itself, and
>> where it goes nobody knows.
>R. Snower July 27th
>> I am relieved to hear you say that. Multiculturalism denigrates individual
>> merit in favor of ethnic collectivism. Ethnic collectivism is the theme of
>> prehistoric culture, and we owe to it such survivals as racism, sexism,
>> statism, imperialism, as well as less noxious versions which perhaps are
>> more literal versions of the original.
>Even though I cannot but admire the sophistication (even if somewhat
>ethnographically blunt) and interest of Robert Snowers postings I must
>admit to still having some difficulty with what I see as an incipient
>eschatological developmentalism that pervades these same postings. I
>have no real objection to Darwinian selection as a theoretical base,
>but I find much of its application to ethnographic experience/data to
>be highly problematic.
>Now I am sure there are many on the list who can respond more
>adequately than I to some of these issues (and some such as Mcreery
>have), but I 'd like to add on a personal note that the more I work
>with a people whom many might call "primitive" the less do I find an
>idea like the "primitive" neccessary or useful in the consideration of
>their social life. I fact, I believe firmly that my use of an idea of
>the "primitive", to almost any degree, in my understandings and
>interpretations would be totally and utterly detremental to my
>personal and professional relationship with these people.
>If this indeed the case, what real validity can we accord an idea of
>the "primitive" in its "modern" context, and can we afford to make
>uncritical use of it as a theoretical category?
>John Cook

Of course you don't tell somebody his culture is primitive, anymore than a
doctor tells a patient with only one leg that he has only one leg. But the
doctor doesn't go off and write an article to the medical journal that his
patient has two legs, either.

I don't think my hypothesis relies on a Darwinian base. At least, the
individual competition underlying Western culture is a long way from being
either biological or in terms of sexual reproduction, or a question of
literal survival. It is a magical metaphor of all of these. The ethnic
alternative which I deplore is far closer to being literally Darwinian.

Best wishes. R. Snower