Re: Culture & symbols

Robert Snower (rs222@WORLDNET.ATT.NET)
Thu, 1 Aug 1996 16:19:06 +0000

At 02:20 PM 8/1/96 +0000, thomas w kavanagh wrote:
>On Wed, 31 Jul 1996, Robert Snower wrote:
>> At 04:22 PM 7/31/96 +0000, thomas w kavanagh wrote:
>> >It is a long way from the universality of kinship systems to "ethnic
>> >collectivism."
>> To me they are synonyms.
>They are synonyms only insofar as both are cultural fictions useful in
>organizing disparate populations. Both are subject to political
>manipulation -- defining who is and who is not -- and neither is deeply
>grounded in any non-cultural (i.e. 'biological') reality.

I agree with the second sentence absolutely, and the first except for the
"only insofar."
>> >> This bond is expressed in the tribal kinship system which transcends
>> >> the biological.
>> >
>> >There is no such thingie as "the tribal kinship system."
>> >
>> I don't know what you mean. "a kinship system?" Is that better?
>Marginally. Now work on "transcends." It does not mean "extends." A
>kinship system is not an extension of biology (can you say 'affine').

Transcends in the sense of being a hypothesis, a metaphor, a pretending form
of the biological which in that reborn form can be and is extended to the
biologically unrelated.

>>><snip>[re Cadwallader Colden's comment re sachems giving away all the
>proceeds of raids...]

>> Is it invalid? In priniciple, or just in detail?
>As I said, it is, perhaps, invalid in detail.

But definitely valid in principle?
>>>Even so, redistributional systems are political, and they are economic,
>>>but there is no "collectivism" involved. They are the actualizations of
>>>the individual social relations between the center (big men/"chief") and
>>>the periphery, and there is no necessity that the periphery has any other
>>>social existence. Indeed, it is the often involvement in a
>>>redistributional network which gives identity, not vice versa. Moreover,
>>>people change identities, become involved in other networks, etc., and
>>>pragmatic politics sometimes does involve "the gang on the other side of
>>>the plains."
>> In my book, "redistributional systems" equals "collectivist systems."
>Once again, redistributional systems are not in and of themselves
>"collectivist." There is no common identity amongst the participants in
>a big man's network, and the network collapses at his death or retirement.

A transcient society. Very interesting. Redistributional system implies
collectivist system. If it is redistributional, then it is collectivist.
The common identity, transient as it may be, is itself created by the
>> But are you giving kinship its due? You make
>> it all sound so loose. Is it? Or, much much more important, was it?
>Kinship is extremely important. But kinship is an indeterminate cultural
>fiction. Some kinship systems are extremely loose, others are extremely
>tight (Mary Douglas would call that "grid and group" [thanks for reminding
>me JM]).

And kinship (including the metaphorical kind) is the basis for all societies.

Best wishes. R. Snower