Culture & concentration camps

Glenn Stone (stone@COLUMBIA.EDU)
Mon, 7 Feb 1994 20:54:07 EST

>print. I must say, however, that some of us read White not because of
>how he defined "culture," but *in spite* of that. By requiring
>dependence on symbolizing, White's definition entailed that the socially
>acquired ways of life observed among monkeys and apes, which depend not
>on language but on imitation (like much of human culture too!), are not
>"culture." Setting up a qualitative gap between humanity and the rest of
>nature certainly was an odd position for the otherwise rather
>thoroughgoing materialist to take. White's late attempt to define

Matt Cartmill had an interesting take on this in a paper in Int. J.
Primatology 2 or 3 years ago. He says that to contend with the claim
that h. sapiens was qualitatively different from other species and
couldn't have evolved via "descent with modification", early
Darwinians argued that the "savage races" closed the gap between
civilized man & the beasts. The real qualitative difference, in other
words, was not between man and beast but between civilized man &
savage man.

A few decades later, the Nazis agreed, although they had rather
distinct notions about who a the savages were.

As Cartmill puts it, the denouement of WW2 and the discovery of
concentration camps produced a concerted effort in social science to
emphasize the unity of our species -- to move the qualitative boundary
from its old position between civilized & savage to a position between
ALL humans and the rest of the animal kingdom.

White's definitions of culture date to this period.

I would add that, Stalinist that he was, Leslie White may have had an
even more visceral reaction than most to the Nazis and their notions
of humans and beasts.

Glenn Davis Stone BITNET: stone@cunixf
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