reply to Danny Yee's review

Tue, 22 Feb 1994 08:17:17 CST

I never expected to emerge from Danny Yee's dissection table unscathed, and
that hawk-eyed reviewer did not disappoint me. I must say I'm puzzled at the
"environment" as "Black Box" charge. I provide so much detail about the
reef forms, beach forms, coral heads, outer reef slopes, currents, wave forms,
tide patterns, wind patterns, channels, and windward shores where the fish are
caught and whose conditions must be accounted for, that I have a lot trouble
seeing those environmental details as a Black Box. If these are not
environmental variables that constrain choices of and details of catch
techniques, then I don't know what "environment" is. Indeed, I go so far as to
include spirits as part of the fishermen's environment (with ritual, therefore,
one more fishing technique). Not Guilty! I suspect that what
Danny might be referring to is a passage in the introduction to Part Two of
_More Than a Living_ where I assert that "the environment causes nothing."
I use "environment" in this context precisely in its most naive, black box
sense. I do this not in order to create a straw-man--in this case I don't have
to--but in order to de-romanticize and demystify a whole arena of explanation
of "traditional" to "modern" processes of change. I stand by this statement.
Environment causes nothing. Other than a construct, its referent is a set of
conditions that may or may not constrain human activity, depending on the
activity and on the specific environmental variable in question. But popular
usage of "the Environment" is as a Black Box, no? And when we write about
these matters, do we not have to contend with environment as Black Box on the
way to getting the reader past that bottleneck?