ripping off culture

Daniel A. Foss (U17043@UICVM.BITNET)
Tue, 7 Feb 1995 20:50:26 CST

stolen. Neither land nor culture is, however, pervasively owned as property,
in the conventional Western sense. The laws whereof he speaks, moreover,
protect the large corportations of rich nations: licencing of technology,
media rights, trademarks, and so on. The world as a whole would be better
off without them; certainly, their having been brandished against China is
an example of blatant imperialism. This is what the Chinese had every reason
to expect when they got mixed up with capitalism: sound businessmen following
sound business practices. So, they got a little crooked, what with 1.2 billion
people to support. They got burned, this time.

The theoretical problem which has arisen here, to my mind, is that Peoples
are not hard billiard-ball discrete entities in history. They emerge, or are
constituted as Peoples; they disappear or are violently destroyed; they morph,
that is, change beyond recognition, whilst retaining their names; they alter
their own pasts, even as they forcibly rip off the pasts of other Peoples or
civilizations; and neither Peoples nor cultures are *ever* the same from any
Time t1 to Time t2. Emically, however, they *are* hard billiard balls,
discrete entities, historical constants. It's all well and good to parrot
the old handwringing despairing refrain of the white North Armenian, "Let's
give the country back to the Indians!" But the Native Americans to whom the
country would be returned are the *products*, in a thousand tormented ways,
of the white-dominated society we now have. All that survives of those whose
land and culture was stolen are material artifacts, ideological figments,
data - much of it unscientifically collected - recorded by contemporary
observers, oral traditions, languages, etc: some Peoples disappeared
without leaving more than their names in the record.

That is to say, the endeavor of ascertaining the *truth* about *what*
happened to *whom* and *when* must run contradictory to the figmentational
positing of heirs to whom compensation must be paid, whether as *Peoples*
or as a *race*. No such strictures, of course, should be made to apply to
prohibilition and punishment of racist offences occurring in our own time.

Daniel A. Foss