Re: Culture & symbols

Ronald Kephart (rkephart@OSPREY.UNF.EDU)
Tue, 30 Jul 1996 10:15:36 -0400

In message <19960729204735.AAA12863@LOCALNAME> Robert Snower writes:
> At 04:24 PM 7/29/96 +0000, Ronald Kephart wrote:
> >In message <19960728222218.AAA21693@LOCALNAME> Robert Snower writes:

> Primitive: early, original, antique, ancestral, the base for subsequent
> developments. (You are going to tell me they are not primitive, because
> they occur today, and sometimes as a component of a sophisticated culture.
> But they are different now. And even if not, still, they are literal
> survivals of what, in the course of other lineages, even within that same
> sophisticated culture, were essential bases for subsequent cultural
> evolution. In biological evolution, the amoeba can be called primitive, but
> it still survives, perhaps as an important part of an ecosystem.

I think it is at least questionable, and at times dangerous, to assume that
so-called "primitive" totem feasts, circumcision rites, etc. as practiced by
modern peoples are in fact "primitive". These folks have been evolving for as
long as anybody else; their contemporary or even recent historical beliefs and
behaviors are not necessarily living fossils of the behavior of archaic Homo.
Indeed, I'm working with a colleague on a post that will argue that modern
foraging and tribal peoples are MORE culturally "evolved" than people living in
so-called "civilized" societies; it'll have to wait a few days, though, till I
finish this course I'm teaching.

And, living amoebas are modern amoebas, not primitive armadillos.

> Talking about things, i.e., verbal commentary, is not really a part of
> ritual (chanting might be), or art. Even when language is the medium, as in
> myth and literature, it is not a talking about, as compared, e.g., to
> non-fiction.

In myth and literature, language provides the medium and also the productive /
creative aspect. Many cultures place a great emphasis on individual creative
use of language within the overall formula of the myth, literature, etc. And I
am sure that people do sit around and talk about a particular performance,
compare it to other performances, etc.

> But it is not a big point. I am trying to say that language is only one
> instance of the same intellectual process I think we are both talking about,
> and that, I believe, is more important.

Again, this is a question that deserves more time than I have right now.
Briefly, is Language the root and source of "consciousness," "intellect,"
"thinking," etc., or is it as you suggest one component of a larger process?
Can you really "think" without language? Or are you really "thinking" with
language even when you "think" you aren't?

Ron Kephart
University of North Florida