Re: a post-modern economic anthropology_and rationality

Eve Pinsker (U56728@UICVM.BITNET)
Sun, 5 Mar 1995 15:06:35 CST

As far as defining economic values as a form of cultural values, I think that
Thorstein Veblen did that some time ago in _The Theory of the Leisure Class_,
probably something that would-be post-modern economic anthropologists
ought to take another look at; also, along those theoretical lines, Bourdieu's
_Distinctions_ -- to affirm that "culture" is as much a part of industrial and
post-industrial what-we-think-of-as-economic relationships in the West as in
the relatively recently decolonized states elsewhere. Also, if it's necessary
to deconstruct, i.e. analyze, what's meant by "economic" or "anthropology" it's
also necessary to analyze the use of the term "rational" (there was some
slippery usage of the term in both Thornton's and Danny Yee's recent posts).
A lot of work in cultural anthropology has gone to show that what we think of
as "rational" thinking depends on "cultural" logics, on systems of thought
built up on assumptions that are culturally variable. The kind of zero-sum,
individualistically-based, limited time-line cost/benefit analysis that some
economists and political scientists talk about as "rational" behavior is only
one possible model for a "rational" logic, one that in the normative sense may
well be "irrational" in the long run and applied to large collectivities.
Ethnographic examples aside, even work within theoretical logic has redefined
rationality -- e.g., the game theory work on non-zero-sum games like Prisoner's
Dilemma, which shows that what is a "rational" choice at the level of the
individual is not necessary a "rational" choice at the collective level (see
Anatol Rapaport's _Prisoner's Dilemma_ and subsequent work).
The individual/
collective distinction also relates to Danny Yee's questioning of the
assumption of "rationality" in Bateson's use of Russell's logical types
hierarchy (which has to do w. the relationship of a member of a class to the
class) ; neither Bateson nor Russell was presuming any particular type of
"rational" logic, the logical type distinction is at the meta-logical level, it
has to do with the general constraints on manipulating symbols and
relationships between them (cf. also Godel's Incompleteness Theorem and Douglas
Hofstader's explanations and extensions of it in _Godel, Escher, Bach_ and
_The Mind's Eye_). But neither Bateson nor Russell meant that people always
mark the distinction between logical types (if they did, Russell wouldn't have
had to explain the distinction), just that certain consequences follow from
conflating them (see Hofstadter on Strange Loops or Tangled Hierarchies).
Just like certain consequences follow from assuming that what is good for
individual businessmen is good for the collective welfare of all citizens
(what's good for G.M. is good for the country, etc.) Eve Pinsker