about what evolves

Sun, 15 May 1994 01:24:00 PDT

Foss writes:

[various comments about evolution to which Rindos has already made excellent

He also makes the interesting comment:

"Culture usually presupposes another culture, since a People's sense of
Peoplehood is embedded within a culture, and Peoples are constituted as
Peoples by other Peoples. It should follow that a culture should be
understood as Meaningfully Different from some other culture; otherwise your
culture cannot include a sense of having a culture as part of the culture."

As I understand it, many hunting and gathering groups self-referral can be
loosely translated as "We, the real and good people." E.g., the !Kung San
refer to themselves the the ju /wasi "Westphal translates it "true" or "real"
and says 'any translation which reflects the fact that the people are
identifiable and worth knowing (i.e. good, loyal, honest, correct, right)
would be acceptable'" (Marshall, p. 17). This notion of Peoplehood need not
be seen in opposition to some other culture, but can be taken as a
categorization of Homo sapiens into two categories: (1) We, the real people
and (2) All others. Note that what is entailed here is a conceptual system
that involves a universal set U (which is an abstraction from the
phenomenological level) and a constructed subset V of U to which other
conceptual systems are linked. The instantiation of the universal set U is
"persons" (whose existence is known from experience), but the subset V is
constructed and its content cannot be understood without first knowing how it
is conceptually defined . For the !Kung San (as for many groups like them)
the subset V is defined in terms of kinship relationships; i.e., were I a
!Kung San, the set V for me is the set of all persons in U with whom I have
or can establish a kinship relationship. Kinship terminologies, in turn, are
constructed conceptual systems (and have structures that can be abstractly
generated) and so V exists initially at a conceptual level and then becomes
instantiated through "rules" that link abstract terms and concepts to the
empirical level. So what the !kung are saying is that there is a subset V of
U (U = "human beings" that I recognize as such at an empirical
leve) that is distinguished by being the "real people" where !kung
concepts of morality, proper behavior etc. apply, versus those outside of the
range of morality, proper behavbior, etc. (the members of U - V). This
subset V is a mental construct and has no "natural" existence (whereas
"human beings" taken as biological organisms exists as biological organisms
regardless of our conceptualizations) and exists first abstractly and then
concretely through rules linking the abstract to the concrete (e.g., abstract
kin terms can be linked to genealogical positions which can be linked to
particular persons).

This framework distinguishes the Us from the Other without any claim about
the existence of any other culture. This does not preclude a further
elaboration in which other cultures are embedded; rather, I offer it to argue
that there is no need to assume the kind of embedding suggested by Foss in
order that there can be a sense of "Peoplehood."

D. Read