one question for Dwight Read

Mon, 16 May 1994 12:45:00 PDT

Foss writes:

" If other people are not meaningfully
different in culture, why should they be defined as Other? "

Let me first say that I am not disagreeing with Foss's comments about how
cultural categories may very well only have their definition in regard to
other categorizations. For example, the idea of ethnicity only makes sense
in terms of opposition of cultures; e.g., the !Kung San do not perceive of
themselves as an "ethnicity" precislely because for them there is no
referent opposition culture or cultures. Rather, my intent was to
build on his comments and see where parts might need change or altering. In
my reply to his reply, I will again focus on where there may be disagreement,
not on where there is agreement.

We can take as a baseline that regardless of culture, we are aware of the
existence of other members of homo sapiens; i.e., our brains, as well as the
brains of primates and other mammals, seem to include the capacity for
categorization as an internal property of the brain's operation. That is, it
does not seem likely that language and culture are a prerequisite for
categorization at a non-conscious level. This
suggests that at the level of perception by the senses, and by the
operation of the brain at a pre-language level, we can recognize that certain
biological entities are alike and differ from other biological entities;
i.e., we are capable at a prelanguage level of recognizing members of our own
species. This means we have an already existing categorization prior to
culturally defined categorizations.

For the argument that I made in the
previous post, this is critical. Consider. One possibility is that even
with language and culture we simply elevate, as it were, this prior
categorization to the level of language and take it as fixed and immutable.
But language gives us the possibility of being "creative" which includes the
possibility of DEFINING new categories and not just "recognizing"
categorizations that exist by pre-language operations of the brain.

To define a category requires that it be given boundaries, hence of necessity
there is an Other; namely those who are members of the prior categorization
but not a member of this new category. That is, members of
Homo sapiens who are not kin of a !Kung San person differ from a !Kung San
person by virtue of that cultural categorization, not by pre-existing,
intrinsic factors that make a person a Kung San person. The categorization of
kin verus non-kin is arbitrary (in the mathematical sense of the term) and
the boundary that is used (who is a kin? who is a non-kin?) can and does vary
widely from one group to another. This assumes that at some level the !Kung
recognize that kin and non-kin are of the same kind (members of homo sapiens)
but are made different by virtue of a culturally defined categorization that
only includes some members of homo sapiens (the kin) and excludes all others
(teh non-kin).

To put it another way, given the prior existence of the set U
(that is, my ability to recognize certain organisma as having commonality
via my senses and operations of the brain at a pre-langauge, pre-culture
level), then if I define a subset V of U, necessarily there is the subset W =
U - V. Note that to define the subset V, I must first recognize the set
U--or to put it another way, merely by defining the subset V I am implicitly
recognizing the set U. Hence I am, by virtue of defining the subset V ("the
real people") simultaneously defining the subset U - V ("every one else").

I suggest that in sense the category "other" arises out of logical
necessity arising from the act of defining a category.

D. Read