what preceding post ['sure you can tell...'] meant

Sun, 29 May 1994 02:06:36 EDT

software upgrade," in the form of a letter to Mike Lieber, was already
too long to explain what it was about. The intent was to wander over a
small corner of the jungle I'd already said, in the widely-deleted "unasked
questions (2): cultural evolution," the list hadn't bothered to deal with
in discussing "cultural evolution." This includes the distinction if any
between cultural evolution from other cultural change. We agree, for example,
that contemporary feminism should be covered by any definition of either
cultural evolution or cultural change or both. We tend to subscribe to
one or another theory of *social* evolution, but agree that the ideological
notion called Progress is intellectually reprehensible. Where does that
leave the high-nebulosity blur we have been calling *cultural* evolution?
Cultures, as we find them, must constantly change, even if only to stay
recognizably the same - at the cost of being called backward by Others -
since, if culture is, very loosely, "the mental life of society and the
material products in which that mental life is objectified," the organisms
whose mental life it is are continually being replaced; and these same
organisms require the reproduction of a historically relative amount of
variability in the expression of mental life verbally and materially in
order that the culture remains within acceptable limits for "a free country,"
"the Advanced West," or "democracy." Yet there are periods, for every culture,
when it becomes very much more complex very much more rapidly than usual;
and in history we call this "florescence" for high culture and the arts.
It can apply, as well, to the transition to agriculture, or the development
of class society and the state, or the "Axial Age" discussed earlier. Are
there general patterns not wholly subsumed under "social evolution," since
we are not allowed to posit Progress? As of Thursday, posts on infibulation
and other mutilations, especially of women, were still coming in. This
provided the opportunity to review the case of Chinese footbinding, which
I did not mention. Why should I be the only one to not leave unsaid what
is perfectly obvious, self-evident, and taken-for-granted?

Where, for that matter, does it leave cultural change? How much change
should occur for an instance of cultural change, a JND ["just-noticeable
difference" in psychology], or perhaps Thingie, in the sense of "possible
something which would seem to exist at least somewhat," be said to have
taken place? Mike Lieber cited as an early warning sign of a Thingie the
introduction of a new, overpriced undergarment, WonderBra, aimed at
unsophisticated consumers unable to afford cosmetic surgery, along with
current trends in women's fashions. The Thingie in question would amount
to antifeminist cultural reaction.

There was no indication, in that post by Mike Lieber, that the list had
been discussing cultural evolution for weeks. *This is precisely the point*.
Of what? That what is taken for granted is a priori not worth mentioning.
I began, therefore, with an appeal to the reader, should such a person
exist, to suspend the assumption that what is taken for granted is not
worth mentioning, for example, that the usage, "work...[deleted] off" is
gender-neutral, when it just might be gendered male [or indicative of
masculinist bias in usage by women].

Then I did my sexfiend act to question the assumption that deeroticized
discourse among professionals precludes the possibility of the enormous
volume of discussion of sex-related matters such as sex appeal from conducing
to sexist objectification of women, notably on a warm spring day with the
official opening of the Summer Sex Season looming on Monday. (There's a less
bizarre point I could have raised instead, which is that everybody has read
Susan Faludi's Backlash, on the bestseller list for months. Anything which
is a media megahit will generate clones, sequels, remakes, ripoffs, and
spinoffs; not only generals but the rank-and-files fight the last war; such
that anyone righteously alarmed by Backlash is spoiling for a fight against
Backlash II.

Three men, born peasants, became emperors of China; four counting Mao
Zedong: in 207 BC, 907, 1368, and 1949. In each case, a social revolution,
brought about by peasant war, swept away the pre-existing ruling class and
replaced it with a somewhat different one. The Tang Dynasty had relied on
plate-armored cavalry, in equipment - inluding lances for shock effect in
formation - much like the armored knights of Medieval Europe. The cavalry
was recruited from the half-Turkish hereditary aristocracy of North China,
a very horsy crowd, including its women. Daoism was patronized by the
dynasty, and at that time, the *nei dan* school of Daoism, featuring monastic
orders for both sexes devoted to nonstop sex acts - with lengthy training,
of course - was popular in the Tang aristocracy.

According to Harold Rosen, 1963, the practice of footbinding was
introduced during the Five Dynasties period, 907-960; or in other words
in the very period when, as all writers on footbinding should be aware but
never are, that a social revolution, with attendant cultural revulsion
against the evil practices of the former ruling class, was going on or
had just occurred. The new ruling class featured sedentary males, by
occupation scholars, bureaucrats, and associated sources of wealth in
lands, tenant-serfs, commerce, and industry. Sedentary men required
women even more sedentary than themselves in keeping with gender-role
delineations. To which was added, in reaction against the former ruling
class culture, sexual prudery and a horror of horseflesh. The Song armies
were infantry recruited from impoverished conscripts and branded criminals.
Since the enemies of the Song, the tribal states of Liao and Jin in the
Northeast and Xixia in the Northwest, later Mongols, were horse nomads
relying heavily on cavalry, the Song compiled the worst Won-Lost record
in the history of major Powers at war with hostile states for so long a
period, notwithstanding the Song Economic Revolution, underway at this

Chinese Confucian historians tended to the obsessive when "rehappening"
the past, as I put it, to suit ideology. All the requisite documents were
forged when the events supposed to have happened, and for the right reasons,
were long enough ago. The Book of Documents is a collection of over a
thousand texts attributed to the early Zhou Dynasty, at the end of the
Bronze Age, of which seven are genuine and and another six are probable.
The social-revolutionary aspects of social revolutions, are, to the contrary,
"unhappened," obliviated, the less said the better. This changed for a while
after 1949; it is changing back again, if only in that all nonrevolutionary
regimes are conservative. What has been shown is the existence of the Turkish-
influenced aristocracy under the Tang, and its nonexistence at the time of
the founding of the Song by Zhao Kuanyin in 960. The direct connection between
social revolution, with attendant cultural revolution, and footbinding cannot
be documented.

The same relation obtains between the European Witch Craze, centered in
Germany from the fifteenth century, and the Hussite Revolution in Bohemia,
1419-1433, where the counterrevolutionaries were led by Sigismund of
Luxemburg, Holy Roman Emperor. While the radical Taborite wing of the
Hussites threw up military leaders of genius, there were in the end just
too many Germans. The Hussite Revolution broke out in the Czech Lands at
the very time that Germany - what "Germany" meant at that time is a complex
problem itself - was getting over the worst of the social dislocations of
the Bubonic Plague (1348-9 with recurrent epidemics thereafter) due in part
to terror instilled by lynch-law death squads such as the Holy Vehm. The
Hussite heresy had its adherents and sympathizers in Germany itself, while
the previously-despised Czechs were defeating German chivalry on the
battlefield. At midcentury, the publication of the Malleus Maleficorum, it
was perfect commonsense in Germany that an imaginary disciplined hierarchy
of evil paralelled the earthly hierarchies of Church and Crown, where both
the latter were in visibly horrible shape.

Cultures we call "Traditional" are of no very great timeless antiquity;
the illusion of time-immemorialiity is a property of culture itself. Recent
appearances of another society and the behavior, practices, and rituals
which make sense in its terms are, as Tradition, self-stylish fabrications
just as much as The West or Western Civilization itself.

How apply this to infibulation and clitoridectomy in Africa? Reject the
assumption of internally harmonious culture, for starters, why not.

Daniel A. Foss