PW: Responding to Scott & Mike.

Warren Sproule (Warren.Sproule@SOCIOL.UTAS.EDU.AU)
Tue, 25 Oct 1994 16:13:12 +0200

W. James Sproule here, to talk about war!!!!!!!! (sorry about that, it just
seemed like a good way of maximising responses from the list - back to
something non-virulent that looks like anthropology)...Again I'm in debt to
Scott Holmes and Mike Salovesh for prodding me to defend my position and
driving towards general (as well as self-)clarification. Re their recent
and typically astute postings:

Scott makes two vital points: First, that this is NOT an argument about the
existence of violence or conflict within and between "primitive" societies,
but rather whether such practices qualify as "war"; secondly, allied to
this, that the key issue is in determining levels (of population,
technology, even "civilisation") that enable us to meaningfully define SOME
kinds of conflict as "war". With these broad points I'm in wholehearted
agreement. As to the finer-grained details of the post
[a] States and formal sanctions - On the claim that in order to war,
'formal sanction can be supplied by a mere word from the recognised leader
and/or ritual', take a look at the last essay in Pierre Clastres' _Society
Against The State_. He argues that the structure of non-Statist (here,
tribal) chieftainship is such that, were the leader to utter the 'mere
word' initiating war, the basis of his leadership - prestige and his sense
of the group's desires - is undercut, and the tribe is duty-bound to
abandon him: C.'s examples of this process in action are the respective
fates of Fousiwe of the Yanomano, and the Apache leader Geronimo. On this
reading, tribal formations, unlike States, are not governed in a top-down
manner, and the chief is ostracised unless his pronouncements mesh with a
popular will.
[b] Maps/commemoration: I take your point that in both cases a concept (of
"territory" or "honour") precedes its formal (here, written) expression. I
guess what I'm saying is that once expressed, the artefact (map, war
memorial) produces 'effects' of its own, and that some of these effects are
other than mere elaboration of the original concept or amplification of
what's capable of expression in another medium (ie, orality). As a
side-issue, I'm confused about your use of the word "history", as in '[a]s
for the possibly necessary components of warfare, none cited require
writing but they do require history". Isn't "history" - as distinct from
"myth" - itself a written account? Straighten me out here...
[c] Sumerians: Harking back to an earlier post (10/4) Scott noted that
"[t]he use of writing to demarcate societies capable of engaging in warfare
removes all those pre-Sumerian cities from the definition". From William
Frawley's _Text and Epistemology_ comes the observation that "Gelb, like
others working in the history of writing, sees writing as developing aroud
3000 BC, in post-Sumerian pictographs, which gave rise to both Sumerian
cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphics. *Through cultural contact and
conquest* these two writing systems developed into the systems which we
know in the West today" (1987: 2). I also note that under the head of 'WAR'
in the _Encyclopedia of Human Behaviour Vol. 4_, Gabriel & Metz assert the

"The world's oldest armies appeared in Sumer (modern Iraq) and Egypt.
Between 3000 and 2000 BC, Sumer developed a professional army which fought
in phalanx formation and was the first to be equipped with body armour and
helmets. Sumerian military technology brought into being the first military
application of the wheel, the chariot, and the invention of the socket axe,
the penetrating axe and the composite bow. The Sumerian states were at war
with one another almost constantly over a thousand year period culminating,
around 2400 BC, in the appearance of the world's first military
dictatorship under Sargon the Great" (1994: 530).

In other words, on this interpretation of Scott's example, development of
warfare and writing occur together, and at least *suggest* that
non-literate pre-Sumerian societies were *also non-warring*.
[d] primitive conflict. If 'primitive war' doesn't exist, Scott asks "how
do we refer to the violence that occurred previous to this point?" My prime
candidates would be (appropriately qualified forms of) hunting, duelling
and, especially, the feud. I can do no better in this regard than to point
listmembers towards the discussion of this latter distinction in Jacob
Black-Michaud's excellent _Feuding Societies_. My argument still maintains
that positing "war" as a generic category, and reading off particular forms
of "conflict" as subsets of "war", gets it backwards. It's WAR that
constitutes the *specific* form...

Mike's post (10/20). What fascinated me most (apart from the implications
of Mike's aside that we *know* Genghiz Khan's genealogy to be fictional
because of the written, ie *authoritative*, accounts of Chinese scribes)
was his emphasis on the Incas. Mike says "Kipus, those bundles of knotted
cords carried by message-bearers, were NOT a writing system. They were
memory jogs...". This corresponds to nearly every account I've ever read of
the Inca as not having writing. How do I deal with this in terms of my
general position?
[i] The simplest way is to maintain that the Inca are no more a "primitive"
configuration than the Mongols, and therefore engage in warfare. Like
Michael my ideal-typical non-warring groups are still by and large
hunter-gatherers: In Sahlins' terms, 'original affluent societies'. But
this doesn't address the writing issue;
[ii] I can cast the Inca as a deviant case, an important exception to the
rule that "warring societies write" - So that the Inca are no more typical
of (non-warring) oral cultures than Iceland (who, according to Melko in _52
Peaceful Societies_, has not engaged in war since the mid-13th Century) is
typical of (belligerent) literate cultures (at present my inclination is to
take this route); or,
[iii] I can assert, against the overwhelming majority opinion, that the
Inca DID write. Such a case might go in directions something like these:

o 'the *quipu* of the Incas can be regarded as a type of writing. Far from
being merely mnemotechnic instruments of accountancy, the knotted cords
were primarily and of necessity a writing that asserted the legitimacy of
the imperial law and the terror it was intended to inspire' (Clastres,
again from _Society Against The State_, 1987: 177). This is a possibility,
but problematic for my case. It heads down the "semiotics-in-reverse" road
taken by Derrida in _Of Grammatology_ and his concepts of arche-writing,
-graph, -gram, etc. My main objection is that it broadens the question of
what constitutes 'writing' out past any operational limit, and I'd argue
that writing ain't just ANY old sign-system. I tnink a more useful tack
would be
o Throwing a spanner into the historical record. I've always found the Inca
achievement that Mike refers to incredible for an oral culture: what if
it's simply NOT credible? The Moche, 'forerunners' of the Inca, had a
communications system (bean-messages) that look a lot more like writing
than the quipu - why wasn't it adopted/adapted by the Inca? Can an oral
culture *really* administer thousands of miles of territory and 5-6,000,000
inhabitants without writing? If so where does this leave the contemporary
arguments about the organisational necessity of literacy? Further, why are
we so willing to take the evidence that the Inca did not write at face
value? The original claims are made by the Spanish invaders, hardly an
impartial or scientifically objective source - and I recall (and will try
to track down the source if necessary) that in the 1600s, the writings of
the Maya - who *were* literate - were almost entirely destroyed by the
Spaniards in an effort to eradicate blasphemous texts: Landa, the chief
recorder of Mayan texts, was also the chief book-burner, and I think only 3
Mayan codex survive. Wouldn't this same impulse have motivated the Pisarros
and their followers a century earlier, and couldn't all traces of 'Inca
writing' have been obliterated? Could I have some feedback from
pre-Colombian specialists on this possibility??

Once again I've tempted the list's patience with an overlong posting. Once
again, apologies, and once again, thanks to any who'd care to return the
ball. It's times like this that I wish I had the access to 'irrefutable
truth' that our dear friends Rushton and Hicks have - then, like them, I
wouldn't have to do cumbersome things like think, or deal with
counter-arguments, or acknowledge the possibility that I might just be
wrong. Unfortunately, doing all that old-fashioned kinda stuff, as opposed
to just KNOWING, means that I can't engage with the other thread on this