Re: [xmca] Zopeds at the cultural historical level

From: Paul Dillon (
Date: Fri Dec 15 2006 - 13:45:18 PST

  I've just gone back to read some xmca posts -- been computer deprived for a bit and stuck to using internet cabinets in Lima for very brief stuff. I had erased a lot of messages but found that I hadn't read the one you originally posted, to which I'm now replying, probably postponing it until I could read more carefully. Then I went to the xmca website to check the thrread in detail and found it had bifurcated, someone posted a reply, changing the subject name to something about more competent peers. That thread grew a lot and I haven't read all those messages so I'm not sure whether the original thread concerning cultural-historical zopeds continued there.
  The way you phrased the problem was quite clear and Andy's response about conquest and colonization most interesting. resonating with an earlier exchange around the book about native american science. In the 1500s the conquering Europeans were arguably less culturally advanced in many fields of human practices (engineering, mathematics, astronomy, agriculture, institutional administration, just to mention a few) than the people they conquered. They really only had an advantage in weaponry. And there was absolutely no zoped functioning in either direction it seems, just a master-slave relation. For Hegel that relation turns into a pyrrhic victory followed by the esse"Unhappy Consciousness" in which the dominated slave realizes its own nce to be the negation of the Individual and the true universality of consciousness as something trans-individual. The slave realizes that s/he is the truth of the Master. I always recall the scene from the movie Spartacus when the
 Roman general asks: Who is Spartacus? and one by one all of the rebelling slaves stand up and claim to Spartacus. Then they are all crucified, of course. But that transition isn't an example of a zoped so Hegel isn't much help here.
  The problem of more advanced cultural forms is certainly an important one, but when I wrote the query concerning the historical dimensions of the zoped, I wasn't really thinking about the problem in quite the way you phrased it, that is I wasn't really thinking about more or less advanced cultures as defined in terms of specific practices (I don't think it would be possible to specify that one culture is superior to another in any absolute sense, but yes at the level of specific practices), I was really wondering about the transmission of customs and habits that seems to occur without any conscious teaching involved, but which is part of the package when a child is learning the basics, that historical dimension that moves at the backs of people, without their knowledge or awareness. I don't see how we can doubt that this goes on; e.g., learning racism implicitly in nursery rhymes, learning the individualism (looking out for good old number one first) also seems to
 qualify as something that isn't so much taught as a specific skill imparted by a more knowledgeable member of the group, but as a corrolary to learning itself within certain cultures, just as learning that the family comes first is dominant in others. It's very clear to me that there is a big gap between people's real morality and their ideal one and that practicality (living in the world with the skills we've learned) is usually the reason given to explain the difference between the two. Yeah, it'd be great to turn the other cheek but in reality no one does because that's just not the way the world works.
  If such is the case, that these dimensions, primarily moral and ethical ones, are transmitted first in this kind of "blind" way , then the modification of these levels must depend on something other than the kind of direct teaching that characterizes a zoped.
  Perhaps the examples given by Yrjo point in this direction more than I realized and I'll have to go back and look at that: but as I remember, these "expansions" involved breaking out, destroying old structures, and clearing a space for new ones. What bigger space than a raft on the Mississippi River? The idea that a zoped is a conversation with a future seems very useful to me, the question of course: what is that future? Andy's statement that phylogenesis is about "pulling oneself up by the bootstraps" enters here. But really, how is it possible to avoid teleology?
  Lately I've been very much impressed what could be called "historical traumas", events and processes extending over a period of time, that leave what I can only describe metaphorically as topography within which the rivers of consciousness/mind flow. This a result of living again in the Andes where a suppressed past is constantly whispering beneath the present day-to-day activities. There are major traumas: the Conquest in the Americas , extirpation of idolatries=attempted destruction of indigenous belief systems, whose effects are still reverberating after 500 years, and there are lesser ones, like the social-political violence that lasted in the Central Andes for about 15 years (1980-1995) but whose effects shape the way parents relate to their children, silences, all those things left unsaid, The same song sung by both sides of the war: Flor de la Retama. .
  When Zlatcko addressed my initial post in which I suggested that Paolo Freire's notion of situation-limits (something he got from Karl Jaspers) had a bearing in the question of what happens in a zoped, he brought up the point of sufficiently grounded evidence as to what might be the phylogenetic strands of development. This is quite difficult to address obviously. The vanguard of the proletariat lacks any meaning when one can't really identify a proletariat. China inundates the world's markets with well-made and embarrrasingly inexpensive goods that undermine the industrial working classes of Europe and America. We come back to cultures--where do we find the universal basis? is there one?
  Hegel's unhappy slaves found the universal meaning through work which was of course social activity. Perhaps the very course, as Ilyenkov suggested, is something that's laid out there before us, that some groups of the larger society will instinctively understand in its teleology just by their position within the system.
  This all written in the old notion of xmca where half-baked ideas were OK.
  Paul Dillon

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