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Re: [xmca] Bateson's distinction between digital and analog
Well, first of all, the rumors of the extinction of neanderthals have apparently been greatly exaggerated. The evidence from mitochondrial DNA suggests that we do indeed carry neanderthal genes. Reader, we married them.
Secondly, I have to defer to Martin's intimate knowledge of neanderthal happiness and the extent to which it depended on their traditional lifestyle. But it seems to me that if the neanderthals invented music, they were, in fact, pretty revolutionary in precisely the way that I am talking about.
Thirdly--Martin, or Martin's computer, is being a little naughty here. If you look at the below you will see that the first line he or his computer has is not correct. That was not what David Kellogg wrote at all; it was what David Kellogg said that Vygotsky wrote in Chapter Two of the History of the Development of the HIgher Mental Functions.
Vygotsky's point is not that we do not use divination today. On the contrary, he begins his whole analysis with a number of examples that show that we do. HIs point is that this use of divination is an inactive function, because it no longer comes inscribed in the ideological context that gave it meaning. (That is why, for example, although the cards tell Pierre to join the army, he simply ignores them.)
In particular, we tend to believe that the outcome of divination (casting lots, throwing dice, consulting cards) is the result of chance rather than destiny, luck rather than fate. Vygotsky believes that this represents something we may call scientific progress; it is a growth of knowledge, and it is represented by the fact that we now have quite precise statistical descriptions of supposedly "random" behavior.
But there is another very important sense in which we may call the difference between us and our dear neanderthal ancestors progress. We do not accept early death as bad luck or ill fate the way we must if we accept divination. We live a lot longer: something like three or four times as long. When death comes to us, it is not the result of trauma, as usually was for the neanderthals. Nor is it the result of illness, as it was so often in the middle ages. We are the first group of humans who simply wear out.
Martin objects to the idea that culture has an "intrinsic" purpose, and of course in one sense he is quite right. The culture's purpose is not to progress; it is simply to be a culture. The child's purpose is not to grow up, it is simply to be a child.
But (to join this thread to Steve's query) that simply means that culture is not conscious of its general direction; it experiences its progress not as progress (not the way we see it looking back) but as a set of problems to solve (even as a child experiences development). It must solve these problems with a consistent orientation we must call irrealist, and even autistic, because it is based on imaginary things like luck, fate, the future, and modern science.
Our solutions are initially imaginary. But the problems we are solving in our journey from our neanderthal forefathers to modern man are real enough: the sabre-toothed tiger was real, and so was the Black Death.
And the fact that we actually have an adulthood to speak of, whereas many pre-modern human beings scarcely lived to the age of thirty, is what makes the imaginative, and in so many ways false, analogy between sociogenesis and ontogenesis rather more than a metaphor. The child was the father of the man--because children died young.
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
--- On Sun, 2/19/12, Martin Packer <email@example.com> wrote:
From: Martin Packer <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Bateson's distinction between digital and analog
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <email@example.com>
Date: Sunday, February 19, 2012, 4:22 PM
On Feb 19, 2012, at 4:40 PM, David Kellogg wrote:
> the purpose of culture is not adaptation to the environment, but rather the imaginative reconstruction and then revolutionary transformation of the environment, and with respect to THAT great work we are all, more less, stranded in the past, just as we are all differently defective.
This is a very appealing statement, but I'm not sure it provides a basis for a solution to the problem of how to think about primitive/indigenous/traditional peoples.
For one thing, it contains a built-in bias in favor of innovation over tradition. Neanderthals lived happily (one supposes) for 300,000 years without changing their life style. They had culture (tools, clothing, perhaps even song), but they didn't innovate. They transformed their environment, building shelters and so on, but hardly in a revolutionary way. The revolution came when homo sapiens showed up and wiped them out. Just who was defective there?
And many homo sapiens have sought to reproduce their traditional form of life, rather than constantly innovate. I'm reluctant to say they lack imagination. Or that they are defective, even in the politest way.
In the same way, I'm reluctant to say that use of divination should be considered a defect
because it implies acceptance of being poor and hungry, rather than the imaginative drive to change things. The closest I'd be willing to go in this direction would be to suppose that one could argue that some groups are not in a position to reconstruct their circumstances imaginatively, because others are preventing them from doing so, and as a consequence they turn to practices such as divination. But I don't see much evidence for that.
No, I'm afraid the idea that there is an intrinsic purpose to culture amounts to a teleological account of history, with all the problems that gets us into.
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