RE: [xmca] V: ":There Are No Coincidences"

From: Michael Glassman <MGlassman who-is-at>
Date: Thu Feb 28 2008 - 08:27:17 PST

I have been thinking about this example of the young men and the donkeys, sort of in conjunction with a student who has taken many anthropology course who becamse upset with the way Vygotsky used the word primitive in the Cultural Development of the Child (shorthand). There are times when people want to dispense or ignore Vygotsky's use of the word primitive, but if we think of it from a social policy perspective, maybe not.
First I wonder if he uses primitive in the sense of primitive communism (early hunters and gatherers) from Marx and Engels. Don't know much about this, maybe Andy does. All the same, it still seems to come from Morgan, and still to some degree must represent the connotations of primitive that Boas and those that followed him rejected.
But still, I wonder if Vygotsky was alluding to a difficult social issue - something that Mike's example is representative of. If we follow the four stages of development that Vygotsky outlines in Cultural Development of the Child, the first rerpesents the same type of immediate, or non-mediated thinking that Kohlber (sorry, no umlaut) describes in his experiments with apes, without the X interceding between A and B. Then stage two is the use of mediated thinking, but at a very beginning level, enough for simple planning, but not enough for true mastery of the environment. So you could be a hunter gatherer which must involve planning to some degree (pace Leontiev), but is still pre-agrarian because there is little possibility of mastery. This level 2 coincides very much with the Marx/Engels view of primitive communism, where individuals work togehter in bands but they are pre-agrarian and subject to the whims of a changing environment.
But I think the reason Vygotsky needs to consider stage 2 primitive is the dangers that exist in stage 3. That is once the use of symbols and signs becomes more abstract and internalized it allows for things like agrarian cultures and permanent settlements, but it also allows for the use of signs to manipulate behavior without any real backstop - and I think Vygotsky sees the backstop as scientific thinking. The meaning of symbols is completely manipulated by those who control the symbols. This was Freud's argument against religion and one of his basic theses about group psychology. I wonder, does anybody know, does the rise of religion coincide with the development of agrarian settlements.
Anyway, I think Vygotsky (and Marx and Engels) might see this stage three as being paradoxically more advanced in terms of pure social skill sets, but at the same time more dangerous for the human condition. There are two directions I think you can go from here - the recognition in society that all signs and symbols are dynamic and have no inherent meanings, and therefore the only time a person uses symbols it is to promote their own immediate goals, or making the goals of signs and symbols subservient to a universal scientific understanding. The first I think is representative of the thinking of Dewey and Peirce. In level three you can't really accept anyt meaning based on a reifired semiotics - it must always be based on a dynamic semiosis. Interestingly enough I think Vygotsky might - and I stress the word might heartily, realizing my personal bias - agree with this in stage three. But Vygotsky believes in the efficacy of stage four in which connections are not driven by power and control but by a logic. He feels maybe if you immerse the population in scientific concepts that cannot be so easily manipulated.
So if you offer the adolescent the key, in the normal stage three thinking they take it. If you have the types of interventions suggested by Dewey the young man says, what is your goal in giving me the key, and does it coincide with my goals as a member of this community. Let's sit down and talk about this. If you have Vygotsky's intervention the young man says, I don't care how many keys you give me, heaven is a belief system and not a fact, and I'm not about to blow myself up for some belief system.


From: on behalf of Mike Cole
Sent: Tue 2/26/2008 11:04 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] V: ":There Are No Coincidences"

Glad to provide some mirth with my poorly informed knowledge of the method
of dual stimulation.
It always depresses me, so any more optimistic interpretation is welcome.
Thanks Andy.
mike -- with no keys to no kingdoms!
Ps-- He He?? Why know sssssssssssshhhhhhhhhhe sheeeeeeeeeeeeee?

On Tue, Feb 26, 2008 at 4:16 PM, Andy Blunden <> wrote:

> He, he, so Mike critiques this idea of Freedom and Necessity by pointing
> to
> the conflicts of interest *within* a society which Hegel, and, when
> speaking of the hypothetical socialist future, Engels, take to have
> reconciled.
> This is one of Hegel's most famous examples of this issue:
> The building of a house is, in the first instance, a subjective aim and
> design. On the other hand we have, as means, the several substances
> required for the work, - Iron, Wood, Stones. The elements are made use of
> in working up this material: fire to melt the iron, wind to blow the fire,
> water to set wheels in motion, in order to cut the wood, &c. The result
> is,
> that the wind, which has helped to build the house, is shut out by the
> house; so also are the violence of rains and floods, and the destructive
> powers of fire, so far as the house is made fire-proof. The stones and
> beams obey the law of gravity, - press downwards, - and so high walls are
> carried up. Thus the elements are made use of in accordance with their
> nature, and yet to co-operate for a product, by which their operation is
> limited. Thus the passions of men are gratified; they develop themselves
> and their aims in accordance with their natural tendencies, and build up
> the edifice of human society; thus fortifying a position for Right and
> Order _against themselves_.
> But in fact Hegel never thought that "man" would gain control of his own
> history:
> It is not the general idea that is implicated in opposition and combat,
> and
> that is exposed to danger. It remains in the background, untouched and
> uninjured. This may be called the _cunning of reason_, - that it sets the
> passions to work for itself, while that which develops its existence
> through such impulsion pays the penalty and suffers loss. Yet no lingering
> lies or make-believe strokes in the air can achieve anything against it.
> They can perhaps reach the shoelaces of this colossus, and smear on a bit
> of boot wax or mud, but they cannot untie the laces.
> The most revolting application of the idea, for me, was Stalin's:
> If the world is knowable and our knowledge of the laws of development of
> nature is authentic knowledge, having the validity of objective truth, it
> follows that social life, the development of society, is also knowable,
> and
> that the data of science regarding the laws of development of society are
> authentic data having the validity of objective truths.
> Hence, the science of the history of society, despite all the complexity
> of
> the phenomena of social life, can become as precise a science as, let us
> say, biology, and capable of making use of the laws of development of
> society for practical purposes.
> Hence, the party of the proletariat should not guide itself in its
> practical activity by casual motives, but by the laws of development of
> society, and by practical deductions from these laws.
> Hence, socialism is converted from a dream of a better future for humanity
> into a science.
> The point is I think the constitution of the *subject*. The revolting
> formulations of this idea take for granted that the leader (Stalin,
> Saddam)
> expresses the will of the individual citizen; social conflicts and
> differences have been erased so that it is possible to talk about "man" as
> if there were such a unitary subject charting its own history. Never was,
> never will be.
> Andy
> At 02:56 PM 26/02/2008 -0800, you wrote:
> >OK, so here is to me the most compelling example of "controlling yourself
> >from the outside" but it is not a happy
> >story....... I saw Persepolis last week and was reminded of it.
> >
> >During the Iran-Iraq war when Saddam was our buddy, Iranian teens were
> >convinced to lead donkeys across mine fields. How did their far seeing
> >elders' arrange for them to do this?
> >By giving them a plastic key to heaven with all of its "out of this life"
> >rewards. The kids were able to use this "neutral Stimulus" of the method
> of
> >dual stimulation to keep on walking forward when their donkey's
> terrified,
> >ran away.
> >These young, compared to the donkey's were exercising
> >extreme self control from the outside, which invaded their bodies via the
> >symbolic artifact.
> >
> >Asses to asses and dust to dust,
> >It higher psychic functions
> >We all should trust?
> >
> >mike
> >
> >On Tue, Feb 26, 2008 at 2:45 PM, Martin Packer <> wrote:
> >
> > > The manuscript is sent, and my life is lighter by about 500 pages. So
> back
> > > now to freedom and necessity. In the article I propose that central to
> the
> > > conception of history that V seems to have drawn from Marx (and/or
> Engels,
> > > Hegel...) is the notion that humans can reach a point where we come to
> > > understand the laws, the objective tendencies, that move history, and
> by
> > > doing so we can break these laws! What was necessity becomes freedom,
> > > indeed
> > > necessity provides the basis for freedom. It is by discovering the
> > > objective
> > > laws of our own existence that we are able, through using them, to
> > > transcend
> > > them.
> > >
> > > What I then tried to show is that V had a very similar way of thinking
> > > about
> > > children's development. (In fact he drew an explicit parallel.) I
> think
> > > this
> > > has been missed because the underlying conception of history is not
> well
> > > known in the west. Here too there is a break, a leap, from necessity
> to
> > > freedom. This is especially emphasized for adolescence, but it is
> evident
> > > elsewhere in development too. The qualitative leap to the higher
> > > psychological functions is a result of self-mastery: of control of
> ones
> > > own
> > > natural psychological functions. This is the person acting on
> themselves
> > > (which necessarily follows upon action on others, and vice versa). In
> > > order
> > > to form scientific concepts, the developing human *needs* to control
> their
> > > own behavior. I quote Norris Minick's translation of Thinking & Speech
> (p.
> > > 63).
> > >
> > > " The higher form of activity is present wherever there is mastery of
> > > processes of onešs own behavior and, first of all, its reactive
> functions.
> > > In subjecting to his will the process of his own reactions, man enters
> in
> > > this way into a substantially new relation with the environment, comes
> to
> > > a
> > > new functional exploitation of elements in the environment as
> > > stimuli-signs
> > > which he uses, depending on external means, and directs and controls
> his
> > > own
> > > behavior, controls himself from outside, compelling stimuli-signs to
> > > affect
> > > him, and elicits reactions that he desires."
> > >
> > > Martin
> > >
> > >
> > > On 2/23/08 3:15 AM, "Paul Dillon" <> wrote:
> > >
> > > > This problem of the freedom of the self and history's inexorable
> > > process was
> > > > for noone else a greater preoccupation than for Sartre, whose
> Critique
> > > of
> > > > Dialectical Reason" will certainly come to be appreciated "as time
> goes
> > > by".
> > >
> > >
> > > _______________________________________________
> > > xmca mailing list
> > >
> > >
> > >
> >_______________________________________________
> >xmca mailing list
> >
> >
> Andy Blunden :< <> >tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435,
> mobile 0409 358 651
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Received on Thu Feb 28 08:33 PST 2008

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