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Re: [xmca] Progress: Reality or Illusion?

While I find the discussion of the conceptual basis of measurement interesting, I don't want to lose sight of the *political* character of many measurement operations. The very idea that one should measure a reality called 'progress' is itself culturally grounded. I've already mentioned Guillermo Bonfil Batalla's excellent book, "México Profundo."  Here is a pertinent excerpt:

"the groups of Mesoamerican origin and the successive hegemonic groups dominant in Mexican society, with their versions of Western civilization, continue to be opposed. There has never been a process of convergence, but, rather, one of opposition. There is one simple and straightforward reason: certain social groups have illegitimately held political, economic, and ideological power from the European invasion to the present. All have been affiliated through inheritance or through circumstance with Western civilization, and within their programs for governing there has been no place for Mesoamericamn civilization. The dominant position of these groups originated in the stratified order of colonial society. It has expressed itself in an ideology that conceives of the future only in terms of development, progress, advancement, and the Revolution itself, all concepts within the mainstream of Western civilization. Cultural diversity and, specifically, the omnipresence of Mesoamerican civilization have always been interpreted within that scheme in the only way possible. They are seen as an obstacle to progress along the one true path and toward the only valid objective. The mentality inherited from the colonizers does not allow perception or invention of any other path. Mesoamerican civilization is either dead or must die as soon as possible, because it is of undeniable inferiority and has no future of its own" (pp. 61-62)

For an example of the truth of the last sentence one need look no further than Lévy-Bruhl, who in the conclusion to a chapter of Primitive Mentality titled Dislike of the Unknown, which deals primarily with contact with white people, wrote:

"The difference between the mystic and prelogical mind of the primitive and the white man's way of thinking is so far-reaching that any abrupt transition from the one in to the other is inconceivable. A gradual and progressive transformation of the first into the second, if it were possible to note it, would be of extraordinary interest to anthropology. Unfortunately, circumstances have nowhere permitted of this hitherto, and it is to be feared that the future will be no more favourable in this respect. The few primitive races which do exist to-day will doubtless share the fate of those which are already extinct. It is therefore all the more necessary to collect as carefully as possible all that we can yet learn of the way in which primitive mentality reacts at the time when its customary course is suddenly disturbed by the irruption of new elements" (p. 409)

That "*already* extinct" leaves the reader in no doubt about the outcome that Lévy-Bruhl anticipates.


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