Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Looked over this again: Marshall Sahlins on Levi-Strauss. Available in a slightly different form here [PDF]
Yet a similar “logic of the concrete” is fundamental to our own economic conduct, although in defining economics as the maximization of returns with the monetary or capital means on hand the economists banish the cultural schemes of persons and things that order material value to an unexamined limbo of what they call ”exogenous” or even “irrational” factors. In part the culture of economics remains unconscious because neither are the ordinary participants aware that behind their apparently rational choices—they do not buy hamburger or hot dogs for honored dinner guests—is a whole code of symbolic values that has little to do with nutritional utility but everything to do with the meaningful distinctions between persons, goods and occasions. The economy is ordered by the differences between lunch and dinner, carved and ground meats, muscle and organs, prepared dishes and sandwiches, familiarity and respect, members and guests, ordinary meals and “special occasions,” etc. Nor would all the monetary good sense that we put into buying clothing explain the characteristics of dress that mark distinctions between men and women, holidays and ordinary days, businessmen and policemen, adults and children, people of different regions or ethnic affiliations—think of all the ways that clothes signify. Perhaps we have been too quick to celebrate the “disenchantment of the world” ushered in by the retreat of spiritualism and the growth of scientific naturalism since the 17th century. Rather what happened was the enchantment of Western society by the world: by the imagined values of the material rather than the spiritual. We live in a material world enchanted by the symbolically constituted “utility” of gold, oil, pinot noir grapes, outdoor barbecues, Mercedes cars, heirloom tomatoes, blue jeans, cashmere sweaters, hamburgers from McDonalds and purses from Gucci. Levi-Strauss did not go that far, but structuralism has something to say about an economy of monetary values that is actually embedded in a greater cultural order of meaningful values.
And a little something from Levi-Strauss as well. Both originally from Savage Minds

I'd wanted to insert links in the text, to Brad Delong defending the rational choice for cardboard tomatoes, admitting that it was not one he would make [google it; it's there], and to Crooked Timber for some appropriate stupidity, but it's overkill. Levi-Strauss was perhaps of the last generation of academics who understood that we're always at best aspects, at worst symptoms, of our culture and our age. And it's neoliberal logic to say that "others" may be either but that "we" are neither. The logic of the neoliberal academy, and the academy is neoliberal now almost in its entirety, is that the academy has transcended history, even if the rest of us haven't.

Addendum, and repeat:
Alex Rosenberg, "History is Bunk" (see #8). Link of course from Brian Leiter

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