Friday, February 20, 2015

T. Oppermann, responds to Quiggin.
You know, people laugh at us anthropologists all day long for our soft and fuzzy methods, but then there is a debate like this, and it is obvious nobody has the faintest clue about social organization in actually existing stateless societies, and I guess my reaction is somewhere between ‘har-de-har-har suckers’ and pulling my hair out…

I’m not even sure where to begin. Let’s see…

1. Stateless societies do not necessarily have a body of law and tradition that is inflexibly applied. As far as I know, this is relatively uncommon beyond certain basic rules (ie. don’t kill people).

2. ‘Law’, ‘myth’ and ‘getting on with your uncles and cousins’ is not really distinct in many cases. Eg. in Aboriginal Australia, as a very rough generalization, maintaining good relationships with kin (being cared for – it is a deeply emotional experience, akin to being liked by your mom) was and in modified ways still is the key form of ‘social sanctioning’. This is as messy, warm and unlawlike as it sounds. (It is also deep and sophisticated, and the reasoning principles involved are very sophisticated.)

3. Alienable property – ie. a thing with only a contingent relationship to a person – is really unusual in stateless societies. Mostly, ‘property’ is coextensive with kin relations, it innundated by the affective relationships between people, and its transfer – gifting – operates by a logic quite different to conscious profit maximization. A ruthless politics can be played with this. Chris Gregory’s Gift and Commodities is worth reading on this.

4. Coercion takes on very different forms. Really, the complexity here is immense…

5. ‘Right of control and use’ is probably going to fail as a cross-cultural notion of property: if you define ‘right’ strictly, especially in some lawlike fashion, then it is uncommon. If you don’t, then the net is cast too wide, and you would catch virtually anything anybody does.

6. ‘Government’ is probably no better than ‘state’ when we are talking about hunter-gatherers or many slash and burn agriculturalists. You might argue that something like Pierre Clastre’s Society against the State shows that there is enough government in Amazonian societies for there to be structures to oppose its development, but I would say it is much better to avoid confusion and not describe kin political organization as ‘government’ unless we are talking about something tending towards hierarchy and differentiation of roles.

I guess I could go on. The basic point, I suppose, is that when philosophers invent these just-so stories about stateless societies, they imagine that they are making the problem simpler by positing a past with a clear cut set of problems and choices. But in fact, the diversity of stateless societies and the complexities in analysing them are at least as great as those facing students of contemporary industrial society. We anthropologists go to these societies with a sense of humility verging on awe, given just how much we don’t understand.

TL;DR Less Nocivk, More Mauss
 repeats of repeats of repeats.
Bill Wimsatt's "Lewontin's Evidence (that There Isn't Any)" made me think about a lot of questions in my paper. I would like to point out that the rhetoric of this conference has undergone a sudden change. Up until Bill's presentation and mine, everyone read his or her paper. In the tradition to which I belong that would be considered very bad form. That rhetorical difference is a mirror of the differences that I want to talk about. The words that all of the rest of you use are conceived of as being the matter, and so you must choose them carefully, and, therefore, you have to compose your papers and read them. I, on the other hand and perhaps Bill as well, but especialy I, as a natural scientist, am nothing but the oracle of Delphi, sitting here on my stool with eyeballs rolled upwards, and through me Nature speaks. That explains, in my view, the difference in rhetorical tradition between a meeting like this and the ones at which I spend my time. No one in my tradition believes that the words are very important. After all, if I misspeak someone else will say the right thing because we are both talking about the same things and ultimately the gods will speak through us. So words are not the matter. It is extremely important to understand the origin of that difference in rhetorical tradition because it represents a very great difference in what scientists believe to be the nature of evidence in natural science. A conference on the questions of evidence is really a conference on the questions of theory and metatheory. We cannot begin to talk about the evidence until we talk about what it is we are trying to produce evidence of. And the very method which we use is itself a form of evidence.
His understanding of empiricism is naive, but worlds away from Quiggin, for whom ideas are things: Quiggin and Quine.
Once the theory of meaning is sharply separated from the theory of reference, it is a short step to recognizing as the business of the theory of meaning simply the synonymy of linguistic forms and the analyticity of statements; meanings themselves, as obscure intermediary entities, may well be abandoned.
The claim to have abandoned "meanings" like the claim to have risen above subjectivity, is the beginning of ideology.

Quiggin and Quine, Lewontin and Gombrich

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