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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  January 2003

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE January 2003

Subject:

Re: When culture and biology collide

From:

Louis Proyect <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 17 Jan 2003 11:34:36 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (144 lines)

Human Nature Review wrote:
> According to E. O. Smith, "the vast majority of our evolutionary history took
> place in the context of a nomadic lifestyle, with hunting of wild game and
> gathering of vegetable foods.... we functioned in small groups and with a
> simple technology until very recently. Survival of the fittest in that archaic
> environment profoundly shaped our biology-our dietary, health, emotional, and
> also our psychological needs." (p. 7)

In Search Of The Primitive
Stanley Diamond
http://www.primitivism.com/search-of-the-primitive.htm

(this essay is excerpted from Stanley Diamond's book of the same title)

In machine based societies, the machine has incorporated the demands of
the civil power or of the market, and the whole life of society, of all
classes and grades, must adjust to its rhythms. Time becomes lineal,
secularized, "precious"; it is reduced to an extension in space that
must be filled up, and sacred time disappears. The secretary must adjust
to the speed of her electric typewriter; the stenographer to the
stenotype machine; the factory worker to the line or lathe, the
executive to the schedule of the train or plane and the practically
instantaneous transmission of the telephone; the chauffeur to the
superhighways; the reader to the endless stream of printed matter from
high speed presses; even the schoolboy to the precise periodization of
his day and to the watch on his wrist; the person at "leisure" to a
mechanized domestic environment and the flow of efficiently schedule
entertainment. the machines seem to run us, crystallizing in their
mechanical or electronic pulses the means of our desires. The collapse
in time to a extension in space, calibrated by machines, has bowdlerized
our natural and human rhythms and helped disassociate us from ourselves.
Even now, we hardly love the Earth or see with eyes or listen any longer
with our ears, and we scarcely feel our hearts beat before they break in
protest. even now, so faithful and exact or the machines as servants
that they seem an alien force, persuading us at every turn to fulfill
our intentions which we have built into them and which they
represent--in much the same way the perfect body servant routinizes, and
finally, trivializes his master.

Of such things, actual or possible, primitive societies have no
conception. Such things are literally beyond their wildest dreams,
beyond their idea of alienation from village or family or he earth
itself, beyond their conception of death, which does not estrange them
from society or nature but completes the arc of life. There is only one
rough analogy. The fear of excommunication from the kinship unit, from
the personal nexus that joins man, society and nature in an endless
round of growth (in short, the sense of being isolated and
depersonalized and, therefore, at the mercy of demonic forces - a fear
widespread among primitive peoples) may be taken as an indication of how
they would react to the technically alienating processes of civilization
if they were to understand them. that is, by comprehending the attitude
of primitive people about excommunication from the web of social and
natural kinship we can, by analogy, understand their repugnance and fear
of civilization.

Primitive societies may be regarded as a system in equilibrium, spinning
kaleidascopically on its axis but at a relatively fixed point.
Civilization may be regarded as a system in internal dis-equilibrium;
technology or ideology or social organization are always out of joint
with each other - that is what propels the system along a given track.
Our sense of movement, of incompleteness, contributes to the idea of
progress. Hence the idea of progress is generic to civilization. And our
idea of primitive society as existing in a state of dynamic equilibrium
and as expressive of human and natural rhythms is a logical projection
of civilized societies and is in opposition to civilization's actual
state. But it also coincided with the real historical condition of
primitive societies. The longing for a primitive mode of existence is no
mere fantasy or sentimental whim; it is consonant with fundamental human
needs, the fulfillment of which (although in different form) is
precondition for our survival. Even the skeptical and civilized Samuel
Johnson, who derided Boswell for his intellectual affair with Rousseau,
had written:

"When man began to desire private property then entered violence, and
fraud, and theft, and rapine. Soon after, pride and envy broke out in
the world and brought with them a new standard of wealth, for men, who
till then, thought themselves rich, when they wanted nothing, now rated
their demands, not by the calls of nature, but by the plenty of others;
and began to consider themselves poor, when they beheld their own
possession exceeded by those of their neighbors."

This may be inadequate ethnology, but it was the cri de couer of a
civilized man, for a surcease from mere consumption and acquisitiveness,
and so interpreted, it assumes something about primitive societies that
is true, namely, predatory property, production for profits does not
exist among them.

The search for the primitive is, then, as old as civilization. It is the
search for the utopia of the past, projected into the future, with
civilization being the middle term. It is birth, death, and transcendent
rebirth, the passion called Christian, the trial of Job, the oedipal
transition, the triadic metaphor of human growth, felt also in the
vaster pulse of history. And this search for the primitive is
inseparable from the vision of civilization. No prophet or philosopher
of any consequence has spelled out the imperatives of his vision of a
superior civilization without assuming certain constants in human nature
and elements of a primitive condition, without, in short, engaging in
the anthropological enterprise. A utopia detached from these twin
pillars - a sense of human nature and a sense of pre-civilized past -
becomes a nightmare. For humanity must be conceived to be infinitely
adaptable and thus incapable of historic understanding or self
amendment. Even Plato's utopia presumes, at least, a good if no longer
viable prior state, erroneously conceived as primitive by the refined
Greek when it was merely rustic; and the republic was, after all,
founded on a theory of human nature that was certainly wrong.
Nevertheless, it was a saving grace, for Plato believed that his
perfectly civilized society would realize human possibilities not merely
manipulate them.

Even the most brilliant and fearful utopian projections have been
compelled to solve the problem of the human response, usually with some
direct or allegorical reference to a prior or primitive level of
functioning. In Zamiatin's We, a satirical work of great beauty, the
collective society of the future is based on, and has become a
maleficent version of, Plato's Republic. The people have been reduced to
abstract ciphers, their emotions have been controlled and centralized
(as in the Republic, mathematics is the most sublime language; but it is
not a means of human communication, only an abstract dialogue with god);
and history has ceased to exist. Zamiatin documents the growth of the
internal rebel who is gradually educated in the experience of what the
regime defines as love. When the revolt against this state of happiness
occurs, the civili power uses two ultimate weapons: one is a method of
instantaneously disintegrating the enemy. Since the enemy is legion, the
other method is the "salvation" of the person, as an eternal civil
servant, through a quick, efficient operation on the brain that results
in a permanent dissociation between intellect and emotion without
impairing technical intelligence. Zamiatin's description of the rebel
rendered affectless, lucidly describing the changes on his beloved
coconspirator's face and feeling nothing as she dies, anticipates Camus
and transmits in its terrifying, poignant flatness a psychological truth
about our time that has become a dreadful cliché. Zamiatin informs us
that such a materialist, secularized and impersonal utopia can function
only by altering human nature itself.

And, outside the glass wall of this utopian city which had arisen out of
the ruin of the "final" war between the country and the city is a green
wilderness in which primitive rebels live off the land, alive to their
humanity, and seek to free the ultimately urbanized brother within.


--

The Marxism list: www.marxmail.org

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