Que here. Sysyphus, que of cues, cue que, coup de que.

Sysyphus pushed his boulder,

The path smoothe both ways

The same incline repeated

Paramenides like determination.

Prometheus chained over the hill

Willing that sysyphus may succeed

panta re alike to his own flame.

Both legends for deaf ears.

Heraclitus his ebb and flow

Crying metaphors to deaf masses

Sobbing similes to Blind tyranny

Calvary the summit to that bluff.

Miamonides saw each contradiction

Each species of deafness, Loud

Each species of blindness, Dark

All no less perplexed than the next.

Yet another Sysyphus rolls

Yet another Prometheus reveals

Yet another Heraclitus crys

Yet another Miamonides interpts

Ancient and modern queing

Missed cues and repeated lines

A dialogue of the divine comedy

Stockaded in linguistic prison walls.

Plus ca change plus ca meme chose.

In the teeth of Medical headwinds

An old unpublished draft of notes, by way of a theme and a que, cue, as it were.

Draft notes here.

Unintended Consequences , Plausible Deniability, Precautionary Principle.

Flu Jabs

Cruise Ships

Old people


FInancial Crisis- Bailouts Repo began september

Agenda 2030 agenda 2020

Eugenics- CLimateCrisis

War on Terror

War on Drugs

War on Populism

War on Carbon

Democracy- Technocracy

PEANAC- project for the new American Century.

Herd Immunity , inanation, Cabotage, Smitheus






sin cos

angular momentum



all things vibrate sun tsu


Points in Time Graeber Commoner


The underside of the Western tradition
At the end of the last chapter I suggested that one reason Nancy Munn’s work has
been so little taken up is that theories that start from action fall so far outside the main
currents of the Western intellectual tradition that it’s hard for most scholars to figure
out exactly what to do with them. They belong, one might say, to the Heraclitean
tradition, which in Western thought has always been somewhat marginal. Western
philosophy, after all, really begins with the quarrel between Heraclitus and
Parmenides; a quarrel that Parmenides won. As a result, from almost the very start,
the Western tradition marked itself by imagining objects that exist, as it were, outside
of time and transformation. So much so that the obvious reality of change has always
been something of a problem.
It might be useful to review that quarrel, however quickly.
Heraclitus saw the apparent fixity of objects of ordinary perception as largely an
illusion; their ultimate reality was one of constant flux and transformation. What we
assume to be objects are actually patterns of change. A river (this is his most famous
example) is not simply a body of water; in fact, if one steps in the same river twice, the
water flowing through it is likely to be entirely different. What endures over time is
simply the pattern of its flow.
1 Parmenides on the other hand took precisely the
opposite view: he held that it was change that was illusion. For objects to be
comprehensible, they must exist to some degree outside of time and change. There is
a level of reality, perhaps one that we humans can never fully perceive, at which forms
are fixed and perfect. From Parmenides, of course, one can trace a direct line both to
Pythagoras (and thus to Western math and science) and to Plato (with his ideal forms),
and hence to just about any subsequent school of Western philosophy.
Parmenides’ position was obviously absurd; and indeed, science has since shown
that Heraclitus was more right than he could possibly have known. The elements that
make up solid objects are, in fact, in constant motion.2 But a fairly strong case can be
made that had Western philosophy not rejected his position for Parmenides’ false one,
we would never have been able to discover this. The problem with his dynamic
approach is that while obviously true it makes it impossible to draw precise borders
and thus to make precise measurements. If objects are really processes, we no longer
know their true dimensions—at least, if they still exist—because we don’t know how
long they will last. If objects are in constant flux, even precise spatial measures are
impossible. One can take an object’s measure at a particular moment and then treat
that as representative, but even this is something of an imaginary construct, because
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even such “moments” (in the sense of points in time, of no duration, infinitely small)
do not exist—they, too, are imaginary constructs. It has been precisely such imaginary
constructs (“models”) that have made modern science possible. As Paul Ricoeur has
It is striking that Plato contributed to the construction of Euclidian geometry
through his work of denominating such concepts as line, surface, equality,
and the similarity of figures, etc., which strictly forbade all recourse and all
allusion to manipulations, to physical transformation of figures. This
asceticism of mathematical language, to which we owe, in the last analysis,
all our machines since the dawn of the mechanical age, would have been
impossible without the logical heroism of Parmenides denying the entirety of
the world of becoming and of praxis in the name of the self-identity of
significations. It is to this denial of movement and work that we owe the
achievements of Euclid, of Galileo, modern mechanism, and all our devices
and apparatus (Ricoeur 1970:201-202; also in Sahlins 1976:81-82n.21)
There is obviously something very ironic about all this. What Ricoeur is suggesting is
that we have been able to create a technology capable of giving us hitherto
unimaginable power to transform the world, largely because we were first able to
imagine a world without powers or transformations. It may well be true. The crucial
thing, though, is that in doing so, we have also lost something. Because once one is
accustomed to a basic apparatus for looking at the world that starts from an
imaginary, static, Parmenidean world outside of it, connecting the two becomes an
overwhelming problem. One might well say that the last couple thousand years of
Western philosophy and social thought have been and endless series of ever more
complicated attempts to deal with the consequences. Always you get same the
assumption of fixed forms and the same failure to know where you actually find them.
As a result, knowledge itself has become the great problem. Roy Bhaskar has been
arguing for some years now that since Parmenides, Western philosophy has been
suffering from what he calls an “epistemic fallacy”: a tendency to confuse the question
of how we can know things with the question of whether those things exist.3
At its most extreme, this tendency opens into Positivism: the assumption that given
sufficient time and sufficiently accurate instruments, it should be possible to make
models and reality correspond entirely. According to its most extreme avatars, one
should not only be able to produce a complete description of any object in the physical
world, but—given the predictable nature of physical “laws”—be able to predict
precisely what would happen to it under equally precisely understood conditions. Since
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no one has ever been able to do anything of the sort, the position has a tendency to
generate its opposite: a kind of aggressive nihilism (nowadays most often identified
with various species of post-structuralism) which at its most extreme argues that since
one cannot come up with such perfect descriptions, it is impossible to talk about
“reality” at all.
All this is a fine illustration of why most of us ordinary mortals find philosophical
debates so pointless. The logic is in direct contradiction with that of ordinary life
experience. Most of us are accustomed to describe things as “realities” precisely
because we can’t completely understand them, can’t completely control them, don’t
know exactly how they are going to affect us, but nonetheless can’t just wish them
away. It’s what we don’t know about them that brings home the fact that they are real.
As I say, an alternative, Heraclitean strain has always existed—one that sees
objects as processes, as defined by their potentials, and society as constituted
primarily by actions. Its best-known manifestation is no doubt the dialectical tradition
of Hegel and Marx. But whatever form it takes, it has always been almost impossible to
integrate with more conventional philosophy. It has tended to be seen as existing
somewhat off to the side, as odd or somewhat mystical. Certainly, it has seemed that
way in comparison with what seemed like the hard-headed realism of more positivist
approaches—rather ironically, considering that if one manages to get past the often
convoluted language, one usually finds perspectives a lot more in tune with commonsense perceptions of reality.
Roy Bhaskar and those who have since taken up some version of his “critical
realist” approach (Bhaskar 1979, 1986, 1989, 1991, 1994a, 1994b; Collier 1990, 1994;
Archer, Bhaskar, Collier, Lawson and Norrie 1998) have been trying for some years
now to develop a more reasonable ontology. The resulting arguments are notoriously
difficult, but it might help to set out some of his conclusions, in shamelessly
abbreviated form, before continuing:
1. Realism. Bhaskar argues for a “transcendental realism”: that is, rather than
limiting reality to what can be observed by the senses, one must ask instead “what
would have to be the case” in order to explain what we do experience. In particular,
he seeks to explain “why are scientific experiments possible?,” and also, at the
same time “why are scientific experiments necessary?”
2. Potentiality. His conclusion: while our experiences are of events in the real world,
reality is not limited to what we can experience (“the empirical”), or even, to the
sum total of events that can be said to have taken place (“the actual”). Rather,
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Bhaskar proposes a third level (“the real”). To understand it, one must also take
account of “powers”— that is, one that defines things in part in terms of their
potentials or capacities. Science largely proceeds by hypothesizing what
“mechanisms” must exist in order to explain such powers, and then by looking for
them. The search is probably endless, because there are always deeper and more
fundamental levels (i.e., from atoms to electrons, electrons to quarks, and so
on. . .), but the fact that there’s no end to the pursuit does not mean reality doesn’t
exist; rather, it simply means one will never to be able to understand it completely.
3. Freedom. Reality can be divided into emergent stratum: just as chemistry
presupposes but cannot be entirely reduced to physics, so biology presupposes but
cannot be reduced to chemistry, or the human sciences to biology. Different sorts
of mechanisms are operating on each. Each, furthermore, achieves a certain
autonomy from those below; it would be impossible even to talk about human
freedom were this not the case, since our actions would simply be determined by
chemical or biological processes.
4. Open Systems. Another element of indeterminacy comes from the fact that realworld events occur in “open systems”; that is, there are always different sorts of
mechanisms, derived from different emergent strata of reality, at play in any one of
them. As a result, one can never predict precisely how any real-world event will
turn out. This is why scientific experiments are necessary: experiment are ways of
creating temporary “closed systems” in which the effects of all other mechanisms
are, as far as possible, nullified, so that one can actually examine a single
mechanism in action.
5. Tendencies. As a result, it is better not to refer to unbreakable scientific “laws” but
rather of “tendencies,” which interact in unpredictable ways. Of course, the higher
the emergent strata one is dealing with, the less predictable things become, the
involvement of human beings of course being the most unpredictable factor of all.
For our purposes, the details are not as important as the overall thrust: that the
Heraclitean position, which looks at things in terms of their dynamic potentials, is not a
matter of abandoning science but is, rather, the only hope of giving science a solid
ontological basis. But it also means that in order to do so, those who wish to make
claims to science will have to abandon some of their most ambitious—one is tempted
to say, totalitarian, paranoid—dreams of absolute or total knowledge, and accept a
certain degree of humility about what it is possible to know. Reality is what one can
never know completely. If an object is real, any description we make of it will
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necessarily be partial and incomplete. That is, indeed, how we can tell it is real. The
only things we can hope to know perfectly are ones that exist entirely in our
What is true of natural science is all the more true of social science. While Bhaskar
has acquired a reputation mainly as a philosopher of science, his ultimate interest is
social; he is trying to come up with the philosophical ground for a theory of human
emancipation, a way of squaring scientific knowledge with the idea of human freedom.
Here, too, the ultimate message is one of humility: Critical Realists hold that it is
possible to preserve the notion of a social reality and, therefore, of a science able to
make true statements about it—but only if one abandons the sort of positivist numbercrunching that passes for science among most current sociologists or economists, and
gives up on the idea that social science will ever be able to establish predictive laws.
A last word on the Heracleitian perspective before passing on to Marx. This
concerns the notion of materialism. In the Marxist tradition as elsewhere, the
assumption has usually been that a materialist analysis is one that privileges certain
spheres over others. There are material infrastructures and ideological
superstructures; the production of food, shelter, or machine tools is considered more
fundamentally material than the production of sermons or soap operas or zoning laws.
This is either because they answer more fundamental, or immediate, human needs; or
else, because (as with law, religion, art, even the state) they are concerned with the
production of abstractions. But it has always seemed to me that to treat law, or
religion, as “about” abstractions is to define them very much as they define
themselves. If one were to insist on seeing all such spheres primarily as domains of
human action, it quickly becomes obvious that just as much as the production of food
requires thinking, art and literature are really a set of material processes. Literature,
from this kind of materialist perspective, would no longer be so much about “texts”
(usually thought of as abstractions that can then seem to float apart from time or
space) but about the writing and reading of them. This is obviously in every way
material: actual, flesh-and-blood people have to write them, they have to have the
leisure and resources, they need pens or typewriters or computers, there are practical
constraints of every sort entailed in the circulation of literature, and so on.
This might seem a weak, compromised version of “materialism,” but if applied
consistently, it would really be quite radical. Something of the power of the approach
might be judged by how much it tends to annoy people. Most scholars consider
acknowledgment of the material medium of their production as somehow impertinent.
Even a discipline like anthropology tends to present itself as floating over material
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realities, except, perhaps, when describing the immediate experience of fieldwork;
certainly it would be considered rude to point out, while discussing the merits of an
anthropological monograph, that it was written by an author who was well aware that
almost everyone who would eventually be reading it would be doing so not because
they chose to but because some professor forced them to, or even, that financial
constraints in the academic publishing industry ensured that it could not exceed 300
pages. But obviously all this is relevant to the kind of books we write. At any rate, this
is the sort of materialism I’ll be adopting in this book: one that sees society as arising
from creative action, but creative action as something that can never be separated
from its concrete, material medium.
dynamic structures
Anthropological ideas of structure, of course, largely came out of Saussurean
linguistics. I have already described Saussure’s conception of language as a system of
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signs that exists in a state of equilibrium, each element contributing to the definition of
the others. Applying this to anthropology created notorious dilemmas. Where, exactly,
was this abstract system to be found? How was one to relate langue and parole,
synchrony and diachrony, the abstract system, seen as existing outside of time, and
the real events—people speaking, writing, and so on, none of them fully aware of the
principles that guide their own practice, even though their practice is the only way we
have of getting at those principles in the first place? By now it should be apparent that
this is just another variation of the same Parmenidean problem: how does one relate
the models to reality?
Anthropological wisdom to the contrary, however, Saussurean structuralism was
never the only one around. There is a Heraclitean alternative: the structuralism
developed by French psychologist Jean Piaget (see Piaget 1970; Turner 1973)—which
starts from action, and views “structure” as the coordination of activity.
Anthropologists, however, have rarely found much use for Piaget’s structuralism.
When they mention it at all, it’s usually to dismiss it as lacking in cultural depth and
14 Applied to Piaget’s own writings, this is certainly true. Saussure was
interested in the different ways different languages define reality; Piaget, in the
intellectual development of children. It’s not hard to see why anthropologists were
drawn to one and not the other. But it also seems to me the accusation is somewhat
self-fulfilling. After all, if Piagetian models lack cultural depth, it’s in part because
anthropologists have never seen fit to develop them.
Piaget’s specific arguments about stages of child development are now considered
outmoded; what’s important here, though, are not the particulars, but the overall
approach. Above all his premise: that “it is always and everywhere the case that
elementary forms of intelligence originate from action.”15 Children interact with their
environment; they develop basic schemas of action (grabbing, pulling. . .), and ways of
coordinating them. Next, children start to develop more complex and generalized
modes of thought through a process Piaget calls “reflexive abstraction,” in which they
begin to understand the logical principles immanent in their own interaction with the
world, and these same schemes of coordination—which themselves, in turn, become
more refined and more effective as a result. (This allows for further processes of
reflexive abstraction, and so on.) There’s no need here to launch into details: but there
are a few points that will be crucial to bear in mind. The first is that Piaget insists that
the basis of any system of knowledge is always a set of practices: mathematics, for
example, is not derived from the “idea of number” but from the practice of counting.
The abstract categories, however important, never come first. The second, that a
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structure can always be seen as a set of transformations, based on certain invariant
principles (this can be as simple as a matter of moving pieces across a board, which
stays the same): the defining feature of such transformations being that they are
reversible (the pieces can be moved back again).
The crucial thing point is that what we call structure is not something that exists
prior to action. Ultimately, “structure” is identical with the process of its own
construction. Complex abstract systems are simply the way actors come to understand
the logic of their own interactions with the world. It’s also crucial to bear in mind that
the process of “reflexive abstraction” is open-ended. Piaget does not believe that
development is simply a matter of achieving a certain level and then stopping; there
are always new and more complex levels one could generate. Here Piaget invokes the
German mathematician Kurt Gödel, who managed to show not only that no logical
system (such as, say, mathematics) could demonstrate its own internal consistency; in
order to do so, one has to generate a more sophisticated, higher level that presumes
it. Since that level will no be able to demonstrate its own principles either, one then
has to go on to generate another level after that, and so on ad infinitum.
Gödel showed that the construction of a demonstrably consistent… theory
requires not simply an “analysis” of its “presuppositions,” but the
construction of the next “higher” theory! Previously, it was possible to view
theories as layers of a pyramid, each resting on the one below, the theory at
ground level being the most secure because constituted by the simplest
means, and the whole firmly poised on a self-sufficient base. Now, however,
“simplicity” becomes a sign of weakness and the “fastening” of any story in
the edifice of human knowledge calls for the construction of the next higher
story. To revert our earlier image, the pyramid of knowledge no longer rests
on foundations but hangs on its vertex, and ideal point never reached, and,
more curious, constantly rising! (Piaget 1970:34)
Just as with Bhaskar’s conception of scientific inquiry, perfectly content to discover
ever more basic levels of reality without ever hitting bedrock, we are dealing with an
open-ended system. One can always construct a more sophisticated point of view.
This might seem all very abstract, but it suggests new ways to look at any number
of long-standing problems in anthropology. Take, for example, Pierre Bourdieu’s work
on habitus (1979, etc.). Bourdieu has long drawn attention to the fact—always a
matter of frustration to anthropologists—that a truly artful social actor is almost
guaranteed not to be able to offer a clear explanation of the principles underlying her
own artistry. According to the Gödelian/Piagetian perspective, it’s easy to see why this
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should be. The logical level on which one is operating is always at least one level
higher than that which one can explain or understand—what the Russian psychologist
Vygotsky (1978:79-91) referred to as the “proximal level” of development.16
In fact,
one could argue this must necessarily be the case, since (explanation itself being a
form of action) in order to explain or understand one’s actions fully, one has to
generate a more sophisticated (“stronger,” more encompassing) level of operations,
whose principles, in turn, one would not be fully able to explain; and in order to explain
that one, yet another; and so on without end.
Or consider, again, the phenomenon of rites of passage, a classic issue in
anthropology since Arnold Van Gennep’s essay of 1909. Van Gennep argued that all
such rituals, across the world, always contain at least three stages. They begin with
rites of separation, in which, say, a boy undergoing initiation is separated from his old
identity, as a child, and end with rites of reintegration, in which he is reintegrated into
the social order in his new identity, as a man. The liminal stage is the one that falls in
between, when the boy is as it were suspended between identities, not quite one
thing, not quite another. As Victor Turner noted (1967), this stage has a tendency to
take on some very strange, “anti-structural” qualities: those who pass through it are at
once sacred and polluting, creative and destructive, divine and monstrous, and
ultimately beyond anything that can be explained by the order of normal life. But as
Terence Turner has observed (1977; see 1993:22-26): according to the Piagetian
approach, this is, again, much as should be. Because here too there is a difference of
logical levels. To maintain a system of classification—i.e., one that divides males into
children, adolescents, adults, and so on—requires a certain level of logical operations;
it is, like any set of categories, the “other side” of a set of activities. To operate on the
level where you can transform one category into the other implies entering into a
higher, encompassing level; or, to put it another way, with powers of a fundamentally
different nature than those which operate in ordinary life, in which people “are” one
thing or another.
17 Here too, the highest level of operations is one that cannot be
represented or fully accounted for—at least in social terms. Representing such powers
becomes a problem. Everyday categories do not apply. Hence, the tendency to resort
to mystery, paradox, unknowability, or systematic inversions of normal ways of doing
things—a “world turned upside down”.
It’s easy to see how this perspective might have all sorts of important implications.
Most Durkheimian ritual analyses turn, in one way or another, on the concept of “the
sacred,” usually seen a point of transformation or metamorphosis that stands apart
from profane existence, and that, for a Durkheimian, is the point where the individual
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comes into contact with the power of society itself—society being for Durkheim an
emergent reality of its own, standing beyond and constraining the individual. As I have
already remarked, the notion ultimately has much in common with Marx’s conception
of alienation (which after all, also set off from a study of reliion), the most dramatic
difference between the two being one of attitude: unlike Marx, Durkheim didn’t see
anything particularly wrong with the fact that society seemed to impose itself on
individuals as an alien force, any more than he had any problem with the existence of
social hierarchies. Marx, who objected to both, saw them as two sides of the same
coin. To understand fully the parallels between Marx and Piaget, however, one must
look a little more closely at Piaget’s notion of egocentrism.
egocentrism and partial consciousness
One of Piaget’s more remarkable achievements was to take a fact that almost
anyone knows—that children tend to see themselves as the center of the universe—
and make it the basis for a systematic theory of intellectual and moral development.
Egocentrism, according to Piaget, is a matter of assuming one’s own, subjective
perspective on the world is identical with the nature of the world itself. Development,
in turn, becomes a matter of internalizing the fact that other ones are possible; or, to
put it a bit more technically, creating structures which are really the coordination of
different possible perspectives. Very young children, for example, do not understand
that objects continue to exist when they are no longer looking at them. If a ball rolls
out of sight, it is simply gone. To understand that it is still there is to understand first
of all that there are other angles from which one might be looking at it, from which one
would still be able to see it. In older children, egocentrism might mean anything from a
child’s inability to imagine that others might not understand what she’s telling them,
to the difficulty (which often endures surprisingly late in life) in realizing that if I have a
brother named Robert, then Robert also has a brother, who is me.
Egocentrism, then, involves first and foremost an inability to see things from other
points of view. Even if it’s a matter of understanding the continual existence of objects,
one is aware of them through potential perspectives: when one looks at a car, or a
duck, or a mountain, the fact that there are other sides to it (other perspectives from
which one could be looking at it) becomes internalized into the very nature of what
one is perceiving. It would simply not look the same otherwise. Hence, for Piaget,
achieving maturity is a matter of “decentering” oneself: of being able to see one’s own
interests or perspective as simply one part of a much larger totality not intrinsically
more important than any other.
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In matters social, however, one clearly cannot do this all the time. It is one thing
bearing in mind, when one looks at a house, that it has more than one side to it; quite
another to be continually aware of how a family must seem to every member of it, or
how each member of a group of people working on some common project would see
what was going on. In fact, human beings are notoriously incapable of doing so on a
consistent basis. Here again, there appears to be a very concrete limit to the human
Of course, the more complex the social situation, the more difficult such
imaginative feats become. Which brings us back to the original point derived from
Marx: that it is almost impossible for someone engaged in a project of action, in
shaping the world in some way, to understand fully how their actions simultaneously
contribute to (a) re-creating the social system in which they are doing so (even if this
is something so simple as a family or office), and thus (b) reflexively reshaping and
redefining their own selves. In fact, according to Turner, it’s really the same point:
because in order to understand this fully, one would have to be able to coordinate the
subjective points of view of everyone involved—to see how they all fit together (or, in
the case of conflict, don’t), and so on. . . That aspect which falls outside our
comprehension, even though it is a product of our own actions, tends to seem
something which stands alien, apart from us, something that constrains and controls
us rather than the other way around. In early works like The German Ideology, Marx
emphasized the paradoxical nature of the division of labor in modern society: that
while it created a genuine common interest on the level of society as it a whole, since
people need one another in order to survive, it does so by confining everyone to such
limited interests and perspectives within it that none were really able to perceive it. It
was precisely the fact that people are confined to these partial perspectives that, Marx
argued, gave rise to alienation: the “consolidation of what we ourselves produce into
an objective power above us,” the fact that our powers appear to us in strange,
external forms (Ollman 1971). Commodity fetishism is really just another version of
the same thing. It is the result, above all, of the fact that the market creates a vast
rupture between the factories in which commodities are produced, and the private
homes in which most are finally consumed. If a commodity—a futon, a video cassette,
a box of talcum powder—fulfills a human need, it is because human beings have
intentionally designed it in order to do so; they have taken raw materials and, by
adding their strength and intelligence, shaped it to fulfill those needs. The object, then,
embodies human intentions. This is why consumers want to buy it. But because of the
peculiar, anonymous nature of a market system, that whole history becomes invisible
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from the consumer’s point of view. From her perspective, then, it looks as if the value
of the object—embodied in its ability to satisfy her wants—is an aspect of the product
itself. All those intentions seem to be absorbed into the physical form of the object
itself, this being all that she can see. In other words, she too is confusing her own
(partial, subjective) perspective with the (total, objective) nature of the situation itself,
and as a result, seeing objects as having human powers and properties. This is
precisely the sort of thing—the attribution of subjective qualities to objects—that
Piaget argues is typical of childhood egocentrism as well (cf. Turner and Fajans 1988).
The same logic is reproduced on every level of commercial life, where everyone
tends to speak of products and money as propelling themselves along, selling
themselves, flooding markets or fleeing from adverse investment climates; because,
from their own particular, partial, interested perspective, all this might as well be true.
Which allows me to make a final observation about some of the most common
objections to a Piagetian approach.
Anthropologists tend to be extremely suspicious of any general theory that even
holds out the potential of arguing that certain people are more sane, more intelligent,
or more rational than others. They are very right to be suspicious. It does seem that
the moment such models are given any intellectual legitimacy, they are immediately
snatched up by racists and chauvinists of one kind or another and used to support the
most obnoxious political positions. The Piagetian case was no exception: one team of
researchers, for example, administered Piagetian tests to Arunda-speakers in
Australia, as a result of which they concluded that Arunda adults had not achieved
“operational levels” of intelligence (see Piaget 1970:117-19). The result was another
attempt to revive the notion, largely abandoned since the days Levy-Bruhl, of
“primitive mentality” on Piagetian grounds (e.g., Hallpike 1979). Of course, for the
anthropologist, the idea of the Arunda being simple-minded is pretty startling: after all,
these are the same people otherwise famous for maintaining one of the most
complicated kinship systems known to anthropological science—including an eightsection prescriptive marriage system so intricate it took Western scholars decades to
unravel it. To argue that such people are incapable of sophisticated thought seems
obviously ridiculous: even if, like people everywhere, they are unlikely to fully grasp
the principles underlying their own most sophisticated forms of action.
Even when things are not this blatantly ethnocentric, the normal model for a
mature, fully evolved individual is usually pretty culturally specific. It’s much the same
thecommoner N.10 thecommoner.org
Value As The Importance of Actions 36
as the model “Westerner”. One is, at least implicitly, thinking of some fortyish white
guy in a suit, perhaps a banker or a stockbroker. The advantage of a Marxist take on
Piaget of course is that said banker or stockbroker is no longer the model of someone
who gets it right but of someone who gets it wrong: as he flips through the business
section reading how gold is doing this and pork bellies doing that, he is engaging in
the very paradigm of adult egocentrism. An Arunda speaker, one suspects, would be
much less likely to be quite so naive


Author: rogerglewis

https://about.me/rogerlewis Looking for a Job either in Sweden or UK. Freelance, startups, will turń my hand to anything.

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