“…there resides in every language a characteristic world-view”

“Via the latter, qua character of a speech-sound, a pervasive analogy necessarily prevails in the same language; and since a like subjectivity also affects language in the same notion, there resides in every language a characteristic world-view. As the individual sound stands between man and the object, so the entire language steps in between him and the nature that operates, both inwardly and outwardly, upon him. He surrounds himself with a world of sounds, so as to take up and process within himself the world of objects. These expressions in no way outstrip the measure of the simple truth. Man lives primarily with objects, indeed, since feeling and acting in him depend on his presentations, he actually does so exclusively, as language presents them to him. By the same act whereby he spins language out of himself, he spins himself into it, and every language draws about the people that possesses it a circle whence it is possible to exit only by stepping over at once into the circle of another one. To learn a foreign language should therefore be to acquire a new standpoint in the world-view hitherto possessed, and in fact to a certain extent is so, since every language contains the whole conceptual fabric and mode of presentation of a portion of mankind.”

Wilhelm von Humboldt
On Language (1836)

* * *

Wilhelm von Humboldt
from Wikipedia

Wilhelm von Humboldt
from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Wilhelm von Humboldt lectures
from Université de Rouen

Wilhelm von Humbold and the World of Languages
by Ian F. McNeely

Wilhelm von Humboldt: A Critical Review On His Philosophy of Language, Theory and Practice of Education
by Dr Arlini Alias

The theory of linguistic relativity from the historical perspective
by Iaroslav

Social Construction & Ideological Abstraction

The following passages from two books help to explain what is social construction. As society has headed in a particular direction of development, abstract thought has become increasingly dominant.

But for us modern people who take abstractions for granted, we often don’t even recognize abstractions for what they are. Many abstractions simply become reality as we know it. They are ‘looped’ into existence, as race realism, capitalist realism, etc.

Ideological abstractions become so pervasive and systemic that we lose the capacity to think outside of them. They form our reality tunnel.

This wasn’t always so. Humans used to conceive of and hence perceive the world far differently. And this shaped their sense of identity, which is hard for us to imagine.

* * *

Dynamics of Human Biocultural Diversity:
A Unified Approach

by Elisa J. Sobo
Kindle Locations 94-104)

Until now, many biocultural anthropologists have focused mainly on the ‘bio’ half of the equation, using ‘biocultural’ generically, like biology, to refer to genetic, anatomical, physiological, and related features of the human body that vary across cultural groups. The number of scholars with a more sophisticated approach is on the upswing, but they often write only for super-educated expert audiences. Accordingly, although introductory biocultural anthropology texts make some attempt to acknowledge the role of culture, most still treat culture as an external variable— as an add-on to an essentially biological system. Most fail to present a model of biocultural diversity that gives adequate weight to the cultural side of things.

Note that I said most, not all: happily, things are changing. A movement is afoot to take anthropology’s claim of holism more seriously by doing more to connect— or reconnect— perspectives from both sides of the fence. Ironically, prior to the industrial revolution and the rise of the modern university, most thinkers took a very comprehensive view of the human condition. It was only afterward that fragmented, factorial, compartmental thinking began to undermine our ability to understand ourselves and our place in— and connection with— the world. Today, the leading edge of science recognizes the links and interdependencies that such thinking keeps falsely hidden.

Nature, Human Nature, and Human Difference:
Race in Early Modern Philosophy
by Justin E. H. Smith

pp. 9-10

The connection to the problem of race should be obvious: kinds of people are to no small extent administered into being, brought into existence through record keeping, census taking, and, indeed, bills of sale. A census form asks whether a citizen is “white,” and the possibility of answering this question affirmatively helps to bring into being a subkind of the human species that is by no means simply there and given, ready to be picked out, prior to the emergence of social practices such as the census. Censuses, in part, bring white people into existence, but once they are in existence they easily come to appear as if they had been there all along. This is in part what Hacking means by “looping”: human kinds, in contrast with properly natural kinds such as helium or water, come to be what they are in large part as a result of the human act of identifying them as this or that. Two millennia ago no one thought of themselves as neurotic, or straight, or white, and nothing has changed in human biology in the meantime that could explain how these categories came into being on their own. This is not to say that no one is melancholic, neurotic, straight, white, and so on, but only that how that person got to be that way cannot be accounted for in the same way as, say, how birds evolved the ability to fly, or how iron oxidizes.

In some cases, such as the diagnosis of mental illness, kinds of people are looped into existence out of a desire, successful or not, to help them. Racial categories seem to have been looped into existence, by contrast, for the facilitation of the systematic exploitation of certain groups of people by others. Again, the categories facilitate the exploitation in large part because of the way moral status flows from legal status. Why can the one man be enslaved, and the other not? Because the one belongs to the natural-seeming kind of people that is suitable for enslavement. This reasoning is tautological from the outside, yet self-evident from within. Edward Long, as we have seen, provides a vivid illustration of it in his defense of plantation labor in Jamaica. But again, categories cannot be made to stick on the slightest whim of their would-be coiner. They must build upon habits of thinking that are already somewhat in place. And this is where the history of natural science becomes crucial for understanding the history of modern racial thinking, for the latter built directly upon innovations in the former. Modern racial thinking could not have taken the form it did if it had not been able to piggyback, so to speak, on conceptual innovations in the way science was beginning to approach the diversity of the natural world, and in particular of the living world.

This much ought to be obvious: racial thinking could not have been biologized if there were no emerging science of biology. It may be worthwhile to dwell on this obvious point, however, and to see what more unexpected insights might be drawn out of it. What might not be so obvious, or what seems to be ever in need of renewed pointing out, is a point that ought to be of importance for our understanding of the differing, yet ideally parallel, scope and aims of the natural and social sciences: the emergence of racial categories, of categories of kinds of humans, may in large part be understood as an overextension of the project of biological classification that was proving so successful in the same period. We might go further, and suggest that all of the subsequent kinds of people that would emerge over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the kinds of central interest to Foucault and Hacking, amount to a further reaching still, an unprecedented, peculiarly modern ambition to make sense of the slightest variations within the human species as if these were themselves species differentia. Thus for example Foucault’s well-known argument that until the nineteenth century there was no such thing as “the homosexual,” but only people whose desires could impel them to do various things at various times. But the last two centuries have witnessed a proliferation of purportedly natural kinds of humans, a typology of “extroverts,” “depressives,” and so on, whose objects are generally spoken of as if on an ontological par with elephants and slime molds. Things were not always this way. In fact, as we will see, they were not yet this way throughout much of the early part of the period we call “modern.”

Self, Other, & World

The New Science of the Mind:
From Extended Mind to Embodied Phenomenology
by Mark Rowlands
Kindle Locations 54-62

The new way of thinking about the mind is inspired by, and organized around, not the brain but some combination of the ideas that mental processes are (1) embodied, (2) embedded, (3) enacted, and (4) extended. Shaun Gallagher has referred to this, in conversation, as the 4e conception of the mind.4 The idea that mental processes are embodied is, very roughly, the idea that they are partly constituted by, partly made up of, wider (i.e., extraneural) bodily structures and processes. The idea that mental processes cesses are embedded is, again roughly, the idea that mental processes have been designed to function only in tandem with a certain environment that lies outside the brain of the subject. In the absence of the right environmental mental scaffolding, mental processes cannot do what they are supposed to do, or can only do what they are supposed to so less than optimally. The idea that mental processes are enacted is the idea that they are made up not just of neural processes but also of things that the organism does more generally-that they are constituted in part by the ways in which an organism ism acts on the world and the ways in which world, as a result, acts back on that organism. The idea that mental processes are extended is the idea that they are not located exclusively inside an organism’s head but extend out, in various ways, into the organism’s environment.

On animism, multinaturalism, & cosmopolitics
by Adrian J Ivakhiv

If, as Latour argues, we are no longer to rely on the singular foundation of a nature that speaks to us through the singular voice of science, then we are thrown into a world in which humans are thought to resemble, in some measure, all other entities (think Darwin alongside Amazonian shamanism) and to radically differ, though in ways that are bridgeable through translation. This would be a world that demands an ontological politics, or a cosmopolitics, by which the choices open to us with respect to the different ways we can entangle ourselves with places, non-humans, technologies, and the material world as a whole, become ethically inflected open questions.

Can “Late Antiquity” Be Saved?
by Philip Rousseau

This issue of a Eurocentric “take” on the late Roman world now finds itself swept up into what has been termed the “ontological turn,” which I suppose is where the “new humanities” come in. More and more people are becoming familiar with this debate. It centers chiefly on a conviction that, in any one place at any one time, the people alive there and then had a sense of “reality” — a word we’re quite rightly not entirely happy with — that was unique to themselves. Indeed, more than a sense: their understanding of “that which is the case” was not simply a symbolizing reaction to a set of experiences that we otherwise share with them although respond to differently — that is, the material, anthropocentric, individualized world that we tend to suppose has always been “out there.” They (like many now) lived in a world (rather than just in a frame of mind) that was itself totally different from the world that we (whoever “we” are) experience. Actually (another tell-tale word), phenomenology, cognitive science, and quantum physics, if nothing else, have shown us what a far from enduring particularity the “out there” world is.

Retrieving the Lost Worlds of the Past:
The Case for an Ontological Turn
by Greg Anderson

Our discipline’s grand historicist project, its commitment to producing a kind of cumulative biography of our species, imposes strict limits on the kinds of stories we can tell about the past. Most immediately, our histories must locate all of humanity’s diverse lifeworlds within the bounds of a single, universal “real world” of time, space, and experience. To do this, they must render experiences in all those past lifeworlds duly commensurable and mutually intelligible. And to do this, our histories must use certain commonly accepted models and categories, techniques and methods. The fundamental problem here is that all of these tools of our practice presuppose a knowledge of experience that is far from universal, as postcolonial theorists and historians like Dipesh Chakrabarty have so well observed. In effect, these devices require us to “translate” the experiences of all past lifeworlds into the experiences of just one lifeworld, namely those of a post-Enlightenment “Europe,” the world of our own secular, capitalist modernity. In so doing, they actively limit our ability to represent the past’s many non-secular, non-capitalist, non-modern “ways of being
human.” […]

This ontological individualism would have been scarcely intelligible to, say, the inhabitants of precolonial Bali or Hawai’i, where the divine king or chief, the visible incarnation of the god Lono, was “the condition of possibility of the community,” and thus “encompasse[d] the people in his own person, as a projection of his own being,” such that his subjects were all “particular instances of the chief’s existence.”
12 It would have been barely imaginable, for that matter, in the world of medieval Europe, where conventional wisdom proverbially figured sovereign and subjects as the head and limbs of a single, primordial “body politic” or corpus mysticum. 13 And the idea of a natural, presocial individual would be wholly confounding to, say, traditional Hindus and the Hagen people of Papua New Guinea, who objectify all persons as permeable, partible “dividuals” or “social microcosms,” as provisional embodiments of all the actions, gifts, and accomplishments of others that have made their lives possible.1

We alone in the modern capitalist west, it seems, regard individuality as the true, primordial estate of the human person. We alone believe that humans are always already unitary, integrated selves, all born with a natural, presocial disposition to pursue a rationally calculated self-interest and act competitively upon our no less natural, no less presocial rights to life, liberty, and private property. We alone are thus inclined to see forms of sociality, like relations of kinship, nationality, ritual, class, and so forth, as somehow contingent, exogenous phenomena, not as essential constituents of our very subjectivity, of who or what we really are as beings. And we alone believe that social being exists to serve individual being, rather than the other way round. Because we alone imagine that individual humans are free-standing units in the first place, “unsocially sociable” beings who ontologically precede whatever “society” our self-interest prompts us to form at any given time.

Beyond Nature and Culture
by Philippe Descola
Kindle Locations 241-262.

Not so very long ago one could delight in the curiosities of the world without making any distinction between the information obtained from observing animals and that which the mores of antiquity or the customs of distant lands presented. “Nature was one” and reigned everywhere, distributing equally among humans and nonhumans a multitude of technical skills, ways of life, and modes of reasoning. Among the educated at least, that age came to an end a few decades after Montaigne’s death, when nature ceased to be a unifying arrangement of things, however disparate, and became a domain of objects that were subject to autonomous laws that formed a background against which the arbitrariness of human activities could exert its many-faceted fascination. A new cosmology had emerged, a prodigious collective invention that provided an unprecedented framework for the development of scientific thought and that we, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, continue, in a rather offhand way, to protect. The price to be paid for that simplification included one aspect that it has been possible to overlook, given that we have not been made to account for it: while the Moderns were discovering the lazy propensity of barbaric and savage peoples to judge everything according to their own particular norms, they were masking their own ethnocentricity behind a rational approach to knowledge, the errors of which at that time escaped notice. It was claimed that everywhere and in every age, an unchanging mute and impersonal nature established its grip, a nature that human beings strove to interpret more or less plausibly and from which they endeavored to profit, with varying degrees of success. Their widely diverse conventions and customs could now make sense only if they were related to natural regularities that were more or less well understood by those affected by them. It was decreed, but with exemplary discretion, that our way of dividing up beings and things was a norm to which there were no exceptions. Carrying forward the work of philosophy, of whose predominance it was perhaps somewhat envious, the fledgling discipline of anthropology ratified the reduction of the multitude of existing things to two heterogeneous orders of reality and, on the strength of a plethora of facts gathered from every latitude, even bestowed upon that reduction the guarantee of universality that it still lacked. Almost without noticing, anthropology committed itself to this way of proceeding, such was the fascination exerted by the shimmering vision of “cultural diversity,” the listing and study of which now provided it with its raison d’être. The profusion of institutions and modes of thought was rendered less formidable and its contingency more bearable if one took the view that all these practices— the logic of which was sometimes so hard to discover— constituted so many singular responses to a universal challenge: namely, that of disciplining and profiting from the biophysical potentialities offered by bodies and their environment.

What Kinship Is-And Is Not
by Marshall Sahlins
p. 2

In brief, the idea of kinship in question is “mutuality of being”: people who are intrinsic to one another’s existence— thus “mutual person(s),” “life itself,” “intersubjective belonging,” “transbodily being,” and the like. I argue that “mutuality of being” will cover the variety of ethnographically documented ways that kinship is locally constituted, whether by procreation, social construction, or some combination of these. Moreover, it will apply equally to interpersonal kinship relations, whether “consanguineal” or “affinal,” as well as to group arrangements of descent. Finally, “mutuality of being” will logically motivate certain otherwise enigmatic effects of kinship bonds— of the kind often called “mystical”— whereby what one person does or suffers also happens to others. Like the biblical sins of the father that descend on the sons, where being is mutual, there experience is more than individual.

The Habitus Process
A Biopsychosocial Conception
By Andreas Pickel

The habitus-personality complex is linked (at the top) to a social system. As I have proposed earlier, habitus is an emergent property of a social system. The habitus-personality complex is also linked (at the bottom) to a biopsychic system which generates a personality as an emergent property. Thus there is a bottom-up causality and a top-down causality at work. The habitus-personality complex, while composed of two emergent properties (bottom-up: personality; top down: habitus), can also be seen as a process. In this view, the habitus mechanism refers to the working of system-specific patterns of wanting, feeling, thinking, doing and interacting, while the personality mechanism refers to individual forms of wanting, feeling, thinking, doing and interacting. The two simultaneously operating mechanisms produce self-consciousness and identity, and what Elias calls the “we”-“I” balance in a personality (Elias 1991).

How Forests Think:
Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human
By Eduardo Kohn
p. 6

Attending to our relations with those beings that exist in some way beyond the human forces us to question our tidy answers about the human. The goal here is neither to do away with the human nor to reinscribe it but to open it. In rethinking the human we must also rethink the kind of anthropology that would be adequate to this task. Sociocultural anthropology in its various forms as it is practiced today takes those attributes that are distinctive to humans— language, culture, society, and history— and uses them to fashion the tools to understand humans. In this process the analytical object becomes isomorphic with the analytics. As a result we are not able to see the myriad ways in which people are connected to a broader world of life, or how this fundamental connection changes what it might mean to be human. And this is why expanding ethnography to reach beyond the human is so important. An ethnographic focus not just on humans or only on animals but also on how humans and animals relate breaks open the circular closure that otherwise confines us when we seek to understand the distinctively human by means of that which is distinctive to humans.

Vibrant Matter:
A Political Ecology of Things
by Jane Bennett
pp. 8-10

I may have met a relative of Odradek while serving on a jury, again in Baltimore, for a man on trial for attempted homicide. It was a small glass vial with an adhesive-covered metal lid: the Gunpowder Residue Sampler. This object/ witness had been dabbed on the accused’s hand hours after the shooting and now offered to the jury its microscopic evidence that the hand had either fired a gun or been within three feet of a gun firing. Expert witnesses showed the sampler to the jury several times, and with each appearance it exercised more force, until it became vital to the verdict. This composite of glass, skin cells, glue, words, laws, metals, and human emotions had become an actant. Actant, recall, is Bruno Latour’s term for a source of action; an actant can be human or not, or, most likely, a combination of both. Latour defines it as “something that acts or to which activity is granted by others. It implies no special motivation of human individual actors, nor of humans in general.” 24 An actant is neither an object nor a subject but an “intervener,” 25 akin to the Deleuzean “quasi-causal operator.” 26 An operator is that which, by virtue of its particular location in an assemblage and the fortuity of being in the right place at the right time, makes the difference, makes things happen, becomes the decisive force catalyzing an event. Actant and operator are substitute words for what in a more subject-centered vocabulary are called agents. Agentic capacity is now seen as differentially distributed across a wider range of ontological types. This idea is also expressed in the notion of “deodand,” a figure of English law from about 1200 until it was abolished in 1846. In cases of accidental death or injury to a human, the nonhuman actant, for example, the carving knife that fell into human flesh or the carriage that trampled the leg of a pedestrian— became deodand (literally, “that which must be given to God”). In recognition of its peculiar efficacy (a power that is less masterful than agency but more active than recalcitrance), the deodand, a materiality “suspended between human and thing,” 27 was surrendered to the crown to be used (or sold) to compensate for the harm done. According to William Pietz, “any culture must establish some procedure of compensation, expiation, or punishment to settle the debt created by unintended human deaths whose direct cause is not a morally accountable person, but a nonhuman material object. This was the issue thematized in public discourse by . . . the law of deodand.” 28

There are of course differences between the knife that impales and the man impaled, between the technician who dabs the sampler and the sampler, between the array of items in the gutter of Cold Spring Lane and me, the narrator of their vitality. But I agree with John Frow that these differences need “to be flattened, read horizontally as a juxtaposition rather than vertically as a hierarchy of being. It’s a feature of our world that we can and do distinguish . . . things from persons. But the sort of world we live in makes it constantly possible for these two sets of kinds to exchange properties.” 29 And to note this fact explicitly, which is also to begin to experience the relationship between persons and other materialities more horizontally, is to take a step toward a more ecological sensibility.

pp. 20-21

Thing-power perhaps has the rhetorical advantage of calling to mind a childhood sense of the world as filled with all sorts of animate beings, some human, some not, some organic, some not. It draws attention to an efficacy of objects in excess of the human meanings, designs, or purposes they express or serve. Thing-power may thus be a good starting point for thinking beyond the life-matter binary, the dominant organizational principle of adult experience. The term’s disadvantage, however, is that it also tends to overstate the thinginess or fixed stability of materiality, whereas my goal is to theorize a materiality that is as much force as entity, as much energy as matter, as much intensity as extension. Here the term out-side may prove more apt. Spinoza’s stones, an absolute Wild, the oozing Meadowlands, the nimble Odradek, the moving deodand, a processual minerality, an incalculable nonidentity— none of these are passive objects or stable entities (though neither are they intentional subjects). 1 They allude instead to vibrant materials.

A second, related disadvantage of thing-power is its latent individualism, by which I mean the way in which the figure of “thing” lends itself to an atomistic rather than a congregational understanding of agency While the smallest or simplest body or bit may indeed express a vital impetus, conatus or clinamen, an actant never really acts alone. Its efficacy or agency always depends on the collaboration, cooperation, or interactive interference of many bodies and forces. A lot happens to the concept of agency once nonhuman things are figured less as social constructions and more as actors, and once humans themselves are assessed not as autonoms but as vital materialities.

Animism – The Seed Of Religion
by Edward Clodd
Kindle Locations 363-369

In the court held in ancient times in the Prytaneum at Athens to try any object, such as an axe or a piece of wood or stone which, independent of any human agency, had caused death, the offending thing was condemned and cast in solemn form beyond the border. Dr. Frazer cites the amusing instance of a cock which was tried at Basle in 1474 for having laid an egg, and which, being found guilty, was burnt as a sorcerer. ” The recorded pleadings in the case are said to be very voluminous.” And only as recently as 1846 there was abolished in England the law of deodand, whereby not only a beast that kills a man, but a cart-wheel that runs over him, or a tree that crushes him, were deo dandus, or ” given to God,” being forfeited and sold for the poor. The adult who, in momentary rage, kicks over the chair against which he has stumbled, is one with the child who beats the door against which he knocks his head, or who whips the ” naughty ” rocking-horse that throws him.

Architectural Agents:
The Delusional, Abusive, Addictive Lives of Buildings
by Annabel Jane Wharton
Kindle Locations 148-155

The deodand was common in medieval legal proceedings. Before the recognition of mitigating circumstances and degrees of murder and manslaughter, causing the death of a person was a capital offense. At that time the deodand may well have functioned as a legal ploy by which the liability for a death might be assessed in a just manner. Although the deodand seems to have almost disappeared in England by the eighteenth century, the law was revived in the nineteenth century. With industrialization the deodand was redeployed as a means of levying penalties for the many deaths caused by mechanical devices, particularly locomotives. 9 Legislation was passed to protect industrial interests, and the deodand was eliminated by an act of Parliament in 1846. Premodern intuitions about the animation of things allowed those things a semblance of the moral agency associated with culpability. With the rational repression of that intuition in modernity, the legal system required revision.

Kindle Locations 245-253

Now, as in the past, buildings may be immobile, but they are by no means passive. Our habitus— the way we live in the world— is certainly informed by our relations with other human beings. 24 But spatial objects also model our lives. Some structures, like Bentham’s infamous Panopticon, are insidiously manipulative. 25 But most buildings, like most people, can both confirm our familiar patterns of behavior and modify them. We build a classroom to accommodate a certain kind of learning; the classroom in turn molds the kind of learning that we do or even that we can imagine. Modifications in the room might lead to innovations in teaching practices. Buildings, in this sense, certainly have social agency. Indeed, the acts of buildings may be compared with the acts of their human counterparts insofar as those acts are similarly overdetermined— that is, fraught with more conditions in their social circumstances or individual histories than are necessary to account for the ways in which they work.

Hyperobjects:
Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World
by Timothy Morton
Kindle Locations 547-568

While hyperobjects are near, they are also very uncanny. Some days, global warming fails to heat me up. It is strangely cool or violently stormy. My intimate sensation of prickling heat at the back of my neck is only a distorted print of the hot hand of global warming. I do not feel “at home” in the biosphere. Yet it surrounds me and penetrates me, like the Force in Star Wars. The more I know about global warming, the more I realize how pervasive it is. The more I discover about evolution, the more I realize how my entire physical being is caught in its meshwork. Immediate, intimate symptoms of hyperobjects are vivid and often painful, yet they carry with them a trace of unreality. I am not sure where I am anymore. I am at home in feeling not at home. Hyperobjects, not some hobbit hole, not some national myth of the homeland, have finally forced me to see the truth in Heidegger.

The more I struggle to understand hyperobjects, the more I discover that I am stuck to them. They are all over me. They are me. I feel like Neo in The Matrix, lifting to his face in horrified wonder his hand coated in the mirrorlike substance into which the doorknob has dissolved, as his virtual body begins to disintegrate. “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” The mirror itself has become part of my flesh. Or rather, I have become part of the mirror’s flesh, reflecting hyperobjects everywhere. I can see data on the mercury and other toxins in my blood. At Taipei Airport, a few weeks after the Fukushima disaster, I am scanned for radiation since I have just transited in Tokyo. Every attempt to pull myself free by some act of cognition renders me more hopelessly stuck to hyperobjects. Why?

They are already here. I come across them later, I find myself poisoned with them, I find my hair falling out. Like an evil character in a David Lynch production, or a ghost in M. Knight Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, hyperobjects haunt my social and psychic space with an always-already. My normal sense of time as a container, or a racetrack, or a street, prevents me from noticing this always-already, from which time oozes and flows, as I shall discuss in a later section (“ Temporal Undulation”). What the demonic Twin Peaks character Bob reveals, for our purposes, is something about hyperobjects, perhaps about objects in general. 2 Hyperobjects are agents. 3 They are indeed more than a little demonic, in the sense that they appear to straddle worlds and times, like fiber optic cables or electromagnetic fields. And they are demonic in that through them causalities flow like electricity.

We haven’t thought this way about things since the days of Plato.

Racial Reality Tunnel

The worldview of race is so embedded in our society that it has for centuries been our collective reality tunnel. We don’t even know how to talk about it without using race-based language. Race just seems real to us.

Of course, we have reasons to give for why it seems real, but the reasons are secondary. It isn’t an issue of an opposition between rationality and irrationality. Racialism is both pre-rational and rationalizing.

Far from denying the rationality of those who have accepted either belief as truth about the world, we assume it. We are interested in the processes of reasoning that manage to make both plausible. Witchcraft and racecraft are imagined, acted upon, and re-imagined, the action and imagining inextricably intertwined. The outcome is a belief that “presents itself to the mind and imagination as a vivid truth.” So wrote W. E. H. Lecky, a British scholar of Europe’s past who, looking back from the nineteenth century, tried to understand how very smart people managed for a very long time to believe in witchcraft. He warned that it takes “a strong effort of the imagination … [to] realise the position of the defenders of the belief.” To “realise,” in his sense, is to picture a bygone real world of normally constituted people who accepted, as obviously true, notions that the real world of one’s own present dismisses as obviously false. What if we Americans applied that “strong effort ” to our present? Only if we imagined racecraft as a thing in itself worth scrutiny might we imagine ourselves outside or beyond the belief.

Fields, Barbara J.; Fields, Karen (2012-10-09). Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life
by Barbara J. Fields and Karen Fields
pp. 19-20

The feeling of it being real is prior to conscious thought. We are raised in this worldview and for most of us we have never known anything else. It is a self-contained worldview and  a self-fulfilling prophesy. Its sociopolitical enactment creates its own evidence which proves the reality, necessity and inevitability of its enactment.

Then and there, cause and effect disappear into the smoky notion of “witches”— by definition, people who can “do accursed things ” that, by definition, are the things witches can do. Like pure races a while ago, Luther’s witches enter the world, and come to matter therein, not by observation and experience but by circular reasoning. Neither “witch” nor “pure race” has a material existence. Both are products of thought, and of language. Having no material existence, they cannot have material causation. Strictly speaking, Luther’s explanation omitted nothing essential.

Witchcraft has no moving parts of its own, and needs none . It acquires perfectly adequate moving parts when a person acts upon the reality of the imagined thing ; the real action creates evidence for the imagined thing. By that route, belief of that sort constantly dumps factitious evidence for itself into the real world . In Luther’s day, learned jurists and ecclesiastics produced mountains of such evidence. The specialized language of the proceedings generated evidence by shaping routine modes of narrating invisible (nay, impossible) events. The very pageantry of witchcraft trials yielded more evidence, and drastic executions of “accursed” people still more of it, a kind of material proof that bad things happen to bad people. Lecky concluded: “If we considered witchcraft probable, a hundredth part of the evidence we possess would have placed it beyond the region of doubt.” Correspondingly, if Ripley’s readers had considered racecraft improbable, his classification would have trapped him well within the region of doubt. In both instances, there was vast and varied evidence, but of what?

Of products of imagining, “realised” in everyday practice. Here , paraphrased , is an exchange between an unbelieving interviewer with the American children or grandchildren of European immigrants who believed in the evil eye: Q: How does the evil eye work? A: Some people are known to have it. Q: How do you know that? A: I have seen X’s remedy work. Q: Is it always effective? A: I know for a fact that it worked for So-and-so. Today, as in the sixteenth century, logical hopscotch of that kind is the warp and woof of banal sociability. The talkers respond to, but ignore, the interviewer’s question about the mechanism of the evil eye. It exists, period. The interviewer does not press, and does not need to. Those present do not query assumptions, the nature of available evidence, or the coherence of their reasoning from that evidence. What they know they know intimately, but not well. Such is the stuff that racecraft is made of. It occupies a middle ground between science and superstition , an invisible realm of collective understandings, a half-lit zone of the mind’s eye.

Dr. Watson was operating within it when he prophesied breakthroughs in genetics to account for things that happen when white people like him “have to deal with black employees.” That a scientist of his stature slipped into that half-light demonstrates the ease with which scientific and non-scientific thinking conflate in the minds of individuals. Had he been chatting over his back fence with a like-minded (or risk-averse) neighbor, rather than to a battalion of journalists, there would have been no uproar. And the world would have missed a sober lesson: Science is forever dogged by those seductive cousins and ancient antagonists which Francis Bacon named “Idols of the Tribe.” In their grip, Luther, a powerful dialectician, held both a workaday notion of cause and effect and a phantasmic folk belief that contradicted it, and so, too, did his learned contemporaries. Lecky again: “The acutest lawyers and ecclesiastics confronted evidence that extends to tens of thousands of cases, in almost every country of Europe.” For them, as for less well-educated people, there was little to impose the idea of absurdity or of improbability on stories about “old women riding on broomsticks.”

pp. 22-24

I realized the power of this social construct when I was once again looking at the genetic data.

The United States is apparently the only country in the world with a bimodal distribution of racial genetics, despite the fact that there are many other countries including both European and African ancestry. The reason for this relatively distinct genetic division of races exists at all (although still not as distinct as the racialists would prefer) is because of centuries of what amounts to eugenics public policies and socially oppressive practices such as miscegenation laws. The pure races of black and white didn’t exist as a natural reality but was only created (and never fully) through careful enforcement of the social construct. No one ever said beliefs weren’t powerful.

It is sort of like claiming that your belief is true and real and that someone’s belief is false and not real. You can kill or banish everyone in that group and so eliminate their beliefs. In doing that, you have proven that their beliefs don’t exist by the fact that they literally no longer exist (you can even wipe out all documents that gave any evidence of their existence) and, through Social Darwinism, you have proven that your religious beliefs are better. That isn’t unlike what happened in America. Those who fought against the racial order, especially blacks, disproportionately had their ideas and genetics removed from being passed onto future generations.

Evidence that supports is thusly created and evidence contradicting it is eliminated or made to seem irrelevant. It’s not just that race is a social construct. The societies and social orders we live in are themselves socially constructed and act as proof for the validity and reality of the social construct.

This, however, requires constant enforcement with threats of fines, imprisonment, violence, death, and/or banishment. The miscegenation laws have only been ended a half century or so. Yet already the racial divisions are breaking down. When given freedom to act according to their inborn human nature, people will marry and have children with a diversity of people, as is proven by the increasing number of interracial marriages and children. Some research even shows that people with more mixed genetics appear more attractive.

What about here and now? Americans acquire in childhood all it takes to doubt stories of witchcraft, but little in our childhood leads us to doubt racecraft. For us, as for bygone believers in witches, daily life produces an immense accumulation of supporting evidence for the belief. Think no further than the media -borne miscellany of things tabulated “by race ”— from hardy perennials like teenage pregnancy to novelties like “under-representation” among blood donors and “disproportionate representation” on Twitter, constantly churning out factitious evidence for an ever-expanding American immensity, the so-called racial divide. A recent instance , carried out under the sign of sociological theory, includes familiar features: for example, mapping genomic data onto “census” (that is, folk) racial categories and assuming a genetic origin for social conduct, with the absent supporting evidence expected any day now. Lecky’s subjects had authoritative sources in the science and law of the day. So do we. For them, but no less for us, it often is (or seems) “impossible for so much evidence to accumulate around a conception which has no basis in fact.” To them, witchcraft was obvious, not odd.

p. 24

Most Americans are born in and grow up in America. They’re never seriously confronted with entirely different social orders that would challenge their racial views.

Even in visiting Europe, the social order isn’t so alien as to necessarily challenge the American worldview, although some black Americans have noted the vast differences. Many European countries don’t put much emphasis on white versus black and instead focus on other divisions such as Protestant versus Catholic, upper classes versus lower classes or even Western versus non-Western. Black Americans aren’t necessarily seen as any more ‘other’ to many Europeans than how white Americans are seen.

Still, it requires an entirely non-Western country in order to get the experience of having one’s racial assumptions fully thrown back in one’s face. Eugene Robinson was shocked that dark-skinned people he met in Brazil denied they were black. They didn’t live in the American reality tunnel. They recognized race as a social construct specific to a particular culture rather than a universal truth of human reality. Eugene Robinson couldn’t accept this and argued they were in denial. It was just real because he knew it was real. Everything about his experience in America proved it was real.

The American racial order is something that has to be constantly created again and again with each generation. We aren’t born knowing races. Infants and young children do begin to pick up racial cues from adults, but full enculturation/indoctrination takes many years to solidify into a fully realized worldview that dominates one’s every thought and perception.

If one is able to recollect one’s earliest memories, one would find some early experience(s) that demonstrated a non-racial understanding or the beginnings of racial consciousness. In my readings, I’ve come across numerous examples of people telling of such memories. I’ve read about a white man in the South who remembers the first time he was made to understand why a dark-skinned older man was a “boy”. I’ve read about other memories from Southerners of both races where they describe playing with children of a different skin color until a certain age when it suddenly became a taboo.

I too have such memories. But my having spent my early life in the North and often in liberal towns created a quite different young experience than is more common for Southerners, especially older Southerners.

In the town I live in now (Iowa City), I moved here when I was in third grade and didn’t move to the Deep South until 8th grade. Iowa City is a liberal and multicultural college town which offers a distinct experience of the world. During that period of my childhood, I went to school with a number of minorities, but I don’t recall ever thinking of them as different than anyone else nor do I remember them acting differently. Part of the reason for this was that I knew a black brother and sister who were raised by white parents and an Asian brother and sister also raised by white parents. At the same time, I knew an Asian kid raised by Asian parents. It apparently never occurred to me that the skin color of children had to match that of their parents or else it just didn’t seem important.

It was only with moving down South that I had my own culture shock. Race became real, not as a skin color but as a regional culture. I watched the same MSM as any other kid when I was growing up. I saw that black kids from the South or the Inner City acted differently, but they didn’t act in the way that the black kids I knew at school acted. I had no evidence-based reason to think those culturally different blacks were somehow categorically the same as the blacks in my school. However,  in the Deep South, everything on a daily basis sought to confirm the reality of the racial order.

In America, we tend to mix culture and class with race. This conflation forms a part of our sense of reality from a young age, if it is to form. The sense of reality forms before we ever become fully conscious of it. We don’t consciously think about ideological philosophies and then logically analyze their merit according to scientific evidence. It is only as adults that we even begin the process of questioning deeply and thinking analytically.

This is why rationalization is such an easy trap to fall into. We lack the tools to entirely look outside of our shared reality tunnel. We need to develop those tools.

Thinking Outside the Box: Worlds, Gender, & Games

My friend Jude brought up some thought-provoking thoughts (from Facebook):

Think outside the box” – the synonym for this is “lateral thinking”. I understand the latter but I do not understand the former. I remember I used to understand it though. I do think laterally a lot but I really don’t know where that “box” is. Maybe I have thought outside it so long, it no longer exists to me..hehehe..smh.. I want to re-understand it though.

The following are my comments.

—-

Here is how I would think about it.

Essentially, a box is the world or rather a world… or if you prefer a worldvew, what I’d call a reality tunnel. So, it isn’t necessarily the same as lateral for that would imply a relationship, a lateral relationship between the worldview and the thinking. Thinking outside of the box implies relationship to the worldview is being excluded. With no relationahip anchoring your thinking to the worldview, your thinking is unmoored and you can potentially lose your bearings.

Also, this can be analyzed mythologicaly. A box has a feminine gender, in fact is a term for female genitalia. A box has space within in which one can be enclosed, but it also has space without. When you were born, you literally began thinking outside the ‘box’.

In Indo-European mythology, the box and the square are feminine and maternal. They represent what enlcloses, what embraces and protects us, and also what sets the boundaries for relationships and society.

This relates to two things (board games and card games) which relate to a third thing (the Trickster).

The square of a board game sets the boundaries in which play happens. Likewise, the mother creates the space for play and the child plays. The Trickster is the child who plays, but he also tests boundaries and breaks rules.

Playing cards (originating from Tarot) are in the shape of the Golden Rectangle or what is known as the Golden Door. The door is part of what encloses for it can be closed, but it can also be opened.

Walking through an open door, you enter a new space, possibly even stepping outside of the box you were in. You might not even recognize the box you ere in until you are outside it. So, if you don’t see a box, it probably means you haven’t yet stepped outside to gain perspective. When you are in the game of play, still on the board, you’re drawn in for your life is at stake, this life that you know. A world is always real while you’re in it.

Games have always related to luck and divination, doorways from our world to other worlds. To truly think outside of the box is to open yourself to new visions, new realities even. The ancients saw the wold ruled by the Fates and by fickle gods. No player controls the game in which you play. No one knows what is at the end of the game, what is on the other side of the door.

Chutes and Ladders originated as an ancient Hindu game called Snakes and Ladders. The game is a model of reality with levels that the players ascend. The players are at the mercy of luck, but if you play long enough all get to the end. It teaches the patient theology of Hinduism. When you reach the end, you win by escaping the game and hence metaphorically escaping the world.

The feminine and masculine, the mother and child are opposites that create tension. Thinking outside the box necessitates a box outside of which to think.

—-

Let me stick with mythology and extend my thoughts.

The earliest known civilization was in Iraq where comes from the story of Gilgamesh. One thing that always stood out to me is that Gilgamesh’s friend Enkidu was originally a wild man. He only became ‘civilized’ through the wiles of a temple prostitute. That gives a new spin to the so-called oldest profession.

The feminine is a civilizing force. This is true in mythology, but some see it as being true in society in general. A book I’ve been perusing is about American violence (Violent Land: Single Men and Social Disorder from the Frontier to the Inner City by David T. Courtwright). The main reason given for the greater violence in the American South had to do with the cultures created during early immigration.

The Northern colonies (specifically New England and Pennsylvania) attracted whole families and even whole communities to immigrate as a group and settle together. So, they brought community and hence the social structures of civilization with them.

The Southern colonies tended to attract more single men. Also, much of the early Westward expansion into the frontier began in these Southern colonies, especially from Virginia. These settlers developed a very violent society of dueling and vigilante justice. It was a long time for religion to be established on the frontier because single men weren’t drawn to attend church.

A church or temple is a box, with or without temple prostitutes. Any structure of civilization is a box. All of civilization is a box… or else a set of boxes, some overlapping, others exclusive.

—-

The whole world itself is a box or rather a mansion with many rooms.

Any form and this world of form is archetypally feminine. Brahma’s power is infinite potential, but only Saraswati can give birth to form, each and every form, as she takes on that form and gives it substance, gives it life. The Gnostics, of course, would say this is Sophia who fell into the world. But that is the mythologically masculine view to see form as fallen, to see the world as a place of darkness and sin.

A paternalistic God rules from above, above us all, not with us. Was the Goddess fallen or was she cast out? If cast out, who did this? The ancient Israelites, like most ancient people, saw God and Goddess as married. Monotheism originated in Egypt, but the difference was that Egyptian monotheism was a part of a henotheistic tradition where (similar to Hindusim today) all deities weren’t always seen as clearly distinct, sometimes even as expressions of the same divinity.

I became particularly interested in the Egyptian religion when reading Christ in Egypt by D.M. Murdock. In a large section, she went into great detail about Isis. Isis worship was one of the most popular deities in Rome. Murdock argues that Isis was the precursor of Christian Mother Mary. Egyptian Meri means beloved which at first was an epithet for a God but over time became associated directly with Isis and may have become a name for her. The two words were often seen associated, both as Meri-Isis and Isis-Meri.

It was through Isis that this concept of beloved became widespread. Before that time, deities were worshipped with submission. A new type of love came to the forefront, a love of equals, the divine came down onto the level of humanity, the common folk even. The divine was no longer far away in heaven but here on earth (or, as Philip K. Dick would so charmingly describe it, “God in the garbage”). This was part of a long shift during the Axial Age which ended with religions such as Christianity.

—-

To return to the original topic of thinking outside the box, this brings up a number of thoughts.

First, what does the civilizing process mean on the personal level? As a male of the species, what does this mean in relation to the feminine and the maternal? If you feel like you are in no box, then does that mean you aren’t being contained, encompassed, embraced by the feminine/maternal? If you are or identify as a single male, can you internalize the stereotypical/archetypal feminine mode of social interrelationship without fear of loss of self, without fear of deadening conformity?

Second, what does this all mean in this age of complexity and in this world of multicultural globalism? There is no single society that encompasses any of us or necessarily even a single religion or single ethnicity. We find ourselves in many boxes which can create a possibly deceiving experience of being in no box. How do we recognize the box(es) we may be in? What does the possibility even mean to be in a box in an age of instability and uncertainty? Has the world fundamentally changed since the time the ancient mythologies were written?

I don’t know if this relates to Jude’s experience. But from my perspective, I feel like there are always boxes we are in. I feel very sensitized to that which contains us and structures our lives. I’ve wondered for a long time if it is possible to think outside of the box… or do we just jump out of one box and into another? Boxes are like stories. It seems like there is always a story being told, a story we are playing out in our heads, in our lives, and in our relationships. The box is a stage on which the story plays out.

—-

In his most recent comment, Jude tried to explain his view:

Yes, I also think the feminine is a civilizing force in as much as it is for understanding. The receptacle accepts and from that, “training”.

That’s why it is lateral thinking: the ability to think ACROSS boxes. Like the Ghanaian box, the American box, the science box etc.

For me, as a bona fide liminal, I do not respect boxes. On my own, I’m looking for truth, coherence, correspondence, relevance not social or contextual acceptability. To market to the world is a different thing: I need a box otherwise it makes no sense and it won’t be accepted.

My point is not that there are no boxes. I, me, do not recognize them

I say he tried to explain for I don’t know that I understand. I do at least understand the ability of thinking across boxes. That seems like a fair way of describing lateral thinking.

Even so, it still doesn’t get at my own view. There aren’t just boxes next to boxes. Rather, there are boxes within boxes within boxes, maybe all the way down or all the way up as the case may be.

—-

Here is what I see as the key difference.

Jude sees the boxes (worldviews, reality tunnels, etc) as external things, external to himself, separate from and not essential to his personal reality. But to me the most basic box is humanity collectively and our humanity individually. We can’t escape the box that we are (and, in his own way, Jude would agree with this general notion). More importantly, who we are is tied up with what the world is. We aren’t separate from the world. We can’t step outside of the world.

To be in liminal space says nothing about that space being outside a box. I suspect that misses the point of the liminal which is simply that you can’t be certain about where you are or aren’t, what you may or may not be within. The liminal as related to the Trickster is yet another archetypal/mythological box. It may be a more spacious and flexible box, but still a box. Every archetype is a box, shades and shapes the world accordingly.

What does it even mean to not recognize the ‘world’ you exist within? Does ‘reality’ care if you respect it? Where would the hypothetical non-box position be located that is objectively above all boxes, i.e., all subjective and intersubjective worldviews?

I’m not actually arguing that one can’t hypothetically get outside of all boxes. I’m not arguing for or against that because I’m not sure what it would mean. As a statement, it doesn’t seem to make ‘sense’. I might even argue that to make such a claim is to forfeit making sense… which is fine as far as that goes. Even if you could get outside of all boxes, it’s not clear to me how you would know this was true for you would have no context or persepctive to know anything for certain, much less communicate what you think you know.

When people speak of thinking outside of the box, I never got the sense that they meant thinking outside of all boxes, just thinking outside a specific box. To think outside all boxes would be the mythological correlate to the God of heaven being above and separate from the Goddess of earth. But like yin and yang, how can they be separate?

—-

None of this is intended to discredit Jude’s personal experience. I’m not holding myself above Jude in challenging his claim, but he is holding himself above the boxes of others, the boxes of the world. At times, I can also hold myself above certain other boxes. It just never occurred to me that it could be possible to hold myself above all boxes.

Jude’s perspective isn’t necessarily wrong, refusing to be part of the herd. Maybe it is wise to hold oneself above, at least in attitude. I do think when possible that it good to strive to be above average on the self-awareness scale. The problem is if you’re self-deluded you generally don’t recognize your own self-delusion. That is just human nature, for all of us.

I find myself being more of a Buddhist perspective of “no escape”. For Buddhists, there is no escape for the ego is essentially the one and only box. However, only the ego is likely to make any claims about not being in a box. Ken Wilber has noted that it is easy to fall into the Pre/Trans Fallacy. He emphasizes that the shift in human development is transcend and include, not transcend and exclude.

I’m pretty sure that like me Jude isn’t an Enlightened Master. It is as a normal ego-bound mortal that I wonder about his claim of being in no boxes. Still, I completely support Jude’s desire to not be trapped in any boxes. More power to him.