Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Teaching / Society / Survival /

Gregory Bateson said that all mammalian epistemology is based in relationship. I don’t suspect that there are many teachers in the schooled world intelligent or independent enough to begin to see the profundity of that statement. And I’m not just now going to explore it here: except in one aspect. I am going to talk about relationship. I am going to illustrate a series, not quite random, of examples of relationship that we’re so accustomed to our social environment we don’t typically see: not at the conscious level. I’ll babble a monologue, develop structure later.

All sexed creatures have mothers and fathers, and sisters and brothers too. But only elaborately social big-brained creatures with complex mating rituals are conscious of “mother,” “father” … and then sister, brother, and maybe uncle, aunt, cousin.

I understand that the Vietnamese language has many more terms for family relations than English. We have grandmother, grandfather … another culture might have a specific term for “paternal grandmother’s eldest brother’s second wife”: the way the Innuit are supposed to have dozens of terms for snow. (I’m a skier, and even I have a near-dozen terms for snow: powder, corn, slush, hard pack, ice, dry powder, wind-blown crust …) (A language having more terms for something does not automatically mean that speakers of that language will be better at understanding or discussing that thing; but I would bet for, not against, those with the biggest vocabulary.)

I believe that the growth of nation states is partly responsible for the deterioration of relationship in the languages of imperialist kleptocracies. We now have varied vocabulary for types of kleptocracy: republic, fascist, socialist, communist, capitalist … but have forgotten what second-cousin-twice-removed means.

But don’t think I’m considering only blood relationships. Actually, though I’m also thinking of those, I’m thinking of those least. I want to consider a variety of relationships: colonial / native; owner / slave; male / female; teacher / student; ruler / citizen …

When Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead first went to Bali, anthropologists, a new breed, naturally took on an imperialist character, pushing natives around, telling them what to do, tolerating no nonsense. (Why didn’t the natives simply kill them and dance around the bone fire? Some natives Columbus encountered shot first and asked questions never; others came forward, smiled, and showed Columbus the daughter’s virginity, the family jewels …) These days anthropologists have to be respectful, get permission … fill out form in quadruplicate. These days a Columbus, before he steals your land, your resources, your god, your ancestors … has to pretend to be helping you: uplifting you, bringing you into the world market …

Why is our relationship as a “customer” so different between a restaurant and a hospital? When you go to a restaurant, most restaurants will show you the price before you order. You restaurant that doesn’t show the prices first will recognize you as a not-suitable client, unqualified as a patron: they won’t let you into the dining room, you can’t make a bankrupting gaff. Ah, but hospitals decide what you need while your unconscious, then sell it to you without you agreeing to buy, then send you the bill, and confiscate your house if you don’t pay. You fell unconscious from a sneeze? The surgery cut off your left leg. Now you owe them $70,000.

Or: why is our relationship as a “customer” so different between a supermarket and a car dealer? The supermarket has a price under the row of cans: $1.39 each. At the check out, that’s the amount that goes on the bill. If it’s taxable, a can of ping pong balls as distinct from a can of peas, then another 7% or so is added. The can itself was still $1.39. But in a car dealer you’re told a price of $29,000 and get a bill for $46,000, before taxes are added. Well, you wanted the engine, didn’t you? And the rust-resistant under-carriage (which they don’t actually add no matter what you pay) isn’t an option, it’s required …

Why is Opra so successful? Because her bearing, her carriage, give clear messages about her relationship to an audience. She hold her head erect, she allows eye contact, in fact she makes eye contact … She may be the descendant of a slave, but she doesn’t act the descendant of a slave … Comparable signals (or absence of such signals) are coded into the behavior of any group with a history (notice, that’s everybody): the Irish, the Provencals, the Catalan …

Any actor must try to master an array of some such signals.

In the story of Jesus consider the signals that Jesus’s bearing was sending the priests of the Temple of Jerusalem. Consider the result.

Any young man can strut and pose, but if you’re still strutting and posing and age thirty-five, then you’d better be Napoleon And Have Your Army With You!

Any good actor communicates far more with stance, posture, gesture, tone, expression … long before we get to words, verbal images, ideas, than even an acting teacher or drama critic can articulate. This is our metier, which does not mean that we understand it thoroughly. We may occasionally achieve a dramatic improvement of a model of the complexities, and may occasionally approach the right wall of understanding, but we never occupy the wall, never own it.

When my parole officer visits me, at least once a month, he’ll ask me a question: then interrupt my answer as soon as I start to answer. He’s a state-appointed (that is, fed-appointed, the fed being the nation state) expert. He has the authority to correct me. (He has no responsibility to understand what I said, know who I am … Rather who I am, what I said, are up to him!)

Once upon a time priests had that kind of power. The woman would go to confession. Before long the priest had her pregnant. If the woman dared to say that the priest had taken advantage of her, the priest could interrupt her, discredit her, charge her with carnal knowledge with Satan … Modern kleptocracies are now full of all different kinds of “priests”: teachers, sergeants, congressional committees …

@ K. 2008 08 09

Social Survival

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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