Voicing the ancestors II

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons | © Robert Brightman, Pauline Turner Strong, Alexander D. King, Richard Handler. ISSN 2049-1115 (Online). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau7.1.033


Voicing the ancestors II

Readings in memory of George Stocking

Edited by Richard HANDLER, University of Virginia


Robert BRIGHTMAN, Reed College;

Pauline Turner STRONG, University of Texas at Austin;

Alexander D. KING, Franklin & Marshall College;

Richard HANDLER, University of Virginia

This is the second Forum in which anthropologists give voice to a disciplinary ancestral figure of their choice. The goal is to bring to our attention the wisdom of anthropologists who were prominent at one time in the history of our discipline but whose work has fallen out of fashion or perhaps simply been buried beneath the accumulated scholarly production of their successors. Listening to these voices reminds us that however much scholarly fashions change, there are core issues that have preoccupied us for two centuries and that remain central to our work.

Keywords: Alexander Goldenweiser, A. Irving Hallowell, Jules Henry, history of anthropology, Benjamin Lee Whorf

In the previous issue of HAU, we introduced the concept of “voicing the ancestors,” brief articles in which an anthropologist gave voice to an ancestor, to listen to, comment on, and share with our readers ancestral texts, or passages worth pondering (Handler 2016). Those articles had been presented at the 2014 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, and the tradition of the session devoted to ancestral voices, in memory of George Stocking, continued during the 2015 and 2016 annual meetings.

Two of the articles presented here, those by Robert Brightman on Alexander Goldenweiser and Pauline Turner Strong on A. Irving Hallowell, were presented [462]at the 2014 annual meeting. Alexander King’s essay on Benjamin Lee Whorf was presented at the 2015 meeting. To these articles I have added mine on Jules Henry, whose willingness to express cultural critique in an angry voice seems apt for the present moment.

* * *

“I am afraid you misunderstand yourself”: Goldenweiser’s individual and Kroeber’s superorganic

Robert Brightman

“Merry” and “tragical”? “Tedious” and “brief”?
That is hot ice and wondrous strange snow!

                William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V, Scene 1

We hereby celebrate in HAU the centenary of the Kroeberian Exchange. In 1917, Kroeber famously expounded in the American Anthropologist a “superorganic” vision of “the social or cultural [as] in its very essence non-individual. Civilization, as such, begins only where the individual ends” (1917: 193). One issue later, Edward Sapir (1917) was asking “Do we need a ‘superorganic’?” and Alexander Goldenweiser (1917) was destabilizing “The autonomy of the social” with the “biographical individual”:

He [i.e., unmarked third person] is a historic complex sui generis. Neither biological nor psychological, nor civilizational factors exhaust is content. He has partaken of the culture of his social environment, but only of certain aspects of it, and these have come to him in a certain individual order, at certain definite places and times, and have been, on all these occasions, received and absorbed by a psyche that was unique. This is the concrete individual of historic-society. He is unique and as such he reacts on the civilization of which he is the carrier. Leave him out, and a blind spot appears in the record of civilization. (Goldenweiser 1917: 449, original emphasis)

Goldenweiser’s individual is the historical counterpart of Mauss’ moi) with universal awareness of body and of mental/physical individuality ([1933] 1985: 3) and Dumont’s “empirical agent, present in every society ” ([1966] 1980: 9). It lacks such exotic characteristics as subspeciation into social and egoistic facets (Durkheim [1914] 2005). This venerable antidote to Kroeber’s superorganic has continuing relevance to contemporary theorization of individual–society dialectics and to comparative research on other peoples’ “individuals.”

Given Romantic and Enlightenment intellectual contexts, Franz Boas unsurprisingly accorded substantial scientific and political importance to individuals. By the mid-1910s, Boas’ historical program encompassed both pattern and individual–society interactions (Boas 1920: 316; see Morris 1991: 168–170; Stocking 2001: 60; Lewis 2001: 391; 2015: 31–33). Kroeber’s erasure was initially anomalous in this milieu. He disputed, of course, neither interindividual difference nor enculturated subjects nor anthropogenic culture. He privileged (explicitly nonraciological) [463]hereditary faculties over culture or biography as the cause of individual differences, but also described different societies’ positive or limiting effects on persons with particular inherited capacities.1 His theoretical assemblage entailed not denial of individual–culture relations but rather their (dis)placement outside of an anthropology whose subject matter would thereafter be defined precisely by their absence (Kroeber 1917: 204–6).

In a handwritten letter to Kroeber, Goldenweiser enlarged on his critique. Disagreements are vigorously expressed (“I am afraid you misunderstand yourself,” “I am quite sure you have gone astray”), but the tone overall is collegial. After a “pause for refreshments” on page 14, Goldenweiser switched to talk of colleagues, meetings, and job prospects. He signed as “Goldy,” not the more common “Goldie” (AKP: AG/AK 10/17/1917). Goldenweiser often revisited the subject. In both published work and correspondence, his individual divides into two pieces which can, with artifice, be taken up separately.

The first piece composes together enculturation with interindividual uniqueness. “If the individual were a passive carrier of culture, he could be overlooked for then he would stand to culture in the relation of a microcosm to a macrocosm. But such is not the case” (AKP: AG/AK 10/17/1917). First, “No individual is within reach of all aspects of his group culture” ([1918] 1933: 26, original emphasis); no two encounter identical repertoires of objective culture. Goldenweiser was attentive to social location as conditioning people’s access (or not) to particular domains of form (ibid.: 14). Second, individuals’ unique hereditary capacities influence both specific forms appropriated and their subjective effects. Deploying as an example the very opposite of his own biographical and musical self, Goldenweiser wrote that the musically ungifted “cannot even hear certain elements in a Mahler or Strauss symphony, or, more accurately, cannot hear them in a musically significant sense” (ibid.: 26). Third, “biographical selection” makes enculturative chronotopes composed by subjects’ unique personalities in interaction with places, chronologies, and “emotional settings” (ibid.: 27). Sequence, for example, distinguishes the man who reads economics and then goes on strike from his counterpart who strikes first and reads after ([1925] 1933b: 62).

Enculturation here mirrors Boas’ description of acculturation as “mutual transformation of the old culture and the newly acquired material” (1896: 1): the individual “recreates what he receives,” both unconsciously and consciously (Goldenweiser [1925] 1933b: 62]. Since “neither biological nor psychological, nor civilizational factors exhaust his content” (Goldenweiser 1917: 449), each individual is formed in and as the emergent interactive blend of particularized personality, heredity, enculturation, and biography: the individual is “a highly adventitious aggregate of psychic dispositions and accretions, as a synthesis both unique and unforeseeable, except in its most general aspects” (Goldenweiser [1918] 1933: 27).

Goldenweiser was sufficiently immersed in continental sociology’s romanticism and angst to conceive modern individual–society relations as simultaneously oppressive and emancipatory. He thought “primitive” stability psychologically [464]preferable to the complexity, dynamism, and “partly contradictory social influences” of modern societies ([1925] 1933b: 63, 67). There is here a familiar dialectic wherein deviant or creative subjects are conceived both as sociogenic products and as having social exteriority. Goldenweiser plausibly endorsed Durkheim’s remarks on valorized individualism’s sociogenic origin, while also, perhaps, according to individuals themselves some originating agency. He deemed modern conditions genuinely productive of a “relatively detached and desocialized individual.” “The [modern] individual,” he wrote approvingly, “is at times bewildered, but he may also slip through the meshes unscathed [meaning ‘uninterpellated’?] and relatively desocialized” ([1925] 1933b: 63).

Goldenweiser’s interest in biographical singularity was overdetermined. German intellectual legacies, Russian-Jewish nationality, and anarchist political proclivities (Kan 2009) all plausibly contributed. Goldenweiser’s own biographical originality may have inspired appreciation of other people’s. Who else in the Boasian circle—or maybe anywhere else—blended professional expertise in social science, classical piano, and billiards?2

The individual’s second piece is anthropogenic agency. In Kroeber’s “majestic order pervading civilization” (1917: 201), existing cultural repertoires predetermine timely invention and integration of particular new forms. The contributors to superorganic culture are not individuals but entirely interchangeable members of hereditarily gifted minorities within which divisions of facultative labor assure complementary innovations across the arts and sciences (ibid.: 198–206).3 It is in this teleological sense that “the concrete effect of each individual upon civilization is determined by civilization itself“ (ibid.: 205).

Goldenweiser, in contrast, followed Boas and paralleled Sapir in affirming asymmetrical coconstitution of enculturated individual and anthropogenic culture, neither intelligible apart from nor reducible to the other: “He [the individual] simply cannot be left out for just as he cannot be understood without the culture which he absorbs so the culture cannot be understood without him, the specific absorber and selector” (AKP: AG/AK 10/17/1917). Put another way, “every [culture] element has its beginning in the creative act of an individual mind,” while “the content of any particular mind . . . comes from culture” (Goldenweiser [1925] 1933b: 59). Goldenweiser also followed Boas in explicit linkage of interindividual difference with creative anthropogenic effect:

He [the individual] is unlike any other in so far as he affects culture in the light of the biographical equation, that is, what he takes of culture, how he takes it, what he gets out of it depends on his personal history, the order and kinds of experiences he has had. (AKP: AG/AK 10/17/1917)[465]

Two such iconic individuals figured prominent in Goldenweiser’s biography. Photographs held in the Reed College collection suggest an interest in Napoleon (Dobbin 1986: 50–51). Goldenweiser famously likened Boas’ reshaping of anthropology to the cosmogonic achievements of Native American “culture hero” characters (1941:153).

Goldenweiser sometimes experimented with contrasts between individual and cultural influences, distinguishing deliberated from impersonal innovations ([1918] 1933: 28) or “individual” element from “extra-individual” cumulative pattern ([1925] 1933b: 59). In Boasian anthropology, no one imagined creation ex nihilo, but ideas of reshaping blended into those of origination. Sapir, for example, thought of anthropogenic culture largely “but not entirely” as refashioning (1917: 443, original emphasis). Goldenweiser characterized creativity as the union of “imagination” with biographic “self” in relative detachment from “tradition”; its exemplary expression was musical composition ([1925] 1933a: 421).

Sameness and difference in Kroeber’s responses to Goldenweiser and Sapir want elucidation. The letter to Goldenweiser speaks of “a scheme of method and not a philology [sic]” (i.e., “philosophy”), while reiterating that “culture history proper can begin only after this erasure is made” (AKP: AK/AG 10/23/1917). One needs not to take at face value Kroeber’s seeming admission to Sapir that he contrived the superorganic primarily to secure anthropology’s disciplinary autonomy (Darnell 1990: 147). In each case, the construct oscillates between theoretical principle and methodological or rhetorical expedient. There exists today one construal holding that Kroeber and his critics “to a great extent . . . were talking past one other” (Darnell and Irvine 1999: 27). They weren’t. But Kroeber’s representations might inspire such conclusions.

The biographical individual existed in fraught juxtaposition with stereotypes of indigenous homogeneity, inverting disciplinary movement from polarization toward pluralism (Stocking 2001). Initially, Goldenweiser’s creative subjects inhabited “high” and “low” civilizations alike (1917: 448–49). But thereafter “primitives” became less individuated than modern people, and so less inventive of anthropogenic culture. Thus claims that indigenous “non-conformism” and “individual creativeness” are “next to unknown” ([1918] 1933: 26, 30), and that diffusion must perforce substitute for the “creativeness” with which it cooccurs in complex societies (ibid.: 30).4

Goldenweiser qualified this Great Divide by disputing claims from outside anthropology that indigenous creativity was entirely absent ([1920] 1933: 100–101) and by acknowledging that both “primitive” and “complex” reshaped existing social morphology rather than making it from nothing (1922: 174–75). Otherwise, the chasm widened apace. Twenty years after rejecting microcosm–macrocosm similes, Goldenweiser asserted that “the [‘primitive’] individual here is but a miniature reproduction of the group culture, and the latter but a magnified version of the individual” (1937: 409). Indigenous “nonconformists, offenders, and heretics” exist but, unlike “unscathed” modern counterparts, enjoy neither aspiration nor capacity to transform culture (ibid.: 413–16). Goldenweiser’s “primitives” are very nearly [466]as farcically “mechanical” as those of Durkheim—who, unlike Goldenweiser, had the excuse of not knowing any.

Why Goldenweiser populated indigenous societies with automatons remains mysterious. Oblique connections may exist with reputed aversion to ethnography and fieldwork. There is some epistolary evidence for Sapir’s diagnosis of theory overvalued at ethnography’s expense (Darnell 1990: 68): Goldenweiser described a proposed Iroquois monograph as “more a labor of duty than of love” (AKP: AG/AK 5/8/1917). Mead famously wrote of Goldenweiser’s intolerance for the “petty exactions” of fieldwork (1959: 8). Between 1911 and 1913, he spent ten months on five field trips divided across different Ontario Iroquois reserves (Dobbin 1986: 35). The riposte to Kroeber appeared four years later in 1917. Relative effects of (in)disposition and financial constraint on absence of later fieldwork want appraisal. Goldenweiser’s pedagogical uses of Iroquoian ethnography and enactments of Iroquois dances suggest some persisting appreciation of the field experience (ibid.:57).

Goldenweiser’s unpublished field notes attest concern with biographical particularization. His elicitations used such hypotheticals as “Suppose my brother killed somebody?” (AGP: Vol 13 1/14/1912, emphasis added). He recorded, through an interpreter and in the third person, Mrs. John Jameson’s (Onondaga) autobiographical account of her successive initiations into the Bear, Otter, False Face, ʔohki:we: and Dark Dance “medicine” societies. In the case of the Otter Society,

She was sick and dreamed she was on a wide stretch of water on which many logs were floating about. She was on one of the logs. The log would turn over and she with it into the water and then come up again between the logs. Wherever she went (in the dream) there was water. The sickness was toothache, back and neck ache. Told dream to parents. Called the society and got well.

Entrance into the ʔohki:we:, in contrast, was by hereditary access (AGP: Vol. 7a 2/1/1912). Goldenweiser himself transcribed in Cayuga a partial biography of John A. Gibson—Seneca office holder and Grand River political leader—dictated by his widow Mary Skye Gibson (Woodbury 1992: xii). He wrote that Gibson “repeatedly represented his people in their dealings with the Canadian government, not uncommonly with signal success” (Goldenweiser 1912: 694). Perhaps indigenous agency was more visible in settler colonial contexts. If Goldenweiser had done longer and more localized and immersive fieldwork—or had continued fieldwork—he might thereafter have discerned like agency and individuation in indigenous societies more generally. But having originally devised the “biographic individual” as the antidote to Kroeber’s superorganic, Goldenweiser ended by pronouncing the former modernity’s child and projecting the latter’s caricature onto indigenous society.

So much for historicism. What about presentist topicalities (Stocking 1968: 11) in 2017? Goldenweiser is sometimes remembered for disarticulating totemism (1910)5 and for “limited possibilities” (1913), and “involution” (1936) was famously farmed by Geertz (1963). Goldenweiser’s individual, on the other hand, is ignored in recent anthropological writing—except by Marshall Sahlins (2004: [467]142–58), who accords it continuing value as prophylaxis to both older and newer forms of “subjectology” and “leviathanology,” their individual–society oppositions and encompassments, and their respective varieties of abstract (self- and society-fashioning) and robotic (socially determined) subjects (see Lukes 1974). Recall that Goldenweiser conceived his individual explicitly in opposition to just such individual and social determinisms ([1925] 1933b: 59–64). Sahlins theorizes distinct systemic and conjunctural modes of agency whereby history- and culture-making capacities are conferred on individuals. Liaisons with Goldenweiser’s individual include evenementiality (“An event in culture is always in some way bound up with an individual” [AKP: AG/AK 10/17/1917]), structure–contingency articulations, and reciprocal influence and irreducibility of culture and subject (“two relatively independent systems” [(1918] 1933: 26–27]). In sum, Goldenweiser’s individual continues to possess the sovereign virtue of putting contemporary varieties of robotic (poststructuralism, practice) and abstract (sociobiology, postcolonialism) counterparts to sleep. Its “overt acts of psychic originality” ([1925] 1933b: 62) anticipate contemporary professions of “j’agis et je suis agi”—and so might inspire useful perspectives on wounded subjects (Biehl, Good, and Kleinman 2007), less abjected subjects (Robbins 2013), and resisting subjects (Ortner 2016). His individual prefigures especially ethical subjects balanced between extremes of social exteriority and specification (Faubion 2011).

“Nor is this all,” as Goldenweiser wrote to Kroeber in 1917. His biographical individual is also immanent in comparative research on other peoples’ “individuals,” “selves,” “persons,” “subjects,” and “subjectivities.” For Goldenweiser, biography was the means to superior ethnology: “This is the crying need the modern ethnologist tries to supply: and to the extent to which he is successful, our knowledge of primitive civilization becomes more deep” (1917: 449). Here he explicitly invoked the autobiography tradition inaugurated by Jasper Blowsnake and Paul Radin (1913). Goldenweiser never inscribed his individual in such a comparative project. But when one looks back genealogically at anthropologies of these categories—from Mauss’ ([1933] 1985) essay on “culture and personality,” and on to Dumont ([1966] 1980) and the 1980s’ self-and-person explosions, and thence to transmillennial “dividual,” “fractal,” “partible,” and “relational” persons—it is remarkable to consider how extraordinarily devoid of biographical individuals these studies commonly are. Here Goldenweiser’s “crying need” is acutely felt in the present. Important exceptions, of course, exist. Humphrey’s (2008) “reassembled” and “multiple” Mongolian subject is grounded in analysis of biographical individuals. In other productive cases, material comes from ethnographic encounters, ”life histories,” indigenous autobiographies, or biographies of indigenous persons by indigenous persons.

There remain also questions of how biographical individuals are figured in other peoples’ sociologies. Here there is greater indigenous diversity than Goldenweiser would have imagined. While agentive capacities of anthropomorphous culture heroes are widely recognized, the creativity accorded humans is variable. Rock Cree historical tradition attributes the entire nineteenth-century transition from winter mobility to sedentism to one “gifted” individual’s experimentation with fish surpluses (Brightman 1993: 356–57). In contrast, Mardudjara, and other Australian peoples, famously deemphasize (without absolute erasure) anthropogenic effects on society (see Tonkinson 2005). Postmillennial reflexes of Goldenweiser’s [468]individual afford a privileged approach to comparative examinations of other peoples’ subjectivities and their metadiscourses thereupon.

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A. Irving Hallowell and the ontological turn

Pauline Turner Strong

Amidst debates about the genealogy and the claims of the ontological turn in anthropology—is “ontology” just another word for “culture” or “worldview” or “cosmology” or “colonialism”? (Venkatesan 2010; Graeber 2015; Viveiros de Castro 2015; Todd 2016)—it may be helpful to return to the work of A. Irving Hallowell. Although “Ojibwa ontology, behavior, and world view,” Hallowell’s 1960 contribution to a festschrift for Paul Radin, has sometimes been invoked as a precursor to the ontological turn (Ingold 2000; Harris and Robb 2012; Bessire and Bond 2014; Viveiros de Castro 2015), it is not certain that Hallowell has been given his due. “Voicing the ancestors” gives us an opportunity to listen to Hallowell anew, exploring how he understood the term “ontology.” Is there a sense in which we are experiencing something of an ontological return? Or, for better or worse, is “ontology” understood radically differently today than it was by Hallowell?

I was introduced to Hallowell by George Stocking and Raymond Fogelson, both of whom studied with him at the University of Pennsylvania (Brown 2006). An Americanist, psychological anthropologist, and historian of anthropology, Hallowell produced a number of significant works on the Berens River Ojibwe, stemming from long-term fieldwork in the 1930s. We have learned a great deal about Hallowell’s fieldwork and his relationship with his main consultant, William Berens, through Jennifer Brown’s archival and field research. “I deeply identified myself with the Berens River Ojibwa,” wrote Hallowell in “On being an anthropologist” in 1972. This sense of identification comes through in much of his writing, as does his concern with Ojibwe perceptions and experiences of reality. (For the term “Ojibwe” rather than Hallowell’s “Ojibwa” or “Ojibway,” see Brown 2006: 39 n. 2).

“Ojibwa ontology, behavior, and world view” opens with an epigraph from Paul Radin’s (1914) important article, “Religion of the North American Indians.” While Hallowell does not provide a citation, the epigraph is taken from a section on animism and the concept of the soul, where Radin discusses his research with Winnebago shamans and predicts:

It is, I believe, a fact that future investigations will thoroughly confirm, that the Indian does not make the separation into personal as contrasted with impersonal, corporeal with impersonal, in our sense at all. What he seems to be interested in is the question of existence, or reality; and everything that is perceived by the sense, thought of, felt and dreamt of, exists. (Radin 1914: 352, cited in Hallowell 1960: 19)

Writing a half-century after Radin (and a half-century before the present), Hallowell references Robert Redfield’s (1952) concept of world view and his own essay on “the self and its behavioral environment” (Hallowell 1955) to suggest that:[469]

Human beings in whatever culture are provided with cognitive orientation in a cosmos; there is “order” and “reason” rather than chaos. There are basic premises and principles implied, even if these do not happen to be consciously formulated and articulated by the people themselves. We are confronted with the philosophical implications of their thought, the nature of the world of being as they conceive it. If we pursue the problem deeply enough we soon come face to face with a relatively unexplored territory—ethno-metaphysics. Can we penetrate this realm in other cultures? What kind of evidence is at our disposal? The forms of speech as Benjamin Whorf and the neo-Humboldtians have thought? The manifest content of myth? Observed behavior and attitudes? And what order of reliability can our inferences have? The problem is a complex and difficult one, but this should not preclude its exploration. (Hallowell 1960: 20)

Hallowell goes on to present evidence supporting the inference that “in the metaphysics of being found among these Indians, the action of persons provides the major key to their world view.” He emphasizes that the category of persons is not limited to human beings, and insists that “a thoroughgoing ‘objective’ approach to the study of cultures cannot be achieved solely by projecting upon those cultures categorical abstractions derived from Western thought. For, in a broad sense, the latter are a reflection of our cultural subjectivity.” Rather, the anthropologist should seek “a higher order of objectivity” by “adopting a perspective which includes an analysis of the outlook of the people themselves as a complementary procedure” (ibid.: 21).

In other words, Hallowell advocates a dialectical analysis that tacks back and forth between Western and indigenous categories. The evidence he offers is based less on formal linguistic analysis than on observed practices: for example, the use of the terms for “grandfather” as applied to other-than-human persons. Considering this evidence, he claims, “The more deeply we penetrate the world view of the Ojibwa the more apparent it is that ‘social relations’ between human beings (anícinábek) and other-than-human ‘persons’ are of cardinal significance” (ibid.: 23).

Focusing in on the question, “what is the meaning of animate in Ojibwa thinking?” (ibid.: 23), Hallowell introduces his most famous anecdote: “Since stones are grammatically animate, I once asked an old man: Are all the stones we see about us here alive? He reflected a long while and then replied, ‘No! But some are’” (ibid.: 24, all emphases are in the original texts). Hallowell adds:

This qualified answer made a lasting impression on me. And it is thoroughly consistent with other data that indicate that the Ojibwa are not animists in the sense that they dogmatically attribute living souls to inanimate objects such as stones. The hypothesis which suggests itself to me is that the allocation of stones to an animate grammatical category is part of a culturally constituted cognitive “set.” It does not involve a consciously formulated theory about the nature of stones. It leaves a door open that our orientation on dogmatic grounds keeps shut tight. (1960: 25)

The open door is a striking metaphor: if Hallowell were writing today he might say something about offering a methodological approach that leaves open the conditions of possibility for radical alterity (animate stones) as well as for questioning [470]the adequacy of “our” dogmatic assumptions regarding objects. For the Ojibwe, he writes, “the crucial test is experience” (ibid.: 25), a test that leaves the door open to variability. Some stones have been seen to move, in the context of the Midewiwin ceremony, for example. Most have not, and many people have not seen stones move.

The article goes on to discuss some of the actions of the sun, the Four Winds, Flint, the Thunder Birds, and bears as the actions of other-than-human persons. Hallowell recounts, for example:

When I visited the Ojibwa an Indian was living who, when a boy of twelve or so, saw pinési [Thunder Bird] with his own eyes. During a severe thunderstorm he ran out of his tent and there on the rocks lay a strange bird. He ran back to call his parents, but when they arrived the bird had disappeared. He was sure it was a Thunder Bird, but his elders were skeptical because it is almost unheard of to see pinési in such a fashion. But the matter was clinched and the boy’s account accepted when a man who had dreamed of pinési verified the boy’s description. (1960: 32)

Hallowell’s use of language in this passage is notable. He describes the boy’s experience from within an ontology in which Thunder Birds may sometimes be seen during the course of a thunderstorm, and in which validation takes the form of a dream. He goes further in his use of the first-person voice in summarizing his understanding of the nature of “persons” as “the focal point of Ojibwa ontology”:

Speaking as an Ojibwa, one might say: all other “persons”—human or other than human—are structured the same as I am. There is a vital part which is enduring and an outward appearance that may be transformed under certain conditions. All other “persons,” too, have such attributes as self-awareness and understanding. I can talk with them. Like myself, they have personal identity, autonomy, and volition. I cannot always predict exactly how they will act, although most of the time their behavior meets my expectations. In relation to myself, other “persons” vary in power. Many of them have more power than I have, but some have less. They may be friendly and help me when I need them but, at the same time, I have to be prepared for hostile acts, too. I must be cautious in my relations with other “persons” because appearances may be deceptive. (1960: 43)

Hallowell’s nuanced discussion of other-than-human persons as central to Ojibwe ontology are well known and influential in the scholarship on Native North America. However, current treatments of the ontological turn often proceed as if Hallowell had not turned our attention to non-Western ontologies over fifty years ago. In How forests think, for example, Eduardo Kohn makes much of the role of Runa dreams and even uses the term “other-than-human” (2013: 5), but he makes no reference to Hallowell’s work on Ojibwe dreams and other-than-human persons. Kohn and others draw from philosophy and from science and technology studies to call into question Western assumptions about the distinction between persons and other life forms, but it is important to acknowledge that Hallowell and those influenced by him have already made advances in this regard based on ethnographic research. Not acknowledging this is to seriously underestimate mid-twentieth-century anthropology.[471]

Rather than further lamenting disciplinary amnesia, however, I would like to consider an interesting exception: Tim Ingold’s “A circumpolar night’s dream” (2000). In this meditation on Hallowell’s “Ojibwa ontology, behavior, and world view,” Ingold remarks that, “I have turned to it over and over again for inspiration, and every reading has yielded some new insight” (ibid.: 90). Ingold’s reflections on the article begin as a retelling of Hallowell’s insights for a new generation, but he then raises a pointed critique. Hallowell, he says, adopts an “expository strategy not unlike that of the theatre-goer attending a performance of Shakespeare’s Dream, amounting to a willing suspension of disbelief.” Hallowell’s concern, that is, “is to understand the world view, not the fundamental nature of reality.” The critique only appears to be blunted when Ingold acknowledges that Hallowell does not claim the Ojibwe “personify” natural objects such as the sun: “It is not, in other words, made into a person; it is a person, period” (ibid.: 95). Ingold’s critique is, in fact, sharpened, for he goes on to say:

Now there is more than a hint of duplicity here. It would be a mistake, says Hallowell, to suppose that Ojibwa personify objects, yet from his standpoint as an anthropological observer, this appears to be precisely what they are doing. Evidently what Hallowell takes to be a particular cultural construction of an external reality is, in Ojibwa eyes, the only reality they know. For the Ojibwa, the sun is a person because it is experienced as such; for Hallowell the sun is not really a person but is constructed as such in the minds of the Ojibwa. And if it is not really a person, then it cannot really undergo metamorphosis. By this move, Ojibwa metaphysics appear to pose no challenge to our own ontological certainties. Turning our backs on what Ojibwa people say, we continue to insist that “real” reality is given independently of human experience, and that understanding its nature is a problem for science. Must we then conclude that the anthropological study of indigenous understandings, whatever its intrinsic interest, can tell us nothing about what the world is really like, and that it therefore has no bearing on natural scientific inquiry? (2000: 95)

Ingold’s answer to this question is “no,” and he goes on to ask, “Can we find some way of making sense of Ojibwa understandings concerning such matters as metamorphosis? Can we, in other words, ground these understandings in the real experience of persons in a lifeworld rather than attributing them to some overarching cosmological schema for its imaginative reconstruction?” (ibid.: 96–97). I find this quite an ungenerous reading of Hallowell, one that seems designed to differentiate current work on indigenous ontologies from that of Hallowell rather than rendering his own concerns accurately. For it is clear that Hallowell is fundamentally concerned with phenomenological experience—“the real experience of persons in a lifeworld”—not with constructing a theory of the real. To be sure, Hallowell understands this lifeworld in terms of what he calls a “cognitive ‘set’” (1960: 34), and he uses the scientific language of data, inference, and reliability. But even so, his emphasis is on imaginatively entering into another lifeworld, another experience of reality—one that is closed to those inhabiting the “dogmatic” lifeworld of Western science. I fail to see the duplicity in this.

In his essay, Ingold describes Viveiros de Castro’s work on metamorphosis as involving “not a covering up, but an opening up, of the person to the world” [472](2000: 95). This is not unlike Hallowell describing Ojibwe ontology as “leav[ing] a door open that our orientation on dogmatic grounds keeps shut tight.” Consider one more of Hallowell’s anecdotes:

An informant told me that many years before he was sitting in a tent one summer afternoon during a storm, together with an old man and his wife. There was one clap of thunder after another. Suddenly the old man turned to his wife and asked, “Did you hear what was said?” “No,” she replied, “I didn’t catch it.” (1960: 34)

Could it be that we didn’t catch Hallowell either?

* * *

Reading Benjamin Lee Whorf

Alexander D. King

Reading Whorf for most people means picking up a copy of the book Language, thought, and reality: Selected writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf edited and introduced by John B. Carroll and published in 1956. This provides a convenient and thorough sampling of Whorf’s most important essays and his general ideas on the nature of language. Unfortunately, the foreword by Stuart Chase and the introduction by Carroll have initiated a serious misconception—that Whorf put forward two hypotheses that language either determines thought or influences it (Chase 1956: vi; Carroll 1956: 27). Careless repetitions of this misreading have resulted in the bastardization of Whorf’s ideas into the “strong and weak versions of the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis,” which is either nonsense (language determines thought) or banality (language is associated with thought). Chase’s and Carroll’s use of the term “hypothesis” reflected current usage, such as among the participants of an important conference organized by Robert Redfield and Harry Hoijer in 1953, which framed Whorf’s ideas in terms of a “hypothesis” in need of testing (Hoijer 1954: vii).6

The problem is that Whorf never framed his own ideas in terms of a hypothesis but rather as a principle, “the linguistic relativity principle” (Whorf 1956: 214). The simplistic and scientistic reduction of Whorf’s nuanced writings on language resulted in a common caricature of him. The tragic result is that most anthropologists, let alone the larger population of university students who have been exposed to an introductory course in anthropology (or psychology in many cases), do not read Whorf directly but rather learn of his ideas through a perverted rendition promulgated in textbooks and other summaries of his writings. In The Whorf theory complex, Penny Lee (1996) argues convincingly that the nincompoop Chase’s foreword is a likely source of substantial misunderstanding of Whorf’s ideas.7 Reading [473]through Whorf’s many fascinating essays published in Language, thought, and reality, I cannot find the term “hypothesis” or any statement suggesting that. A sympathetic reading of his essays makes clear that he did not argue that language determined thought or anything else in a Newtonian, Standard-Average-European-unconscious-metaphysics-inspired, billiard-ball way.

So let’s read Whorf’s own words. At the end of his introduction to “The relation of habitual thought and behavior to language,” he writes,

That portion of the whole investigation here to be reported may be summed up in two questions: (1) Are our own concepts of “time,” “space,” and “matter” given in substantially the same form by experience to all men, or are they in part conditioned by the structure of particular languages? (2) Are there traceable affinities between (a) cultural and behavioral norms and (b) large-scale linguistic patterns? (Whorf 1956: 138)

Note that Whorf puts forth questions, not hypotheses. He is not testing propositions such as the catalytic properties of different chemicals in combination. He is systematically comparing two languages, Hopi and English, and contrasting how their grammars encode time and substance in ways that are beyond the awareness of most speakers. While positing a universal human experience of “getting later,” he finds that English grammatical encoding of “time” provides a Newtonian common sense of time while Hopi grammar provides a different pattern, a commonsense view of the world closer to Einsteinian sensibilities or the space-time of quantum physics. These patterns of grammatical structures are then compared with other aspects of Hopi and Anglophone culture to see whether there are traceable affinities. Affinities are not causation or correlation, but rather the repetition of identifiable patterns. Whorf continues parenthetically,

I should be the last to pretend that there is anything so definite as “a correlation” between culture and language, and especially between ethnological rubrics such as “agricultural,” “hunting,” etc., and linguistic ones like “inflected,” “synthetic,” or “isolating.”* (1956: 139)

The asterisk refers to a footnote, the last sentence of which emphasizes the point above: “The idea of ‘correlation’ between language and culture, in the generally accepted sense of correlation, is certainly a mistaken one.” This is Whorf’s careful statement about his question on whether linguistic structures of the language we speak are connected to our perceptions of time and space and if there are interconnections between grammatical patterns and other cultural patterning. I say “other” intentionally, as Whorf would agree with Hockett’s (1950) protest against language and culture. Language is part of culture, it is in culture, and linguistic patterns are a subset of cultural patterns. In the same vein, Whorf’s larger argument is that as linguistic structures are a part of culture, the patterns found in a language will most likely also be found in other parts of the culture, such as dance, religious ideas, calendars, social organization, etc.[474]

Whorf’s caveat in his footnote is that old Boasian anti-idiot-racist point that there is no connection between the morphological typology of a language and the social complexity or economic development of the speech community using that language. There is no correlation between speaking an isolating language, such as Chinese, and agricultural empire and civilization. There is no correlation between speaking a polysynthetic language, such as Inuktitut or Cree, and hunting and gathering. Any supposed connection between linguistic structure and political power or economic importance is nothing more than racist question begging.

After his abstract presentation of Hopi aspect, Whorf opens his discussion of behavioral features of Hopi culture: “Our behavior, and that of Hopi, can be seen to be coordinated in many ways to the linguistically conditioned microcosm. As in my fire casebook, people act about situations in ways which are like the ways they talk about them” (1956: 148). In over a dozen years of teaching this essay to undergraduates, I have found very few readers who notice Whorf’s clear explanation for his hilarious preamble of fires and explosions. People act in ways similar to the ways in which they speak. Patterns in the fashions of speaking (to use Whorf’s term) are similar to the patterns in behavior. He concludes that cultural conceptions of time and matter are not dependent on any single aspect of language, such as tense or vocabulary, but are connected to “the ways of analyzing and reporting experience which have become fixed in the language as integrated ‘fashions of speaking’ and which cut across the typical grammatical classifications, so that such a ‘fashion’ may include lexical, morphological, syntactic, and otherwise systematically diverse means coordinated in a certain frame of consistency. Our own ‘time’ differs markedly from Hopi ‘duration’” (ibid.: 158).

Whorf is careful in his word choice, and he reserves the word “time” for the Standard Average European (SAE) structuration of tense, mode, and aspect of the universal experience of “getting later.” Anthropologists commonly talk of different cultural encodings of time, presenting discussions of cyclical time contrasted with linear time and different perceived directions of time flow, and so on. However, all these conceptions of getting later still rely on countable vectors, whether linear or cyclical. When Whorf calls Hopi “timeless” (e.g., ibid.: 213, 216) in “Science and linguistics,” he means that Hopi temporal categories are nothing like SAE time; hence his use of the word “duration” for Hopi temporal expressions. Hopi commonsense temporal conceptualizations, or, to use Whorf’s terminology, a Hopi natural logic of the experience of getting later, is very different from that of SAE languages that so readily provide a Newtonian physics, where time can be chopped up and enumerated, quantified in ways analogous to matter. Ten days or a summer are analogous to ten dollars or a truck for SAE-speakers, but not for Hopi-speakers, although one can attempt to translate Hopi temporal phrases into what looks like English time. Thus, pedantic exercises such as Ekkehart Malotki’s (1983) Hopi time are best answered with Michael Silverstein’s retort, “Wrong question!”8 Of course, Hopi has extensive means of describing the experience of getting later, but Malotki [475]seems to have missed the basic question, “How does Hopi organize temporal relations on its own terms?” For Hopi-speakers, those experiences are not structured in ways analogous to those in SAE grammars and in European culture, where calendars, a labor theory of value, or Newtonian equations (such as force equals the mass times its acceleration) are thought of as objective descriptions of external social and physical reality. As Whorf puts it, “Newtonian space, time, and matter are no intuitions. They are recepts from culture and language. That is where Newton got them” (ibid.: 153). I should point out that while Newtonian time is useful for getting cannonballs to hit their targets and planes to fly, it is inaccurate for understanding the workings of the cosmos, as was made so abundantly clear by Einstein, Planck, and other physicists contemporary to Whorf, and whose ideas were much discussed by educated people in the 1920s and 1930s.9 Hopi grammatical structures force the speaker to organize experiences in terms of “eventing,” where duration, intensity, and tendency are emphasized (e.g., ibid.: 146, 217). A natural logic emergent from such structures is closer to quantum mechanics than Newtonian, and quantum physics is, of course, the better account of the way the universe works.

Two observations are important from this comparison of Hopi versus SAE natural logics. First, no one is a prisoner of their language, since SAE-speakers did manage to overcome their linguistic prejudices for Newtonian mechanics and figure out how gravity really works based upon careful observation and careful (i.e., mathematical) reasoning.10 Second, English is a crude instrument for describing reality. In his ironically titled essay “A linguistic consideration of thinking in primitive communities,” Whorf concludes, “Does the Hopi language show here a higher plane of thinking, a more rational analysis of situations, than our vaunted English? Of course it does. In this field and in various others, English compared to Hopi is like a bludgeon compared to a rapier” (ibid.: 85). This is another example of the Boasian move to invert previous generations’ assumption of cultural superiority because of imperial domination or technological prowess over so-called “primitives.” As a final aside, such rhetorical moves are parallel to those made by Sapir in “Culture, genuine and spurious” ([1924] 1949), and this was a typical and often-repeated Boasian position.

Penny Lee’s excellent book includes a letter written by Whorf to his editor at the MIT Technology Review, where he first published his important essay “Science and linguistics.” He explained his choice of a sober title instead of a lighter alternative because he wanted to avoid having “the point of the argument” confused “with various popular bromides about the misleading nature of words, which amounts to going off entirely on the wrong track” (Lee 1996: 16). And Whorf went on to single out the “popular stultification” created “by Mr. Stuart Chase, whom I should consider utterly incompetent by training and background to handle such a subject” (ibid.). Lee quotes from a subsequent letter to Robert Lesher in which Whorf [476]remarked, “For the immediate future, probably the loose-thinking ‘semanticists’ à la Stuart Chase, will introduce many popular clichés and make [the] term ‘semantics’ a hissing and byword, so that it will cease to be used by serious scientists” (ibid.). I fear that effect was not on the term “semantics” so much as on Whorf’s reputation as one of the greatest linguists of the twentieth century. Imagine now, for a moment, that someone you think is basically an idiot, yet somewhat popular in your subfield, is chosen to write the preface to your posthumously collected works. Can there be a more sickening fate for an academic or intellectual?

To return to reading Whorf and counter the egregious misreadings, let us examine his concluding paragraph of “Habitual thought and behavior” in detail:

As for our second question (p. 138): There are connections but not correlations or diagnostic correspondences between cultural norms and linguistic patterns. . . . There are cases where the “fashions of speaking” are closely integrated with the whole general culture, whether or not this be universally true, and there are connections within this integration, between the kind of linguistic analysis employed and various behavioral reactions and also the shapes taken by various cultural developments. Thus the importance of Crier Chiefs does have a connection, not with tenselessness itself, but with a system of thought in which categories different from our tenses are natural. These connections are to be found . . . by examining the culture and the language . . . as a whole in which concatenations that run across these departmental lines may be expected to exist, and, if they do exist, eventually to be discoverable by study. (1956: 159)

I hope that these words are enough to persuade you that Whorf does not argue that language determines thought or that he proposed testable hypotheses. I also want to point out that Whorf’s words here should make clear that Berlin and Kay’s (1969) huge effort into the research of color terms, perception, and classification is at best a small footnote to Whorfian linguistics, understanding his comment above on the “misleading nature of words” being nothing more than a “popular bromide.”11 Like Malotki, they missed his point that linguistic patterns operating below the speaker’s consciousness are replicated in other aspects of the culture.12 Unfortunately, popular authors like Pinker (1994) and McWhorter (2014) continue to miss Whorf’s point and sow confusion and disinformation on the relations between habits of speaking and habits of thinking.13

I want to conclude with Whorf’s last paragraph from “Science and linguistics,” which I take as a call to document as well as we can all the endangered languages [477]of the world, languages such as Koryak, spoken by some hundreds of elders in Kamchatka, Russia.

One significant contribution to science from the linguistic point of view may be the greater development of our sense of perspective. We shall no longer be able to see a few recent dialects of the Indo-European family, and the rationalizing techniques elaborated from their patterns, spread as due to any survival from fitness or to anything but a few events of history—events that could be called fortunate only from the parochial point of view of the favored parties. They, and our own thought processes with them, can no longer be envisioned as spanning the gamut of reason and knowledge but only as one constellation in a galactic expanse. A fair realization of the incredible degree of diversity of linguistic system that ranges over the globe leaves one with an inescapable feeling that the human spirit is inconceivably old; . . . that the [human] race has taken no sudden spurt, achieved no commanding synthesis during recent millenniums, but has only played a little with a few of the linguistic formulations and views of nature bequeathed from an inexpressibly longer past. Yet neither this feeling nor the sense of precarious dependence of all we know upon linguistic tools which themselves are largely unknown need be discouraging to science but should, rather, foster that humility which accompanies the true scientific spirit, and thus forbid that arrogance of the mind which hinders real scientific curiosity and detachment. (1956: 218–19)

Reading Whorf with a humility of scientific curiosity and detachment drives one to accept that he proposed no hypothesis. There is no simplistic connection between linguistic structures and worldview. Rather, Whorf urges us to take seriously all the patterning of human activity. Linguistic structures are regular and unconscious, and therefore deserve special attention and careful analysis in order to uncover relationships and patterning that are invisible to the casual observer. Such patterns in language are often then repeated in other aspects of cultural activity.

Another careful reader of Whorf was Dell Hymes, and he built his theory on ways of speaking directly upon Whorf’s idea of “fashions of speaking.” In his 1996 book, Hymes argued that by the end of the twentieth century, it had become clear to linguistic anthropologists that the greatest value in Whorf’s idea of fashions of speaking goes beyond the epistemological implications of grammatical patterns. Whorf’s ideas provide insight into different worlds of social relationships (Hymes 1996:45; see also D. Lee 1959; Hanks 1996; Silverstein 2004).

Reading Whorf is more than an introduction to psycholinguistics or an exercise in the history of anthropology. Reading Whorf is a critical piece of laying the essential foundation for good anthropology of any kind.

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Jules Henry’s truth, in the time of Trump

Richard Handler

At the end of American kinship, which was a central text of my graduate education at the University of Chicago in the 1970s, David Schneider noted that in [478]American culture, law, and reason were thought to resolve contradictions imagined to obtain between “man” and “nature.” “This being so,” he wrote, “it is not a matter of culture against nature, nor of culture against man at all” (1968:109, italics in original).

The phrase “culture against man,” which apparently bothered Schneider, stuck in my mind, and I soon found what I guessed was its referent, Jules Henry’s 1963 book of that title. Culture against man and some of Henry’s other books ([1941] 1964, 1971, 1973) had been published by major commercial publishers. Henry (I thought at the time) apparently had a public voice, and yet, as far as I knew, his work was not included or referenced in our graduate curriculum.14 Still, his books were plentiful in used bookstores, and so for four dollars I acquired a hardback copy of Culture against man (hereafter CAM).

I do not remember when it was that I opened CAM and began to read, but once I “heard” Henry’s voice—kvetching in italics, wickedly funny, deeply angry—I was hooked. I went on to read as much of his prodigious oeuvre as I could find and eventually to publish two essays on it (Handler 2005a, 2005b).

Prefiguring the reflexive anthropology of the fin-de-siècle, Henry wrote that CAM was “not an objective description of America, but rather a passionate ethnography” (1963: 3, italics—here and throughout—in original). It was based on three decades of research in US hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and, beyond such institutions, inside American families.15 But in CAM, Henry admitted, he did not offer data as “proof” for his arguments; instead, he explained, “I write about the research from an interpretive, value-laden point of view. Since I have an attitude toward culture, I discuss data as illustrative of a viewpoint and as a take-off for expressing a conviction” (ibid.: 4).16

Henry’s “attitude” toward US culture combined anthropological relativism (he studied with Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict) and a certain high-modernist romanticism, which is to say, a yearning for a society in which people could be free of the constraints of consumer capitalism, and the regimes of work it required, to develop an authentic self in tune with such values as truth and kindness toward others. Cultural relativism in general, and his study of Amazonian cultures in particular, equipped Henry to see, first, that US culture was culture, not nature and not rationality; and, second, that its values made sense in terms of the lives US people lived. But his romanticism led him to despise the reigning values of American culture:

To think deeply in our culture is to grow angry and to anger others; and if you cannot tolerate this anger, you are wasting the time you spend thinking deeply. One of the rewards of deep thought is the hot glow of [479]anger at discovering a wrong, but if anger is taboo, thought will starve to death. (1963: 146)

Over the years, I have shared this passage with dozens of students and teachers, in discussions of the role of cultural criticism in a liberal arts education. But beyond the anger that can stem from anthropological insight, Henry’s book raises the disconcerting (for relativists) question of truth, or at least, the question of how, despite our relativism, we anthropologists and teachers can advocate for the values we endorse.

Henry took on the question of truth in a fifty-page chapter on “advertising as a philosophical system” (ibid,: 45). In the prior chapter, he had established what he saw as the fundamental cultural principles structuring US life: unlimited consumption and the sacrifice of all other values to make it possible. In such a world, advertising had a crucial function, for it supplied a way of thinking—which Henry dubbed “pecuniary philosophy”—that justified and facilitated consumption “as a moral imperative” (ibid.).17

In Henry’s depiction of US life at midcentury, pecuniary philosophy was battling against older value systems that had anchored Western societies for over two millennia, from Greek philosophy to Christianity to modern science. As an anthropologist, Henry knew that morality and truth are relative to the value systems (or cultures) that invent and enact them; and that what counts as truth and therefore works, socially, in one culture will make no sense, and therefore not work, in another: “The central issue in the viability of philosophies is the truth they assume and what they try to explain. Every philosophy must work in its own backyard” (ibid.: 48).

But as a “passionate” participant-observer, Henry believed that the truths of pecuniary philosophy were running roughshod over “human welfare,” which would have been better served “by the more traditional logical methods” (ibid.). The dilemma is captured in this remarkable paragraph:

Ancients of our culture sought clarity: Plato portrays Socrates tirelessly splitting hairs to extract essential truth from the ambiguities of language and thought. Two thousand years later we are reversing that, for now we pay intellectual talent a high price to amplify ambiguities, distort thought, and bury reality. All languages are deductive systems with a vast truth-telling potential imbedded in vocabulary, syntax, and morphology, yet no language is so perfect that men may not use it for the opposite purpose. One of the discoveries of the twentieth century is the enormous variety of ways of compelling language to lie. (1963: 91)

The idea of languages as “deductive systems” comes straight out of Henry’s Boasian heritage, and recalls Sapir’s famous assertion that “the ‘real world’ is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group. . . . The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached” (1929: 210). But to write as Henry did of the “truth-telling [480]potential” of language is not quite the same thing as to write of language’s ability to build arbitrary worlds. To put this slightly differently, Henry acknowledged the relativism of what came to be called the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis (see King, this forum), but he seemed to yearn for a world that can be written about without encasing the word “reality” within quotation marks (see Goffman 1974: 14–20).

From the perspective of philosophies like Greek metaphysics or scientific naturalism, consumer capitalism (as Henry saw it) had created and legitimated an industry, advertising, that described and marketed the world in terms that were, simply, untrue. Henry gave multiple examples of the phenomenon, citing advertisements that made such claims as “everybody’s talking about” a new car, or a particular brand of aspirin providing the best “relief you can get from pain” (1963: 46). Asserting that such claims are obviously false, Henry argued that pecuniary philosophy had a “revolutionary” approach to truth, based on the premises that “truth is what sells” and “truth is what you want people to believe” (ibid.: 47, 50). Yet advertising’s approach to truth was becoming hegemonic because it was necessary for the survival of the US economic system:

This kind of thinking—which accepts proof that is not proof—is an essential intellectual factor in our economy, for if people were careful thinkers it would be difficult to sell anything. From this is follows that in order for our economy to continue in its present form people must learn to be fuzzy-minded and impulsive. . . . If we were all logicians the economy could not survive, and herein lies a terrifying paradox, for in order to exist economically as we are we must try by might and main to remain stupid. (1963: 48)

Moreover, the fact that advertisers required stupid consumers dovetailed with their “contempt” for the public, whom Madison Avenue saw as “insatiably desiring, infinitely plastic, totally passive, and always a little bit sleepy; unpredictably labile and disloyal (to products); basically wooly-minded and non-obsessive about traditional truth” (ibid.: 79). Finally, fear was central to the system, since corporations and the advertisers who sold their products feared that the public would be “disloyal” and buy elsewhere; and consumers feared the loss of economic security:

The survival anxiety among products and claims is matched by the worker’s worry about his job. He passively awaits the turn of the system—whether it will support him or let him drift—while industry and advertising collaborate in a fierce survival fight for markets. The worker measures his fluctuating security in terms of the steadiness of his job, advertising in terms of the steadiness of its billings: worker employment seems no more fickle and uncertain than advertising accounts, as they shift around from one agency to another. (1963: 96)

Henry’s imaginatively overheated prose was in accord with some of the attacks on Madison Avenue typical of the period (for example, Mad Magazine), but it also provides a prefiguration of the surreal world of the Trump presidential campaign. From the perspective of Trump’s critics, Henry’s descriptions map almost perfectly onto Trump, who mastered an “enormous variety of ways of compelling language to lie” and who required voters who were either “stupid” or overwhelmed (sensibly enough) by “survival anxiety” induced by the ongoing experience of economic [481]insecurity. Indeed, we might ask: Given Henry’s ethnography of US culture over fifty years ago, why are we at all surprised at the Trump phenomenon?

One answer to that question is hinted at in Henry’s notion of dueling philosophies within US culture: consumerism versus science. Henry was willing to tolerate pecuniary truths about consumer products such as “cosmetics or whiskey,” but he was scandalized when advertising made claims about “health or any other form of human welfare” about which science and technocratic expertise were held to be authoritative (ibid.: 48).

Here we should note that the relative prestige of science has declined since the 1960s, when social scientists imagined that religious fundamentalism was finally exiting from the stage of human history. It would have been difficult at that moment to predict a renewed ascendency of creationism and the manufactured suasiveness of climate-change denial, and harder still to predict their endorsement by one of the two main US political parties.

But in fact what worried Henry has come to pass: the wall between Madison Avenue and science has been decisively breached and Trump and the Republicans in general now find it less and less necessary to defer to the authority of scientific expertise. Looking back, this should not surprise us: already in the United States of the 1960s, as described by Henry, passive, fearful, insecure citizens lived within a philosophy, or a set of language games, that was about as far from scientific truth as common sense is today. In Henry’s day, people assumed politicians were lying, but it was politicians’ promises that were suspect, not their willingness to defer to facts. In the 2000 presidential election, George W. Bush and his team made the evasion of fact central to his “message,” which, as Michael Silverstein has shown, concerned the linguistically challenged candidate’s embodiment of strength, seriousness, and corporate responsibility (2003: 89, 113). But evasion of fact is not yet lying. Trump, however, showed that a presidential candidate could lie openly about facts (by repeatedly and openly contradicting himself) and not only not alienate many voters, but earn their admiration for doing so.

To make lying central to one’s political identity is also to ridicule and reject the technocrats who control facts and the media that report on them. Moreover, in the new social media, Trump found the perfect platform for his message of ridicule and rejection, a platform that Henry obviously could not have foreseen. Henry’s diatribes against the lies of advertising were anchored in a world where the mass media—newspapers and magazines, radio and television—disseminated genres like news, interviews, and opinion writing that were viewed as vehicles of authoritative speech. And while he must have known that the two genres, lying and reporting, existed in the closest spatial proximity, on the pages of the periodicals he mined for data, he must have trusted (as we still do today) the ability of readers to distinguish the one from the other.

And yet it is increasingly difficult for consumers of news to do so today when the Internet has multiplied exponentially the sources of news and expert opinion available. This has undercut the authority of the older mass media, which had something of a monopoly on legitimated information, if only owing to the fact that no one else had the capital to produce it. Trump, the master of reality television, turned the new media environment to political account before his opponents in either party caught on to the game.[482]

So where does that leave us, as anthropologists and teachers? It leaves us with the knowledge that it is more important than ever to teach students what Henry meant when he wrote that “every philosophy must work in its own backyard.” To do so is not to abandon empirical facts and the truths to which they lead, but to recognize that such facts and truths emerge within particular language-worlds. And those worlds have conventions concerning how truth is to be articulated and who has the right to do so. We need to teach our students to analyze not merely facts, but their social construction.

In the end, then, Henry’s anger at the replacement of absolute truth telling by absolute lying was to some extent misplaced. After all, pace Henry, lying was hardly a twentieth-century invention. But the celebration of lying as a suitable political identity is new in our political arena. And we will need all Henry’s anger, and more, to combat it.

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Manuscript sources

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AKP: A. L. Kroeber Papers, 1869–1972. History of Science and Technology Collection. Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.


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Donner une voix aux ancêtres II: Lectures en mémoire à George Stocking

Résumé : Ceci est le second Forum dans lequel des anthropologues prêtent leur voix à une figure canonique de leur choix au sein de la littérature anthropologique. Le but est de mettre en avant les contributions d’anthropologues très importants à leur époque et pour l’histoire de notre discipline, mais dont les travaux ne sont plus en vogue ou ont simplement été ensevelis par la masse des travaux de recherches produits par leurs successeurs. écouter ces voix du passé nous rappelle que même si les tendances dans la recherche changent, il existe des problèmes fondamentaux qui ont guidé nos recherches pour plus de deux siècles et qui demeurent centraux dans nos travaux.

Robert Brightman
Reed College
3203 SE Woodstock Blvd.
Portland, OR 97202

Pauline Turner Strong
Department of Anthropology
2201 Speedway, Mail Stop C3200
University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX 78728

Alexander D. King
Franklin & Marshall College–Anthropology
PO Box 3003
Lancaster PA 17604-3003

Richard Handler
Director, Program in Global Studies
Box 400772
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4772


1. We find in Kroeber the proto-Foucauldian observation that “civilization appears even in some cases and in some measure to influence the effect of the individual’s native activities upon himself” (1917: 205).

2. Documentary and oral historical evidence concur that Goldenweiser’s presence qua guest-pianist at elite social events in Portland, Oregon’s old-moneyed West Hills might coincide in the same evening with visits to pool halls in the less formal precincts of the West Burnside district. (Goldenweiser also played billiards in more upscale settings.) One of my students once observed that it was unfortunate that Ned Polsky (1967), a sociological authority on pool hustling, never had opportunity to study Goldenweiser.

3. “The extraordinary men of one sort in one period will therefore still be substitutable for those of another time” (ibid.: 202).

4. Compare Boas, who seven years earlier discussed interactions of diffusion with anthropogenic change (Boas 1911: 112–13; see Lewis 2015: 32–33).

5. Less known is his protostructuralist reassembly (Goldenweiser 1918; see Shapiro 1991).

6. I note that MIT Press published a second electronic edition of Selected writings in 2012 for Amazon Kindle only, edited by Stephen Levinson and Penny Lee in addition to Carroll. Levinson’s insightful foreword replaces Chase’s inaccurate characterization.

7. I urge anyone at all interested in Whorf to spend at least an afternoon reading through various bits of Penny Lee’s 1996 book. It is densely written but extremely elucidating, based on careful reading of Whorf’s published and unpublished papers and his correspondence.

8. Hinton (1988) provides a nuanced critique of Malotki’s misunderstanding of Whorf in her review of Hopi time. Silverstein’s comment was made as discussant to a 2003 AAA panel honoring Dan Moonhawk Alford. Jeanne’s (1978) analysis of Hopi tense as a contrast between future and nonfuture is generally accepted among linguists, but this does not invalidate Whorf’s argument that Hopi linguistic temporal encoding is radically different from that of English.

9. See Alford’s (n.d.) cogent argument on the role of Einstein in Whorf’s thinking and writing.

10. The attentive reader will object that we are still trying to figure out exactly how gravity works, but that is beside the point.

11. See Jones (2017) for a discussion of universality in color terms and examples of languages with no color terms at all.

12. The universal patterning in color terms is interesting, however. Although it is clear that languages with supposedly only two basic color terms (black and white) actually have no basic color terms and are distinguishing dark from light, the fact that red is the primary color term if a language has at least one (in addition to dark and light) gives further weight to Victor Turner’s (1967) argument for the universality of white, black, and red color symbolism abstracted from his Ndembu material.

13. Webster (2015) provides a cogent, Whorfian rebuttal of McWhorter’s and Pinker’s mischaracterizations of Whorf.

14. Henry’s Jungle people ([1941] 1964) was one of about a dozen monographs included in the introductory anthropology course I took as a sophomore at Columbia University in 1969.

15. Henry’s last monograph, Pathways to madness, was based on “about 500 hours of direct observation in the homes of families that had a psychotic child” (ibid.: 323).

16. After the fact, Schneider also let it be known that his interpretations of American kinship were not determined by his data (Schneider 1995: 209–12; for his recollection of Henry, see ibid.: 61–62).

17. One reviewer of CAM noted that Henry had “a genius for phrase-making that rivals Thorstein Veblen’s” (Berger 1963), and, indeed, Henry seemed to like the word “pecuniary” as much as Veblen did.