Re: [OPE-L] pre literacy

From: clyder@GN.APC.ORG
Date: Sun Nov 26 2006 - 09:56:21 EST

Quoting Rakesh Bhandari <bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU>:

> > I am not saying that pre-literate human cultures can not be
> distinguished from
> > the cultures of other species. The most significant difference is in the
> degree of development of language in all human cultures which far
> exceeds that achieved by other species for whom the language has been
> properly studies.
> What does degree of language development mean? You seem to think there is
> ape language--a respectable but controversial position. So at what degree
> does language become human?

Chomsky has a hierarchy of languages, the ape languages and the bee language
seem to fall into class 3 of the hierarchy, human ones belong at least
to level 1. Note that in Chomsky's hierarchy 3 is the least complex.

It is not a question of a language becomming human, but a question of
what language category - defined formally in terms of the power of their
grammars - does human or bee language fit into.

> This is why it seems to me that you put the
> emphasis on the written nature of languaage so that you had some specific
> difference vis a vis non human animals. But in doing that you implicitly
> put non literate human cultures closer to non human animal 'culture' than
> literate culture.

The importance of technologies of record relates not to the complexity
of the grammar of different languages but to the ability of society to
throw into action complex labour processes. The complexity of the
labour process that can be activated by a pre literate society is
lower than that which can be thrown into action by a literate society.
We also know, on general grounds of automata theory, that an automaton
with an extendible system of record has capacities that automatons
without such a system of records would lack. If one views society at
a certain level of abstraction as an automaton, then the presense of
an extendible set of written records allows more complex behaviour by
the social organism.

> This is a technology of information
> > transmission which allows a pre-literate culture to store and
> > transmit between generations much more information than can be
> > transmitted by other species.
> Which technologies of transmission do we need? Do we need technologies for
> transmission?

Speech is a system of transmission, as is written text, later we get
semaphore, telegraph etc.


> > Along with this there develop technologies of record which are
> > necessary for :
> >
> > a) the coordination of large scale collaborative labour
> > b) the planning of large scale engineering or architectural projects c)
> the accretion and cross fertilisation of technological specialities
> Why does this require extra somatic info transmission mechanisms?
> And why can't we locate human uniqueness in terms of invented kinship
> structures or cosmologies without which social reproduction and meaning
> (arguably necessary for humans to endure social life) would be impossible?

I am not concerned with locating human uniqueness. I am concerned with
understanding how labour is possible. In the process of such an analysis
one comes accross features that distinguish some forms of human labour
from some forms of animal labour, but that is not the purpose of the
investigation, since, in my opinion at least, one is begging the question
if you go out looking for the source of human uniqueness.

> Why choose the criterion you have chosen? What grounds it? Why say that
> certain human cultures have not enjoyed the attributes or traits which you
> consider to be uniquely human? Why are you not concerned about the
> invidiousness of your thesis? Or do you deny that there are worrying and
> possibily humiliating consequences to your thesis?

The humiliating consequences that pre-literate cultures suffered on
contact with literate cultures are a historical reality testifying to
the material advantage that literacy gave.

> > I would argue that these technologies of record are a pre-requisite for
> the forms of productive forces and the forms of labour collaboration
> required by a society that comes to dominate the eco-system.
> >
> > I am unaware of any society that has dominated the eco-system without
> the aid of technologies of record. You say my claim is false, so can you
> tell which examples you are thinking of?
> Why does a so called hunter gatherer society not successfully 'dominate'
> its eco system?

Hunter gatherer societies suceed in trapping only a small portion of the
energy flow through the eco-system. Agricultural civilisation radically
changes the eco-system to capture the largest share of the energy flow.
This is why the population density of the former is so much lower than
that of the latter.

This message was sent using IMP, the Internet Messaging Program.

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Thu Nov 30 2006 - 00:00:06 EST