Tag Archives: Geoffrey Bernnan

18 April 1987 Personal Correspondence on Academia, Socialism, and Colonization (PDF)


Dear Pam

I write you a “book review” — a sort of — on William Hodge The First American, Then and Now. Holt, Rinehart and Winston 1981.

Walter Block, Geoffrey Bernnan, Kenneth Elzinga (ed) Morality of the Market, Religion and Economic Perspective. The Fraser Institute 1982.

with some references to Gil and Gil Toward Social and Economic Justice, Berman The Reenchantment of the World, and Remi De Roo Cries of Victims, Voice of God which I have commented before.

Hodge’s book is apparently written as a text for “introduction to Anthropology”. The author lives in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and naturally talks of Oneidas and Menominees, but as a text he try to cover Micmac, Cherokee, Cheyenne, Navajos, Hopi, Papago, Pomo, Klamath, Kwakiutl, Hare, Eskimos, in a descriptive fashion — for each with a brief cultural history and description of the present situation —. At the end of the text the author briefly states his theory of “X, Y, Z, Indians”. X, Y, Z, are “ideal types” or patterns, representing types, or patterns, of reactions of the Natives — resistance, isolation, adaptation, / or right, left, middle, / etc. — in relations to the White domination. His descriptions of various Indian Nations are descriptions of those types in conflicting notions in each nation.

As an academic text, it is “reasonable”. That is, if one just wish to know a lot of things about Indians from a “neutral” stand. The tone of the text is “sympathetic” and mild. But, the academic knowledge as such is not for doing anything about the problems. Scholarly stance is understandable, in the prevalent notion-ritual of “knowledge claim” in academia. But this begs questions as to “what knowledge is for?”, and also as to the role of scholars in the dominant econo-political system. I shall have to discuss what “knowing” means. (*1 below) The separation of “Value and Fact” is a shameless fraud.

The text doe mention, for example, “rampant alcoholism”, “moral decay” etc. along with “poverty — with a typical “neutral adjective softness”, saying like “living standard is inadequate” etc. —. But what the text suggests to do about the “inadequacy”, “unsatisfactory”, “insufficiency”etc.? There is no hint.

[There is a mention of Deloria, with a qualification that “The extent to which Deloria’s opinions coincide with those of other Indians is open question”. p. 526. By this statement, perhaps, the author is declaring that his statement is the Knowledge and Deloria’s is more opinion.]

(*1) Talking of the difference in “status” of Knowledge and Opinion, I happened to be struck by an incidence. In CBC radio program, there was a report about a “Theory” by a distinguished Social Psychologist at University of Manitoba: Dr. Altemeyer. His “Theory” is reasonable enough. I think he is right. But that is not what impressed me.

Dr. Altemeyer narrated that he had noticed, some 15 years ago that authoritarian persons are submissive and at the same time agressive (apt to do violence) — citing Nazi etc. — particularly when the superior authority approve of them. He attributes violence to Fear. According him, the authoritarian characters are fed “more than average” inputs of Fear by parents, teachers, et al. They are convinced that the world is fearful and bad Place, and they see themselves “Righteous” among evils all around them. No wonder they are ready to strike back. I agree as to that.

I think a lot of people noticed the same. But that would be “Mere Opinions”. Dr. Altemeyer, apparently spent some 15 years of hard academic researches to convert the “Opinion” (or hunch) to a “Knowledge” acceptable to an Academic Institution> It is not his “Idea” that distinguishes him, but his work to gain the Recognition is the object of academic admiration. And even CBC recognizes him having gained the recognition.

That is similar to recognition given to the actors and actresses who are recognized by some awards. That they gained a recognition is the source of the recognition. By this criterion of “recognition begets recognition”, the Natives have to get a recognition to be recognized. And how one gets a recognition? Our society does it by ritual ceremony. Publishing in a “reputable Journal” is one of such rituals and one accumulates brownie points by that. To get your “opinion” Published — register a knowledge claim —, you have to follow the rituals, such as showing “statistics” (despite statistics proves nothing). When that is done, one has to do “public relation” work by creating “media events”, saying that you Published — what you said in the publication are too much of details that nobody cares to bother with —. It is not whether one knows anything, but it is that the Public knows that one knows, that is the aim of the game.

Natives had known that living organisms cooperate. That is the Principle of Living. But it had to be professional biologists, properly educated and accredited, to claim a “knowledge” — inventing a jargon “Symbiosis” —. In this case, it was a “linguistic game” of Naming, that claimed the knowledge.

To be able to live with the “sense” of ecological cooperation, as the Natives did, doers not count as “Knowing”. It is because “the proper linguistic ritual” is not performed to the satisfaction of the institution which is empowered to declare academic recognition. Universities give out diplomas and people come and pay for it. That is possible, because the universities are institutions which give “recognitions”. Natives are handicapped not having institutions to edify their recognitions.

Pam has a Ph.D. in Social Welfare, so she knows. The poor people in reserves, who managed to survive centuries, do not know anything about how to live, because they have no degree. What Pam learned from her grandfather is not “knowledge”, because her grandfather was an Indian. What Pam’s mother taught her is not knowledge, because she taught her by her “living” not by academic rituals and the Academia does not know how to recognize it. (Compare woman who actually give birth to medical doctors who “know” what birth is.)

Whitemen’s “Science”, “scholarship” are Institutions of Rituals. Whitemen’s society is more “ritualistic” than Native community. Natives appear to be ignorant of the importance of Rituals, perhaps because Whitemen downgraded Native Rituals and the Native themselves accepted Whitemen’s concept on native rituals.

Incidentally, political struggles are struggles as to which ritual system shall be recognized and which ritual system shall be regarded “irrational”, “superstitious”, or “heretical” The struggles for “knowledge claim”, “academic recognition” are minor parts of the political struggles. It is not that the Natives did not have “Silence”, but that it was denied of recognition.

You tell a story of your “experience”, “feeling” in looking at the Moon. I wonder what the academic think of it. It is not even and “opinion”, let alone being a knowledge claim. Yet some academics are impressed, according to Elise Boulding. They must have felt something stronger than one in academic rituals. Is that a sign that there is still hope for Humanity?]

The above sense of “Neutral Knowledge” also pervades the second book; Morality of the Market. There is nothing in the book as to what to do about the problems.

The book is apparently a reaction of the “Right Wing Reactionaries” to “Left Wing” Christian Liberation Theology, (Christian Socialism?) such as Reinhold Niebuhr. [see also De Roo.] Sure enough, Fraser Institute, which is reputed to be Canadian branch of Rand Corporation in the U.S., knew enough of Public Relation Work to include some “Liberals”, such as James M. Wall; ex-editor of The Christian Century, a Journal published by The World Council of Churches, which has been labeled by the Right to be a “Communist Front”, and Kenneth Boulding, a liberal economist. But the arguments in the book is mainly about “ills and incompetence of the Socialism”. Mr. Trudeau, hearing Canadian Bishops’ moral stand on Economy, said “Bishops do not know Economy. They ought to stick to Religion”. The same message is in this book. The authors in the book tell readers how much they “know” about, economy. But what to do with the problems is not their concern. They talk about how “moralists” are wrong and how socialists failed.

Of course, knocking down strawman is a favorite game among academics. By proving others being wrong or insufficient, they claim their superiority. That is cheap. Since they are not proposing anything, they cannot be “wrong”, except that they help perpetuating the status quo by discouraging people to do anything about it. In turn, those “superior intellectuals” say “Given an apathetic mass of people, nothing much can be changed.” They would say There is no demand in the market for revolution”. In this case they do not believe in the Supply-side Economy. So the whole exercise go on a vicious circle. Obviously any change will be difficult and comes with all sorts of problems. By saying there are problems, nothing is changed, except perhaps for catastrophes — even the Great Depressions did not change the economic system much, but rather made people more scared of changes —. Liberal economists do not acknowledge their failure in changing the economic system and keep talking about the “faults” of those who had bravely tried. If they have tried, they would have failed worse. Easy armchair criticisms are not only cheap and useless but also poisonous.

Those “scholars” get prestigious attacking “socialism”, precisely because the system (what they call “Liberal Capitalism”) needs their defense. They are the “ideologues” for the status quo. But then, they pretend that they are neutral. Kenneth Boulding referred back to Schumpeter. But Schumpeter did not make phony distinctions like “Liberal Capitalism/Democratic Socialism”. He simply said “Socialism” as the inevitable end of the Capitalism.

To be sure, I am not saying “Socialism” is the answer. In my view, “socialism” is already here, in terms of Social Welfare, Medical Insurance, Corporate Subsidy, etc. The growth of Bureaucracy is, to me an aspect of “Socialism”, and it is here. It is an inevitable course that the “Socialization” started by the Industrial Revolution. The Capitalism and the Socialism are – isms emerged in Industrialization. The question is not whether or not Socialism, but what we are going to do with problems. Here, we need to look at the Industrialization itself, without assuming it to be unquestionable good. We used to call the industrialization “Progress” and never thought that there can be alternatives (Marx included).

In this book, Ezra J. Misham (“Religion, Culture and Technology.” p. 279) is the only one who addressed to the problem of “Industrial Economy” (Technological Society). He does see “Science-Technology” is a replacement of Religion. But, somehow, in this article, he lacked clearness. The main point does not come through.

Kenneth Boulding talked of “Cost of Agreement”, which is an important item in “political economy”. But it seems the scholars gathered there was not impressed. Religion was a mans of scouring an “Agreement”, effective in a social scale. “Ideology” was once thought as an effective means to get revolutionary agreement in the last century. “Science-technology” replaced them. Mishan was saying that in the conference. But as usual in academic conferences, Boulding perhaps did not hear what Mishan was saying. Nor Mishan appears to have heard Boulding.

And Boulding’s consideration of the “Cost of Agreement” refers only to production side, so appears. There is another kind of cost in “maintaining an agreement”. “Authoritarianism”, “Dogmatism”, “Theocracy” are examples. The inflexible attitude of Bureaucracy is no less “tyrannical” in insisting  a “Iron Rule” of established mechanical routines. And in Bureaucracy, even a slightest change in agreed procedure indeed “costs” enormous amount of efforts, time and of course money. That is, the “system” designed to keep a stability of an “agreed way” do so by making any changes to be prohibitively costly. The “Cost of Agreement” is also a defense mechanism. Boulding appears not be aware of this aspect.

I have a nightmarish metaphor about our economic system. That is an image of Nuclear Power Plant in crisis. Those “experts” are arguing among themselves as to “who is best expert”, while the Reactor is running toward the melt-down point.

At any rate, Fraser Institute is not interested in dealing with the problems of our political economy. It wants, so appears, to be known as a “Think Tank” institution — a snob institution for pretended “super intellectuals” —, on which their income depends.

There was, however, some references to economists like Myrdal. [See for example, Myrdal’s articles in Economic Development And Social Change — The modernization of Village Communitites — ad. by G. Dalton Natural History Press 1971.] The Materialist sense od Economy is in decay, either the Capitalist or Socialist. We are now able to talk, without too much inhibition, about the “Rituals” or market, “Worship” of Money, etc., — i.e. Economy as an “Anthropological phenomenon”. Religion and Political Economy are not that different. [Neither is Religion and Science.] Some people are already sensing this.

And that is where what you do arc very important. Social Welfare is not just for providing foods and shelters for those unfortunate “drop out!” Nor is it just taking care of alcoholism (so as to keep alcoholics invisible to the society). Berman, in the Reenchantment of the World mentions of Alcoholism, Alcoholic Anonymous (p. 21, 171, 239, 244, 273, 288, 302, 334) Why so many references? It is significant!

It was not because Berman was a student of Bateson and Bateson happened to chose Alcoholism as the subject medium to elaborate on his theory of Cybernetics of Self” (Berman p. 239). But because the problem of Alcoholism gives clues to other “addiction problems” — addictions to Money, Power, Fame, Material objects, Authority, etc. —. It tells us about how we get into problems and how we could get out of them.

Hodge, in the First Americans, narrates cases of “Trade” with Europeans. Case after case, the history demonstrates disastrous consequences of Trades.

I would imagine the Liberal Economists, the Socialist Economists, the Capitalist Economists, all would say Trade is good. Even Myrdal would say the same, except his objection to “unequal trade”. So far as I know, F. Fanon is the only one who said that the Third World would be better off without Trades with the Europeans (I guess now includes Japanese).

But, let us think about “Why Trade?” Europeans wanted Beaver pelts, because its fur was needed as a material for Top Hat. Imagine who needed Top Hat!!!

Likewise, what in a hell (or in heaven), the Natives needed beads? Trinkets? They had furs, so why they needed blankets?

The Economic Theory that says Trade is for “necessities” is pure BS. Nobody needed Trade, except for “……”.

That “…..”. is psychological, just as some people want a drink for “….”. It becomes “physiological necessity” after addiction, after development of dependency (=called “culture”) on the things that are traded.

Europeans introduced Alcohol to the Natives. But Natives had far potent stuffs. If the Natives wanted to get drunk, they could do it by their own ways. Natives could get “drunk” even by dream. Alcohol was not needed. But precisely because it was not needed, that why alcohol was Traded.

Iroquois was “addicted” by the British Trade through New York — after the Dutch were defeated —. In order to get beavers for the Trade, Iroquois had to fight wars with other Native Nations. But what Iroquois gained, in term of their living substances? A few “ornaments”? Guns? According Hodge, in the case of Oneida, their male population was so depleted that Oneidas had to capture males from their “enemy” to satisfy women. And what amazes me is that there seems nothing that shows the benefits of the Trade, which costed them so dear. Why they Traded?

The question is, perhaps, the same as asking Alcoholics “Why do you drink?”.

Was it because of fun? Was it because Oneida needed European things for their pride? For ceremonial purposes? Was it because curiosity?

The natives did have trade between Native Nations before Europeans came. In the traditional trades there seems to have been no problem. The traditional trades were like “exchanges of gifts”, more or less. Natives might have thought European Trades in the same sense. But even then, it is puzzling why so much disasters in European Trade. Even Fanon does not tell me why European Trade were so poisonous to the Natives — as if the Natives did not have “immunity” against European Trade —. And how come the Ntives did not stop after seeing the consequences? Was it a case of addiction?

[Because of the time element, Japanese and Koreans had time to learn what happened to China through trade with British — Opium War, etc. —. So they refused trade. They did not allow Christian missionaries to come onto their lands either. It took threat of Gun Boats to open ports for European ships. But then, Japanese knew what formidable “devils” they allowed to come in. Japanese decided to “beat the devils in their game”, which culminated in the WWII and was a disaster any way. The bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were “symbolic” of the Trade-War.

Ironically, Japan is still in Trade-WAr with the U.S. And it will get worse. For Japan, the only effective strategy is to Trade with the Communist China and USSR. The U.S. is pushing Japan to do that.

The US share of Japanese exports accounts for some 30%. But the exports account for only some 10% of Japanese internal market. One wonders [ought to wonder] why trade at all with all those troubles. Can’t peoples in the US and Japan be happy within each internal market? Why in a hell Japanese have to work so hard, for what good?]

The question goes back o that of “Why drink?” We are addicted to “civilization”, “progress”, “trade”, “more and more things”, and “for me”. The weakness of American Natives against European invasion was, perhaps, their “individualism” — misidentified with European Individualism, which was a defense mechanism/adaptation to alienation —. Bateson does point out “Egoism” in alcoholics. They are “lonely people” cut off from community. Because of that, AA tries to provide a “community of supports” for alcoholics. In the case of American Natives, they had beautifully working “Community” and still failed. It can only be explained, to me at least, as “Loss of Spirit”. Native warriors who wanted to fight, despite advices of “Peace Chiefs”, did not see the Spirit of the Community. They lost the battle, right then and there.

The Wisdom of Oneida woman failed to stop the warriors to go off to fight wars. Did not they love their children enough? I cannot tell from descriptions in books. But it appears that women were drunk just as well. One might also wonder the difference between the “intoxication by European Alcohol”  (things) and the “heightened consciousness by the Native Rituals”. The difference is in sprituality?

Being in a psychological state and being in a “spiritual state” are entirely different. Yet, from outward manifestations, distinctions are difficult. The Native warriors might have “cheated”, by saying like “my dream told me to go to war”. In the Native etiquette, women could not question the validity of the claim. But, if one cheats “Spirit” by pretending, the consequences is grave.

I almost saying that Iroquois was destroyed because Iroquois did not follow the Spirit of the Great Peace in the addiction to trade. This is a serious accusation. I expect you to correct me.

Now, back to the Economy. I was talking of a question: if people need so many things to be happy. Why people go through so much humiliation and risk of alienation to earn money so as to buy and be proud of a 824,00 car? Why the bankrupting Dome Petro. Co has a president who gets paid like million dollars in salary? Why that is necessary?

We know the natural resources on the Earth are not enough to keep “growth” of industries. Why do we push more and more? Sure enough, there are people who feel happy with the economic situation as it is, in terms of his or her personal satisfaction or pride. But the vast majority is not. Then why this goes on?