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Nor has there not been some occasion for such a fear that it expands a culture. Probably the most popular book an anthology ever published in this country with a strange conclusion that anything any one group of people is inclined toward doing is worthy of respect by another is perhaps the most outstanding. Only the most outstanding example of the awkward positions one can get one's hope into by giving oneself over rather to completely to what Mark Block called the thrill of learning singular things. Yet the fear is nevertheless opposing the notion that as a cultural phenomenon is apparently universal it can't reflect anything about the nature of man. Is about as logical as the notion that because sickle cell anemia is fortunately not universal You can't tell us anything about human genetic processes. It is not weather phenomena are empirical a common law that is critical in science. I was washing back relevant to the puter behavior of your brain but whether they can be made to review early on during natural processes which underlie. Seeing heaven in a grain of sand is not a trick only poets can accomplish.
In short we need to look for systematic relationships among diverse phenomena not for subsets of identities among similar ones. And to do that with any effectiveness we need to replace the stratigraphic conception of relationships between the various aspects of human existence by a synthetic one integrative one. That is to say one in which biological psychological sociological cultural factors can be treated as variables within a unitary single systems are systems of analysis establishment of a common language in the social sciences is not a matter of the mere coordination of terminologies or worse yet can artificial new ones. Nor is it a matter of imposing a single set of categories upon the discipline as a whole. It is a matter of integrating different types of theories and concepts in such a way that one can formulate mean for propositions embodying findings now sequestered in separate fields of study. It's helping to launch such integration from the anthropological side
and to reach there by and exact our image of man. I want to pose to ideas. The first of these is the culture is best seeing not as complex as a concrete behavior patterns customs usages traditions have a cluster as well as by and large in the case up to now. But as a set of control mechanisms plans recipes rules instructions well computer engineers call programs for the government behavior. And the second idea that I want to propose is that man is precisely the animal most desperately dependent upon such extra genetic outside the skin control mechanisms such cultural programs for his behavior. Neither of these ideas is entirely new but a number of recent developments both with an anthropology and in other sciences cybernetics information theory neurology molecular genetics have made them susceptible of a more precise statement as well as learning in a degree of
empirical support they didn't previously have and out of such reformulations of the concept of culture and the role of culture and human life becomes in turn a definition a man starting not so much the empirical commonalities in his behavior from place to place and time to time but rather the mechanisms by whose agency the bread and in terms of his inherent capacity inborn capacities are reduced to the narrowness and specificity of his actual accomplishment and actual behaviors which are actually done. One of the most significant facts about us may finally be that we all begin with the natural equipment to live a thousand times of long life but end in the end with having lived only one. The control mechanism pure culture begins with the assumption that human thought is both social and public. There's natural habitat is the Hoshyar of the marketplace in the town square thinking consists not of happenings in the head. The happenings there Nelse workings are necessary for to be heard. But all the traffic in what I've been called by G.H. meet and others
significant symbols words for the most part but also gestures drawings musical sounds mechanical devices like clocks or natural objects like jewels anything in fact which is disengaged from its mere actuality and used to impress impose meaning upon experience from the point of view of any given individual such symbols. Are largely given. He finds them current in the community when when he is born already there. And they remain with some additions subtractions partial alterations you may or may not have a hand in in circulation there. After he die while he lives he uses them sometimes deliberately and with care most often spontaneously with ease but always with the same end in view. To put a construction of meaning upon the events to which he lives. To orient himself to adopt a vivid phrase of John Dewey within the ongoing course of experience thing.
Man is so in need of such symbolic sources of illumination to find his bearings in the world. Because the non symbolic sort constitutionally ingrained in his body can so diffuse the light. The behavior patterns of war around most are at least to a much greater extent given to them with their physical structure genetic sources of information or their actions within much narrower ranges of variation than our and more thorough going the lower down in the evolutionary scale the animal for man. What are innately given are extremely general response capacities which although they make possible far greater plasticity complexity in a scattered occasions when everything works as it ought to effectiveness of behavior they leave it much less precisely regulated. This then is the second face of my argument undirected by culture patterns organized systems of significant symbols. Man's behavior would be virtually ungovernable a mere chaos of pointless acts and
exploding emotions has experienced virtually shapeless culture. The accumulated totality of such patterns is therefore not a mere ornament of human existence but as it is the principal basis of its specificity. An essential condition for it. With an anthropology some of the most telling evidence in support of such a position comes from recent advances in our understanding of what used to be called The Descent of Man. The emergence of homo sapiens out of the general primate background of these advances. Three are of critical importance the discarding of a sequential view of relationship between physical evolution cause for the woman a man in favor of an overlap interactive you explain what this means in a minute. Second the discovery that the bulk of the biological changes which produce modern man out of his most immediate progenitors took place in the central nervous system and most especially in the brain. And third the realization that man is in physical terms and incomplete unfinished.
AM that what sets him off most graphically from non man less his sheer ability to learn it is no more particular sorts of things he has to learn before he is able to function at all. And let me take each of these points in turn the traditional view of the relations between the biological and cultural advance of man. Was it the former the biological was for intents and purposes completed before the matter was the cultural began. That is to say was again stratigraphic man's physical being evolved as body evolved. So the usual mechanisms of genetic variation and natural selection. Up to the point where his anatomical structure having arrived more or less at the point at which we find today culture cultural development got underway at some particular stages phylogenetic history a marginal genetic change of some sort. Many incapable of producing and carrying culture and thenceforth his form of adaptive response to environmental pressures was almost exclusively a culture rather generic and he developed it
to a point and then he became totally cultural as he spread over the globe. He wore furs in cold climates and one clothes nothing at all in warm ones. He didn't arteries and responsive to environmental temperature. He made weapons to extend his natural predatory powers. He cooked food to render a wider variety of foods and adjustable. Man became Man the story continues. When having crossed some mental Rubicon he became able to transmit knowledge beliefs morals customs called the items in search of a Tyler's famous definition of culture to transmit these things to his descendants or his neighbors to teach and to acquire them from his ancestors his ancestors and his neighbors through learning. After that magical moment when he learned to receive new customs and so on the advance of the hominids depended almost entirely on cultural accumulation. On the slow growth the conventional practices rather had asked for ages past an organic change on or going to conclusion physical version. The only trouble is that such a moment does not seem to exist
for the most recent estimates. The transition to the cultural mode of life took the genus homo over a million years to accomplish and stretched out in such a manner. Involved not one or handful of marginal genetic changes but a long complex and ordered sequence of them. In the current view. The evolution of Homo sapiens modern man out of his immediate preset paeans background got definitively under way about nearly two million years ago with the appearance of the now famous australopithecine the famous so called it man. So the Eastern Africa and culminated with the emergence of homo sapiens and so only some one or two hundred thousand years ago. Thus as at least elemental forms of culture if you want per cultural activity simple to making hunting we don't quite know where else seem to have been present among only some of the australopithecines there was an
overlap as I say of well over a million years between the beginning of culture the appearance of culture the transmission of it and the appearance of man as we know him today. Precise dates which are tentative and which further research one altered one direction are not critical. What is critical is that there was an overlap and that it was a very extended one. The final phases final today to the right of the fall of John the history of man took place in the same grand geological era of the Ice Age applied thing as usual phases of its cultural history so that men have birthdays. But man does not. What this means is that culture rather than be added on so to speak to a finished or virtually finished animal was ingredient and centrally ingredient in the production of that animal and so the slow steady almost glacial growth of culture to the ice age. Alter the balance of selection price pressures for the evolving genus Homo. In such a way as to play a major
directive row in its evolution his evolution. The perfection of tools the doctrine of organized hunting gathering practices the beginnings of true family organization discovery of fire and most critically those you have extremely difficult to trace without any tail. The increasing reliance upon systems of significance in most language are ritual for orientation and so on communications off intro. Well all these things. Hunting gatherings are all created for man. A new environment to which he was then obliged to adopt his culture step by infinitesimal stuff accumulated and develop a sort of advantages given to those individuals in the population most able to take advantage of it. The effect of hunger the persistent gather you've got to make are resourceful later. So until what have been small brained proto human. Almost all public has became the large brain fully human homo sapiens. Between the cultural pattern the
body and the brain. A positive feedback system was created in which we check the progress of the other. System which the interaction between increasing tool use the changing economy of the hand of a known and expanding representation of the thumb on the cortex is perhaps only one more clear example. Why so many times after the governance by symbolic symbolically media programs producing artifacts organizing social life or expressing emotions. Man determined if unwittingly the culminating stages of his own biological destiny quite literally quite inadvertently he created himself. There what I mention there were a number of important changes in the gross anatomy of genus homo during this period of crystallization million or more years in skull shape than Titian thumb size and so on. By far the most important and dramatic of such changes were those which evidently took place in the central nervous system but this was the period when the human brain most particularly the forebrain ballooned into its present top heavy proportions. The
technical problems are complicated and controversial here but the main point is that all the talk of those things have a torso and arm configuration more or less not drastically different from our own and a pelvis and like formation at least one last time they had cranial capacity is hardly larger than those of living age that is a half to a third. Of our own. What sets to man most distinctly from proto man is apparently not overall bodily form but complexity of nervous organization. The overlap period of cultural and biological change seems to have consisted in an intense concentration on neural development and perhaps associate refinements in various behaviors. Use of the hands by people locomotion someone for which the basic anatomical foundations mobile shoulders rests randomly and so on had already been securely laid much earlier wrong in itself. This is perhaps not altogether startling but combined what I've already said this is just some conclusions about just what sort of Animal Man. Yes which are I think rather
far. Not only from those of the 18th century but from those of the anthropology of only 10 or 15 years ago most bluntly it suggests there is no such thing as human nature independent of culture. Man without culture would not be the clever savages of gold he's lord of flies. So I'm back upon the cool wisdom of their animal instincts. Nor will they be nature's noblemen of enlightened primitivism nor even as Cl. clavicle logical theory would imply intrinsically Tallon apes who had somehow failed to find themselves. They would be unworkable monstrosities with very few useful instincts. Fewer recognizable sentiments and no intellect mental basket cases. As our central nervous system and most particularly its crowning curse and glory in your cortex grew up in the great part and interaction with culture it is incapable the brain isn't capable of directing our behavior organizing our experience without the guidance provided by systems of significant symbols.
What happened to us in the ice age is that we were obliged to abandon the regularity precision of detail genetic control over our conduct for the flexibility and adaptability of a more generalized Of course no less real genetic control over it. To supply the additional information necessary to be able to act we were forced in turn to rely more and more heavily on cultural sources. The accumulated fund of significant symbols such symbols are thus not mere expressions instrumentalities or correlates of our biological psychological and social existence. There are prerequisites to it without man no culture certainly but Italy and more significantly without culture. No man. We are in some incomplete or unfinished animals who complete or finish ourselves through culture and not to culture in general but to highly particular forms of it. Double one in Japanese hoping to tell you know upper class and lower class academic and commercial
man's great capacity for learning his plasticity has often been remarked. But what is even more important and even more critical is extreme dependence upon a certain kind of learning. You tainment a constant the apprehension application of specific systems of symbolic meaning. Beavers got dams birds build nests bees locate food baboons organize social groups and mice made on the basis of forms of learning which rests predominantly on instructions encoded in their genes and evoked by appropriate patterns of external stimuli physical keys inserted into organic locks. But mental vans are shelters located food organized social groups or find sexual partners under the guidance of instructions encoded in flow charts and blueprints hunting lower moral codes and aesthetic judgments conceptual structures molding formost how. We live. As one writer is neatly put it in an information gap between what our
body tells us and what we have to know in order to be able to function there is a vacuum we must know ourselves and we fill it with information or misinformation provided by our culture. The boundary between what is innately controlled and what is culturally controlled and human behavior isn't don't go to far and wavering while some things are for all intents and purposes entirely controlled intrinsically genetic. We need no more cultural guidance to learn how to breed a fish needs to learn how to swim. Others are almost certainly cultural. We don't attempt to explain why some men believe in centralized planning others in the free market on a genetic basis. It might be amusing exercise. Almost all complex human behavior is of course the vector outcome of the two. Our capacity to speak is surely an act of our capacity to speak English or the cultural smiling at pleasing stimuli from a non pleasing one is surely to some degree genetically determined. Even apes screw up their faces in a noxious odors. But sardonic smiling and
burlesque from me are equally surely predominant culture as perhaps about his definition of a madman is someone who like an American smiles when there's nothing to laugh at demonstrates. Between the basic ground plans for life the capacity to speak or to smile that our genes laid down and the precise behavior we execute speaking English in a certain tone of voice smiled enigmatically in delicate social situations between these was a complex set of significant symbols on whose direction we transform the first to the second. The grand plans into the activity our ideas our values our acts even our emotions are like our nervous system itself. Cultural products are products manufactured indeed out of tendencies capacities and dispositions with which we were born but manufactured nonetheless. Shortage is made of stone and glass but it is not just done in glass it is a cathedral and not only a
cathedral but a particular cathedral built at a particular time by certain members of a particular society. To understand what it means to perceive it for what it is you need to know rather more than a generic properties of stone and glass and rather more than what is common to walk the Eagles. You need to understand also in my opinion most critically the specific concepts of the relations between God man and architecture. That having covered its creation its consequently in bodies it is no different with men. They too every last one of them are cultural artifacts. Whatever other differences they may show you approaches to the definition of human nature are adopted by the Enlightenment and by classical anthropology have one thing in common they are both basically typological. They endeavor to construct an image of man as a model an archetype a Platonic ideal and I was to tell Inform with respect to which actual man you know me. Churchill Hitler and the
Indian Head Hunter are the reflections distortions and approximation. In the Enlightenment case the elements of this essential type were to be uncovered by stripping the trappings of culture away from actual man and see what then was left. Natural man in classical at the ponging used to be uncovered by fact not the commonalities and culture and see what then appeared consensual man. In either case the result is the same as a margin order typological approaches to scientific problems whether it be in genetics or paleontology history or sociology that has decided the differences among individuals and among groups of individuals are rendered secondary. Individuality is whose eccentricity distinctiveness is accidental deviation from the only legitimate object of study for the two scientists. The underline unchanging normative. Type. In the typological approach however a laboratory formulated and resource meta found in
living detail is drowned get stereotyped. We are in quest of a metaphysical entity. Man with a capital M. In the interest of which we sacrifice the empirical entity we in fact encounter a man with a small sacrifices However as unnecessary as it is unavailing. There is no opposition between general theoretical understanding and circumstantial understanding between synoptic vision and a fine eye for detail. It is in fact by its power to draw general propositions on a particular phenomenon that a scientific theory of the science itself is to be judged. If we want to discover what man amounts to we can only find it in what men are and what men are above all other things is very it is an understanding of various ness. Its range its nature its bases and its implications. Now we should come to construct a concept of human nature which more than a statistical shadow and less than a primitive the brain has both substance and truth.
It is here to come around finally to my title that the concept of culture has its impact upon the concept of man one seeing as a set of symbolic devices for controlling behavior. Extra somatic sources of information. Culture provides a link between what men are intrinsically capable of becoming and what they actually one by one in fact become. Becoming Human is becoming individual and we become individuals under the guidance of cultural plans historically created systems of meaning in terms which we give form order point and direction to our lives and the cultural patterns involved are not general but specific not just quote marriage but a particular set of notions about what men and women are log house cost to treat one another. Well who should probably marry whom not just religion but belief in the wheel of karma. The observance of the month of fasting or the practice of cattle sacrifice. Man has to be the fall I need about eyes and eye capacities alone as the enlightment So what to do
nor by his actual behaviors allowed as much contemporary social science is to do. But rather by the link between them. By the way in which the first is transforming the second. His generic proton Giannis focused into a specific performances it is a man's career his characteristic course. Now we can discern however dimly his nature and the culture is but one element determining the course of that career. It is hardly the least important as culture shaped us as a single species and no doubt can still shape us so to achieve to separate individuals this neither non-changing subcultural self nor an established cross-cultural consensus is what we really have in common. Many of our subjects seem to realize this a little bit more clearly we have qualities to ourselves. In Java where I have done much of my work for example the people quite flatly said to be human is to be Japanese.
Small children more simpletons the insane the flagrantly I'm robot are said to be in the wrong job. Not yet. Japanese are normally dog capable of acting in terms of the highly elaborate system that a kit that governs a society is some porn Java already Javanese and has to send humans within the society where differences are recognized to the way in which rights person becomes human Javanese difference they are recognized in the way in which a civil servant does. This is not a matter not really a matter of. Tolerance and ethical relativism. Not all ways of becoming human are regarded as equally under by far away the local Chinese go bad for example as a test of this protest. The point is that there are different words and a shift back not to the anthropologist perspective it isn't a systematic review one announces of these of the Plains Indians Brown Hindus obsessiveness the Frenchman's rationalism the Berbers and a cousin the Americans optimism a list a series of times I would not like to have to defend such but we will find out.
What it is or can be to be a man. We must in short descend into detail past the misleading attacks past the metaphysical times past the empty similarities to grasp firmly your central character not only of the various cultures but the virus individuals within each culture. If we wish to encounter humanity face to face in this area the road to the general to the revelatory simplicity of science lies to a concern with a particular the circumstantial and the concrete but a concern organized and directed in terms of a general theoretical analyses of physical evolution of nervous system functioning social organization psychological process of cultural parenting and so on that I touched upon We're talking about here and most especially of course as I also been stressing of the interplay among that is to say it lies like any genuine quest through a terrifying complexity. Leave him alone for a moment or two. Robert Lowe writes Not as one might
suspect the anthropologist for that other eccentric inquiry into the nature of man with on your horn. Leave him alone for a moment or two and you see him with his head bent down brooding brooding eyes fixed on some chip some stone some common plan the commonest thing as if it were the clue. The store guy is wrong in front of foil dissatisfying from meditation on the true and insignificant. Then over his own chips stones and common plants the anthropologist proves to form the true and significant glimpse of that or so he thinks fleetingly insecurely the disturbing changeful image of himself. You heard Clifford geard professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago as he spoke on the topic the impact of the concept of culture on the concept of man. The topic for our next and final program will be the sense of crisis.
Our speaker at that time will be James AM Redfield assistant professor of social thought at the University of Chicago. This was another in a series of lectures given at the University of Chicago to initiate a new discussion on the nature of man. The lectures will be available in book form under the title on the nature of man to be published in late fall by the University of Chicago Press. These lectures were recorded by the Office of radio and television at the University of Chicago. The programs are prepared and distributed for broadcast by national educational radio. This is the national educational radio network.
The Chicago lectures
Clifford Geertz, part 2
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University of Chicago
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program presents the second part of a speech by Clifford Geertz of the University of Chicago: "The Impact of the Concept of Culture on the Concept of Man."
Series Description
This series presents lectures given at University of Chicago, focusing on the nature of human beings, their place in the universe, and their potentialities. The lectures were also published in The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, beginning in September 1965.
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Social evolution.
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Producing Organization: University of Chicago
Speaker: Geertz, Clifford
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 65-40-5 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:19
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Chicago: “The Chicago lectures; Clifford Geertz, part 2,” 1965-10-07, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 30, 2023,
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