[lit-ideas] Re: on the home front

  • From: "John McCreery" <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 12 Aug 2008 21:47:54 +0900

On Tue, Aug 12, 2008 at 3:53 PM, Eric Yost <mr.eric.yost@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:

> >>Variant 1: We're all the same in different ways.  Variant 2:  We're all
> different in the same way.
> Then who is "we"?

Eric's question points to a third set of answers, three instead of two,
formulated by the American anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn: All human beings
are, in some respects, like all other people; in other respects like some
other people; and in yet other respects uniquely themselves.

"Like all other people" points to basic, primarily biological facts: We are
featherless bipeds that exhibit a rough bilateral symmetry; we are
warm-blooded mammals, conceived by sexual intercourse and born to mothers
whose milk can feed us; we speak some language that shares universal
features with other languages, that sort of thing.

"Uniquely ourselves points to another basic biological fact, that the number
of possible combinations of human genes is larger than the number of
electrons in the visible universe, so we each, even identical twins, start
with a somewhat different set whose results are further differentiated by
the accidents of experience.

Between them likes "like some other people," which points to the particular
language, culture, customs, habits and notions of how society works that
depend on growing in up in one or another group, the fact that makes Eric's
"Who is 'we'?" important.

How important is, of course, a matter much debated. Those addicted to the
market fundamentalism that permeates so much of modern thinking tend to see
only unique individuals constrained by universal facts embodied in biology.
A bit more sophisticated view recognizes the importance of "we" and of
issues like whether "we" is a small and relatively simple group whose
members all agree on how life should be lived or a place like New York City,
where people of diverse views must find ways to co-exist or succumb to a war
of all against all.



John McCreery
The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN
Tel. +81-45-314-9324

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