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Chapter 2 Realms of Meaning
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Ubiquitous Mechanisms in World Construction

Durkheim mistakenly associated the power of ritual and sentiment too exclusively with traditional peoples. And how strange it is, given the constant religious fervor in the United States as well as the popularity of quasireligious self-improvement groups and group psychotherapy, that this mistake has been perpetuated by academic and other thoughtful treatments of modern society. From about the time of Freud's publication of The Future of an Illusion, religion and what have been regarded as its trappings, including ritual and myth and to a lesser extent symbol, have been relegated to the realm of the unenlightened, the traditional, or, at best, "folk" worlds.

Rituals of initiation provide an example. Mircea Eliado has observed


that "all pre-modern societies (that is, those that lasted in Western Europe to the end of the Middle Ages, and in the rest of the world to the First World War) accord primary importance to the ideology and techniques of initiation."[20] Most scholars minimize the importance of initiation in modern societies, although they recognize that it survives in the Christian baptism, Jewish bar and bat mitzvahs, and in other patently religious rites. What this modern point of view overlooks is that rites of initiation persist in fugitive forms.

C. G. Jung proposed, for example, that individuation, which he regarded as the ultimate goal of human life, was accomplished by ordeals which were initiatory in nature—privatized initiations, as it were, which were occurring in individual lives but were not generally recognized as what they were, and therefore were not usually discussed. Also, initiatory themes are common in artistic works, including novels, poems, works of plastic art, and film. Again, an experience once easily observed now occurs in a much less obvious way.[21]

Even more obvious forms of ritual in modern societies have not been given much scholarly notice. In a recent book, Secret Ritual and Manhood in Victorian America, a work that is one of the few that deal in a scholarly manner with the subject, Mark C. Carnes made a number of observations that seem surprising because of the lack of academic attention. Carnes noted that at the turn of the last century, between 15 and 40 percent of American men belonged to one or more of 70,000 fraternal lodges that had as their main order of business at every meeting the conduct of secret rituals. These rituals were arranged by degrees, each permitting entry into higher levels of belonging and realms of arcane knowledge. A majority of these men were middle class and often included the most influential men in a given town. Carnes quoted a contemporary observer, who wrote for the North American Review:

Members intent on "gratifying their desire" to accumulate initiatory degrees neglected work and wasted huge sums of money. He concluded that men joined the orders and attended lodges because they felt a "strange and powerful attraction" to the ritual. He explained, "There is a peculiar fascination in the unreality of the initiation, an allurement about fine 'team' work, a charm of deep potency. in the unrestricted, out-of-the-world atmosphere which surrounds the scenes where men are knit together by the closest ties, bound by the most solemn obligations to maintain secrecy."[22]

Eliade, in fact, has repeatedly argued for the "irreducibility" of religious structure, saying that sociology and anthropology are often reductionist


when they attempt to describe what are essentially religious phenomena in other terms. Modern, irreligious humans, even when they are determinedly irreligious, retain "a large stock of camouflaged myths and degenerated rituals."[23]

Why should this be so? It is because these are essential mechanisms for making sense of the world and manipulating meanings. When I board my airplane this evening, all around me will be people arguably as steeped in the rituals of exchange as any "native" group studied by anthropologists in Mesoamerica, Africa, or the Western Pacific. Their world was founded by Ford and Edison. They will be reading tales in the Wall Street Journal about demigods named William Gates and Donald Trump. The in-flight magazine will offer them products—time organizers, briefcases, plaques with inspirational phrases, books and cassettes with formulaic approaches to "management"—which will, according to advertisements, contribute to their success in what amount to magical ways. They will sleep and dream about establishing trading relations with powerful social organizations like Honda, 3M, Marriott, and Disney.

That we don't see the profoundly ritualistic nature of modern enterprises like business and science is due in no small part to the pattern laid out by Emile Durkheim . . . but more than that, to the world in which Durkheim formed his own, subsidiary world. This was the world of colonialism. Western nations developed interests in every part of the globe. This was not by any means the first time one human group had exploited others, but it had never occurred on this scale. Nor had it occurred in this way, one that was largely capitalistic. That meant that a region's resources could be transformed into money, and that this could continue as long as there was a market for those resources, or until the resources were depleted.[24]

Sociology, growing in the hothouse of colonialism, incorporated some of its basic assumptions. These assumptions provided the means, the motivation, and the justification for the exploitation of humans and the environment. Part of the justification involved the amplification of differences between exploiter and exploited human populations. These were projected in a reasonable way—rationality, after all, is a hallmark of modernity, and colonialism grew out of modernity. Sociology did not say, for example, that the exploited were infidels or innately inferior. Sociology (and anthropology) merely said that the exploited were "traditional" or "primitive" peoples. These terms, in the way they are most often used, gloss over the fact that tradition persists in the most technologically advanced societies and that modernity does not arise from a cultural vacuum, but is the result of an exaggeration of cultural character-


istics and social practices that commonly exist among largely traditional groups.

I turn on the car radio now, to punctuate the sameness of the night countryside rolling by my windows and listen to music associated with one of the exaggerated social practices of modernity. Until the juggernaut of modernity determines the course of a society, its music generally deals with religion. In contrast, music in modern societies deals most frequently with romantic or, at least, physical intimacy. Romantic love is a watershed between being "traditional" and "modern." An arranged marriage today is looked upon as a sort of barbarism. Witness the public's fascination with the mass marriages orchestrated by religious cults. In fact, we accept as a hallmark of cults what these marriages demonstrate: the subordination of individual choice to that of the group. Romantic love establishes a person's independence from group authority. Parental authority is the archetype for this. I reflect that many of the fairy tales to which my daughter is exposed tell the story of a princess who falls in love with someone the king thinks to be inappropriate.

But romantic love, as the Romantic poets and other artists have pointed out many times, is a particularly thorny rose. Right now on the car radio a singer is lamenting his "achy-breaky heart" in a song that has been the one most frequently played for the past month on a jukebox in a La Junta restaurant, according to a waitress I talked with earlier today. I can believe that; I heard it three times during lunch. Romantic love well represents the problems faced by those who utilize reembedding strategies of the sort needed to maintain one's bearings in the modern world of change and movement. In societies usually described as traditional, each person is embedded by affinity to place, kin, and others with whom one cooperates throughout the course of one's life. Religion offers a poetic expression of these connections. With the collapse of the traditional community as a familiar place that offers daily opportunities for the face-to-face, often ritual interactions that reinforce one's place in the world, one must select "access points" to the modern social network.

These access points are relationships with others, and because there are in the modern world relatively few, one invests a much greater portion of one's attentions and energies to them than one would have to any single relationship in a traditional society. Friendship and, even more, romantic love require a level of intimacy rare in the traditional world, where such relationships are to a much greater degree prescribed. These intimate relationships are notoriously difficult to maintain—hence the singer's chronically "achy-breaky heart." As Giddens has said:


Personal trust demands a level of self-understanding and self-expression which must itself be a source of psychological tension. For mutual self-revelation is combined with the need for reciprocity and support; yet the two are frequently incompatible. Torment and frustration interweave themselves with the need for trust in the other as the provider of care and support.[25]

"Self"-knowledge, then, is a prerequisite for this and many other tactical maneuvers in the overall strategy of reembedding. It involves the knack of looking at all parts of the world "objectively" and of expressing one's operant principles and the facts pertinent to the phenomena in question (a relationship, or whatever it might be) in explicit ways. The linguist Basil Bernstein has called this an "elaborated" mode of communication and has marshalled evidence that indicates that this form of communication is learned, and learned primarily through the relationships a person has had in his or her family of origin. Families in which one's influence upon others is structured largely according to traditionally determined roles typically do not engage in explicit forms of communication; Bernstein calls this a "restricted" mode. On the other end of this communication continuum are families in which influence is determined by the content of speech, families which communicate in the "elaborated" mode. Communication in the latter families has more frequently to do with principle and fact, and less frequently to do with familial obligations.[26] The person in a family or a society which does not have habitual practices (and beliefs about the operation of the world) appropriate to modernity will likely experience difficulty with reembedding in the modern world. And reembedding will become increasingly necessary for each individual as modernity continues to make inroads all over the globe, as the juggernaut careens on its way.

I have borrowed the term "juggernaut of modernity" from Anthony Giddens, who comments that "the term comes from the Hindi Jagannath[*], 'lord of the world,' and is a title of Krishna; an idol of this deity was taken each year through the streets on a huge cart, which followers are said to have thrown themselves under, to be crushed beneath the wheels."[27] With this image in mind, the term conveys even better some of the awesome power of modernity. This power is especially evident in transitional societies all over the globe in which populations from the countryside are rushing headlong into urban areas, where they exist in poverty. and escalating anomie.

Pierre Bourdieu, an eminent sociologist, has looked at such societies, those in transition from "traditional" to "modern" status, including his


own. About France, generally regarded as a modern nation by others in the world, many have observed that traditional values hold close sway over the peasantry even to the present. In the 1960s, Bourdieu investigated an increasing dissatisfaction among peasants that so many of their young people were unable to find marriage partners. These unattached individuals were termed "celibate." The poignancy, of their condition had provoked the attention of the urban population in France (among whom it is somewhat fashionable to be able to claim peasant roots).

Bourdieu's research showed, surprisingly, that marriage was no less frequent among the peasantry in the 1960s than it had been in 1881. The dissatisfaction among the peasantry resulted from changes in demographic patterns of marriage and in changes in attitudes about celibacy. In the past, the youngest children had frequently emigrated to find marriage partners or had remained celibate, living with and caring for their parents as the parents aged. Marriages were less likely to be arranged for the youngest children. Because marriages were arranged, peasants had no need to develop skills required by courtship—in other words, to be able to present the "self" attractively to the opposite sex. When marriages were no longer arranged, those who married were those who had best mastered these skills, and these individuals could as well be the youngest in a family as any other in the birth order. Contributing even more to the dissatisfaction was that once the traditional pattern had been broken, there was no longer social recognition and support for the role of the celibate who cared for his or her parents during old age. The traditional order had changed, and those displaced had been unable to secure a position in the new one.[28]

Those who are threatened by modern practices and values but have less connection to the net of global modernity. are in even worse positions. French peasants, after all, garner respect through the nostalgia of the more urban populations of the country, and they participate in the economy, sometimes in characteristically "French" ways, as with the production of wine or other "French" products, that resonate with nationalistic sentiment. But what of those relegated by the shade of colonialism to the status of "pure" primitives?

Bourdieu terms these groups the "sub-proletariat." These groups, such as those he studied in Algeria, live in traditional countries undergoing modernization. They become estranged from their customary lives and eventually must seek out work to obtain capital. Having few or none of the habits associated with modernity, they consider employment to be a result


of luck, like winning the lottery. One of the habits the sub-proletariat has not developed is the exercise of applying rational analysis to the "objective" world, and so these people do not have the means by which to understand the basis of their position. It is among such groups that anomie is especially rife. Observing this, Bourdieu predicted that they might "slip into complete disaffection, marginality, and despair which might be fueled into militancy by self-seeking demagogues, or they might be encouraged positively to participate in the construction of a new society which would integrate their old values with modern, capitalist pressures."[29]

How interesting it is to consider Bourdieu's comment about Algeria in the 1960s in terms of the position of the Cheyenne in the early nineteenth century, as well as that of the Mexican peons to the south of the Arkansas River at that time. The Cheyenne world, in a manner of speaking, had fallen apart many times prior to the 1833 meteor shower, and each time the Cheyenne were faced with the task of piecing it back together. The most vulnerable to the plagues introduced by Europeans during the previous centuries, and so the first to die, were the old and the young. These were, respectively, the past and the future of the Cheyenne, both necessary to a meaningful present. In societies without writing, the old were key to the propagation of culture. The old were keepers of the mechanisms whereby the knowledge could be inculcated to society at large—the myths and the rituals. The young, as in all cultures, were the rebirth of the world; without them there was only death. There have been few more militant groups in history than the Cheyenne, who had risen from despair determined to defend as much as possible of their culture.

The most important Cheyenne leaders were charismatic ones, those who possessed "medicine." In an uncharitable mood an anthropologist might term them demagogues. Such leadership, no matter how it is termed, led the Cheyenne to a position that for a time was "embedded" in global modernity, as middlemen in a global exchange network. When the juggernaut of modernity careened in a different direction, however, the Cheyenne were excluded.

The Hispanics in New Mexico were not so easily dislodged. Marginalized first by New Spain and then by Mexico, their response to the American-borne expansion of modernity was not militancy but one that did, in fact, "integrate their old values with modern, capitalist pressures." But the Hispanics did not suffer at the hands of the Anglo newcomers as did the Cheyenne, in ways that denied their status as human beings.


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Chapter 2 Realms of Meaning
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