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When Tokens are Not Guides But Have Manifest Results

Working from the hypothesis that tokens play an important part in cultural dynamics by helping to provide the medium for the social interaction essential to culture's functioning, a further hypothesis emerges. This is that tokens differ among themselves in their contribution to cultural dynamics, with some having distinct dangers to those dynamics built into them.

It seems likely that tokens that are not guides serve best in encouraging a productive social climate if they leave no "footprints," that is, if they do not interfere with the effectiveness of the complex of understandings in the relationships they promote. When tokens are of the sort found in the study of generational differences, the fact that they are not guides has limited consequences.

The younger Swahili can continue to act as they wish regarding clothing, demeanor, and such, despite saying, in what appears to be their "community member" status, that their own actions are both "bad" and a result of their personal shortcomings. In their statuses as young people, however, they are not bound by their public assertions of self-blame. Similarly, the older people are speaking as community members when they blame themselves for the misbehavior they report, but when they act as parents or as fellow mature men or women, they are not hampered in denouncing the youth and their behavior. The relative isolation of members of different generations from each other


outside the home renders token use less likely to cause difficulties than it would if there were more open and frequent association.

Such insulation from the consequences of asserting views in one status which are less than consistent with those taken in another, however, may not be present or effective in all situations and roles. Tuzin (1976:177) reports that among the Ilahita Arapesh, there is a widespread avowal of the virtue and commonality of fraternal co-residence but that, in fact, brothers often do not live with one another. He notes that normative statements are of a different order from descriptions of experience and that "while they [i.e., the statements of norms] appear to refer directly to experience they are actually of a different logical order, one which, up to a point, cannot be contradicted . . . by the statistics of 'real' behavior" (ibid., 197).

However, he goes on to note that continual and frequent violation of the norm, expressed as a "token" in my sense, leads to an undermining of the effectiveness of the understandings as useful guides.

These many exceptions [to the "rule" and asserted practice of fraternal co-residence], taken collectively and over the long term, pose a serious and increasing threat not only to the particular norm but to the wider set of values to which it contributes. [If group members come to perceive the invalidity of the statement that brothers live together, this] . . . would expose the prescription as starkly, massively [emphasis in original] unworkable and, by pernicious implication, invalid. Here, then, is the psychological raw material of revolutionary and counter-revolutionary ardor, of the unutterable bleakness of cultural collapse (ibid., 198).

What Tuzin's discussion of the Ilahita suggests is that tokens that are not also guides work best when they have least direct bearing on aspects of social reality manifestly at odds with the tokens' content and unavoidably perceptible by the tokens' users. If the tokens can indicate deeply important sharing between users and still offer little possibility that their referred to understandings will be seen as false, they would seem likely to be both highly effective and free from the sort of danger to shared understandings generally that Tuzin notes.[9]

The exchange of tokens serves to increase the likelihood that partners in interaction anticipate acceptable behavior from one another and, therefore, that they are willing to interact. As Tuzin's work suggests, however, tokens can produce a "crisis of faith" in the ability of those in contact with one another to predict each others' behavior. This happens if the tokens' references are to observable conditions that are manifestly contradictory to what the tokens assert.

Even when they work most effectively, tokens that are not also guides have distinct limitations on their contribution to individual satisfaction and group continuation. They can serve to make social life smoother and to encourage


participation in it, but unless they are also guides, they contribute nothing to the "business" of life. Cooking meals, treating the sick, earning a living, and the like depend on social relationships, to be sure, but these relationships need to be more than just social links. The statuses of those involved must contain substantial expectations concerning cooking and who shares the meals they prepare, how to treat illness, and the rest of the concerns addressed in the relationships. More than this, the expectations must at least sometimes be met.

Some understandings must be guides some of the time or there can be no continuing social life or any basis for individual adaptation. Despite the importance of tokens, the Swahili community has not endured for centuries on the basis of a culture limited to sources of mutual reassurance that are no more than that. The necessities of individual and social life depend on statuses whose expectations contain understandings that, if followed, lead to some sort of satisfaction. Such statuses are effective only if there is at least minimal sharing of some of their constituent understandings and at least some conformity to these.

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