[From: Bruce Nevin (Fri 930430 13:05:44)]
[Dan Miller (930430.1120)]
An understanding of history is, in fact, a perception of history.
I use Herbert Blumer's words to remind myself of this. He is one of
my favorite dead sociologists. He had his flaws (big disputes with
Clark McPhail), but his idea of history was right on. He said that
the past is significant only to the extent that it is brought into the
present situation. We are not determined by history. It is a perception
(or more likely a set of them) that we may use as reference signals in
the upper levels of the hierarchy. Also, we may not use it.
The past is brought into the present in ways that do not seem to
be recognized in this discussion. Social arrangements are
historically contingent, and that is independent of our knowledge
of their history. The point is related to the distinction
between control and awareness. Most of the perceptions that we
control are perceptions of which we have no conscious awareness,
although we can choose to attend to them (which in many cases
requires special training and practice).
I will use language as an example of conventional social
arrangements, since that is my special interest and expertise.
The fact that we English-speakers use the particular
event-sequence of configuration perceptions "horse" in
association with our perceptions of a certain kind of quadruped
is a direct historical consequence of the fact that people a
thousand or two years ago in Europe said something like "hros" or
"kors" for ancestors of those animals, probably meaning at some
early stage something like "runner" (hence Latinate "cursive",
"courser", etc.). The changes in word shape over the centuries
to contemporary English were contingent upon changing social
relations--who do you talk with, what kind of person do you want
to appear like to them when you talk (out of the current and
changing inventory of socially-defined people-categories), were
your people just conquered by some folks from over the water, who
owns the horses and where do they come from, and so on. All
told, "horse" hasn't changed much in English. Some relatives
down south toward the Mediterranian preferred a different word
that became over time Latin caballus. What with those Roman
Legionnaires being such winning folks, lots of good Germanic/
Celtic speaking people took to talking the Roman way instead
(French cheval, Spanish caballo), but even after the Norman
French overran them the English speakers stuck with "horse".
They took up cavalry and cavalier, and they swapped for all kinds
of food words (pork vs. pig, beef vs. cow, etc.). Maybe if the
French had eaten horseflesh as well as frogs legs it would be
cheval on the table and horse on the hoof, who knows. Enough
plow horses in the hands of peasants, is my guess.
So today in English you can crack jokes about having a colt or
being a little hoarse, jokes that just don't make it with German
pferd (boy, they really galloped off in the faterland, didn't
they!) or French or Spanish. The jury is still out whether such
differences in word-category perception affect perception or
perceptual control. English speakers see a blue-green color
boundary in a physically unlikely place, and see the physically
much more plausible perceptual categorization of blue vs. green
by speakers of a language native to Mexico as unnatural. That's
just the way the world is, dammit--blue and green and black and
white, just so. You can't tell me that's relative, or
historically contingent, or some other liberal horse--oops,
pardon the unchivalrous language.
Can't argue with a fish about water. He'll be the expert because
he's swimming in it after all. ("Swimming in -- Are you trying
to fan off that clam spit about space being some kind of
substance again? It's just space, ain't that obvious?")
People make themselves moslems, or serbs, or WASPs (the ones who
don't label themselves except as "just people"), or whatever for
the sake of social cooperation. Being a "person like me" makes
you more predictable, there's less negotiation of basics before
we can get on with whatever we are really interested in. Helps
to explain the tenacity with which people hold to these people
categories. How else can they be a guarantee of reliability if
they aren't reliable?
The same self-categorization and advertising of category (by
dress, mannerisms, speech, etc.) that enables easier cooperation
can also be exploited in less pleasant ways. I perceive that
there are not enough resources to go around I might want "my kind
of people" to get more at the expense of "others."
To say that in PCT heaven there will be no rigidly held reference
perceptions and all will consequently be well I think overlooks
this matter of social cooperation.