Beyond Culture

Hall, Edward T. 1989. Beyond Culture. New York: Anchor Books.

In all these crises, the future depends on man's being able to transcend the limits of individual cultures. To do so, however, he must first recognize and accept the multiple hidden dimensions of unconscious culture, because every culture has its own hidden, unique form of unconscious culture. (Hall 1989: 2)
This brings us to an important quostion that has grown in my mind throughout my lifetime. It has to do with our underlying attitudes toward ourselves. I am not speaking of something superficial, which can be easily observed or experienced, but something deeper and more subtle than what appears on the surface. The question is: Why are most people so unnecessarily hard on themselves? Why do they not make better use of their talents? It is as thought we nurtured the child that is in all of us and, in being childish, were afraid of each other. This is not a simple problem, and it may be worldwide. Certainly the human species has not begun to tap its potential and half suspecting this deficiency, we blame everyone and everything except the real culprit. (Hall 1989: 3-4)
This book suggests another alternative, namely that once people began evolving their extensions, particularly language, tools and institutions, they got caught in the web of what I term "extensional transference" (Chapter 2), and as a consequence, they err in judgment and become alienated from and incapable of controlling the monsters they have created. In this sense, humans have advanced at the expense of that part of themselves that has been extended, and as a consequence ended up repressing human nature in its many forms. Man's goal from this point should be to rediscover that lost, alienated natural self. (Hall 1989: 4)
Because we have put ourselves in our own zoo, we find it difficult to break out. Since people can't fight institutions on which their lives depend, the result is that first they unconsciously turn their anger inward then later outward. (Hall 1989: 6)
Powerlessness and lack of self-affirmation lead to aggression, as repeatedly asserted by psychologists and psychiatrists. Psychological powerlessness is the result of past events, but situational and cultural powerlessness are here and now. Blacks and other minorities rioted in recent years because they saw themselves as powerless to make the system work. There is no other way to explain the incredible outbursts of rage triggered by the assassination of Martin Luther King or the "incursion" into Cambodia. The groundwork has been laid long before, but it was suddenly and overwhelmingly apparent to minority groups. (Hall 1989: 6-7)
A massive cultural literacy movement that is not imposed, but which springs from within is called for. We can all benefit from a deeper knowledge of what an incredible organism we really are. We can grow, swell with pride, and breathe better for having so many remarkable talents. To do se, however, we must stop ranking both people and talents and accept that there are many roads to truth and no culture has a corner on the path or is better equipped than others to search for it. Furthermore, no man can tell another how to conduct that search. (Hall 1989: 7)
The delusional aspects have to do with the institutionalized necessity to control "everything," and the widely accepted notion that the bureaucrat knows what is best; never for a moment does he doubt the validity of the bureaucratic solutien. It is also slightly insane, or at least indicative of our incapacity to order priorities with any common sense, to spend thousands of dollars for helicopters, gasoline, and salaries for the sole purpose of bureaucratic neatness. (Hall 1989: 11)
The psychoanalyst Laing is convinced that the Western world is mad. These stories of the dog and the kite fliers bolster Laing's view and symbolize man's plight as well as any recent events I know. However, it is not man who is crazy so much as his institutions and those culture patterns that determine his behavior. We in the West are alienated from ourselves and from nature. We labor under a number of delusions, one of which is that life makes sense, i.e., that we are sane. (Hall 1989: 11)
All theoretical models are incomplete. By definition, they are abstraction and therefore leave things out. What they leave out is as important as, if not more important than, what they do not, because it is what is left out that gives structure and form to the system. Models have a half life - some are ephemeral, others last for centuries. There are highly explicit models, while others are so much a part of life as to be unavailable for analysis except under very special circumstances. (Hall 1989: 14)
Technically, the model of culture on which my work is based is more inclusive than those of some of my colleagues. My emphasis is on the nonverbal, unstated realm of culture. While I do not exclude philosophical systems, religion, social organization, language, moral values, art, and material culture, I feel it is more important to look at the way things are actually put together than at theories. (Hall 1989: 16)
Possibly, this restriction of context explains in part the difficulty that American enterprises have in adapting to other time systems. An economist once told me that Eskimos working for fish cannery in Alaska thought factory whistles were ridiculous. The idea that men would work or not work because of a whistle seemed to them sheer lunacy. For the Eskimo, the tides determined what men did, how long they did it, and when they did it. Tide out meant one set of activities; tide in, another. This same man later worked in a alarge international ageny and observed in himself signs of stress resulting from futile attempts to gear his own productivity, particularly its creative aspects, to a time schedule. Finally, convinced that it was impossible to schedule creativity, he gave up trying and compromised by adopting a schedule in which there were periods when he was tied to a adesk and handled trivia, followed by other periods in which he worked around the clock. One wonders how many individuals who have been forced to adjust to eight-hour, nine-to-five schedules have sacrificed their creativity, and what the secial and human cost of this sacrifice has been. (Hall 1989: 21)
A story of the evolution of the bowerbird is complex and subtle. What we learn from it is that once the bird begins to evolve by extension, evolutien speeds up, as is the case with man. It is no longer necessary to wait for the slower forces of natural selection to work. In the case of the bowerbird, according to Gillard it is possible to "...cross into a new adaptive zone, ..." which is precisely what man has done, only more completely. (Hall 1989: 26)
It is also paradoxical that extensional systems - se flexible at first - frequently become quite rigid and difficult to change. Confusion between the extension and the processes that have been extended can explain some but not all of this rigidity. Older readers may remember when English teachers tried to convince them that the real language was the written language, of which the spoken language was merely a watered-down, adulturated version. Actually, the spoken language is the primary extension. The written language is a second-generation extension. The spoken language is a symbolization of something that happened, could have happened, or is in the process of happening, while the written language is a symbolization of the spoken language. The fact that the written lanigage is a symbolization of symbolization does not mean that the writing system is not something in its own right, just as mathematics is a system in its own right, independent of computations in the head. (Hall 1989: 28)
Now, writing as a way of thinking is not extraordinary. Many of us, who do not carry words in our heads, think this way by translating our thoughts into written words. For Zasetsy, however, it was the only way he could think. His case simply drives home the point because there was no other way. Because the written word stands still - like a block of marbxle being carved by a sculptor - it is then possible to work on a thought until it takes form and can stand on its own feet and in the process tell us something about ourselves. (Hall 1989: 30)
Public and private education is another example of the lenghts ET distortions can go. Not only children but people of all ages have the capacity to learn naturally. What is more, learning can be its own reward. Like eating and sex, the drive to learn is powerful indeed. Yet the process has been distorted in the minds of the educators, who have confused what they call education with learning. The popular notion is that the schools contain the learning and their job is somehow to get the learning into the child. In the United States, the process of distortion in education has progressed to a point comparable to sex in Freud's nineteen-century Vienna. A natural, powerful, pleasurable drive that binds people to each other is not only feared but hated, which may explain same of the attitudes tomard the intellectual in our country.
There are, however, many ways as well as conditions in which people learn. For millions of years, man and his predecessors learned without the benefit of schools. Modern education has left us with the illusion that a lot is known about learning, that real learning goes on in the school, anh that if it doesn't happen in a school or under the aegis of a school (like the year abroad), it has no validity. Holt, Kozol, Illich, and others have written about this process. Education is simply one more instance of man's having developed an elaborate extension (in this case, complex institutions) to do and presumably enhance what he once did for himself quite naturally. (Hall 1989: 35)
Just as the knife cuts but does not chew, while the lens does only a portion of what the eye can do, extensions are reductionist in their capability. No matter how hard it tries, the human race can never fully replace what was left out of extensions in the first place. Also, it is just as important to know what the system will do. Yet the extension-omissions side is frequently overlooked. (Hall 1989: 37)


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