The Phatic Animal

La Barre, Weston 1954. The Human Animal. Chicago : University of Chicago Press.

The gibbons are very interesting to students of man in another direction. Most of the mammals have highly developed listening, for protection from their enemies. Some of them, both preying and preyed upon, have occasional production of sound which serves one or another biological purpose of communication. But this inter-communication among individual animals is heightened to such an extent in gibbons that it can only be fairly characterized as vocalization. for the gregarious gibbons are, if anything, even noisier than bands of monkeys. The white-cheeked gibbon, for example, has a voice of great compass, and one type at least has a vocal sac which appears to have some functional connection with vocalization.
It is not only in volume and in incessant use that gibbon vocalization is remarkable. Boutan has observed give vocal expressions for states of satisfaction or well-being, four indicating states of illness or fear, four of an intermediate state, and one used when the animal is in a state of great excitement - a total of fourteen distinguishable vocalizations. These vocalizations, however, do not have the value of words. They are, rather, expressions of vague notions or awareness of agreeable, disagreeable, or dangerous situations and events. But it is at least a "pseudo-language," if we are careful to define what we mean by this. Perhaps it may best be characterized as "phatic" communication, that is, it succeeds in spreading information about an individual animal's state of mind, or it communicates a generalized emotional tone through the band so that all its members come to have the same attitude toward a situation. Sometimes it binds the group to biologically useful common action - as when one group of gibbons asserts a claim of territorialism and, by this kind of vocalized warning or bluff, substitutes for an otherwise necessary physical clash between groups in protecting its foodstuffs. (La Barre 1954: 57)
Thus, "phatic" communication is understood as vocalization that constitutes "pseudo-language". In effect this definition is more closer to Morris's communization, since the emphasis is on sharing "a generalized emotional tone" (mood?). The result of "the same attitude toward a situation" is a very useful conception, for it falls smack dab in the "definition of the situation" dimension but in a nonverbal way.
The usefulness of gibbon "phatic" communication should not be underestimated. Indeed, it is no easy cynicism but a sober statement of fact, that a quite surprising amount of human communication remains strictly phatic, for all its employment of articulate words. For example, the purpose of poetry, notoriously, is to communicate feeling - to make the hair stand up on the back of the neck or to stimulate fantasy so that we feel communication has taken place when it has not ("Life like a dome of many-colode glass stains the white radiance of eternity") - and not to make genuine or verifiable statements about the structure of the universe. But also much, if not most, of the language of lovers, advertising, political argument, philosophy, theology, and (as with the gibbons) the diplomatic démarche has no necessary relationship to objective realities outside the speakers but only to emotional states within them. Indeed, in each of these cases, objective statements of fact would not serve to secure the desired purpose! Thus even the most articulate of the primates, man, still often uses phatic communication. Gibbon talk is at least a kind of social hormone, to communicate emotion and to unify band action. Gibbons stamp with joy and displeasure; and so do we. For the rest, the gibbon seems to be a standard primate, since its adaptations of senses, physique, temperament, band organization, and vocalization alike are suited to quick flight rather than to aggression - or even to defense, though a band may attack in concert if one of its members is molested. (La Barre 1954: 58)
Here La Barre seems to conflate emotional and nonverbal communication in the sense of vocalizations. I think I've met the phrase, "a quite surprising amount of human communication remains strictly phatic", before somewhere.
This we say advisedly; for it is probably only the state of his mind about which even the most articulate gibbon is able to inform his public. Careful studies of the white-cheeked gibbon (Hylobates leucogenys) have disclosed a gamut of expressions which might roughly be translated into human speech. Five of them would correspond to "mmmmm" (meaning, roughly, "ti kai" or generally OK), four to "ow" (definitely "boohow," "kaccha," or "not up to snuff"), four to "hmmm" (non-committal attention), and one to "yippee" ("wow!"). But none of these, however, when closely examined, can be said to have the semantic status of true words. They are at best vague "phatic" communications, which convey no detailed information about the structure of the universe; they are actually no more than unclassified intelligence concerning the individual ape's physiological or emotional state. All that is conveyed, quite literalyl, is a "tone of voice." Even the "conversations" of the ape Senate or Union League club probably do no moret han set and maintain the relaxed emotional tone of the group, well-fed, free from danger, and uninterested either in sexuality or in fighting on a mild morning. (The conversation of human adolescents commenting on the infinitely varied passing world also consists, almost exclusively, in such group-conformity-making pejoratives, encomiastics, and intensificatives - though some hard-pressed parents have been known to state that the total number of expressions does not reach the white-cheeked gibbon's fourteen.) (La Barre 1954: 165)
This "non-committal attention" is also characteristic of phatic communion more broadly understood (e.g. channel maintenance or contact prolongation through head nods and other so-called "go-on" signals). La Barre's interpretation of the referential function is interesting: phatic utterances do not "have the semantic status as true words" and phatic speech "convey[s] no detailed information about the structure of the universe". I'll have to contend with these definitions in due time. The comment on "group-conformity-making pejoratives" is very much in line with the study of vocatives amongst various human adolescent groups, and there too we find an emphasis on "the atmosphere of sociability" or what La Barre seems to interpret as setting and maintaining "the relaxed emotional tone of the group".
In spite of their lavish use of vocalization, sight is nevertheless more important for communication among tree-living primates. As the Yerkes say, "Mutual understanding and transfer of experience among apes are dependent rather on vision than on hearing, for the animal reads the mind of its fellow, interprets attitude, and foresees action rather as does the human deaf-mute than as the normal person who listens and responds to linguistic vocalization." Apes don't tell each other much. Our great and largely unaware dependence upon speech-cues highlights this marked difference. A blind monkey would be much more out of things mentally (to say nothing of physically) than would a blind man - and all because of the existence of human speech. Likewise, a merely deaf monkey would be much less incapacitated socially than a deaf man is. Light thus remains the most important sense, even socially, in the infra-human primates. (La Barre 1954: 165-166)
This is probably true, but negates human nonverbal communication to a degree. This "Mutual understanding and transfer of experience" occurs among humans through visual means as well. Notice that when "the animal reads the mind of its fellows, interprets attitude, and foresees action" this is once again the classical triad: cognitive (reading minds), emotive (interpteting attitude), and conative (foreseeing action).
It is the sociability of animals that is behind the possibility of even phatic communication among them; and speech could never originate in a solitary animal. In fact, vocalization among primates roughly increases with their gregariousness. It is also much on a par with the vocalization of other herding animals; but since the primates need these danger-warning cues even more than do land animals (who have various other defenses and also a better sense of smell), this is doubtless the reason the primates have developed vocalization to such a great extent. But, even so, the best vocalizations of the most gregarious gibbons are not speech. (La Barre 1954: 166)
The consequent implication is that humans are very "sociable" animals for having such a great variety of phatics (or means of communion). The phrase "speech could novere originate in a solitary animal" again sounds like something I've read numerous times elsewhere.
What seems to be needed (when we make the proper biological comparisons) is not mere animal association as such, but specifically human social organization: nuclear families within a large society. Primate horde society is too diffuse in its relationships for incipient semantics to "jell." No doubt the speech of proto-humans was still largely phatic in nature. Indeed, a surprising amount of human speech - political, diplomatic, economic, social, theological, philosophical, aesthetic, and amatory - still remains largely phatic (communicating or seeking to induce merely an endocrine state, emotional state, or manipulable "state of mind"), for all its pretenses at semantic respectability. (La Barre 1954: 166)
The argument is that social organization is necessary for the development of semantic communication. The condition of a system of relationships for a semiotic system to develop probably "jells" well for sociosemiotics. But consider the definition of "phatic" in La Barre's exposition: "communicating or seeking to induce merely an endocrine state, emotional state, or manipulable "state of mind"". This definition takes the "atmosphere of sociability" aspect to the extreme. (It can be noted that perhaps a good idea for generalizing phatic approaches is to divide Malinowski's text into compartmentalized arguments and see how these are emphasized, developed and transformed by various authors.)
But what is needed for the growth of language is clear:
  1. Commonly experienced contexts of meaning, the particularities of which are not too immediately destroyed in the diffuseness of a group.
  2. Extremely close organic-phatic libidinal ties, to bring about the blandly accepted, the multiple taken-for-granted agreements which inhere in and make up all arbitrary semantic communication.
  3. Long-continued, stable, and intense emotional ties for the repeated experience of contexts by the same particular individuals.
  4. An infantilized animal whose exaggerated dependence on adults of the same species makes them his primary "environment" during the long time after birth when he is being shaped for essential membership in the species - that new generations may take on the "domesticated," non-real symbolic systems of the adults.
  5. An animal with a large brain, and not merely large but "fetalized," i.e., uncommitted as yet to mechanical instincts (the bodily-inherited past experience of the species); a brain with "neurobiotactical" freedom to learn, to structure its growth on its experience, to built its nature out of its nurture - since no language and no symbol system that any human mind ever worked in is in its content "instinctual."
All these conditions are encountered only in Homo sapiens. Humans alone are fetalized, domesticated hyper-mammals with the necessary oral-dependent and intensified sexual traits; the human brain alone is huge precisely in those associated areas that show persistent coping with human symbol-synthesis; and humans alone have the necessary social organization of society inclosing the nuclear family. (La Barre 1954: 166-167)
What a meritorious list! "Commonly experienced contexts of meaning" by itself holds tremendous amounts of potential for theorizing the phatic-contextual dimension. "Long-continued, stable, and intense emotional ties" come up in relation with family and friend relationships. The bit about "non-real symbolic systems" seems value-laden but probably justified (i.e. political, diplomatic, economic, social, theological, philosophical and aesthetic symbol systems whose "unrealness" consists in "multiple taken-for-granted agreements"). The concept of "neurobiotactical" freedom would probably excite those who deal with "semiotic freedom" or the semiotics of learning in general. Hyper-mammals?
More than that, the phatic conditions are still visible in the human family. Many mere males have noted in bewilderment the acute phatic prescience of a mother when her child is concerned: she somehow knows when it is hungry and when it has had enough; when it is thirsty and when it is soiled; and when it is tired, ill, or merely in a bad temper. Close emotional concern, endlessly repeated contexts, the ifant's idiosyncracies of expression, and the mother's own organic reception all give her a large and continuing intelligence about the child. The phatic closeness of lovers also commonly reaches fantastic extremes of precision. And a wise husband in time learns he can hide nothing from the phatic prescience of "feminine intuition" of an experienced wife, who understands him all too well. (La Barre 1954: 167)
Despite shifting the meaning of "phatic" to vocila communication, this passage makes a lot of sense even when read in a Jakobsonian manner. The mother's "acute phatic prescience" with regard to her child could just as well be understood in the perticular sense of interpreting vocal cues as well as in the general sense of mother having a strong tie with her baby. Likewise, "the phatic closeness of lovers" can refer to both qualities of vocal cues as well as to the strong psychological connection between lovers (or even the physical channel, in which case phatic becomes "haptic").
By contrast with apes (who, moreover, have no genuine semantic communication whatever), the great social burden that even phatic verbalization still bears in humans is quite enormous. Nothing is more infuriating to some people than a spouse who does not keep up even a reasonably intermittent flow of phatic reply, but holds to an unpermitted and thoroughly suspect emotional privacy. And at a really successful party, after the second drink any initial pretense at intellectual commerce begins to collapse into phatic nudges, pats, punches, pawing, and verbal face-making. Nor is anyone fooled into believing that an exchange of polite opinions about the weather between two thoroughly sober people has any real concern with or bearing upon current or proximate meteorological events: in this, people are taking the temperature and assessing the humidity of the inter-individual weather, not the earthly. (La Barre 1954: 167-168)
Hmm, "a reasonably intermittent flow of phatic reply" is a social demand. But "[holding] to an unpermitted and thoroughly suspect emotional privacy" is very much a characterization of the three-day silence between Pauline and Arthur after a row. La Barre is being ever so witty in the latter remark about "inter-individual weather". This is where the "atmosphere" of sociability takes on a deeper meaning.
Constant association alone, with the only feeble emotional ties, can commonly carry the burden of much new phatic context. Even with a constant companion like a college room-mate - who has attended the same classes, read the same books, seen the same entertainments, and knows the same people - one can convey incredible amounts of meaning and evoke large constellations of understanding merely by a breath noise, a certainly moret han "non-committal" grunt, a lifted eyebrow, a modulated cough, or a minimal body movement. Everyone also knows how often new sub-languages or argots arise among secretive ingroups like criminals, adolescents, and others with their own special libidinal ties. (La Barre 1954: 168)
And this is where he ventures into the topic of private signs. Although these remarks concern nonverbal communication and what Wescott terms strepital communication (sounds made by body movements), he is on to something very true (something a long inhabitant of dormitories can attest to).
In these ingroups the emphasis is on exclusiveness - the same which is provided in the family unit. But in all these ingroups, phatic communication is built on a semantic language already in existence and available; hence they are not quite appropriate examples. So far as the family, too, is concerned, communications might remain wholly phatic and nonce-events that happen only once - to disappear with contexts and to die with its members. What is needed for semantic speech is a de-emotionalizing of private phatic language to make it common coinage. To be sure, phatic communication of attitudes is necessary for the very existence of the family; but meanwhile, as the individual family continues to exist, these learned habitual and familiar situations become more and more burdened by common memory of specific contexts, more and more colored by individual personal idiosyncracy, and richer and richer in private emotional connotation. It is only the further necessities of inter-family communication - in the flux of cyclic break-up and re-formation of the family - that force the private and the ineffable to become the public means of common understanding. Once again, it is only the human kind of social organization, of the integrated, stable, close family within the framework of a larger non-familial society - both deriving from the oedipal situation and universal incest-taboos - that uniquely satisfies this precondition. (La Barre 1954: 168-169)
And here it gets weird, as La Barre reminds us that he is psychoanalytically inclined. But the point about exclusiveness is valid, and this is what Blanco emphasizes in her treatment of the phatic construction of community.
The late Edward Sapir, one of the greatest minds of our generation, has with characteristic insight described the pure linguistic aspects of this process:
It is likely that most referential symbols go back to unconsciously evolved symbolisms saturated with emotional quality, which gradually took on a purely referential character as the linked emotion dropped out of the behavior in question. Thus shaking the fist at an imaginary enemy becomes a dissociated and finally a referential symbol for anger when no enemy, real or imaginary, is actually intended. When this emotional denudation takes place, the symbol becomes a comment, as it were, on anger itself and a preparation for something like language. What is ordinarily called language may have had its ultimate root in just such dissociated and emotionally denuded cries, which originally released emotional tension.
Both the evolutionary and the individual life-history evidence fully support Sapir in the thesis that phatic communication precedes the semantic. (Something like this, in fact, seems already to have occurred in one of the vocalizations of gibbons studied in Siam: when one gibbon band meets another at the edge of their respective territories, both bands use this cry, which ranges from the pseudo-angry to the apparently murderous - but with no accompanying openly belligerent action. This mutual vocal abuse is a symbolic substitute for action, a statement in inter-band diplomacy which has much the same function as a politico-economic treatise establishing historic legal title to territories.) But always the nonce-communications of emotion must be transformed into a symbolic gesture of reference: the "m-m-m" of rich personal connotation must become the "good" of widen and more impersonal denotation. (La Barre 1954: 169)
He returns to his discussion of other primates, but not before quoting Edward Sapir on the "denudement" of phatic signs into semantic ones by means that closely resembles "cue reduction" from animal communication studies.
All human languages have sound, sense, and structure. In the last chapter we looked at the first two of these. We saw that, once people have phonemic systems, they do not even make the same kind of noises. And once they have vocabularies, they do not even make the same sense out of the same universe. That is to say, the speech sounds men make are no more similar in different societies than are the sound-improvisations of two individual babies. In fact, any baby makes more experimental noises by far than any language seems to need; all babies have to be caught young, so to speak, and taught to narrow down their alphabet to fit that of their own social group. And as far as sense goes, humans had already made the fatal step, once they had left purely phatic communication for articulate language. Phatic communication is fairly close to universal human biology; and so long as only phatic communication is attempted, even apes in different hordes can manage to understand each other. But once societies try to make semantic sense out of things, the confusion of Babel is upon us: we not only make different sets of sounds, but in our vocabularies we even refuse to look at the world in the same way. (La Barre 1954: 187)
I wonder if "sound, sense, and structure" accord to Wescott's phonic, phatic, and phemic; or with whatever categories Austin designated, for that matter. If so, then there is basis for viewing this as a continuous tradition, a "third" major sector in opposition to Malinowski's phatic communion and Jakobson's phatic function.
But primitive people (primarily for lack of writing) lack sufficient "communication" with their own intellectual history to have much perspective on or moral sophisticated about their problems - just as a child lacks the experience of a long life-history, which might help him to get bearings on himself and his predicaments. Psychotics in a sense are still imprisoned in their childhood: they are still using now-inadequate old ways of solving new problems, and they are relatively cut off from the other humans and a current clear experience of the real world, both of which might help them with their problems. Now "primitive" men (those who lack writing) are not children. Nor are they psychotics either. Each of these - primitive, child, and psychotic - is in a different human situation or predicament and may not immediately be compared with any other. But all of them share three things in their predicaments:
  1. They do not have (or have not yet achieved) an adequate communication with their fellows - other tribes, intellectual predecessors, and contemporary age-mates, respectively.
  2. They have too small a stock of technological solutions and ego-controls relative to their unresolved life-problems.
  3. And they have insufficient critically-assessed large knowledge of the real world as it is, relative to the great amount of special edited "knowledge" of "reality" they have got from the few immediate humans who have shaped them.
This means that in each case, when feeble ego-controls fail, they must fall back on magical control of reality - the sacred cult, the day-dream, and the psychosis - though in other ways primitives, children, and psychotics are vastly different. In their relative inexperience of the variety of humans and of human beliefs, they all tend to turn inward upon their own limited resources: the primitive to his sacred tribalism, the child to his narcisisstic self and body, and the psychotic to the inward resources of his autistic thinking. Thus the primitive's culture, the child's unstable personality, and the psychotic's mental illness all partake of the nature of a defense-mechanism against anxiety in the face of unresolved problems - and in this there is danger of losing touch with reality. But also tribalism, narcissism, and psychosis all separate humans from their potential fellows. Nevertheless, even primitive tirbalism is the result of mutually threatened men's joining together, though their cultural "solution" may be partly or wholly magical; the child's emergent personality is an increasing awareness of the reality of other human personalities and of his increasing emotional integration with them; and even the symbolizing activity of the psychotic is something initially learned from his human fellows - and in all of these there is some good, becasue they contain some aspect of present or potential communication. All of us (did we but remember it) have passed through a peiod of magical thinking, when we hesitated between the gratification of the Pleasure Principle of the organism and a necessary allegiance to the Reality Principle of the environment - and we are all human together.
Every human growth is an integration. Thus culture is in part a means that people have of sharing one another's emotional burdens. A sound personality is an insistence upon the dignity of the self and its needs and an equal respect for the reality of other people and of the outside world. Only the psychotic is lost - unless through another person's love he can learn to respect both his human self and the real world of other people and of things. Each integration, whether in a culture or in a personality, is the result of a favorable balance between respect for the self (narcissism) and respect for the other (object-love) - and each is the result of largely inarticulate phatic communication with others. And each disintegration into a psychosis is the result of self-hatred and fear of the self, and hatred and fear of others and of reality. The worst illness that a human being can know is not to know that he belongs.
Anthropologists have a technical term for the successful culture-innovator, the "culture hero." It is he (often become mythical and often built up from a number of actual human beings) who is credited with having first invented all the tribe's useful arts and with having given them their economic, marital, and other social institutions. Now it is conceivable that the psychotic in many cases is a potential culture hero who has not succeeded in communicating with his fellows - an individual sorely pressed by current and common problems to make fantastic solutions for which his fellows have no appetite. And certainly, judged on their products, there are plenty of culture heroes (Hitler is an example) whom in other cultures find it hard to assess as other than plainly psychotic. For the distinction between the "culture hero" and the "psychotic" lies, in any absolute sense, not within themselves but only in their social context: Hitler might have been locked up permanently in England or America as a certified paranoiac - instead of only temporarily, as he was under the Weimar Republic, and as a political prisoner. Nor does the distinction lie qualitatively in their products: "paranoid" it may have been, but Naziism was a genuine culture - though hardly lasting the thousand years predicted of it. Qualitatively there is no discernable differente in content between a culture and a psychosis. The only objective or operational criterion is quantitative: the number of their respective communicants. This is no doubt an alarming statement, thus to equate cultures with psychoses. and do not all cultures allege their own categorical rightness - anyway ours must be right! But cultures and psychoses are identical in these ways: qualitativel, in being symbol-systems; functionally, in being anxiety-allaying; and also operationally, in being mere human hypotheses to be tested by reference to the real world. (La Barre 1954: 244-246)
I had to record this 2 and a half page passage because firstly there are a lot of points of convergence with Jurgen Ruesch and secondly if we are to analyze phatic communication in Rich & Morty (which is still just a thought), then this passage could serve as a guide towards analyzing Rick's personality as either psychopath or culture hero. The bit about integration in culture and in a personality through "largely inarticulate phatic communion with others" is of course invaluable.
The psychotic is the individual who makes up his own private "culture" to contain his personal anxieties. The culture hero is the individual who provides the most desirable and acceptable solution for a society of individuals under the pressure of much the same problems. His success in this is a function of successful phatic communication, not necessarily of semantically proper statements about reality. The psychotic, however, has somewhat atypical pressures; does not succeed in phatic communication; or does not succeed in making solutions that are consoling to others. Rather, he increases our anxiety. Therefore, whatever phatic communication does occur succeeds only in separating the psychotic from his fellows. He thus has a "culture" borne only by a "society" of one person - and neither is therefore truly a society or a culture. (La Barre 1954: 247)
Rick does not succeed in phatic communication. Nor does he succeed in making solutions that are consoling to others. Rather, he increases our anxiety. - Does that not just sound perfectly true?
Minorities may be right, and majorities wrong. The culture hero may be the psychotic who gets the cultural vote, and the "psychotic" may be the same man of the future, out-voted by his contemporaries and imprisoned (in his time at least) within his own private culture. Not cosmic but only cultural truth can change thus in so brief a time as human history! We are forced to the disenchanting conclusion that the only objective yardstick mere men have in measuring the difference between a culture and a psychosis is the quantitative one of counting noses. Not only is it the only one to use, it is also actually the only one we do use - unless we have the benefit of historical hindsight and can make inferences from this. Cultural truth can never be what "I" make it, but only what "we" make it. The quantitative difference between culture and psychosis in the number of their respective adherents is a matter of inter-individual or social communication, and arises almost entirely from the skill in phatic communication of the usual culture hero - versus the characteristic failure of most psychotics in achieving such phatic rapport with others. (La Barre 1954: 249-250)
Continuing with the interpretation of Rick as a culture hero: he is literally the "sane man of the future", since he's been to the future (being modelled after Emmett Brown). And on the other hand, consider his relationship with Unity, which is a veritable phatic feat (and concurrently most science-fiction-y).
For the schizophrenic, in any society, is feeble precisely in the phatic rapport that achieves such cultural consensuses; for good reasons he has not adequately taken on his society's symbolic systems, and for much the same reasons he is not able to induce the society to take on his. Schizophrenia is, literally, a social disease. (La Barre 1954: 252)
This sounds like something straight outta Palo Alto. It also seems to hold true, at least in the narrow sense that schizophrenia was ascribed to in Palo Alto.
Instead, the semantically rigid attitudes of aggressively sane people can punish the schizophrenic again, and we are surprised that the next time he has learned not to bother talking at all. Withdrawn? No, phatically he is only more equisitely sensitive to rejection than most people are. (La Barre 1954: 254)
Doesn't it make sense that people who are frequently rejected become sensitized to it?
Once again, as minorities, the schizophrenic and the poet and the intellectual are all in the same boat, culturally. The schizophrenic gains no consensus; the poet may similarly not communicate, or not be attended to; the intellectual may attain communication and the consensus of his coterie or "school," and yet fail of a wider communication and usefulness to the whole society. It is true that the intellectual, as in the case of Socrates, may on occasion be a sacrifice to his own society's tribalism (if by "tribalism" we may mean the culture of a society of individuals, of whatever technological advancement, who may intellectually know of alternatives to their own cultural dispensation, but who are not emotionally convinced that these can be morally respectable and genuine alternatives). However, the intellectual is in essence the critic of tribalism. If he is punished for over-stepping the bounds of his society's tolerance, then this is a failure in his phatic understanding of the society's problems and of the anxieties of its members. Or it is a failure in his phatic communication with the society, and he is then an "insane" or unclean reject, quite like the psychotic. In this case, the intellectual, too, has intensified rather than allayed anxieties: very possibly Freud, who repeated the injunction to "Know thyself," is another Socrates. (La Barre 1954: 164)
A worthy addition to what thus far has been a pretty minute topic in this blog, only other instance consisting of Ray Bradbury's quote on why we should fear the intellectual (you never know - he might critizise you next!), which perfectly matches the explanation given here: the listed minorities intensify rather than allay our anxieties. This is captured very eloquently a few pages before: He [the schizophrenic] ends in frightening us about ourselves, rather than successfully informing us about himself, which is his primary subject-matter." (La Barre 1954: 261)
Similarly, it is the emotional dependency of people on one another in the face of common unsolved problems and common anxieties, that makes for the intellectual infantilizations we call superstitions. Whole groups of people can retain a belief in animism, which represents a world-view archaic both in human history and in the individual life-history. A surprisingly large part of every culture is merely the phatic sharing of common emotional burdens, and has no relevance at all to the outside world. Thus societies themselves make up a mutually protective "environment" for the individuals constituting them. (La Barre 1954: 306)
Whoa, this hits hard. This is the passage that was quoted by Wang, Tucker & Rihll (2011: 48). Viewed ii relation with animism and neoteny, rather than on its own as Wang et al. did, it really makes sense. It can readily be seen in American culture in the form of gun rights, mass incarceration of black people, religious fundamentalism and banning of abortion. In Estonian culture it is manifest in our national plight of existence, an ever-constant anxiety about there being so few of us that some neighbouring nations may eradicate our unique language and way of viewing the world.
This of course could hardly be indefinitely the case, for societies can survive (at least for a time) only if the culture embodies in addition a sufficient number of real technological adaptations to the real world, in competition with other contemporary societies. We have mentioned the obvious social neoteny of the schizophrenic; it is perhaps not so obvious that all the real technological triumphs of scientists at large provide a wide social and economic margin for the moral and intellectual neoteny of perhaps the greater mass of other individuals within the society. For just as the body of an idiot girl, relying on the past genetic triumphs of the species, can with clever chemistry produce a normal baby - so, too, idiot boys, relying similarly on the technological achievements of the society, can and do drive intricate motorcars they have not and could not have made with their own minds and hands. (La Barre 1954: 306-307)
I have a feeling that Wang et al. just googled "phatic + technology" and got this page as a result. Although the argument is presented in morally outdated language (I'm referring to the word "idiot"), the point reminds me of my friend's futuristic conjecture that we should very much be afraid of the internet of the future, since more and more people who currently don't have the means to take part in the global communication sphere, will be able to join in and it is unpredictable what will come of it. I met something similar to this argumentation recently on youtube Dane Cook explained his early experience with the internet. Only a mere decade or so ago youtube comments, for example, were mostly pleasant, helpful, and congradulatory. His explanation was that at that time only geeks and generally well-educated and well-off people had access to these technologies. But as time went on and many millions of users joined in, youtube comments section tuned into an endless source of verbal abuse. It may very well be that we're currently living in the golden age of the internet and blissfully unaware of how horrible it will truly turn in the coming decades.
Probably most political communication is in purely phatic terms. But can we be sure that the phatic stance of most electors is emotionally sound and grown-up? This is the crisis of modern times. But all history is crisis, and all decision is made in uncertainty and anxiety. The problem we speak of is timeless. Shall we choose as leader the Great White Father, the "man on horseback," dripping with charisma, who promises all kinds of miracles in his person - and delivers perishingly few of them? Or can we appreciate the honest man who says in effect: "Look, fellows! Things are tough everywhere. I don't know all the answers - I put my pants on only one leg at a time - but we can't dodge this issue, and this one, and this. What are we going to do about them?" (La Barre 1954: 331)
Who is Bernie Sanders? The part about honesty and being issue-oriented is why he immediately comes to mind. The man on horseback? Is he talking about Vladimir Putin? Was La Barre prescient?
This chapter [#11, "And Gets All Balled Up In His Grammar"] owes much to B. L. Whorf's paper on "The Relation of Habitual Thought and Behavior to Language," in Leslie Spier, A. Irving Hallowell, and Stanley S. Newman (eds.), Language, Culture, and Personality: Essays in Memory of Edward Sapir (Mensha, Wis.: Sapir Memorial Publication Fund, 1941), pp. 75-93; also reprinted in Whorf's Four Articles on Metalinguistics. Another important paper is by Charles Hockett, "Biophysics, Linguistics, and the Unity of the Universe," American Scientist, XXXVI (1948), 558-72. Herskovits, in Man and His Works, p. 27, also has some interesting remarks, based on Cassirer.
The term "phatic" I borrow from Malinowski - his Supplement I to C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning (2d rev. ed.; New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1927), pp. 296-336, esp. 315. I wish particularly to acknowledge the source of my term because I regard the evolutionist naïveté of the remainder of Malinowski's essay as mostly nonsense, linguistically, psychologically, psychiatrically, and anthropologically. My understanding of the matter derives from putting the primatological facts adduced by Boutan and others side-by-side with the linguistic insights of Edward Sapir. But beforet hese, both Rousseau and Vico had the concept of human speech as arising from animal sounds of a merely emotional character. These men, however, got the notion from Lucretius and Epicurus, and they in turn from Democritus. I do not know where Democritus got the idea. (La Barre 1954: 349)
And finally an explanation of why La Barre's interpretation of "phatic" is so different from Malinowski's. To be honest, having to contend so much with Malinowski's difficult style of writing, I cannot hold it against him. I'm not sure if I even noticed an evolutionist streak in his original appendix, but the impression of nonsense is surely not unique, as testified by so many different interpretatons of "phatic" currently available.


arided said...

I think the comments from p. 247 about culture and society are nicely reflected in Rick and Morty S02E06 "The Ricks Must Be Crazy".

> The psychotic is the individual who makes up his own private "culture" to contain his personal anxieties. The culture hero is the individual who provides the most desirable and acceptable solution for a society of individuals under the pressure of much the same problems.

In "The Ricks Must Be Crazy", Rick creates a "tesseracted" universe to power his car battery. This seems like a useful metaphor for lots of different things, but there are some specifics that come to mind right away:

- Zeep realizes that if he doesn't play along with Rick, his entire universe will be thrown in the trash. So, Rick is holding an entire society hostage. Zeep might be a "culture hero" under the definition above. The difference between Zeep and Rick is just the typical one of power.

- The "B story" has to do with Rick's car and Summer -- the car is "containing" Rick's personal anxieties about his granddaughter... and it preserves her physical safety at the cost of her peace of mind... "My function is to keep Summer Safe, not keep Summer being, like, totally stoked about the general vibe, and stuff.")

- The innermost-nested story, in which Morty "goes native" has to do with animism/tribalism/etc.

It's important to point out that this all *works* (at least for the characters named above). Rick in particular is almost always functional. Yes, he does increase our anxiety ("Aw, jeez, Rick, I'm not sure that's such a good idea...") but perhaps more because he is an "intellectual"...

> the intellectual is in essence the critic of tribalism

Interestingly there is another Dan Harmon interview where he says that the the worst *punishment* that a human being can experience is being totally cut off from society. It seems like Rick really wants to "belong" but has a hard time with that because he is so gosh-darn iconoclastic.

Morty gets along with him reasonably well, maybe because he doesn't catch on. This is a source of a lot of the show's humor.

Much of this is reflected in other relationships depicted in the show as well -- for example, Beth and Jerry aren't usually great at phatic communion, but they manage to get along.

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