In Defence of Stephen Jay Gould

Borba100 at Borba100 at
Thu Dec 30 11:09:49 MST 1999

In a message dated 12/29/1999 11:16:13 PM Eastern Standard Time,
djsaylor at writes:

     Jared writes about how writing seems more authentic or directly related
 to thought than say painting.  So I thought I would remark on that >>

What you write is quite interesting and quite different from what I had
understood to be true.

But regarding your reference to me, I was not trying to say speaking was
"more authentic or closely related" to thought than painting.  I'm hardly in
a position to make such a judgment.  I was suggesting that speech is
something almost everyone is "good" at, that virtually everyone learns to
speak and, that they seem quite able to communicate in complex and often
dazzling ways as long as they are speaking under circumstances that are
comfortable and stimulating for them. (The whole matter of class and other
intimidation comes into play here.)

When I was in the civil rights movement I used to write down the things that
super-poor black Americans said  because they were so damn smart.  Listen to
words of a fellow I gave a ride to.  He hadn't gone beyond elementary school
he was drunk out of his mind.  He was describing a used car hustler to me:
"He was decked out, suited down and tailored."  Isn't that lovely?

My point is based on observation and has nothing to do with the
scientifically determinable question of the method by which the brain
produces painting and speech, nor am I the least bit qualified to talk about
the origins of speech and writing.  I am saying just this: that it seems
obvious to me that if you can learn to speak coherently you ought to be able
to learn to write coherently.  One difference between the two is how the
learning is experienced.  Parents expect children to learn to speak, they
enjoy it, as babies learn to speak they are made a fuss over, and so on.  But
writing is taught in school and there the child is at the mercy of class (and
racial) ideology - and the cruel taskmaster of expectation.  In some
experiments done years ago, a Prof. Rosenberg (Or Rosenthal - not sure which)
showed that teacher expectation had a phenomenal affect on performance.  In
my opinion, many people don't learn to write because they are taught in an
environment where failing is expected and success in writing is frowned on.
And isn't this consistent with a society which does not view real literacy as
necessary for most people?

I distinguish this from painting because it has been my experience that some
people take to painting quite naturally and others find it impossible.  In
any case, the painting point is secondary - the main point is: I am arguing
that good writing is actively prevented and that by and large people's
writing ought to be comparable in quality to speech.  Moreover this is linked
to the whole matter of assuming mass intellectual mediocrity and so on.

There.  I had to finish that quickly, I have some things to do before the end
of this millennium.  (I know, dumb joke.  But if don't make it now, then

See you all,

More information about the Marxism mailing list