Engels and indigenous peoples

Carrol Cox cbcox at ilstu.edu
Sun May 6 20:12:50 MDT 2001

Greg Schofield wrote:
> Nestor I am glad that you made this response. I have liked Chomsky's idea
> for some time, but as I could not see a mechanism for it I felt that it was
> probably idealist, although also feeling that it might hold promise.
I have been following this exchange of Charles and Greg with interest,
partly because I think the subject itself is of importance and partly
because the modern attack on Marx often takes the form of attempts to
split Marx from Engels; hence the defense of Engels against various
vulgar (i.e., super-sophisticated) attacks is important in itself,
regardless of the specific topic.

I don't think the interactions of language, biology, culture, etc. are
fully understood yet, but in the context the following post from another
list is of interest. At the end of Maureen Anderson's post I have
included some of the material (from an earlier post of mine, which was
the context for her post.


-------- Original Message --------
Subject: cultureless humans
Date: Sun, 06 May 2001 15:13:05 -0500
From: Maureen Anderson <manders at uchicago.edu>

>>Nothing, ever, begins with an individual. Thought independent and
>>prior to language exists (and is the basis for thought in
>>language), but social thought can only come into being in language,
>>and language occurs only within social relations (Milton to the
>>  Carrol
>Where/when does thought leave off and language begin? Just what is
>thought prior to and independent of language?

Besides Damasio, and besides stuff by scientists like Terrence
Deacon, whom I brought up here before, Clifford Geertz long ago wrote
a couple of lucid articles that address these questions of language,
thought, wolf-children and other feral fantasies.

Though a bit dated (including early-seventies patriarchal language,
preserved below), both pieces eloquently explain the basic points, on
the significance of the brain's co-evolution with
language/symbol/society, echoed by others more recently.  (Both
pieces are in his 1973 volume, _The Interpretation of Cultures_.)


"Men without culture would not be the clever savages of Golding's
_Lord of the Flies_ thrown back upon the cruel wisdom of their animal
instincts; nor would they be the nature's noblemen of Enlightenment
primitivism or even, as classical anthropological theory would imply,
intrinsically talented apes who had somehow failed to find
themselves.  They would be unworkable monstrosities with very few
useful instincts, fewer recognizable sentiments, and no intellect:
mental basket cases.  As our central nervous system -- and most
particularly its crowning curse and glory, the neocortex -- grew up
in great part in interaction with culture, it is incapable of
directing our behavior or organizing our experience without the
guidance provided by systems of significant symbols.  What happened
to us in the Ice Age is that we were obliged to abandon the
regularity and precision of detailed genetic control over our conduct
for the flexibility and adaptability of a more generalized, though of
course no less real, genetic control over it.  To supply the
additional information necessary to be able to act, we were forced,
in turn , to rely more and more heavily of cultural sources -- the
accumulated fund of significant symbols.  Such symbols are thus not
mere expressions, instrumentalities, or correlates of our biological,
psychological, and social existence; they are prerequisites of it.
Without men, no culture, certainly; but equally, and more
significantly, without culture, no men."  ["The Impact of the Concept
of Culture on the Concept of Man"]

"A cultureless human being would probably turn out to be not an
intrinsically talented though unfulfilled ape, but a wholly mindless
and consequently unworkable monstrosity.  Like the cabbage it so much
resembles, the Homo sapiens brain, having arisen within the framework
of human culture, would not be viable outside of it. [...] The fact
that the final stages of the biological evolution of man occurred
after the initial stages of the growth of culture implies that the
"basic," "pure," or "unconditioned," human nature, in the sense of
the innate constitution of man, is so functionally incomplete as to
be unworkable.  Tools,hunting, family organization, and, later, art,
religion, and science molded man somatically; and they are,
therefore, necessary not merely to his survival but to his
existential realization."    ["The Growth of Culture and the
Evolution of Mind"]


Here is the post of mine to which Maureen  was responding:

> Where/when does thought leave off and language begin? Just what is
> thought prior to and independent of language?

I suggest you read Antonio Damasio, _The Feeling of What Happens: Body
and Emotion in the Making of Consciusness_ (Harcourt, 1999). In any
case, for the purposes of this thread it isn't necessary to make this
claim -- I just threw it in for possible future purposes.

> What would a Zen Buddhist say about the 1st sentence both with and
> without the commas?

I never try to guess what a Zen Buddhist would say about anything, but
it is interesting to play around with the commas! :-)

Damasio gives a neurological and psychological explanation of "thought
prior to language," but I think that premise is also historically
necessary -- it is implicit in any materialist view (marxist or


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