[Paleopsych] Reinventing Capitalism

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Thu Nov 24 22:53:25 UTC 2005


I'm about a third of the way through the book. It's a great deal of fun, 
but I'm going to have to wait to see if you deal with the issues I would 

There's a huge tendency to elide concepts. We observe love in animals but 
yet there's the claim that love was invented during the European middle 
ages and so is a Western provincialism.

We can speak of the idea of home in territorial mammals, but the idea of 
home also comes only when civilizations with real estate that could be 
located by longitude and latitude arose.

Same with property rights. Animals have it, but it was only in Western 
Europe that property in intangible things like a business were rendered 
secure. (In Islam, whenever a capitalist amassed a big pile, it would 
be looted.)

Now your book is very fine as a hymn to human creativity and I dug out the 
article in Current Anthropology on make-up during the Middle Pleistocene, 
which says very little about make-up, really. You say skin paint serves 
two purposes. One is to show I'm one of you, a member of your group. The 
other is to show I'm someone special you must pay attention to. You then 
argue that all this powers cultural evolution. You say we went beyond 
make-up to creating distinctive clothes. It took new tools to stitch 
mammoth hides together to make these clothes, and these tools found all 
sorts of other uses.

Very well, but still I dislike make-up intensely. It turns out that I'm 
more of a Christian than I thought I was:

Early Christian writers argued that, since God had created man in his own 
image, the modification of this image was necessarily a deviation, and, 
more specifically, a sin. Insofar as a man is not his true image, that is, 
the image of God, he must be fallen, alienated from God, so that masks 
necessarily embody man as sinful. By the same arguments, a person's 
appearances should not be different from the inward awareness God has 
created. More generally, masks embody sin itself, and in the Middle Ages 
ancient theatrical masks became the patterns for devils and demons, 
associated with Hell. Such arguments (and the deep-seated assumptions to 
which they are related) are clearly variants on the themes stated above. 
The mask makes manifest a reality, which is not just an absolutely false 
self, but an evil one, dangerous because it is a possible transformation, 
rooted in human freedom and in original sin itself. By implication, the 
true image is the person's own visage, which might, however, be seen as 
the mask of truer, higher, spiritual reality, regarded as both individual 
and divine. This view presumes the constancy of the inner, or our 
*selves*, which we fell cannot be changed, or should not be changed, by a 
change in outer appearance. We are, or should be, we believe, essentially 
the same person with a mask or without. Modern Western actors do not wear 
masks, although they may be 'character actors' or type-cast, just as 
ancient comic masks represented many 'characters.' The actor is successful 
when convincing identity is achieved with the role, although such skills 
continue to be regarded with ambivalence at the same time that the actor 
has become a more and more important example in modern life. It is not 
hard to see why portraiture (often from masks) has been such an important 
genre in Western art; appearance is the unique mask of the self. But for 
present purposes it is sufficient to note that our own attitudes are 
culturally specific, that masks point toward some of our most fundamental 
questions regarding self-identity and authenticity, and such beliefs are 
themselves deeply involved in cultural choices about the significance of 
masks and masking.

--David Summers, _Real Spaces: World Art History and the Rise of Western 
Modernism_ (London: Phaidon Press Ltd., 2003): Chapter 4, Images, section 
13, Masks, p. 305.

Your point that much of what many regard as wasteful consumerism is really 
creative play at work. It is well-taken, but I'll have to read on to see 
how you deal specifically with the Western legal foundations of property 
and the market economy. A generalized appreciation of human creativity 
does not imply endorsement of a quite specific set of Western 

You see, it's not the principle of trade that the anti-globalists fret 
about, nor any urge to return to Communism or even a return to conditions 
before capitalism, in the Western sense since the Industrial Revolution, 
but rather the feared consequences of globablism: McDonaldization, 
Disneyification, standardization, American "democratic captialism" running 
roughshod over all other ways of life, the leveling of the world's 
cultures to the lowest common denominator, growing inequality in this 
country and throughout the world, loss of jobs, an speeding up of the 
tempo of change beyond what is psychologically sustainable. You can surely 
add to the list of charges.

I'll have to read further in the book to see how you treat these concerns, 
how you argue that what is feared won't happen in some cases and how, in 
other cases, these changes are actually for the good. I'll also be eager 
to see how you parcel out the "winners and losers in globablization" 
(Google this phrase and you'll get lots and lots of hits. There's a book 
coming out by a rock-solid economist, Guillermo de la Dehesa, by that 
title. The book has been delayed at least six months, though, so I can't 
report on it. I doubt it will go into culture very much, though.


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