Archive for the 'social constructs' Category

Anthropology

March 3, 2012

In addition to introducing me to the work of Robert Graves, my high school Latin teacher introduced me to the discipline and approach(es) of anthropology (I think he was getting a master’s degree in it at the time).

I used to try to apply anthropological analysis to classical and medieval law and history.  I liked it the way it allowed me to make sense of things that hadn’t looked sensible before — like finding that there were patterns in succession to the Visigothic throne, that “morbus gothorum” did not do justice to what was going on (it was part of, and the impetus for, my original dissertation topic, which I chickened out of, in favor of one that had originality built into it but for which I didn’t have much enthusiasm — that one had to do with 14th-century dower in England, and I wrote a paper on Livy’s telling of the story of Lucretia and the validity of coerced consent in Roman law, instead).

I was thinking this morning about the Republican race for president, about conservative thinking on moral decay and strengthening the family, and about the factor of religion in the primaries.  One of the things that passed through my mind was how Mormonism, I think, sees itself as trying to make good on Christianity’s promise, and how its sometime embrace of polygamy might fit into whatever project of reform it is engaged in.  From another angle, I was thinking about kinship groups other than the nuclear family and the roles they sometimes play in social and economic networks.

So, what came out of this mixture of thoughts was the idea that maybe our insistence in our current culture of relying on a nuclear family is a point at which we might intervene when we try to identify what’s not working in our society and how to address those ills.  I forget why we came to live as nuclear families either in fact or in terms of an ideal that then influences our expectations.

Maybe work is already done in this regard, about what might be a more natural living arrangement for groups of people of different generations, genders, abilities to contribute to the unit either through caretaking or through bringing in resources like income, in our current society.  If it is, maybe we could please hear more about it in those places in the media in which we hear what the psychologists, sociologists, biologists, neuroscientists, and other favorites are doing.

What we see

October 16, 2011

I was at the Porter Square T stop in Cambridge, MA earlier today, and it was windy enough for the mobile sculpture above the station to catch my attention as I waited for the light to change.  I suspect that the structures are supposed to represent hot air balloons, but they’ve always looked to me like ice cream cones.

There was a song I used to hear on a children’s show years ago that had a verse, “‘Look there, Daddy.’  ‘What do you see?’ ‘I see a horse in striped pajamas.’  ‘No, that’s not what it is at all; people call that a zebra.’ ‘I see.  But it still looks like a horse in striped pajamas to me.'”

I can see the balloons, I can see the zebra, I can agree that the other interpretation is outside of the consensus.  But I’m not sure I’m willing to give up that other, alternative interpretation, either.

I think there is a distinction between one’s own idiosyncratic interpretation (in which I might put my ice cream cone interpretation) and participating in other ways of seeing that we don’t include in consensus reality.  A mild example in this second category might be interpreting a situation in which a self-help group insists on keeping a lot of old books in the bag members take turns carrying to the meetings, just in case they are needed, as representing that members carry around “old baggage” that probably should be jettisoned, too.

Spending time in non-consensus reality has its risks, both personal and social.  But I’m not so sure that our current version of consensus reality is so “accurate” itself that paying undue deference to it at all costs is the answer, either.  I sometimes wonder whether that wasn’t what Socrates was getting at.  I like to think that if instead of trying to get others to agree to see things in other ways, we just help other people develop themselves, eventually something will willingly shift, and we’ll get where we need to go with less risk in the process to the messengers.

“Big” children

August 28, 2011

I mentioned in my previous post that my younger son is kind of big.  My older son isn’t, he was tiny when we picked him up (the size Jordan was at six months, only Jonas was probably two years old at the time), then wiry, now about five foot nine or so, I think (he self-reports five foot ten), more filled out than before, but not “big.”

But once Jonas got to be about middle-school age, I would hear from teachers and vice principals and the like how their behavior towards him was justifiable because “he is so big.”  They said it in a friendly way, as if confiding something between us that I would of course understand.  Only Jonas wasn’t big.  I know, I checked, because his birth year is unknown, he has a legal date of birth a court made up,* and his pediatricians estimated his age differently after he had done some catching up.  The school system, to their credit, went with the pediatricians’ estimate (about a year older than his legal DOB), and I would observe from time to time how he looked when he was walking with his friends (who were in his school class) — and he was average.

But Jonas does have dark skin, darker than Jordan’s, and he does have African features, whereas Jordan turned out to look mostly Caucasian and with what others characterized as an “olive complexion.”  Jordan never got accused of being big until, in high school, he actually was.  Jonas got labeled that as a child, regardless of his actual size.

*The court based its estimate on a comparison of the development of his wrist bones with some kind of standard reference for (healthy) children, and they didn’t take into account, apparently, the fact of his malnutrition (for which he had been hospitalized).  The age they gave him at the time (about 1 year old) was inconsistent with the length of time he had spent with his first mother, in the hospital, and in the orphanage.