Forum N.H.I.: Knowledge for the 21st Century. vol. 1, no. 1, Fall 1994.
TAKING THE MAP FOR THE TERRITORY: THE FALLACY OF SUPRACULTURALISM
What is this premise? Michel Foucault traces the processes by which our present major disciplines came to be put in place at the end of the eighteenth century by European thinkers, to a central representation by means of which the human would come to perceive and know itself as if it were a purely natural organism in complete continuity with organic life. For if, in the terms specific to the “local” culture [Geertz, 1983] of Western Europe, and therefore to its founding Judaeo-Christian Narrative of human emancipation [Griaule, 1948, Lyotard, 1989] the human had been represented as a divinely created being in the terms of the Biblical Genesis account of origins, the new conception of the human, that would be based during the nineteenth century on the new Narrative of Evolution, would be that of an evolutionarily selected being.
In this conception the human was held to preexist the “local cultures,” including ours, by means of which alone human “forms of life” can come to exist [D.T. Campbell, 1982; Lieberman, 1991], as the hybridly biological (bios) and narrative-discursive (logos) level of existence that they are [Wynter, 1991]. That is, as they are outside the mode of subjective understanding or “inner eyes” constituted by the “prescriptive categories” of the “native cultural model” [Legesse, 1973] which is itself rigorously elaborated by the present disciplinary paradigms of the Humanities and the Social Sciences.
The Eritrean anthropologist Asmarom Legesse points out that our present organization of knowledge is premised on what he terms the technocultural fallacy. This fallacy, he asserts, “derives from the failure of anthropology [and the other disciplines as well] to distinguish the purposive aspects of human behavior ...and the unconscious structure in human culture (as reflected in language and the cognitive bases of life) from the non-conscious empirical processes that link man directly to animal societies and the ecosystem [to in effect economic processes].” [Legesse, 1973] It is this fallacy which underlies the premise of the discipline of economics, (as the present master discipline in the place of theology), that our human behaviours are motivated primarily by the imperative common to all organic species of securing the material basis of their existence; rather than by imperative of securing the overall conditions of existence, (cultural, religious, representational and through their mediation, material), of each local culture’s represented conception of the Self (Wittgenstein’s “form of life). In this context, history falls into the trap of taking its narration of what happened in the past, a narration clearly oriented by our present culture specific conception of the human, as if indeed it were what actually happened, when seen from a transcultural perspective. The recent controversy over the California school textbook, America Will Be, which imagines the United States as a “nation of immigrants” provides an instructive example of the historical paradigm’s conflation of narrative history with “history as what happened” [Waswo, 1988]. The classificatory logic of the acronym N.H.I., (as well as the belief system of a David Duke for whom whilst the “Caucasian” incarnates the ostensibly most highly evolved and selected mode of “normal” human being, the “lower non-White races” and most ultimately the “Negro,” incarnate the most atavistic non-evolved Lack of the human), derives therefore from a second fallacy related to the above; one which underlies our present disciplinary paradigms, and their hegemonic mode of economic rationality. This second fallacy, that of supraculturalism, mistakes our present “local culture’s representation-of-the-human-as-a-natural organism as if it were the human-in-itself, mistakes the representation for the reality, the map for the territory.
For whilst the human species is bio-evolutionarily programmed to be human on the basis of the unique nature of its capacity for speech [Lieberman, 1991] it realizes itself as human only by coming to regulate its behaviours, no longer primarily, by the genetic programs specific to its genome, but by means of its narratively instituted conceptions of itself; and therefore by the culture-specific discursive programs, to which these conceptions give rise. As in the case of our present scholarly elaboration of the natural organism idea of the human, and of its representation as a “form of life” regulated in its behaviours by the same imperatives of material food production and of procreation that also regulate the lives of purely organic species. Rather than, I propose here by the narratively instituted goal-trees [Carbonell, 1987] or purposes specific to each “local culture” including our own.
It is only within the terms of our present local culture, in which the earlier feudal-Christian religious ethic and its goal of Spiritual Redemption and Eternal Salvation has been inverted and replaced by the goal of Material Redemption, and, therefore, by the transcendental imperative of securing the economic well being, of the now biologized body of the Nation (and of national security!), that the human can at all be conceived of as if it were a mode of being which exists in a relation of pure continuity with the that of organic life. Whilst it is only within these terms, that the N.H.I. acronym and its classificatory logic is to be understood as part of the genetic status-organizing principle of which the phenomenon that we have come to know as “race”, is the expression. The feudal-Christian order of Europe had conceived of the caste (noble birth and descent) organizing principle of its order as being divinely ordained (theocentric paradigm). Equally it is only on the basis of our present conception of a genetic status organizing principle, based on evolutionarily preselected degrees of biological value, as iconized in the White/Black invariant differential, that our present world system and its nation-state sub-units, can be hierarchically allocated on the basis of each category’s ostensible pre-selection for higher and lower degrees of genetic worth (biocentric paradigm). One ostensibly “verified” by the individual or category’s place on the social ladder.
“The problem of the twentieth century” W. E. B. Du Bois predicted in 1903, would be the problem of the Color Line. This line is made fixed and invariant by the institutionally determined differential between Whites (as the bearers of the ostensibly highest degrees of eugenic descent), and Blacks (as the bearers of the ostensibly lowest degrees of the lack of this descent); by its highest degree of its nigger dysgenicity as the extreme form of the “native” within the logic of the “Man”/non-White Native code deciphered by Fanon and Sartre [Fanon and Sartre, 1963]. Consequently the White/Black invariant Absolute serves to provide the status organizing principle that the Caribbean historian Elsa Goveia identified as being based on the superiority/inferiority ranking rule accordingto which all other non-White groups as “intermediate categories,” place themselves, and are assessed on their relative “worth” according to their nearness to the one and distance from the other. At the same time, as it also enables the middle classes to institutionally legitimate their own ostensible analogically selected genetic superiority, as a group category over the non-middle classes; most of all over the underclass of South Central Los Angeles and its global extensions.