Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Prosody: practical hermeneutics

I've always considered 'postmodern critique' with a certain amount of suspicion without ever really considering it with a dispassionate analytical regard. I like Umberto Eco's notion of 'heretical deconstruction' since I came across that reference. 'Postmodern critique' has that same quality of sophism in that it can be seen as 'barbarians at the gate' - ie, as having no constructive intent but only destructive ones.

This species of sophistry is wrong-headed for the precise reason that 'concrete-operational' interpretation of "iconoclasm" is wrong and one needs only to harken back to the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan of recent memory and the burning of the Library of Alexanderia of the more ancient memory to see what I mean.

Years ago I read this very interesting article on Edna St. Vincent Millay in the Harper's Magazine, a poet fully-deserved of the name as far as I'm concerned. The article (too bad I've forgotten who wrote it) talked about the conventional banality and imaginative bankruptcy of free-form poetry and the gall of one of its practitioners belittling the sonnets of the great St. Vincent Millay.

To illustrate an example of the sonnet form - of which St. Vincent Millay was clearly a master on the same rank as Shakespeare - I refer you to one of her's:

Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare.
Let all who prate of Beauty hold their peace,
And lay them prone upon the earth and cease
To ponder on themselves, the while they stare
At nothing, intricately drawn nowhere
In shapes of shifting lineage; let geese
Gabble and hiss, but heroes seek release
From dusty bondage into luminous air.
O blinding hour, O holy, terrible day,
When first the shaft into his vision shone
Of light anatomized! Euclid alone
Has looked on Beauty bare. Fortunate they
Who, though once only and then but far away,
Have heard her massive sandal set on stone.


The abstract pattern goes like: a-b-b-a, c-d-d-c, e-f-f-e, g-g; while in contrast, a Shakespearean sonnet tends to be: a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g:

Who will believe my verse in time to come,
If it were filled with your most high deserts?

Though yet heaven knows it is but as a tomb
Which hides your life, and shows not half your parts.
If I could write the beauty of your eyes,
And in fresh numbers number all your graces,
The age to come would say 'This poet lies;
Such heavenly touches ne'er touched earthly faces.'
So should my papers, yellowed with their age,
Be scorned, like old men of less truth than tongue,
And your true rights be termed a poet's rage
And stretched metre of an antique song:
But were some child of yours alive that time,
You should live twice, in it, and in my rhyme. (Shakespeare, Sonnet 17)

Both forms have 14 lines and both are capped off with a couplet (g-g), as in

True wit is nature to advantage dress'd;
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well express'd.— Alexander Pope

My aippakuluk and I have a special connection to Shakespeare's Sonnet 17 because both of us have a deep and abiding love for literature and poetry and greatly admire Shakespeare's sonnet form (especially #17). During my courting of her I wrote her a sonnet:

If I were master of space and time between us
I would not change the place nor the second when we met
Like notes of measured music on the clef in sequence
I'd mark the beat with my heart and bated breath
If I should touch one strand of hair and leave the rest untouched
Our lives would change but play their fugue most sad
The snow beneath our feet would then not squish and crunch
And we'd be but ghostly memories our love ne'er had
I would not tempt my God nor fate the hour
Should He or She or It forget a beat
And I should end my days insane and cower
in darkness with only a candle for warmth and heat
A thousand lifetimes I will endure and live
In hope that my heart your love will give.

I forget what year I wrote the sonnet for my aippakuluk though I remember clearly our walk in the snow and my initial reluctance to take a walk in the deep winter cold (it was a bright, sunny and crisp cold day); I'm infinitely grateful I accepted her offer, else I'd never have written the sonnet.

But I digress...

I've been thinking and talking about the notion of 'hermeneutics' quite a bit lately, especially in technical terms of translation of classics into Inuktitut. I happen to think that prosody: noun

  • The patterns of rhythm and sound used in poetry.
  • The theory or study of these patterns, or the rules governing them.

  •  
    captures more than just poetic forms but goes into the heart of eloquence and aesthetics of good writing and elocution. Going back to the Moravian translation of the Old Testament (and I haven't really analysed the abstract meter that is used in the translation though I know it definitely exists because I heard the bible read as a child growing up and I took comfort in listening to it read well), the text need not rhyme at all but the mere deliberate intent of capturing a beat and rhythm of delivery makes the text come alive.
     
    I know that Shakespeare was a true master of the Iambic Pentameter (though not always faithful to the ten syllable form he knew the rules and how to break from them for great effect), and he disgarded rhyme for the beat and rhythm in most of his plays, which in Iambic Pentameter goes like:
     
    If mu- / -sic be / the food / of love, / play on
    Is this / a dag- / -ger I / see be- / fore me?
     
    [An] Iambic Pentameter has:
    • Ten syllables in each line
    • Five pairs of alternating unstressed and stressed syllables
    • The rhythm in each line sounds like:
      ba-BUM / ba-BUM / ba-BUM / ba-BUM / ba-BUM
    (http://shakespeare.about.com/od/shakespeareslanguage/a/i_pentameter.htm)

    There are great many other meters that one may utilize. I once read on the translator's notes on the English version of Dante's Inferno where she talks about the choice and use of different meters in her command to make the text come alive in English rather than trying to replicate the original, which does not always work in translation.

    Though I am extremely delighted by the attempts at hip-hop in Inuktitut much of the rap music in Nunavut tends to follow a simple pattern of syllables without much cognition of the infinite variety of meters and rhyme patterns available out there that they could use. The Greenlandic rap music is rather more sophisticated. Even Nunavik rap artists (like AK-47) seem to grasp the concept intuitively if not consciously and the quality of their rhymes show that knowledge/talent.

    I doubt the differences in textual quality (among Kalallisut, Nunavik and Nunavut) I just mentioned have to do with talent, but more to do with the ability to perceive (even subconsciously) and exploit the prosody inherent in the Inuit language. And this cuts right into the heart of differences in education in the three Inuit experiences: where in Nunavut, the educational approach is rather haphazard (at least in terms of Inuktut education), the Nunavik and Greenland experiences are clearly doing something different. I think the issue has to do with the use of narrative and discourse in Inuit languages (ie, comprehension and mastery of grammar - even at the intuitive level) in the two examples, and the learning of spelling and writing words in isolation that is often passed for Inuktitut instruction in Nunavut.

    Jay

    Sunday, 17 February 2013

    A shift in perspective

    Last week I attended a very interesting conference sponsored by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami called, Atausiq Inuktut Titirausiit (loosely, one writing system for Inuit (Nunangat)) which stems from the National Strategy on Inuit Education - the legacy piece of Mary Simon (an Inuit luminary of international renown and former President of ITK). Specifically, we were there to flesh out recommendation #9:

    Key to a new era in bilingual education is the ability to produce, publish and distribute common Inuit language materials. A standardized Inuit language writing system with common grammar, spelling and terminology, may facilitate the production of these materials. The National Committee on Inuit Education recommends:

    The establishment of an Inuit Task Force to explore the introduction of a standardized writing system for Inuit. (First Canadians, Canadians First: National Strategy on Inuit Education, p. 90)

    The conference itself was the beginning of the much-needed dialogue on the possibility of a common writing system for all Inuit Nunangat Kanatami. Since we have many writing systems in the various regions of Inuit Nunangat Kanatami, I suggested that we examine the possibility of developing an auxillary (standardized) writing system rather than re-inventing the wheel (so to speak) for various and deep reasons the least of which is to transcend the sense of identity Inuit of the various regions put into their 'unique' writing systems (both what is called 'roman orthographies' and the two different syllabic systems (eastern Nunavut and Nunavik).

    In the various places where I've written commentaries on Inuit education and writing systems, I've always maintained (in so many words) that we need a change in perspective - in the same sense as V's words in the movie, V for Vendetta (2005):

    "...to remind the world that fairness, justice, and freedom are more than words, they are perspectives."

    In the same way that 'fairness'; 'justice'; and 'freedom' are abstract notions with real world consequences in the way they inform our actions and values, the notion of 'Inuit Education' likewise cannot be realized if not the explicit source of our actions and values (ie, if it does not inform our social aspirations and our political statements on the issue of Inuit education).

    I'm talking about not just the 'preservation' of our glorified past (we've had much discussion on this approach without ever really seeming to go forward much, politically, pedagogically or otherwise) but, at the core of it all, developing a vehicle for engagement with the world in the sense of the 'now'.

    We need to approach the subject of 'Inuit education' in a sense of developing a standard vocabulary at the logical and hermeneutic levels. -Hermeneutics, states a Wikipedia entry:

    broadly, is the art and science of text interpretation. Traditional hermeneutics is the study of the interpretation of written texts, especially texts in the areas of literature, religion and law. A type of traditional hermeneutic is biblical hermeneutics which concerns the study of the interpretation of the Bible. In religious studies and social philosophy, hermeneutics is the study of the theory and practice of interpretation. Modern hermeneutics encompasses everything in the interpretative process including verbal and nonverbal forms of communication as well as prior aspects that affect communication, such as presuppositions, preunderstandings, the meaning and philosophy of language, and semiotics. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermeneutics

    As a person with some linguistics training I've always been fascinated by the idea of 'semiotics' - in a sense of Eco's semiotics because Eco's take on the subject is not just about the interpretation of 'objective' symbols and signs (ie, in the sense of naive de Saussurian mode) but more, how people act and react in that semiotic space loosely called, culture where (unvoiced) "presuppositions, preunderstandings, the meaning and philosophy of language," come into play and determine what is possible, even plausible, in the social and professional discourse.

    Given this, I'm a true believer in 'first principles' and 'historical developments' pedagogy. In order to 'break the rules' one first has to learn and know the rules (ie, in order to play music (Inuit/Jay's style, in my case) I first had to learn the 'blues' scale, say, then I tried to elaborate and express my own way of playing the blues - which is completely different than Chicago or Texas Blues or even UK Blues because it stems from me and my talent (or lack thereof) and, believe me, it's more the latter because I try and emulate David Gilmour more than the blues greats and am not very talented at it to begin with).

    I think the best place(s) to start at using and expressing a standardized auxillary writing system for Inuit would be to translate and develop commentaries on, say, Isaac Asimov's Chronology of Science and Discovery, or initiate an approach similar to the French Encyclopedists, that, according to a Wikipedia entry:

    promoted the advancement of science and secular thought and supported tolerance, rationality, and open-mindedness of the Enlightenment. Still, as Frank Kafker has shown, the encyclop├ędistes were not a unified group, neither in ideology nor social class. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encyclop%C3%A9distes

    It is my belief that in order to use and develop language, one needs a sustainable vehicle to use and advance that language.

    Jay

    Sunday, 10 February 2013

    "polar night of icy darkness"

    The title of this entry is taken from Max Weber, whom I consider one of the greatest thinkers on the "postmodern" society - if we can call our contemporary society "postmodern" (I must admit that I sometimes find the term confusing). The phrase is in reference to the mass alienation from an unmitigated rationalization of human life (at least in the westernized world in a sense of its "postmodernity", if I may).

    The thing that I find fascinating about Weber's work is its deeply psychological insightfulness. He seems to have had that rare ability to be humbly honest about life and the nature of human knowledge:

    [Sociology is] ...a science which attempts the interpretive understanding of social action in order thereby to arrive at a causal explanation of its course and effects.
     
    Given this, he writes elsewhere that

    There is no absolutely "objective" scientific analysis of culture... All knowledge of cultural reality... is always knowledge from particular points of view. ... an "objective" analysis of cultural events, which proceeds according to the thesis that the ideal of science is the reduction of empirical reality to "laws," is meaningless... [because]... the knowledge of social laws is not knowledge of social reality but is rather one of the various aids used by our minds for attaining this end.

    Edward T Hall is another of those analysts that I'd put on par with Weber. Along the same theme as Weber's starting point of discourse, he said that "Life is a continuous process of consolidation and detachment" (Beyond Culture, p. 223), which I take to mean that life - all of human life: the personal, the social and the professional - does not come with a set of instructions but is rather more like a dialectical process (in the Hegelian sense) of "thesis-antithesis-synthesis" - the key notion being, in my interpretation, that "synthesis" is interchangable to with "transcendence".

    In Hall's Beyond Culture, he ends the book with a chapter called, Culture as Identification. He writes:

    From birth to death, life is punctuated by separations, many of them painful. Paradoxically, each separation forms a foundation for new stages of integration, identity and psychic growth. This introduces a subject in which everyone is involved, in which one finds a meeting ground, a point of synthesis of the intrapsychic and cultural processes. None of us asks to be born or to die. Yet both are natural and inevitable separations of the person from an all-encompassing environment. Between the two lie many separations, each accompanied by new awareness...Yet, the experience of separation is frequently not clear-cut; it is much more indefinite and obscure than many of us once believed. (Beyond Culture, p. 223-224)

    In the Inuit society across the circumpolar world (a society to which I belong) this process of "integration, identity and psychic growth" has been disrupted in a big way. In a completely serious and deadpan tone, I'd say that Inuit are, like many indigenous peoples, experiencing the "polar night of icy darkness" of existential alienation from a rationalistic world that is at once a "disenchantment" of the Inuit cosmogony and personal value and belief systems and, at a deeper, this disenchantment results from a complete dissolution of the

    relationship[s] between psychological motivations, cultural values and beliefs (primarily, religion) and the structure of the society (usually determined by the economy). (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Weber)

    in more ways than one. All traditional and modern means of coping and compensation have been utterly rendered ineffectual by this disenchantment: I surmise that every single individual in the Inuit world has been personally affected by suicide and self-destruction (ie, physical and psychic violence upon the self and others); every single individual has sought out religion in its various forms (addictions, withdrawl from society at large, taking up of unrealistic goals in reaction to present circumstances, etc.) to no avail nor relief; every single individual is or personally knows of people in abject poverty (in both senses of material and intellectual impoverishment).

    I'm not one to look back to the past insofar as a means of romanticizing and dreaming of and mourning a world that never was (or can never be again). But I take lessons from the human experience and knowledge (ie, in the liberal arts par excellence). I've always been a strong advocate for a liberal arts education, of historical development-based pedagogy.

    Like Socrates, I believe that though all things human and social circumstances are in a constant state of flux, human nature itself is constant and so are the ethical questions that confront us all at some point in our lives. This is liberal arts education itself.

    I have a rather selfish motive for writing this blog entry. I try and live by certain principles that is founded upon the Sophoclean notion that "There are many strange and wonderful things, but nothing more strangely wonderful than man." (Antigone, a Greek Tragedy written by Sophocles). -I would encourage my readers to check out https://records.viu.ca/~johnstoi/sophocles/antigone.htm for the complete text of the play.

    But I digress: my selfish reason for writing about Inuit society in terms of "polar night of icy darkness" has to do with where I live and work. Iqaluit is the largest community in Nunavut, and, in fact, Iqaluit is the capital of Nunavut. Here we have the dredges, misfits and rejects from the other communities who've been kicked out for whatever reasons who are nonetheless struggling to survive in the most cruel and unkind community in Nunavut in terms of psychological and material support. I'm not saying that people of Iqaluit are themselves "cruel and unkind": far from it; I admire and respect great many people here, and I count myself fortunate to know and be friends of a great many Iqalungmiut.

    What I'm talking about here is lack of programming and support services that should go naturally with the people who are struggling in abject poverty and lack of life prospects that are compounded by homelessness or housing inadequacies of the system (ie, the cruel and unkind part). I try and help some of these people in my own way, giving change and more when and where I can. Some of these people claim to not have eaten for a couple of days, and I believe them because I myself have been where they are.

    But some people (like everywhere else) can be quite aggressive and intimidating. That they would feel desparate, ashamed and depressed about their situation is something I can totally understand, but I think part of their threatening postures come from a realization long ago that they cannot blame and single out an "enemy" because the whole society is in one form or another responsible for the injustice.

    Given the poor (being generous here) performance of aboriginal education systems and the dehumanizing institutions of the aboriginal experience in general, the only recourse I find where we can reasonably expect relief from a life of poverty and grief for these unfortunate souls is a deliberate reformation of the education system. I'm not saying that we need to throw more money and resources but that we have to start re-thinking of education in a new way.

    I think why most aboriginal students get lost in the system is that it's set up more like an institutional baby-sitting service than a school. There are scant if any opportunities for creativity and self-expression. Same goes for opportunities for sustainable engagement with the world in a dialectical fashion where one learns that knowledge is not bestowed upon us by the gods fully formed and impervious to human input but built brick-by-brick (though in a non-linear fashion) through hard-won efforts of our fellow human beings; ergo, that every single one of us have that promise of an opportunity to add to that great body of human knowledge through inspiration and awareness of a given discourse.

    We have to get rid of the notion of prescribed, passive reception of knowledge through rote memorization of pedagogical dogma, and actually recognize that teaching and learning is a human relationship issue and a challenge to be embraced as a community-development exercise. We need more Vygotsky and less Piaget.

    Jay

    Saturday, 9 February 2013

    The yin-yang of Inuit language grammar

    One of the long-term projects I'm currently working at work is the development of descriptive grammars for all Nunavut dialects. Since I envision these series of books to be useful and relevant to non-specialists (ie, non-linguists but teachers and Inuit language instructors), it's forced me to rethink many of my assumptions as a trained linguist, and to rethink a way of schematic presentation of linguistic principles that anyone with a few hours of reflection could gain a servicable grasp of what the heck I'm talking about.

    I'm finding in my (informal/semi-formal) literature review of the works of people I admire and respect as linguists (Kenn Harper, Louis-Jacques Dorais, Mick Mallon, etc.) and the material available on-line is that much is taken for granted because most of it is intended not for the layperson but specialists like me and the people I work with. This is not really a comment of surprise, just an observation.

    This current situation and my present needs has got me thinking about a yin-yang type completion of grammaticality of the Inuit Language that I think most Inuktut speakers would immediately understand if not immediately grasp - at least for the transitive constructs.

    What I mean is that there is a natural dichotomy (in a sense of something branching into two equal parts) between case endings (inflectional forms of nouns and pronouns) and mood endings (verb forms and modality) into constructs like this:

    indicative mood in declarative phrases:

    [-junga] "I am..."
    [-juguk] "you and I are..."
    [-juq] "he, she or it is..."

    can be completed with various (but not all) case endings:

    accusative case [-mik]
    ablative case [-mit]
    allative case [-mut]*

    *the allative case [-mut] "to; towards" has a different meaning than instrumental case [-mut] "with" - as in qukiutimut nattiqtara "I caught the seal with a rifle".

    Using [taku-] "to see" we can contruct grammatical phrases like this:

    takujunga qimmirmik "I see a dog"
    takujuguk qangatasuurmik "you and I see a plane"
    takujuq uvannik "he sees me"

    Using [ani-] "to exit" we can construct grammatical phrases like this:

    anijunga iglumit "I come out of a house"
    anijuguk allagvingmit "you and I come out of the office"
    anijuq igluvigarmit "he comes out of an igloo"

    Using [isiq-] "to enter" we can construct grammatical phrases like this:

    isiqtunga allagvingmut ""I enter an office"
    isiqtuguk igluvigarmut "you and I enter an igloo"
    isiqtuq iglumut "she enters a house"

    These are not comprehensive lists by any stretch of the imagination but rather are intended to hint at the yin-yang schematics that are possible between case and mood endings. Because of the inflectional nature of the Inuit grammar word order is made mote and one may say qimmirmik takujunga "I see a dog" just as grammatically as tukujunga qimmirmik "I see a dog", and this flexibility applies to all transitive constructs because the grammatical functions are built-into the case and mood endings rather than word order as Engliish grammar demands with its SVO word order.

    So, we can see that the declarative (or, indicative) mood can be completed by at least three different types of case endings - but there are, of course, more than just three case endings that this mood can be completed with. The basic principle of conjunction between case and mood endings is the point I'm trying to make here (in transitive constructs).

    One of the yin-yang images is of a mountain: used to describe how seemingly opposite or contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world; and, how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. and this: Yin and yang are actually complementary, not opposing, forces, interacting to form a whole greater than either separate part; in effect, a dynamic system. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yin_and_yang) which I think capture the interrelations of case and mood endings most succinctly.

    Jay

    Sunday, 3 February 2013

    The trouble with physics

    Lee Smolin in his book, The Trouble With Physics (2006), talks about how theoretical physics kind of lost its way with the rise of the string theories which I think is a perfect analogy of the crumbling institution we call, our public education system. You see, superstring theory is not one "theory" the same way Einstein's theory of general relativity and quantum theory are, but, besides being multifarious species of theoretic-physics, none of these various species are even experimentally testable. They are rather more "mathematical" speculations whose only apparent claim to fame is that some of them - they say - generate a way of incorporating gravity into the quantum theory. It is pretty safe to forward the "results" of a given species because there is no possible way of verifying them.

    The problem, as Smolin points out, is that there's been an unchecked burgeoning of university courses focussed on this speculative art taking up almost all of the funding and space/accreditation dedicated to physics, and a looking away from particle physics and the standard-model theory. This situation is eerily familiar to those boards of education that have been forced to choose and incorporate creationism along with the theory of evolution. There's a snake-oil salesmanship quality about the whole thing.

    I'd argue that the source of all this is what is called, 'heretical' postmodern critique. I call it 'heretical' (taking signals from Umberto Eco's insightful essay, On Symbolism, 1994) because it is less a principled, reasoned method(s) of doubt and deconstruction in the tradition of Northrop Frye, Richard Rorty or Wittgenstein or any other servicable philosopher/literary critic than it is a means of forwarding plausible argumentum ad hominem.

    Anyone not familiar with the terms and references I'm using here may be familiar with the current, sometimes terrifying, state of politics and religion with the rise of rightwing extremism (in both Western and Islamist worlds) which have made use of heretical postmodern critique to such devastating effect. That is, Harper's politics is less about politics than it is a cult of personality with its attendant demonization of and readiness to attack anyone or anything that would be seen as posing a challenge to the all-encompassing, highly mutable narrative. The plausibility of this type of postmodern critique is more apparent than real, thus a need for ad hominem attacks.

    Eco says, "Where there is no recognizable rule there cannot even be deviation from the norm," (On Symbolism) which is not to say that the narrative's "incongruity equals lack of internal logic, or that gratuitousness means frivolity. Sometimes the symbolic mode exhibits its own rigid, though perhaps paranoid, logic, and the symbol is solid, geometric, and heavy, like the galactic obelisk that appears at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssy." (ibid)

    Couple this scary state of affairs with, again, Eco's Phenomenology of Mike Bongiorno - an Italian tv show host who epitomizes the anti-intellectual dullard (Misreadings, p. 156) - and the description of our contemporary times is complete, for the rightwing ideologues are, to a large extent, completely oblivous of the philosophical foundations of postmodern critique (and proudly so). Such is the nature of heretical postmodern critique.

    Northrop Frye was always a strong and able advocate for a liberal arts education which, I think, he saw as a counter to the rising anti-intellectualism of the so-called "student-centered education" (even way back then). A Harvard College Admissions website, in a statement about the value of a liberal arts education, reads:

    A Harvard education is a liberal education — that is, an education conducted in a spirit of free inquiry undertaken without concern for topical relevance or vocational utility. This kind of learning is not only one of the enrichments of existence; it is one of the achievements of civilization. It heightens students' awareness of the human and natural worlds they inhabit. It makes them more reflective about their beliefs and choices, more self-conscious and critical of their presuppositions and motivations, more creative in their problem-solving, more perceptive of the world around them, and more able to inform themselves about the issues that arise in their lives, personally, professionally, and socially... http://www.admissions.college.harvard.edu/about/learning/liberal_arts.html

    Not having gone through this type of educational program myself, I discovered the concept of a liberal arts education in my time at Memorial University of Newfoundland's Queen Elizabeth II Library. I was supposed to study linguistics (I did study linguistics) but I discovered thinkers like Rorty, John Dewey, Umberto Eco, etc. as well and was blown away by the thoughts of such men. The strand is a continuous chain of references and accidental discoveries, and I count myself extremely fortunate to have come to know Northrop Frye in this long, long journey that will end only on the day I die. Frye is not only a fellow Canadian but also a natural milestone in my journey as an interested person on education issues. My whole educational program is built to appreciate and revel in the words and thoughts of Frye and Eco and Hall.

    Jay

    Ps: Smolin's book and thoughts and assessment were vindicated by the recent discovery of the Higg's boson that have effective proven the Standard Model of Particle Physics as the most realistic model of the physical world.

    Saturday, 2 February 2013

    The need for a "post-protestant ethic"

    One of the thinkers I admire, Max Weber, forwards a compelling argument in his famous book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, that without protestantism free capitalism would have not taken hold (in contrast to other cultures, the Asian cultures in particular, he argues elsewhere) the way it has in Europe and its off-shoots (North America, say). I'm not so sure, and I'll try and explain why.

    During the flowering of culture called the Renaissance (roughly the period from the 14th to the 17th centuries), there was not only the re-discovery of ancient Greek and Classical Roman cultures, but these discoveries were largely financed by a growing capitalism and middle-class of the period with the invention of international banking. And this flowering occurred not with the rise of protestantism (15th century on) but was financed almost entirely by Catholic Church luminaries such as the (in)famous House of Medici.

    Regardless, Weber's insights still pertain and apply because that Renaissance period is what he'd call, the charismatic domination stage where familial and religious ties largely determined the political and economic structures - ie, that which gave birth to protestantism.

    Another thinker that I admire, Edward T Hall, also talks about America's struggle to "throw off the yoke of Protestant Ethic" (Hall, Beyond Culture, p. 220). He writes:

    Our enshrinement of time and the way in which we allow our lives to be fragmented is frightening. The whole process of extension transference is highly irrational. Ethnocentricism is inevitably characterized by irrational elements and, as long it is widely shared, it is impossible to combat. Individuals sometimes do lose their prejudices, but whole groups are slow to change and in many instances give up one prejudice only to take up another...cultural irrationality is widely shared and therefore often thought to be normal. Our attitudes toward consumption and material goods and our apparent lack of interest in curbing waste at a time when our resources are running out is clearly insane. But because we share the insanity with others and get little help from our institutions or leaders, this insanity goes virtually unchecked in spite of valiant efforts of the environmentalists. After all, you can't stop progress! Or can you? (ibid)

    What Hall is describing is exactly the thing Weber warned us about: that "polar night of icy darkness". It is exactly so because the present irrational culture of consumerism as described by Hall in the passage above is largely determined by a corporatization of North American culture. This irrationality has reared its ugly head in a big way on the Idle No More movement which is, in so many words not clearly articulated, seen as a threat to the consumeristic society. Whether clothed in reactionary nationalism as Harper's regime would like, this thinly-veiled racism is not only disconcerting to aboriginals like me but utterly wrong-headed in its interpretation that we want and desire a pre-Luddite agenda.

    Taking something from the notion of "estates of the realm" as intrepreted in the pre-Revolutionary France: the First Estate (or clergy); the Second Estate (nobility) and the Third Estate (commoners) - and I'd add the so-called 'Fifth Estate' (journalism) -, I'd propose that Weber's three levels of social stratification:

    social class;
    status class; and,
    party class

    are not just schemes of analysis but descriptions of what a viable, functional society needs to balance out and guard against any one of these three stratums over-powering the others.

    I had a very interesting meeting with one of the Inuit Language advocates that I respect, Stephane Cloutier, where the subject evolved into a discussion on the need of a literary tradition (ie, reading material outside of documents issued by the government) for language preservation and advancement. The social class, I'm beginning to appreciate, is not enough to merely exist to be able to counter political plays and pressure from the other two more powerful aspects of Weberian social strata. We also need Eco's notion of philosophus additus artifici (philosopher as well as an artist) as part of the social class's arsenal to ably counter the other two.

    My wife, D, is of similar experience as M. Cloutier, and our discussions on politics and culture have always centered around the notion of poets, philosophers and literary crtitics as signs of cultural and linguistic health and vitality.

    The intrinsic anti-intellectualism of the reactionary right is not the fault of the social class itself, but forms a part of the tactics of the other two classes because knowledge and information can exist without historical and political awareness/insight, and both of the other two (knowledge and information) are completely useless without that all-important critical awareness - just as the status and party classes want things to be.

    A Post-Protestant Ethic should seek that balance (rather than outright revolution) between the triumvirate - however we label them: first, second and third estates; social, status and party classes. Hall's irrational, insane cultural unconscious is not an inevitability (Hall and Weber are actually more optimistic than that). The similarities in their sociological studies go beyond what would be considered by some as blind optimism; they both provide in their own ways an adumbration of the way out of the Protestant Ethic. I pray that we grow and develop enough awareness to transcend this chinese finger trap we call the protestant ethic.

    Jay