Thursday, November 20, 2014

Human universals and cultural differences

The challenge is to realise that human universals and cultural differences coexist, they are just two extrema of the same continuum. Anthropology focuses too much on cultural differences, hence the perennial malaise of culturalism.

How can we gain that kind of understanding? By gaining self-knowledge first, deconstructing the invisible omniscient "objective" scientific observer empirically, beyond intellectual declarations. How can you talk about others, if you really don't know your self?

By self-knowledge I mean going beyond the obvious and observable. And that takes stepping outside the conventional Cartesian mode of scientific cognition, which by our times has largely exhausted its potential in social sciences. (The Post-Modernist crisis sort of points towards that critically but offers no way out).

Relying solely on the observable and measurable in understanding inner worlds is really bad 1950s behaviourism. I call its latter-day manifestations in social sciences "crypto-positivism". We've luckily come a long way from that when talking about social facts, but it will take a bit of a revolution to acknowledge and quit it when talking about inner worlds.

"If it walks, talks and looks like a duck, don't get too excited, it can very well be a duck simulachra."  Jean Baurdillard (apocryphal) 

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