Wednesday, May 16, 2012
We Are Normal (And We Want Our Freedom)
Frontispiece from Thomas Henry Huxley, Evidence As To Man's Place In Nature, 1863
I have noticed that general works  about the history of Man either ignore China altogether or relegate this huge section of mankind to a couple of paragraphs. One of my aims in this book is to supply the general anthropologist with at any rate an impetus towards including China in his survey. This does not mean however that the book is addressed to a small class of specialists; for all intelligent people, that is to say, all people who want to understand what is going on in the world around them are, 'general anthropologists', in the sense that they are bent on finding out how mankind came to be what it is today. Such an interest is in no sense an academic one. For hundreds of millenia Man was what we call 'primitive'; he has attempted to be civilized only (as regards Europe) in the last few centuries. During an overwhelmingly great proportion of his history he has sacrificed, been engrossed in omens, attempted to control the wind and rain by magic. We who do none of these things can hardly be said to represent normal man, but rather a very specialized and perhaps unstable branch-development. In each of us, under the thinnest possible veneer of homo industrialis, lie endless strata of barbarity. Any attempt to deal with ourselves or others on the supposition that what shows on the surface represents more than the mere topmast of modern man, is doomed to failure.
 e.g., A.M. Hocart's The Progress of Man, E.O. James, Origins of Sacrifice, both quite recent works.
Arthur Waley, The Way and its Power, A Study of the Tao Te Ching and its Place in Chinese Thought, New York, MacMillan, 1938, p. 11.
Leonardo da Vinci, Self-Portrait in red chalk, 1515
Note: Arthur Waley's preface to The Way and its Power is quite impressive in itself and I excerpt it here in spite of a friend's request that I self-interdict from posting material that might seem to fall under any sort of "words to live by" rubric. Oddly (and some people I know will find this very odd), what crossed my mind while reading this was the vicious, crude, hectoring and bullying nature of the largely (and at this point sufficiently) discredited Washington Post article late last week regarding Mitt Romney's supposed Cranbrook School "bullying incident." The Post's work on this story, including their significant but unacknowledged "non-retraction retraction" revision of the article, and the weekend television pundits' collective take on the piece, are additional clear examples (as if any were needed) that journalists tend to be bullies and Bullies Are Wimps.
Neil Innes, 1968