Discourse and gibbons

Celso Alvarez Cáccamo lxalvarz at udc.es
Sat Nov 16 14:22:23 UTC 2002


I admit to certain circularity in my reasoning: if agency is human agency,
then non-human primates don't have agency (though they do transform
contexts, but in qualitatively different ways: in humans there is
deliberately planning to create new forms of social organization, to
reinstate old ones, etc.). And if agency is a constitutive part of
discourse, then non-human primates can't have discourse. We haven't
introduced ideology centrally in the discussion, but here is yet another
point of difference.

But the point, to me, still is not whether we should extend these notions
(discourse, agency, ideology) in order to accomodate other behaviors and
facts. The point is whether by doing so we would understand human
discourse, agency and ideology better. And, in that sense, studying
computer "discourse" and "agency" may be closer to those goals than
studying primate "discourse" and "agency". After all, computers are modeled
by human minds. In fact, why don't we recall that much of the data
presented to describe apes' minds was gathered under experimental
conditions to make apes behave human-like?  Those experiments tell us
perhaps more about our own minds than about apes' minds, but that's not the
way those data are explained or exploited.

>My point about Iraq was that we often engage in behavior that is a pure
>expression of power, and only attempt to *justify* it through "reflexive"
>discussion. In other words, we may over-value human reflexivity as a part of
>human agency.

But I don't think that that "pure expression of power" emerges out of the
blue, but, precisely, through the mediation of discourse(s). Sorry, but
your words sound a little essentialist, as they privilege notions ("power")
over our understanding of socio-discursive processes. Again, whether
"power" and "politics" can be applied to explain primate behavior in the
wild doesn't account for the fact that the forms of human power and
politics include our capability to even annihilate other primates and
ourselves altogether -- something that chimpanzees fortunately can't do.

What I'm objecting to in this whole discussion, I believe, is that by
humanizing other species beyond what "empirical data" seem to indicate
(that, for example, other primates don't have grammar, which is a very
important tool to organize higher thought, imagination and ideals) some
people may be in fact de-socializing humanity, which offers us a strong
temptation to cease searching for the social and economic sources of misery
and violence. As far as I know, non-human primate social organization is
determined by the access to and distribution of resources and goods (mainly
food, sex and territory). Human social organization is not *determined* by
those resources, as many past and present political experiences and
experiments show. For example, human discourse has produced the utopia of
planetary social equality. That's one main aspect of discourse (the
ideological) that interests me, not just whether we have turn-taking like

Celso Alvarez Cáccamo
lxalvarz at udc.es

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