Foundations Project

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Who are cops…the police? Mostly guys, mostly white. In the past few decades a few women, more and more “ethnic” persons: some African-American, in Minneapolis-St. Paul they reflect the recent immigrations…somewhat…as far as I know. Not too many Hmong persons, a few Latinos from various countries…

Who are we…in thinking about the police – wondering how they think about us, and what they’re “up to?” How many of us would like to be cops? Do police “like” being cops, or filled to various levels of…fear, import, wondering about each next person, in each approaching moment?

How do they get to be cops? I mean what’s inside their heads, their thinking, that we might get to understand in their terms – more than in our reactive minds?

Also important – maybe very important is the fact that they dress in “uniforms.” Uniforms seem to take individual identity and help make them all into police – cops. (Where has their “individuality” gone?)

More signs: their cars, bright flashing lights, rear seats which can be made very separate from the front ones; painted black and white (in lots of places). Quite obvious. (Except that we might forget to notice them when we’re driving a bit too fast: over the speed limit. And they can make really loud siren noises which instill us with fear and the immediate reaction to stop, and pull over.)

All this to say that the police have quite a “presence” in the world: in many/most senses they are all “alike.” Uniform…has several meanings and even more connotations. (The differences between police and the military? – has gotten a bit complicated and confusing especially in these moments driven by war, terror, fear… (Observing the RNC meeting in St. Paul last fall: the police “looked” remarkably like military – faces obscured, wearing odd/different uniforms, carrying threatening looks and clubs. Whatever it takes to “keep the peace” said the mayors!)

Sargeant Crowley and that “Uppity Professor” (from Harvard no less), “Skip” Gates. What were the exact circumstances? Never totally clear: perhaps so “obvious” to many of us, that the moment-to-moment “facts” don’t seem very important to the situation.

A white cop (likely with some ethnic background which might still be “important” – was very important a couple of generations ago – Irish Catholic? Boston, a long history of Irish Catholics bathing in money and power. But we should remember the movie, “Gangs of New York” pitching the Irish immigrants against the (then) white Protestant majority to taste those senses of their history. Tough (mostly) guys? Ethnics, culture: what sorts of culture do the police have? “White ethnicity: gone entirely or some residuals?

And an African American, in many ways “the African-American Professor” in these times when being “Black” is taking on some “new” meanings, especially as Barack Obama is our President. And Harvard: In “spite” of being at Harvard, Gates is probably the most important historian/critic of what is African-American. Read the rest of this entry »

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(Part 1 on my teachers. Part 2 touches on this line of thought, part of how it stalled, and impact on society. Part 3 is on “languaging”. Part 4 summarizes some lessons learned from my teachers.)

Who am I? A deep and developing question. But I did have several teachers who helped me to formulate my thinking and directions.

Above all, Ray Birdwhistell – the originator of “Kinesics,” the study of the human body-in-interaction. He was an Anthropologist who was the best observer of people I’ve ever met – observer in the sense of seeing people in careful and detailed senses. He was trained as a “classical” dancer, and seemed to see all others as performers in life’s dances. And he didn’t only concentrate on each individual. He also/always noted how they interacted: in groups, in life’s varieties of social contexts from infants to older, the ordinary and the exceptional in every sense; richer and poorer, healthy and injured and “odd” and…; ethnic, linguistic. His ways into the world were always expanding. Life is social, interactive: the individual…?

My Teachers - My Teachers - Ray Birdwhistell, George Trager, Henry L. Smith Jr., Norman McQuown, ...

My Teachers (click image to enlarge)

Ray was a student of the Chicago School of Symbolic Interaction – heirs of the American Pragmatist, George Herbert Mead, and the anthropologists who wandered the entire world. His work wandered from American Indians to the average family dynamics, to the sick – physically and, particularly, mentally. And he directed me to the U. of Chicago, Anthropology, where I continued my studies with linguist Norman McQuown – under whose tutelage I (and family: J, and infant daughter Amy) studied a Mayan Language (Tzotzil) and lived in Chiapas, Mexico for two years deeply immersed in both Indian and Ladino (their term) cultures during this time.

Ray was also a student in the line of thought and active fieldwork (life is fieldwork!) of Franz Boas: Margaret Mead (especially), Gregory Bateson, influenced his thought. Read the rest of this entry »

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These several extended explorations are attempts to probe basically and deeply – into the underlying frameworks of our thought about the human. Very generally, we have either taken easier or simpler notions of the human to try to account for how we are, think, live.

I’m posting this work in progress to gather comments and feedback, which sections are most interesting today — or not — let me know what you think.

Easy Stepping, photo by Mad Paul

Context, to begin, takes up the continuing questions of how we come to know and live contextually. The usual drill: “leave it to context” – avoids the underlying truths that contexts are aspects of our knowing. Where we are, how we know that, how this shapes or affects our understanding: what is same, what different; when do the same concepts mean differently in various contexts?

As these continue to be works-in-progress, I have not yet begun to address how we, for example, learn, know, and discern the contexts in which we find ourselves; or teach them to each next generation.

Human Nature begins or underlies much of my observations that we have traditionally (and continuing) mis-or under-estimated the human. Especially in the Western philosophical tradition, we continue to play theme-and-variation on the mind-body and the idea that humans are unique “due to language.” We have moved away from observation in deep and subtle ways, as we use the concepts of language on which to focus and organize thinking about the human: Meaning, Reality, the Ideal

Especially in this era of the rise of “strong religion,” we are in the midst of these conflictual ways of thought and being, but are more arguing “politics” than the underlying issues, as cast in the Foundations Project. Morality explores these issues, beginning by questioning whether morality is only or particularly human (NO! it’s a part of the being of all social species). How do we come to be moral: part of our interactions, especially with m/others…

Looking beyond the Western tradition, it has become clearer that questions of Life Paradoxes (just beginning this study) are everywhere, but vary in different traditions. Some traditions want/choose to “resolve” paradoxes on one side or the other, while other traditions find them to be “complementary.” How this happens or “works” seems to underlie much of how we consider our being, reality, etc. In Western thought and religion, whether change or permanence is the real, underlies most other arguments in these days of the rise of strong religion.

Last (up to this moment), the questions surrounding Identity flow in many paths and moments reflecting and refracting the other Foundation Projects.