My Teachers, Part 2

(Further notes after my first “My Teachers” post, and additional perspective from my prior post on the State Department, Foreign Service Institute, and our Current Ignorance of the World.)

My teachers of Anthropology and Linguistics at SUNYBuffalo, had been working for the U.S State Dept, in the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) during and after WWII. Their work consisted centrally of working (“fieldwork”) in the different Languages and Cultures of the world – advising and teaching State Dept personnel in exploring and understanding the other languages and cultures of the world.

Language and Culture were considered important in understanding and dealing with the world.

Different peoples and nations had to be studied in their “own terms,” in order to understand and deal with them “realistically, effectively…” To be an effective statesman, one should speak the native language In these senses: other countries were different from us, but should be studied in their own  terms, toward good and effective foreign politics and policies.

As Sec’y of State to President Eisenhower, John Foster Dulles had a quite “different” picture of the United States and other countries. They were not just “different” from the U.S., but they were considered as somewhat “lesser,” in the contexts of a kind of “hierarchy” of nations. (Dulles was a deeply religious person with a deep sense of “America-First” – America was a kind of “City upon a Hill.”) His picture of America and the world has persisted well into the present.

In any case, all the Anthropologists and Linguists in the FSI were “fired,” in 1955. E.T. Hall – who authored the “Silent Language” went to be a professor at Northwestern University. His close colleague, George L. Trager, as well as Henry Lee Smith, Jr. went to Buffalo (and hired Ray Birdwhistell) – I was one of their first two students. I had been searching for my true “vocation” – and this seemed to be the way of the/my future!

They were hired by a former State Dept. administrator, who had become Dean of Arts & Sciences at Buffalo (Richard H. Heindel) and knew Trager & Smith, and their works. I “found” them through my partner and, soon after, spouse (Janis/J.) who was student and “live-in nanny” for the Heindel’s daughter. And we thought we were something of a “match.” (I was working as a mathematician, system analyst, programmer of early computers at that time, and looking to move-on; this, after a year in medical school at Buffalo.)

They seemed interesting, exciting: persons as well as subject-matters.

Back to “The Silent Language” as example and metaphor for the study of culture:

“Though the United States has spent billions of dollars on foreign aid programs, it has captured neither the affection nor the esteem of the rest of the world. In many countries today Americans are cordially disliked; in others merely tolerated…Most of our behavior does not spring from malice but from ignorance, which is as grievous a sin in international relations. It is time Americans learned how to communicate effectively with foreign nationals. Americans sent abroad to deal with other peoples should not only be taught to speak and read the language, but be thoroughly trained in the culture of the country. We don’t need more missiles and H-bombs nearly so much as we need specific knowledge of ourselves as participants in a culture.”

— Dr Edward Hall

Frontispiece to “The Silent Language” – paperback edition – 1959.

Importantly for any deeper understanding of our relation to the rest of the world in 2009, “why” we find ourselves in seemingly endless wars with the most vague reasons for being at war – Hall’s comment was totally prescient.

Our understanding of the religious and tribal/ethnic differences in both Iraq and Afghanistan (and Iran) are constructed from ideologies, not much on knowledge of their cultures, languages, thinking…all of what the Linguists and Anthropologists of the Foreign Service Institute tried to teach us.

The deepest and saddest irony of this story, is that Linguists and Anthropologists have been “absent” (literally: none! – as far as I know.) from the State Dept since my teachers were fired in 1955. Political Scientists, Economists, some others, but no Anthropologists-Linguists.

Only in the past couple of years, as the war in Iraq has stalled and stalled, has there been some attempt to talk about “culture.” But, so far, it still seems mostly like “talk” – a  couple of so-called “anthropologist-hires,” but seeming more like appearance than serious “fieldworkers” – more calculated to calm than to study the peoples and thinking of these cultures.

So much for experience, trying to get-into the “heads” of other peoples. I hope it’s time to more deeply explore the peoples of the world in this explosively global moment where the economists and political scientists whom we thought knew something/everything have created only a corroding bottom-line.

The study of language, cultures, experience, thinking of others – coming back to enable/enhance/expand our own thinking in these complicated times.

Time to get out into the world, and study the people(s)…

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  • April

    I don’t have much in the way of feedback, but I very much enjoy reading these pieces on teaching/studying/dialog. Keep posting!

  • April

    I don’t have much in the way of feedback, but I very much enjoy reading these pieces on teaching/studying/dialog. Keep posting!

  • Harvey

    April,
    thanks. I will.
    and my Teaching as Dialogue will be posted soon.
    Harvey

  • Heath Heindel de Gouvea

    It was just by chance that I discovered your site. It was a pleasure to discover your article about Haxie Smith, long-time friend of my parents, Betty and Dick Heindel. Whenever he came to our house, both in Washington and then in Buffalo, the conversation was always very exciting. That circle of scholars at UB always encouraged me to concentrate on the importance of language and anthropology
    as the key to better international relations. When I decided to marry a Brazilian surgeon, Haxie “tested” me for Portuguese language skills and gave me tips on all the regional accents. I was amazed to discover the extent of his knowledge after arriving here. HHG

  • Heath Heindel de Gouvea

    It was just by chance that I discovered your site. It was a pleasure to discover your article about Haxie Smith, long-time friend of my parents, Betty and Dick Heindel. Whenever he came to our house, both in Washington and then in Buffalo, the conversation was always very exciting. That circle of scholars at UB always encouraged me to concentrate on the importance of language and anthropology
    as the key to better international relations. When I decided to marry a Brazilian surgeon, Haxie “tested” me for Portuguese language skills and gave me tips on all the regional accents. I was amazed to discover the extent of his knowledge after arriving here. HHG

  • Amazing to find each other – after 50+ years. My spouse (Jan-is) was babysitter for your younger sister Bridget (her address?) – and that’s how Haxie and I found each other. He was a principal teacher of mine, buddy to George Trager – and a great joy to know and study under/with.
    Best wishes,
    Harvey

  • Amazing to find each other – after 50+ years. My spouse (Jan-is) was babysitter for your younger sister Bridget (her address?) – and that’s how Haxie and I found each other. He was a principal teacher of mine, buddy to George Trager – and a great joy to know and study under/with.
    Best wishes,
    Harvey

  • Heath

    My sister is in East Aurora after many years in Conn. I will tell her to check your site. In regard to the need for the exploring and understanding other cultures….very very true. It is astounding to observe how much is on the news about the US here and then, from the American news channels, practically nothing about the colorful history, geography and languages of the fascinating cultures of South America. Best regards , Heath

  • Heath

    My sister is in East Aurora after many years in Conn. I will tell her to check your site. In regard to the need for the exploring and understanding other cultures….very very true. It is astounding to observe how much is on the news about the US here and then, from the American news channels, practically nothing about the colorful history, geography and languages of the fascinating cultures of South America. Best regards , Heath

  • Yes, so much we don’t know. I have a colleague/friend from Argentina visiting here in Mpls. right now – and all this is very much in our thoughts. We lived for two years – studying Mayan language and culture many years ago, but being in Mexico resides deeply in our being: the culture, the poverty, the language(s).

    East Aurora is where Bridget lives. We were there just three months ago staying at the Roycroft Inn where we got married 53 years ago. say hello.
    Harvey

  • Yes, so much we don’t know. I have a colleague/friend from Argentina visiting here in Mpls. right now – and all this is very much in our thoughts. We lived for two years – studying Mayan language and culture many years ago, but being in Mexico resides deeply in our being: the culture, the poverty, the language(s).

    East Aurora is where Bridget lives. We were there just three months ago staying at the Roycroft Inn where we got married 53 years ago. say hello.
    Harvey

  • Julia

    Mr. Harvey Sarles

    I am a mass communication and currently conducting a study in Nonverbal Communication. 

    I just wanted to say I really look up to Birdwhistell. He did a very hard study about kinesics. In this present time, people nowadays don’t give importance to this kind of field and I guess not even aware. 

    I chose this as my subject for research because I wanted to let the people be aware that there’s such thing as kinesics. It’s not only about Physical Education rather also communicating with others.

    Although I am having a very hard time with the finding sources to support my study. And I don’t even have the enough money to buy the books. And I doubt, books related to kinesics or body language are not even available in my country or they are pretty expensive. 

    I hope I can get a respond from you!

    Julia

  • Harvey Sarles

    Julia,

    My teacher, Ray Birdwhistell, remains in my thinking – fairly full-time. He studied the physical-interaction of persons communicating – and called that study, “Kinesics.” I was trained, inspired by him, and worked with him for  a few years – he “got” me a job at Western Psychiatric Clinic in Pittsburgh, while he was working mostly at Eastern Psychiatric Clinic in Philadelphia.

    He worked at observing the interactions between persons – especially between Psychiatrist-Physicians and their patients, in the many contexts of patient-doctor interactions. He wrote, spoke, lectured, taught this many persons – and had several colleagues with whom he communicated regularly (google Margaret Mead, Albert Sheflen, Gregory Bateson – he first student was Erving Goffman, I was this next one.)

    His work went very well – for several years – then…there occurred two “revolutions” in the academic and psychiatric world – and Birdwhistell and friends (and students) were no longer “taken seriously” in the contexts of linguistics nor psychiatry.

    In psychiatry, there occurred a “grand change” – from doctor-patient interactions – to the “treatment” primarily by drugs. Continuing still.

    In (anthropological) linguistics, famous scholar, public intellectual, Noam Chomsky, “invoked” a long-dead scholar whose ideas “sold immensely” and altered the study of human-interaction – to the study of language-as-syntax. Rene Descartes said (still does, somehow) that “I think, therefore I am” – and bypassed the study of the human-in-interaction, including “kinesics.” Gone, gone, still affecting and shaping my life and career.

    Birdwhistell – who mainly followed the ideas of Social Interactionism of George Herbert Mead (“Mind, Self, and Society,”  especially – also see my book: “Language and Human Nature” – are growing in popularity in the field of Child Development, where it is being pursued as “Attachment Theory” – especially the study of infants and their m/others.

    This is to say, that we continue to have “arguments” about what is “human nature” (even about what is “real”)

    And Kinesics is just re-emerging as we are more critical students of the history of philosophy (especially Western Philosophy from Plato to today) – rather than observing interactions-behavior-kinesics. 

    Thank you for being interested in Birdwhistell and his Kinesics, and in helping to re-open the study of the human (perhaps, especially, the study of one’s observations of others, and of the world.)

    A recent creation of three of us: myself, Karl Rogers, and Jerry Timian – in the contexts of “The John Dewey Study of Democracy and Education” – will explore these ideas in the various contexts where they occur…in these most interesting and “changing” times.”

    Thank you Julia.

    Harvey Sarles