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Provocation hits target!
Recently a rather provocative post by Nora Bateson — author, teacher, film maker, daughter of philosopher Gregory Bateson — appeared on TheFacebook. Here’s a snip:
As 1.2K Comments might suggest, the terse, stark claim created a good bit of discussion. Obviously, many folks who are using stage-theory-centric approaches (i.e., stadialists) like Integral and Spiral Dynamics quite naturally went to Defcon 1, post-haste. That’s revealing! One couldn’t help noticing many stadialists essentially demonstrating/proving part of Bateson’s argument by being quick to rank and discount Bateson as “Green” (i.e., inferior to their Chartreuse, or whatever).
I’m pleased to note that Bateson’s discourse includes the concern that I’ve been raising regarding Integral and its issues with White supremacist ideology and, especially, including their messed-up messaging regarding the ‘race in America’ discourse. I’m grateful someone with Bateson’s ‘Klout‘ has highlighted the issue of stadial theory and its relationship with eugenics and racism.
She touched off a firestorm of debate and discourse
Bateson’s post has sparked many conversations, in many networks, and has recently produced a zoom video discussion panel, e.g., Jeremy Johnson’s ‘Mutations,’ with panelists: Nora Bateson, Maimunah Mosli, and Jon Freeman. I’ll embed the video here for those who are interested [96 minutes].
Background: Stadial Theory and Eugenics
Later on I will likely pull a clip or two from that Mutations panel video. First, I’d like to take the opportunity to share some relevant history and, thereby, lay a bit of groundwork.
Here is some very fine audio from NPR’s, “Throughline.” This program, from November 2020, is entitled: “The Invention of Race.” It is excellent and I’m including it here in full for anyone who wants to begin with the primary source and hear the whole program up front [37:25]. This is a story that every American ought to know:
A couple notes:
In case you don’t have time to listen to the entire Throughline program right now, here are some portions of the interview to help us surface some much needed historical perspective:
RUND ABDELFATAH, HOST: By 1900, Franz Boas had moved up to becoming a professor of anthropology at Columbia University – the first anthropology department ever in the U.S. And at this point, he was one of the only people openly opposing the popular ideas of racial science.
CHARLES KING, professor: So Boas’s ideas are seen as fringe, as radical, as flying in the face of common sense. Because again, at the time, every museum, every textbook, government policy – they’re all pushing in exactly the opposite direction. You teach new generations, particularly of white Americans, that people who happen not to look like them are naturally inferior. You’re creating the very reality that you believe you’re simply describing. And Boas understood that very early on.
Oh, and by the way, if you believed that white, northern European, North American dominant culture was always rational, Boas would say, are you kidding me? You know, you can’t look in an open-eyed way at the insanity of racial theory and believe that that has been the product of rational observation. And it was that breaking down of the belief in one’s own specialness that was kind of the salutary contribution of Boas.
ABDELFATAH: I think that in any conversation around cultural anthropology, there are also some fair criticisms or questions about this idea of cultural relativism, because in theory, it’s all well and good to look around and be like, you know what, I have to respect your culture. But on the flip side, if, you know, Ramtin and I are both from the Middle East originally, and, you know, we look at, for example, treatment of women in the Middle East, and according to this kind of cultural relativism model, we got to leave it alone because it’s something that maybe we don’t understand coming at it from a Western perspective – what is the response to that criticism?
KING: Yeah. Well, cultural relativism never meant that you couldn’t make judgments about things, and it certainly never meant an extreme moral relativism. Boas and his students took brave stands against racism. They took brave stands against eugenics, so he felt throughout his life that his worldview was perfectly compatible with saying some things are simply wrong in a moral sense. But I think his science, in a way, made his morality deeper because he didn’t have to tie his sense of what was right in the world to the superiority of his own culture and civilization.
My friend, Henry, says that in the IT field, habitually problem-causing software is said to have “a design smell.” My sense is that Nora Bateson has sniffed-out the design smells emanating from approaches that tend to center on stadial theory. [Please watch the video embedded above.]
Next week: More “Stage theory … is BS?” Come and see.
[this post approx. 850 words (about a 3 min. read)]
I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?