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Showing posts from November 6, 2011

Humean anthropology and indolence: 3

Hume’s Natural History of Religion is, as its very title shows, something different than a mere history. History and natural history differ in their object: in the former, the object is the chronicle of human action, and in the later, of the development of living forms in nature. By shifting religion to the realm of nature, Hume was following through on the logic of a division that he articulates in the very first paragraph between reason and human nature. Already this division speaks to a certain incoherence in the pretence that man is, ontologically, on an equal level with ‘nature’. In other words, an incoherence of ontological scope. This incoherence haunts social science like a Cartesian demon, casting doubt on all attempts to ground a social science on the opposition between culture and nature, while at the same time making it impossible to simply combine the two without destroying the very meaning and savor of both categories. In the twentieth century, Levy-Strauss made of that

comment on the NYT Stephen Roach piece at Room for Debate

Stephen Roach, the well named financial analyst, was asked about the crisis in savings in Japan and the United States in the NYT’s Room for Debate the other day. His response was essentially to knock the American middle class for living beyond its means (which used to be the bright side – remember the Ownership society? Remember ‘its your money’? Ah, the Bushisms of yesteryear). Anyway, I wrote a comment which, for some reason, the NYT chose not to publish, although I can’t see that it violated any policy of theirs. So, in the interest of keeping this comment around so that I can use it later, rather than flushing it into the cybervoid, here’s a link to Roach’s article and here’s my comment. "Nice to see Roach talk his book - let's shove more money into Wall Street via IRAs and 401Ks. - Or, lets strip them of their tax deductibility and set up government retirement and education accounts which would be tax free and offer a modest but guaranteed return of 3 percent annually,

Hume and Rousseau on indolence: 2

Han Joachim Voth, in his essay, Time Use in Eighteenth century London: some evidence from Old Bailey (1997) cleverly figured out a way to quantify over time use in 18th century Britain by using the accounts of witnesses at trials. The question of whether and how much time discipline intensified among urban laborers (and agricultural workers) has been much disputed, as the Marxist claim that was backed up in the E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class has been tugged at here and statistically stiffed there. Voth concluded that the evidence points not to longer working days, but instead, to longer working weeks. The sixteenth and seventeenth century holidays were being cut down. St. Monday was assassinated. Another study of the decline of Saint Monday (the day that workers would sometimes take off to have a day of drinking and music) in 18th and 19th century Birmingham found that the Saint was not martyred all at once, but bit by bit. The evidence, then, points to an

Hume and Rousseau on indolence: a backwards glance 1

Indolence and leisure have long been outlier themes in philosophy and the social sciences. And yet, as I hope to show, they are connected by every family tie to the grander themes of reason, progress and culture, as these were articulated among the Enlightenment intellectuals of the eighteenth century. Let’s start this inquiry with a conference held in 1966 when Marshall Sahlins surveyed the ethnographic evidence concerning the use of time by hunter gatherers, such as the !Kung and Australian aborigines, and used it as evidence for what he called the “original affluence”. Sahlins wrote: “A fair case can be made that hunters often work much less than we do, and rather than a grind the food quest is intermittent, leisure is abundant, and there is more sleep in the daytime per capita than in any other condition of society (1968 – quoted by Winterhalder (1993). Windterhalder’s essay, which advocates a neo-classical framework to explain the “original affluence” thesis instead of Sahlins’