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Saturday, 3 October 2009

Back to The Future 2

"It's you!"

I look at myself and confess that it is, indeed, me, myself and I. Despite this confirmation the Transpennine Express representative, a man I recognise as a sparring partner from the bad old days of the delayed 7.33 is unimpressed.

"I'm afraid you cant take pictures here" he says. "Security."

I wonder what possible benefit terrorist might obtain from an ill-functioning railway service, but, regrettably older, tired today, and perhaps a tad wiser, I argue not at all, and slope off with camera and Crosstowner held fast, fearful of police intervention. It is a Saturday afternoon and I've just finished a couple of days back at my old company completing a project for a major client for their Christmas displays. University registration was last week, lectures do not start properly until next week, and I had a couple of days free. Free, that is, until I bragged about this freedom to my friend Tom, who is still emplyed by Dick. The job's fun, travelling aside, creating a huge pile of shinky boxes, replicating a big pile of presents. Mazzer's like shiny, so I jump at the chance, and within the allotted time fabricate a simulacrum of the concept, deemed acceptable by Tom. The project's a lot of fun, and Tom is fine to work with so the work is, like a lot of my enjoyable work, more like playing than work.

The travelling is a different story. At present, the old brain is currently occupied with questions of human origins, questions largely provoked by Chris Knight's book "Blood Relations; Menstruation and the Origins of Human Culture". Knight's proposal is that the origins of human culture lie in a "sex strike" that early females initiated, partly as protection against aggresive male behaviour, partly as a means of ensuring that their offspring were supplied with adequate food.

The work is interesting and throws up a number of questions, but as many of them are about the author's motivations as they are the actual question. Knight is a very radical Professor, fired earlier this year from his University post for suggesting (during a demonstration against globalization) that bankers might be hung form lampposts. He is, very politiclly active, and a Marxist. His analysis, is firmly framed within Marxism. And that, largely is where the problem lies, at least for this reader.

Marxism, in itself, as an economic analysis of industrialism, is something I have no problems with - there were top-hatted capitalists treating workers like bees in the dark Satanic mills. Latter day capitalists are no better - turning rainforests into cattle farms powered by indentured labour and pouring mercury into the Amazon in pursuit of profit. Our (my) own complicity in these activities (at least one of my guitars is tropical mahogany) is unquestionable, but Marxist interpretation of the control of the means of production lets me off the hook. Does nt it?

Where I have difficulties with modern day Marxists, particularly Marxist anthropologists, of which there are not a few, is that they translate their analysis to societies bearing absolutely no relation to the society that Marx lived and worked in. The best way to describe the difficulties I have in this are by describing what anthropologists are discussing when arguing about early human evoltion, ie how did we become human?

This is the picture. A group of hominids ( or early humans) are hanging round the Great Rift Valley, Africa engaged in that most common pursuit of mammals - surviving. These hominids have just split from Chimpanzee ancestors (see exciting news from this week: and are trying hard to decide how to evolve. Franky, they dont know and most of the group are half wishing that an anthropologist would come along and help them. Two in particular, Lucy and Ardi, are especially anxious, mostly because of the knowledge that they will go doen in history and will one day be VERY important. They need to know how to evolve. Suddenly, their wish is granted, but like buses, when you're waiting for one, they all turn up at once. A big bearded fellow addresses them

"You brothers and sisters" he says " are the oppressed. Subject to an aggressive domination from tyrannical overlords. You will establish class solidarity and throw off the chains of imperialism that subjugate you".

The hominids, lounging round in the sun, grooming eachother and slightly drunk from the semi-fermented apples they've been eating, look round anxiously for signs of the oppressor. Suddenly, one of the other anthropologists, wearing an Armani suit, sunglasses and smoking a big cigar, pushes the bearded one aside, making him stumble. Beard's glasses fall off, and the new guy stomps on them, smirking unpleasantly. He points at Lucy:

"You there!! Dont listen to him. He's a fanatic. Human's dont co-operate. You'll never get to the moon if you try that BS. Why dont you steal some of your little friend's baby's food. Take it for your own baby. Competition! That's what it's all about - dog eat dog, survival of the fittest.lJust go for it!"

The hominids are growing increasingly alarmed. Ardi gets up, heading towards a little dip in the landscape a few metres away.

"Where d'you think you're going? " This is from a third anthropologist. He looks like an art critic, square glasses with horn-rimmed frames, and a tee-shity that reads 'Dawkins is GOD'. Ardi, unused to being shouted at, responds timidly;

"Just going to the loo. Back in a bit"

Horn-rimmed looks stern :

"Oh no you're not. Not voluntarily, at least. Not until you've evolved the cognitive architecture to make voluntary decisions about defecation and it's symbolism."

Ardi bristles:

"Look mate, I know he " Pointing to Beard " is a Marxist. And he" pointing to Armani " is a free market behaviourist, but who are you?"

"I'm an evolutionary psychologist" says Horn-rimmed "and you are pre-Cathedral of the Mind".

Later that night, after the anthropologist have all been eaten, a meal shared equally among the hyenas who caught them and the hominids who decided 'Waste not, want not'. Lucy asks Ardi what tey should do.

"Let's wait and see..." says Ardi " about four million years".

Back in Leeds, sitting on the bus that is a train, I'm contemplating that my journey, at least today, is suffering from an acute attack of anthropology - rigid adherence to a dogma without any substantial evidence in favour of the thing.

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