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Post "Other" and "Tribe"; on Toynbee
Created by John Eipper on 10/21/14 3:56 AM

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"Other" and "Tribe"; on Toynbee (Robert Whealey, USA, 10/21/14 3:56 am)

When commenting my post of 18 October, John E described my use of the word "tribe" as an "othering" term. I do not think the word "other" takes us very far. It was a fad popular about 1990 to 2000, when the US TV industry was looking for an enemy to replace Communism.

But tribes have a real history. The Hittites and ten tribes of Israel over the centuries became extinct. The Navajos will probably survive another century, but most of the approximately 950 groups of North American indigenous peoples have disappeared.

Arnold Toynbee at the end of World War I wrote the history of 26 original civilizations, most of which disappeared. It seems to me that five or six of these will survive another century. 1. Christianity, 2. Judaism 3. Islam.

4. Hinduism has a dubious future (19 + language groups). Hindus who come to Europe and America rapidly integrate. The idea of caste is an intellectual weakness, yet paradoxically within India itself, caste allows the society in the villages to survive with pure numbers.

5. The Chinese have a civilization, but philosophically there has been a great debate going on for a decade in China between three imports (Marxism, Christianity, Buddhism) and native Confucianism and Taoism.

Is Buddhism an independent civilization with a future? Probably not. In theory it is rational and pacific. In practice it died out in its native India. It held a brief sway in China during the Tang dynasty. Politically pure Buddhist monks live in a monastery and always withdraw from the world of politics, economics and the military, which requires conflict, compromise and dialogue. Atheism works for intellectuals like Karl Sagan or Stephen Hawking but fails with laymen who demand certainty.

JE comments:  "Other" is an imprecise term, as demonstrated by this exchange with Robert Whealey.  I had used it to identify (and question) the language of the developed "West" when referring to peoples considered less civilized.  "We" have nations, demographics, and interest groups; "they" have tribes and clans ruled by warlords.  Robert's interpretation seems to go in a different direction, whereby "other" is a constructed enemy perpetuated by Western media hype.  If I may attempt a synthesis of our two positions, Robert sees "other" itself as an "othering" term.

Returning to tribe, we find this in the National Geographic Style Manual:

"For most people in Western countries, Africa immediately calls up the word 'tribe.' Yet today most scholars who study African states and societies—both African and non-African—agree that the idea of tribes promotes misleading stereotypes. The term 'tribe' has no consistent meaning. It carries misleading historical and cultural assumptions. It blocks accurate views of African realities ... At worst, it perpetuates the idea that African identities and conflicts are in some way more 'primitive' than those in other parts of the world."

http://stylemanual.ngs.org/home/T/tribe-tribal

Shall we revisit the works of Arnold J. Toynbee?  His "challenge and response" theory of civilizational history was extremely influential in the mid-20th century, but it has since lost credibility.  Wikipedia asserts that "his work has been seldom read or cited in recent decades."  But how about Toynbee's claim that most civilizations die of suicide or murder (especially suicide), rather than natural causes?  Does this metaphor have any usefulness today?


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  • on Stereotypes (Robert Whealey, USA 10/22/14 8:43 AM)
    In his comment to my post of 21 October, John E appended a National Geography Style Manual statement about the word "tribe" and stereotypes. The problem with the concept "stereotype" is that it is fine for Sociology 101, with two or three examples. Later I learned that all students come to class with 18 year-old stereotypes.

    When I was teaching my course on Nazi Germany, I had a Black student ask me, "Who invented the Polish joke?"


    I replied that it was probably invented by some German.


    Then I added the French have German jokes. The British have French jokes. The French have jokes about Spaniards and a saying that "Africa begins at the Pyrenees." Most Spaniards have jokes about Moroccans. The Black student and I had a big laugh. About half the whites laughed also. But the half which did not were probably embarrassed about their parents or else they had their own identity problems.


    Students were great fun to teach from 1958 to 1980. After 1980 and the election of Ronald Reagan, most students seemed to have lost a personal sense of humor.


    JE comments:  Absolutely, Prof. Whealey.  Political correctness has taken its toll on the good ol' belly laugh. We don't tell Polish jokes at my house, but you can take the same structure and punch line and turn them into "Gallego" jokes.  But if my wife were from Santiago de Compostela, we'd have to find another ethnic group to poke fun of.


    My bet is that the Polish joke originated in the US, not Germany.



    Laughs aside, stereotypes are a serious issue. Here's the central paradox: stereotypes are offensive and often simply wrong, but they are also central to human understanding.  Where does "culture" end and stereotype begin?  A little WAIS-related anecdote:  for years I have told my students that one example of "American Exceptionalism" can be found in restaurants.  When faced with the decision "table or booth," a (US) American will always pick the latter.  Europeans and Latin Americans prefer tables.  When brunching with our Argentine colleague Rodolfo Neirotti on Sunday, I learned that Rodolfo had phoned the restaurant in advance to ensure they'd save us a table.  But this is rarely a problem in the US, as tables are always more available than booths, which fill up first.


    So, booth or table?  And more importantly, is this a useless stereotype or a fundamental tenet of culture?


    I thought I had posted my booth-table hypothesis on WAIS before, but apparently not:  an archival search for "booth" led mostly to John Wilkes, Claire Luce, and a voting place or two.


    Next up:  my hypothesis on forks, spoons, and how to eat cake.


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    • How About Yepes Jokes? (Henry Levin, USA 10/22/14 11:07 AM)
      When you have a real funny joke, but don't want to do an ethnic stereotype, I recommend using the town of Yepes. I think we had a discussion about the origin of this several years ago, but even in Spain I don't think it offends any ethnic group (although some believe one is referring to Andalucians).

      There is a Yepes in Castille-La Mancha, but it only has 5,200 persons who would be insulted.


      JE comments:  Not a bad suggestion, but Yepes is a fairly common surname in Colombia, together with the "standbys" Restrepo, Escobar, Gaviria, and Barragán. And there is a well-known Hispanist at Bowdoin College (Maine), Enrique Yepes. I think he's Colombian.


      Nor is Yepes phonemically that different from Eipper.  Spaniards also make fun of the town of Loja, in Granada.  There's an offensive little ditty about that town.  It can be easily Googled.


      WAIS archival search for Yepes:  0 hits.  Now there will be one.


      [Correction:  The brunt of Spanish jokes is Lepe, not Yepes.  See below]


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      • Lepe, not Yepes (Henry Levin, USA 10/23/14 4:07 AM)
        Jordi Molins (22 October) is right, and I stand corrected.

        I guess that my Catalan neighbors and friends, and I have many, have become so serious about independence in the last five years that they have not told me any jokes, and so "Lepe" became "Yepes" in my deteriorating memory. Actually I first heard the reference to Lepe in the Canary Islands, where most of their jokes seemed to involve Lepe.


        JE comments:  Lepe is in the extreme southwest of Spain, on the coast and the border with Portugal.  For centuries it was a fishing village, but now it is famous for producing strawberries.  And wine:  according to Wikipedia, Lepe wines are mentioned as far back as Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.


        A son of Lepe was Rodrigo de Triana, the first of Columbus's crew to sight land in the New World.  (Columbus himself took the credit, so as not to give the promised reward to Triana.  Some period sources say that Triana was so angered by the slight that he moved to Africa and converted to Islam.)


        Do you live in the Western Hemisphere?  If so, give thanks to a Muslim from Lepe.


        A lepero is a native of Lepe, while in several parts of the Spanish-speaking world (especially Mexico), a lépero is a low-class person or riffraff.  Neither is to be confused with leproso, a person with leprosy.  The reason for Lepe jokes may be the similarity of the three words.
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    • Stereotypes and Ethnic Jokes; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 10/22/14 12:58 PM)
      Ric Mauricio sends these thoughts in response to Robert Whealey (22 October):

      Whenever someone tells me a Polish joke (or any other ethnic joke, for that matter), people think that I don't have a sense of humor. They explain the humor behind the joke, the stereotype, and yet I still didn't get it. Perhaps I live a sheltered life. Or perhaps it is because I count amongst my friends people of every ethnic, cultural, and national persuasion. Once I was told by a person that he hated Iranians. I asked him if he had ever met one. His answer was no. I told him that I had never met a Persian that I didn't like. He tried to backpedal and dug himself into an even bigger hole. He hated Muslims. Again, has he ever talked to one? No, but most terrorists are Muslims. Hmm. In WWII, it was the Japanese. During the Cold War, it was the Russians. During Vietnam, it was the Communists of North Vietnam aided and abetted by the very Red Chinese. So again, I told him, one of my very best friends is Muslim and he in no way would call me an infidel and harm me.


      Once I was told that people might think I am gay because I had gay friends. Yeah, right. Give me a break. My son, when he was in high school, lamented that the Chinese students told him he wasn't really Chinese. My wife, his mother, is Chinese-American. I told him to embrace all that is good in being multi-ethnic; that he is a world man and not limited in his outlook. I told him to instead make friends who play sports or chess or drama or art. It made me cringe when people argued that the President was only half black. My response was, "Can he do the job?"


      When a friend of mine said she would only marry a black man who totally black, in color and background, I asked her if that was not racist. She couldn't answer. When I was brought to a party by a friend where participation was 100% black, a guy came up to me and told me I wasn't black. I looked at my hands and said, "wow, you're right." He asked me if I was uncomfortable, being the only non-black at the party. I asked him, "Should I be?" He laughed and shook my hand.


      Once I was told by an employee who was about to let go that I couldn't fire him because we were the same ethnicity. My response was, "Are you kidding me? You have to know by now that I am one of the most color blind people in the world. You do your job; you keep it. You don't, you lose it. It has nothing to do with ethnicity. Sorry, you're fired."


      My son went to USC. He once commented that the neighborhood surrounding USC consisted of students and people of a lower economic status. I told him that there are many hard-working individuals who are trying to better themselves every day. Just because you come from an economic level that enables you to go to USC doesn't mean you are to disrespect those who are not as well off as you. He asked me a question, which addressed the attitude of prejudice: if I entered a room where there was a Caucasian guy, a Hispanic guy, a Black guy, and an Asian guy, which one would I approach first? My response: the friendliest-looking guy. And I hope he has a great sense of humor. Lesson learned.


      JE comments:  It's certainly unWAIS to celebrate ethnic humor, but to analyze and explain it is a different story.  One of the pre-existing WAIS topics I inherited when I took this job is titled "Bestiary of Insults."  Its lone entry is about the infamous Danish Muhammad cartoon, dated 6 February 2006.  The image now comes up empty.  Strange...



      https://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=8811&objectTypeId=3061&topicId=98


      A correction to Henry Levin (22 October):  Jordi Molins has written to point out that it's Lepe (in Huelva), not Yepes, that is the butt of Spanish jokes.  Here are a few hundred of them:


      http://www.1000chistes.com/chistes-de-lepe


      One taken at random, in English:



      "A guy from Lepe goes to the box office and asks for a ticket.  The girl at the window says, 'This is the fifth time you've bought a ticket.'  The Lepero replies:  'I know, but every time I try to go in, the idiot at the door rips it in half.'"


      Discuss.


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      • Stereotypes and Ethnic Jokes: Spain (Enrique Torner, USA 10/23/14 3:55 AM)
        In Spain, they don't even know what political correctness is, and they make jokes about people from every region of the country, and from just about every country on earth! And everybody laughs! Jokes are very popular in Spain, and good professional jokesters make a lot of money and become famous.

        JE comments:  Traditionally yes , but it seems to me that even in Spain, political correctness is starting to take hold. It's no longer acceptable to make fun of Roma or gays, for example.  Or are the Spaniards I hang out with disproportionately enlightened?

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        • Stereotypes and Ethnic Jokes: Venezuela and Colombia (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 10/23/14 10:48 AM)
          I tend to agree with Enrique Torner (23 October), about language or jokes and political correctness. Maybe it is a matter of culture.

          When I was a kid and moved for the first time to Colombia from Spain, I had to face a lot of mockery and jokes from other kids and friends about the way I spoke, things I said, my habits, and so on. It took me some time to understand that most of their mockery was not really ill-intentioned, but reflected a perhaps twisted sense of humor, an "easy" one, sometimes disrespectful, but nothing really racist, or intended to be socially marginalizing or exclusive. Of course this was a "kid thing"; adults were much more tactful in the way they treated us.


          This same perception I had it later on when I moved to Venezuela, but even worse, because in Venezuelan culture even the adults make jokes, constantly mock anything and everybody, no matter what the circumstances might be. Dramatic or tragic, there is always somebody with a joke, perhaps an exaggerated sense of humor, sometimes "black" humor, but spontaneous and improvised. They claim it is the only way to keep on living despite difficulties.


          I used to be very critical with this cultural feature, though eventually I become immersed in it and found myself practicing it as well.


          In this country it is very common to call somebody "negro," or call nicknames related to some personal characteristic such as "Gordo" (fat person), or "musiu" (from French) to a foreigner, affectionately, with no racist implications, and not necessarily disrespectful.


          In Spain, things are very similar, though people in general are a little more respectful and politically correct; irony, sarcasm, humorous ways, directness, or other speaking cultural features are very common, which might be considered by foreigners to be rude or offensive. It seems sometimes we should not take too seriously things which are intended to be "unserious."


          JE comments: José Ignacio Soler has observed more jocularity and irreverence in Venezuela than Colombia. I wonder if this is because of Caracas's Caribbean culture, in contrast to the more sober "tierra fría" character of Bogotá. Colombians from the coast (Cartagena, Barranquilla, Santa Marta) say the same thing about their Bogotano compatriots.


          Robert Whealey has started a very engaging conversation on stereotypes and humor.  I hope we'll hear from other parts of the world, too--Italy, Russia, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Japan, Brazil, the UK.  You know who you are!



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