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A USan Writes




I don't understand it -- maybe it is something in the air of the building the Journal occupies. The standards seem to be in a process of entropy. After the barrage of feedback you got on the article about a girl who likes to hang her bleeding body like a beef from hooks swinging from the ceiling, I thought, "Maybe the editors and columnists will get it, and begin to serve an elevating of the mind."

Usually I enjoy Barry Evans' "Field Notes." They are often factual and very interesting information about natural phenomena. But his essay on what he calls the Whorf Hypothesis (Oct. 7) suffers from an inadequate understanding of and familiarity with the fieldwork and further analysis that has  been done and continues to be done by anthropologists and ethno-linguists on this. Cavalierly and with a faint stab at being funny, he dismisses this powerful notion.

I wouldn't bother with this, except that it is a tip of the larger iceberg of USan ethnocentrism that wants to deny that other societies, and especially "genuine" cultures (in Edward Sapir's distinction from "spurious" cultures), experience the world in a fundamentally different way. Any professional translator who is fluent in more than one language will explain to you why some words, even from closely related languages like Spanish and English, cannot be translated without dragging the entire cultural reality in which that untranslatable word has its meaning.

With such shallow dismissals of deep differences between cultures, there is no wonder why the US can't seem to grasp, or even sense, that Afghanistan is one of those different realities. We are sure we can make them be like us -- democracy, rock and roll and dirty movies of bloody naked girls hanging from meat hooks for a thrill. Evans' offhand dismissal of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is on the same level as if one who reads the Journal article about the woman hanging from hooks would believe he/she understands the Lakota Sundance.

It points out what is lacking in USan intellect and in its spiritual, aesthetic and ethical standards, as well as the fundamental insight that other peoples' -- some living right among us -- experience and value the world differently; what Castaneda got whipped for calling a Separate Reality by those who never experienced one.

John Allison, Eureka


Sweet Spot: Still not quite clear why the Otherness of non-English speakers must be celebrated while that of performance artists must be pilloried, but whatevs. John Allison wins a Bon Boniere sundae for sending our favorite letter of the week.


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