Laura Nader


X: Social thought. Conversations with the original personalities who are rethinking the way our society and institutions work. With your host Michael Phillips.

The question my father always used to ask me as a graduate student is, "What good is anthropology?"

Michael Phillips (MP): Our guest today is Dr.ÝLaura Nader. She is professor of anthropology at the University of California Berkeley, author of *Harmony IdeologyJustice and Control in a Zapotec Mountain Village*. I'm your host, Michael Phillips. Welcome to Social Thought. Professor Nader. Can we start with Orientalism/Occidentalism? Where does this concept come from?

LAURA NADER: One of the most ingenious books ever written this century was written by Edward Said, called *Orientalism*, and it was about the way in which the West constructs the East. And the work that we've been carrying on at Berkeley over the past five years has been about Orientalism *and* Occidentalism, focusing on the way in which the East has seen the West. And we've pursued this in the civilizational societiesthe Middle East Islamic civilization, Indian civilization, Chinese civilization, and Japanese civilization.

MP: Take any one of these, and, can you give us how an example of how that society would look at the West?

LAURA NADER: Yes. After Napoleon landed in Egypt, the Egyptians got curious about this European society and they sent an expedition that was led by a man named ?AlÝTatawe to Paris to see what European society is like. And his writings have not been fully translated, only in part, but they're magnificent because these were observations made by a man who had a perception, a natural-science natural-history view of human life, and he described the French as he saw them. He described the way they lived. They slept on stilts, these beds that seemed to be on stilts rather than on the floor. He described how the women wore dresses that allowed their arms to be viewed and the back of the neck. He got to Paris and he described the cafÈs. And in the cafÈs he noticed that there were mirrors, and he looked in the mirror, and in the process of looking in the mirror he compared the cafÈs of Cairo with the cafÈs of Paris. Now, this man was in wonderment, I mean, if you read his writings, he was in wonderment about what was going on there. A very different kind of interaction than you get with the Arab historians who were writing about the Crusades. In that case, of course, again the Europeans came in with their arms and their soldiers and their technology and they were fighting over property and ideology and so forth in the Middle East, and these historians described also the technology of the West, the wonderment of this technology that could do so much. But they saw the Westerners, the Europeans, the ?Frenj as they called them, as barbarians. Why? They burned books, they had no knowledge of medicine, they didn't seem to appreciate the finer things of life. They were crude. They were a people, as they said, with technology but no culture, no civilization. Now, a very interesting thing happened to me. When I was teaching this seminar the second time on Orientalism/Occidentalism, I was invited to the faculty club here at Berkeley to a cocktail party for a group of Moroccan governors, contemporary. And I went up to one of these governors and I said to him, "Why are you putting in all these light water reactors up and down the coast of Morocco?" And he said, "Because we need the energy." And I said, "But you could get energy from sun, you have plenty of sun in Morocco." He said, "But the French and the Europeans know this technology, we bought it from the French and they know technology." And I said, "But you don't know the consequences, they're selling you all their old nuclear reactors." And he said, "No, they understand technology." And then finally, in exasperation, he looked at me and he said, "The Europeans, they have no culture, they have no civilization, but they know technology." Now, this was a thousand years after the Arab historians had made the same comments.

MP: You also have looked at the Indian model and the Japanese, as well as the Persian. What are some of those images of the West?

LAURA NADER: Well, the Indian, a very interesting book by Gandhi, who has a different style completely. Gandhi understood Western discourse, and basically he used Western discourse to critique the West. So, he said the same thing, that we had technology, but that our technology was immoral, and that they had a morality, they had a sense of what was right and wrong, and the West didn't. And basically he was trying to argue that the material West was rich, but it didn't have the civilization of the East. He used the same argument. The Chinese used the same argument, when they came to this country. Of course, one of the interesting things, if you look at the Chinese who came to America over a period of a hundred years and you compare them to the Japanese, first ?few who come to America, there again you get not only the difference between the Chinese, the Japanese and American culture, but the difference between the Chinese and the Japanese *view* American culture. Now, the Chinese are born ethnographers. They're curious about the details. They came here, they went to dinner parties, they observed Americans dancing, which they thought was a very comical thing, they observed the food, and they made their comments about the society. They liked certain things, the technology. They didn't like how we treated the old and the young. And they wondered whether a civilization could *last* that didn't treat its old and young very well. And they were an old civilization commenting on a puppy civilization, a young civilization. After all, we've only been around Western civilization some nine-hundred years. Now, the Japanese came, and they came with some work to do. And they were not terribly curious about American culture. They were curious about what they came to look at, the technology that would afford them the kind of development that they thought would make Japan strong and able to *resist* the West. That was the earlier stuff. They weren't interested in going to dinner parties and viewing how families, comments about families, or this sort of thing like the Chinese were. And, the most recent book, of course, by the Japanese came out with the authorship of a couple of corporate executives and it was called *The Japan That Can Say No*. It's been written up about a lot, and I think partially misunderstood. Now, one of the interesting things about that book was that they talked about what was wrong with America, and for the most part they were right. But Americans were *outraged*, that they would say these things. They went even further than the Arab historians. They said they have no culture, they have no civilization, and now they have no technology. Because they were beating us out on the technology. Now, this is all going on while *we* view the world as if we're the only ones viewing them and they're not viewing us and they have no thoughts about us. And I think it's *critical* as the world gets smaller, to see that there's an interaction going on and that this is behind much of what happens at the political, economic, cultural level, even down to the interracial marriage level. These are very deep feelings and attitudes that have come down through the centuries, and they should be part of what we look at. Let me give you a specific. When Americans talk about feminism, and the status of women in this country, they will very often document the problems that we have and what we need to do to improve them. And over the past few decades we've done some things that have improved some ways and not in others. But, there comes a point where they get defensive, Americans get defensive about the position of American women, and when they get defensive they'll say something like, "You think it's bad here. You should be in the Islamic world. Look what they do there. They're veiled, they have clitoridectomy, they have forced marriage, they have all these terrible things. So be glad you are where you are." And I began to think about this, because this basically takes the fight out of the fight, here, because at some point you're told you ought to be grateful 'cause it's worse someplace else. So I started to think about, the Moslems must be saying the same thing. In order to control their women. And I began to look at these popular Moslem speakers who are on Egyptian and Cairo and Damascene television and radio. And they say the same things. "You want to be like American women? You know what the rape rate is in America? Do you want to be like American women, they don't get equal pay? Do you want to be like American women, they can't keep their name upon marriage? Their inheritance is often against them." And they tell you all these things and they're all completely documented by American feminists, right? And the feminists that are working the Arab world have documented the other side of it. So I argued that there's a very strong control operating here, the way the men or the male-dominant society in the Arab world *and* in the West control their women is by pointing out that it's worse elsewhere. So that there is not something that's separate. It's an interaction that's happening. It happened when the French went into Algeria, and it happens whenever American development programs or modernization goes into any part of the Arab world, and it happens here with the increasing enlarging Moslem population that we have here. There is an interaction that's being ignored.

MP: There's another level of interaction that you're implying here, that I have noticed. And that is that when one society compares itself to another society, it also says behaviorÝA is part of consequences B and C. In other words, you're wearing, if you're an Arab woman and you're wearing a chador, it's protecting you from some of the other parts of the society. In other words, it's an element of our society, that, if we change *this* we're gonna change some of the consequences. If we took it off, we gave you jobs, and had you change your last name, you might end up not having children to be able to take care, you may be raped, you may not get equal pay. So, there's a secondary level in which a society is comparing itself to another and therefore recognizing the interconnections, within its own self.

LAURA NADER: Yes, I think that's very true, because they have the West and the East in Cairo. We only have the West. In New York, basically on the institutional level. And, when women start to work in Cairo, they are thought to be fair game, because women traditionally didn't leave the home in Islamic society, in that way, to work in offices and so on. So, many of the young women, *educated* women, many *professional* women, started to veil in Egypt. And they started to veil because they noticed that, if they work in an office and they're veiled, they get treated with respect. So the *veiling* was not seen as a, it was a defense, it was not, from the West. And the Western institutions. So you get developing in many of these countries a kind of siege mentality. And the more *siege* you get, the more siege mentality, like in Saudi Arabia, the more (in quotes) "oppressive" the situation for women. They can be less free because there is this danger of them being potential Westerners. And this is another kind of interaction that's occurring within those countries.

MP: Well, this is actually central also to your argument, because you're suggesting that the creation of Orientalism/Occidentalism is inappropriate for our time, but is used because it maintains or supports structures that are in power.

LAURA NADER: Right. One of the things that's, that was key to my getting into this was Edward Said's notion of positional superiority. People articulate a positional superiority, whether they are Moslems or Chinese or Westerners, in order to carry more clout. And you don't have to in fact *have* positional superiority in order to articulate that as a mode of control. And I think that's another thing that happens, that you, in articulating your positional superiority, in Saudi Arabia and here, you start to veer away from what I would call the realities of everyday life. So, Americans start to exonerate themselves and say, "We really do very well by our women." And so do they. And neither one are noticing that the class of poverty and the most abused class in *both* parts of the world are women.

MP: This is Social Thought. I am Michael Phillips and our guest today is Dr.ÝLaura Nader, professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley. She is the author of *Harmony Ideology*, subtitle *Justice and Control in a Zapotec Mountain Village*. So far, we've discussed a wide range of structures related to mutual cultural perceptions and the forces that are at play in this. You take that one step further, and you suggest that the positional power model has been in place for quite a long time, and that we're suffering some of the consequences of it.

LAURA NADER: Yeah, I'd like to move this now into the area of science and technology itself. And, remind us of a book that Malinowski wrote for the general educated public called *Magic, Science, and Religion*. This was a book written by Bronislaw Malinowski, Pole by birth, British anthropologist, who very much enjoyed writing about anthropology for the wider educated audience. And what he did in this book that was so, is so interesting today, was to examine the Trobriand Islanders of the Western Pacific and look at where in their culture they operate with science, where they operate with magic, and the function of religion in this area. And I think that what was motivating him was the notion which is still prevalent today that somehow primitive peoples, "savage peoples" (in quotes), have no rationality, that it's the West European culture that has rationality, but that these people operate with irrational magical spells and so forth and "therefore" (in quotes) they have no knowledge based on empirical observation. And he argues very forcefully that none of these people that live in these areas that anthropologists have studied could have *survived* if they didn't have knowledge based on empirical observation. And he gives a wonderful example of how they fish in the lagoons as compared with how they fish in the open seas where they have less knowledge. And when they fish in the lagoons, they use this empirical science that they have, crude that it may be. But when they fish in the open seas where they don't understand so much, then they use magic. And he argued that they understand when they're using knowledge based on empirical observation as versus when they're using occult magic. Now, when Malinowski made some interesting distinctions because he said for these people science, their rudimentary science, was available to everybody. It was created throughout centuries and trial and error and so forth and it was known to everybody. And available to everybody. Magic, on the other hand, is occult. It's only available to some. And you have practitioners who cherish the secrets of the magic. At the time when I was rereading this, I was researching with the National Academy of Sciences and then later with a group here in California energy policies in the United States. And the National Academy of Sciences ?Konea study was looking into the question of breeder reactors and what life should be like in terms of energy in the year 2010 in the United States. What was fascinating to me as I listened to these energy scientists, not all of them, but the majority of them, was that they had such a limited view of what was possible. They kept saying it is *impossible*, we must have the breeder, we must have nuclear reactors, and regardless of what you feel about nuclear reactors, I thought these people should not be pushing themselves and the rest of us into a nuclear corner because *they* thought that there wasn't any alternative. So I began pointing out to them that there are some societies that operate on *zero* commercial energy, and that in fact between the years 1964 and '74 in this country we had *doubled* our use of energy, and that necessarily there was no correlation between the amount of energy that we used and the quality of life. Because the quality-of-life indicators from 1930 to 1960 had gone up with the increase in energy, but from 1960 to 1980 they had gone down. So that there's a certain amount of energy does allow quality-of-life indicators to go up, but if you keep on going it doesn't indicate that the quality of life's gonna go up at all. In fact, it went down. So, we did this little study in terms of reducing energy. We described a society that would be *half* the energy, and what it would be like to live in California or the United States with half the energy that we have now, using all the technologies that were in place. The most fascinating reaction of these scientists was it's impossible. And what I was trying to get 'em to say was, "We don't like it. We like a high-energy, high-risk society." But they kept saying it's scientifically impossible when the technology was in place to do that. And this led me to believe that there's something very dangerous now about the relationship in the place of science in our society. Because it *isn't* like Malinowski said available to everybody. It's more like what he was describing as magic. It's more like the open seas. Where they didn't *know* what was gonna happen, they have *no idea* what's gonna be the consequence of having a completely nuclear society where as these nuclear plants die and the hulks are out there standing, what are you gonna do? Have police police 'em all? You're gonna have all of these dead hulks all around the country? I mean, they hadn't projected forward the consequences of developing a nuclear society. So, it's, as I say, it was more like magic and less like the science that Malinowski was eulogizing. And if you extend this a little further, it tells us even more that we're missing. If you extend the whole notion of positional superiority, which has been *so* common to even the most enlightened anthropological work, of other societies, although the anthropologists have been sensitive to this, then you begin to look at the Amazonian "savages" (in quotes) as having no knowledge, only having magic. You look at the Inuits, Eskimos, as, you know, being poor souls that we have to develop, we have to teach 'em how to survive. Well, they've been surviving in those two areas and lots of other areas by *wit* of their observations, their empirical tests of plants and animals and so forth and so on, and it would be a *crime* not to, not only *record* that, but *utilize* in a mutual-respect model, the interactions between our environmentalists and the Inuits. Inuits know a lot about that area that'll take the environmentalists *decades* to learn. Now, I've been talking recently with a Chinese-trained doctor, trained in Western medicine, trained in acupuncture, and it was very interesting to talk to him, because I think he gives us a model for the future world, and a small planet. And that is, he believes in using what works. He uses from the Western medicine what works in Western medicine. He'll send his patients to the Western doctor to do whatever the Western doctor does better than he can do. But then he also believes in using what the Chinese have tested over centuries. Centuries. Millennia. If we can look *forward* to a world where we understand that not only the West has science, but that there is much to be learned that will enrich us, and vice versa, if we look at what is productive for both sets of populations that are beginning to intermesh everywhere in the world.

MP: That's the *current* state that you're talking about. How do we get to the point where we have these already-established ideas of what other people are like, what the *other* is all about? Um. Presumably, the missionaries went into most of the societies that we came to dominant first. What was the consequence of that? And, I know the relevance to harmony ideology.

LAURA NADER: Well, it's interesting, because I went to study a Zapotec village that was way out of the way in Oaxaca, Mexico, about 400Ýmiles south of Mexico City, way up in the mountains, and so the area that was a blank on the map, literally, on the ethnographic map. Nobody had been up in there. And I got there, and I was interested in many things. Their medicinals, their form of settling disputes, the way in which they lived, the way they protected themselves. A fairly isolated area. They didn't have a road when I first went in. I spent ten years studying their court system, and the way in which they handled disputes. And, I tried to understand how this little isolated village was able to manage conflict and control in the population so that they were a community. They were a community as compared to the other communities around, and they owned their own land, they didn't sell land outside to outsiders, even to outsiders in the region. So there are all these little communities, they're like city states, up there. And these people always described to me that they were able to do this through their notions of balance and harmony. But, at the same time I noticed that they were always litigating in courts. So they were litigating in the courts, but they were always talking about harmony. And as I began to examine the cases, they believed that the way you get to harmony is through controversy, and arguing out the controversy and then somehow coming to a compromise. So, I thought about this and sat on the material for a number of years. And then I began to realize that I had *not* taken into consideration the fact that these people were the result of 500Ýyears of colonization. Plus whatever we still had of Zapotec culture *in* those, in that period of 500Ýyears. So, I went back to look at what the missionaries had done and what the soldiers, and how the area was conquered. There wasn't a lot of history. But we knew that they were, the socalled missions of penetration that went into this area, and they went in before the soldiers. And they would go in with Christianity. After all, this was the interest, to save the souls of the Indians and to define them as Christians finally. And part of Christianity is to teach harmony. And I thought, could it be that this notion of harmony ideology is something that came in from the West, that came in through Christianity. So I started to look at the African materials. And sure enough, everywhere where the colonialists went, the missionaries went. And everywhere where the missionaries went, especially in the British areas, we notice that they talk harmony. So, they went in, they looked at the natives as if they were savages that they had to somehow colonize, quiet down, *pacify*, and they used harmony ideology as a pacification. Then I started to think, well, maybe I'm just making this up, and I wonder if there's anywhere in the world where this is happening today, because if there *was*, then I'd have contemporary corroboration. So I took a look at New Guinea, where you have anthropologists who finally have gotten around to looking at what the missionaries are doing, missionaries who are in there in fact doing what missionaries have always done, as part of the Christianizing process, and sure enough, there it was. They are using harmony ideology as pacification. Now, it's an interesting thing for me, and I believe in the kind of anthropology that looks at them in order to look at us, as Clyde Kluckhohm called it, "mirror for man," was in the 1960s, we had a high tolerance for controversy in this country. It was a very controversial period, people were politically active, marching, some people think it was violent, in fact they don't know what violence is if they thought the 1960s in the United States was really violent, as compared to many parts of the world it was mild. But the 1970s was a backlash on the '60s. And sure enough, these savages of the '60s had to be pacified, and we began to hear in the early 1970s, Chief Justice Warren Burger, going around the country saying this country's too litigious, this country's too violent, we must have alternative dispute resolution, we must have harmony. And in fact, throughout the decade, the Chief Justice gave one speech after the other preaching *harmony*, and we began to have alternative dispute resolution that looked an awful lot like the Zapotec courts, where you get people in there, you let 'em have their controversy, but you end up in compromise. And compromise is now valued over advocacy, over adjudication, it's now become a plus. And the argument I'm making in this book is that there's nothing necessarily evil or good about harmony, there's nothing necessarily evil or good about controversy. You have to understand its function. And in a democratic society, if you start to replace controversy with harmony, then you are going to get the kinds of elections that we had in the last election which Bronstein, a political reporter, described as post-confrontational politics. Where nobody can argue. Nobody can be nasty, nobody can say what the controversial issues are. You have to be *nice* when you're debating at the presidential level. And, the way to be nice is to avoid the hard-core issues and not to take a very strong advocacy stance. Once that happens, in a democracy, as Jefferson told us many times, then you lose the kind of democracy that the world has been trying to emulate ever since we built this one.

MP: Thank you for being with us, Professor Nader. This is Michael Phillips. The program is Social Thought. Our guest was Dr.ÝLaura Nader, professor of anthropology at the University of California Berkeley, author of *Harmony Ideology* subtitled *Justice and Control in a Zapotec Mountain Village* from Stanford University Press, 1990, and paperback edition in 1991. The book she mentioned was Malinowski, *Magic, Science, and Religion*.