Sunday, February 10, 2008

People like us

Phil Paine, in reviewing an otherwise excellent book, notes:

There is only one embarrassing passage, where he talks about the "emergence" in the fourth millenium BC, of "literally self-conscious people, people like us, self-contained and self-aware". The notion that human beings in some period or culture were not self-conscious or self-aware, and suddenly became so because of some sudden transformation, is, as far as I can tell, nonsense. Yet it constantly pops up in historical, anthropological writing, based on the flimsiest reasoning. One might as well claim that people became "self-aware" in 1950, because then they began to make individual purchases with credit cards.

I further note that this sudden transformation always seems to have taken place in the period which the scholar is studying; kind of like "the rise of the middle class" did in a different era of scholarship.

Update: Oops, just read a current article which talked a lot about the "bourgeois public sphere." Sigh.

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