MONDAY, JUNE 18, 2012

Part 4—Repeating what Margaret Mead said: During her brilliant career as the world’s most famous anthropologist, Margaret Mead had teased out the logic in quite a few cultural patterns.

She had observed the way we humans behave all around the world. When she returned to the earth in recent months, she was disappointed by the way her own liberal tribe was sometimes inclined to behave.

Are modern liberals lovers or fighters? Thanks to her vast professional skill, she opened our eyes to various patterns in the behavior of our own allies. One example:

She often noted the way the New York Times dropped B-, N-, X- and R-bombs on various conservative groups, but never on its liberal allies when they engaged in similar conduct.

(Examples: Alabama was bombed for its immigration law. But Obama’s deportations and Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk were criticized in a civil manner. Regarding marriage equality, white southerners were bombed, black ministers weren’t. Or so the anthropologist said.)

Another example:

We’re big fans of Bill Maher around here. But as we enjoyed Fox News Watch this weekend, we just knew what Mead would have said.

Jon Scott, the host of the very poor show, played tape from HBO:
MAHER (videotape): Would it be better if the country got over the notion of American exceptionalism? Oh, I think it would. I mean this is—


This is, by the way, this is one of the reasons why—and people laugh at me. But I say in a hundred years this country will be Mormon.


It's a stupid religion and a stupid country. They were made for each other.


And I tell you, one of the things Americans are going to love about Mormonism, when they find out about it, is, first of all, Jesus is an American.


Jesus is an American in Mormonism. And they love the idea that Mormons embrace more than anybody, that we are the super-duper star-spangled best country ever. And if we had any flaw, it's that we make other countries feel bad because our awesomeness is so overwhelming.

SCOTT: That's Bill Maher, explaining his disdain for the phrase “American exceptionalism,” calling the U.S. stupid and taking a shot at the Mormon religion in the process.
We’re down on “American exceptionalism” ourselves, for starters because the phrase is so vague. But Mead was alert to the way successor liberals tend to call other tribes stupid.

In the political realm, it’s hard to prosper that way, she alleged. Quite often, this led her to cite Malinowski’s work on the kula ring.

What the heck is the kula ring? The world’s foremost authority on the practice describes it exactly like this:
WIKIPEDIA: Kula, also known as the kula exchange or kula ring, is a ceremonial exchange system conducted in the Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea.

The Kula ring spans 18 island communities of the Massim archipelago, including the Trobriand Islands and involves thousands of individuals. Participants travel at times hundreds of miles by canoe in order to exchange Kula valuables which consist of red shell-disc necklaces (veigun or soulava) that are traded to the north (circling the ring in clockwise direction) and white shell armbands (mwali) that are traded in the southern direction (circling counterclockwise). If the opening gift was an armshell, then the closing gift must be a necklace and vice versa.
What’s the point in that, you might ask. Mead was eager to tell us:
WIKIPEDIA: All Kula valuables are non-use items traded purely for purposes of enhancing one's social status and prestige. Carefully prescribed customs and traditions surround the ceremonies that accompany the exchanges which establish strong, ideally life-long relationships between the exchange parties (karayta'u, "partners"). The act of giving, as Mauss wrote, is a display of the greatness of the giver, accompanied by shows of exaggerated modesty in which the value of what is given is actively played down. Such a partnership involves strong mutual obligations such as hospitality, protection and assistance. According to the Muyuw, a good Kula relationship should be "like a marriage". Similarly, the saying around Papua is: "once in Kula, always in Kula.”
Mead thundered at the way successor liberals had forgotten the lessons learned from the kula ring. "Why did Malinowski do all that field work?" she frequently said.

To some people, Mead is "out of touch." They're say that time has passed her by. You can’t have life-long relationships with “those people,” they cry.

We aren’t stating a view on this. We’re repeating what Margaret Mead said.


  1. OK, I won't call them stupid or idiots, but I'll be damned if I want them as neighbors.

    1. I've had Mormons as neighbors. They were a bit dipey, but I think they were basically decent, hard working people.

    2. I live in (but am not from) Salt Lake City, a couple of miles from the main Mormon temple, and Mormon headquarters. Probably 80% of the people I work with are Mormons. And I can tell you that they're very nice people, with a strong set of values that many Americans will approve of. An atheist myself, I find their religion as uninteresting and illogical as I find all other religions, but the people that religion produces are another thing entirely. If you can't separate the person from the religion, aren't you missing the point? Isn't that a form of bigotry? Why should people try to look at things your way when you won't look at things their way first?

    3. ^^ Said it better than I. Every Mormon family I've ever known is decent in every way human beings should be, despite what I think of the particulars of Mormonism.

  2. Lemme see. Margaret Mead through Wikipedia and of course:
    "We aren’t stating a view on this. We’re repeating what Margaret Mead said."

    Has this blog become a parody of itself?

    By the way, Bill Maher hardly invented the "Everybody is dumb" schtick. H.L. Mencken was doing it quite well, and even much, much better decades ago.

    1. But he didn't say "Everybody is dumb," he said that America is dumb. Presumably he allows that he and his audience may not be quite as dumb as the country.

  3. The Real AnonymousJune 18, 2012 at 12:33 PM

    Strange bedfellows indeed:

    “The role of new media is more fundamental than just a force for organizing,”[Sarah] Palin told hundreds of bloggers in a conference room at conservative donor Sheldon Adelson’s Venetian hotel. “New media has become a force for activism and information. You do what too many people in the old media won’t do, can’t do, and that’s tell the truth.”

    Does anyone know where Mr. Somerby was this weekend?

    1. The Real TimewasterJune 18, 2012 at 12:44 PM

      Strange comment indeed!

      "The Real Anonymous"

      Does anyone know how this is relevant to anything?

      "bedfellows?" You are unintentionally hilarious.

      Oh well, lie down with dogs,...

    2. The Real AnonymousJune 18, 2012 at 12:53 PM

      You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

    3. Sarah Palin reference? Check
      Sexual allusion? Check
      Koch Brothers? Fail

      Dude, you were so CLOSE!

    4. The Real AnonymousJune 18, 2012 at 4:55 PM

      Does Mr. Somerby have to refer to the NY Times and MSNBC as the "lamestream media" before you'll understand?

    5. No dude. You'll just have to have a real point, before anyone will think you're not a dull tool.

    6. The Anonymous RealJune 18, 2012 at 7:55 PM

      Some of us don't live in fear that we might share an opinion with Sarah Palin. Some of see her as a (at least for now)failed politician/successful political personality, and not the Talisman of Everything Wrong With America. Also, it's 2012

    7. Real Anonymous:
      Given the apparent degree of your intellect, I'm glad that I don't understand things as you do. Do you really believe that we should all live cloistered lives, relating only with those with whom we agree? "Tear down the wall."
      Also, the dumbest animals can know which way the wind blows. You seem to be at about their level.

      Horace Feathers

    8. Uh, so you think you're talking to people who are "living in fear that we might share an opinion with Sarah Palin."

      Interesting. You need a shrink.

    9. Real, The AnonymousJune 18, 2012 at 9:06 PM

      How else to interpret "Sarah Palin criticizes the New York Times, therefore anyone criticizing the New York Times is aligned with Sarah Palin"?

    10. A theory which exists where, other than voices in your head?

    11. Read the previous comments, dumbassJune 19, 2012 at 9:04 PM

      Real A. 12:33

    12. Yup. Nobody said that or implied it.

      Seek help. For real, The Anonymous.

  4. Maher's comments are a virtual caricature of the worst aspects of modern "progressives." Elitism, condescension, anti-americanism, and anti-religion. And still we wonder why those dumb people won't vote for us!

    By the way, perhaps Bill is a secret mormon operative, because I can't imagine a more effective promotion of mormonism (and by extension Mitt Romney) to america-lovers everywhere then these comments.

    1. By the way, Mormon should be capitalized, as should Americanism. How about a little respect for God and Country.

  5. This is basically the way Bill Maher has framed a lot of things for many years, it's odd (but good in a way) that the Daily Howler finally calls him out on this. We should also note that A) Maher is a comic, not a politico, and B) this is basically his take on all religion, and C) his talk of the spiraling dumbness of the American People is a take he shares with "The Daily Howler."

    1. I disagree. Somerby has almost always made a distinction between the intellectual elite and the average American. The journalists, academics and pundits are incompetent and barely capable of even the simplest reasoning. The average person isn't "stupid" but misinformed by the former.

    2. Well, it's the old roundabout, "intellectual elite" is a con mostly pushed by...the intellectual elite. Surely when he opines about America becoming a dumbed down nation he's not just talking about op eds or even pop culture like Maher. And again, when you take all talk of our or leader's religious faith off the table, as Bob insists that we do, it's dubious weather or not you are on the side of reason.

    3. I don't know what to tell you Greg, a constant theme in Somerby's blog is that we need to respect the values and intelligence of all Americans. I don't remember Somerby opining about the dumbing down of "the nation" so much as the dumbing down of our discourse, a discourse led by the pundits, journalists and professors. The average person may be mis/disinformed, but they are victims of the elite.

    4. That's a heavy slice of victimhood all around; though I must say victim who watches Fox because he likes his take played endlessly back for him now gets a second helping not afforded the lazy liberal who cries race. But maybe Bob calls liberals "lizard brains" with all due respect. But so it goes, when liberals line up, they form a circle....