Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dreamtime nuclear: Roy Rappaport on the logos of humankind


Roy Rappaport (1926-1997) is perhaps best known for his book "Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humankind" (published in 1999 - image above from the front cover). It was his last work and the one where he concentrated the message of what he had learned in a life of anthropological studies. The book deals mainly with aboriginal rituals, but it is extremely rich of hints and suggestions regarding our modern times. After all, our passage from nomadic hunters-gatherers to commuters of the modern industrial society took only a few centuries, nothing in comparison to the span of existence of our species. 

Somehow, the Fukishima nuclear disaster made me take up again this book and start re-rereading it. I am passing to you just the conclusion, without comments other than noting that everything we do - with nuclear energy or anything else - has an impact on the world. Maybe you'll find in this text some meaning that had escaped to you before - just as it has happened to me. 

 

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From Roy Rappaport's "Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humankind" (1999)


p.  461


All these events took place in the long-past dreamtime, an epoch (which is also a category of existence) that not only preceded the historical past but also continues in parallel with them. Although the totemic beings either departed from the Walbiri territory or vanished into the earth during the dreamtime, they still exist and their powers and actions directly affect contemporary society (Maggitt 1965a: 60). 

So the dreamtime heroes formed the world out of its primordial formlessness (see Meggitt n.d.) largely through rituals and acts of naming and the world's continuity is contingent upon the continued performance of those dreamtime rituals. But, "The people believe that, by performing the appropriate rituals and songs, living men can actually become these beings for a short time and so participate briefily in the dreamtime" (Meggitt 1965a: 60)

In sum, living men, apotheosized briefly as creative beings, are themselves the dreamtime heroes and as such are responsible for the world's creation and persistence. Given humanity's powers to construct and destroy and its position of dominance in ecosystems that it itself can destabilise, its responsibility, as the Walbiri, the Murinbata, and other Australians have long realised, cannot be to itself alone but must be to the world as a whole. If evolution, human and otherwise, is to continue, humanity must think not only about the world, but on behalf of the world of which it has become a very special part and to which, therefore, as Australian aborigines in some sense realise, enormous responsibilities. We may recall here one of Heraclitus' modern interpreters (Kleinknectht, 1967:85): "The particular Logos of Man ... is part of the general Logos ... which achieves awareness in man." The Logos, this is to say, can reach consciousness in the human mind and, so far as we know, only in the human mind. This proposes a view of human nature very different from, and I believe nobler than, Homo economicus, that golem of the economists into which life has been breathed not by the persuasiveness of their theory but by its coerciveness, and from the obsessive focus on reproduction attributed to individuals by evolutionary biologists. Humanity in this view is not only a species among species. It is that part of the world through which the world as a whole can think about itself.


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Roy Rappaport as he appears on the back cover of "Ritual and Religion in the making of Humankind"

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Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014)