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Not even quite scattershot vengeance

This head-hunting that takes place on the Northwest Coast after a death is no matter of blood revenge or of organized violence. There is no effort to tie the subsequent killing with any responsibility on the part of the victim for the death of a person who is being mourned. A chief whose son has died goes visiting wherever his fancy dictates, and he says to his host, “My prince has died today, and you go with him.” Then he kills him. In this, according to their interpretation, he acts nobly because he has not been downed. He has thrust back in return. The whole procedure is meaningless without the fundamental paranoid reading of bereavement. Death, like all the other untoward accidents of existence, confounds man’s pride and can only be handled in the category of insults.

[Ruth Benedict, “Anthropology and the Abnormal”]

(Compare, for example, the invasion of Iraq after September 11th …)

Benedict goes on to say, when faced with such “megalomaniacal” behavior, we either elevate it to noble singularity or decry it as subhuman. Each reaction is still within the scope of human rationality, viz, understandable, once certain fundamental non-rational assumptions are held unassailable.

Once that, indeed, the universe is clockwork…

Posted by luno in Relativism, General (Thursday February 17, 2005 at 10:09 pm)

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