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A Critique of Man's Control over Civilization: An Anthropocentric Illusion

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A Critique of Man's Control Over Civilization: An Anthropocentric Illusion

By Leslie A. White.

Within the first few sentences of the article Leslie White provides us with a clear thesis: Man believes that he is

in control of his civilization by creations such as "tools and machinesÐ'...At least he so fondly believes." The purpose of Leslie's article is to prove that man only believes that he has control over civilization and the process which are contained herein.

Leslie starts the article with quotes from what seems to be very well educated men (which is a paradox to a statement made latter within the article), at least for their time. The actual argument starts at the end of page with Leslie talking about looking for examples of man's control over culture. The article then talks about societies attempts to control small "insignificant segments" of our culture like our spelling, the calendar and the system of measurements. He states that we can not even manage to change the way words are spelled or pronounced, so how do we believe that we control culture. He then moves on to talk about fashion and how men and women are completely helpless when it comes to having any say in what or how they dress. To prove his point he uses the example of women's skirt lengths. Leslie says that a study done by Professor A.L. Kroeber shows that women really have nothing to do with the clothing that they wear. The study says that regardless of women's opinions about every 50 years the length of women's skirts lengthens or shortens, "as the case may be." He states that women are completely helpless and can do nothing but fallow the trend.

The article then moves on to talk about how ever body has the knowledge to comment on public affairs. Even though most people leave things as simple as baking pies or making homemade beer to those with the knowledge of such things we all still feel that were are intelligible enough to comment on the happenings of "national proportion." There is then a paragraph that is completely out of text, Leslie talks about the affects of capital punishment on the number of murders and why people keep dogs. The article then jumps and starts talking about how we as a society really know absolutely nothing of the civilization that we live in. Then he brings up the question of polygamy and why we think that "it is wrong and how things are not prohibited because they are wrong but wrong because they are prohibited."

Next, the article starts to talk about the idea that the civilization that man believes he controls, but is actually an inherited one. He states that no one thing that exists today was invented by us but rather inherited from our ancestors and that culture is older than man. Leslie then discusses how culture determines what clothing one will wear and what a man will believe in. The article then starts to talk about how culture can not be explained by the men that make up the culture but instead must be explained "in terms of cultures." Man is only a constant when discussing culture and that man is necessary for culture to exist, but actually has no control over where culture will take us, our only hope is to try to keep up with it.

Man is absolutely necessary for culture to even exist. Without man there would be no culture. This is what Leslie says that the "culturalologist" is trying to say. He says that man is not the determinate factor and that culture can not be explained in terms of man but only in terms of culture itself. The article puts forth the idea that because we were so naÐ"Їve at one point in our history to believe that we could control the weather, then why not be so naÐ"Їve to believe that we actually control civilization. He says that instead of controlling civilization we should learn to predict what is going to occur next in our culture. Because we are so good at predicting things such as the weather, we can then adjust to it, but he says that for prediction we must have an understanding and knowledge. Then the idea of polygamy is brought up once again, the reason we can not understand why polygamy is prohibited is because we are ignorant and this ignorance is "deep-rooted."

The next main point is that we have no choice in the roles that we play. We are born into our culture and it is this culture that will tell us what it is that we will do and how we will do it. We have no choice in our fates but our fates choose us. He then says that when man realizes his place he does so with "extreme reluctance." Then at the summarization of the article Leslie states that man is completely helpless. We are completely at the "mercy of external forces," and it is scary to think that we exist within a very limited range of external stimuli, such as a few degrees increase and we could not exist. In the conclusion of the article the author restates the ideas that were put forth in the body of the article. But he also introduces the idea that if man remains inquisitive, that science of culture will provide him with the answers.

Through out the article there are many ideas in which Leslie White contradicts himself. The first big idea that is brought up in the article is polygamy. It is hard to connect this idea with the rest of the paper. As far as can be seen this idea is one that the author is very concerned about and is rather distraught that he under present law can not perform. As its contribution to the article is somewhat nonexistent it will be discussed no further.

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