RECOMMENDED READING [ UPDATED]
Just one today. Dave
at the Glittering Eye
has an excellent post entitled " Orality and Iraq
" which points to some very significant aspects of cross-cultural communication between America and the Arab world. I note that while Dave is not an Arabist he does have some background as a linguist in some difficult languages for Westerners to learn and his comments are informed from that perspective:
"In an oral world you know what you can remember. This has real relevance and real practical application. The Bush Administration has made bringing democracy to Iraq a keystone of its policy in the War on Terror. This would be a formidable task under any circumstances but a major complication is the oral or vestigial oral nature of the culture. When the United States began its own experiment with democracy the literacy in the adult population in New England is estimated at around 90% (somewhat lower in the rest of the new country although statistics are very hard to come by).I'm not saying, by the way, that orality means that democracy is impossible. I believe, along with Mr. Bush, that all people aspire to freedom. But communicating effectively with the people and making freedom part of the prevailing wisdom in the society requires using modalities of communication that are meaningful to the people."
Read the whole thing. Later I'll update with some observations from a historical and epistemological angle.UPDATE:
The following are some selected observations that I have already shared for the most part with Dave on his Orality post. Dave's view additionally meshes somewhat with an explanation of the Arab literacy problem once expressed here by Collounsbury quite a long time ago in regard to reconstructing Iraq. My remarks in no particular order:
- Oral traditions have been recently proven, much to the surprise of academic historians who have derided the value of oral histories in favor of documents for the last century, to be relatively accurate and consistent across generations, even centuries. Much that was once central to the ancient western canon - Homer for example - was memorized long before it was ever written down. By giving up that practice, in favor of writing, Western civilization underwent a cognitive reorientation and much mental energy and time was freed up for other things. All that memorization takes up space in the brain, neurons are connecting here and I think, arguably, that left a lot of abilities in the population untapped even without considerations of scarcity and want.
- Not only is Diglossia a factor but Arab elites are Westernized by education in Europe and America create a huge intellectual gulf; some think more frequently or faster in English or French than they do in colloquial Arabic.
Who are the radical Islamists ? Mostly middle-class guys with traditional Arab educations as preparation before modern scientific, medical, computer science, engineering or mathematical fields where their subsequently learned critical thining skills were acquired primarily on the nonverbal side of the IQ/ "g" rather than the verbal side through study of the humanities. You just don't see many Art History majors in al Qaida or Islamic Jihad.
- With a lack of abstraction comes a lack of emotional detachment. In a zero-sum game tribal culture this means disputes more easily escalate toward violence and adversaries have fewer psychologically and socially acceptable ways of backing down once they have gotten themselves into a corner