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- Salon 82: Star Crossed - Further Thoughts on the Design Sources of Caucasian Rugs. by Sophia Gates (http://www.turkotek.com/VB22/forumdisplay.php?forumid=13)
-- What the weavers say (http://www.turkotek.com/VB22/showthread.php?threadid=55)

Posted by Yon Bard on 02-12-2002 05:34 PM:

What the weavers say

This question is addressed to Marla: You said in one of the threads that discussions with actual weavers have verified your opinions. As a researcher you owe it to the rug community to publish a record of what it is they actually said. Then perhaps we'll have some actual data on which informed discussions can be based.

Regards, Yon

Posted by Stephen Louw on 02-13-2002 09:12 AM:

I would like to second Yon's comment. Oral history offers one of the few remaining windows into the weaving world of the past (and present) occident.

Posted by Steve Price on 02-13-2002 10:15 AM:

Hi Anyone,

I agree, too. One difficulty here is that we are only a few days away from closing discussion on this Salon. I wonder if Marla would be willing to hostess a Salon with an opening essay recounting some of her experiences and impressions.


Steve Price

Posted by Vincent Keers on 02-13-2002 12:27 PM:

To all,

Speculation etc.
Hear say etc.
They probably tell what ever you like to hear, as long as you pay the price.

And the moment someone is trying to put the rugs in a different perspective, giving it something extra that maybe you or I never thaught of, she's brutally pinned down on proof, test, etc. as if it where a real science. This is a joke.

This is a discussion board?
Discussion can lead to something if one travels together for ten days, and then look at the results. If some of you had given more space to Sophia, shared her line of thinking for a while, who knows what could have been the result.
If you'll know it all, why is it so hard?

Best regards,

Posted by Steve Price on 02-13-2002 01:57 PM:

Hi Vincent,

People are free to voice their speculative ideas as well as assert what they believe to be true (those are not the same thing) on our boards. When they assert that something is true, it is perfectly reasonable for them to be asked to state the basis of the assertion and it is perfectly reasonable for someone to state that he or she is not persuaded of the correctness of the assertion by the facts presented. This is exactly what discussion means; not quiet and unopposed acceptance of everything presented.

Sophia ran into a lot of disagreement, and expressed disagreement with what some other people had to say. There has been no name calling or ad hominem commentary, the discussion has been open and civil, and anyone who wanted to contribute to it has been permitted to do so (and still is).

This is, indeed, a discussion board, not a congregation listening to a sermon.


Steve Price

Posted by Yon Bard on 02-13-2002 02:55 PM:

Vincent, actually, you may have something there: Marla herself has described at one point (I forget where) how weavers have done things just because they thought that's what she wanted (Marla, can you remind us of the details, please?)

But, seriously, though documenting her experiences on this or another Forum would be most welcome, my suggestion was that material of this knd - if there is any substance to it - should be published in more formal venues; a book, or al least a HALI article.

Regards, Yon

Posted by Stephen Louw on 02-13-2002 03:29 PM:

Hi again,

I think its grossly unfair to conflate speculation and serious oral history. Of course, weavers will tell you what you want to hear if they think it will influence your decision as to whether to buy or not. But that does not mean that asking weavers what they think about their work, trying to unpack their experiences and generational perspectives, etc., is simple speculation. It all comes down to how we weigh up and assess the evidence. To date, a very large chunk of the literature on carpets is written by "westerners" with very little if any anthropological training or sensitivity, and it would be fascinating to let the weavers speak for themselves.

By all accounts, Marla's work breaks out of this mould, and I agree with Steve, it would be very useful to encourage her to prepare a Salon on her work.

Stephen Louw

Posted by Marla Mallett on 02-13-2002 04:00 PM:

Dear Yon, Stephen and Vincent,

Thanks for your interest in hearing what I might be able to relate from my discussions with village weavers in Anatolia. I agree with Steve, however, that this diverges too severely from Sophia’s topic, and it’s an area that can get long and complicated. Another time, perhaps. I must say that I have not attempted to do anything that an anthropologist might view as respectable, organized “field work,” nor have I made any attempt to collect “data” that would prove anything. Because my own long years of weaving have made me skeptical of many claims and assumptions that I read in the rug literature about the attitudes and practices of tribal and village weavers, I’ve merely discussed those matters with the country weavers I have visited--in terms of their own work and that of their neighbors. We’ve just “compared notes,” sharing our experiences and problems as any people do when discussing activities that have been dominant in their lives. Only once have I been surprised at what I’ve witnessed or heard, and that was with an Egyptian tapestry weaver friend—not with Anatolian Turkmen weavers.

Vincent, I don’t think that the weavers I visit are likely to “tell me what I want to hear” in order to sell me something. I’m not buying from them, but am only buying older pieces. I never talk about buying weavings, as that alters the relationship instantly. It may be that anthropologists shy away from sharing their own experiences with their “subjects,” but with these women, I’m quite willing to talk about problems I’ve encountered, and find that sharing such information elicits much more open and candid conversation. And I feel that if they teach me a little weaving “trick” or two, why shouldn’t I reciprocate if and when it’s appropriate? All I have to do to “open the flood gates” is to say something about experimenting with a new design or kind of weaving that my friends don’t approve of, or talk about weavers’ jealousies and competitive tendencies…Or admit to hoarding the best materials for a special piece that then didn’t come out quite right…Or talk about dealing with the problems of boredom during those long hours of weaving and “burn out,” and the conversations explode! Just mention the frustrations of getting a great idea when one is in the middle of a boring piece, and having to wait until the loom’s been cleared to try that new idea! Or talk about the frustrations of trying to please a merchant rather than one’s self! Just mention the differences of people’s opinions about what makes the “best” kilims or rugs, ask who’s the best weaver in the village, and why, and the conversation can get heated. I suspect that Stephen may not approve of my tactics, but I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the anecdotes that I hear. Unfortunately, many of the rug book fantasies tend to dim.

Yon, a little of this stuff will be incorporated in the book on design/structure/technique relationships that I supposedly have “in process.” HA! Since that work was temporarily set aside for a lengthy Turkmen project this past year, I’m afraid that the piles of notes and endless slides are currently just filling a couple of cardboard cartons that keep getting pushed farther and farther from the computer.


Posted by Vincent Keers on 02-13-2002 08:53 PM:

Dear Steve,

What I mean is: "I do not agree with you, but I'm willing to travel with you for a while."

Who knows what could have been the outcome of that.
I'm not afraid you'ld be carried away.
No way.

Don't think Sophia called anyone "boy". She was called "girl"
I didn't like that.

ps. Most Iranian books on the subject are rewrites of our old books.
So all the old stuff, is coming back to us nowadays from the orient.
The museum in Teheran hangs "antique rugs" in the bright sunshine.

Best regards,

Posted by Steve Price on 02-13-2002 09:47 PM:

Hi Vincent,

I did a search for the word, "girl" in this discussion. It appears exactly once, and was used (by me) as a proper noun (with a capital G), in reference to a statement Sophia made with which I agreed. My remark was "You go, Girl!"

That is a fairly widely accepted slang expression in the US these days, used originally by black women to encourage one of their sisters who is doing or saying something really neat. It has spread to more general usage, is a compliment (not an insult), and any American woman familiar with street English would take it as one.

I'm afraid I don't understand what course of action your advice suggests. Your statement of what would be appropriate is, I do not agree with you, but I'm willing to travel with you for a while. Is it, "Although I don't agree with you, you needn't explain or clarify your position or consider alternative points of view"? Is that what "I'll travel with you" means? If not, what does it mean?

There's no such thing as discussion without debate when opinions differ. Reasonable people (and I believe the participants in this discussion fit into this category) understand that some debates are dead ends, and when that happens they simply agree to disagree. That seems to be where the holders of the different viewpoints wound up here. Two (at least) points of view were presented vigorously by their proponents. Each understands the other's point of view, but doesn't accept it. That doesn't turn them into enemies, it doesn't make either one suspect that the other is intellectually timid, stupid, sinister, or deranged. They disagree, that's all.


Steve Price

Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-13-2002 11:58 PM:

Terms of Endearment


As it happens, I vastly prefer the term, GODDESS

Posted by Steve Price on 02-14-2002 06:37 AM:

Hi Sophia,

You go, Goddess!

Regards from a good ol' boy who's been in Virginia long enough to be in touch with his inner bubba,

Steve Price

Posted by R. John Howe on 02-14-2002 09:17 AM:

Dear folks -

I think most anthropologists would say that Marla is "contaminating" the data she is collecting in her sharing of her own weaving experiences with other weavers, but there is something ingenious about this approach and it is very plausible that these weavers do "open up" to her in such conversations.

This thread has made me look again at a piece of anthropology that has attracted me for many years. It is a study by a group of French scholars of a town in southern Tunisia given the fictitious nature of "Shebika." It's entitled "Change at Shebika."

I want to quote you two longish passages from it. The first suggests how the French scholars questioned the villagers and shows how difficult understanding between them is.

"What do you need to live on, you and your family, for a year?" we asked a land owner whom we had never seen in the oasis but only outside the Mosque.
"A lot. Three hundred dinars or more."
"Have you got that much money?"
"One can always get it."
"Do you know wht three hundred dinars mean?"
"What I need to live on."
"How much money do you give your wife?"
"What do you mean, how much do I give her?"
"She needs money doesn't she, every day?"
"I arrange that with the grocer."
"What if she does need money?"
"She has her jewels."
"But for an unexpected purchas of food, for the children?"
"Sometimes I give here a hundred millimes, sometime two hundred."
"For the day."
"For one day, occasionally."
"And how much money do you make in all?"
"Sometimes eight hundred millimes. Three dinars, when I sell the peppers, and a little more when I sell the dates."
"For the whole year?"
"For the whole year."
"Don't you ever buy clothes?"
"What for? I got these overalls when I was working on the road a long time ago?"
"And your wife?"
"She has her veils."
"Then do you have three hundred dinars a year?"
"I don't have them. They're what I need to cover my expenses."

This interviewer is being systematic but has no "hook" like Marla's stories about her own weaving experiences, but it seems that the questions being asked are often odd to this villager and the answers seem sometimes equally odd to the interviewer. This is one species of the sort of thing that makes one wonder how much is being learned in such research.

The other passage I want to quote is entirely different but Sophia might like it. It is one of the French scholars talking about the designs he/she sees in this village and about their possible meanings and functions and especially their evoluation.

"Fatimah is the wife of the owner of a parcel of land in the oasis. She is between forty-five and fifty years old, and her face is brown and hardened. The tatooinng stands out clearly on her cheek-bones: a circle on one side and the palm-tree of Tanit on the other."
"I don't work, like a man. Women don't do men's work."
She shows her jewels: a beaten silver buckle in the shape of a circle with an arrow going through it, and a round plate bearing the same motifs as those of her tatooing. These two motifs sum up the past of North Africa, as if the Bedouins, who for thousands of years have engraved them found her the symbols of their multiple spiritual adventures, their rapid conversions, and equally rapid apostasies: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and even before these the Roman and Punic religions. The survival of these symbols does not mean that they are archetypes transmitted by some 'collective unconcscousness,' the spiritual equivalents of the mechanism of heredity in the body. It means that people with no writing and with a language fragmented by dispersion and the confused and degrading life of the steppe make out of familiar signs a sort of lingo completed from generation to generation, a single form gradually created in obedience a continuous desire to perfect it, whose finality time and chance alone will reveal. The key to this continuous process, which is illustrated in the shape of the jewels and the association of Punic, Roman, Christian, Berber and Arab symbols, is to be found in the "graffiti" haphazardly traced on the walls of the cities of the Maghrib, and notably in the Medina of Tunis. The 'graffit' are quite unlike those of Europe, which are finished and evocative. They obey a curious low of synchronic composition, as if a succession of strollers before these stone or cement walls had, one after another, completed the sketches of their predecessors, filling a certain space and discovering outlines of a constellation, a figure unknown to the individual and yet achieved by the collectivity. This, of course, with no over-all intention. In the superposition of hasty, unfinished strokes we decipher the elements of a game played with the shape of a fish or a bird which seems to balance a face and the orderly pattern of mathematical figures."
"The decoration of a Bedouin plate is similar inasmuch as it restores to immediacy a composition elaborated in the course of centuries, a unique figure whose achievement is pursued by one generation of engravers after another. it is as if popular expression (to wich some people still give the outmoded name of folklore) were the progressive constitution of an image equivalent to a hidden internal logic, independent of personal or historical events, to the necessarily slow and approximative crystallizaiton of a language of symbols distributed in space (that of a silver plate or a tatooing) which picture teh collective mentality of a group or collection of groups long since dispersed and fragmented."

Now that's much too interpretive for my taste, but interesting. I don't think I've heard that thesis argued before about a way in which designs and symbols might develop.


R. John Howe

Posted by Stephen Louw on 02-14-2002 10:12 AM:

For my money, rather than contaminate her results by sharing her experiences as a weaver, Marla makes considerable progress in overcoming the divide between herself aand her subjects. The best data is always obtained from people who share their views with you in an honest and straightforward way, much as if you were eavesdropping on a private conversation (between weavers themselves) rather than staging a conversation (between anthropoligist and weaver). In my own limited experience, (although not vis. carpets), I always find I gain my best information from people when I get them to talk generally about things I can illustrate -- literally, I take pictures along -- rather than by asking them questions in a straightforward manner.
Of course, there is no absolute metholodogy, and everything is relative to time/place/subject matter. But to get back to Marla, I suspect she has got a lot more out of her subjects than many before her.
All the best (and sorry to Sophia for pushing this discussion beyond the realm of her Salon)

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 02-14-2002 11:16 AM:

Hi John,

Well, with all due respect…
What kind of anthropologist is the one who describes the Bedouins’ life as "the confused and degrading life of the steppe" ??!!!


Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-14-2002 12:02 PM:

The French

Dear John et. al.,

With respect - I must agree wholeheartedly with Filiberto's response.

This sort of patronizing, judgmental thinking SHOULD have gone out with the French Academy in the 19th century. Remember them? They were the geniuses who declared that Delacroix "painted with a broom" and declared the Impressionists degenerate.

However, John, I did find this post instructive. It was instructive about French bigotry.

According to this "writer", even French graffiti is "better" than North African graffiti.

Oh, give me a BREAK already.

As far as Marla's methods are concerned - what could be more intimate and revealing than one woman, one artist, talking to another? I've TRIED, and she has TRIED, to illustrate that the language of the artist is by necessity universal. Even across cultures, we can understand the problems of design and technique.

That is entirely different from the language of symbols. This is not an imaginary science. Symbols are a FACT. That they have concrete meanings within certain cultural contexts is a fact. They do need to be studied in order to be understood.

Whether or not we have a "collective subconscious" is a THEORY. However, it's a widely disseminated and well-respected theory will many adherents. And if you will consider the concept, it's not illogical. Regard the almost instantaneous responses of a school of fish to a shift in current or the presence of a predator. Or the almost subliminal delicacy of interaction within a group of ravens. The deep instinctual knowledge of bees, who are born knowing how to perform "dances" showing their colleagues how and where to find honey. These are all forms of knowledge and response that appear to be "born-in".

Are people really so different? Our "rational" minds have taken up a lot of our attention in the Western world in recent times. But have we really, on a psychological and biological level, evolved past the need for our subconscious minds? And what is so strange about the concept of the most social of all beings - people - sharing collective subconscious thoughts, instincts or responses to stimuli?

Posted by R. John Howe on 02-14-2002 05:09 PM:

Sophia -

Re: your very last question in the preceding post: Although the notion of the possibility of a "collective subconscious," is as you say one which some noted thinkers have held. (Durkheim is one such. His term is "collective conscience.") What is remarkable about it is that as far as I know there is no evidence that such a collective subconscious or conscience exists. The arguments and analogies usually put forth in support of its possibility usually give instinct-sourced characteristics, which turn out to be distinctive.

On this writer's ethnocentricity, I would not defend his interpretations and usages (although I did not read his graffiti comparison as negatively as some readers here; I might be naive enough to feel that he sees the village graffiti as a quite distinctive and perhaps even the more complicated and admirable phenomenon) but one reason that he might be tempted to describe the traditional society he is studying in seeming derogatory terms is that at this point in the book (there is no way a reader of my quotes could know this) he feels that he has already established that the beliefs and values of the villagers both still function in some real but minimal ways to hold the village and its society together and to make it function somewhat but are also simultaneously the source of increasing poverty and social fragmentation and will ultimately work to destroy it. We could disagree with that conclusion but it is a likely source of some of his evaluative statements.

I cited him because I thought his suggestion of and explanation of a kind of "collective consciousness" that isn't one, was interesting.


R. John Howe

Posted by Yon Bard on 02-14-2002 05:39 PM:

'Collective Subconcious'

The closest thing to 'Collective Subconcious' that has received acceptance by scientists is the 'Language Instinct' theory promulgated by Chomsky and popularized by Steven Pinker. It holds that the ability to learn language as well as certain structural aspects of it are 'instinctive,' i.e., hard-wired into the brain. Acceptance of this theory is based on careful observation of how language is learned, how it develops, and the similarities and differences between languages. However, everything that is specific to a given language (vocabulary and specific syntax) are learned. Now, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that there is a 'Symbols Instinct,' i.e., a hard-wired propensity in the human brain to form symbolic associations, but painstaking research would be required to determine whether this is, in fact, so. I would say, however, with complete conviction that, just as in the case of language, this 'instinct' is not likely extend to realm of the specific.

Regards, Yon

Posted by Steve Price on 02-14-2002 05:53 PM:

Hi Sophia and Yon,

Sophia, I'm not French, nor am I politically correct very often, but when I read, I did find this post instructive. It was instructive about French bigotry, I couldn't help but think that I might have said that it was instructive about the author's bigotry. He is French, but if we were to play a word association game I doubt that most people would pair French and bigotry. Maybe I'm mistaken.

And Yon, one small semantic point. Not every innate neural response or property is an instinct. There can be no doubt that our wiring allows us to learn to use and recognize language, or that it allows us to learn and recognize symbols. If it wasn't in our wiring, we wouldn't be able to do it. That makes it innate, but not necessarily instinctive.


Steve Price

Posted by Vincent Keers on 02-14-2002 08:06 PM:

Dear Steve,

Think I misunderstood Girl. The capital G did it. It felt more like an insult.

Traveling together.
If two parties are reluctant in giving up their positions, the discussion becomes a chatterbox.
If black holds it's position and white does the same it's.....end of discussion.
For some, white is white and grey is grey. For me white is light grey and black is dark grey in
the study of designs etc. It's no science. Sometimes it's Art.

If a salon host is welcomed by a dozen people that share the same pashion, rugs, and that are willing to
travel with the host side by side, I think the result could be more mature.

That's all,
Best regards,

Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-15-2002 12:34 AM:

France and North Africa

Hi Steve:

Ordinarily I would absolutely agree with you concerning such a gross generalization. However, in light of earlier discussion in the Eastern Art/Western History thread, and in view of the relationship between France and North Africa, I wanted to highlight the shock I felt at reading this excerpt.

France of course held parts of North Africa as colonies and only after bitter fighting did she loose her hold on Algeria. That has preordained a bitter and complicated relationship between France and her former dominions.

This is a complex subject and highly political. I apologize if I have offended anyone.

However, on the subject of certain French cultural attitudes - that's an encyclopedia. It would be funny if the casualties weren't so brutal: slick, uninspired art richly rewarded, great painters ignored; modern movements deemed degenerate - any study of 19th century French art criticism will reveal such viciousness, such an unwillingness to learn new ideas - c'est tragique!

Balancing this, of course, are the magnificent accomplishments of so many French artists. Some of the loveliest French paintings ever were inspired by Morocco. And some of the most beautiful, truly breathtaking writing in the French language was written on the subject of North Africa. If you can read French, there are several works by Camus and of course Antoine de St. Exupery's "Wind, Sand and Stars" - they're good in English but in French they sing. One can smell the heat of the day still trapped in the Saharan sand, while a crescent moon rises in the crystalline twilight sky; a muzzein sings out, calling the faithful to prayer.

C'est magnifique!

Posted by R. John Howe on 02-15-2002 06:25 AM:

Dear folks -

Sophia apologizes (kind of) for using the generalization "French bigotry."

It was my quote and I'm not offended at all but I did spend considerable time helping train investigators to recognize and legally demonstrate race and sex discrimination in employment decisions. One of the major legal "theories" used to establish that discrimination has occurred is "disparate treatment," that is, the failure to apply selection criteria uniformly, say between men and women employees. There are all kinds of instances of disparate treatment and one of them occurs as the result of arguing backward from a conclusion. We identify some "bad guys" and then feel licensed to describe them in terms that we would object to for those we feel are disadvantaged or ill-treated in some way.

So for me this usage is mostly just an instance of something I think we've seen more generally here: conclusion first; supporting ad hoc argument, with associated descriptions, second.


R. John Howe

Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-15-2002 01:22 PM:

Shock Tactics

Dear John:

Have you ever heard about the mule? Farmer was asked, "How do you get your mule to learn a new trick?"

Farmer says, "First I hit him upside the head with a two x four - TO GET HIS ATTENTION".

John - I'm TRYING TO GET YOUR ATTENTION. You will not allow me any room to develop a theory or transmit information about which I know a little, and which might help people better understand SEVERAL ideas, including: the basics of visual design; the presence of symbols; certain theories about the human psyche; esthetic development; the interaction between art and culture and community and economics; the interplay between symbol, myth and art; and of course the presence of Western mind-sets when examining Eastern art and culture!

I thought that post about the French "anthropologist" EXEMPLIFIED the latter. Here's a person supposedly gathering information about another culture and instead, we get a rhapsody about the superiority of French graffiti, along with a Cute Story about the poor native's misunderstanding of simple questions about money, and the whole thing is interpreted by you to say:

These folks have stupid customs which are contributing to their miseries. In their degrading life on the steppes.


I'm trying to disseminate MANY ideas in order to share with you ANOTHER VIEWPOINT.

I'm going to leave aside the issue of Jungian philosophy for the moment - it's beside the point I'm trying to make here.

You haven't ASKED me any meaningful questions in this whole darn Salon - merely advised me that what I'm saying is "ad hoc" or unprovable - etc. etc. and SO FORTH.

As the King of Siam would say.

NOW. ARE YOU LISTENING? I won't even ask if you read French

But - I will say this: in light of the French political relationship with North Africa, and in light of what I have read about the Bedouin, I think it's highly unlikely that this anthropologist is going to get ANY straight answers from these people. If he/she can write that their entire life-style is degrading, do you think they don't sense that? First crack off the bat, we get a value judgment, apparently about nomadism itself.

Need I remind you, this is a lifestyle with a long, rich history, which has proven to provide a viable means of support for people for countless thousands of years; and which to this day has probably been the best use of certain types of land?

Nomadism, like many non-Western, non-technological lifestyles, is undoubtedly under extreme pressure these days. But I submit: these people are under pressure from THE OUTSIDE - from us, among other things. Ecological changes, which might indeed have been precipitated by our production of "greenhouse gases", may be linked to the severe droughts which have plagued North and sub-Saharan Africa as well as, for example, Afghanistan. The losses in animals have been staggering. And people who are semi-nomadic or rely upon subsistence farming are also struggling - again, if you need a PROVABLE EXAMPLE, look at Afghanistan.

Yes, sadly, I think we are looking at dying cultures. Are they perfect? Are they doing dumb things which might be hastening their demise? Probably! There isn't a culture on this planet which hasn't done, or doesn't do, some really stupid things.

So are we. And I submit, the dumb things we are doing, for example concerning pollution and the devastation of rainforests, which is being done partially so tribal people who'd formerly LIVED in and WITH the rainforests can "progress" and have PROPER FARMS; and partially to MAKE MONEY, are far, far more widespread and may possibly cause global weather changes that could result in real catastrophe for billions of people.

Do I have to recount the sad stories about the thousands of species of plant and animal which become extinct every month? About the frogs who are dying off? About the alarming shortfalls of fish in the ocean, compared to former years? The flames from the dying rainforests can be seen all the way out to the space shuttle.

But we don't want to think about that stuff. We want to ride in our SUV's and feel superior to poor horse and camel riding Bedouin.


Now. Let's go back to the story of the Bedouin and the money. He's trying to say, MONEY ISN'T PART OF HIS LIFESTYLE. IT IS ESSENTIALLY MEANINGLESS WITHIN A BARTER ECONOMY. And whatever it is, he doesn't have enough of it to make a living.

Or, he's having a ball pulling the leg of that ANTHROPOLOGIST.

Posted by Chuck Wagner on 02-15-2002 04:45 PM:

Hi Sophia,

As one of the "US" in:

But I submit: these people are under pressure from THE
OUTSIDE - from us, among other things.

I'd like to point out some of the other things, from a couple of perspectives.

First, a quick parable: A Saudi fellow who worked for me several years ago grew up in a small village in the Asir mountains in far southwest Saudi Arabia. We found ourselves discussing the apparent lack of interest in historic preservation with regard to the tall mud houses that were very common in years past, now only to be razed (either by rain or by bulldozer) and replaced with more modern accomodations.

His most revealing comment was: "If you think they are so remarkable, perhaps you should try living in one of them. Scorpions climbing into your bed, dust and clay flakes in your hair, eyes, and mouth. The smell of rotting straw, and raw sewage permeating the air. It's a lousy way to live, but we did it because that's the way it was, then. Bulldoze them all, for all I care. I never want to live that way again." An oblique, but not inaccurate, way of pointing out that some nomads are simply looking for, and finding, a way out of a lifestyle that is incredibly harsh.

Are the nomads vanishing into thin air ? Not generally. They are throwing in the towel, going into settlements and villages, and finding work. OK, yes, the reason that there is a place for the nomad to go TO is the fact that the nomad has come into contact with the developed world. And, yes, there are pressures on the nomads from the outside world. But they include being vaccinated against hepatitis, and having walls between the children and the wolves (yes, there are still wolves).

My point is that it's only partly sad, not fully sad, that these cultures are evolving the way they are. War, famine, drought, disease, are not things that many people have as life goals.

But the political dynamics of the nomadic societies and their adjacent settled neighbors have been (I think) more dramatic and dominating an influence on the decline of nomadism in Central and Southwest Asia.

The kutchi nomads of southwest Afghanistan are real drifters, some of the hardest people you'll ever encounter living in an exceptionally unforgiving environment. But they are not always ignorant people; they are often up to date on the best medications for vaccinating their flocks. And, the most significant long term phenomenon affecting them is land reform and reallocation, not greenhouse gases.

The shahs in Persia recognized that their power could only be consolidated properly when the nomads were settled (at best) or constrained from free movement. That way they could tax them, and enforce the taxation. After all, you can't tax 'em if you can't find 'em.

The same concepts hold for the tribal societies in Afganistan. One of the shrewder political moves the Taliban pulled off was playing the predominantly Pashtun kutchi people off against the Hazaras from up north. The kutchi had some long standing claims for land in the Hazarajat that the Taliban promised to recognize as valid provided that the kutchi kicked the Hazara off the land and remained (key word) there as a buffer population.

The Russians made sure that nomads either settled, or fled, when they took over the 'stans. But the Khans before them asserted claims to large tracts of land and had standing agreements with the nomads about how and what to pay for use of their land, and mechanisms in place for granting land to nomads for use as seasonal settling areas.
Every central power structure recognizes the threat of free individuals, and over the centuries, these structures have acted to restrain and settle the nomad whenever possible.

I think the same is true in Iraq & Turkey; I can't speak for North Africa as I have no knowledge of that region.

My point (maybe I should have put this first): This isn't a Silent Spring scenario, where the Law of Unintended Consequences is acting to modify an otherwise STATIC situation. The gradual decline of nomadism is as much a response to market phenomena, political intrigue, and quest for a better life as it is an unfortunate consequence of modernity.

That doesn't mean I don't mourn the loss of some really unique art forms. I just don't feel personally responsible for it, nor should you. Sometimes stuff just happens.

Yours.. Chuck
Chuck Wagner

Posted by R. John Howe on 02-15-2002 04:53 PM:

Hi Sophia -

I do think you are doing something important here and one sign of it is the number of posts in this salon which FAR exceeds anything we've previously experienced.

It's late and "small potatoes" now, but I need to say clearly that it was not my conclusion that:

"...These folks have stupid customs which are contributing to their miseries. In their degrading life on the steppes..."

What I did was report that the French sociologists had concluded something like this (although they never said either "stupid" or "degrading.") They merely reported that some of the social practices in the village seem likely to impoverish it so that it ultimately would not be able to continue. If that is ethnocentric so be it.

And about the interviewing, my entire point was that here are two people not quite communicating and I certainly did not blame the villager for that. It is also quite possible, as you suggest, that some quetioning of this sort would be experienced by the villager as so absurd that he would be tempted to "pull the interviewer's leg a bit in response." The behavior of on-site researchers likely often looks as strange to those being studied as some village practices might look to the outside observers.

You have complained repeatedly about the word "degenerate" but unless I'm badly mistaken you yourself introduced it here and I think perhaps only you have used it.

It is frequent technique of debate to attribute to another something they have not said the better to attack it. I don't think you do that deliberately but I do think I have the problem with you that you have with me: that I don't think you "hear" what I'm saying either. At least your paraphrases don't seem accurate to me.

I think it likely that the perspective from which you speak is a useful one and it may well be that most of the noteworthy contributions in this salon come from it. I cannot tell because I frequently cannot discern the argument(s) you are making. Often it seems like several simultaneous arguments pointed in different directions and that sentences and paragraphs change subject without warning.

I may not be the best person to "tell" things to, (I may be a bit arrested in the "why" stage of my personal development) but I am glad that you agreed to serve as host for this salon and I am impressed by your patience with folks like me.


R. John Howe

Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-15-2002 08:21 PM:

Free People

Hi Chuck & John:

First, Chuck - you make some excellent points.

I did not mean to imply that each individual in the "US" was responsible for greenhouse gases, etc. Collectively, we all are. And one of the things I don't want to just happen is the end of our planet as a viable home.

And you're right: nomadism can be a brutally harsh way of life. Nevertheless, as you point out - many times people not only choose it, they actively resist being "settled down". As you yourself point out, nothing worries centralized power structures more than free people.

Is that not an extremely strong point about "outside pressures"?

In other cases, as you say, the nomadic people will CHOOSE to settle, even in awful conditions. This is of course, true.

However: I don't think that we - the developed nations - are off the hook for the death of the sheep and other generally devastating conditions in Afghanistan. Only history will tell us whether our greenhouse emissions were directly responsible for the drougths in Africa and Central Asia. Perhaps, they're just "one of those things" and will prove to have been only cyclical. However, decades of hi-tech warfare HAVE contributed to a dreadful loss of life - creatures and plants as well as people.

And this warfare? Was it an act of The Goddess? Or was it brought about because Afghanistan happens to be in a Strategic Location, as the powers that be like to put it? The Great Game, I think they've called it, for decades - we need this territory for a pipeline; those people are a threat to our hegemony in the region; Our Enemies are living there - pretty strong "outside pressure", don't you think?

Yes indeed - those Afghan nomads are smart people. They've survived just about everything and one thing they know how to do is care for their animals. But they can't fight off B-52's. Even if they did manage to drive off the Russians. . .

Every time I saw one of those "daisy crusher" bombs blossom into smoke and flame I wanted to cry. Those were PEOPLE under those bombs, gentlemen, not BUGS. Those were precious, precious animals, and plants that hold the soil in place - blown away, into clouds of dust.

Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-15-2002 08:41 PM:

The Desert

OK - let's talk about the desert.

Did we (developed, industrial nations) cause the desert? Of course not. The desert just IS - it's part of our terran heritage. And it's part of an interlocking ecology that we're only beginning to understand. AND, that ecology is always changing and developing - like people, like culture.

BUT: there is evidence that global climactic changes - in the case I've mentioned, can raise temperatures and cause weather changes that can make more desert.

There are some other interesting points, however, one of which Chuck mentioned - that's the conflict between nomads and settled agriculturalists.

Sheep can be devastating to grassland. Unlike cattle and horses, who nibble the grass, sheep can pull it right out of the ground. And, they must be moved to better pastures and water seasonally. Frequently, the farmers are upset because the sheep destroy the plantlife, leading to erosion of valuable topsoils. That's one of the strongest arguments settled agriculturalists have had against nomadic shepherds, and it's one of the strongest. It's led to periodic warfare and political unrest in Central Asia, as Chuck points out; but also in the Middle East AND in America.

In Africa, there are people in Sierra Leone, according to the book "Warrior Marks", who have actually blamed "arabization" for the encroaching desert. Arabs with their sheep destroying the topsoil; the topsoil blows away; the desert moves in. This is especially a problem in land with marginal rainfall. Colorado, New Mexico, parts of Texas - these are regions not of actual desert but of land that is very very dry - loss of plantlife in those regions could be catastrophic and lead to real desert.

So this phenomenon is not due to greenhouse gases, but can actually be, at least in part, laid to the tradition of pastoralism.

What's another, that's old and Not Our Fault? Well - look again to Afghanistan.

Several years ago I was assigned by one of the local magazines to do a story about Alexander The Great, because The Art Institute had a show of Macedonia jewelry and artifacts. During my research I ran across an article about Balck, the ancient Afghan city. Now it's surrounded by arid land, useless - it won't grow a thing. In Alexander's time, Balck was surrounded by cypress trees, rich in plantlife. People had great farms and the land was rich. BUT - they depended upon irrigation to water their crops. Over time, salts got into the soil and ruined it. Nothing would grow there. The Russians tried desalinization but even that wouldn't work. The salts had leached into the soil to the point where it remains, apparently forever, barren.

So - who else irrigates extensively? Check out the dry plains of the US. And especially check out the Colorado River Basin, the fertile plains of California - some of the richest farmland in the world - for now.

Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-15-2002 08:57 PM:

What to do? What to do?

So - we can SEE now. We can see what we're doing; we can see what farmers have done; we can see what pastoral land use can do to fragile topsoils.

Politically, these situations have caused warfare and internal conflict. Ecologically, badly planned land usage has resulted in catastrophe. Culturally, people have been devastated, their way of life destroyed; they may even have simply vanished, like the Mimbres, who overused the resources of their valley.


So, Chuck and John - yes - these things sometimes "just happen". And have been happening, probably since people crawled out from under the collective rock overhang.

But - we are in a position now to be able to SEE what is happening; to understand WHY it happens; and to change the outcome.

Politically, we have to have the will to do so. Culturally, we have to recognize that people who aren't like us are nevertheless people. And, we have to want to survive. Not just us - but to care for our planet too.

What the hey - that IS survival. No planet, no Rug Society!

John, the point I've been trying to make about bigotry and racism - for they finally amount to that - is the degree to which certain viewpoints can come to pervade the information we get about other people. And, if the scholarship upon which we've been relying is part of that tradition, then it's bound to be misleading.

At the beginning of this Salon, you suggested that if people listen to me, they have to throw out the rug literature!

Well, no. But what I AM suggesting is that we try & expand our thought processes to include a different way of thinking about these things, and to become literate in a different language: the formal language of the visual arts. That is a cold, clear, objective language. And also to "do" some aspect of an Eastern culture: feel it in the bones, on the skin.

I realize I'm not exactly a linear thinker. I think my brain is more like a Cubist painting sometimes, especially when I have one of my weeklong migraines So I apologize if I'm not always clear.

Have you looked at the Mimbres bowl in the Dualism thread? That's how I see. Putting that into words is really difficult.

So - let's keep talking!

Posted by R. John Howe on 02-15-2002 10:51 PM:

Hi Sophia -

About "bias:"

I believe in the "sociology of knowledge" but think that it is general.

That is, no one, I think, (I include myself) can "see" outside their "conceptual spectacles."

You either, even in your most creative and inspired mode.


R. John Howe

Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-15-2002 11:41 PM:

Hi John:

Could you explain to us what this sociology of knowledge means? Is it a type of science?

And isn't the ability to see beyond oneself the goal of seeking enlightenment?

What are conceptual spectacles? Can't they grow or change? If not, why do we bother to become educated?


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