Ferro em White (1949)

We come now to the third kind of relationship, or process: the temporal-spatial. This is like the two preceding processes, but different from each. As we have already noted, all three kinds of relationships are always intrinsic in any series of actual events, in any phase of reality. The temporal process (or “history”) is a selective arrangement of events according to the principle time. Spatial relationships, though actually existent in these events, are disregarded: in the history of thought it is immaterial whether Newton cogitates under an apple tree or in his bath. Similarly, when dealing with spatial relationships, i.e., with structure and function, the time relationships which are inseparable from these events in objective reality are here divorced by logical analysis: the structure of the crystal, the rusting of iron, respiration, cowardice, secret societies, may be studied without reference to clocks or calendars. (White 1949:10)

The formal process is reversible as well as repetitive. Water freezes, ice thaws; iron rusts, iron oxide decomposes; hay becomes beef; beef may become hay again; revolt and reaction are cyclical and opposite processes in society; prices rise and fall, etc. But the temporal order of events remains immutable; it cannot be reversed. Only in Through the Looking Glass do Queens scream before they prick their fingers, or Alices pass the cake before they cut it. The evolutionary process, being temporal as well as formal, is likewise irreversible. The stars do not reabsorb energy once emanated, mammals do not return to reptilianism, the days when knighthood was in flower can never return, “make me a child again just for tonight” is an impossible request (White 1949:13)

We have already seen that the purchase-and-sale of stock is a very simple affair; it is no more complex than an apple falling to the ground. And, what is more, we probably know more about stock markets than we do about gravitation. A war between two nations is really a very simple thing at bottom: two nations, A and B, want the same thing—a fertile river valley, an oil field, a foreign market, a seaport—and both are determined to have it. This is no more complex than the rusting of iron or the freezing of water. As a matter of fact, it may be simpler than the formation of ice or a snowflake. And it appears to be much simpler—simple in the sense of ease of scientific explanation — than matricide, masochism, or dementia praecox, events upon a lower level (psychological) than a war between nations (sociological level). We understand symbol behavior (e.g., articulate speech) much better on the psychological level than upon the lower level of neurology. We know more about the psychology of jealousy than its physiology. We understand the physiology of intoxication better than its chemistry, and the chemistry of the glands better than their physics. (White 1949:62)

A democratic nation is a social organism. Its life is regulated by a mechanism of integration and control that is the State in its formal aspects and the “political machine” in its non-institutionalized or at least extra-legal aspect. This mechanism coordinates the various segments and processes of the body politic, and negotiates relations with other nations. The life of the nation is thus regulated and controlled by a relatively small segment. The [176] electorate is permitted to say “yes” or “no” with reference to a number of candidates whom they have had no hand in choosing, and of whom, for the most part, they have never heard. The “choices” of the voters are and can be little if anything more than responses to outside cultural stimulation—i.e., campaign propaganda and “news” selected and disseminated by agencies over which “the people” have no control. To be sure, it is always the individual who drops his pasteboard in the ballot box or pulls the lever on the voting machine. But what can he do but respond to sociocultural influences that play upon him from the outside? The picture of free will and choice is an illusion. [Nota de rodapé *: Any response of the human organism is the resultant of countless antecedent and concomitant events that we may term “causes.” The human organism is constantly organizing and synthesizing these causative factors on the one hand, and expressing the resultant behavior overtly on the other. When causative factors for and against a given course of action are evenly balanced, we call this “indecision”: “I can’t make up my mind whether to play golf or to mow the lawn.” When one set of causative factors outweighs another, we call it “choice” or “decision”: I decide to play golf. “Free will and choice” is merely the way in which we experience this preponderance of one factor or set of factors over another. Not realizing what lies back of this experience we can believe that it is our own doing and hence call it choice and Free Will.] Certain regions always go Democratic or Republican. In other regions, other political magnetic fields, the sociocultural forces vary and fluctuate, drawing a preponderance of voter iron filings toward one pole or another, or leaving them evenly divided between currents of equal intensity. It is “always the individual who votes” because voting, like thinking, is by definition a function of an individual organism. But one can come to no adequate understanding of the political governmental process by a consideration of the individual. We can, however, illuminate the behavior of the individual by interpreting it as an event in a sociocultural process. The voter reacts, responds to cultural stimuli which move him this way or that; he does not rule. The administration and control of the nation by the relatively small integrative and regulative mechanism is facilitated, however, by the popular illusion that the [177] people rule. As long as the electorate believes that it does the governing, i.e., as long as its members are unaware of the genesis of the social forces that impinge upon them individually from the outside, just so long will the actual governing mechanism have a freer hand. And, if misfortune overtakes the nation, the illusion of democracy lays the blame upon the people, which is also an advantage to the actual governing mechanism. (White 1949:175-7)

To assume that the process of cultural evolution will take care of everything without effort on our part is of course absurd, and constitutes no part of the determinist’s philosophy. Of course we must exert ourselves while we live; we cannot do otherwise. But the question is not “Who does the work, ourselves or cultural evolution?” It is obvious that the energy is expended by or through human beings. The question is, What determines the nature, the form and content of this expression of energy in the culture process, the human organism or the extrasomatic culture? The answer is of course fairly obvious—after a small amount [352] reflection. Let us consider two groups of human organisms, A and B. Group A raises taro, catches fish, carver wood, makes no pottery, speaks a Polynesian language, has chiefs but no currency, is non-literate, drinks kava, is greatly concerned with genealogy, and so on. Group B mines coal and iron, talks Welsh, imports its food from the outside, uses money, is literate, drinks ale, etc. Now the question is. Why does each group behave as it does? Is it that one group of organisms possesses traits or characteristics—genes, instincts, or psychological tendencies—that cause them to drink kava rather than ale? This is, of course, ridiculous; the one group of organisms is fundamentally like the other biologically. It is obvious that each group of organisms behaves as it does because each is reacting to a particular set of cultural stimuli. It is obvious also that a consideration of the human organism is totally irrelevant to the question. Why is one group stimulated by one set of stimuli rather than by another? This is a cultural historical question, not a biological or psychological one. So, one is not so silly as to say, “Why should we mine coal or catch fish? Let our culture do it.” The question is not who mines the coal, but what is the determinant of this behavior? And, the culturologist points out the obvious: the culture is the determinant. (White 1949:351-2)

Energy is of course neither created nor annihilated, at least not within cultural systems; it is merely transformed. It is harnessed and it is put to work or expended. But this requires tools and machines. The amount of energy harnessed may, and the amount of human need-serving goods produced per unit of energy does, depend upon the efficiency of the tools employed. So far, we have been holding the tool factor constant and varying the energy factor. We now hold the energy factor constant and vary that of tools. We get, then, the following generalization: the degree of [375] cultural development varies directly as the efficiency of the tools employed, other factors remaining constant. If, for example, one is engaged in chopping wood, the amount chopped per unit of energy expended will vary with the efficiency of the axe; the amount will increase with the improvement of axes from the Old i Stone Age, through the Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron ages up to the finest axe of alloyed steel of the present day. And so it is with other instrumental means, such as saws, looms, plows, harnesses, wheeled vehicles, boats, etc. Cultural advance is effected, therefore, by an improvement of tools as well as by in- creases in the amount of energy harnessed (White 1949:374-5)

WHITE, Leslie. 1949. The science of culture: a study of man and civilization. New York: Grove Press.