"The Western cult of the written word"

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kitesandtrainsandcats
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08 Jun 2022, 4:17 pm

"The Western cult of the written word" is a concept which something brought strongly to mind again a little bit ago.

That phrase is found in,

The Yale Law Journal
VOLUME 126, 2016-2017
Oral Tradition and the Kennewick Man
03 Nov 2016
Cathay Y. N. Smith
https://www.yalelawjournal.org/forum/or ... newick-man

Bold added by me.
"
... It is undeniable that oral tradition poses certain challenges when introduced as evidence in a modern U.S. court proceeding. One of the major obstacles to a court’s acceptance of oral tradition as evidence is the deeply ingrained Eurocentric bias of valuing the written record over oral evidence. Peter Whiteley describes this phenomenon as “the Western cult of the written word,” characterized by “engrained—though largely unexamined—ideas about the supposed instability and unreliability of oral narratives.”18 This prejudice is evident not only in the court system, but also in past anthropological and archaeological studies. These ingrained ideas are usually concerned with uncertainty about whether oral tradition may have been altered over time, whether its conveyance through hundreds of intermediaries over thousands of years may have created errors within the narrative, whether language changes may have altered the meaning of the oral tradition, and whether the narratives have been influenced by biases or politics.19 These ideas explain why anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians in the past largely ignored Native American oral tradition but were wholly willing to take literally colonial records that were written in missionaries’ or government officials’ diaries or journals—even though such diaries, journals, and reports were equally “interpretively problematic,”20 were likely to be influenced by biases or politics, and often included “self-serving documents, . . . edited and doctored diaries, and memoranda written ‘for the record’” with a deliberate eye toward posterity.21 Recognizing the inherent biases against oral tradition, the current Chief Justice McLachlin of the Canadian Supreme Court cautioned in Mitchell v. Minister of National Revenue that claims involving Native Americans22 give rise to unique and inherent evidentiary difficulties.
..."


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Fnord
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08 Jun 2022, 4:35 pm

This is the ages-old issue of Whom Do We Believe: Verbal Testimony or Written Documentation?

Should the court believe the person who says (under oath) that he or she is the sole heir to the billionaire's estate, or the signed, witnessed, and registered Last Will and Testament of the billionaire himself?

Should the Court of Inquiry believe the sailor who says (under oath) the mutiny occurred because "everyone knew" the Captain was a tyrant, or the Captain's Log that clearly shows the fair and just judgements meted out against the sailor for his crimes?

I could go on.



Mona Pereth
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19 Jul 2022, 4:27 pm

Many pre-literate societies have people who specialize in memorizing the tribe's official oral history. And it's likely that the original purpose of epic poetry was to make oral traditions easy to memorize.

If oral tradition comes up in a court case, it would probably be a good idea to have multiple expert witnesses who are all specialists in the tribe's oral tradition.


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Twilightprincess
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19 Jul 2022, 4:33 pm

I get irritated when people throw the word "cult" around to dramatize a topic or to emphasize that something is a problem (in their opinion).


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Fnord
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19 Jul 2022, 4:38 pm

Mona Pereth wrote:
Many pre-literate societies have people who specialize in memorizing the tribe's official oral history. And it's likely that the original purpose of epic poetry was to make oral traditions easy to memorize.
The Bardic Method, yes.  The difficulty is when the spoken (or sung) word is mispronounced or misheard, thus changing the entire meaning of the story.

"The Queen she has a glorious cat" becomes "The Queen she was a glorious cat".  What was once a story about the mousing skills of Her Majesty's favorite feline becomes an account of the Queen's "true" form and her appetite for rodents.

(A shape-shifting monarch . . . like a witch's familiar . . . sent by the devil . . . to spread evil throughout the realm . . .)

Down with the Queen!  Down with the Queen!



kitesandtrainsandcats
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19 Jul 2022, 5:11 pm

Twilightprincess wrote:
I get irritated when people throw the word "cult" around to dramatize a topic or to emphasize that something is a problem (in their opinion).


Well, let's see what kind of people it is who has that opinion,
"Peter Whiteley describes this phenomenon as “the Western cult of the written word,”"

https://www.amnh.org/research/staff-dir ... r-whiteley
American Museum of Natural History
Curator of North American Ethnology, Division of Anthropology
Professor, Richard Gilder Graduate School

He seems to have credibility with Indigenous Americans,
"...
In 2005, his paper Bartering Pahos with the President, on a Hopi diplomatic gift, won the Robert F. Heizer Prize for “best article in the field of ethnohistory.” Current Hopi work includes a collaborative project (funded by the National Science Foundation’s Endangered Languages program) on Hopi place-names and landscape concepts, with the Hopi Office of Cultural Preservation and colleagues at the University of Arizona.
"

Hmm, what is that Hopi Office of Cultural Preservation outfit?

https://www.hopi-nsn.gov/hopi-cultural- ... on-office/
"
MISSION/FUNCTION:
State of Purpose: The Hopi Cultural Preservation Office (HCPO) is charged with the responsibility of representing the Hopi peoples’ cultural interest both within and outside the Hopi reservation including the newly acquired lands (ranches). The responsibility requires the involvement and the input of the Hopi villages, clans, and religious societies as well as the Hopi tribal government. The Hopi Cultural Preservation Office is the central tribal clearing house for the culturally related issues coming to the attention of the Hopi Tribe.
"

I can see one place where he got some credibility with the Hopi, in developing a history of the Hopi clan system, instead of building on the theories of a string of scholars as other anthropologists had done, he went and consulted the Hopi.
Imagine that, actually going and interacting with the people you are writing about instead of writing about what other people have written about the people you are writing about.


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kitesandtrainsandcats
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19 Jul 2022, 5:23 pm

Fnord wrote:
Should the Court of Inquiry believe the sailor who says (under oath) the mutiny occurred because "everyone knew" the Captain was a tyrant, or the Captain's Log that clearly shows the fair and just judgements meted out against the sailor for his crimes?


That is a good question since some ship captains do falsify their logbooks,

https://www.marinelink.com/news/confess ... gned348663
"
Some years ago, I wrote an article lamenting the fraudulent entries made in many oil record books and the increasing use of those entries as signed confessions in the prosecution of ship owners and operators and senior shipboard personnel (particularly chief engineers) for making false statements to the US Coast Guard. Oil record books are required records on commercial vessels and must be presented to Coast Guard boarding officers on demand. The presentation of an oil record book with known false entries for the purpose of misleading the federal official into believing that the vessel is in compliance with applicable requirements can subject the ship owner, operator, and senior shipboard personnel to significant penalties. Contrary to my expectations, the number of violations continues at a high rate, despite the prevalence of high-visibility convictions and imposition of severe penalties.

Gradually, the prosecutions for making false statements have expanded beyond the oil record book scenario. Convictions have been obtained for false entries in garbage record books and ballast water management records. It is only a matter of time before we see convictions for false entries in air emission, hull husbandry (biofouling), and sewage management records.
"

https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/ship-cap ... veling-new
Wednesday, July 15, 2009, the bulk cargo ship the M/V Theotokos
"
Ship Captain and Chief Officer Plead Guilty to Crimes Related to Pollution from Cargo Ship Traveling to New Orleans
"
Additionally, during the inspection, a Coast Guard inspector asked to see complete ballast records for the Theotokos. Posas responded by physically handing the inspector a copy of the Sept. 27, 2008, ballast report, which is a report of soundings and volumes of water in the ballast system. Posas prepared, signed and maintained these reports as part of his duties as chief officer. In court documents Posas admitted, that at the time he presented the ballast report to the Coast Guard inspector, he knew that the form was false.
"

https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/ship-s-o ... ce-payment
Friday, October 21, 2016, a cargo ship named the M/V Gallia Graeca
"
Ship’s Owner and Operator Ordered to Pay $1.3 Million Fine and $200,000 Community Service Payment for Violating Pollution Laws, Falsifying Records and Scheming to Defraud the U.S.
Ship Discharged Oily Waste on Voyage from China to Seattle; False Log Books given to Coast Guard Inspectors
"


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Twilightprincess
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19 Jul 2022, 5:32 pm

kitesandtrainsandcats wrote:
Twilightprincess wrote:
I get irritated when people throw the word "cult" around to dramatize a topic or to emphasize that something is a problem (in their opinion).


Well, let's see what kind of people it is who has that opinion,
"Peter Whiteley describes this phenomenon as “the Western cult of the written word,”"




I'm not necessarily discounting his research. I just think it's a bit tacky to use the word "cult" in this context; it doesn't really matter what his qualifications are. It's a misuse of that word. (He's not a cult expert, so his authority doesn't matter in this context.) "Cult" adds a negative value judgment which the research doesn't necessitate.


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Fnord
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19 Jul 2022, 8:41 pm

kitesandtrainsandcats wrote:
Fnord wrote:
Should the Court of Inquiry believe the sailor who says (under oath) the mutiny occurred because "everyone knew" the Captain was a tyrant, or the Captain's Log that clearly shows the fair and just judgements meted out against the sailor for his crimes?
That is a good question since some ship captains do falsify their logbooks.
What is your point?

On board a military vessel, anyone can call for a Special Court-Martial to challenge a log entry. If the challenged entry was made by the Captain, then an Admiralty Review Board may be convened. Every Captain knows that such a review -- even if unfounded -- can be a black spot on his or her record that may provide just cause for denial of promotion, loss of command, forfeiture of pay and commission, loss of rank, and forced retirement. The incentive for truthful and accurate military log entries is greater than that of mere “creative bookkeeping” by some tramp steamer Captain.

Now, imagine this scenario: A woman you met over a year ago accuses you of rape without material evidence, while you have an ATM receipt that proves you were on the other side of town making a withdrawal from an ATM. Whose claim will be believed? You might eventually get your day in court, but sentiment will be on the side of your alleged victim because you could have forged the receipt and women never lie about rape, do they?

Documents are material evidence, while unsubstantiated testimony is no better than hearsay and rumor. This is not just a "western" concept, it is a valid one.