September 29, 2004

Bound By Action, Responding Because the World Responds to You

Category: Anthropology — Biella @ 10:41 pm

I recently finished a brilliant book, Bound by Recognition by Patchen Markell. Lucid yet intricate, Patchen grapples with basic facts of the human condition and applies it to political theory and uses it to launch a critique againt orthodox currents in the debate about multiculturalism. Here I cannot provide a rich or even simple account of the book. But for the purpose of this entry, it is worth noting my favorite part in his analysis is about the fact of unpredictability which can be explained by two words he uses a lot, action and bound. Over and over again he argues persuasively that our actions always exceeds our intentions, this surplus is what interconnects us to other people (and other actions) in ways we could have never imagined. This in fact is what nullifies any idea of the self-enclosed, atomized individual, a zip-locked freezer safe entity of self hood. Eastern philosophy and religion has made debunking sovereign
notions of the self central to itself, while much of Western thought has traveled in the other direction, arguing for or at least an aspiring to various forms of sovereignty (the self, the social group, the nation). Using some gripping stories and accounts from classical Western literature and philosophy, he is able to skillfully deconstruct the illusions of sovereinty, and also argue the ways in which forms of injustice are often predicated on these ideas of sovereignty. Anyway, if you are into political philosophy, Hegel, Greek tragedy, multiculturalism or a good read, check it out.

So, I especially like books that seem to confirm the mundane experiences of your life. As I explained a couple of days a go, a piece of mine that was originally published in an arcane anthropology journal, made its way (and I have no idea how) to some equally enigmatic (at least to me) Linux jounral and then made it to GrokLaw. Though I fully intended that that article be confined to an academic audience (having already published other similar pieces that were less anthro-jargony), my intentions criss-crossed with someone elses and new results were born. This is what Patchen shows the unpredicable nature of our actions, makes life at once exciting, risky, joyful, and full of sorrow.

Though receiving accolades from PJ at GrokLaw and others who have written me, I also received the attention (by which I mean I received emails) from two of the more well known figures in Free and Open Source Software, easily identified by their three letter initials ESR and RMS. Both to say the least were unhappy with my description of FOSS as politically agnostic. I think part of difference of opinion can be explained by some confusion over language and terms (and arent most misunderstandings over this), but otherwise I think we just have pretty different interpretations (or perhaps more apt, different ideas over where one should interpret social life)

In the past most anthropologists never had to deal with the question of

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