Several ancient traditions held that using the right word or phrase was important in rendering the truth of the matter. Writers such as Ursula K. Leguin adopted this tradition in some of her fiction—the power of naming, of saying the true name, was magical in EarthSea. I recently read another Chinese writer, Lu Chi, who espoused a similar idea back around 300 CE. A modern example might be Murray Gell-Mann’s use of the word “quarks” for the particles, whether theoretically real or mathematically imaginary, which make up the atomic and sub-atomic particle zoo. I just finished his biography; what an amazing creature he was (having just passed away on 5/24/2019). He had a hand or finger in almost every advance in developing the what physicists now refer to as the Standard Theory, as good an approximation in our understanding of physical reality as we have managed, not the ultimate one, they say, but one that manages to be the most accurate in accounting for past experimental results and predicting future ones. New ways of explaining previously unknown particles and fields were needed. Gell-Mann was known for coining terms to label some of these newly found phenomena, his lifting of the word “quark” from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake being the most famous.
I have also finished The Social Construction of Reality by Berger and Luckmann, a very intense, insightful book examining the sociology of knowledge that I discussed a couple of posts ago (6/22/19), and their use of labels is what really concerns me today. After discussing the objective basis of our social construction they move on to the subjective basis. That, of course, necessitates they venture from a sociological domain into one more psychological. If they wrote their book today, rather than in 1966, I think they would be able to find better words (maybe the right or ‘true names’) to capture some important phenomena.
They refer to the process of a human child acquiring the basis and basics of its society’s construction of reality, which includes the establishment of identity, as socialization. While they are focused on the sociological structures of knowledge, they acknowledge a necessary component of emotional identification. Gosh and golly, for those of us who began studying in the late 60s, this necessary component morphed into the very important phenomena of attachment and identification, including the basic capability of emotional regulation going up and down, including now some of the neural structures that serve this development of a functional personality (see Allan Schore’s books and my post on 7/31/18).
Many do still refer to this phase of development as ‘socialization’ so that word is still serviceable. After this initial phase, a second phase begins during which language helps children to acquire the social accoutrements of their culture. Berger and Luckmann call this phase ‘socialization 2’. Not bad for a first approximation, but it lacks the cachet of the later term ‘acculturation’. I really like these two terms when placed in relation to one another: socialization refers to the ontogeny of an individual mind, personality and early social identity and acculturation refers to that individual’s acquiring the habitus and orthodoxy of their culture, including their social roles outside of familial relations. If, as an adult, you move to a different land, you will be acculturated anew, maybe not to the same unconscious or deep level of implicit or procedural memories as a naïve youngster once was but still learning some new ways.
A couple of favorite examples of this latter process comes from movies and TV. One of our favorite shows on PBS is Cycling Around Japan in which a westerner who has lived in Japan for some years and is an avid bicyclist travels through an area meeting interesting people, e.g., farmers, fishermen, and craftsmen, or better, craftspeople & fisherpeople. I find the care with which the westerners approach each Japanese person delightful. They always greet the person at the outset, “Konichiwa” and ask permission to talk and view their work as they exchange bows. Contrast this culture where each person is careful not to be intrusive, where calm and distant politeness in basic exchanges is quietly assumed, with the attitude currently in the news about the New York way of blustery engagement. I prefer the Japanese culture in this, but then I went to high school in Japan and hold those memories dear.
The second example of a different acculturation is from the movie, Wadjda, discussed here in a post on 12/11/14 about a young Arab girl who wants to ride a bicycle, a completely unorthodox and mostly unacceptable wish on her part. A westerner would have to adapt very quickly, i.e., become acculturated, to function in this culture, especially a female. Women who even visit briefly must dress accordingly, e.g., no shorts or even short dresses and wear a head covering. That is an obvious and surface marker of cultural differences, but one scene in the movie stands out to me. The girls at lunchtime are allowed to play outside for a while. Some workmen on the roof of a building some distance away settle down for their lunch with a view of the schoolyard. Immediately most of the girls run inside because, after all, these are men not of their family and so cannot look at them. Our heroine Wadjda retreats more slowly, (oh, she is a spunky lass) because why should the girls have to lose their recess due to men who are far away, and is promptly reprimanded by the schoolmarm for doing so.
Berger and Luckmann’s term ‘socialization 2’ does not really capture this phenomena in an illuminating way—‘acculturation’ is the way to go, assuming you are being neutral and not judging the Arab society mores discriminating against females (and then other terms would apply, eh? Let’s settle on ‘unjust’ for now). As always I wish to understand how these two terms, socialization and acculturation, if they do indeed parse out the true or right distinctions in our development, operate in neural terms. As I mentioned, Allan Schore has given us a good start on the socialization front in his excellent summary of research into the neural systems supporting attachment and emotional regulation, but what are the neural systems supporting acculturation? I presume acculturation is quite complex and not at all unified into a single system. Consider some of the various facets: kinesics, e.g., body language, social mores of politeness, social constraints on topics for conversation, divisions between groups, child-rearing and elder support practices, along with the traditional anthropological subjects of property inheritance, matri- and patri-lineal succession, ways of forming alliances, e.g., marriages, and rituals marking birth, death, and the passages falling in-between.
Thinking about the conventional understanding of our current paradigms, some of these facets would be inherent in procedural and semantic memories, while some would seem to operate through episodic or autonoetic memories. Many would seem to operate as constraints as to what could be understood, remembered and practiced as orthodox and acceptable, i.e., the less conscious standards by which we judge the others. Ah, so much more to understand as we progress in our thinking when we are more capable.
I leave you with a passage from the Art of Writing, written by Lu Chi (more on him later) around 300 CE and translated by Sam Hamill:
Ordering thoughts and ideas we begin to choose our words.
Each choice is made with care, fit with a sense of proportion.
Shadowy thoughts are brought into the light of reason; echoes are traced to their sources.
It is like following the branch to find the trembling leaf, like following the stream to find the spring.
* * * * *
Calm the heart’s dark waters; Collect from deep thoughts the proper names for things.
Lu Chi’s lessons apply, I believe, to most intellectual endeavors. As always, looking for the proper name of things, I travel on.