Sunday, January 29, 2012

Frenzy and Purpose

"There is no one person who organizes such things in an acephalous society, no one person with the power and authority to impose his will. Matters of major public concern are allowed to drift until action is forced upon all by press of circumstance or until the moment for action is past so that nothing is ever done. It is comforting that this works so well, a proof that much of the frenzy and purpose of the world is otiose."  
From Ceremony: An Anthropologist's Misadventures in the African Bush, by Nigel Barley.
acephalous: "lacking a head or a clearly defined head"
otiose: "serving no useful purpose"

The author was waiting for a certain ceremony to occur that he was keen to observe and which was held only every few years.

Coming from a society that is tightly organized and highly focused on producing results, being efficient, and defining lines of decision-making, I had a good chuckle as I was reminded that the life and the continuity of a people can be sustained in a loose, distributed way that does not require the hierarchies and control that we may presume as "normal".

The author is saying that much does not get done but that it doesn't matter since life manages to go on anyway.

Here in southern Tanzania there is maybe a similar tendency to let things slide. But that tendency is butting up against the desire for the material goodies and comforts of the developed world. I don't know that Tanzanians understand that you cannot have it both ways, not really, not on a national scale.

On the other hand, in the U.S. we value busyness as an end in itself. We often confuse it with being productive, thinking that activity implies effectiveness. Sometimes the activity is nothing but distraction, restlessness, and avoidance of boredom.

Myself, I don't pretend that playing Spider Solitaire on a PC is anything other than goofing off. -Earl

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