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19. The age group modes of cultural transmission

The most common methods, means, and mechanisms of diachronic cultural transmission between generations can be classed by a set of modes connected to age groups. These are: 1) imprinting, 2) imitation and exploration , 3) education, and 4) initiation.

General literature: Ba (1986), (1993), Campbell (1978), Illich (1976), (1978), (1980), (1984), (1988), Lock (1996, ch. 13-18: Ontogeny), Struck (1994) (1995), Read (1968).

19.1. Growing up: Imprinting, education

19.1.1. Imprinting

Lock (1996, ch. 13-18: Ontogeny), Kolata (1984). Imprinting is the mode of transmission of the baby and the toddler. It consists of those cultural elements which are instilled in the children mainly through intimate contact with the mother and the immediate environment (family) up until the transition when the child can walk and talk on his/her own and the individual personality develops. The cultural patterns that are taken up in this phase, are formed outside of personal consciousness. This mode is here called imprinting because the child has little alternative but to accept the kinds of cultural models offered by the environment or stay retarded for life. A specific pathology connected with this phase is known as autism. Sacks (1995: 233-282). Very few people who get disconnected from their mother at this early age grow up to any adult functionality at all. Sacks movingly describes one such very rare case, of a woman who became a respected animal psychologist, because she could relate to animals much better than to people, and was successful this way.

Much of the learning in early childhood is embedded in neuronal patterns that cannot be (re-) learned or changed in later life. Spitzer (1996: 202), (Lock 1996: 407-431) [568]. The crucial cultural material learned in this phase is: upright walking and the mother language [569], as well as culture-specific kinesic and gesticular motor habits. There are some important observations meriting a deeper exploration of a very crucial question: is it possible to draw a correlation between the level of complication, rigidification, structurization, and formalization of a highly civilized society and a danger of leading to deficiencies in the treatment of small children which are avoided in indigenous societies? The material presented by Ariès (1962), Gay (1993), Liedloff (1983), Maturana (1994b) , Montagu (1974), Zenz (1981), indicates that this may be very much so . See also ->:PANETICS, p. 233.

19.1.2. Imitation and exploration (play)

Literature: Ba (1986), (1993), Fog (1997), Maturana (1994b), Read (1968). Imitation and exploration are mainly connected with behavior of children in the next age group, in our societies mostly up to the age of five. A more common term that is often used in this context is play.

Fog (1997) [570], ch. 11.4:
Comparison with other cultural phenomena
I have mentioned that playing and other learning mechanisms are necessary for the flexibility and adaptability of the human race. When a playing child imitates an adult, he learns the behavior of the adult, and we may say that a cultural transmission has taken place. Play may also be experimentation and exploration, where the child does not learn from others but learns to know his physical environment. Or play may be an exercise where the child learns to control his body. Thus only some of the playing activities of a child are part of the cultural transmission process.

In the play phase, the younger generation is allowed to gather the cultural information [571] by its own initiative and activity, often roaming the life environment in children's groups. In western societies, because of the omnipresent traffic danger and a certain restrictive attitude towards children's play , urban children are severely limited in this exploratory behavior, and are put under observation by adults in a kindergarden and given substitutes in form of miniaturized versions of the cultural implements of adult society (toys) by which they can familiarize themselves with the material structure of their cultural environment. This is much less the need and the case in indigenous societies, where most of the implements of adult society are neither as numerous nor as dangerous nor as likely to be damaged by children's handling.

19.1.3. Education and initiation

Literature: Ba (1986), (1993), Illich (1976-1988), Struck (1994), (1995), Read (1968). Beyond age five or so, a different tone sets in for the cultural transmission. Now it is the adults who are setting the content and the pace for the instilling of cultural material to the younger generation. The pattern of cultural transmission becomes markedly different between western societies and indigenous societies.

In the West, the formal education sets in, with the standard school system, beginning with the training of the young generation in the use of the alphabet and other formal systems as standard CMT. This involves a partial casernification of the age group between 6 and 14, in higher education to 18. (Casernification meaning: the compulsory relegation by law, under threat of punisment, of this age group to a specific spatial and temporal regime, i.e. the school building and the regulation of instruction by the clock). See Foucault (1969), Illich (1976-1988). In many societies this is part-day for the public school system, and total casernification in boarding schools for a good percentage of the upper class children in some other countries, like England and the US. The compulsory military service in many countries imposes another, more severe casernification for males around age 18 to 20. And the university education usually also involves some kind of further spatial segregation of that age group. This is more prominent in the US where college life is usually in a different city "away from home".

In the indigenous societies the child begins the integration into the productive sector (farming, craft) by another cycle of imitation and exploration, i.e. apprenticeship under the surveillance of the elders in the specific activities and crafts of the respective culture sector. Ba (1993: 166-245), Read (1968). The transmission of the other cultural elements is effected by participation in the communal rituals of society and by going through various stages of age-group oriented rituals called initiations.

19.2. The patterns of initiation

The extremely varied and wide spectrum of the patterns of initiation covers a major part of the whole ethnological literature and a structure of it needs to be given here for the purposes of accounting its important role in CMS. Initiations are usually connected with the age group transition at puberty, i.e. ages 12 and up, and the transformation from the social status of child into that of the adult (Benedict 1934: 24-30), and concurrently or later, the marriage as legitimation to procreate (Müller 1985) .

The data given by Ba (1993: 242-243), Benedict (1934), Bly (1991), Campbell (1978), Erdheim (1984), Fontaine (1985), Gennep (1960), Klosinski (1991), Popp (1969), Prahl (1974), Straube (1964: 671-722), and Turner (1973), (1982), (1986a), (1986b), (1987), (1990) are taken as base for the present study. The difference in initiation patterns between {tribal / indigenous} societies and civilizations loosely follows the distinction into hot and cold societies of Levi-Strauss (also: Erdheim 1984) and there is a corresponding distinction of dionysian and apollonian societies by Ruth Benedict (1934) . The respective patterns in civilizations will be called vestigial initiations or initiatoid.

19.2.1. Hot and cold initiations

We can make a general broad distinction that the cold societies have hot initiations (involving wounds and blood, with hot pains of the flesh) whereas the hot societies have cold {vestigial initiatic / initiatoid} patterns where the pains are more of the kind of ordeals of endurance, merit, accomplishment, restriction, seclusion, humiliation, casernification, self-restraint etc. The proverbial "dark night of the soul" (St. John of the Cross) may give a good example of this initiatic pattern as practiced in the catholic church.

Compared with indigenous rituals, the vestigial initiatoid patterns of western societies are more of a theatrical performance. A typical example of a western theatrical "cold" initiation is the masonic.
Fontaine (1985: 181,183): Initiation rituals have much in common with plays. They are artificial experiences... the initiation of the masonic candidate... is a ... journey created for him by the lodge members.

In indigenous societies there is usually one main initiation (mostly the puberty initiation), after which the initiand then belongs to the adult society and is a full member with all responsibilities and privileges. In some societies, there is no (apparent) transmission of CM material whereas others do have a transmission happening at that occasion, Ba (1993: 242-243), often with successive further degrees of initiation. Elkin (1977: 3-6, 17-28, 71-134) Strehlow (1971: 392-413).

In the stratified and classed western societies, there is a multitude of {initiation-analogous / initiatoid} occurrences, and many subclasses and subgroups have their own type of initiatoid ritual. Drinking of alcohol, smoking, group violence, vandalism, and risky behavior like car racing, etc. are frequently practiced among {youth groups / juvenile gangs} as initiatoid pattern. The experience of war has been the most common European initiatic ritual in the last millennium. Gay (1993) makes an analysis of the war-like climate in 19th century european societies. Also in many indigenous societies. Benedict (1934: 25): "Adulthood in central North America means warfare". In peace times, the ordeal of the military boot camp serves as initiatic substitute, except that there is no reintegration ritual, and no ritual celebration of the attained manhood [572]. The school system with its recurrent examinations provides some initiatic patterns, and the ritual celebration of school / university graduation is indeed one of the few remaining initiatic events in western societies. Many western craft traditions had preserved elaborate initiatic rituals before they died out with the industrialization. [573] Ong has pointed out the male puberty rite setting with its deliberately imposed hardships, and physical punishments, in the earlier phases of the western school systems. Ong (1971: 113-141), (1981: 119-148), (1982:113). It has also been noted that the academic doctorate presents one of the purest remaining initiatic / initiatoid patterns in western societies. Prahl (1974).

19.2.2. Initiation as mnemotechnics

Most initiatic rituals impose on the initiands tasks that involve stress and ordeal, great deprivation, pain, fear, and even mortal terror. The initiate is subjected to varying degrees of bodily infliction, and ritual mutilation (preferably of the genitals), and wounds , that are severe enough to threaten the life of the initiate. In some cases it may seem as if there is just pain inflicted for the sake of subduing, brutalizing, and breaking the will, or the sense of self of the initiands[574]. Fontaine (1985: 186/187), Clastres (1976). In terms of CMM, we thus have the body as coding substrate, and in all these cases, the medium is the message (according to McLuhan, and it is by no means a massage , Goetsch 1991: 124). Because the dire message is written into the body itself, that the society has the power over life and death of the individual, and that the individual do better to submit to the main tenets of his/her culture . This lesson usually sticks for life. Various cultural materials can be transmitted at the occasion , that make use of the particular mnemonic value of pain in connection with other stimuli. [575] In Africa, the institution of initiation teaching is called bush-school, for appropriate reasons. Ba (1993: 242-243). Diallo (1989: 64-76) gives an account of initiation among the Minianka, of Fienso in Mali. This society, he relates on p. 64, "have the most initiations of any ethnic group in Africa". The bush-school training lasted six months (p. 64) and "During the initiation retreat, the boys get intensive training in music and dance (p. 66). There exist different grades and levels of initiation through which one passes in life (p. 67-76).

One text on initiations, Fontaine (1985: 171) found the occurrence of a non-bloody initiation rite in Africa remarkable enough to make a special notice of it: "the Bemba... a matrilineal belt of Africa... absence of physical mutilation... emphasis on mimes, singing and dancing, showing of sacred objects".

Fontaine (1985: 189): Ritual knowledge, unlike science, is antithetical to change. It must be handed down, not tested, altered, improved on or even discarded.

The mnemonic role of the (for our civilized feelings) particularly brutal and gruesome initiation rituals of the Australian Aboriginals are amply described in the literature. Roheim (1945), Strehlow (1971), Elkin (1977), Campbell (1978: 132-152). The function of extreme pain during initiation as mnemotechnics is described by Clastres:

Clastres (1976: 174): Folter-Gedächtnis:
Die Initiatoren achten darauf, daß die Intensität des Schmerzes ihren Höhepunkt erreicht. Bei den Guayaki würde ein Bambusmesser bei weitem ausreichen, die Haut der Initianden zu durchschneiden. Doch das wäre nicht schmerzhaft genug . Daher muß ein Stein benutzt werden, der stumpf ist, aber nicht zu sehr, ein Stein, der statt zu schneiden zerreißt. So macht sich ein Mann mit geschultem Auge auf den Weg, um bestimmte Flußbetten zu erkunden, wo diese Foltersteine zu finden sind...
Die Peiniger kamen näher; sie untersuchten seinen Körper, sorgfältig. Wenn die Qual enden sollte, mußte er, ihrem Ausdruck gemäß, völlig tot , d.h. ohnmächtig sein... Doch nach der Initiation, wenn jeder Schmerz bereits vergessen ist, bleibt etwas zurück, ein unwiderruflicher Rest, die Spuren, die das Messer oder der Stein auf dem Körper hinterläßt, die Narben der empfangenen Wunden. Ein initiierter Mann ist ein gezeichneter Mann. Das Ziel der Initiation in ihrem Folter-Aspekt besteht darin, den Körper zu zeichnen: im Initiationsritual drückt die Gesellschaft ihr Zeichen auf den Körper der jungen Leute . Eine Narbe, eine Spur, ein Zeichen sind nun aber unauslöschlich. Tief in die Haut eingeschrieben, zeugen sie für immer, ewig davon, daß der Schmerz, auch wenn er nur noch eine böse Erinnerung sein mag, dennoch mit Furcht und Zittern ertragen wurde. Das Zeichen verhindert das Vergessen, der Körper selbst trägt auf sich die Spuren der Erinnerung, der Körper ist Gedächtnis .
Clastres (1976: 176): Gedächtnis-Gesetz:
Das Initiationsritual ist eine Pädagogik, die von der Gruppe zum Individuum, vom Stamm zu den jungen Leuten geht. Eine Pädagogik der Affirmation, kein Dialog... Mit anderen Worten, die Gesellschaft diktiert ihren Mitgliedern ihr Gesetz , sie schreibt den Text des Gesetzes auf die Fläche der Körper. Denn das Gesetz, welches das soziale Leben des Stammes begründet, darf niemand vergessen.

19.2.3. The origins of mnemotechnics

Nietzsche describes the origin of mnemotechnics in "Genealogie der Moral", 1887, p. 289:

Vielleicht ist sogar nichts furchtbarer und unheimlicher an der Vorgeschichte des Menschen, als seine Mnemotechnik. "Man brennt etwas ein, damit es im Gedächtnis bleibt: nur was nicht aufhört weh zu tun, bleibt im Gedächtnis" - das ist ein Hauptsatz aus der allerältesten ... Psychologie auf Erden... Es ging niemals ohne Blut, Martern, Opfer ab, wenn der Mensch es nötig hielt, sich ein Gedächtnis zu machen; die schauerlichsten Opfer und Pfänder (wohin die Erstlingsopfer gehören), die widerlichsten Verstümmelungen (zum Beispiel die Kastration), die grausamsten Ritualformen aller religiösen Kulte (und alle Religionen sind auf dem untersten Grunde Systeme von Grausamkeiten) - alles das hat in jenem Instinkte seinen Ursprung, welcher im Schmerz das mächtigste Hilfsmittel der Mnemotechnik erriet... Je schlechter die Menschheit "bei Gedächtnis" war, um so furchtbarer ist immer der Aspekt ihrer Bräuche.

After Nietzsche, there were scores of anthropologists searching out and charting to the minutest details all the intricacies of indigenous mnemotechnics world wide. For specifics, see:

19.2.4. Initiation as quest

Klosinski (1991), Campbell (1978), Bly (1991). Initiation is not usually conducted to mete out pain for the purpose of creating pain, but rather it is a part of a test of endurance, will, and self-control (and / or restraint). There is a large tradition towards this end, in many different societies. It is most pronounced in the Amerind vision quest initiations. Here the aim is to let the initiand make an initiative out of his ordeal, in most cases he is sent out on some quest, and supposed to return with something to society that is novel, exciting, useful, intriguing or otherwise remarkable. European societies also had a rich repertoire of such initiatic settings, starting with the legendary Arthurian knights who went out far and wide doing great deeds, and rescuing many a fair damsel [576] from the claws of dragons, villains, and ogres, in their search of the holy grail. Campbell (1978) and Bly (1991). One example of the initiatory elements in the crafts tradition was the customary masterpiece to be delivered (Bernard 1985: 14). There is also ample material presented in the european fairy tales (Grimms Märchen). Lastly to be mentioned is the academic tradition of the doctorate thesis whose original aim was to come up with a novel contribution to the science and which the candidate must defend on his own [577]. The issue here is that the novice must not just submit to a {structure / ordeal} imposed by the elders but that he should bring in some individual contribution that has the potential of changing the system, means bringing innovation into the structures of a society. This element of potential change of the system distinguishes the cold societies, which do everything to preserve their structures, from the hot ones. In terms of CMS, this presents the important element of cultural learning . The CMS is not just about eternally carrying on some cultural contents throughout the millennia, but also about cultural learning, regeneration, re-organization, re-juvenation, and (if we choose to call it so) cultural evolution. Only where a society has succumbed to a process akin to senescence in organisms, does the initatic ordeal have the sole purpose of subduing the will and erasing the personality .

19.2.5. Open issues of initiation

The research on the patterns of initiation failed to bring about substantial material on the "inside" accounts of being initiated . Most descriptions were made from the objectivist exterior, by the vistiting anthropologist, describing this and that setting, this and that procedure, and scarcely a mention of how and what the initiands felt, and especially not what the resulting "metanoia" was for them, how their own perceptions of themselves and the world had changed. [578] Also no data were found on possible neurological changes in the patterns of the nervous system as effected by initiation ordeals. In the present situation of orientation towards neuronal processing, this should be very important information A case in point may be the extremely drastic Australian initiations which should leave "their mark" in the nervous system, and perhaps accounting for some of the otherwise hard to explain facilities that these people display. This is an aspect of initiation that must be formulated as hypothetical in the present study, because it cannot be verified or falsified from literature study: If initiation represents a transmission of cultural material that cannot be told in words, nor shown by example, nor conveyed at all as positive knowledge, then it would be entirely impossible to represent within the framework of any conceptual model conveyed within the expressive range of verbal language and writing.

[568] In German there is a fitting proverb: "Was Hänschen nicht lernt, lernt Hans nimmermehr".
[569] Because of the deep neuronal embedding, some aspects of the first language are almost impossible to learn / train in later life, like the Chinese tonal patterns that can never be produced perfectly if learned after puberty.
[570] no page number because of WWW-document.
[571] And of course, in the rural environment of all societies except western industrialized ones, the basics of nature, as well as the basic knowledge of life processes, of which the western urban societies go through horrible contortions telling their children such stories as "the birds and the bees". For an in-depth discussion of this subject see also: Strehlow (1971: 462-541).
[572] The young recruits returning home have no reason to feel elevated for any reason other than having gotten away from the military. And so the most common ritualistic occurrence is that they get senselessly drunk. (My own fieldnotes).
[573] ->:CRAFT_TRADITION, p. 221, ->:INITIATION_QUEST, p. 222
[574] The military boot camp may serve as a prime example of a formerly initiatic technique deliberately designed to just this sole aim. Prisons, correction centers, and concentration camps ditto. The large field of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Africa and Islamic countries is often interpreted as a means to subdue the women to sexual chattel, to convert them to obedient child-bearing machines, and macho sex-satisfaction devices, to deprive them of their libido, for "sexual blinding". Lightfoot-klein (1993) and Daly (1981: 175-198). A discussion on that subject can presently be found on the WWW under: (URL)
[575] ->:NIETZSCHE, p. 77
[576] Cursory analysis of the materials presented in the mythological accounts yields that the percentage of ugly old hags saved from the dragons' claws is zero. The question of a possible mythological gestalt flip picture must be posed. ->:BORING_WOMEN, p. 123
[577] Although in actual practice this may not so much live up to these lofty ideals. Focus 7/1995, Mariela Sartorius: "Doktor, summa cum gaudi".
[578] ->:METANOIA, p. 136, ->:NEURONAL_PATTERN, p. 124

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