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The Nacirema as an analogy for modern society

The Nacirema as an analogy for modern society

In 1956, the American anthropologist Horace Miner gave first shed some insight  into the nature of the Nacirema people and their customs.  It was through the landmark work, Body Ritual Among the Nacirema that the bizarre cults of these people first came to the knowledge of the American people.  Then, about thirty years ago, Neil B. Thompson continued that work by writing on the Elibomotua cult and environmental modification in the magazine “Natural History”.  In describing the fall of this mysterious culture, the latter also described the ‘ritual’ architecture of these people in the following passage:

“Trees, if in large enough numbers and size to influence the appearance of the landscape, were removed. In treeless regions, hills were leveled and large holes were dug and partially filled with water. In a few areas the Nacirema imported structural steel with which they erected tall, sculpturesque towers. Some of these towers were arranged in series, making long lines that extended beyond the horizon, and were linked by several cables running through the air. Others, particularly in the northern fringe area, were erected in no discernible geometric pattern and were connected by hollow pipes laid on the surface of the earth.”

Today, many students of anthropology have read, or at least heard of Miner’s work.  However, after reading, it is obvious that the “Nacirema,” are not an indigenous people of a distant time or place, but the Americans themselves.  While Miner’s intention might have been to satirize the language of his contemporaries, they also satirize aspects of American culture, such as medical practice and psychiatry.  Miner’s work serves as a sort of thought experiment, attempting to take a critical look at American modernity from a distant observer, rather than a person who is a part and parcel of that culture.

In some respects, Miner did not do anything new.  Johnathan Swift had satirized English society in Gulliver’s Travels.  However, by removing himself from the scene of American life, and looking inward, both Miner and Thompson essentially cast the American nation as seemingly primitive.  Because of this, while Miner may not have intended to critique modern life, the practice still recalls Evola’s notion that the American mind itself is “puerile and primitive” and an “example of regression”.  Therefore, while in technological terms, the America is “advanced” due to its technological-industrial complexes, there is a strong savage, primitive (or “telluric”) element that is prevalent within American culture.  As Evola believed that “primitiveness” did not necessarily refer to “original peoples,” but rather to the degenerating remains of more ancient races that have disappeared, this is not an unfounded comparison.  For instance, a number of aspects of modern-day American life, such as an almost fanatic dedication to secular, civic religion, are fairly reminiscent of certain primitive cults as practiced by indigenous peoples.  The main difference is that the former is purely of a chthonic and earthly nature, while the latter display some belief in a divine and other-worldly source.

The concepts of political correctness and democracy also form a sort of secular religion which creates a society without any ideals other than what its elites claim to be ideals.  A “secular religion” is essentially a set of philosophies which involve no spiritual component yet, possess qualities similar to those of a religion.  Political correctness often serves this function in modern societies, because it often serves to replace spiritual or religious values with secular ones, “counter-initiatory” values.  Another type of “secular religion,” although few might think of it as such, is ”Holocaustianity”, which is complete with a set of dogmas, commandments, high priests, sites of pilgrimages, temples, relics, miracles, and prophecies.  In this context, the mere fanaticism of liberalism is enough for it to be seen as no more than a superstitious and primitive cult.

In the material world, modern man is in a state of decline rather than progress.  For Guénon, the “Iron Age” or “Kali Yuga” has stripped man of his dignity.  Instead of elevating man to mastery over material elements, he was now controlled by the various things which were produced.  The mysticism of the soul, according to Guénon, had been replaced it with consumerism and materialism, with the most fashionable fads appealing to the wallet and the mind.  Guénon had also re-iterated that even “spirituality” appeals to the “lowest common denominator,” and at most is a distractive panacea.

Thompson’s work on environmental modification is also interesting given the nature of “modern” industrial society.  While industrialized nations allow people to live in relative comfort, those nations are also suffering from real environmental problems.  Consequently, when combined with the constant quest for quantity, this may ultimately be the downfall of civilization, as Thompson (fictitiously) suggests.  Already, alternatives to such such problems have been discussed by such “deep ecology” theorists as Pentti Linkola and others.

As the time goes on, the regression continues unabated as modernity drags us further into the path of degeneration.  Being able to recognize this problem is the first step in solving it.

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