24 October 2010

the childhood stage

People very commonly confuse the technical superiority of a nation with the moral and intellectual superiority of the population who make it up. Europeans are apt to talk about devices such as the internal combustion engine, or even the atomic reactor, as if they had all had a share in inventing them, whereas in fact most of us simply take advantage of inventions which we could not possibly have made and do not begin to understand. From this it is an easy step to seeing the peoples where these inventions were made as in some way more adult than those whose technical outfit does not include them. And this popular attitude gains support from the Jungian theory of psychology, which at the same time describes as 'primitive' the irrational elements in all human minds and holds that people who get through life with a primitive technical outfit have minds in which the irrational elements predominate.
  Let me make it clear, then, that if I write of primitive societies I am not implying anything about the characteristics of the persons who compose them - least of all that such persons have remained in the childhood stage if a human race whose maturity is represented by the "western" nations. It is ways of doing things which can be described as primitive or otherwise. The development of more complicated and efficient ways of doing things is a matter of discoveries and inventions which simply cannot be credited to the superiority of certain total populations over others. But the possession of a complex technology is what enables the modern state to control, and to a large extent organize, the lives of populations of many millions.

Lucy Mair, Primitive Government (1964: 8)