chapter
4 Pages

Introduction by David Hamilton

It seems to me, after reviewing these papers written over a period of fifty years, that a common thread running through them is the distinction long ago made by Veblen between economic affairs that might be labeled matter-of-fact and those labeled ceremonial. The first of these two distinguishing marks refers to all of those prosaic technological processes by virtue of which human beings secure a livelihood and by virtue of which they improve their lot. The second refers to the fanciful assignment to individuals playing varied cultural roles personal credit for the accomplishment. In other words, a social process, technology, is personalized and attributed to great feats of individual prowess. And this social phenomenon is to be found in all cultures to which the anthropologist has turned attention. In the conventional mind of all peoples, heroic figures gave to them sometime in the past a life way. And today’s world is similarly beholden to such heroes whether they be priests, soldiers, kings, inventors, entrepreneurs, or CEOs – to use a contemporary referent. Today’s heroes in their dramatic roles are reenacting the heroics of those ancestors to whom we are allegedly beholden for our current life way. The mores as well as the taboos assure such a replication. It is by such reference to the past that the power of today’s cultural leaders is authenticated. We might metaphorically refer to the rise of human beings to today’s technological level as the long march from Olduvai Wash to Silicon Valley. Until recently, much of our history was the parade of cultural heroes who, by virtue of heroic cultural feats, led us out of the Wash. The attention of historians was focused on the dramatic aspect of the human enterprise that Veblen categorized as ceremonial. This myopia is no longer excusable in light of what now is known about the long course of technology through Paleolithic, Neolithic, and industrial culture, and now, perhaps, post-industrial culture. These categories are based on tool development, not on heroic individuals. As a matter of fact, the potential abilities of all who participated in this long march cannot be so differentiated. It is not for lack of intelligence that late-Paleolithic peoples lacked the airplane or the computer. Nor was it for lack of some vague thing called intelligence that the denizens of Greek and Roman classic civilization lacked the automobile and offset printing.