Racism, Empathy and Understanding

Wonderful piece on understanding, sympathy and empathy for and of fellow human beings.


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Body Ritual among the Nacerima

The anthropologist has become so familiar with the diversity of ways in which different people behave in similar situations that he is not apt to be surprised by even the most exotic customs. In fact, if all of the logically possible combinations of behavior have not been found somewhere in the world, he is apt to suspect that they must be present in some yet undescribed tribe. The point has, in fact, been expressed with respect to clan organization by Murdock.  In this light, the magical beliefs and practices of the Nacirema present such unusual aspects that it seems desirable to describe them as an example of the extremes to which human behavior can go.

Professor Linton first brought the ritual of the Nacirema to the attention of anthropologists twenty years ago, but the culture of this people is still very poorly understood. They are a North American group living in the territory between the Canadian Cree, the Yaqui and Tarahumare of Mexico, and the Carib and Arawak of the Antilles. Little is known of their origin, although tradition states that they came from the east….

Nacirema culture is characterized by a highly developed market economy which has evolved in a rich natural habitat. While much of the people’s time is devoted to economic pursuits, a large part of the fruits of these labors and a considerable portion of the day are spent in ritual activity. The focus of this activity is the human body, the appearance and health of which loom as a dominant concern in the ethos of the people. While such a concern is certainly not unusual, its ceremonial aspects and associated philosophy are unique.

The fundamental belief underlying the whole system appears to be that the human body is ugly and that its natural tendency is to debility and disease. Incarcerated in such a body, man’s only hope is to avert these characteristics through the use of ritual and ceremony. Every household has one or more shrines devoted to this purpose. The more powerful individuals in the society have several shrines in their houses and, in fact, the opulence of a house is often referred to in terms of the number of such ritual centers it possesses. Most houses are of wattle and daub construction, but the shrine rooms of the more wealthy are walled with stone. Poorer families imitate the rich by applying pottery plaques to their shrine walls.

While each family has at least one such shrine, the rituals associated with it are not family ceremonies but are private and secret. The rites are normally only discussed with children, and then only during the period when they are being initiated into these mysteries. I was able, however, to establish sufficient rapport with the natives to examine these shrines and to have the rituals described to me.

The focal point of the shrine is a box or chest which is built into the wall. In this chest are kept the many charms and magical potions without which no native believes he could live. These preparations are secured from a variety of specialized practitioners. The most powerful of these are the medicine men, whose assistance must be rewarded with substantial gifts. However, the medicine men do not provide the curative potions for their clients, but decide what the ingredients should be and then write them down in an ancient and secret language. This writing is understood only by the medicine men and by the herbalists who, for another gift, provide the required charm.

The charm is not disposed of after it has served its purpose, but is placed in the charmbox of the household shrine. As these magical materials are specific for certain ills, and the real or imagined maladies of the people are many, the charm-box is usually full to overflowing. The magical packets are so numerous that people forget what their purposes were and fear to use them again. While the natives are very vague on this point, we can only assume that the idea in retaining all the old magical materials is that their presence in the charm-box, before which the body rituals are conducted, will in some way protect the worshiper.

Beneath the charm-box is a small font. Each day every member of the family, in succession, enters the shrine room, bows his head before the charm-box, mingles different sorts of holy water in the font, and proceeds with a brief rite of ablution. The holy waters are secured from the Water Temple of the community, where the priests conduct elaborate ceremonies to make the liquid ritually pure.

In the hierarchy of magical practitioners, and below the medicine men in prestige, are specialists whose designation is best translated as “holy-mouth-men.” The Nacirema have an almost pathological horror of and fascination with the mouth, the condition of which is believed to have a supernatural influence on all social relationships. Were it not for the rituals of the mouth, they believe that their teeth would fall out, their gums bleed, their jaws shrink, their friends desert them, and their lovers reject them. They also believe that a strong relationship exists between oral and moral characteristics. For example, there is a ritual ablution of the mouth for children which is supposed to improve their moral fiber.

The daily body ritual performed by everyone includes a mouth-rite. Despite the fact that these people are so punctilious about care of the mouth, this rite involves a practice which strikes the uninitiated stranger as revolting. It was reported to me that the ritual consists of inserting a small bundle of hog hairs into the mouth, along with certain magical powders, and then moving the bundle in a highly formalized series of gestures.

In addition to the private mouth-rite, the people seek out a holy-mouth-man once or twice a year. These practitioners have an impressive set of paraphernalia, consisting of a variety of augers, awls, probes, and prods. The use of these objects in the exorcism of the evils of the mouth involves almost unbelievable ritual torture of the client. The holy-mouth-man opens the client’s mouth and, using the above mentioned tools, enlarges any holes which decay may have created in the teeth. Magical materials are put into these holes. If there are no naturally occurring holes in the teeth, large sections of one or more teeth are gouged out so that the supernatural substance can be applied. In the client’s view, the purpose of these ministrations is to arrest decay and to draw friends. The extremely sacred and traditional character of the rite is evident in the fact that the natives return to the holy-mouth-men year after year, despite the fact that their teeth continue to decay.

It is to be hoped that, when a thorough study of the Nacirema is made, there will be careful inquiry into the personality structure of these people. One has but to watch the gleam in the eye of a holy-mouth-man, as he jabs an awl into an exposed nerve, to suspect that a certain amount of sadism is involved. If this can be established, a very interesting pattern emerges, for most of the population shows definite masochistic tendencies. It was to these that Professor Linton referred in discussing a distinctive part of the daily body ritual which is performed only by men. This part of the rite includes scraping and lacerating the surface of the face with a sharp instrument. Special women’s rites are performed only four times during each lunar month, but what they lack in frequency is made up in barbarity. As part of this ceremony, women bake their heads in small ovens for about an hour. The theoretically interesting point is that what seems to be a preponderantly masochistic people have developed sadistic specialists.

The medicine men have an imposing temple, or latipso, in every community of any size. The more elaborate ceremonies required to treat very sick patients can only be performed at this temple. These ceremonies involve not only the thaumaturge but a permanent group of vestal maidens who move sedately about the temple chambers in distinctive costume and headdress.

The latipso ceremonies are so harsh that it is phenomenal that a fair proportion of the really sick natives who enter the temple ever recover. Small children whose indoctrination is still incomplete have been known to resist attempts to take them to the temple because “that is where you go to die.” Despite this fact, sick adults are not only willing but eager to undergo the protracted ritual purification, if they can afford to do so. No matter how ill the supplicant or how grave the emergency, the guardians of many temples will not admit a client if he cannot give a rich gift to the custodian. Even after one has gained and survived the ceremonies, the guardians will not permit the neophyte to leave until he makes still another gift.

The supplicant entering the temple is first stripped of all his or her clothes. In everyday life the Nacirema avoids exposure of his body and its natural functions. Bathing and excretory acts are performed only in the secrecy of the household shrine, where they are ritualized as part of the body-rites. Psychological shock results from the fact that body secrecy is suddenly lost upon entry into the latipso. A man, whose own wife has never seen him in an excretory act, suddenly finds himself naked and assisted by a vestal maiden while he performs his natural functions into a sacred vessel. This sort of ceremonial treatment is necessitated by the fact that the excreta are used by a diviner to ascertain the course and nature of the client’s sickness. Female clients, on the other hand, find their naked bodies are subjected to the scrutiny, manipulation and prodding of the medicine men.

Few supplicants in the temple are well enough to do anything but lie on their hard beds. The daily ceremonies, like the rites of the holy-mouth-men, involve discomfort and torture. With ritual precision, the vestals awaken their miserable charges each dawn and roll them about on their beds of pain while performing ablutions, in the formal movements of which the maidens are highly trained. At other times they insert magic wands in the supplicant’s mouth or force him to eat substances which are supposed to be healing. From time to time the medicine men come to their clients and jab magically treated needles into their flesh. The fact that these temple ceremonies may not cure, and may even kill the neophyte, in no way decreases the people’s faith in the medicine men.

There remains one other kind of practitioner, known as a “listener.” This witch-doctor has the power to exorcise the devils that lodge in the heads of people who have been bewitched. The Nacirema believe that parents bewitch their own children. Mothers are particularly suspected of putting a curse on children while teaching them the secret body rituals. The counter-magic of the witch-doctor is unusual in its lack of ritual. The patient simply tells the “listener” all his troubles and fears, beginning with the earliest difficulties he can remember. The memory displayed by the Nacirema in these exorcism sessions is truly remarkable. It is not uncommon for the patient to bemoan the rejection he felt upon being weaned as a babe, and a few individuals even see their troubles going back to the traumatic effects of their own birth.

In conclusion, mention must be made of certain practices which have their base in native esthetics but which depend upon the pervasive aversion to the natural body and its functions. There are ritual fasts to make fat people thin and ceremonial feasts to make thin people fat. Still other rites are used to make women’s breasts larger if they are small, and smaller if they are large. General dissatisfaction with breast shape is symbolized in the fact that the ideal form is virtually outside the range of human variation. A few women afflicted with almost inhuman hypermammary development are so idolized that they make a handsome living by simply going from village to village and permitting the natives to stare at them for a fee.

Reference has already been made to the fact that excretory functions are ritualized, routinized, and relegated to secrecy. Natural reproductive functions are similarly distorted. Intercourse is taboo as a topic and scheduled as an act. Efforts are made to avoid pregnancy by the use of magical materials or by limiting intercourse to certain phases of the moon. Conception is actually very infrequent. When pregnant, women dress so as to hide their condition. Parturition takes place in secret, without friends or relatives to assist, and the majority of women do not nurse their infants.

Our review of the ritual life of the Nacirema has certainly shown them to be a magic-ridden people. It is hard to understand how they have managed to exist so long under the burdens which they have imposed upon themselves. But even such exotic customs as these take on real meaning when they are viewed with the insight provided by Malinowski when he wrote:

Looking from far and above, from our high places of safety in the developed civilization, it is easy to see all the crudity and irrelevance of magic. But without its power and guidance early man could not have mastered his practical difficulties as he has done, nor could man have advanced to the higher stages of civilization.

Originally written by Horace Miner


HyperReality: The I In Me

“Why do my eyes hurt?”
“You’ve never used them before.”

The I In MeLest you question the possible existence of hyperreality, look then to the reappearance of Tupac Shakur.

Tupac Shakur the human being died in 1996; however, Tupac Shakur the Living Memory, the Rapper Simulacra appeared on stage April 16, 2012. . . as a hologram. The cut of his muscular body was evident in the hologram. More real than real itself. No one or thing need never die or disappear. The CGI and hyperreal Pixar animation so prevalent in films today, the seamlessness between actor and environment or actor and screen. In other words, an actor need not be physically present in his environment that can be inserted later with no visible lines. And an entire film (or video game to be even more precise) can be created without live actors, i.e. avatars, video games have already begun to employ this and getting more advanced and are advancing rapidly. With the progressive technology of resolution and frame rate (high definition and high speed filming), your household television, computer monitor, digital camera and video camera can deliver a picture more crisp than any digital photograph and possibly more than your own retinal signal processing, that is your sense of sight and its subsequent process in the brain for identification. Would you believe hyperreality over reality itself, as how could you really (that is sensationally) distinguish any difference between the virtual and the nonvirtual? You may even prefer hyperreality to reality as it is more improved now with more reality!

What of a generation raised on the Simulacra? Fed by inception and familiar with the supernatural as your current environment? Would such a child ever believe what its eyes saw? Suddenly, the dialogue in the Matrix uttered by a newly unplugged and awakened Neo has a whole new connotation. It seems the line between that reality and the literal reality is not far off.

Metaphorically speaking, we do not use our senses as they are becoming obsolete in the world of the hyped reality. What use is taste when flavor is synthesized and lab-created or added to an otherwise tasteless and bland chemical concoction? What use is hearing when surrounded by constant noise and frequent stimulation to the extent that the brain filters only that which is relevant and the rest to a comfortable static. So much so that this noise is preferred over a crushing, unstimulating silence. Or if brand jingles and ideological slogans are “heard” in the brain like a multimedia center? What use is touch/feel when feel and touch are blocked by screens and devices and personal space an engagement with gadgetry mostly? Or when feel has become synonymous as a concept with think, so that it is an intangible, not an action performed with the body. As unobtrusive as a physics abstraction. What good is smell when pheromones are lab-created and sprayed, rolled, or inked on? Cleanliness is meant to be after one bathes in a series of chemical containing unpronounceable ingredients. In effect, the sense is fooled; hyperreality creates these senses, creation ex nihilio. What use is sight when what is seen is only that which matches what one believes or has been told or when augmented reality streams through data directly to the brain? What does the machine look like now to you? Like a pod perhaps, as in Matrix? Or a 15 square foot space in the cubicle of the machine?

The machine has the face of Man.


*Image credit (all stock used with permission)–
“I, Internet” is a photomanipulation created by NIKOtheOrb using stock produced by:
Chris Moody, “Macro Iris”
Nick Fedele, “Alex’s Eye Macro”
Serial Killer Stock, “Circuit Board”

Thou Art God

Thou art God, and I am God and all that groks is God.” ~A Stranger In A Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein

Thou Art GodI was reading about chakras, and in doing so I come across the third eye crown chakra, which leads to the pineal gland which leads to melatonin . At melatonin, I find out that this is the chemical that regulates sleep patterns/cycles (circadian rhythms), which makes me wonder: What does that say about the waking state and the dream state? Give me your hand. Follow me, Alice, as we travel down the rabbit hole of a tangent….

We have wondered for millennia why do humans dream, yes? And we have wondered what is the dream state either in contrast to the waking state or in contrast to nothing. What is the dream state? And is that state when we are immersed in it, a reality? We, when we are asleep, seem to accept it as such (unless, of course, we are lucid dreaming, which is a whole other tangent, because we could say that the lucid state within the dream state is not unlike the waking state within reality, yes?). Melatonin also regulates the oscillations of the body, harmonizing with the surrounding environment so that the mind/brain can enter into the trance/dream state without any problems. How is this not unlike meditation, or even deep meditation?

Why do we still dream? Dreams as they are currently known could be residual memories, leftovers, remnants, perhaps fragments of a time when humans were fully consciousness. Downloading information from the cloud, or from the aether (in other words, whatever environment, your reality by which you are surrounded). It is effortless, I think, because the aether and you are one in the same. There is no boundary between the body and space. The skin is not a terminus…you know, at the end of my fingertip, I end. Boundaries are an illusion. I do not stop at my fingertip, I continue. My skin is not boundary betwixt I and space, skin is more like clothing. I am a protrusion into the third/fourth dimension, as such comprised of the fabric of the universe itself, same as the sun, the tree, a star, an insect, etc. Ultimately, there is no one I, nor is there a We, but only Is or This or That Which Can Be Called EveryOne. I don’t have a word in the language for this concept. That does not mean that there are no other Ones, I’m speaking merely for this universe, I have no certainty beyond that (or actually any at all, for that matter).

“Inside most people there’s a feeling of being separate — separated from everything. And they’re not. They’re part of absolutely everyone, and everything. [People have this] spot that [they] can’t see past…, the spot where they were taught they were disconnected from everything. [If they could they would see that they are connected] and how beautiful they really are. And that there’s no need to hide, or lie. And that it’s possible to talk to someone without any lies, with no sarcasms, no deceptions, no exaggerations or any of the things that people use to confuse the truth.” ~Powder

People are afraid to live in this way (reality as decoherent, as a quantum foam, or a non-solid state; reality can be as flexible as a dream) because they are afraid that they will shatter. These are all delusions, I think. There is no such thing as retribution; this is a human invented trait, not one of nature. There is no such thing as punishment; this is merely a legal term. People are afraid of condemnation or of excommunication. But humans do not have to live in this way, it is possible to be honest without worry of that.

It IS possible to live that way, but it can be scary on the way there. People are always looking for the jackboot and the oppression because in western society, that is the consequence. Human beings have forgotten how to treat one another as humans and most of all, they have forgotten that they ARE human beings, living organisms, who are children of the universe, and really have nothing to fear because death is not an afterlife or a hell/heaven, or an end, but another form of energy, just as life is a form of energy. We are not bound to life; therefore, we are not obligated in death. Immortality exists, just not in the way the movies describe.


*Image Credits (stock used with permission)–
“Thou Art God” (above image) is a photomanipulation created by NIKOtheOrb, using stock produced by:
EK Stock Photos, “Macro Eye I”
Luca Pedrotti, “Male Silhouette Pointing”
Funerium, “Cosmos8_0009”, distributed by Resurgere Stock
Inspired by a drawing on Reddit


D Y S T O P I A: a visual poem

One Day in the Future —

What if humans were extinct? What would the planet be like then? This isn’t a nightmare or a dream because there is no dreamer. Imagine a future world in which humans are gone, extinct, what record would remain to memorialize our existence. With current technology, it is already possible to record human thoughts and memories, using a digital camera/camcorder. The true dystopia would be this kind of environment, video memories/thoughts/dreams/ambitions still floating around and playing randomly throughout the world. This is how I would imagine a future Dystopian world.

DYSTOPIA: A Visual Poem (a part of Videotry series, video + poetry = Videotry. Videotry is a new style of poetry using moving images rather than written or spoken words to convey a meaning. Prose is in the form of film, a new way of ambient writing. Instrumental music and images illustrate the concepts, creating a flowing architecture)

More Visual Poetry:

Film Clips* (all film clips from Vimeo.com and used with permission through CC license):
Where Are All The People by Jonatan Lerche, Sr.
To Wall Street by Benjamin Dewey
Still There by Hotaka Matsumura
*[All footage filmed in HD, recommend 720p or 1080p for optimal viewing]

Sound clips (all samples from FreeSound.org and used with permission under CC attribution license from the following):
“Play Ball” CGEffex
“Highway Urban” Cognito Perceptu
“Deep Bass Rumble 3” ERH
“Primary School Children Playing Interior” Nick Pursehouse
[all other clips under CC licence public domain]

“Tenebrous Brothers Carnival–Snake Lady” & “Peace of Mind” by Kevin MacLeod, Incompetech.com

Other Footage:
Swings & Cage in Field filmed by NIKOtheOrb