In one of his long contemplations of this subject the name of Mark Twain appeared. Twain was from Hannibal, Missouri, along the Mississippi, the great dividing line between the American East and West, and one of his most fearsome villains was 'Injun Joe,' who personified the Indian the settlers feared at that time. But Twain's biographers had also noted a deep division in his own personality that shaped his choice of heroes. On the one side was an orderly, intelligent, obedient, clean and relatively responsible young lad whom he fictionalized as Tom Sawyer; and on the other, a wild, freedom-loving, uneducated, lying, irresponsible, low-status American he called Huckleberry Finn.
Phaedrus noticed that the division of Twain's personality fitted the cultural split he'd been talking about. Tom was an Eastern person with the manners of a New Englander, much closer to Europe than to the American West, but Huck was a Western person, closer to the Indians, forever restless, unattached, unbelieving in the pompousness of society, wanting more than anything else just to be free.
Freedom. That was the topic that would drive home this whole understanding of Indians. Of all the topics his slips on Indians covered, freedom was the most important. Of all the contributions America has made to the history of the world, the idea of freedom from a social hierarchy has been the greatest. It was fought for in the American Revolution and confirmed in the Civil War. To this day it's still the most powerful, compelling ideal holding the whole nation together.
And yet, although Jefferson called this doctrine of social equality 'self-evident,' it is not at all self-evident. Scientific evidence and the social evidence of history indicate the opposite is self-evident. There is no 'self-evidence' in European history that all men are created equal. There's no nation in Europe that doesn't trace its history to a time when it was 'self-evident' that all men are created unequal. Jean Jacques Rousseau, who is sometimes given credit for this doctrine, certainly didn't get it from the history of Europe or Asia or Africa. He got it from the impact of the New World upon Europe and from contemplation of one particular kind of individual who lived in the New World, the person he called the 'Noble Savage.'
The idea that 'all men are created equal' is a gift to the world from the American Indian. Europeans who settled here only transmitted it as a doctrine that they sometimes followed and sometimes did not. The real source was someone for whom social equality was no mere doctrine, who had equality built into his bones. To him it was inconceivable that the world could be any other way. For him there was no other way of life. That's what Ten Bears was trying to tell them.
Phaedrus thought the Indians haven't yet lost this one. They haven't yet won it either, he realized; the fight isn't over. It's still the central internal conflict in America today. It's a fault line, a discontinuity that runs through the center of the American cultural personality. It's dominated American history from the beginning and continues to be a source of both national strength and weakness today. And as Phaedrus' studies got deeper and deeper he saw that it was to this conflict between European and Indian values, between freedom and order, that his study should be directed.
After Phaedrus left Bozeman he saw Dusenberry just twice: once when Dusenberry came for a visit and had to rest because he 'felt strange'; a second time in Calgary, Alberta, after he had learned that the 'strangeness' was brain cancer and he had only a few months to live. Then he was withdrawn and sad, preoccupied with internal preparations for his own end.
Some of his sadness was caused by the feeling he'd failed the Indians. He'd wanted to do so much for them. He spent so many years accepting their hospitality and now there was nothing he would ever do in return. Phaedrus felt he'd failed Dusenberry's plea to help analyze all his data, but Phaedrus was involved in enormous problems of his own and there was nothing he could do about it, and now it was too late.
But six years later, after publication of a successful book, most of these problems had disappeared. When the question arose of what would be the subject of a second book there was no question about what it would be. Phaedrus loaded his old Ford pickup truck with a camper and headed back into Montana again, to the eastern plains where the reservations were.
At this time there was no such thing as a Metaphysics of Quality and no plans for one. His book had covered the subject of Quality. Any further discussion would be like a lawyer who, after swinging the jury in his favor, keeps on talking and talking until he finally swings them back the other way again. Phaedrus just wanted to talk about Indians now. There was plenty to say.
On the reservations he talked to Indians he had met when he was with Dusenberry, hoping to pick up the threads Dusenberry had left. When he told them he was Dusenberry's friend they would always say, 'Oh yes, Dusenberry — he was a good man.' They would talk for a while, but before long the conversation would become difficult and die down.
He couldn't think of anything to say. Or when he did, he would say it so awkwardly and self-consciously that it disturbed the flow of the conversation. He didn't have the knack for casual conversation that Dusenberry had. He wasn't the person for the job. Dusenberry could sit there all weekend and gab on and on with them about their families and their friends and anything they thought was important, and he just loved that. That's what he was really in anthropology for. That was his idea of a wonderful weekend. But Phaedrus had never learned how to make small-talk like that and as soon as he got into it his mind always drifted off into his own private world of abstractions and the conversation died.
He thought that maybe if he did some reading in the field of anthropology he might know better what to ask the Indians. So he said goodbye for a while and drove from the hot plains up into the Rocky Mountains near Bozeman. At the college there, now a university, he took out the best books he could find on anthropology, then drove up to an old remote campground near the timberline and settled down to do some reading. He hoped to stay there until he had some kind of plan for a book sketched out.
It felt good to be back in the stunted pines and wild flowers and chilly nights and hot days again. He enjoyed the ritual of getting up in the morning in the freezing camper, turning on the heat, and then going for a jog up a mountain trail. When he came back for tea and breakfast the camper would be all warm and he could settle down to a morning of reading and note-taking.
It could have been a great way to do a book but unfortunately it didn't turn out that way. What he read in the anthropology texts slowed him down more and more until it stopped him.
Phaedrus saw with disbelief at first and then with growing anger that the whole field of anthropology was rigged and stacked in such a way that everything he had to say about Indians would be unacceptable. There was no question about it. Page after page kept making it clearer and clearer that there was no way he could continue. He could write a totally honest, true and valuable book on the subject, but if he dared call it anthropology it would be either ignored or attacked by the professionals and discarded.
He remembered Dusenberry's hostility and bitterness toward what he called 'objective anthropology,' but he always thought Dusenberry was just being iconoclastic. Not so.
The professionals' refutation of his book would go something like this:
A thesis of this sort is colorful and interesting but it cannot be considered useful to anthropology without empirical support. Anthropology tries to be a science of man, not a collection of gossip and intuitions about man. It is not anthropology when someone with no training or experience spends one night on a reservation in a teepee full of Indians taking a hallucinogenic drug. To pretend he has discovered something that hundreds of carefully trained methodical workers who have spent a lifetime in the field have missed, exhibits a certain 'overconfidence' that the discipline of anthropology tries to restrain.
It should be mentioned that such theses are not at all unusual in anthropology. In fact, during the early history of anthropology, they dominated the field. It was not until the beginning of this century, when Franz Boas and his co-workers started to ask seriously, 'Which of this material is science and which is not?' that speculative intuitive rubbish unsupported by any real facts was methodically weeded out of the field.
Every anthropologist at one time or another arrives at speculative theses about the cultures he studies. It is part of the fascination that keeps him interested in the field. But every anthropologist is trained to keep these theses to himself until he is sure, from a study of actual facts and proofs, that he knows what he is talking about.
Very formidable. First you say things our way and then we'll listen to you. Phaedrus had heard it before.
What it always means is that you have hit an invisible wall of prejudice. Nobody on the inside of that wall is ever going to listen to you; not because what you say isn't true, but solely because you have been identified as outside that wall. Later, as his Metaphysics of Quality matured, he developed a name for the wall to give it a more structured, integrated meaning. He called it a 'cultural immune system.' But all he saw now was that he wasn't going to get anywhere with his talk about Indians until that wall had been breached. There was no way he was going to make any contribution to anthropology with his non-credentials and crazy ideas. The best he could do was mount a careful attack upon that wall.
In the camper he did less and less reading and more and more thinking about the problem. The books that surrounded him on the seat and floor and shelves were of no use to him. Many of the anthropologists seemed to be bright, interested, humane people but they were all operating within the wall of the anthropological cultural immune system. He could see that some of the anthropologists were struggling to get outside that wall, but within the wall there were no intellectual tools that would let them out.
As he reflected further on that wall he thought about how all paths within it seemed to lead to Franz Boas, who in 1899 had become Columbia University's first professor of anthropology, and had so completely dominated his field that most of the anthropology in America today still seems to lie in his shadow. Students working within his intellectual domain became famous: Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, Robert Lowie, Edward Sapir, Alfred Kroeber, Paul Radin and others. They produced a flowering of anthropological literature so great and so rich that their work is sometimes mistaken for all of cultural anthropology. The key to getting through the wall lay in re-examining the philosophical attitudes of Boas himself.
Boas' training was in mathematics and physics in nineteenth-century Germany. His influence lay not in the establishment of a single particular theory of anthropology but in the establishment of a method of anthropological investigation. This method followed the principles of the 'hard' science he had been trained in.
Margaret Mead said, 'He feared premature generalization like the plague, and continually warned us against it.' Generalization should be based on the facts and only on the facts.
'It is indubitable that science was his religion,' Kroeber said. 'He called his early convictions materialistic. Science could tolerate nothing "subjective"; value judgments — and by infection even values considered as phenomena - must be absolutely excluded.'
On one slip, headed 'Goldschmidt,' Phaedrus copied down the statement that 'This empiricism, this concern with fact, with detail, with preserving the record, Boas transmitted to his students and to anthropology. It is so major an element in anthropological thinking that the term "armchair anthropologist" is one of opprobrium, and two generations later we still insist on field work as a requisite to any claim for anthropological competence.'
By the time Phaedrus finished reading about Boas he was confident he'd identified the source of the immune system he was up against, the same immune system that had so rejected Dusenberry's views. It was classical nineteenth-century science and its insistence that science is only a method for determining what is true and not a body of beliefs in itself. There have been many schools of anthropological theory other than Boas' but Phaedrus could find none that opposed him on the matter of scientific objectivity.
As he read on, Phaedrus could see more and more of what the negative effects of this application of Victorian science to cultural anthropology had been. What had happened was that Boas, by superimposing the criteria of the physical sciences upon cultural anthropology, had shown that not only were the' theories of the armchair anthropologists unsupported by science but that any anthropological theory was unsupported by science, since it could not be proved by the rigorous methods of Boas' own field of physics. Boas seemed to think that someday such a theory would emerge out of the facts but it's been nearly a century since Boas had those expectations and it hasn't emerged yet. Phaedrus was convinced it never would. Patterns of culture do not operate in accordance with the laws of physics. How are you going to prove in terms of the laws of physics that a certain attitude exists within a culture? What is an attitude in terms of the laws of molecular interaction? What is a cultural value? How are you going to show scientifically that a certain culture has certain values?
Science has no values. Not officially. The whole field of anthropology was rigged and stacked so that nobody could prove anything of a general nature about anybody. No matter what you said, it could be shot down any time by any damn fool on the basis that it wasn't scientific.
What theory existed was marked by bitter quarrels over differences that were not anthropological at all. They were almost never quarrels about accuracy of observation. They were quarrels about abstract meanings. It seemed almost as though the moment anyone said anything theoretical it was a signal for the commencement of an enormous dog fight over differences that could not be resolved with any amount of anthropological information.
The whole field seemed like a highway filled with angry drivers cursing each other and telling each other they didn't know how to drive when the real trouble was the highway itself. The highway had been laid down as the scientific objective study of man in a manner that paralleled the physical sciences. The trouble was that man isn't suited to this kind of scientific objective study. Objects of scientific study are supposed to hold still. They're supposed to follow the laws of cause and effect in such a way that a given cause will always have a given effect, over and over again. Man doesn't do this. Not even savages.
The result has been theoretical chaos.
Phaedrus liked a description he read in a book called Theory in Anthropology by Robert Manners and David Kaplan of Brandeis University. 'Scattered throughout the anthropological literature' they wrote, 'are a number of hunches, insights, hypotheses and generalizations. They tend to remain scattered, inchoate, and unrelated to one another, so that they often get lost or are forgotten. The tendency has been for each generation of anthropologists to start afresh.
Theory building in cultural anthropology comes to resemble slash-and-burn agriculture,' they said, 'where the natives return sporadically to old fields grown over by bush and slash and burn and plant for a few years.'
Phasdrus could see the slash and burn everywhere he looked. Some anthropologists were saying a culture is the essence of anthropology. Some were saying there isn't any such thing as a culture. Some were saying it's all history, some said it's all structure. Some said it's all function. Some said it was all values. Some, following Boas' scientific purity, said there were no values at all.
That idea that anthropology has no values Phsdrus marked down in his mind as the 'spot.' That was the place where the wall could best be breached. No values, huh? No Quality? This was the point of focus where he could begin an attack.
What many were trying to do, evidently, was get out of all these metaphysical quarrels by condemning all theory, by agreeing not to even talk about such theoretical reductionist things as what savages do in general. They restricted themselves to what their particular savage happened to do on Wednesday. That was scientifically safe all right — and scientifically useless.
The anthropologist Marshall Sahlins. wrote, 'The very term "universal" has a negative connotation in this field because it suggests the search for broad generalization that has virtually been declared unscientific by twentieth-century academic, particularistic American anthropology.'
Phsdrus guessed anthropologists thought they had kept the field 'scientifically pure' by this method, but the purity was so constrictive it had all but strangled the field. If you can't generalize from data there's nothing else you can do with it either.
A science without generalization is no science at all. Imagine someone telling Einstein, 'You can't say "E=mc2." It's too general, too reductionist. We just want the facts of physics, not all this high-flown theory.' Cuckoo. Yet, that's what they were saying in anthropology.
Data without generalization is just gossip. And as Phasdrus continued on and on that seemed to be the status of what he was reading. It filled shelf after shelf with volume after dusty volume about this savage and that savage, but as far as he could see, anthropology, the 'science of man,' had had almost no guiding effect on man's activities in this scientific century.
Whacko science. They were trying to lift themselves by their bootstraps. You can't have Box 'A' contain within itself Box 'B', which in turn contains Box 'A'. That's whacko. Yet here's a 'science' which contains 'man' which contains 'science' which contains 'man' which contains 'science' - on and on.
He left the mountains near Bozeman with boxes full of slips and many notebooks full of quotations and the feeling that there was nothing within anthropology he could do.
Back down in the plains, in a country motel one night with nothing to read, Phasdrus had found a small dog-eared Yankee magazine, thumbed through it, and stopped on a brief account by Cathie Slater Spence entitled 'In Search of the April Fool.'
It was about a child prodigy who had possibly the highest intelligence ever observed, and who in his later life went nowhere. 'Born on April 1, 1898,' it said,
William James Sidis could speak five languages and read Plato in the original Greek by the age of five. At eight he passed the entrance for Harvard but had to wait three years to be admitted. Even so he became Harvard's youngest scholar and graduated cum Jaude in 1914 at the age of sixteen. Frequently featured in 'Ripley's Believe It or Not,' Sidis made the front page of The New York Times nineteen times.
But after graduating from Harvard, the 'Boy Wonder' pursued his own obscure and seemingly meaningless interests. The press that had lionized him turned on him. The most scathing example came in the New Yorker in 1937. Entitled 'April Fool,' the magazine article ridiculed everything from Sidis's hobbies to his physical characteristics. Sidis sued for libel and invasion of privacy. Though he won a small out-of-court settlement for libel, the invasion of privacy charge was dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark decision. 'The article is merciless in its dissection of intimate details of its subject's personal life,' the court conceded, but Sidis was 'a public figure' and thus could not claim protection from the interest of the press, which continued to hound him until his death in 1944. Obituaries called him 'a prodigious failure' and 'a burnt-out genius' who had never achieved anything of significance despite his talents.
Dan Mahony of Ipswich, Massachusetts, read about Sidis in 1976 and was puzzled. 'What was he really doing and thinking all that time?' Mahony wondered. 'It's true he held low-paying jobs, but Einstein came up with the theory of relativity while working in a patent office. I had a feeling Sidis was up to more than most people thought.'
Mahony has spent the last ten years looking into Sidis's work. In one dusty attic, he found a bulky manuscript called The Tribes and the States in which Sidis argues persuasively that the New England political system was profoundly influenced by the democratic federation of the Penacook Indians.
At this sentence, a kind of shock passed through Phsedrus, but the article went on.
When Mahony sent Sidis's book The Animate and Inanimate to another eccentric genius, Buckminster Fuller, Fuller found it 'a fine cosmological piece' that astoundingly predicted the existence of black holes - in 1925!
Mahony has unearthed a science fiction novel, economic and political writings, and eighty-nine weekly newspaper columns about Boston that Sidis wrote under a pen name. 'The amazing thing is that we may only have tapped the surface of what Sidis produced,' says Mahony. 'For instance, we've found just one page of a manuscript called The Peace Paths, and people who knew Sidis have said they saw many more manuscripts. I think Sidis may still have a few surprises in store for us.'
Phaedrus set down the magazine and felt as though someone had thrown a rock through the motel window. Then he read the article over and over again in a sort of daze, as the impact of what he was reading sank deeper and deeper. That night he could hardly sleep.
It looked as though way back in the thirties Sidis had been on exactly the same thesis about Indians. He was trying to tell people some of the most important things that could be said about their country and they were rewarding him by publicly calling him a 'fool' and failing to publish what he had written. There didn't even seem to be any way to find out what Sidis had said.
Phaedrus tried to contact the Mahony mentioned in the article but couldn't find him, partly, he supposed, because his effort was only half-hearted. He knew that even if he did get a look at Sidis's material there wasn't much he could do about it. The problem wasn't that it wasn't true. The problem was that nobody was interested.
It felt cold again and Phaedrus got up and reloaded the coal stove with more charcoal briquets.
After that depressing experience in the mountains he had wanted to give the whole thing up and move on to something more profitable, but as it turned out, the depression he was feeling was just a temporary setback. It was a prelude to a much larger and more important explanation of the Indians. This time it would not be just Indians versus whites, treated within a white anthropological format. It would be whites and white anthropology versus Indians and 'Indian anthropology' treated within a format no one had ever heard of yet. He would get out of the impasse by expanding the format.
The key was values, he thought. That was the weakest spot in the whole wall of cultural immunity to new ideas the anthropologists had built around themselves. Value was a term they had to use, but under Boas' science value does not really exist.
And Phaedrus knew something about values. Before he had gone up into the mountains he had written a whole book on values. Quality. Quality was value. They were the same thing. Not only were values the weakest spot in that wall, he might just be the strongest person to attack that spot.