IS Forum
Forum Index Register Members List Events Mark Forums Read Help

Go Back   International Skeptics Forum » Reference » Forum Spotlight
 


Welcome to the International Skeptics Forum, where we discuss skepticism, critical thinking, the paranormal and science in a friendly but lively way. You are currently viewing the forum as a guest, which means you are missing out on discussing matters that are of interest to you. Please consider registering so you can gain full use of the forum features and interact with other Members. Registration is simple, fast and free! Click here to register today.
Reply
Old 17th June 2007, 11:37 AM   #81
Roswell-Perseis
Thinker
 
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 184
Wolfman,

The Mosuo project is a wonderful endeavor and I hope you experience continuing success. Thanks for the update!

Q: Do you believe the Mosuo's lack of "monetary success" is a position relative to the rest of China or is it more insidious within the Mosuo culture? If not for the invention of medicine and other services would the Mosuo have the notion of some sort of neediness? Furthermore, how do the Mosuo feel about the friction between their culture and that of a technologically advanced society? Do the Mosuo have any type of socio-economic stratification?
Roswell-Perseis is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 17th June 2007, 06:57 PM   #82
Wolfman
Chief Solipsistic
Autosycophant
 
Wolfman's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Posts: 13,394
R-P,

Some very good questions, that really get at the heart of the issue. First, the "poverty" is very much a relative thing. If taken in isolation, the Mosuo are almost entirely self-sufficient. They raise their own food, and are well fed; they have homes, clothing, etc. Within their own communities, they have a largely cashless system of commerce, based on barter of goods and services. So, as long as there is no need for contact with or interaction with the outside world, there is not really a big problem.

And this is where the whole "wouldn't it be better to leave them alone" element comes in...there is a very valid (and emotionally appealing) argument to be made that if they're happy and self-sufficient the way they are, why bother them with the 'problems' of the outside world? As I've stated elsewhere, while this makes for great philosophical debate, the pragmatic reality is that the outside world is already there, and there's no turning backwards (unless you're going to tell the Mosuo, "Hey, we're sorry...we're going to take away your electricity, close down the roads, tear down the schools, remove your TVs, DVD players, and return you to the way you were before).

The pragmatic reality is that the Mosuo have gotten a taste of the outside world -- through TV, through school, through contact with outsiders, etc. -- and they are curious about it. While some of them want to stay in their own communities and continue with their 'traditional' life, others want to travel to other places, learn other knowledge, get other jobs, experience other cultures, meet other people, etc. And they require money for this.

It is here that "poverty" becomes an issue. Putting aside the subsistence living, the actual cash income of the average Mosuo is around US$ 100/year. That isn't even enough money to cover all the costs of sending their children to high school or university (quick clarification -- high school is 'free' so far as tuition is concerned; but most high schools are so far away from the Mosuo communities that the only option is for parents to board their children full-time at those schools, which means they must pay room, board, etc.).

And what if Mosuo want to start their own hotels, or their own tourism companies? Where do they get the money to even begin to compete with the outsiders who are encroaching on their culture?

Personally, I don't think that every Mosuo child needs to get a high school or university education...perhaps not even a full primary school education. If they are happy staying in their own community, doing the same jobs and living the same lives as their parents and their grandparents, they can learn everything they need from their own families. But they should have the choice and the freedom to get more education, and to try other opportunities, if that is what they wish to do.

Now, when you talk about medical issues, it becomes much clearer in terms of the issues involved. Every time I visit the Mosuo, I see people of all ages suffering from problems that are completely treatable, completely avoidable...but nothing is done, because they lack the money to get treatment. Barter doesn't work when you are taking your mother to a hospital 80 kilometers away to have surgery on the tumor growing on her jaw.

So yes...it is very much a relative thing. The Mosuo are "poor" or live in "poverty" only by comparison with the Han Chinese majority; but, for better or worse, the Mosuo are no longer isolated, they are becoming more and more a part of the Han Chinese world. And the only way for them to survive and and compete in that world is for them to get more education, develop more knowledge/skills, have more resources, start their own businesses, etc.

The 'good news' in this regard is that I've found the Mosuo to be an eminently flexible and pragmatic people...they adapt to new situations very quickly, and while they want to preserve their culture, they tend to view it as a growing, evolving culture that is able to accept outside ideas and incorporate them within their culture. If you visit there, you will be truly amazed at what they have accomplished with so little actual training or money. The Mosuo Museum I mentioned earlier is a prime example of this -- started by two Mosuo men who wanted to preserve their cultural heritage, and also present an accurate portrayal of the culture to outsiders. With no previous knowledge or experience of doing anything like this, and rallying together the support of the entire Mosuo community, they build a museum which, while fairly simple, is of excellent quality and very high standards. And they're always looking to improve it.

In every single project we've done thus far, where we've provided funding for a project that they've identified as important, the money has not only been used effectively, but they have done more with it than we'd expected, and have worked very hard to get every bit of practical use out of it that they can. The women's training center I mentioned earlier is a great example of this...we gave them money to buy weaving looms and basic materials, and to hire teachers. Not only did they accomplish everything they said they would, but the entire community, seeing how useful this was, pitched in to help and support the training center.

Thus, I have no doubt whatsoever that, if given the opportunity, many Mosuo will learn and adapt quite rapidly, and will be able to take back control over the changes that are taking place in their communities/culture, and control their own futures. I don't really see this as "poverty alleviation"...I see it more as empowerment.
__________________
Please check out my business, The Language of Culture
Wolfman is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 17th June 2007, 07:44 PM   #83
Orphia Nay
Penguilicious Spodmaster.
Tagger
 
Orphia Nay's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2005
Location: Ponylandistan Presidential Palace (above the Spods' stables).
Posts: 38,808
Originally Posted by Roswell-Perseis View Post
Wolfman,

The Mosuo project is a wonderful endeavor and I hope you experience continuing success. Thanks for the update!

Q: Do you believe the Mosuo's lack of "monetary success" is a position relative to the rest of China or is it more insidious within the Mosuo culture? If not for the invention of medicine and other services would the Mosuo have the notion of some sort of neediness? Furthermore, how do the Mosuo feel about the friction between their culture and that of a technologically advanced society? Do the Mosuo have any type of socio-economic stratification?
They're rather convoluted questions. Perhaps what you're asking is what do the Mosuo really need? (Which Wolfman pretty much answered already.)

I think it's a bit odd to say "if not for the invention of medicine...". We do not even treat animals that way - depriving them of care. Or, we try not to deprive them of care. Furthermore, medicine exists. Why send the Mosuo back to the dark ages?

Perhaps Wolfman can explain further the Mosuo's attitude towards medicine, technology, and modern products - food, clothes etc (if such generalisations are possible, as I'm sure attitudes differ from person to person).

eta: oops, should have refreshed the page.
__________________
"We stigmatize and send to the margins
people who trigger in us the feelings we want to avoid"
- Melinda Gates, "The Moment of Lift".
Orphia Nay is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 17th June 2007, 08:08 PM   #84
Wolfman
Chief Solipsistic
Autosycophant
 
Wolfman's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Posts: 13,394
Originally Posted by orphia nay View Post
Perhaps Wolfman can explain further the Mosuo's attitude towards medicine, technology, and modern products - food, clothes etc.
Medicine is a very tricky issue; the Mosuo, for the most part, still consider illness to be caused by evil spirits or angry gods. The first stage in treatment of any illness will be to call in the Daba priest, and have him perform various ceremonies to restore harmony. If this fails, the priest may then be called on to do some sort of divination, and determine what actions the family needs to take to rid themselves of this affliction. This action may include advising them to go to a hospital, but is far from being a foregone conclusion.

Trying to explain bacteria and viruses (much less genetic diseases) is an exercise in futility in many cases; the idea of microscopic creatures they can't even see causing disease seems as ridiculous and deluded to them as their belief it is caused by evil spirits seems to us. The younger generation, who have received at least a basic education, are changing in this regard...but they're not the decision makers.

So, in many cases, hospitals are the option of last resort, to be taken only if every other possible 'treatment' has been exhausted. But hospitals are generally quite far away (families may end up travelling 8-12 hours to get to the nearest decent hospital), and the costs are often way too high for the average Mosuo family. Add to that the fact that many Mosuo don't go to the hospital until it is too late (and die anyway), and the Mosuo just don't see much value in spending so much money for treatments that they don't understand, and that don't seem to help anyone anyway.

As the Daba priest is generally the main source of advice in any community, one of our potential strategies is to focus on educating the Dabas about medicine; if we could convince them of the value of proper medical care, they'd then recommend it to Mosuo families, who would do it because that's what the priest told them to do. There is one young Daba priest with whom I am very good friends, and we spend a lot of time together. He is woefully uneducated in anything except the Daba religion (he didn't even complete grade one of primary school, speaks faltering Chinese, and is completely illiterate); but he's one of the nicest, most sincere guys I've ever met, and he's responded quite positively to my efforts to give him more knowledge. I just have to be careful to present information in a way that does not directly contradict his own religious beliefs.

So, for example, when I was explaining viruses and bacteria to him, at first he was just overwhelmed, found it beyond comprehension. Then, at one point, I said, "Well, you can't see ghosts, spirits, or gods, but you believe in them, right?". His response was not what I'd expected -- "Oh, so you mean this is just your version of ghosts and spirits!". That was not what I meant...but it provided a convenient hook that allowed him to incorporate what I was telling him into his faith. By the same token, when I talked about medicines, vaccines, etc., he remained resistant and uncomprehending until I equated medical treatments with the ceremonies he does to defeat evil spirits.

Thus, his actual understanding of "medicine" is rather comical (from our perspective)...his view on it is that medicine is basically just another religious means of doing what he does: that is, defeat evil spirits with the judicious application of the appropriate ceremonies. But, for all that it is inaccurate, it serves its purpose...if he performs his own ceremonies, and they don't work, he will then immediately suggest that people try a hospital, where perhaps their ceremonies will prove more effective.

And I want to emphasize here that I don't intend this to be patronizing, or anything like that. This man is a close friend, and someone for whom I have phenomenal respect. He is one of the members of our committee, and one of our most important resources in terms of recording and preserving the Mosuo oral history. His background and education give him a view of the world that is radically different than mine, and it is my responsibility to first understand his perspective and beliefs, and then find a way to work within that structure, rather than to simply treat him like some ignorant simpleton and expect him to abandon everything he believes and think/act like I want him to.

The process of change is slow, and gradual. And it will become even more difficult if we fail to demonstrate respect for their culture and beliefs. Long-term, education and exposure to the outside world will inevitably shift or change their beliefs -- sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. In this project, one must take the long-term perspective; not thinking in terms of a few years, but thinking in terms of decades.
__________________
Please check out my business, The Language of Culture
Wolfman is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 17th June 2007, 08:21 PM   #85
Wolfman
Chief Solipsistic
Autosycophant
 
Wolfman's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Posts: 13,394
Oh, and in regards to things like clothes, technology, etc....

...clothing is, for the most part, 'normal' clothing...jeans, t-shirts, etc. They do have traditional clothing, but at least in the case of younger Mosuo, this is usually worn only for special occasions.

And no problem with technology. The Mosuo can "see" that it works (as opposed to microorganisms), and while they may not understand the "how", that's not so important. The Mosuo are very ecumenical and flexible in their belief system...if you can show them it works, they accept it.

Consider that this is a culture that has two entirely different religions -- Daba and Tibetan Buddhism -- existing simultaneously side-by-side. Many of the beliefs of the two religions would seem, to the western mind, to be in opposition to each other. But for the Mosuo, there is no such conflict. Whatever works, works. The "why" is just not that terribly important, they live in a world where most things that happen, happen for reasons beyond their control or comprehension.

In fact, this leads to a rather humorous/ironic little story. The Mosuo culture is very much a fate-oriented culture...everything that happens happens for a reason, and is determined by forces beyond their control. Therefore, the idea of "taking control of their fate/destiny" not only seems pointless, it is actually seen as dangerous and harmful, fighting against the will of powers that are greater than you.

So, when I first started talking about setting up this organization and these projects, I met tremendous resistance. Not in the form of "we don't want this", but in the form of "We don't know if this is what we are supposed to do". In this regard, getting support of the Daba priests (who pretty much determine everything in regards to what should or should not be done, when it should be done, where it should be done, etc.) is crucial.

However, once I had actually managed to get a few Mosuo on my side, and we established our organization, their attitude did a 100% reversal, and they became very excited about and supportive of our work, throwing themselves into it with great enthusiasm. Why? Because we had been successful in doing it (where many others had failed), which in and of itself was an indication that this is what is supposed to happen. Thus, quite ironically, an atheistic foreigner ended up being their supernatural confirmation that what we were doing was ordained by fate.
__________________
Please check out my business, The Language of Culture
Wolfman is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 17th June 2007, 08:37 PM   #86
Schneibster
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 3,966
Fascinating, Wolfman. I can understand your respect for this culture; you are doing good, and I hope you do well.
Schneibster is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 17th June 2007, 08:53 PM   #87
Caius Textor
Critical Thinker
 
Caius Textor's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 342
First of all, I think youīre doing a very respectable job, Wolfman. I was particularly interested in the linguistic effort your project is engaged in.
That aside:

I love to know more about different cultures because it helps to make clearer who and what mankind as a whole is. The particular cultures arising everywhere show us what humans can and canīt do, what happens and what never happens. It helps to understand ourselves.

I might admire how this or that culture faces a particular human problem, but I am VERY skeptical of any atempt at emulating these practices. I believe that each culture has problems/advantages based on how they are as a whole; itīs difficult to pinpoint what exactly is the cause of that, even in the over-anylised, over-studied western societies, let alone a small, poorly documented one (with no disrespect to your and otherīs work with them).

Also, yourself have pointed the many problems (and potencial problems, like STDs) they suffer, so I donīt see how their society as a whole has any kind of advantage over any other.
Their practices regarding mariage seems deeply rooted on their ancestral practices in other social "areas" such as producing riches, job division, etc. It works in that framework and we lack the proper tools of analisys to know if it would work in any other (Iīm not a cultural relativist).

Western society (religious bigots apart) is already learning the most valuable tool of all: we can look at ourselves and change by our own means. Self-correction.
Iīm no anthropologist, so correct me if Iīm wrong: looking at your own habits and customs and judging them seems to be THE most frequent taboo in any society. We are moving past that stage.

Bottom line? I donīt see why we should try a compromise. Maybe someday we will arrive at the same "conclusion" the Mosuo have regarding marriage. But let that be by our own hands.
__________________
Caio B. F. W. Abramo

Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas - Etica Nicomachea I,4,1096a16
Caius Textor is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 17th June 2007, 09:04 PM   #88
Wolfman
Chief Solipsistic
Autosycophant
 
Wolfman's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Posts: 13,394
Caius,

Actually, I think I'd agree almost 100% with what you said. It is not my intention in any way to promote the idea that Western culture should adopt Mosuo culture or practices. In fact, much of my work focuses on opposing people who seek to present inaccurate, idealized versions of Mosuo culture and use that as an argument for doing the same things in the West (primarily lesbian/feminist groups) (and no, I have no problems with lesbians or feminists in general, only with those who seek to distort or misrepresent Mosuo culture in the pursuit of their own personal agendas).

I believe that knowing about and understanding Mosuo culture (and, for that matter, and other culture) can be very valuable in that it can present alternative perspectives that we might not otherwise consider, and it can cause us to look at and question certain presuppositions we have within our own cultures. For example, most people I know would, as an initial reaction, dismiss as utterly ridiculous and unrealistic a culture in which fathers had no responsibility for their children, but rather were responsible for their sisters' children. Yet the Mosuo (and a few other cultures) do just this.

Seeking to inform people about the Mosuo does not mean seeking to proselytize them to become like the Mosuo. As I've mentioned in several different posts here, I think it would actually be pretty much impossible to transplant many aspects of Mosuo culture into Western culture.

On the flip side of that, I think it is wrong to assume that outside cultures are superior to Mosuo culture, and that therefore the Mosuo should change; but I do believe the Mosuo should have the opportunity to learn about and understand other cultures, and to contast that with their own. And then choose for themselves if they want to change, or stay the same.

My perspective on both sides is pretty much the same. I'm not trying to make anyone change. Just providing a better avenue for discussion, communication, and cooperation between those different groups.
__________________
Please check out my business, The Language of Culture
Wolfman is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 17th June 2007, 09:14 PM   #89
Caius Textor
Critical Thinker
 
Caius Textor's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 342
Originally Posted by Wolfman View Post
So, for example, when I was explaining viruses and bacteria to him, at first he was just overwhelmed, found it beyond comprehension. Then, at one point, I said, "Well, you can't see ghosts, spirits, or gods, but you believe in them, right?". His response was not what I'd expected -- "Oh, so you mean this is just your version of ghosts and spirits!". That was not what I meant...but it provided a convenient hook that allowed him to incorporate what I was telling him into his faith. By the same token, when I talked about medicines, vaccines, etc., he remained resistant and uncomprehending until I equated medical treatments with the ceremonies he does to defeat evil spirits.

Thus, his actual understanding of "medicine" is rather comical (from our perspective)...his view on it is that medicine is basically just another religious means of doing what he does: that is, defeat evil spirits with the judicious application of the appropriate ceremonies.
This is just an idea I had now, feel free to go "Duh, of course!" on me:

Instead of comparing medicine with what-looks-like-their-version-of, have you tried comparing it to things in their daily lives that are completely cause-effect? So, instead of explaining our healing method on par with their "healing" method, you could try telling them our medicine is like agriculture, or chopping wood, or even eating or drinking; actions you take to fight specific problems, with obvious result.

That way you can have a cause-effect analogy, and not a healing method one.

Also, have you ever thought of taking a simple, high-school lab microscope? I bet they would like to actually see our "spirits."
__________________
Caio B. F. W. Abramo

Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas - Etica Nicomachea I,4,1096a16
Caius Textor is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 17th June 2007, 09:24 PM   #90
Wolfman
Chief Solipsistic
Autosycophant
 
Wolfman's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Posts: 13,394
Caius,

First, I don't think that anyone here has asked stupid questions/suggestions, and I appreciate all perspectives and suggestions. They may not always be practical within this specific situation, but even explaining that helps provide more understanding of the culture.

In regards to the "cause-and-effect" thing, its difficult. It is not enough to tell them there is a cause-and-effect, I'd have to show it to them. But for many of them, in their own personal experiences, they've seen that at least sometimes when the Daba does his thing, people get better; but most of the the time when people go to the hospital, they die anyway (and after spending every cent the family has to do so).

From our 'logical' outside perspective, the reasons for this are obvious -- many of the medical conditions that the Daba does his ceremonies for simply disappear on their own (or a placebo effect may help, also). Whereas people often go the hospital only when it is too late, as a last-ditch option.

But from their perspective, how are you going to convince them to spend everything the family has for treatments that all evidence indicates don't work, in favor of traditional ceremonies that both their parents and religious leaders tell them work, and are also quite cheap? Their cause-and-effect experience, on a practical, daily level, is that Daba ceremonies have a higher rate of 'curing' people than hospitals do.

Again, change in this regard is necessarily going to be very slow, and is going to come about primarily by focusing on the younger generation...on educating them early, giving them fundamental knowledge such as this, so that when they get older and become decision makers, they'll consider this as a more serious, viable option.

In regards to the microscopes, again, that will work with the younger generation, and is something we hope to focus on in our educational projects. But for the older generation, it is doubtful that it would make much difference at all. Even if you can prove that bacteria exist...how do you "prove" that such incredibly tiny creatures can kill something as big as a human?
__________________
Please check out my business, The Language of Culture
Wolfman is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 17th June 2007, 09:26 PM   #91
Caius Textor
Critical Thinker
 
Caius Textor's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 342
Thanks for the reply. I see you go a long way to get your ideas clearly across, and that is a very fine quality. We do see eye to eye on this.
I was actually with an older post in mind (back on page 2 when you said something about compromise), I surely donīt think you are trying to convert us into Mosuonism. Or the other way around.

I do believe that if any culture is to be considered inferior or superior, a specific one canīt be taken as measuring unit. Either we have objective criteria for that or nothing at all.

ETA (Concerning the cause-effect thing) You have a pretty difficult job there. I think you know very well what youīre doing, specially given the carefull approach you take. Those are very good reasons not to do what I thought was simple and easy. I guess I would be pretty frustrated doing your job. So congratulations again!
__________________
Caio B. F. W. Abramo

Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas - Etica Nicomachea I,4,1096a16
Caius Textor is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 17th June 2007, 09:49 PM   #92
Wolfman
Chief Solipsistic
Autosycophant
 
Wolfman's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Posts: 13,394
A new topic:

During one of my visits, I also learned something else new. In all the literature I've read about the Mosuo, and all the discussions I've had with anthropologists who've studied the Mosuo, I've been uniformly told that the Mosuo have no marriage ceremonies. This is partly what makes them unique...there are other cultures in which marriage is not necessarily expected, but there is always some sort of marriage ceremony for people who want to get married.

During the visit in question, I had requested that I be given a proper Mosuo name; however, this is not a simple as it might seem. Names are very important, and have significant power within the Mosuo culture. The Daba priest must go through an elaborate ritual, and do various calculations that incorporate your date/time of birth, your mother's date/time of birth, and your grandmother's date/time of birth. In my case, it took the Daba about three hours, and tons of rituals and chanting, to bequeath on me the Mosuo name of Dashi Nombu (which was very cool).

However, when he finished this ceremony, he told me that he was heading off to another village to perform a marriage ceremony! This kinda' caught me off guard, and I asked what he was talking about; I told him I'd been told that there were no marriage ceremonies in the Mosuo culture/religion.

He replied that they were very rare, but they do happen. I had no chance to talk with him further at that time, so had to leave it at that. I later contacted an anthropologist friend, who's spent years with the Mosuo, who admitted she had never heard of such a thing. However, she did say that occasionally, there may be a situation where a woman wants to leave her home (or is kicked out of her home), and must start a new home on her own. Lacking the support of brother or other family in this new home, she will invite a man to come and actually live with her, and be her 'husband'. They will be the founders of this new family (one of the most famous books about the Mosuo, "Leaving Mother Lake", which I would highly recommend to everyone, tells the story of a young Mosuo girl who came from a family in just this situation; her mother had left home, and started a new home on her own).

Anyway, she was unaware of any specific rituals or ceremonies surrounding this, but said she suspected that it would be something of this nature that the Daba was referring to.

The next time I go there, I intend to follow up on this and clarify exactly what kind of ceremony this is, and when/how it is used.
__________________
Please check out my business, The Language of Culture
Wolfman is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 17th June 2007, 10:05 PM   #93
Wolfman
Chief Solipsistic
Autosycophant
 
Wolfman's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Posts: 13,394
Originally Posted by Caius Textor View Post
I guess I would be pretty frustrated doing your job.
Oh, at times this work almost breaks my heart...it can be very disheartening and depressing, as well as being very rewarding. Consider the two following examples:

* In order to convince children and parents of the value of education, you need to instill some kind of 'dream' or 'vision' of the future. Not the way things are today, but the way things could be if they got more education. But the truth is, even if we're successful in convincing them to continue, probably 90% of those kids will end up not being accepted into high school or university, and will derive no quantifiable benefit from it. It is incredibly difficult to build up hopes and dreams, knowing that many people will not reach them; it is even more difficult comforting students who are bawling their eyes out because for the past 5 years they've put everything they have into being a good student, and they then discover that it wasn't good enough, and they won't be able to study any more.

Yet, without building that sense of hopes and dreams, it is virtually impossible to get any of the kids to pursue an education...and the 10% that are capable of getting through and achieving a higher education would be lost, also.

* At times, it can be incredibly gratifying to the ego to be perceived as the guy who is doing so much to "save" the Mosuo. I am a hero to many of these people, and enjoy a level of respect there that I've never experienced anywhere else. But, there is very much a balance to that which keeps me from getting too swelled a head.

Consider -- every time I go there, everyone knows me. A family who lost everything they had in a fire, and are entirely destitute, come to me crying, begging for money to rebuild their home. I have to say no. A family that has worked hard to build a small hotel, but doesn't have enough money to finish it (and will lose everything if they can't finish it), come to me to ask for money to complete the job. And I have to say no.

It often seems that, rather then telling people what we can do to help them, I end up spending most of my time telling people why I can't help them. I wish I could help every single one of them...but we don't have the resources to do that, not right now.

Even worse, I have to do a kind of ethical triage on such requests. Helping an individual family in a time of crisis is incredibly heart-warming...but it provides no long-term benefit to the Mosuo as a group. And when we have such limited resources, most of our focus must be primarily on using our funds in the way that provides the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people. Which, again, means that all too often I have to tell people in desperate need that yes, we have money, but no, we can't give it to you.

There are occasional spots of sunlight in this, of course. When we do complete a project that provides a benefit to the entire community, such as supporting a school, or building a training center, its an incredible rush to see how grateful the people are, and how much good is accomplished through it. And for the needs of individuals, while we often cannot assign our organization's funds to individuals, I do my best to make other people aware when such things happen, and occasionally I'll get a donor who will want to make a donation specifically to help that individual...in which case I'm more than happy to be the one delivering the good news.

This work is far harder, and far more emotionally wearing, than I'd ever anticipated when I began. The times I've been reduced almost to tears would be pretty much as numerous as the times I've felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and pride. I just keep telling myself that, as our organization grows and our resources increase, hopefully the number of times I have to say, "No" will decrease, and the times I can say, "Yes, we can help you" will increase.
__________________
Please check out my business, The Language of Culture
Wolfman is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 17th June 2007, 10:49 PM   #94
Hokulele
Deleterious Slab of Damnation
 
Hokulele's Avatar
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: The Biggest Little City in the World
Posts: 29,577
Like most other people who have posted here, I would like to thank you for sharing this. I also have a question. Have you ever been concerned that the foundation may someday come to replace/conflict with the system of matriarchs that is currently in place? In other words, do you find people coming to you or your group for answers first?
__________________
"Oh god...What have you done, zooterkin? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!?!?!" - Cleon
Hokulele is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 17th June 2007, 11:31 PM   #95
Wolfman
Chief Solipsistic
Autosycophant
 
Wolfman's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Posts: 13,394
Originally Posted by Hokulele View Post
Like most other people who have posted here, I would like to thank you for sharing this. I also have a question. Have you ever been concerned that the foundation may someday come to replace/conflict with the system of matriarchs that is currently in place? In other words, do you find people coming to you or your group for answers first?
Actually, this is one of the few areas in which I don't have any real concerns! First, the key leaders of our organization (the ones who worked with me to set it up, and who have the most influence) are almost all women, and two of them are matriarchs of their own families.

In addition, there is no such thing in Mosuo culture as just have "a meeting" to decide something; the process is considerably more elaborate than that (and this was something I had to learn the hard way). Essentially, at one meeting, we will have a discussion of different ideas, different possibilities. But if I try to get them to make an actual decision, choose a specific direction, I'll face nothing but frustration. Why? Because they must go home and discuss it with their families, and their communities, first. Just as property is communal, so are decisions.

At first I didn't understand what was happening, and was incredibly frustrated; but once I figured it out, and understood how the process worked, I came to embrace it, because it means that in a very real way, it is the Mosuo people as a whole who are guiding our committee. It isn't an isolated group in an ivory tower making pronouncements that affect everyone else; before my committee is actually ready to make a concrete decision, the issues have been discussed and debated by numerous people within the community, and you can be certain that the matriarchs have had their say. Its slow...but it works.

A note about our finances here, because this is also an issue in regards to matriarchal influence. Finances are the one area where I wield significant power...in fact, I have sole signing power over our bank account, and can withhold money from any project. In reality, if the majority of the committee is agreed on a particular project, I will not withhold money, even if I don't personally agree with that decision.

BUT -- and this is a big "BUT" -- this arrangement is absolutely necessary, and was a point of considerable deliberation and discussion when we first set up the organization. Because, in Mosuo culture, if a family member (or in particular the matriarch) requests something, it is virtually impossible to say no. So, just envisage a situation where some of the Mosuo committee members have the authority to disburse funds. Then their mother comes to them and tells them that she wants them to give her part of that money to pay for their childrens' education, or for vital medical care. It would be impossible for them to refuse, and the result would be that funds were routinely misappropriated for personal use.

By giving me sole power, they have deniability. When friends or family members make such requests, they can simply say, "I want to help, but it is not my decision, John has control over the money".

The good thing is, this avoids the issue of abuse of funds, corruption, etc. The bad thing is, it means that I'm the guy who always ends up being the one who has to say "No"...even though the reason for that decision is the policies and priorities that have been set by the committee.
__________________
Please check out my business, The Language of Culture
Wolfman is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 17th June 2007, 11:37 PM   #96
Hokulele
Deleterious Slab of Damnation
 
Hokulele's Avatar
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: The Biggest Little City in the World
Posts: 29,577
Wow, the more I learn about the culture, the more interesting it sounds. Thanks for the answer. Another question, does each family tend to have a "representative" when it comes to meetings and community decisions? In other words, is someone designated to formally represent the family to the community at large?
__________________
"Oh god...What have you done, zooterkin? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!?!?!" - Cleon
Hokulele is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 17th June 2007, 11:51 PM   #97
Wolfman
Chief Solipsistic
Autosycophant
 
Wolfman's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Posts: 13,394
Originally Posted by Hokulele View Post
Wow, the more I learn about the culture, the more interesting it sounds. Thanks for the answer. Another question, does each family tend to have a "representative" when it comes to meetings and community decisions? In other words, is someone designated to formally represent the family to the community at large?
Well, in regards to our committee, no, there's nothing so deliberate or organized. Like most Asian cultures, this is a culture in which 'harmony' is greatly prized, particularly in relationships. So when making decisions, people tend to talk around the issue a lot, and feel others out, until they get a sense of what the majority consensus is...and then they will make the decision that most people already agree with, and everyone else will agree.

Like I said, it can be a slow process. And this doesn't mean that there is never conflict or disagreement, but when that does happen, it tends to be quite over the top, fists-flying-while-cursing-vehemently types of disagreements (fortunately, I've been witness to few of these).

However, within a community, there may occasionally be town meetings in which everyone meets together to make important decisions. I've only been witness to this personally once (I told the story previously, about when money was stolen from me and they had a 'town meeting' to determine the thief's fate), and while there don't seem to be many 'officially designated' representatives, everyone seems to know and acknowledge who the key people are. The matriarchs will also have a significant say, and even if they don't speak up directly themselves, they may be directing someone else behind the scenes.
__________________
Please check out my business, The Language of Culture
Wolfman is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 18th June 2007, 01:07 AM   #98
Earthborn
Terrestrial Intelligence
 
Earthborn's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2001
Location: Terra Firma
Posts: 6,347
Originally Posted by Wolfman View Post
In my case, it took the Daba about three hours, and tons of rituals and chanting, to bequeath on me the Mosuo name of Dashi Nombu (which was very cool).
Cool. Does that mean anything, or is it just a random arrangement of syllables? And if you think it is just a random arrangement of syllables, are you really really sure of that? We all know the stories about anthropologists being given names by locals that are actually profane. Who knows, maybe you said 'no' so many times that you are now officially known as 'cheap bastard'
__________________
Perhaps nothing is entirely true; and not even that!
Multatuli
Earthborn is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 18th June 2007, 01:17 AM   #99
Wolfman
Chief Solipsistic
Autosycophant
 
Wolfman's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Posts: 13,394
Originally Posted by Earthborn View Post
Cool. Does that mean anything, or is it just a random arrangement of syllables? And if you think it is just a random arrangement of syllables, are you really really sure of that? We all know the stories about anthropologists being given names by locals that are actually profane. Who knows, maybe you said 'no' so many times that you are now officially known as 'cheap bastard'
Oh, my Mosuo name, "Dashi Nombu", most definitely has a meaning (the meaning of the name is of great importance to them), and in this case, its been confirmed by numerous independent sources that it does not mean anything like "cheap bastard"

Now, keep in mind, I can at best only hope to give an approximate translation...this is a name in the Mosuo language, but the meaning was explained in Chinese language, and I'm now using English to explain it. But, as a general explanation:

"Dashi" means unswerving...someone who, once they set their eyes on a particular goal, will pursue that goal doggedly until it is finished, no matter what obstacles they may face. "Nombu" is a little more complicated...it means some sort of mythical jewel that is spewed out of a dragon's mouth, and is supposed to be harder than diamond. But basically, it means a combination of "indestructible" and "valuable".

Given how important names are to the Mosuo, I'm sure that the Daba had some specific intent in choosing this name; when I tell it to other Mosuo, they all say it is a very good, strong name. I'm sure that he was thinking at least somewhat of what kind of name would be suitable for a leader of an organization like ours. It turns out that one of my Mosuo friends has exactly the same name, also, which kinda' makes us "brothers". And I'm now a kind of honorary family member of all Mosuo who bear the family name "Dashi" (since they put the family name first, and the given name last).
__________________
Please check out my business, The Language of Culture
Wolfman is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 18th June 2007, 01:58 AM   #100
Wolfman
Chief Solipsistic
Autosycophant
 
Wolfman's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Posts: 13,394
Here's a website which is a very good example of the kind of misinformation about the Mosuo that we're always seeking to address. As is unfortunately common with such things, it is on a website that deals with issues of women's rights and sexism, so it is understandable why they might prefer this kind of article; but what is worse is that it apparently comes from ABC.com. A few excerpts:
Quote:
The Mosuo people perform their courtship dance, when women traditionally choose a male companion for the night or a year or a lifetime — and the men have no say in the matter.
There aren't really "courtship dances"...the Mosuo simply enjoy dancing and singing, and will use it as an opportunity to pair up with someone else. But someone who does not seek a partner will still dance; and there are many other ways to choose a partner than in these dances.

But worse, is the statement that "the men have no say in the matter". That's just complete rubbish. First, the men can say, "No." Second, as I've described elsewhere, there are many ways for a man to take the initiative and indicate interest in a woman. The one way in which this is partly true is that only the women have private bedrooms (men sleep in communal areas), so while both sides have equal rights to say no, and both sides can initiate an encounter, only the woman can actually provide a place to meet...so she does retain greater control in that way.
Quote:
It may sound bizarre to a Western visitor, but anthropologists say because the men have no power, control no land, and play subservient sexual roles, they have nothing to fight over — making this one of the most harmonious societies on the planet. The Mosuo people, estimated to number around 50,000, have no word for war, no murders, no rapes, no jails.
THIS is the claim that really gets my dander up. What complete and utter bollocks. I know of no reputable anthropologists who make these claims -- only those amateurs who come in with their own agenda, spend a few days/weeks, and then leave with their predetermined conclusions still firmly in place.

It is true that men don't control the land...but they certainly have power, and an equal voice in family issues. In fact, the oldest male in the house usually enjoys the second position of power (second to the matriarch), and will be closely involved in all family decisions. That they play "subservient sexual roles" is an absolutely ridiculous claim, and plays more to the Amazonian Warrior myth than to anything reflecting reality.

And they have nothing to fight over? No words for war? I was only with the Mosuo for three days before they told me stories of past wars they've had...wars with other minorities, wars with the Tibetans, etc. In fact, they took me to a large valley that they say nobody will live in because they slaughtered more than 1000 Tibetan soldiers there in a battle some 500 years ago, and the ghosts still haunt it. And I've already discussed the rest (no murder, no rape, etc.) above.
Quote:
During the height of Mao Tse-tung's communist rule in the 1960s and '70s, China's hard-liners forced the Mosuo people to abandon their practice of "tisese" and adopt the practice of monogamy. But when China relaxed its tight social controls during the post-Mao era, the Mosuo people reverted back to their traditional sexual practices.
Partly true...partly not. The Chinese gov't most definitely made efforts to stop the practice of walking marriages, and declared it illegal for quite some time. And they outlawed the training of new Daba priests. But they did not make the matriarchal system illegal, and Mosuo women continued to hold considerable power throughout this period. Today, the laws regarding walking marriages and not training Daba priests have been struck down, and these are no longer major issues (although some of the damage from these past policies still exists).

But this article fails entirely to mention what I discussed previously, that there was also a patriarchal noble class among the Mosuo; and that it was the Chinese gov't's abolition of landlords, and the entire feudal system, that effectively destroyed the patriarchal aspect of the Mosuo, and left them an almost entirely matriarchal culture.

Other information in the article -- particularly that about the developing sex industry, and the dangers it poses -- is pretty accurate. But if you go to Google, and type in "Mosuo", the link to this article will appear in the very first page of results. Fortunately, the link to our organization appears before it; and the link to the Wikipedia article (which was also written by me, and links to our site) is number one. So, hopefully, we will gradually be able to deal with this misinformation, and help people get a more accurate understanding of the Mosuo culture.
__________________
Please check out my business, The Language of Culture
Wolfman is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 18th June 2007, 07:40 AM   #101
Darth Rotor
Salted Sith Cynic
 
Darth Rotor's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 38,527
Originally Posted by Wolfman View Post
Oh, and in regards to things like clothes, technology, etc....
Two thoughts on this fantastic discussion.

1. How ya gonna keep them on the farm once they've seen Shanghai? The short answer is, you don't, or can't, and they will adapt in some way. Your efforts to help them keep as much control of the transformation is admirable, and is to me empowerment at its best.

2. About the fatalism, and "control of large spiritual forces," it seems their initial reaction bordered on "be careful of what you wish for, since you are sure to get it."

Some ideas seem to have universal application, though I imagine you are pleased to see that after some reservations, the leadership/councils chose to grab the bull by the balls horns.

If all you can achieve is a preservation of the language, stories, and cultural baseline, given that within a couple of generations the likelihood is that the modern/outside world will prevail over the indigenous culture, your effort will have been worth it. Anything beyond that is gravy. (The Atheist's link was a nice counterpoint to the "inside the box" story you have provided.)

I have some reservations about the social model scaling up, for the reasons that communes don't scale up all that well. Your treatment of that was well put.

Your hypothetical of the Han all fading away, and two centuries of Muosuo growth into the vacuum of course had to ignore . . . the rest of the world. I'm thinking the ambitious and industrious Viet Namese would steal a march on the Muosuo.

Best wishes.

DR
__________________
Helicopters don't so much fly as beat the air into submission.
"Jesus wept, but did He laugh?"--F.H. Buckley____"There is one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth ... His mirth." --Chesterton__"If the barbarian in us is excised, so is our humanity."--D'rok__ "I only use my gun whenever kindness fails."-- Robert Earl Keen__"Sturgeon spares none.". -- The Marquis
Darth Rotor is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 18th June 2007, 08:06 AM   #102
Wolfman
Chief Solipsistic
Autosycophant
 
Wolfman's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Posts: 13,394
Originally Posted by Darth Rotor View Post
Two thoughts on this fantastic discussion.

1. How ya gonna keep them on the farm once they've seen Shanghai? The short answer is, you don't, or can't, and they will adapt in some way. Your efforts to help them keep as much control of the transformation is admirable, and is to me empowerment at its best.
Thank you...very much!
Quote:
2. About the fatalism, and "control of large spiritual forces," it seems their initial reaction bordered on "be careful of what you wish for, since you are sure to get it."
That would be a Western approximation, but really doesn't get into how much this view of life and 'fate' affects Asian philosophy in general, and Chinese in particular. The Mosuo believe very strongly that every aspect of their lives is mandated by the gods. They believe in free will -- you can reject what the gods have decided -- but doing so only brings pain and suffering. Thus, you do not take any action until you are sure that it is what the gods want you to do.

The problem is that the best indication of the gods' favor is to take an action, and have it be successful (which is what I did when I started this organization). But you can't take an action unless you're sure it has the god's favor. And then throw in the whole Tibetan Buddhist influence, and the idea that "desire" is a bad thing, one should simply accept the way things are, and abandon any desire for change...change will happen if it happens. Fortunately, now that it appears I have the gods' blessings on this idea, getting support for other ideas is much easier. Basically, the Mosuo suggest and debate an idea; bring it up in our committee; then ask for my opinion or advice. If I say I support it, that's basically as good as saying that they have the gods' blessings on it. So we can move ahead full steam (or the Mosuo approximation of full steam, which to me sometimes seems more like 1/4 steam).

I want to emphasize, yes, there are frustrations and problems...there are times that problems and delays that seem to me entirely avoidable instead put us weeks or months behind schedule. But I love the Mosuo very deeply, and have phenomenal respect for them. They come from an entirely different world than me, and the way they perceive that world, the way they make decisions about that world, will inevitably be completely different. But not only are things getting done, it is the Mosuo themselves who are getting it done. We're laying a foundation, and no matter how slow that process may be, it is a very solid foundation that I have every expectation will last for many years to come.
Quote:
If all you can achieve is a preservation of the language, stories, and cultural baseline, given that within a couple of generations the likelihood is that the modern/outside world will prevail over the indigenous culture, your effort will have been worth it. Anything beyond that is gravy. (The Atheist's link was a nice counterpoint to the "inside the box" story you have provided.)
I agree completely; I will not even try to make predictions about what the situation of the Mosuo will be 50 or 100 or 200 years later...worst case scenario, they will have forgotten their language, will know little or nothing of their culture or history, and will be essentially indistinguishable from any other Chinese. But at some point, there are going to be some of them who are going to want to know about their ancestors' heritage, their history, their language, etc. And we will at least have the information there, preserved for those future generations.

At best -- and this is what I hope for -- the Mosuo will still retain their own language, preserved and encouraged by the development of a written form taught to them from primary school. They will still retain a strong cultural identity, and although they certainly will have changed/evolved somewhat, will still retain a unique 'Mosuo' character. They will be in charge of their own lives, controlling and benefiting from whatever businesses/industries they have developed. And they'll be spreading out across China, and to other parts of the world, introducing more people to their culture...and bringing new knowledge and experiences back to their home communities to share and benefit from.
Quote:
Your hypothetical of the Han all fading away, and two centuries of Muosuo growth into the vacuum of course had to ignore . . . the rest of the world. I'm thinking the ambitious and industrious Viet Namese would steal a march on the Muosuo.
lol -- I thought of about half a million problems with that hypothetical right after I posted it, and had to force myself to refrain from going back and ruining it entirely with a whole slew of clarifications, conditional statements, and alternate possibilities.
__________________
Please check out my business, The Language of Culture
Wolfman is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 19th June 2007, 07:34 AM   #103
JJM 777
Suspended
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 4,060
A world without marriage?

Sounds a bit like a world without personal property.

The winner takes it all, no rules apply.
JJM 777 is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 19th June 2007, 07:58 AM   #104
Wolfman
Chief Solipsistic
Autosycophant
 
Wolfman's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Posts: 13,394
Originally Posted by JJM 777 View Post
A world without marriage?

Sounds a bit like a world without personal property.

The winner takes it all, no rules apply.
I'm rather doubting that you've actually read most of what's written here, but I think that your comments encapsulate much of what is wrong with perceptions of marriage in most cultures. I am not saying that marriage in and of itself is wrong; only the way that it is perceived or abused.

First, the comment about "a world without personal property"...so you are equating "being married" with "owning property", and "not being married" with "not owning property"? That, in my opinion, is one of the biggest dangers in relationships...the perception of one's partner (whether married or not) as one's "property".

And "winner takes it all" also reflects a combative, adversarial attitude towards relationships...its not about equality or sharing, it is about power and "winning". Ironically, for all that you try to protest here, it is the traditional marriage system that has "winner takes all" rules...when people get divorced, there are frequently bitter battles over ownership of property, custody of children, etc. Children in particular seem to suffer as parents put their child in the middle, trying to get the child to support one of them, and reject the other.

In the Mosuo culture, at least in regards to relationships and parenthood, there is no "winner takes all" attitude. No fighting over division of property. No battles over custody of children. I'm not saying that this is a system that could work everywhere, and it certainly has its problems, as well...but I fail to see how your particular objection has anything at all to do with the issues being discussed. Perhaps if you could bother to read what has been written by myself and others, and to respond with reasoned arguments?
__________________
Please check out my business, The Language of Culture
Wolfman is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 19th June 2007, 08:18 AM   #105
Roswell-Perseis
Thinker
 
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 184
Originally Posted by wolfman View Post
. . .Thus, I have no doubt whatsoever that, if given the opportunity, many Mosuo will learn and adapt quite rapidly, and will be able to take back control over the changes that are taking place in their communities/culture, and control their own futures. I don't really see this as "poverty alleviation"...I see it more as empowerment.
I am glad that the efforts are to help the Mosuo take control of their affairs and try cope with the future. Poverty alleviation is a nice effort, but many times it seems to lack real long term planning.

I gather from your posts that the Han Chinese have been (hmmm how to put this) very ignorant of the Mosuo and in some (many?) cases quite cruel. Do the Mosuo have other neighbors or allies that can help them transition and cope with the changes they are making? Also, I believe you had mentioned there were laws banning Mosuo religious practices. Have the Mosuo made any progress in gaining rights or protections, or are efforts still focused on rescinding the restrictions?

I hope all is well for you and the Mosuo and that you are all succesful in perserving as much of their culture and history as is possible.

Last edited by Darat; 21st June 2007 at 02:45 AM.
Roswell-Perseis is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 19th June 2007, 08:32 AM   #106
JJM 777
Suspended
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 4,060
Originally Posted by Wolfman View Post
I'm rather doubting that you've actually read most of what's written here
I confess being guilty of this sin. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak -- and my time is limited.

Originally Posted by Wolfman View Post
...so you are equating "being married" with "owning property", and "not being married" with "not owning property"?
The allegory is that when the working day ends at 16 o'clock, many people think it's nice to have a place to go -- "home" -- full of your personal property, memories and photos, and all that silly stuff from the past, which belong to you and no one else.

Many people also think that it is nice that the home where you go after work is furnished with a spouse -- in the optimal case, a person whom you met in high school, and who represents to you even more memories than all the property that you own.

To make it even merrier, there might be some children in this home -- not just any brats, but indeed your own children, on behalf of whom you have made innumerable economical and other sacrifices since their infancy, childhood, teenage...

Property would be a misleading word. I would speak of "rights to your own life history". This is what makes you most happy or potentially hurts you most.

Originally Posted by Wolfman View Post
And "winner takes it all" also reflects a combative, adversarial attitude towards relationships... its not about equality or sharing, it is about power and "winning".
I would describe the life of modern unmarried singles as continuous unlimited competition -- in economical terms, like hard capitalism.

The traditional cultures where the parents choose a spouse for their kids, I would describe like socialism (in economical terms), the entire community cooperating in order to arrange enough for anyone, and not more than enough for anyone.
JJM 777 is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 19th June 2007, 09:19 AM   #107
Wolfman
Chief Solipsistic
Autosycophant
 
Wolfman's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Posts: 13,394
Originally Posted by Roswell-Perseis View Post
Originally Posted by Wolfman View Post
. . .Thus, I have no doubt whatsoever that, if given the opportunity, many Mosuo will learn and adapt quite rapidly, and will be able to take back control over the changes that are taking place in their communities/culture, and control their own futures. I don't really see this as "poverty alleviation"...I see it more as empowerment.
I am glad that the efforts are to help the Mosuo take control of their affairs and try cope with the future. Poverty alleviation is a nice effort, but many times it seems to lack real long term planning.

I gather from your posts that the Han Chinese have been (hmmm how to put this) very ignorant of the Mosuo and in some (many?) cases quite cruel. Do the Mosuo have other neighbors or allies that can help them transition and cope with the changes they are making? Also, I believe you had mentioned there were laws banning Mosuo religious practices. Have the Mosuo made any progress in gaining rights or protections, or are efforts still focused on rescinding the restrictions?

I hope all is well for you and the Mosuo and that you are all succesful in perserving as much of their culture and history as is possible.
This is a hard question to deal with, because it is politically sensitive, but I'll do my best to answer. To begin with, Communist doctrine teaches that society has different stages in evolution, Communism being the highest/best stage. Thus, all other stages are inferior, primitive, etc. So all education about minority groups in China tends to be very condescending, using terms such as "backwards", "primitive", "superstitious", etc. (Its useful to note that there are quite a few people in the West, both past and present, who tend to use the same labels). And the stated goal of the government was, until very recently, to get rid of those "primitive" cultures, and bring them all the benefits of Communism.

In the past, this led to significant abuses. The system of walking marriages was made illegal, and anyone caught in such a relationship could be imprisoned. Daba priests were outlawed from passing on their knowledge to younger people. Education was done exclusively in the Chinese language, and focused on hammering into them the idea that their culture was primitive and backwards.

The good news is that, today, this has really changed a lot. Walking marriages are now completely legal. Daba priests are allowed to train younger priests. And minority schools are actively encouraged to incorporate teaching about the local language and culture into their curriculum. In the latter case, this has proved to be a particular benefit to many minority groups in China, as children in younger minorities are no longer raised and educated to be ashamed of their own heritage. But for the Mosuo, since they have no written language, it is extremely difficult to develop any curriculum to teach that language...which is one of our main reasons for making the development of a written language so high a priority.

I can see a big shift in attitudes in China towards minorities. Among people who are over 35, and from a particular minority, there tends to be a sense of embarrassment or shame when they tell others they're from a particular minority; but among younger minority members, there is getting to be more and more of a sense of pride in their ethnic background. Responses from Han Chinese are changing, also. If I talk to Chinese who are over 35 about the Mosuo, their attitude is something like, "Well, that's nice, but they're backwards/primitive, they need to change"; whereas among younger Chinese, I'm finding great interest in learning more about the Mosuo, and of embracing their culture as fascinating and valuable.

Given past abuses, its not surprising that the Mosuo still tend to bear some grudges towards Han Chinese in general (and this is not helped by swarms of Chinese tourists who come and treat them like zoo exhibits, or who come just to have a "walking marriage" with a local girl). But they are also a very pragmatic people, and tend to take each person as an individual. In my own work with the Mosuo, I've brought both foreigners and Han Chinese to work with and help them on various projects; initially, certainly, the Mosuo tended to be more cautious or skeptical about the Chinese, than they did about the Westerners...but once those Chinese had demonstrated that they respected the Mosuo culture, and treated them as equals, there were no problems.

One further note...I believe I mentioned this earlier, but don't want to look back over everything to find the exact post! The Chinese gov't has a list of 56 "official" minorities in China. If you check that list, you will find that the Mosuo are not listed on it. They are, instead, lumped in with the Naxi, who are a completely different minority (different language, different religion, different culture); this is due to historic misunderstandings, and just plain lack of knowledge, when this list of minorities was first made. However, this is a critical issue, as the Chinese government does allocate money to each minority to help support their local development. But since the Mosuo are not an official minority, they do not receive such support...or they receive a much smaller portion, after most of it has been spent on the Naxi.

There have been some efforts to get the gov't to recognize the Mosuo as a separate minority, but thus far it has not happened...and is not likely to happen soon, either. The Mosuo are not the only group in China in this situation, there are a number of other groups that are also lobbying for recognition as a separate minority. From the gov't's point of view, the moment they recognize one such group, they're gonna' open a giant can of worms and have tons of similar claims. This (again, from their point of view) could cause "social instability", and a bureaucratic nightmare. So, the easiest way to deal with it is just say no to everybody.
__________________
Please check out my business, The Language of Culture
Wolfman is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 19th June 2007, 09:27 AM   #108
Wolfman
Chief Solipsistic
Autosycophant
 
Wolfman's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Posts: 13,394
Originally Posted by JJM 777 View Post
The allegory is that when the working day ends at 16 o'clock, many people think it's nice to have a place to go -- "home" -- full of your personal property, memories and photos, and all that silly stuff from the past, which belong to you and no one else.

Many people also think that it is nice that the home where you go after work is furnished with a spouse -- in the optimal case, a person whom you met in high school, and who represents to you even more memories than all the property that you own.

To make it even merrier, there might be some children in this home -- not just any brats, but indeed your own children, on behalf of whom you have made innumerable economical and other sacrifices since their infancy, childhood, teenage...

Property would be a misleading word. I would speak of "rights to your own life history". This is what makes you most happy or potentially hurts you most.
I think that you are guilty of ethnocentrism here...of assuming that what you consider to be 'proper' or 'normal' is standard for everyone else. I in no way intend to state or imply that your own feelings on the subject are wrong. If you lived in the Mosuo culture, you would obviously not be fulfilled.

However, most of the Mosuo feel exactly the same way about your culture. Ask a Mosuo woman if she prefers walking marriages or 'real' marriages, and almost every one of them will say they prefer walking marriages. Why? Because if they get married, they have to deal with a whole new family that they don't know, and have no previous relationship with. Because they lose stability -- if the marriage doesn't work out, they could lose half their belongings, they could lose their child, etc. In their own culture, these things are non-issues.

I'd really encourage you to read more of what's been written here, first...much of what you're asking has already been addressed, and some of your questions seem to be based on misunderstandings that are entirely unnecessary.

In short -- if you're not going to take the time to read what's been written, and understand it, why should I take the time to answer questions that have already been addressed? I don't intend to take on too adversarial a tone here...but I can't take your inquiries as being terribly serious or sincere, if you can't take the time to understand what it is you are discussing.
__________________
Please check out my business, The Language of Culture
Wolfman is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 19th June 2007, 09:52 AM   #109
Hokulele
Deleterious Slab of Damnation
 
Hokulele's Avatar
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: The Biggest Little City in the World
Posts: 29,577
Are all Daba priests male and how are they selected? I know you had mentioned earlier that Daba was penalized under the Communist system, but are the remaining priests allowed to selected and train potential new priests now?
__________________
"Oh god...What have you done, zooterkin? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!?!?!" - Cleon
Hokulele is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 19th June 2007, 10:29 AM   #110
Wolfman
Chief Solipsistic
Autosycophant
 
Wolfman's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Posts: 13,394
Originally Posted by Hokulele View Post
Are all Daba priests male and how are they selected? I know you had mentioned earlier that Daba was penalized under the Communist system, but are the remaining priests allowed to selected and train potential new priests now?
Yes, Daba priests are exclusively male, and their teachings are usually passed on only to direct male descendants. As I've mentioned elsewhere in passing, the Daba priests are the only visible remainder of the patriarchal aspect of Mosuo culture. When the Mosuo had noble and peasant classes, the Daba priests were part of the nobility.

Thus, Daba priests do not practice walking marriages; they get married, and the woman they marry will come and live with them, and raise their children in the Daba's home. The reason for this is simple -- it is considered improper/unacceptable to train anyone outside of your own family in being a Daba priest, but in a walking marriage, his biological children would not actually be part of his family.

Because of the past gov't policies towards Daba priests, there is a major generation gap; almost all the existing priests are old men. They were not allowed to train their sons. And because the sons were not Daba priests, most of them just went along with the walking marriage tradition, and have no sons of their own living in their family. And even where there are grandchildren who could be taught, most of them simply aren't interested.

Consider how much work it takes. With no written language, a Mosuo priest must use rote memorization to remember everything...but if written down, there would be thousands upon thousands of pages of information. Not just chants and ceremonies, but family geneologies, oral traditions, historical (or mythical) stories, etc. Virtually the entire Mosuo history/culture/heritage is stored inside the Daba priests' heads.

There are currently efforts under way to convince some of the Daba priests to "liberalize" their beliefs, and offer training to non-family members. There's even been discussion of women being trained as Daba priests (again, those seeking to present this as an idealized culture with no discrimination and problems tend to overlook the fact that Mosuo women are denied the right to be Daba priests).

For me, its an area I've got really mixed feelings on. I myself am an atheist, and feel that certain aspects of the Daba faith really do damage and hold back the Mosuo (such as the aforementioned preference for Daba rituals over medical treatment for disease). On the other hand, the Daba priests are the keystone to the entire Mosuo culture. If we lose their knowledge, we lose the vast majority of Mosuo history and culture. And, again, I don't believe it should be up to outsiders to make decisions about religion, as well as any other area of Mosuo life.

At present, the biggest barrier to training new Daba priests is the priests themselves, and their unwillingness to break traditions that stretch back literally hundreds of years. There is a brilliant documentary that was done on this by a Chinese woman, called "Daba Sings", that covers these issues, and looks at one particular Daba priest over a period of about 10 years as he tries to train his sons (but is unsuccessful). The Daba religion focuses on ancestor worship, so honoring your ancestors is of extreme importance. As he says in the documentary, "I am the 14th generation of Daba priests in our family, passed from father to son for hundreds of years. If I fail to train my sons, then our family's tradition will die with me. But if I train someone outside of our family, I will shame my ancestors." From our perspective, it may seem irrational or closed-minded; but from their perspective, it is a very personal and difficult issue.

At present, a number of Mosuo are themselves seeking to at least make audio recordings of the Daba priests, and some of the priests have agreed to do this, so that if they do die without passing it on, at least some of their knowledge will be preserved. Developing a written language is, again, another crucial step in this regard.
__________________
Please check out my business, The Language of Culture
Wolfman is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 19th June 2007, 10:46 AM   #111
Caius Textor
Critical Thinker
 
Caius Textor's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 342
Originally Posted by Wolfman View Post
For me, its an area I've got really mixed feelings on. I myself am an atheist, and feel that certain aspects of the Daba faith really do damage and hold back the Mosuo (such as the aforementioned preference for Daba rituals over medical treatment for disease). On the other hand, the Daba priests are the keystone to the entire Mosuo culture. If we lose their knowledge, we lose the vast majority of Mosuo history and culture. And, again, I don't believe it should be up to outsiders to make decisions about religion, as well as any other area of Mosuo life.
Your understanding of this is not shared by most atheists or agnostics.

Some people become atheists out of anger towards christianity in particular. Something like "The church promoted the Crusades and the Inquisition, therefore all religion is crooked and should be banned".

I do agree that religion carries more harm than good. But I canīt blind myself and take the easy road of dismissing everything spawning from a religious source.

Priests of all kinds have a very important social role to play. The Mosuo case is emblematic, but the very same thing happened to us in Western Europe. We have a series of misconceptions that can be easily dismissed with so much as reading a decent history book.
The Middle Ages, unlike popular belief, wasnīt a terrible "dark age" where all human progress came to a halt. Granted, the Overlordship of the Church over all social life caused major damages. But itīs due to the efforts of Monks and Priests locked away in studies that a vast amount of knowledge survived those dark times. If it werenīt for the Monks we wouldnīt have any clue of Ancient philosophy, history, literature, science and so forth. Not only Greek and Roman. The Catholic priests also brought the knowledge of Arabs to Europe, discussing it and copying their works (including those concerning Greek knowledge that was lost in Europe for centuries due to wars).

Removing the priests from their cultural sorroundings is throwing away the baby along with the bath-water (damned local expression!)
__________________
Caio B. F. W. Abramo

Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas - Etica Nicomachea I,4,1096a16
Caius Textor is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 19th June 2007, 11:42 PM   #112
JJM 777
Suspended
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 4,060
Having glanced through the entire thread now, I would be inclined to believe that this form of life would not stand open competition against the more common ideal of one man and one woman taking care of their children.

Increasing exposure to the outer world will most probably take its toll soon, and an ever growing portion of the next generations will prefer the monogamous dream family to a walking one. As has been the case with nudism and many other similar ideologies and practices.

The western culture is a best-selling product, and I expect it to sell good to these people too in the near future. And I don't think I will have any regrets about that. Museums are for history, it is not necessary or practical to save everything.
JJM 777 is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 20th June 2007, 10:34 PM   #113
Wolfman
Chief Solipsistic
Autosycophant
 
Wolfman's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Posts: 13,394
Well, some very good news! A Swiss tourism company, Hidden China, has partnered with us to offer "culturally responsible" tours to visit the Mosuo. Instead of the 'normal' tour that people will take, which involves tour guides who understand little about the culture, and living in a tourist trap that has almost nothing to do with traditional Mosuo culture, we will provide tour guides from our own organization, and take people to live in real Mosuo villages, staying in local family homes (instead of in a hotel). We've already had two "trial" groups, and it went amazingly well!

There are also plans to organize mountain biking tours through the local mountains, to visit different villages; and horse treks through the mountains, perhaps even a horse trek from Lugu Lake to Tibet (it would be about a 10 day horse-back ride through the mountains).

Not only does this give tourists a more realistic understanding of the Mosuo and their culture, but a portion of the profits from each trip are donated to our organization. In addition to that, every group that we've had come so far has, after seeing what we are doing, and meeting the Mosuo themselves, offered to donate money to help us out.

Yet another small, but important step in our development :-)
__________________
Please check out my business, The Language of Culture
Wolfman is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 20th June 2007, 11:00 PM   #114
Hokulele
Deleterious Slab of Damnation
 
Hokulele's Avatar
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: The Biggest Little City in the World
Posts: 29,577
I took a look at their brochure. Very impressive! If only I had the time . . .
__________________
"Oh god...What have you done, zooterkin? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!?!?!" - Cleon
Hokulele is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 21st June 2007, 05:30 AM   #115
Darat
Lackey
Administrator
 
Darat's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2001
Location: South East, UK
Posts: 97,889
The original thread can be found here: http://www.internationalskeptics.com...ad.php?t=72651
__________________
I wish I knew how to quit you
Darat is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 3rd September 2007, 11:57 AM   #116
Darat
Lackey
Administrator
 
Darat's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2001
Location: South East, UK
Posts: 97,889
The discussion about the Mosuo continues in the original thread at http://www.internationalskeptics.com...ad.php?t=72651. If you are interested in this thread, and want to discuss it further, or add questions of your own, you can go there to check it out.
__________________
I wish I knew how to quit you
Darat is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Reply

International Skeptics Forum » Reference » Forum Spotlight

Bookmarks

Thread Tools

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is On
Forum Jump


All times are GMT -7. The time now is 05:30 PM.
Powered by vBulletin. Copyright ©2000 - 2021, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.

This forum began as part of the James Randi Education Foundation (JREF). However, the forum now exists as
an independent entity with no affiliation with or endorsement by the JREF, including the section in reference to "JREF" topics.

Disclaimer: Messages posted in the Forum are solely the opinion of their authors.