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Interesting read about the power of the spoken word and impact of literacy on western man

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This is a chapter from Marshall McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy which outlines the effect of literacy on western culture. I've been been dabbling with media-ecology for a few months now and I found this chapter very interesting because it speaks of the power, drama, and emotion that is placed on the spoken word in tribal communities.  It reminded me of Jon's vocal training and how impactful it is psychologically and physiologically.

I'll post the chapter below, it's a difficult read and depends on knowing some prior terminonolgy used by the author but still pretty damn cool.

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* J.
C. Carothers, writing in Psychiatry (November, 1959 ) on "Culture, Psychiatry and the Written Word," set forth a number of observations con- trasting non-literate natives with literate natives, and the non-literate man with the Western man generally. He starts (p. 308) with the familiar fact that

by reason of the type of educational influences that impinge upon Africans in infancy and early childhood, and indeed throughout their lives, a man comes to regard himself as a rather insignificant part of a much larger organism—the family and the clan—and not as an independent, self-reliant unit; personal initiative and ambition are permitted little outlet; and a meaningful integration of a man's experience on individual, personal lines is not achieved. By contrast to the constriction at the intellectual level, great freedom is allowed for at the temperamental level, and a man is expected to live very much in the 'here and now,' to be highly extraverted, and to give very free expression to his feelings.

In a word, our notions of the "uninhibited" native ignore the utter inhibition and suppression of his mental and personal life which is unavoidable in a non-literate world:

Whereas the Western child is early introduced to building blocks, keys in locks, water taps, and a multiplicity of items and events which constrain him to think in terms of spatiotemporal relations and mechanical causation, the African child receives instead an education which depends much more exclusively on the spoken word and which is relatively highly charged with drama and emotion. (p. 308)

That is, a child in any Western milieu is surrounded by an abstract explicit visual technology of uniform time and uniform continuous space in which "cause" is efficient and sequential, and things move and happen on single planes and in successive order. But the African child lives in the implicit, magical world of the resonant oral word. He encounters not efficient causes but formal causes of configurational field such as any non-literate society cultivates. Carothers repeats again and again that "rural Africans live largely in a world of sound—a world loaded with direct personal significance for the hearer—whereas the Western European lives much more in a visual world which is on the whole indifferent to him." Since the ear world is a hot hyperesthetic world and the eye world is relatively a cool, neutral world, the Westerner appears to people of ear culture to be a very cold fish indeed. 2

Carothers reviews the familiar non-literate idea of the "power" of words where thought and behaviour depend upon the magical resonance in words and their power to impose their assumptions relentlessly. He cites Kenyatta concerning love magic among the Kikuyu:

It is very important to acquire the correct use of magical words and their proper intonations, for the progress in applying magic effectively depends on uttering these words in their ritual order. . . . In performing these acts of love magic the performer has to recite a magical formula. . . . After this recitation he calls the name of the girl loudly and starts to address her

as though she were listening. (p. 309)

It is a matter of "rite words in rote order," as Joyce put it. But once more any Western child today grows up in this kind of magical repetitive world as he hears advertisements on radio and TV.

Carothers next asks (p. 310) how literacy in a society might operate to effect the change from the notion of words as resonant, live, active, natural forces to the notion of words as "meaning" or "significance" for minds:

I suggest that it was only when the written, and still more the printed, word appeared on the scene that the stage was set for words to lose their magic powers and vulnerabilities. Why so?

I developed the theme in an earlier article with reference to Africa, that the nonliterate rural population lives largely in a world of sound, in contrast to western Europeans who live largely in a world of vision. Sounds are in a sense dynamic things, or at least are always indicators of dynamic things— of movements, events, activities, for which man, when largely unprotected from the hazards of life in the bush or the veldt, must be ever on the
alert. . . . Sounds lose much of this significance in western Europe, where man often develops, and must develop, a remarkable ability to disregard them. Whereas for Europeans, in general, "seeing is believing," for rural Africans reality seems to reside far more in what is heard and what is said.

2See chapter on "Acoustic Space" by E. Carpenter and H. M. McLuhan in Explora- tions in Communication, pp. 65-70.

. . . Indeed, one is constrained to believe that the eye is regarded by many Africans less as a receiving organ than as an instrument of the will, the ear being the main receiving organ.

Carothers reiterates that the Westerner depends on a high degree of visual shaping of spatio-temporal relations without which it is impossible to have the mechanistic sense of causal relations so necessary to the order of our lives. But the quite different assumptions of native perceptual life have led him to ask (p. 311) what has been the possible role of written words in shifting habits of perception from the auditory to visual stress:

When words are written, they become, of course, a part of the visual world. Like most of the elements of the visual world, they become static things and lose, as such, the dynamism which is so characteristic of the auditory world in general, and of the spoken word in particular. They lose much of the personal element, in the sense that the heard word is most commonly directed at oneself, whereas the seen word most commonly is not, and can be read or not as whim dictates. They lose those emotional overtones and emphases which have been described, for instance, by Monrad-Krohn. . . Thus, in general, words, by becoming visible, join a world of relative indifference to the viewer—a world from which the magic 'power' of the word has been abstracted.

 

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Very interesting read. Also

Very interesting read. Also explains the difference between liberals and conservatives, ha! 

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But yeah I can clearly see

But yeah I can clearly see the truth in this in a lot of ways, though I think this mostly serves as a good "starting off" point, rather than simply closing the discussion. 

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Where did you see the liberal

Where do you see the liberal vs. conservative pattern? I didn't notice!

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I'll continue to post more as

I'll continue to post more as I continue reading. Check out this quote below, Socrates was split between a world of orality and the development of literacy which caused a split between the mind and the heart. Essentially, this gap causes a processing delay. The medium of literacy massaged the user into unforeseen perceptual effects.The interval between mental chatter/mind and emotional projection/heart is exactly what we have trained to shut down. Closing this gap is powerful. Yes, some work with this gap and become quite eloquent but still end up like a "cold fish" as mentioned earlier :P 

"We can ask ourselves later why the fanatic specialism of the Phoenicians, which hacked the alphabet out of the hieroglyphic culture, did not release any further intellectual or artistic activity in them. Meantime, it is relevant to note that Cicero, the encyclopedic synthesizer of the Roman world, when surveying the Greek world, reproves Socrates for having been the first to make a split between mind and heart." 

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It's a pretty good

It's a pretty good description. Clearly the map is not the territory, but yes this somewhat beautifully articulates it. Got any links to Cicero's discussion of Socrate's OG separation of heart and mind? He "reproves" that motherfucker? What!? Diss some FAKE NEWS I want to read about! :p 

As far as the link between liberals and conservatives, this is about as concise an explanation for the role of the electoral college as it gets. Or the point of a republic versus a "true" democracy. 

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And I mean that in terms of

And I mean that in terms of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. ;) 

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Yeah, McLuhan is known for

Yeah, McLuhan is known for making overgeneralizations but it's pretty dang interesting.

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"what concerned Cicero, the

"what concerned Cicero, the practical Roman, was that the Greeks had put difficulties in the way of his own program for the doctus orator. In chapters xv–xxiii of the third book of the De oratore, he offers a history of philosophy from the beginning to his own time, trying to explain how it came about that the professional philosophers had made a breach between elo- quence and wisdom, between practical knowledge and knowledge which these men professed to follow for its own sake. Before Socrates learning had been the preceptress of living rightly and speaking well. But with Socrates came the division between the tongue and the heart. That the eloquent Socrates should have been of all people the one to initiate a division between thinking wisely and speaking well was inexplicable...But after Socrates things became much worse in Cicero's opinion. The Stoics despite a refusal to cultivate eloquence, have alone of all the philo- sophers declared eloquence to be a virtue and wisdom. For Cicero, wisdom is eloquence because only by eloquence can knowledge be applied to the minds and hearts of men. It is applied knowledge that obsesses the mind of Cicero the Roman as it did the mind of Francis Bacon. And for Cicero, as for Bacon, the technique of application depends upon the Roman brick proce- dure of uniform repeatability and homogeneous segments of knowledge."
 

"Carothers stresses that until phonetic writing split apart thought and action, there was no alternative but to hold all men responsible for their thoughts as much as their actions. His great contribution has been to point to the breaking apart of the magical world of the ear and the neutral world of the eye, and to the emergence of the detribalized individual from this split. It follows, of course, that literate man, when we meet him in the Greek world, is a split man, a schizophrenic, as all literate men have been since the inven- tion of the phonetic alphabet. Mere writing, however, has not the peculiar power of the phonetic technology to detribalize man. Given the phonetic alphabet with its abstraction of meaning from sound and the translation of sound into a visual code, and men were at grips with an experience that transformed them. No pictographic or ideogrammic or hieroglyphic mode of writing has the detribalizing power of the phonetic alphabet. "

Here is some more content regarding Ciccero and the split between the mind and heart. It appears that this split is an early description of cognitive dissonance, maybe? Whatever it is, my mind is blown that tribal man's throughts and actions were expected to be synced without any deviation. Now, we have Tolle and other "presence" teachers trying to therapeautically address a mind that overpowers the heart! 

My idea of if the split/gap is evolving. I dont think the mind needs to be aligned with the heart like I may have alluded to earlier, but being able to live in the interval consciously is key.

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As for the lliberal vs.

As for the lliberal vs. conservative split, you're equating the liberals to tribalized man and conservatives to literate man with a private identity, right? That's how I'm perceiving it. This is where it gets REALLY fucking cool. McLuhan predicted that man under electric conditions (radio, TV and now internet, smartphones) becomes tribalized yet again, known as "secondary-orality." This was in the 1960's! He also said that digitized "mass-man" would have the emotional literacy of a 4 year old :p

The conservatives continue to win because they can stay calm amongst the information overload and hold their private opinion, they don’t mind being alienated and self reliant. Liberals are pulled in every direction because they live (are more effected) by the "global-village" that is tribalized. Unlike primary orality, they aren't really tribal, they are actually tactile (which I don't know a lot about just yet) but in a nutshell they are very prone to nevously engage in pattern recognition and confirmational bias. 

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^ Yep all that. Pretty cool

^ Yep all that. Pretty cool stuff. Keep filling us in 

So anything about the source of the emotional immaturity in regards to secondary-orality? Is it the manufactured "insincere" nature of the "oral input" they're receiving? E.g. the commodifying of everything by capitalism? Because I wouldn't assume emotional immaturity to coincide with tribalism in fact just the opposite. 

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And what sort of emotional

And what sort of emotional qualities do they ascribe to the "literate" man? 

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Still digging lol Posted on

Still digging lol

Posted on some McLuhan facebook pages and will report back asap

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I posted this question below

I posted this question below on a popular Facebook forum with McLuhan scholars and media-ecologists (DM me for anyone that wants to know the name, not sure If I can post here):

"Why did McLuhan claim that man under electric conditions would have the emotional literacy of a 4 year old? In contrast, what emotional qualities does he ascribe to literate man?

P.S having a discussion with a friend, we are equating liberals to “secondary-orality/tactility” and conservatives to “literate man.” We don’t understand why exactly secondary orality would cause emotional instability as it is a step closer to being tribal again (sorta) and tribal cultures have a stigma of being emotionally tough. Help a noobie out."

The first response was from a McLuhan scholar we will call him Bob:

"A half-truth is more than enough truth for most people." - McLuhan, once in a Monday Night seminar just before his stroke.

My response:

Digital man has the platforms to be a technological god, the user is the content. Simply put, it is very easy to comfortably sit behind a computer screen or smartphone and appear to be someone else, or have opinions or even short comings validated. 

Therefore, electric man operates on pattern recognition and conformational bias, living mythically and removed from the whole truth. This would translate into stubbornness and the inability to take criticism, at least in their physical body interactions. This is why it’s more comfortable for electric man to hide behind a phone or computer. Exponentially getting worse as information overload is accelerated. Electric man has the means to rationalize everything, even if it is “wrong”. How's that?

His response:
 

"Not bad for a Millennial!!"

Another person gives me this response:

The ‘emotional literacy’ of preschool age children is based on reading facial expressions and gestures and ‘voicical lilt’, ie TV

My response:

 

"and this is an issue because the expression and gestures are...manufactured?"

His response:

"Id say it's a raw formative influence regardless of sincerity, but yes manufactured facial expressions and gestures and voicemusic are a yuge issue... Maybe if they had tried to sell the Kuwaiti incubators story through print, or even straightface news anchors, more people might have noticed how cartoonish and convenient the story was... As told by the weeping ambassador's daughter (pretending to be a traumatized witness) it was irresistible. ((Good thing were all sure that doesn't happen anymore amirite??)) Too overwhelmed by identifying with the storyteller to evaluate the story = childish emotional literacy"

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I guess we were both on the

I guess we were both on the right track Jon, or at least asking the right questions. Man under electric conditions is a participant in a global village, and has a "tribe" to validate all of his shortcomings (I.e. if someone has a bad experience in pickup, they can find the counter culture anti-pickup guys to validate his stubborness). This is on the internet of course, but it translates into the inabilty to take personal initiative for happiness in all aspects of life. It is far from actually being tribal in the traditional sense.  Globalization and manufactured exposure to the "troubles of the world" creates an emotional unstable person, the social justice warrior, that seeks half-truths to validate their mindset of the day (which is constantly flipping). I can totally relate to this.

And like you said the manufactured nature of the media is a big issue. As you always have said there is that major false narrative about love presented by Hollywood. Also, as explained in the last reponse from the facebook group, children are growing up without an understanding of sincere facial expression and eye contact. 

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Actually I believe it's more

Actually I believe it's more an explosion of self-expression. It's all on the table now. Including the "truth". Yes there will be plenty of children "left behind", as there always is, but overall I believe this represents a MASSIVE development in human consciousness, productivity, and self-expression/happiness. Also, don't fall for their "nice job, Millennial!" nonsense. They're catfishing you 

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Yeah why is that forum fag

Yeah why is that forum fag being so disrespectful to you? You could run over him in a battle of getting women on icecream dates any day!!

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Manwhore wrote:Actually I

Manwhore wrote:
Actually I believe it's more an explosion of self-expression. It's all on the table now. Including the "truth". Yes there will be plenty of children "left behind", as there always is, but overall I believe this represents a MASSIVE development in human consciousness, productivity, and self-expression/happiness. Also, don't fall for their "nice job, Millennial!" nonsense. They're catfishing you 

agreed, there are the services and disservices but we are definitely living in some amazing times, with the ability for everyone to build their own little empires

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Manwhore wrote: Actually I

Manwhore wrote:
Actually I believe it's more an explosion of self-expression. It's all on the table now. Including the "truth". Yes there will be plenty of children "left behind", as there always is, but overall I believe this represents a MASSIVE development in human consciousness, productivity, and self-expression/happiness. Also, don't fall for their "nice job, Millennial!" nonsense. They're catfishing you 

agreed, there are the services and disservices but we are definitely living in some amazing times, with the ability for everyone to build their own little empires.

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As for the millennial comment

As for the millennial comment he was validating my statement lol. “Bob” has a podcast that I listen to and I have spoke to him before about topics Iike this, he’s a super good dude. I didn’t make that relationship clear.

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Yep.. the Information

Yep.. the Information Superage.

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I was just fucking around

I was just fucking around with "Bob", I'm sure he's a fine fellow. But some of those questions didn't get answered. What about emotional maturity and tribalism? Or the emotional development of "literate man"? I'm just asking for the source material if you have it. 

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I'll keep on looking, I may

I'll keep on looking, I may be able to find the original materials that's being quoted in the book lemme check later.

I plan on reading the Mechanical Bride next, which is McLuhan's taking on masculinity during industrialization, I think you'll dig that one.

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Manwhore wrote: I was just

Manwhore wrote:
I was just fucking around with "Bob", I'm sure he's a fine fellow. But some of those questions didn't get answered. What about emotional maturity and tribalism? Or the emotional development of "literate man"? I'm just asking for the source material if you have it. 

Yeah I can't find the original source material, but this appears to be closely aligned in a google search: https://books.google.com/books?id=XzYX0T-ZqTcC&pg=PA183&lpg=PA183&dq=Cul...

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"Bob" spoke to me privately

"Bob" spoke to me privately about that facebook post and added some details. He explained that in an era of hyper-expression we've lost that old stoic attitude and it is now commonplace to share private thoughts. It's not out of immaturity (I was wrong about that) but everything is exponentially sped up and people tend to indulge in conversation intellectually without involving the heart simply to be "phatic" (ie. people debate on the internet in a battle royal fashion). This is what McLuhan meant about being being emotionally illiterate. Bob also said that the mind heart split is outlined earlier has essentially imploded under the current atmopshere. Definitely not as doom and gloom as I made it out to be lol. So...I've gotta look at the less outdated ideas.

I'd say that literate man would just appear more stoic because he has perceptually developed the ability to hold a private opinion. True tribalized man was probably super involved in his community as we are now, but without the petty bullshit because they actually had to worry about basic human needs back then!

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Aight I just looked thru it a

Aight I just looked thru it a bit. So in all honesty these people seem to have a bunch of it all wrong :\ 

They're incorrectly assessing the supposed "limitations" between oral and "literate" expression, or heart and mind as they call it. And that's a huge one. Once that comes into clearer focus the whole thing can be studied much more easily. 

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I didn’t check out that

I didn’t check out that source. Still just poking around a lot of forums, apparently they there is a big divide between the media-ecologists in academia and those that have persued more taboo researchers methods. I think the book worms tend to miss the point.

when I’m not mobile I’m gonna post some videos/audio clips that I dig. 

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Yeah, I had a few links but

Yeah, I had a few links but they didn't really apply that well. I can't really answer those questions directly yet :P

 I've got a cool pattern I learned about today, and it may help navigate our questions earlier: The phonetic alphabet created categories (It could been seen as the six degrees of separation). This is the rise of Aristotle and other dialecticians. It created a space of detached details and groupings, logic and linearization. Under electric conditions we drop categorizations,  the eye's role of establishing visual space is diminished. This is a logical explanation to why some are choosing to no longer use observable genitalia as a marker of sex, now there are 72 different gender's or something like that! Engaging electric technologies makes a person discarnate (that feeling you get when you are stoned on your smartphone and feel like you don't have a body :p) further seperating people from associating with their physical body. A guy like Jordan Peterson is trying to preserve literate values, he's a classic conservative "book guy." Can these values be preserved?

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This makes sense to me, I

This makes sense to me, I apologize to anyone that finds this absolutely schizophrenic lol

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Meow where are you getting

Meow where are you getting this from? Who's preaching these "72 different gender markers"? 

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I was being an asshole I have

I don’t remember where exactly I got it from, I’ll look around when I’m not mobile . Its a bit of elaboration on my part too. And, I was being an asshole I have no idea if that’s the correct LGBT statistic lol

Obviously we are way off topic from the OG post....but, overall, media-ecology is an interesting way to study human behavior and perceptions. It gives some interesting insights into religion, such as Protestantism emerging during the invention of the printing press (the Christian with a private opinion), explains Trumps rise from Web 2.0 where the user becomes a broadcaster (the user is the content), and even makes me understand why I got involved with YOU (because I lived in my own little Internet world watching RSD and had ZERO physical body awareness of my sexuality) HAHA. 

More or less shooting the shit and seeing what sticks. I’m not making definitive statements here lol just mapping out some thought patterns cuz it’s fun.

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Like I said, it’s just a

Like I said, it’s just a lens. I’m sure people have felt some gender disorientation from the beginning of mankind. Though I don’t know the history of cross dressing. But things are a lil crazy nowadays, nobody can actually claim we operate on traditional humanists values that’s for sure. 

And I found a gender list, not sure if it is actually 72 but she’s a doozy

http://genderfluidsupport.tumblr.com/gender

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That's social marxist

That's social marxist nonsense. Glad I asked first was about to hit the bonfire button 

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https://www.youtube.com/watch

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Xc7DN-noAc&t=1032s

Jordan Peterson talks McLuhan, first 20 min

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What statement are you making

What statement are you making with the video link? 

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