The Violent Imagination:
I have just had the pleasure of reading another Fox book.  (The Violent Imagination, Robin Fox Rutgers University Press New Brunswick 1989) Knowing him to be a great figure in anthropology, I was prepared for Professor Fox to deliver a cold and clinical assessment of the darker corners of the human mind.  I was partly justified.  Dark corners there were but hardly a cold analysis.  It is a collection of essays, poems and narratives.  As usual the erudition was such that I was forced to reflect, “Yes, I see what he is referring to, but how many other things does he refer to that I have no clue regarding?” 

Years ago, when I was first delving into this, I wrote a book summing up my thoughts.  The manuscript has vanished although the stack of reference material still sits at my elbow whispering, “When will you ever get it right?”  In those days I looked for a suitable image and thought that the four horsemen of the apocalypse would serve.  The horsemen are traditionally thought of as war, plague, famine and Death.  The others are obvious, but Death … in an IQ test one would indicate that it did not belong in the list.  War rides a white horse.  Death rides a pale one.  That must mean invisible.  So the invisible Death, destroyer of worlds, became my icon: pale rider on a pale horse. 

I boasted that he was invisible, but once one caught a glimpse one could see him everywhere.  Ultimately I found the image so distressing that I abandoned it.  But in such a book as this he is there.  This is not a book of psychopathology; this is a book about e v e r y t h i n g. 

It leads off with a parable about some battery hens having a discussion about why things aren’t going so well for them.  They seem to keep dropping dead for no good reason.  Different hens have different ideas and varying intellectual vigor, but they are without a clue.  One must substitute falling fertility for dropping hens, of course.  But otherwise all I could say was, “Yep.  That’s us all right.  Our problems are dire and our understanding is lacking.”  My head swam as I got into it.  “What’s he been doing in my mind?”

The tapestry includes the trial of George Washington for treason in an alternative history.  You’re not going to see that issue anywhere else any time soon.  I was reflecting, “This was no revolution; there was no move to overthrow the king.  This was a war of independence.  And so for that matter was what we call the Civil war; there was no interest in conquering the North – just in getting out.”  At least there were no trials for treason; we can thank the forbearance of the Union for that. 

There is a great deal on the issue of xenophobia.  Why do groups hate other groups with such venom?  Of course as I see it, the point is that it has something (not at all intuitively obvious, the scale being so wrong) with excluding other groups from the local gene pool.  A big gene pool dies out.  Recognize this one point and address it.  That would take any driving force out of xenophobia, which would then implode because it is such a ludicrously bad idea. 

There was much to ponder and much to enjoy.  I am looking forward to reading the companion, The Search for Society.  If you are 
disposed to look at The Violent Imagination, Professor Fox says that it has been reprinted with a lot of other matter in 
"The Passionate Mind" (Transaction Publishers, 2000.) 


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