virus: Shamen Squabble ("")
Thu, 21 Aug 1997 13:45:27 -0500

Subject: Re: virus: Re: shaman

Tim Rhodes <> wrote:

>Now let's look at the Shaman. He has something. He won't tell you what
>it is, but everyone seems to think it's important.

Wade T.Smith" <> wrote:

Well, not everyone. Not the outsider, raised in a different culture.

> You can't by it from
>him for $22. He won't even sell it to you for $100. You offer him $1000,
>$10,000 and he just laughs in your face. No, it's worth *more* than all
>that. But you can have it if you want it. It'll take a while, though.
>You might have to study for ten years, but if you *really* want it...

And what will I end up with? I'll be a shaman. What will I have done of
worth for any generation to come, or for a stranger, or another culture?

Ken McE Comments:

Apprenticeship to an acknowledged master is the traditional way that
young humans master new skills. Whether that skill is medicine,
psychology, history, or transmission repair makes no difference.
Assuming that the shamen has actual skills and knowledge to pass on, why
should they be any different?

Regarding what you will end up with, if you spend the ten years, you
will have mastered a body of knowledge and memes and techniques. How
much you and your society value these things does not change what they
are worth in their own culture.

In my society a radio astronomer would be respected as a person of
intelligence and learning, even if what they study is beyond casual
comprehension, even if they took ten years to learn it.

Let's drop our Radio Astronomer down (plop) into a small traditional
village in, say, Papau New Guinea. All of a sudden, *they* are the
shaman. their knowledge is no longer all that valued or useful. The
way that they know things, from boxes that do math, from leaves that
talk (books), from light that no man can see, will seem either a wild
tale, creative mythology, or some kind of divine revelation. Within the
confines of their new society they will have no ability whatsoever to
prove what they claim. Does this make them a fraud? Does this make
their knowledge useless?

>(This is the point, Wade, where the scientifically trained white
>anthropologist throws up his hands and, declaring it all a sham, goes back
>home to his safe, simple suburban home.)

(KM) Speaking specifically in regards to contemporary American Indians,
there is a good deal of unease and resentment regarding the European
American habit of dropping in, nabbing a few tools or techniques, and
zipping off with them. It is considered disrespectful and possibly

From a memetic perspective you might say that acquiring a powerful tool
or technique, without acquiring the associated "safe usage and control
memes" is a definite hazard.

As an example I would offer Tobacco. Native Americans passed on to
Europeans the tobacco plant and the basic idea that you dry it and
breath the smoke. What did *not* transfer with it were the many
societal memes that guided and regulated proper usage. American Indians
had and used tobacco (and other smoking plants) for generations. It was
not a health hazard. They did not get cancer from it. They were not
helpless addicts. It was classified and used as a medicine, not a

Maybe these "primitive" Indian "shamans" who passed on the memes for
smoking, and how to manage it, had something that we ultra-sophisticated
first worlders could still learn from?

Actually, once people get by the idea that only this immersion is a
method of studying them, they are free to actually start analyzing them
objectively and disinterestedly. (And yes, I know the whole cycle is
required....) This leads to some important medical findings, once you
take the 'magic' out of the herb. It's all heresy, of course, to the

If they taught their knowledge all in one big lump, perhaps that is
because they only knew it that way, and it only worked that way. If we
are able to tease out separate strands and call this one "immunology",
that one "biochemistry", and that one over there "psychology", it is
only because we are standing atop the mountain of knowledge left to us
by our own shamans.

You will notice that any threads of shamanic wisdom that we do not
understand will tend be disregarded as "superstition" or quaint tribal
custom, even if they work quite well within that system.

No one would just walk up to a physiscist and say " hey, tell me how to
build a laser", I don't want to study math, or electronics, or optics,
or physics or OSHA safety regs, or nothin', just tell me how to build a
laser" Without the associated memetic background you would tend to
either be ineffectual, to think they were somehow hiding their
knowledge, or if you did manage to make it work, you would be a pure
hazard to yourself and your neighbors.

I reiterate- the shaman is only a shaman within his own culture. Taken
outside, he is a sham. Science, and the scientist, do not have a culture
(in the same sense- I don't want a semantic squabble about 'culture')
which they can step outside of and perish.

Now- to you, (I think) this validates the shaman. To me, this relegates
him and his methods to curiosity.

Not that I ain't curious.

But I (personally) ain't got ten years, either.

Wade T. Smith