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What Comes After Postmodern

Culture as an Evolutionary Force


From the Chapter 7 essay entitled "Schizophrenia and Civilization"...


This brings us to the ultimate cross-cultural question of whether schizophrenia exists among primitive people. *

I believe that as an essence it does not, but the process is identifiable. That is, schizophrenia as a diagnostic category is irrelevant in authentically primitive societies.

The reasons for this are as follows:

1.  The rights to food, clothing and shelter are completely customary; each person learns as an organic part of the socialization process the requisite variety of skills

Functionlessness is not a problem in primitive society.

2.  Rituals at strategic points in the bioculturally defined life cycle permit the person to change roles while maintaining, and expanding, identity. 

His ordinary humanity is celebrated in an extraordinary way. The life-cycle is a normal curve; it does not collapse in the middle, leaving the aged without wisdom, work or honor, their only altemative being the dissimulation of youth.

3.  Rituals and ceremonies permit the expression of ambivalent emotions and the acting out of complex fantasies in a socially prescribed fashion. 

It is customary for individuals or groups of people to "go crazy" for self-limiting periods of time without being extirpated from the culture.

4.  The ramifying network of kinship associations sets the developing person firmly in a matrix of reciprocal rights, obligations and expectations. 

Social alienation as we experience it in civilization is unknown.

The fact that there are no mental hospitals or asylums in primitive societies or, to my knowledge, any institutional equivalents, testifies to the social use and containment of the schizophrenic process, which is a generic human process.

It does not become a clinical entity until a society which can erect no boundaries to the process and no creative channels for its expression, exiles those who are as a result incapacitated to specialized institutions, or (they are) otherwise immobilized.

One may fairly conclude that although the schizophrenic process is identifiable, the structure, function and the psychodynamic character of primitive societies set cultural limits to the process and prevent it from becoming a diagnostic entity.

Primitive cultures realize the major function of culture which is to make men human, and at the same time to keep them sane. That is what civilization, as we know it, is failing to do.

Schizophrenia, then, is no less and no more than the subjective aspect of the socio-economic dynamic of alienation.

Stanley Diamond.  1974, 2007 (9th printing).  "Schizophrenia and Civilization."  In Search of the Primitive.  Transaction Publishers: New Brunswick, NJ. 1974, 2007 (9th printing).


* In 1939 George Devereaux observed: "Schizophrenia seems to be rare or absent among primitives. This is a point on which all students of comparative society and of anthropology agree." 
[George Devereaux, "A Sociological Theory of Schizophrenia," Psychoanalytic Review 26 (1939):317] - see footnote 6 below.

FOOTNOTE 6: But even that integration [of self in primitive man] cannot be understood in our language of ego psychology. 
It is, rather, as Radin puts it, "the recognition of (and insistence upon) multiple personality . . . the direct consequence of aboriginal man's unconquerable and unsentimental realism and his refusal to assume fictitious and artificial unities." 
(This refusal, it should be added, is the result of the exploration and realization of the potential phases of the self during the course of the life cycle.) 
As Radin concludes: "the various elements [of the individual] become dissociated temporarily from the body and enter into relationship with the dissociated elements of other individuals. 
The nature of the impingement of individual upon individual and of the individual upon the external world is, thus, utterly different from anything that a Western European can possibly imagine. 
The medley of combinations and permutations it would permit is quite bewildering .... [Nevertheless] what prevents anarchy, independent as they are, is that they fall into a definite configuration within each man's ego" (read self). 
The World of the Primitive, Paul Radin (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1971).

And another quote from the essay:
The more general point is that the schizophrenic reaction is no more and no less than the ultimate pathology of modern society; that pathology may be seen in its actuality as a society-wide dynamic manifested in varying degrees and combinations in all individuals according to their temperaments, their talents, and their precise circumstances.

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What Comes After Postmodern?

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In Search of the Primitive: A Critique of Civilization by Stanley Diamond

The essay central to this site is based on Anthropologist Stanley Diamond's classic book, In Search of the Primitive: A Critque of Civilization.

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