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March 23, 1969 - Image 4

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1969-03-23

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the

sunday

dcfily

"Onaniscience is the cocoon
which has sheltered this puny
primate and giren him a sense
of security and power."
-Leslie White

4

Number 3 Night Editor: Bill Lovely

March 23, 1969

*'

'Ecclesiastica

I

Leslie
White

Brimstone
Scientist

-Daily-Jay Cassidy

0

By LYNN WEINER
PROF. LESLIE A. WHITE'S office in
Angell Hall is cramped and cluttered.
File cabinets and shelves crowd the walls
of the room, and many indiscriminately
scattered letters, pamphlets, books, papers
and magazines escape attempts at organiza-
tion and neatness.
Dr. White, in shirt sleeves and a green
eyesnace, looks more the smalltown news-
paper editor than a distinguished and con-
troversial anthropologist.
This is his last semester at the Univer-
sity. After 39 years on the faculty and 69
years of life, he must submit to University
policy and retire. But he will leave behind
a unique legacy of academic freedom and
accomplishment.
EARLY IN HIS career it became apparent
that White would be controversial. Al-
though a half-century had passed since
Darwin's Origin of the Species, anthro--
pology had yet to embrace a theory of
cultural evolution. White, much to the dis-
may of fellow anthropologists, challenged
and reformulated traditional concepts in the
context of evolution.
Even today White remains one of t h e
most vehemently criticized scientists. His
views on politics, sociology, 'religion and
education still manage to enrage students,
associates, and administrators. And thus
his ability to weather the barrage of per-
sonal and professional attacks constitutes
as much a victory for the cause of simple
dissent as it does for "Whitean" truth.
LED BY the traditionalist Franz Boas,
anthropologists before White had clung
tightly to the antievolutionary, reactionary
doctrines.
"Boas was like the naked emperor who
thought he had clothes on", White reflects.
"I was the little boy who saw the truth."
He was immediately tagged as naive and
radical by the anthropological cliques. But

he carried his ideas to the classroom and
concocted the course "The Mind of Primi-
tive Man." First taught at the University
of Buffalo in 1927, the course has lasted as
long as White.
The first time the course was taught it
was frighteningly unorthodox and after five
weeks White ran out of material. But unlike
the conventional professor who would have
desperately tried to fill up the remaining
weeks, he just stopped teaching. His stu-
dents read books for the rest of the semes-
ter.
WHITE BROUGHT the course to the Uni-
versity in 1930. Since then the famous An-
thro 452 has evolved and expanded. White
attacks religion, government and education.
He warns the students about becoming "too
abstract," bitterly assessing institutionalized
philosophy and psychology as only semanti-
cal play. "We must get down to earth,"
White explains, "Truth is not something out
in the cosmos; it is something definite to
each society."
WHITE RECEIVFED his masters in psy-
chology at Columbi& and his doctorate in
sociology and anthropology at Chicago. His
doctoral dissertation on the witchcraft of
Indians alarmed the academicians and fin-
ally resulted in a split of the sociology grad-
uate school into sociology and anthropology
departments.
During one of his classes, he i n t e r-
rupted the lecturer to exclaim the class was
being taught entirely wrong. He challenged
the professor to a major philosophical de-
bate and continued his arguments until fin-
ally both men agreed White would receive
a passing grade if he said nothing more.
The electric atmosphere was just as tense
when White came here. He remembers he
was "at war with my colleagues, the phil-
osophy of ethnology was anti-evolutionary.
The only voice raised in defense of evolu-
tion in anthropology for a long time was
mine."

CONSEQUENTLY, White pursued h i s
evolutionary ideas alone. Within a decade
he had formplated an entirely new science,
culturology.
Culturology is defined in Websters New
International Dictionary, 1961, as a "meth-
odology especially associated with the Amer-
ican anthropologist Leslie A. White that
treats culture as a self-contained, self-deter-
mineud process and regards culture traits as
the products of antecedent and concomitant
cultural elements and as developing inde-
pendently of other data."
White, often called the "Father of Cul-
turology", has thereby rehabilitated and
expanded the much suppressed opinions of
Lewis Morgan, a famous anthropologist
whose work had been obscured by Boas.
WIILE TRAVELING through Russia in
1929, where he was exposed to the works of
Marks and Engels, White became convinced
that only socialism could prevail in western
society. Upon his return he presented a
paper to the American Association for the
Advancement of Science claiming capital-
ism was doomed. His position was in-
fluenced by the depression which he at-
tributed to the severe egotism of a pure-
ly capitalistic system,
His paper received world-wide attention,
including front-page coverage by the New
York Times and a favorable article by '
Maksim Gorki in Pravda. White, remem-
bering the episode, says, "This didn't endear
me to anyone in the United States except
the Communists . . . the dean told me I was
indiscreet, and didn't predict long tenure
for me...'
He met with the Dean who recounted
the letters, phone calls and telegrams de-
manding that White be fired. But White
had become established, if not for his fame
then surely for his infamy.
WHITE SAID the violent reactions to his
predictions were like those of the people

"who angrily abuse the weatherman for pre-
dicting bad weather."
With the advent of the "bad weather,"
such as, social security, medical aid, and
veterans' benefits, White's infamy turned to
fame.
But despite his fame, Church opposition to
his atheism has never ceased.
He has been harshly attacked by the
clergy which has demanded throughout the
years that .he be fired and whose relentless
pursuit stalled his promotion to the rank of
professor for 11 years.
White feels religion has helped man adapt
himself to the "earth and cosmos by an-
swering unanswerable questions." He be-
lieves it is directly correlated to the evolu-
tion of culture as an unconscious "fabrica-
tion."
AT ONE POINT, local Catholic and Lu-
theran clergymen brought an eight-page in-
dictment of White to the desk of President
Ruthven. "They said I was guilty of robbing
young people of their faith and ideals - . -
as they would accuse Socrates. I'm glad this
hemlock business has gone out of style
... when you're pilloried for something you
did that's bad, but when you're pilloried for
something you didn't do, that's worse ... "
In 1957 Detroit newspapers quoted part
of a speech White presented to the American
Anthropological Association. Local clergy-
men attacked what White felt was a rather
extraneous part of his discussion-a refu-
tation of the thesis that religion evolves'
independently of culture-and before long
the issue gained enormous proportions.
Nationwide headlines included, "'M' Pro-
fessor Ripped on 'Godless' Culture," "How
Long Will UM Let White Deride God?" and
"Ecclesiastical Brimstone Scientist."
INDIGNANT CITIZENS mailed angry
letters to the professor; mail which reached
absurd heights. One postcard which began
"Sir: What stupidity!" was addressed to

"Professor Leslie White, University of Mich-
igan, Illinois."
During White's career as department
chairman from 1938 until his retirement
from that post in 1957, he built the depart-
ment into one of the most highly regarded
in the world.
His students, scattered across the country
in leading departments, are among the most
famous anthropologists in the field. Marshall
Sahlins and Elman Service, both who came
to the University to' study under W h i t e ,
published what has since been called an-
thropology's most significant book since
Darwin's Origin of the Species, Evolution
and Culture.
HIS LABORS began to receive belated
praise in 1957 when the University accord-
ed him one of the five first Distinguished
Faculty Awards. Three years later he re-
ceived the Viking Fund Medal of the Amer-
ican Anthropological Association for his
studies of Pueblo Indians and contribu-
tions to ethnological theory.
White has taught as visiting professor at
Chicago, Columbia, Yale, Harvard and
Yenching University in Peiping.
THE NEGATIVE response he has received
to many of his ideas amazes him. "People
always assume that you're advocating some-
thing," he reflects. "When often you are
only stating that you 'not know."' He ex-
plains that the concept of to not know "is
not ignorance, but a self-conscious act of
withholding an answer until it can pass a
test. I know of no word in any language that
describes this."
White feels that a malady of our civiliza-
tion is that of omniscience - "the opposite
of 'not knowing,' the cocoon which has
sheltered this puny primate and given him
a sense of security and power."
He muses on his controversies now, de-
lighting in what he considers "human ab-

surdity." He reflects on a time when an
Associated Press reporter asked him if they
could quote one of his rhetorical questions:
"Why do people like dogs? They're noisy,
dirty, unhealthful, useless and expensive.
Why don't people like racoons instead?"
THE PUBLIC, assuming he was "against
dogs" flooded him with the mail he was by
then accustomed to. A state legislator even
began an investigation and sent an open
letter to President Hatcher claiming "any
man who has his attitude towards dogs isn't
fit to teach our children."
White's uncompromising stand on issues,
has, according to Gertrude Dole in Essays
in the Science of Culture, done much to
strengthen the cause of academic freedom at
the University of Michigan." Harry Elmer
Barnes, in the same book, writes, "Dr.
White not only challenged the overwhelm-
ingly dominant dogmas and trends in his
own professional field, but also resisted what
has usually been the most powerful force in
intimidating academicians and limiting aca-
demic freedom, namely, ecclesiastical ob-
scurantism."
IT IS IRONIC that a man the University
has retained through such sophisticated and
vehement criticism must now leave because
of his age.
But Michigan's laws will not inhibit this
scientific pioneer. He plans to continue
teaching part-time out west, and will also
travel, research and continue writing.
Thirty years ago he said he felt socialism
would prevail and no one believed him.
Twenty years ago he said there would be
peaceful uses for atomic energy and no one
believed him. Ten years ago he said he felt
Sputnik was partly responsible for bringing
the decline of religion and no one believed
him.
And now - "I feel like I can teach fifty
more years."

Vi

'THE ARGUS'

a tiny man
with a meksml
By JIM HECK
E'S USUALLY THERE before most of the people arrive, looking
shyly over his notes, his head always turned down revealing the
redness of the shiny scalp. I almost want to say his bald head blushes.
The lecture is usually crowded; students like to hear him talk in
his meek, almost whining voice that begs you to agree with it no mat-
ter what it says.
"Today, I'm going to pose the question: Do we exist?"
A petite smile comes onto his face which means a thousand words
something more complex than "This is really funny asking such an
absurd question but like all of you
m ~ nIkn oknow I've asked lots of absurd
S1 questions and we've found o u t
there is really some substance to them afterall."
This masqueraded around-the-bush way of getting me involved
is only frustrating after I think about it.
"AND," HE WHINCES, "I'm going to supply the answer." Laugh-
ter, of course; it seems totally absurd. He laughs, too.
A tiny man. with very tiny blue eyes, he scans each notecard
and muses on it before telling the class about it. If it's at all funny
or absurd, he steps back, looks up into the middle of the lecture and
smiles, pursing his lips and finally burping a giggle or two. By this
time everyone expects to laugh and even if what he says isn't hum-
orous, we laugh anyway.
He loves to poke fun at himself - almost righteously, as though
to re-enforce his own self-confidence. He will read quotes from his
adversaries who have sometimes valid criticism spaced among their
personal invective against him.
"NOW REALLY - REALLY," he utters bending his whole body
as though squeezing out the emphasis his intonation can never pro-
duce. "This is what he really said, it's right here."
He reads the attacks, laughs quietly and looks up to the students,
waits for their laughter and then continues, satisfied he has the sup-
port of at least 500 others.

A 100-eyed monster comes allve

By MICHAEL THORYN
and HOWARD KOHN
Second of a three-part series
NEWSPAPERS FUNCTION for some of
you some of the time. But do you think
The Michigan Daily really cares about any
of you?
"I know damn well it doesn't," answers
Ken Kelley. "The Daily editors are an elitist
clique who decide the news to satisfy their
own egos."
Kelley is an ex-Daily reporter who now
edits The Ann Arbor Argus, an underground
tabloid three issues old. The Argus, with
plans to publish bi-weekly, is chock full of
exciting news copy and exciteable graphics
interspersed with long and often unedited
interviews.
Kelley quit The Daily last October after
a disillusioning year within its bureaucratic
structure.
HIS BASIC quarrels with The Daily lie
in its definition of journalism.
"If they cover a meeting, that's fine,
that's functional," he explains. "But if they
try to make me believe the meeting is
important to how I live, that's bullshit.
"The Daily is a business. Their only goal
is to get that paper out six days a week.
They will run an AP story when they know
damn well that the AP only checks with
'official sources'."
Beyond his disagreement with The Daily's
news policy, Kelley criticizes The Daily for
being a closed corporation, excluding those
who do not conform to the lifestyles of the
editors.
"I couldn't stand the eternal bitching and
the internal politicking," he summarizes.

focus on the forces of repression and to
crystallize the issues in terms of self-versus-
system.
Lead stories in the latest issue of The
Argus were an analytical rundown of the
rent strike, written by rent strike coordi-
nator Peter Denton, and an expose-fash-
ioned article on the tenure denials of Prof.
Tom Mayer and Prof. Julian Gendell.
"The Daily has screwed up the rent strike
so badly I can't believe it. They can't even
get the facts straight.
"And they act like they don't know about
Mayer and Gendell getting shafted."
Confrontations that are obvious from
evening newscasts do not inspire Kelley.
Instead he would like to document the in-
dividual struggles of those people who are
silently squashed by the weight of a bur-
geoning society.

Kelley was also a bellicose supporter of
Barry Goldwater. But even in high school
he operated under the assumption that rules
meant repression.
He wrote a column for The Lotus Leaf,
school newspaper in Monroe, Mich., pointing
out that people who have long hair don't
necessarily have fleas. The principal lam-
basted him for flaunting school rules. But
Kelley simply turned around and walked
away from his position as editorial editor.
After three- semesters at the University
he has also given up on formal academics.
Instead his attention is devoted to The
Argus, which demands more time than the
most menial of courses . . . the day for
selling ads, the night for writing and de-
vising layouts, and the rest of the time for
interviewing and reporting.
"Media is the most important influence

Consequently his national news comes
from the Liberation News Service (LNS), a
radical New York-based agency dedicated
to that proposition. Most LNS releases re-
cite episodes of conflict between the young

in the world," is Kelley's motivation. "Media
controls everything.
KELLEY WORKED part-time on the New
York Free Press last summer, learning the
disciplines of a sometimes-literate critique

u'.::t ..... .... S

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