Sunday, February 10, 2013

Frat Rats, Robert Frost, Walls, Hunters and Gatherers, Literal Meaning Versus Metaphorical Interpretation, and Reading Comprehension 101

In the most recent session of my Human Anthropology class, the subject of property rights and ownership came up in the discussion. This is pertinent in any treatise of hunters and gatherers, as governments in the societies we're studying do not recognize any property rights whatsoever for the indigenous pygmy hunters and gatherers within their jurisdictions. This was obviously not always the case, as hunting and gathering preceded farming and raising animals, much less industrialization, as a means of subsistence.  Still, change is inevitable with progress, and not all change , or all progress, for that matter, is necessarily for the better.

When I'm attending  a lecture via skype,  I am less vocal than I would be were I attending the class in person. When I was always the youngest person by far in a given class, I volunteered next to nothing by way of comments, answering questions only when asked directly. Now that there are students close to my age, I'm slightly more likely to volunteer an answer or an opinion, although I make it a point not to dominate the conversation of a lecture/discussion even if I'm well-versed in the material. When I'm skyping a lecture session, I can't always see how many hands are raised or who might be waiting to speak. I hit a signal key on my keyboard indicating that I'm willing to contribute to the conversation. If the professors hears it and feels like acknowledging me, he asks for my contribution. I at least don't lose favor with the professor for sleeping through his class.

In the discussion of hunters, gatherers, and property rights, the subject of fences arose. One student alleged that Robert Frost said , "Good fences make good nieghbors." Frost did say that in the sense that it was a line in his poem, "mending Wall," ansd he wrote the line along with the rest of the poem, although he surely wasn't the first person ever to have uttered or have written the line. In a larger sense, though, he really didn't say it.  The antagonist -- the neighbor in the poem -- was the one who always said, "Good fences make good neighbors." Frost's protagonist in the poem suggested that in the particular setting, a fence wasn''t needed. fences were for livestock. Frost's protagonist had apple trees, while the antagonist had pine trees. The pine trees, as the protagonist suggested, weren't likely to crawl across the property line and eat the apples. Frost's protagonist -- and presumably Frost himself-- thought the whole thing was pretty silly. He even considered the idea of an unnecessary wall being offensive in and of itself.

Still, Frost's protagonist humored the neighbor by making an appointment to mend the wall together. Exactly what tore the wall down wasn't entirely clear. Hunters may have been the culprits. Frost's protagonist would have liked to suggest to the neighbor that elves were tearing the wall down, but he thought better of it.  He watched the neighbor and observed that the view of the neighbor carrying  stone in each hand gave the man a somewhat primitive image ("like an old stone-savage armed" was how he termed it) and made a mental note of the neighbor's inclination to repeat the line"good fences make good neighbors" as he had heard it from his father before him, giving little thought t what the line actually meant in a more modern context.  The degree to which the poem was really about the need for fences and the mending of them, or whether it was more about doing things the way they had always been done without giving thought to why such had been done in such a way or at all, and the efficacy for continuing to follow tradition.  It's arguable that either or both are Frost's points.  On the other hand, who, including Frost himself, ever proclaimed him as anything resembling an arbiter of the rights of hunters and gatherers.  My suspicion is that the student with whom I debated "sort of" read the poem for a literature class and chose to use his limited knowledge of the poem in order to appear erudite. He failed miserably in his endeavor. Stupid frat rat!

Where uman anthropolgy and the property rights of hunters and gatherers are concerned, the more literal interpretation is certainly more apropos, though it's doubtful that Frost gave any thought to rainforst pygmies when writing the poem. Anyway, I pressed the signal on my laptop when the student commentsd tht robert Frost said "Good fences make good neighbors."  Without trying to sound overly pedantic or Cliff Claven-ish, I shared my idea that, pygmies notwithstanding, it was never robert Frost's personal agenda to push fences as means of ensuring harmony between neighbors. furthermore, for agrarian people to exist in relative harmony with hunters and gatherers, fences could not effectively wall in people and wall out others. Agreements needed to be reached as to what could be gathered and what could be hunted. cultivated crops probably should not be fair game for gatherers, nor should livestock be fair game for hunters. If such ideological boundaries were to be respected, what would be the need for thorough boundary-enforcing fences.  All that would be needed would be fences sufficient to keep livestock within one's property and out of crops.

Still, my detractor insisted tht good fences make good neighbors.  Had I been present in the flesh rather than virtually present via skype, I might have gone outside, grabbed a couple of stones, and handed them to him so that he could symbolized the "stone-savage armed" as in Frost's poem, but my suspicion is that the analogy would have eluded him.

My hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes are seriously bothering me. As it is, Vitamin V is my only source of relief. The rheumatologist said the pain should only be at its worst for only another  five or six days.  Great. How long  exactly was Jesus on the cross, anyway? I'm not sure, though I don't think it was for quite five or six days, not that I'm equating my level of suffering with his. The rheumatologist suggested massage and recommended a few therapists from the physical therapy department. They would come here, as I'm not terribly mobile, and being outside in the cool temperatures would make matters worse. My reservations concerning massage therapy center primarily upon not wanting anyone to massage my gluteus maximus muscles. Perhaps I could convince the person to concentrate on quads and hamstrings and allow the glutes to mend themselves, but with my luck, I'd get some pervert who insisted that massaging one set of muscles while ignoring another would cause some sort of imbalance that might cripple me, and my mother might be just dense enough to fall for it.

This mass is ended. Go now to love and serve the Lord.


  1. Land has been the source of conflict since the first human planted a marker in the ground and said "This is mine!"
    The idea of being skyped into a lecture is fascinating. You should insist on a life size mannequin with the screen of your face replacing the head. Maybe a little beenie hat on top of the screen. I can just see you propped in a seat at the back of the lecture hall keeping an eye on everyone. In mid sentence you suddenly freeze and the tutor goes "Just give her a minute she's re-buffering."

  2. A good friend has almost finished a life-size cardboard cut-out of me, which will have a "cut-out" into which to place the computer screen with my face. It's epic.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. You have got to post a picture of that when it's done.