Saturday, June 13, 2020

Zerubavel | perhapstheyshouldhavetrieditearlier

Event poster (©2016) Roy R. Behrens
In view of the many painful events and discussions that are currently on-going, were I asked to name a book that everyone (young and old) could benefit from reading, I would strongly recommend Rutgers sociologist Eviatar Zerubavel’s The Fine Line: Making Distinctions in Everyday Life (New York: The Free Press, 1991). This is one of its many powerful thoughts (p. 80)—

It is society that helps us carve discrete islands of meaning out of our experience. Only English speakers, for example, can “hear” the gaps between the separate words in “perhapstheyshouldhavetrieditearlier,” which everyone else hears as a single chain of sound. Along similar lines, while people who hear jazz for the first time can never understand why a seemingly continuous stretch of music is occasionally interrupted by bursts of applause, jazz connoisseurs can actually “hear” the purely mental divides separating piano, bass, or drum “solos” from mere “accompaniment.” Being a member of society entails “seeing” the world through special mental lenses. It is these lenses, which we acquire only through socialization, that allow us to perceive “things.” The proverbial Martian cannot see the mental partitions separating Catholics from Protestants, classical from popular music, or the funny from the crude. Like the contours of constellations, we “see” such fine lines only when we learn that we should expect them there. As real as they may feel to us, boundaries are mere figments of our minds. Only the “socialized” can see them…

Eviatar Zerbavel, Taken for Granted: The Remarkable Power of the Unremarkable
Eviatar Zerbavel, Hidden in Plain Sight: The Social Structure of Irrelevance
Roy R. Behrens, On Slicing the Cheese and Treating the Menu Like Stew: On Creativity and Categorization