I was skimming through this book the other day called superstructuralism, by Richard Harland, which is basically about the construction of human culture through language, symbolism, and interaction. He lays out two distinct idea found in structuralism: culture invents nature, and society invents the individual. These axioms allow him to go beyond the symbol-language simplicity of Sassure (not to say his ideas are in anyway simple-minded).
I thought this was a rather peculiar notion, because I have never felt connected to a society in a way that I might feel connected to family. But that’s just it, family is a minute form of society. According to Ancient Society by Lewis H. Morgan, “it is undeniable that portions of the human family have existed in a state of savagery, other portions in a state of barbarism, and still other portions in a state of civilization, it seems equally so that these three distinct conditions are con-nected with each other in a natural as well as necessary sequence of progress.” He goes on to point out that through states of savagery and a long drawn out evolution of form, political societies were created. I have stated something similar in a previous blog.
Harland, then, is correct in saying that society invents the individual, however, one must be careful as to not equivocate society with political society. His other distinct idea that culture invents nature seems a little more obscure. It would seem that the subjects individual sensory organs, in a way, construct their view of nature, but nature still stands without the need of subject. It would be very biased of me to think that when I die, all of nature ceases to exist (although, to those that see death as finality, from a subjective POV, it does). In the same fashion, culture is just a form of nature, an adaptation that is formed from nature by certain ideas, influence, and actions upon nature. Culture is a human construct, whereas nature is a construct which includes culture as a subcategory of human nature. It seems that Harland has made a categorical error.
Language and society is a hard thing to understand, but I suppose a question might be posed to allow a more in-depth look at these general philosophical problems: When you die, does the world lose meanings, or does a small notion of subjectivity fall away, thus making the actual more clear?
Unpack that for a second. Are you a subjective being? Is there such a thing as objectiveness? Does the world continue on without you? Is your view a reflection of what is or just something arbitrary and only important to you? When you think of a tree what comes to mind? Is that the same as what I think, or what your mother or father Thinks? Is there an ideal thing that separates tree from non-tree? Do you have an answer?Answering these questions will allow one to come to a belief about the world, about language, and about meaning.
If this stuff doesn’t interest you, perhaps a look at a more popular linguistic example will.