Friday, 19 April 2013

Part XXXVI - About Blondes

This is part of a series about a book, Theory of the Leisure Class, by American economist Thorstein Veblen.  He titled his ninth chapter The Conservation of Archaic Traits.





According to Veblen, 
“The institution of a leisure class has an effect not only upon social structure but also upon the individual character of the members of society.”  

When ways of thinking become the standard in a society, that standard not only continues to influence the society but also influences individuals.  This influence might be through teaching and encouraging agreement with the norm, or it might take the form of repression and selective elimination of those who don’t conform.  Two of the norms which most concern Veblen are those of conspicuous waste and of industrial exemption, major components of life under the scheme of the leisure class.  I was intrigued by Veblen’s statement that 
“…the tendency of the institution of a leisure effect upon the temper of a community is of the nature of an arrested spiritual development.” 

He points out that 'The human material of society itself varies with the changing conditions of life.' Then he begins to talk about ethnic types based on the shape of person’s skull.  He refers to them as (a) dolicho-blonds (b) brachyenchalic brunettes and (c) Mediterranean types.  Even knowing that he referred only to Europeans, not to African or Eastern peoples, this made little sense to me until I found this website and it still seems to have more to do with animal breeding than sociology, but I suppose there were early theories in anthropology that Veblen refers to.  

However, Veblen isn't so much concerned with race as with what he sees as two different types of people as he describes early on in his theory of social development.  Some people are more peaceable by nature (like the savages); others are more predatory (barbaric).  Peaceful people are more concerned with the welfare of the group; predatory people look out only for themselves.  The predatory, barbaric culture developed when the scenario no longer involved a group of humans pitting their wits against a harsh environment but moved to human individuals pitting their wits against each other, ie the harsh environment moved from non-human to human. 

Both variants can be found in any of the races.  Veblen refers to the peaceable types as ‘reversional’ because he thinks the ‘savage’ culture predated the ‘barbaric’, as described in some of the first posts about this book.  In fact, he seems to think that the predatory traits don’t ‘breed as true’ as do the peaceable traits. 

On the other hand, he makes the statement that 
“the men who have scored a brilliant (Napoleonic) success on the basis of an impartial self-seeking and absence of scruple, have not uncommonly shown more of the physical characteristics of the brachycephalic-brunette than of the dolicho-blond. The greater proportion of moderately successful individuals, in a self-seeking way, however, seem, in physique, to belong to the last-named ethnic element.  The temperament induced by the predatory habit of life makes for the survival and fullness of life of the individual under a regime of emulation; at the same time it makes for the survival and success of the group if the group’s life as a collectivity is also predominantly a life of hostile competition with other groups. “ 

So, is this perhaps his way of explaining why ‘blondes have more fun’?

4 comments:

Beryl said...

I was a bit lost until I read the part that said Blondes have more fun. Could be true - I do enjoy myself most of the time.

Carolyn said...

You are to be commended on making such an exhaustive study on this book!
In answer to your questions; yes, Brideshead Revisited is a perennial favourite of mine. I watched the TV series in the 80's, with Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons, it aired at the same time as my class was studying the novel in school. Both the book and the TV series were hugely inspiring to my teenage self, and I guess I've never lost the magic.
A remake of the Great Gatsby (another of my favourite books of all time!) will be coming out soon. The latest Australian Vogue magazine had a spread, all about the fashion and profiling the actors. Forty of the women's costumes are the work of Miucca Prada. Needless to say, I cannot wait to see it!

Shelley said...

Beryl - I must admit I prefer being blonde, though I did enjoy the red hair. Blonde, being much closer to my brownish / greyish hair colour, is much easier to maintain.

Carolyn - I confess that I've never read Great Gatsby. Must do that ... after I see the film perhaps.

Susan Partlan said...

Well, the Nazis were a pretty blonde bunch, so I'm not sure Veblen is correct about blondes.