Archive for the ‘Sociology’ category

The Perplexing Concept of Identity

February 28, 2012


This weekend I attended a lecture in Albuquerque sponsored by the New Mexico Genealogical Society. The lecture was on Saturday, February 25, 2012, and was focused on the New Mexico DNA Project. This presentation was delivered by Ángel de Cervantes, who now resides in Albuquerque, but was originally from Las Vegas/Montezuma, New Mexico. Ángel is the New Mexico DNA Project Administrator, and is also part of the Iberian Peninsula DNA Project. Ángel is currently a History Instructor, however, he was once a archivist with the State Archives. Since he was once an archivist, he understands the importance of primary documents relative to research, and encouraged the audience to “take the time to do the research” and not just do “the online thing.” The lecture was Part 1 in a series, and was titled Castas, DNA, and Identity: Who are we? What did our ancestors say about themselves? What does DNA tell us about Identity? Ángel explored “the connection of the Castas system in colonial New Mexico” and discussed how “DNA studies compare to the Spanish Castas system and the ramifications on modern identity.” So following is what I have come away with…

Identity… What is identity? Some online sources define identity as: the condition or character as to who a person or what a thing is; the sameness of essential or generic character in different instances, and all that constitutes the objective reality of a thing; and the distinguishing character or personality of an individual. What does that mean? Well… I think identity is very complex. It is rooted in: psychology; oral, familial, and social history; and of course genetic connections. How do you see yourself? Where do you stand in society- socially, economically, and from a religious perspective? How do others see you? It is all complicated. If it was up to me (and it is not), I would say that none of it really matters. Well maybe how we see the man in the mirror is important? The notion of a “correct analysis of identity over time” is critical according to the Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The encyclopedia also mentions a “notion of identity across possible worlds.” But what are “worlds?” Is there more than one world we live in? No, but I think it is referring to the multiple worlds that we can socially and psychologically place ourselves in. Of course our familial ties, and oral histories play a major role in the identity we choose to seize.

Ángel de Cervantes delivering a lecture on DNA and identity. He is the New Mexico DNA Project Administrator, and is part of the Iberian Peninsula DNA Project. Ángel is currently a History Instructor in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

I have taken a look at the Encyclopedia of Religion and Society put forth by Hartford Institute for Religion Research. According to this encyclopedia, “identity is a characteristic defining one’s sense of self,” and the term was “popularized by Erik Erikson” through the 1950s and 1960s, “as a central psychoanalytic concept.” Some of this definition, incorporates “a sense of uniqueness” or “completeness” with regard to identity. Ángel de Cervantes opened his lecture with a clip of Jessica Alba. Alba was a special guest on George Lopez Tonight in 2009. For his show, Alba and her father both agreed to take a DNA Test. Alba submitted for an mtDNA (maternal) and her father for both Y-DNA (paternal) and mtDNA. I think it was a great clip to open with because Ángel set the scene for his lecture on the historical and contemporary problems each of us have faced, or face with regard to identity. As an advocate of DNA testing he said that one reason he likes Y-DNA testing is because “it is what it is if you like it or not.” Alba’s test results were returned to her by Lopez with percentages of 87% European and 13% Indigenous or Native American. You can see that even she did not fully understand her “identity” in that moment.

Artwork on Cuadro de Castas or a Historical Caste System

So what does “casta” mean in terms of identity? A caste system is comprised of an intermixture of race and social class (ethnic, economic, religious). My tiny New Webster Dictionary defines caste as “an inherited socioreligious rank.” Really? Rank? Funny… Personally, I feel that this was more of the case in the Colonial caste system, and not in the contemporary. In 1995, Stuart B. Schwartz published a paper titled Colonial Identities and the Sociedad de Castas in Colonial Latin American Review (Volume 4, Issue 1). In his paper, Schwartz “framed” castas “in terms of race and class” for “multi-racial and multi-ethnic societies of colonial Latin America.” This may still be the case today, though I am not sure that caste is always maintained by an individual even if it can be seen as inherited and ranked? Maybe a number 1 on the ranking system would see me as a number 10? But since I don’t care what others think of me, it would be irrelevant. The Spanish doctoral program in the Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has a website with pictures of the historical castas or caste system called Cuadro de Castas. The images provide an interesting look at the system.

Some of my notes

Ángel’s study of New Mexico records, as well as the records of the Archivos Enpañoles, allowed him to put together a list of the Spanish Castas he has been able to identify. Some of the castas in Spanish genealogical records include: Chino; Español Criollo; Mestizo; Pardo; Prieto; Negro; Mulato; Tresalvo; Trigueño; and Zambo. Each casta has applicable fractions of race, and may include one, two, or more mixtures. I found it funny when Ángel talked about how his grandmother from Las Vegas called the “dark complected kid in the neighborhood” a “trigueño.” The audience was at odds over that title, and what it means, but that is always the case when dealing with scholars, historians, and genealogists.

So even if I find caste systems irrelevant to my identity today, why should it be important to me as a genealogist and a lover of history? Well of course the main reason is because it is part of history. It is also important because a caste can reveal the status of a person in his or her community at a given point in time. A person in what was a historically higher caste may have: been more educated; could have owned more land; may have traveled more; or may have had royal blood. I think a down side to this is that some of those individuals from a higher caste likely married only those in the same caste, or of a higher caste to stay elite. So much for real connection!? Maybe poor folk married for the right reasons ha?

To sum it all up, I guess I learned that identity really can’t be defined or bottled. I believe identity can be explained to a certain extent, but will always remain a perplexing concept. Since we are humans, we are constantly changing, evolving, growing, learning, and so our identity changes. Identity changes or morphs with time. Personally, I do not wish to be pegged by caste systems. In the end, I know that others will likely classify me with no regard for those complexities which truly define my identity whether I like it or not.

Phenomenology: The Power of a Word

January 24, 2012

View of Mora, New Mexico coming from Ledoux, New Mexico- Photograph by Dr. Alvin O. Korte retired professor emeritus/ NMHU

I love it when I am pleasantly surprised by an intelligent person. Today I had an opportunity to meet and talk with Dr. Alvin O. Korte. Dr. Korte retired as professor emeritus from New Mexico Highlands University in 1999. He was a professor for close to 30 years. He knows many people from the Las Vegas and Mora area, including some of my family members. His expertise is in Social Work/Domestic Violence, however, he blew my mind with the depths of his. It is rare for me to take the time to get to know my patrons on a personal level, but sometimes I do. If I find someone interesting, I may tap into their psyche to see what I can find. I am also more inclined to befriend someone who is humble, quiet, and secretively brilliant. As I was assisting Dr. Korte, I just happened to glance down at an open notebook with a large word which caught my eye. With him, he carried a study on phenomenology. I was immediately intrigued, and of course I inquired. In the first few sentences out of Dr. Korte’s mouth, I realized his studies would definitely add some sugar to my cup of tea.

He went on to tell me about his new book titled Nosotros: A Study of Everyday Meanings in Hispano New Mexico (due for official release in March of 2012 by Michigan State University Press). He sums up the book as a study of language, yet it is really so much more. Some of the words and/or ideas he rattled off included: dark vs. light; the language of prisoners; life and death; struggles; mortification; poetry and literature; genealogy; and other things that only a Dark Archivist would love. Dr. Korte believes that “much knowledge and understanding can be generated from the experiences of everyday life.” In his studies, he “examines how this concept applies to Spanish-speaking peoples adapted to a particular locale, specifically the Hispanos and Hispanas of northern New Mexico. Drawing on social philosopher Alfred Schutz’s theory of typification, Korte looks at how meaning and identity are crafted by quotidian activities. Incorporating phenomenological and ethnomethodological strategies, the author investigates several aspects of local Hispano culture, including the oral tradition, leave-taking, death and remembrances of the dead, spirituality, and the circle of life. Although avoiding a social- problems approach, the book devotes necessary attention to mortificación (the death of the self), desmadre (chaos and disorder), and mancornando (cuckoldry).”

In his youth, Dr. Korte was a member of the National Guard in Las Vegas, New Mexico. In talking about his service, he mentioned that he also wrote a book which takes a closer look at the history and symbology of the swastika. I am yet to learn the title of this book, however, I would like to track down the book for another patron with potential interest in this history. Dr. Korte and I exchanged conversation about a Nazi flag housed with a museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He knew the story of the flag captured in 1943 by the 120th Combat Engineer Battalion (Company C). I also referred him to a web site with a great research piece on that story. It is certain that Dr. Korte’s family history, his New Mexican roots, his interest in symbology and metaphors, and his service in the National Guard inspired that particular book. In the 19th century, Dr. Korte’s German ancestor came to New Mexico. Heinrich Korte was his great grandfather who came to Mora, New Mexico in the late 1850s. He was a wealthy merchant and rancher. In the 1870 and 1880 U.S. Census, some members of the Korte family noted paternal birthplace as Prussia.

So like I said, I enjoy meeting people who are well-versed but are not egotistic. Dr. Alvin O. Korte displays all of the characteristics constituting an intricate mind. It is interesting how just a quick glance at one word in large print- phenomenology- can initiate a land slide of thoughts. The power of words astonishes me.

Nosotros: A Study of Everyday Meanings in Hispano New Mexico
Michigan State University Press

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Phenomenology

Using Connections to Reveal the Authentic Self

December 14, 2011

This is a great article!
DeGraff has it down…

*****Growth requires synchronizing the key forces within and beyond us.*****

Connect the Dots
by Jeff DeGraff, Ph.D.
Originally published on December 12, 2011 online by Psychology Today

And if there had been more of the world, They would have reached it”
*****Luis de Camoes

It is an old saying that innovation happens at the edges of disciplines. Within any field of inquiry the rules of investigation and experimentation become tired and rigid as they focus more on efficiently self perpetuating a line of thought than exploring the dark places where the undiscovered hide. Crossing boundaries and building bridges is an essential aspect of making growth operational. It is in conjoining that which is most diverse that novel hybrids are born. We too must overcome the challenges of our compartmentalized portfolio lives: The Nurturing Mom, the Dutiful Wife, the Competent Boss and the Closet Poet. To maintain order, we keep our roles separate and miss out on the emergent opportunities and creative fecundity that these improvisations may bring us. Growth requires spontaneously synchronizing key forces both beyond and within us.

Aligning one system that exists at the same level and time as another system, such as simultaneously installing the electricity and plumbing in a new house, is fool’s holiday without the aid of a blueprint that represents how they interrelate. From the human genome to meridian maps, we seek our destinations from a higher point of view where we can make sense of where things intersect and take appropriate action. While we are accustomed to representing the relationships of processes via figures and lines, purposeful connections are only made by people. In every organization there are those individuals that serve as conduits that pulse and teleport ideas and initiatives across boundaries. While we know this to be true, we seldom take their amplifying or dampening affect into consideration. While transmission to reception relationships are seldom linear and progress seems to favor the circuitous route, those who enable and imbed it are nonetheless revealed by the degree of momentum they create or impede. Bet on people; not processes to connect the dots.

Boundaries are made as much from convention as they are from perception. We deify those that we identify with and demonize those that we do not. Nothing illustrates this point more than a “polite” discussion on politics, religion or football. Good and bad are often no more than a projection of type and associated affiliation: Republican or Democrat, Muslim or Christian, Buckeye or Wolverine. Ironically, dots are often connected unintentionally by seemingly oppositional forces. For example, Christianity was once the spiritual solace of the Roman slaves but followed the very empire that sought to put it out around the world. Tolerance of diversity is a required aspect of our development for we grow through the constructive conflict with those which we are unlike and by productively assimilating our own idiosyncrasies into our character.

What we believe and why we behave the way we do is a complex question with multiple perspectives on the issue emanating from various disciplines of inquiry. Well-established descriptions of type include everything from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality inventory based on the typological theories originated by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, to the Enneagram, a map of personality interrelationships organized around an ancient symbol of perpetual motion by Armenian mystic G. I. Gurdjieff, to astrology, which exists in some form in almost all cultures. The point being that the classification of type is somehow fundamental to how we characterize the attributes and dynamics of our world. While there may indeed be simplicity on the other side of complexity where all is one, decisions are fundamentally based on our ability to make distinctions – Will you be having the chicken or fish?

As reasonably healthy and productive people, we typically experience ourselves as continuous and essentially integrated beings, with minor variations to suit the mood or occasion. However, we may appear to others to exhibit a distinct type, preferences and tendencies, in the course of a single encounter. Assuming that one doesn’t have a multiple personality disorder, we might think of our lives as an ensemble of characters with a variety of roles we may competently perform. These are not false fronts; rather, the variations of the Authentic Self in costume. We stand between that which is foreign and familiar and translate that which is strange into the ordinary. Boundaries are spanned; meaningful connections are forged; and dots are connected through our widening range of interpretations and ambidextrous actions.

Synchronicity: Trick or Treat? (maybe it is indeed psuedo-coincidence)

October 31, 2011

5th Chakra

Article from:

Has this ever happened to you? You are sitting at your kitchen table, thinking about an old friend who you haven’t spoken to in a while. The phone rings and – wow – it’s the same friend you were just thinking about! You say to yourself, “What a coincidence!”

You are on your way to work and, half asleep, you notice the license plate on the car in front. The numbers are the exact month and year of your child or parent’s birth date. Confident that this must be significant, you play these numbers in the next Lottery game.

The appreciation of coincidental events in our lives is evident, yet the basis for our belief that these odd events “mean something” is hardly ever questioned. We seem to acknowledge that our lives follow some kind of pattern and these observation of special occurrences do not especially shock us.

Psychologist Carl Jung was the first scientist to attempt to explain this amazing phenomenon. Jung treated many hysterics and distraught people in his psychiatric practice. He was especially fond of hearing about patient’s dreams. Over a decade of administering therapy, he noted an uncanny relationship between the content of dreams, odd coincidental events and the successful restoration to mental health of his patients.

In the following essay, author Stephen Davis explains the difference between what we know as coincidence, and what Jung later came to call “synchronicity.” This is the first of several expeditions into the world of pattern, chance, magic and significance.


by Stephen J. Davis

Some people feel that coincidence is the guiding force in their lives. To them, coincidence is a force which influences decisions and plans and has as much impact on their lives as others who may believe in Astrology. People commonly equate the word “coincidence” with the word “chance.” They often make statements to the effect that they “don’t believe in coincidence”. From that statement alone, however, it is impossible to tell whether or not such a person is a skeptic or a mystic! Their confusion arises out of their ignorance of the distinction between the terms “coincidence” and “synchronicity.”

The definition of synchronicity, according to Carl Jung, is a meaningful coincidence, i.e. a coincidence that holds some personal significance for the observer. Jung writes,

“Although meaning is an anthropomorphic (of human origin) interpretation, it nevertheless forms the indispensable criterion of synchronicity. What that factor which appears to us as ‘meaning’ may be in itself, we have no possibility of knowing.”

In line with Jung’s writing, it has been suggested that the only validity of synchronicity lies in the observer’s (participator’s) opinion of whether the synchronicity gives a true rendering of his psychic condition- that the meaningfulness of a synchronicity can only be judged subjectively. It has also been suggested that the term synchronicity, for many, refers to a remarkable coincidence which would be assumed to have a very low probability of occurring, yet occurs just the same.

A growing number of investigators view synchronicity as a sign that we are living in an age of increasing interconnectedness, and postulate that we are heading toward an “omega point”– an “end of all ends”– when all things will be revealed as interconnected.

In physics, we are taught that every single particle in the universe has a gravitational effect upon every other particle, no matter how far the particles are separated. This unified effect supports the theories that all events are related, in some way, to each other. Thus it can be said that synchronicity is merely a very personal and subjective observation of this inter-connected universe of which we are but a small part.

Should synchronicity be a part of parapsychology– or are para-psychological phenomena merely different manifestations of synchronicity? For example, precognition (the ability to see the future) can be imagined both as the ability to sense and predict the universal event patterns and to project them forward in time. But the same precognition can also be seen as having caused or triggered the predicted event. The association of the predicted event with the actual occurrence has no logical connection because of our concept of time. Nevertheless, the two events are somehow linked.

Synchronicity is also seen by some as a mystical event, one that illustrates how, at the same moment that a question arises, the answer too can be found. Again, the synchronicity events only seem unusual because they seem to defy our routine understanding of cause and effect and sequential, forward-moving time.

Jung had a female patient who was hysteric and in the midst of recovering her sanity by explaining her dreams. The woman began to recount a dream, in which a large beetle or scarab played a major role. At that very moment, Jung was distracted by a scratching noise outside his window and glanced to see its source. Outside of his treatment room window, Jung and his patient stared in amazement at as a large beetle moved against the glass. His patient saw this as a sign of recovery. To Jung, it was another clue to how synchronicity may work.

Despite its psychological components, synchronicity occurs independently of psychological or cultural conditioning, thereby revealing its objective components. It is suggested that synchronicities happen all the time, but we are not always aware of their existence. Synchronicity involves both physical and psychological components. There is the event (something that really happens in the world of the observer) and then there is the interpretation (the psychological meaning) of the event. This is not disputed. What is usually questioned is the nature of the relationship between the two components. Some synchronicities appear to be so ordered and meaningful that ‘random chance’, as an explanation, strains to accommodate them.

Anagramatic synchroncities come closer to blurring the distinction between the creativity of the human mind and any hypothesized pre-existent order. Anagramatic synchronicities consist of rearranging the letters of a single word or group of words – as in a sentence – to make an appropriate descriptive sentence that is then interpreted. For example; the letters of the word “desperation” may be rearranged to produce two such sentences: “I at rope’s end” and “A rope ends it”. In this example, someone looking for a meaningful interpretation will likely select the solution to the anagram that reflects their own emotional state. Thus it can be argued that synchronicity is not only subjective in nature, but also influenced by the observer’s state of mind.

Sometimes, the synchronicity is not obvious to everyone universally, but is significant only to a select group or culture who share a common background of language, symbols and traditions. This is what is known as psuedo-coincidence. Is it considered good fortune to have it rain on your wedding day? If a coyote crosses your path is this a sign that something bad is about to happen? If you crack an egg and find a double yoke- is this good? These are examples of some of the events that have special meaning only to certain cultures and are not universal.

Every culture has unwittingly acknowledged synchronitity. It has been called coincidence, luck, fate, omens, destiny, karma, miracles, chance, providence, intuition and serendipity! Many ascribe that the main distinction between these different types of phenomena involves the percentage of “inner knowing” to that of “outer knowing.” In other words, it depends on how much the observer tends to “read in to” the event and the degree to which this “meaning” is believed and understood. This, of course, suggests that some people can be more invested in interpreting synchronicities than others and thus explains why we have shaman and “seers” who are trained to recognize synchronous events.

Carl Jung was curious about transcendental nature of synchronicity. With the new perspectives in quantum physics and relativity theories, Jung felt justified in speculating that synchronicity was a-causal. Jung observed that in order to qualify as a synchronicity, the many elements that make up a synchronicity must belong to causal events chains (a series of events where each event brings about the subsequent event), and that these chains must have no common origin.

Winning the lotto by playing a relatives birth dates is a poor, but effective example. The event chain producing the relative’s date of birth and the chain which selected the lotto numbers have no detected common origin. This is certainly a clear, unambiguous understanding of the term a-causal as it relates to synchronicity.

Lest we paint a completely rosy picture of synchronicity, we should perhaps stop to consider the possibility of “harmful or even fatal synchronistic occurrences…”(Jule Eisenbud, as quoted in Incredible Coincidence by Alan Vaughan). Some synchronicities, instead of bringing a feeling of togetherness and harmony, may actually engender just the opposite- feelings of utter discord, which may be based on mutual misunderstanding, or a sort of mutual repulsion. Void of any objective discord, they are nevertheless subjectively perceived as such by the observer. Some call these “bad omens.”

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of synchronicity involves its creative character. Jung called synchronicities “acts of creation in time,” and explained that, by calling synchronicity a “creative act,” he was not asserting that synchronicity was entirely a subjective interpretation of the events by the observer, but that the observer was guided in the interpretation by cultural metaphors.

Cultural metaphors are like stories, symbols or ideas that are common to humanity. For example, water is a metaphor of life, of cleansing and of new beginnings. The conquest of killing a dragon is a metaphor for the struggle of good over evil. These symbols are learned early and influence how we structure and understand the world and events around us. Jung attempted to quantify these metaphorical symbols that appeared common to virtually every culture and tradition of humanity. He postulated that such metaphors and symbolism were part of a “universal collective unconscious” and that these symbols would be important when looking at the interpretation of synchonicity and dreams.

Many scientific discoveries have been made from observations that were recognized first as synchronicity, and later, when the causal chains were found to have some common basis in natural law, these same synchronicities became science. Remember, true synchronicity must have no common source to the causal event chains.

There are certain caveats when it comes to considering synchronicity in the light of creative possibilities. First, we cannot force a synchronicity, nor can we expect to find one on command. Ascertaining the difference between a true synchronicity and a psuedo-coincidence is the goal of forming good criteria. Second, we must always beware of “reading into” things and relying exclusively on personal, subjective meanings. In other words, some events may truly be synchronicity. Recognizing them and their significance can be highly beneficial. But attempting to see synchronicity in each and every event in our life is an almost certain prescription for paranoia and delusional pathology.

This has, perhaps, been a bewildering introduction to the many levels of intrigue one is faced with in the study of synchronicity. The field is rich with possibilities. Get out your notebooks! We will pick up from here in the next issue.

Invisibility and The Mask of Medusa…

August 2, 2011

Camouflage is the blending of
the animal into the pattern,
the environment; it is a search
for invisibility. . . .With men too,
invisibility is an ever recurring desire.”

Roger Caillois, The Mask of Medusa (1964)

(Cover tagline: “A brilliant and suggestive study of the relationship and contrast between insect and man as suggested by mimicry, disguise, and camouflage in nature.”) Caillois was an intellectual Frenchman specializing in social and philosophical issues…

Cover for the 1964 French to English translation of The Mask of Medusa by Roger Caillois Roger Caillois, an intellectual Frenchman specializing in social and philosophical issues..

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