CONFRONTING CROWDS AND POWER: 2. The Pack (Kinds of Packs, the Hunting Pack, the War Pack, the Increase Pack)

26 January 2013

This is the seventeenth entry in a series that ambitiously addresses, section by section over the course of a year+ Canetti’s Crowds and Power (see footnote 1) and the first entry to address Part 2 (The Pack), which Canetti breaks up into several sections.  Here I cover sections 1–3, and 5: “Kinds of Pack, The Hunting Pack, The War Pack, and the Increase Pack”. (Canetti’s third type of pack, Lamenting Pack, comes before his description of the Increase Pack, but for reasons that will be clearer in the next post, it has been bracketed out for now.)

Kinds of Pack

Foremost, the pack is the crowd crystal and crowd in one, but as the precursor to both. It cannot grow, and its inhabitants’ “fiercest wish is to be more” (93). The addition of anyone one man—Canetti limits his discussion as “small hordes which roam about as bands of ten or twenty men” (93) as comprising “the universal expression of communal excitement” (93)—makes a notable, individual contribution; “he would really count in the economy of the group, in  way that scarcely any of us count today” (93). Unlike the crowd, only equality and direction are present; growth and density must be acted, making up in intensity what is lack in numbers. (Canetti here equates equality with equality of goal, and contrasts a teleological activeness with a statickness of tribe, sib, clan, &c.). The ability of these packs to form, dissolve, and then come together again later with the same individuals belies the affinity of the pack and crowd crystal.

These kinds of packs (addressed more below) are the hunting pack, the war pack, the lamenting pack, and the increase pack—all of which being, at this point, transparent in meaning except for the last perhaps, which is the pack that affects the otherwise frustrated desire for increase, that fundamental proto-impulse of the crowd per se. In addition, “All four share a tendency to change into another, and there is nothing which has greater consequences than this transmutation of packs” (96).

Canetti’s choice of “pack” is motivated by historical affinity in man with wolves.

The choice of the term “pack” for this older and more limited kind of crowd is intended to remind us that it owes its origin among men to the example of animals, the pack of animals hunting together. Wolves, which man knew well and from whom many of the dogs he uses derive, had impressed him very early. Their occurrence as mythical animals among so many peoples, the conception of a were-wolf, the stories of men who, disguised as wolves, assailed and dismembered other men, the legends of children brought up as wolves—all these thing and many other prove how close the wolf was to man. ¶ A pack of hounds, trained to hunt together, is  living remnant of this old association. Men have learnt from wolves. There are dances in which they, as it were, practice being wolves. Other animals, of course, have also contributed to the development of similar abilities among hunting people (96, emphasis added).

There is a significant misstep here that people from the northern hemisphere are likely to miss; namely, that wolves are primarily a post-African historical presence for humans. Note, for instance, the distribution of the wolf (then and now):

Distribution of the Wolf, then and Now

Distribution of the Wolf, then and Now

The presence of the wolf in the very northernmost parts of Africa is obviously minimal, where there was also the jackal to capture the Egyptian imagination. Wolves were first domesticated in the Middle East. “Their occurrence as mythical animals among so many peoples” (96) as well as the mythology of werewolves is overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, in the northern hemisphere of the world. The “stories of men who, disguised as wolves, assailed and dismembered other men” (96) may be an allusion to Herodotus’ mention of the Neuri, who lived to the northeast of Scythia, and the most famous legend “of children brought up as wolves” (96) concerns (the at least Mediterranean) Romulus and Remus.

In Africa, by contrast, the folklore features the hyena instead, an indubitably far more ambiguous creature than the wolf, both for the people of Africa and also for later nonafricans who took note of the creature (some of these details may be found here). Hyena themselves were domesticated in ancient Egypt, and continue to be Africa’s most common large carnivore, while in previous eras ranging over Asia and Europe as well. With this in mind:

I use the word “pack” for men as well as for animals, because it best expresses the joint and swift movement involved, and the concreteness of the goal in view. The pack wants its prey; it wants its blood and its death. In order to attain what it is after, it must have speed, cunning and endurance, and must not allow itself to be deflected. It urges itself on with its joint clamour, and the importance of this noise, in which the voices of all the individual creatures unite, should not be under-rated. It can swell and diminish, but it is persistent; it contains the attack. The prey, when it is finally captured and killed, is eaten by the whole pack together. Every member is customarily allowed a share; even among animals the rudiments of a distribution pack can be found (96, emphasis added).

With regard to the italicized claim of the noisiness of wolves during a hunt above, in fact, “wolves who are hunting look very excited and happy, even ‘friendly’. Their tails wag, their ears are up, and they are quiet. They stare at their prey and look very focused”.  By contrast, the notorious laughter during and after the hunt by hyena is one of the most predominating parts of their unsettling reputation. On this point alone, the hyena would have comprised a better model than the wolf for Canetti in this respect, if his object had been to speak to some of the earliest of human experiences, rather than (s it seems) only to the experiences of peoples in the northern hemisphere.

Canetti’s admission that other animals may have contributed to the human impression of the pack is a misleading afterthought. Whatever the “contribution” from other animals, he declares it is the wolf that men learned from. Simply to stick with the hyena example, one can ask then whether it is unjust to describe hyena hunting as “wolf-like”[1] when perhaps we should rather be saying that wolf hunting is “hyena-like”. In either case, at least as recently as 14,000 years ago, wolves, hyena, and humans were all predating ungulates in Italy;[2] more specifically, the evidence suggests that humans and hyenas hunted the same prey, while wolves predated “more hillside-adapted ungulates” (Stiner, 2004, p. 1) until global warming some 13,000 years ago may have contributed to the depletion of the hyena population.  So at what period did human learn from wolves? Was it earlier than the Pleistocene Era more than 14,000 years ago, when humans and hyenas were hunting the same prey in Italy? Or some 30,000 years ago when, amongst the predators depicted in the Chauvet Cave, the hyena but not the wolf is prominently included?[3] In later (Mesolithic) rock art from India (circle 8,000 BCE), by contrast, the hyena and wolf are both depicted.

By today’s species, one must note that the Ethiopian wolf runs about 40 pounds compared to an average African spotted hyena that would likely be at least three and up to nearly five times that weight (180–190 pounds).  From available folklore, the hyena loomed large in the African imagination and experience and the wolf not so much while the reverse tends to be the case the further north out of Africa humanity ventured.  Interestingly, then, in northeastern Africa, one in fact encounters the mythical creature of the leucrotta, something more or less identified as a dog/hyena hybrid, which might exactly capture in a symbol the borderline between the predominance of the hyena in Africa and a (by then) predominance of the wolf in the Arabian peninsula and beyond.

Even those traits that we valorize in wolves—their social nature, and the like—may have led to a misrecognition of the hyena’s similar qualities. Wolves are generally credited with intelligence, though not always enough to outwit a human being finally, of course; the same is true of hyenas.[4] Moreover, while wolves are credited with admirable social qualities, the spotted hyena:

is the most social of the Carnivora in that it has the largest group sizes and most complex social behaviours. Its social organisation is unlike that of any other carnivore, bearing closer resemblance to that of cercopithecine primates (baboons and macaques) with respect to group-size, hierarchical structure, and frequency of social interaction among both kin and unrelated group-mates (from here).

I do not propose to start a popularity contest with this. Certainly the wolf is a numinous figure for people of the northern hemisphere (amongst Furries, for instance, the wolf is the most common anthropomorphic identity or figure), which likely explains why they would use the simile “wolf-like” to describe hyena hunting and so forth. Nonetheless, in Honeÿ’s (1910)[5] South-African Folktales, there are (only) two stories with wolf in the title (and, incidentally, fourteen with jackal in the title), which has the following passage in it (from here):

The wagon traveled on, through a moonlight night, and all the while Jackal was throwing out the fish into the road; he then jumped out himself and secured a great prize. But stupid old Wolf (hyena), coming by, ate more than his share, for which Jackal owed him a grudge, and he said to him, ” You can get plenty of fish, too, if you lie in the way of a wagon as I did, and keep quite still whatever happens” (emphasis added).[6]

This then is not even about the wolf, but rather the hyena, and it is not clear if it is Honeÿ or whoever he collected the story from who made the substitution.

The foregoing has no greater goal than to take as its point of departure Canetti’s incorrect description of wolf hunting behavior  as noisy and suggests hyena hunting behavior as a better, or more likely, example. From that point of departure, I’m elaborating further the innecessity if not the baselessness of his generalization with regard to a more adequate animal to use for that generalization. This doesn’t mean the wolf can’t (or doesn’t) serve as such an animal, if we limit what is meant by history only to the northern hemisphere. If indeed Canetti’s analysis is supposed to refer only to what people in the northern hemisphere have experienced, if the people of the southern hemisphere and Africa specifically should be left out of history and pre-history and had and have nothing to do with crowds or the proto-forms of packs that went on to be crowds, then so be it. But inasmuch as he seems intent on describing a phenomenon that “owes its origin among men to the example of animals” (96) in a pre-historic time, then it can hardly suffice to ignore any precedent examples due to a cultural chauvinism for wolves. It takes no effort whatsoever to link this advertently or inadvertently disingenuous move to that kind of racial revisionism that began no later than the nineteenth century that Bernal (1987)[7] documents so extensively.

As one last note: given the considerable focus of Canetti on Australian anthropology, one might have expected him to select the aringka (know more familiarly as the dingo) or even the thylacine as the creature man learned from. The thylacine has been extinct for quite a while,a nd though not large, the dingo is the largest terrestrial carnivore in Australia.

The Hunting Pack

The clichés of the excitement of the hunt characterize Canetti’s description of the hunting pack. Where he then wobbles off the rails involves his description of the distribution, which he calls “the oldest law” (98);[8] “whatever the way in which distribution is regulated, the two decisive factors are the sighting and the killing of the prey” (98).

He notes that either those who are directly or (less frequently) indirectly may be tasked with distribution. By definition, this must be logically correct, but then he seems to suggest that being a spectator in some literal way is needed for the case of indirect distribution: “but even those who were only distant witnesses of the kill may have a claim to part of the prey” (98). He also notes how “as is the case among some Eskimo whalehunters, [that the person in charge of the distribution may] renounce his share for the sake of honour” (98). And that “among the Korjaks in Siberia the ideal hunter invites everyone to partake of his kill and is himself satisfied with what is left over” (98).

Canetti earlier emphasized the tremendous significance of the moment when a pack transforms from one into another. Here, he emphasizes the transformation, indulging in an unnecessary fantasy that everyone stands in a circle around the dead once the prey has been killed, and then (the implication seems to be) rather than falling onto their prey “like wolves” (98), the pack turns to a distribution pack, although this is not one he lists among his basic types. [8a]

This oversight notwithstanding, it must be unclear why he emphasizes all of the posturing of the hunter honored with the kill itself, whether the one who sighted the prey or was the one who felled the prey, the etiquette of the distributor, and so forth. To this day, Hindu religious practice in some areas enjoins one, after having made a meal, to go out into the street and invite any or all passersby to come and eat it, taking afterward for oneself only what is left. Similarly, by the doctrine or notion or spiritual practice of prasadam, one offers a portion of one’s meal in sacrifice or yajña and then eats only the remainder. The social and spiritual basis of these practices  are clear, but they exist in a cultural topos where one also may presume equal generosity in kind from one’s neighbors. And so it is that the ideal hunter shows his sense of abundance and largesse by only eating last, that the distributor can make a show of renouncing a kill, or that credit for the kill itself may not always fall on the one who struck the final blow. Even in ultra-degraded form, many of us are still moved by the etiquette to leave the last bite for someone else. The underlying premise, both of this and the hunting party, is a paradigm of abundance, not scarcity as we currently live under—a paradigm spectacularly on display in the potlatch and other conspicuous displays of wealth destruction. Without this context, the hunting pack gets misread in our modern world as a nasty or gratuitous piece of mere survival.

A crippling defect in Canetti’s exposition concerns those indirectly involved in distribution. Let me assume that Canetti does not mean some literal “witnessing” on the part of any given spectator (either in or out of the hunting pack), nonetheless the social forms of “indirect” distribution, i.e., distribution by someone not actually in the hunting pack, misconstrues the anthropological record.  Particularly in many matrifocal social structures—ones where the husband moves in with his wife’s family, rather than patrifocal social structures, where the wife moves to be with her husband’s family—very often the wife, i.e., the female head of the house, is given control over the distribution. Countless variations may be identified in this mode, but from the moment the hunter sets out to the moment the hunter returns back, his wife is the sole responsibility for distribution, despite neither seeing nor killing the prey. This is so completely true were he to withhold even the least amount, that would be more than grounds for divorce. This extreme, but counterbalancing, counterexample to Canetti’s generalization not only corrects his overstatement; a moment’s thought should make it clear that, over the history of human relating, there could be such a form. If one posits distribution as either direct (only by those involved in the kill itself) and indirectly (via some involvement that is not direct), then the implied four categories that might result are (1) distribution only by the direct, variously parceled out amongst those directly involved; (2) distribution by the direct with some form of modifying subordinate input from the indirect; (3) distribution by the indirect with some form of modifying subordinate input from the direct; and (4) distribution by the indirect only, perhaps variously parceled out amongst those indirectly involved as well.

There is also a great deal of romance and speculation surrounding the role of hunting in human evolution, as Wilson (1984)[9] surveys in massive detail, finding sexual dimorphism in females to be perhaps a more significant driving (evolutionary) force.

The War Pack

The main difference with a war pack, compared to a hunting pack, is it that involves two parties rather than just one after some prey. Canetti spends the bulk of five pages quoting the revenge tale of a South American tribe (the Taulipang) against another (the Pishauko),[10] and then more space merely reprising what has just been quoted. The section ends:

The sixteen men who set out brought no booty home; their victory in no way enriched them. They did not leave a single woman or child alive. Their goal was the annihilation of the hostile pack so that nothing, literally nothing , of it should remain. They describe their own actions with relish; it was the others who were, and remained, murderers (103).

This is more cliché than the hunting pack, with regard to what one might expect of a “war pack,” but it is telling to emphasize some of the cliché aspects.

First must be noted that this is a story told by a Taulipang about a previous event he did not take part in. This doesn’t mean it is not true, of course; this means that anthropological skepticism about the veracity of storytelling is not inappropriate.[11]  Canetti insists that the Taulipang returned home with no booty; the Taulipang informant’s story does not include this detail, and absence of evidence cannot be taken as evidence of absence. When Canetti insists their victory in no way enriched them, his point seems to be to emphasize that this was not about theft or spoils, but simply annihilation, but the burying of their slain chief on the spot likely lays claim to the “house” now emptied of Pishauko. Moreover, Canetti also reports that the Taulipang did not leave a single woman or child alive, and yet both the Taulipang informant and Canetti do not neglect to mention, the “few who escape from the smaller neighbouring houses flee to the mountains and live there as “secret murderers’” (103). I am reminded immediately of the genocidal braggadocio from biblical mythology, where various tribes of Canaan are exterminated down to every last man, woman, and child only to have more show up later.

Whereas Canetti excises women from the cultural phenomenon of a hunting pack entirely (Wilson’s thesis notwithstanding), the narrative he quotes here does not permit this. To acknowledge, per the Taulipang informant, that all the trouble started over women would be incidental; the salient point rather is that two women are conscripted as part of the war party to light the house of the Pishauko on fire. Neither the Taulipang informant nor Canetti make any useful comment on this point. Instead, the informant reports how the pack lead and chief “seized a dead woman [and] pulled her genitals apart with his fingers and said to [one of his warriors], ‘Look, here, here is something good for you to enter!’” (102). Canetti adds his interpretation of this, “The rape of a dead woman is the ghastly climax” (103), inferring this while insisting that the story has nothing “glossed over by the narrator” (103). And then fantasizes, incorrectly, that “everything perishes completely in the fire” (103).

For one, it is not clear that this should even be treated as a folie à deux, as required of a war party (as opposed to a hunting pack). For one, Canetti insists that on both sides, “they are all human beings, males, and warriors” (99). Aside from the fact that the informant refers to the escaped Pishauko as “secret murderers,” which Canetti adds a note of dehumanization or non-humanness to—“they describe their own actions with relish; it was others who were, and remained, murderers”—besides metaphorically no longer being human, the people attacked are also literally not all males or warriors. The situation better resembles one of a hunting pack, which:

is one-sided. The animals which are being pursued do not try to surround or to hunt men; they are in flight and, if they fight back, this only happens during the moment of killing. For the most part they are no longer in a state to defend themselves again man (99).

In a war pack, both sides are “out to do exactly the same thing to each other” (99), and Canetti seems confused that reading the narrative he offers makes clear this mutuality. In addition, he wrote earlier how all four types of pack “share a tendency to change into another, and there is nothing which has greater consequences than this transmutation of packs” (96). If he is going to elaborate this point or believes he has by this, he has not done so in this section (see note [8a]).

The Increase Pack

NOTE: In the aboriginal religion of Australia, locations, objects, etc., may become endowed via myth, long habit, and so forth as particularly magical or potent with respect to a particular totem (or totems). Consequently, whole batteries of ceremonies spring up to be performed in these places due to their relevance for that totem (or totems).  This is where, following Spencer and Gillen (see here or here) I believe, Canetti derives his sense of the increase pack; for instance, the thalaminta are the entire class of ceremonies used to increase totem animals and plants among the Warramunga. A rain dance, performed in a place sacred to  rain totem, thus represents an increase pack in Canetti’s use.

Much as we might like to imagine that traditional cultures never change, it’s worth remembering that nanissáanah (or the Ghost Dance) pioneered by Wovoka of the Paiute people was in response to the mass destruction of the Native American way of life generally. It would be an “increase  pack” in Canetti’s sense, but the sense of increase (and the need for it) is only after tremendous losses have been experienced. When Spencer and Gillen were collecting their first material (circa 1899), in their population sample they estimated 2,000 people; by 1927, they said this was 300. Whether or not we should understand ceremonies like the thalaminta in a literally or only numerical sense either as they were practiced then or were practiced for tens of thousands of years prior is not at all certain. For Canetti, the sense of “increase” that comes across in his description is of a primary importance on numerical increase; if there is any other sense of increase folded in with it, it is hard to discern. And this is the sense that I am primarily reacting against in the following.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that numerical increase cannot be a goal of thalaminta and the like. I am suggesting that understanding something like a rain dance as an aspiration to increase the rain (totem) in the area seems an unconvincing way of reading the gesture. And I am saying that Canetti’s focus on Australian aboriginal examples may be leading him to overgeneralize from an insufficient basis.

Working backward in this section then, Canetti closes with an extended quotation from Caitlin (1926)[12] concerning the buffalo dance of the Mandan people. The claim is that, by the ceaseless and persistent, self-representation as buffalo, by the transformation in effect into buffalo, this for want of a better word generates a field that actually succeeds in attracting the buffalo. On the one hand, of course it always succeeds, as Caitlin iterates more than once, if only because it continues until it does—or, alternatively, till everyone doing it had died. But Wilson (1984), perhaps especially with his penchant for parapsychological matters—having used as a springboard his citation of Canetti’s illustration of the Taulipang war pack—stresses the “telepathic” sensitivity of shamans and the like.[13] Admitting “even if we are inclined to discount the possibility of this kind of extra-sensory perception” (Wilson, 76), Canetti’s point needn’t live or die by some ontic reality of such a field, probably. At a minimum, he is attempting to illustrate a comparatively short-run increase of a human group, in this case to stave off starvation. The key point involves an assumed affinity between a human-buffalo hybrid and its buffalo-human counterpart wandering in the world.

Prior to this, Canetti has sketched the character of this transformation in Aboriginal totems. Both men (and presumably animals) stand in relation to the totem:

It is clear that these ancestors [totems] are nothing but the products of transformation. The men who repeatedly succeeded in looking and feeling like a kangaroo become the kangaroo totem. Such a transformation, frequently practiced and made use of, assumed the character of an acquisition and was handed on from one generation to another by the dramatic representation of myths (109).

This assertion for the quality of transformation, and its further cultural entrenchment that he describes following the paragraph above, seems tenable. Not so much what follows with respect to increase or number:

The transformation, which was a cherished tradition, and, as totem, the sign of the relationship existing between certain men and the kangaroos, signified also a connection with their number. The numbers of the kangaroos were always larger than those of men, and since they were connected with man, he desired their increase. When they increased, he also increased; the increase of the totem animal was identical with his own (110, italics in original).

Canetti recognizes that totems are not always animals, but may also be usefully edible (plants, as well as grubs, grasshoppers), pests (mosquitoes, lice, fleas, scorpions), and at least putatively nonliving phenomena, such as “clouds, rain, wind, grass, burning grass, fire, sand, the sea and the stars” (110).[14] His point is to construe all of these not just in terms of large numbers (as herd, swarm, flock, dune, scape) but in large numbers relative to smaller numbers of humans. The point he is failing to make is how increase is involved in this.

He writes, “It is certain that man, as soon as he was man, wanted to be more. All his beliefs, myths, rites and ceremonies are full of this desire. There are many instances of this and we shall encounter a number of them in the course of our enquiry” (108, italics in original). This likely will prove to be another deferred proof that will not materially manifest. He somehow infers that originally small groups of humans, seeing the herds, swarms, vasts, and so forth around them, felt impelled to achieve such numbers as well. “The desire to be more, for the number of the people to whom one belongs to be larger, must always have been profound and urgent, and must, moreover, have been growing stronger all the time” (107–8).

Every occasion on which a pack formed must have strengthened the desire for a larger number of people. A larger hunting pack could round up more game. The quantity of game was never something that could be relied on; it might suddenly be abundant and then, the more hunters there were, the larger the kill would be. In war men wanted to be stronger than a hostile horde and were always conscious of the danger of small numbers. Every death they had to lament, especially that of an experienced and active man, was an incisive loss. Man’s weakness lay in the smallness of his numbers (108).

There are other specific reasons why this is dubious (discussed below), but as part of Canetti’s primary exposition, this is particularly weird. Because humans needed larger groups, they imitated buffalo; because another horde might threaten a group, humans transformed into sand. It’s a wonder we ever survived with such on-point problem-solving skills. And it’s no wonder that one might start invoking notions of akashic fields to try to provide a rationale for the Mandan people’s buffalo dance, despite the fact that since the dance continued until the buffalo wandered back by, perhaps this means we should, following Jung, still come down on the rational side of his argument for synchronicity instead.

Humanity has not, it seems, always lived under the threat of scarcity, real or manufactured. The Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, famous for their conspicuous destructions of wealth called the potlatch,[15] were denounced by cultural chauvinists as indolent; the overwhelming abundance of available food, especially of salmon during spawning season, required almost less than no effort to get enough to thrive on, and these are cultures just s famous (if not more so) for their totems. Such a psychology of abundance is not limited to the lands of obvious plenty, however. Canetti himself cites the largesse of Alaska’s Inuit-Yupik and Siberia’s Korjak peoples ; the current practice of prasadam and offering one’s meals cited above provides contemporary examples in India; and even in Europe, from Dragonetti (1985),[16] one may see the psychology of abundance in abundance in a thirteenth-century Old French romance Geoffroi of Poitou:

When Marcabru announces to Geoffroi [of Poitou] that the Count of Toulouse is systematically ravaging the Poitou lands and has already burned all of the towns except Poitiers (line 3681), Geoffroi shows no anxiety, but instead replies:

Nous referons les chasteaus buens,
Qu’assez avons avoir et pierre,
Et li areine rest legiere
Mult a troveir en mon païs;
Et si danz Anfos m’a sorpris
D’ardoir ma terre par outrage,
Encore i puet avoir damage    [ll. 3686–92]

We shall rebuild strong castles, for we have enough money and stones, and sand is easy to find in my country. And if lord Alphonse has attacked and insulted me, burning my lands, he can expect my revenge (103).

Dragonetti’s main thesis in his essay, in fact, is the preeminence of largesse in this romance and the Weltanschauung that composed it. And if as late as the thirteenth-century an attitude of richness, even in the face of a disaster that would send most of us these days screaming for emergency services and a civil lawyer all at once, seems striking enough to suggest that we have, indeed, passed some kind of historical border out of “another time,” then it becomes difficult to imagine how, at the dawn of human existence in an absurdly replete world, that “lack” or “non-abundance” would have been to the fore of our existence or psychology.

So much of the super-ancient world seems so much more often devoted to warding things off than calling them forth that the problem seems less often underwhelming than over-. Once Canetti starts speaking of war in an acquisitive sense, this seems far down the road of human history, long after the continued occupation of territory has become significant. As Wilson (1984) insists, once “Tinbergen and Lorenz made us aware that animal aggression is largely a matter of ‘territory’, it suddenly became obvious that all wars in history have been fought about territory” (5), but humans are not only animals, as the aboriginal human-animal concept makes explicit and embraces, and not all “war packs,” such as the one directed by the Taulipang against the Pishauko, were not about territory.

Saying this, though, I should pause, since the senses and usages of words are getting messy.

If war must be about territory, as Wilson (1984) insists, then the burying of the slain Taulipang chief on the site of the old Pishauko house may be evidence of a territorial claim and acquisition and therefore the raid itself might be called a war. Against this, I still assert that Canetti wrongly characterizes this raid as a “war pack,” if primarily because it does not match the criteria he insists upon for a war pack.  And if Wilson and Canetti are both offering inadequate usages, it is not because they are agreeing on the same premises. In fact, Wilson (1984) seems to be using a very loose definition for war, as the train of his thought moves on to write:

Even the murderous behaviour of tyrants has its parallels in the animal world. Recent studies have made us aware that many dominant males, from lions and baboons to gerbils and hamsters, often kill the progeny of their defeated rivals. Hens allow their chicks to peck smaller chicks to death. A nesting seagull will kill a baby seagull that wanders on to its territory from next door. It seems that Prince Kropotkin was quite mistaken to believe that all animals practise mutual aid and that only human beings murder one another. Zoology has taught us that crime is a part of our animal inheritance. And human history could be used as an illustrative textbook of sociobiology (5).

It is not clear that he would call this war, but the looseness proves fruitful nonetheless. Canetti emphasizes (because the informant emphasizes) how the Taulipang precisely saw themselves taking action against murderers. In the hens’ allowance for the criminality of her chicks, in the machismo of hamsters, or in the very unflattering infanticide lionesses permit themselves with regard to cheetah cubs, it might precisely be more helpful, anthropomorphization aside, to see this as crime in Wilson’s sense, i.e., as misdirected intelligence (in contrast to what he terms well-directed intelligence, or creativity).

Of course, Nature only licenses crime; She didn’t invent it. But the word crime has the useful overtone of morality and jurisprudence about it. It puts activity such as the Taulipang’s raid or Count Alphonse’s fictional pillaging in a mode of human (not natural) action, however much one’s aboriginal animal-soul might be in the ascendant at the time. In these two deeds, a psychology of abundance is at work. Certainly Geoffroi is not the least concerned that he may be vanquished or defeated or killed in the prosecution of his revenge against the Count of Toulouse, no more than Arekuna in the outnumbered raiding gang of the Taulipang is concerned and declares, “When I burst into many people I find nobody to kill!’ (meaning: All these many people are too few for my club since I kill very fast.)” (Canetti, 100–1). The smallness of people Canetti wants to emphasize in the face of large numbers is a positive inspiration for Arekuna, but he has absolutely no intention of increase; rather, when the day is over, the Pishauko, at least in this house, will be annihilated, maximally decreased.

But even this annihilation is in a context of world-abundance, of perpetuation in the spirit world. And what in one sense is a relative decrease in another is an absolute rebalancing in another. As Emerson (1878) insists, in “The Sovereignty of Ethics”:

Secret retributions are always restoring the level, when disturbed, of the divine justice. It is impossible to tilt the beam. All the tyrants and proprietors and monopolists of the world in vain set their shoulders to heave the bar. Settles forever more the ponderous equator to its line, and man and mote, and star and sun, must range to it, or be pulverized by the recoil.

Here, the Pishauko were pulverized by a recoil, and the retribution was none too secret. So the one-sided notion the pack yearns always for increase begs that there must be times begging for decrease and for equalization. Amongst the Yąnomamö, another South American tribe that lives relatively close to the Taulipang and who also have a history of trouble with women, regularly practice raiding the shabonos (communal houses) of various Yąnomamö neighbors. Here is very much the kind of tit for tat that Canetti imputes s an equality of goal to both sides of a war pack, but the mutual goal here is not at all the annihilation of one’s neighbors, not even in retribution, though people may wind up dead in the process. Elsewhere, horses are the objects prized to be stolen rather than women. In neither case is this a hunting pack or war pack, as Canetti describes it, nor is the object increase in the sense he imagines. While a hunting pack has the object of acquiring a necessity to meet a need, these raiding parties acquire luxuries, however useful those luxuries are. They may establish an ongoing tit for tat that we’re inclined to call a war, for want of a better term, but a perpetual chicken-or-the-egg, or he-said-he-said of eternal equalization seems to be going on. As for times of decrease, the prohibition on saying the name of a dead man for two years, noted in the source Canetti uses for his Lamenting Pack example, is a way to manage the intense unmanageability of grief, just as Eagleton (1989)[17] notes that irony is sometimes needed in life to mitigate its overwhelming meaningfulness.

Apart from all of the disparate meanings of totem interculturally and the intricate social meanings of totem intraculturally—and it may simply be facile or impossible to separate this in the first place—if I imagine my totem (imagined in Canetti’s sense as the visible presence of it in the environment around me, be that as sand, mosquitoes, or kangaroos, &c), the result is my identification with the mass of it, my submersion into it (whether I retain my individuality in the midst of that or not), my sense of membership in the ranks of all of those who also partake of my (our) totem. By this, I increase nothing, except for the scope of my activity in the world, which does not occur merely on the private/personal plane but in the social/public plane of “the world” (even if world only extends to the known edge of my tribe’s valley). There is no smallness in me at all, except that I know I am one among an ever-visible, ever-before-me abundance. There is no need for increase, for if I am finite, it is only because the infinitude of my totem recognizes the existence of another totem’s totality and infinitude as well. Totem serves as the numinous, mediating symbol that these days has broken down into the dilemma of self vs. society.

For us, totem might seem a sort of ego-compensation, making up for the puniness of our existence by substituting some grand historical destiny or something like the eschatological drama of divine Providence. But just as it can come as a shock to realize that Indian philosophy sees reincarnation as a problem that has to be solved, rather than a most-welcome alternative to some damnation to any kind of eternity (good, bad, or in the ground), one’s totem again can be overwhelming rather than a delicious compensation. Once again, so much of traditional people’s lives (as recorded in anthropology) is taken up with managing, propitiating, following the precedents of, and simply not pissing off “history” that the notion one would sign on to a totem for the sake of self-aggrandizement would seem daft. I imagine there must be some confusion by native peoples at times when outsiders ask to be adopted into the clan, when outsiders describe about finding (quite on their own) their own (individual) spirit animal—as if one told a Catholic priest he’d discovered how to affect Communion by eating a Krispy Kreme doughnut and drinking a Monster. The very real psychic comfort these discoveries might bring, however, might simply read to those who feel too much the presence of the totem like someone going out of her way to accumulate karma to ensure reincarnation.

Just as Eagleton (1989) notes the salutary necessary of at times deflating an overwhelming sense of meaning, in a context of abundance, increase seems rarely needed as a factor. When Canetti says a larger hunting party might bring more game, this assumes too much. It assumes not just that there can be a shortage of game but that a shortage of game is even recognizable in the sense that we would call it that. Even if you live above the Arctic Circle, where nothing can grow, not even the threat of starvation has to mean then what it means to us now. I don’t mean that people “want” to starve or enjoy the sensations of starving, but Jñāneshwar at the age of 21 or so walled himself off in a cave, having determined that he was done with all he needed to do in this life, and died[18]—dying with a certainty that an abundance of life would  bring him back again (if he so chose,  as he surveyed the possibilities for future lives in the Limbo between them), just as anyone who dies to her tribe will join the visible or invisible[19] ranks of one’s totem.

It may be at some point in comparatively recent human history, perhaps around the invention of settled agriculture or the Buddhistic turn that cropped up again 800 years later in the vicinity of Jerusalem, that the impulse Canetti insists upon, the “desire to be more” that scarcity (real, imagined, and manufactured) began its slow rise to the dominant form of social ordering. Or perhaps it should be marked by a much older moment; Eliade (1996/1958)[20] notes that we “can state with confidence that man’s desire to place himself naturally and permanently in a sacred place, in the ‘centre of the world’, was easier to satisfy in the framework of the older societies than in the civilizations that have come since” (383, emphasis added). The practical consequence of this ability to be placed at the center was accessibility to the sacred in all of its manifestations, whether for good or for ill. Since then, in the civilizations that have come since, there has been a progressive reduction of the everyday individual to have access to sacred; this is certainly one of the very roots of scarcity—the first type manufactured.

To say that individuals did not need to be more then because they already were would be (besides a lucky guess) an idealization. The condition described need not be thought of as a golden age; a more/less distinction might have been wholly unintelligible, human existence then being occupied with what mattered to it then rather than with conforming to our ideas about it. But it is easy enough to see that a blunt assertion that humans always and only wanted “to be more” (107) not only can’t be true, but shouldn’t be claimed as true either.

And, lastly, in usual fashion, Canetti trumpeted how the increase pack “is of immense importance, being the specific propelling force behind the spread of men” (107). I would like to over that an increase pack simply as a matter of logical type could not be “the specific propelling force”; even understanding a thing as a process, Canetti is mixing metaphors. I is this force, not the increase pack, that “has conquered the earth for him and has led to ever richer civilisations” (107), though despite his promises otherwise, and his claims that “all his beliefs, myths, rites and ceremonies are full of this desire” (108) no evidence of this has been forthcoming in this or previous sections of the book. Of the increase pack, “the full range of its effectiveness has never been properly understood” (107), not so much “because the concept of propagation has distorted and obscured the actual processes of increase” (107), but because Canetti seems to be writing just to read the sound of his own voice.

It is also the case (again) that while insisting on the significance of one type of pack turning into another that there has still been no elaboration of this whatsoever. He specifically declares, “I shall show how hunting packs change into lamenting packs” (96), yet does not. Whatever “special myths and cults have formed around this process” (98) remain unspecified. That “in such cases the mourners want it forgotten that they were the hunters. The victim they bewail serves to purge them from the blood-guilt of the hunt” (98) might be a topic of interest, but this bears no resemblance to the extended and misquoted jumble of exposition offered about the Lamenting Pack (addressed in the next post), the example for which Canetti declares to be the “most impressive description of a lamenting pack” (103) he knows of. Any lamenting by hunters for their blood-guilt, it seems, has been relegated to the less archetypal pile.

[footnote 1] All quotations are from Canetti, E. (1981). Crowds and Power (trans. Carol Stewart), 6th printing. New York: NY: Noonday Press. (paperback).

[1] For example, “When the hyenas hunt an animal that is bigger than themselves, they act in a dog or wolf-like behavior;” (from here)

[2] Stiner, MC (2004). Comparative ecology and taphonomy of spotted hyenas, humans, and wolves in Pleistocene Italy. Revue de Paléobiologie, Genève, 23(2), pp. 771–85.

[3] The cave hyena common to this era appears to have been larger still than its modern African relative. In addition, “Rather than the more usual animals of the hunt that predominate in Palaeolithic cave art, such as horses, cattle and reindeer, the walls of the Chauvet Cave are covered with predatory animals – lions, panthers, bears, owls, rhinos, and hyenas” (see here).

[4] Some African folklores rank hyenas as decidedly stupid. Conversely, “Hyenas are also highly intelligent predators, even more intelligent than the lions (some scientists claim they are of equal intelligence to certain apes). One indication of hyena intelligence is that they will move their kills closer to each other to protect them from scavengers; another indication is their strategic hunting methods.”

[5] Honeÿ, JA (1910). South-African folktales. Available from

[6] The other tale runs in its entirety, “JACKAL and Wolf went and hired themselves to a man to be his servants. In the middle of the night Jackal rose and smeared Wolf’s tail with some fat, and then ate all the rest of it in the house. In the morning the man missed the fat, and he immediately accused Jackal of having eaten it. “Look at Wolf’s tale,” said the rogue, “and you will see who is the thief.” The man did so, and then thrashed Wolf till he was nearly dead.”

[7] Bernal, M. (1987). Black Athena: the Afroasiatic roots of classical civilization. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

[8] This may not be the first time he has used the phrase “oldest” to characterize some generalization of his or not.

[8a] (For those familiar with Crowds and Power, or those remembering from the course of reading these posts, the objection may be raised that Canetti addresses this in a later section of his book; I will engage this point more then, but it needed to be alluded to now.)

[9] Wilson, C (1984). A criminal history of mankind. London: Granada Publishing Limited.

[10] From Koch-Grünberg, T. (1923).  Expedition of the Taulipang against the Pishauko in Vom Roroima Zum Orinoco: Ergebnisse einer Reise in Nordbrasilien und Venezuela in den Jahren 1911–1913, Vol. 3, pp. 102–5, Berlin: D. Reimer

[11] While the Taulipang seem to have a Web presence, the Pishauko are not so easy to locate, perhaps because they are busy being secret murderers in the mountains. Still, there is this except: “… Venezulean [sic] border. With him went a native horse thief, the only guide brave enough to accompany him. In the heart of the jungle he found the Pishauko tribe, known to white men by name only. Originally a plains people, the Pishauko fled into the jungle to escape becoming slaves to Spanish conquerors. The natives worship before a symbol which looks like a crucifix, chant services before hunting …” (Time, 8 December 1930, from here, emphasis added).

[12] Caitlin, G (1926). Buffalo dance of the Mandan in The North American Indians, volume 1, pp. 143–4, Edinburgh: John Grant.

[13] That is: “The Taulipang’s description of the massacre of the Pishauko tribe offers an important hint: ‘A sorcerer was in the house who was just blowing on a sick man. He said: “There are people coming!” and thus warned the inhabitants of the house…’ A few minutes later: ‘The sorcerer went on warning them and said: “The people have arrived…” ‘How did the sorcerer know? It is quite impossible that he could have heard the approach of the hostile Taulipang. But primitive people take this kind of power for granted. Their shamans become shamans because they possess the gift of ‘second sight’ – or what the Highland Scots call simply ‘the sight’. In The Occult I have mentioned a case described by the novelist Norman Lewis: of how the Huichol shaman, Ramon Medina, sensed as soon as he came into a village that there was a dead man concealed in a certain house, and was able to locate the corpse of a murdered man hidden in a roof space. Lewis remarks that the discovery was made ‘through what is completely accepted in this part of the world – even by Franciscan missionary fathers – as extra-sensory perception.’ ¶ Even if we are inclined to discount the possibility of this kind of extra-sensory perception, it is difficult to deny the evidence for the ability of primitive people to locate water by some form of instinctive perception. The ability to ‘dowse’ with a forked twig is widely accepted today in most country areas; but the aborigines of Australia seem to be able to locate underground water even without the aid of a twig. Scientists who have investigated dowsing – such as Professor Y. Rocard of the Sorbonne – have concluded that underground water causes slight changes in the earth’s magnetic field, and that these changes can be detected by the dowser. This explanation seems logical enough, since it now seems well established that birds migrate with the aid of the earth’s magnetic field. Experiments conducted at Manchester University by Dr. Robin Baker showed that human beings are also sensitive to earth magnetism; blindfolded students were driven long distances – as much as forty miles – by a circuitous route, and then asked to point in the direction of ‘home’; sixty-nine per cent were accurate within an arc of 45 degrees, almost a third of them within 10 degrees” (75–6). Etc.

[14] Canetti congratulates himself for having earlier identified this “list of the natural crowd symbols” (110) as if he had independently stumbled across them. For the record, the actual list of crowd symbols he named (pp. 75–90) were fire, the sea, rain, rivers, forest, corn, wind, sand, the heap, stone heaps, treasure. If “grass” is included in that discussion, it is certainly not independently analyzed. Also, (apparently) aborigines do not make totems of heaps, heaps of stone, or treasure, so one must ask what those are doing on the list of “natural crowd symbols” if the Australian connection is not merely a coincidence. And lastly, if we are to accept Canetti’s apparent pretense of independently discovering these natural crowd symbols, then why are pests, edible things, and other animals left out of the earlier list?

[15] In one of those quirks of language, potlatch seems only accidentally related to potluck, though they may certainly be conceptually related.

[16] Dragonetti, R (1984). Joufroi, Count of Poitiers and Lord of Cocaigne. In DF Hult (ed.) Concepts of closure (Yale French Studies 67), pp. 95–119. New Haven: Yale University Press

[17] Eagleton, T. (1989). “Bakhtin, Schopenhauer, Kundera” in K. Hirschkop & D. Shepherd (eds.) Bakhtin and cultural theory, pp. 178–88. Manchester, UK: University of Manchester Press.

[18] The widespread description of this is that he entered into a permanent state of sanjeevan samādhi.

[19] Canetti has stressed this “crowd” of the dead as one of his double crowds, and it is particularly this classification that goes up on the rocks and makes “the dead” highly unconvincing as such a crowd at all.

[20] Eliade, M. (1996). Patterns in comparative religion. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.


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