Geography Reference
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the time, for reasons that are easily condemned as being unfair. Never mind,
we are saying. These gifted youngsters are important not because they are
more virtuous or deserving but because our society's future depends on them
[Herrnstein & Murray 1994:442].
Anthropologist Marcel Mauss, on the other hand, wrote in a tradition strongly
opposed to the methodological individualism and utilitarianism that Herrnstein and
Murray embrace. Their main analytical tool for policy decisions is utility theory,
based on individuals' intellectual capacities. Mauss's theory of the gift is, by contrast,
a theory of human solidarity. It embraces
reasons for life and action that are still prevalent in certain societies and
numerous social classes: the joy of public giving; the pleasure in generous
expenditure on the arts, in hospitality, and in the public and private festival.
Social security, the solicitude arising from reciprocity and co-operation, and
that of the occupational grouping...all are of greater value than the mere
personal security that the lord afforded his tenant, better than the skimpy life
that is given through the daily wages doled out by employers, and even better
than capitalist saving - which is only based on a changing form of credit
[Mauss 1990:69].
Certain forms of credit or gifts, whether material or symbolic, have determined
the fate of Indigenous Peoples in Brazil. The Yanomami have been cast aside as
“primitive” rather than “modern” individuals because they “do not even know how
to count” ( O Estado de São Paulo, Sept. 1993). This “lack of numeracy” has been
used to impede the Yanomami from participating in decision-making processes
regarding the size of their officially demarcated territory, health care solutions,
schooling, and so on (CCPY 1989). Being “primitive” is, according to the common
sense of rationalism, tantamount to being less than human and therefore justifiably
liable to extermination by numerically “advanced” and “complex” societies.
Such a canonical understanding of mathematics denies individuals the
opportunity to engage in and control qualitative decision-making processes that
involve arithmetic, reasserting the common belief that numbers “control the wills
of those who make use of them” (Crump 1992:13). By labeling different options
or answers as “failures,” such an approach reduces individuals to objects, and the
variety of ways of constituting and solving arithmetic problems that exist in the
world is relegated to a secondary level that is then used to validate genetic or racial
Aturi Kayabi, the former teacher of the Diauarum School, evaluates the
mathematical knowledge and experience he has accumulated both in his home
village in the state of Pará, northern Brazil, and in the Xingu Indigenous Park. Aturi's
view confirms what mathematicians Marcia and Robert Ascher have long asserted:
that in the process of creating mathematical systems, societies then discover further
relations within those systems. “Social [and mathematical] systems are surely the
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