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neurotic cultures

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Benedict wrote, "Tradition is as neurotic as any patient." What does she mean? Do you agree that a tradition (or culture) can be neurotic?



Title of Post




Tradition and the Neurotic Patient--Benedict's attempt at poetry

Mark smith


The following Benedictian quote is broad and capable of being interpreted on multiple levels. I will apply my personal experiences in analyzing this quote. I will simplify this to: tradition or common customs are as crazy as one (or others) make them. I know that I have many “rituals,” beliefs, and quirks that are specific to me. People may call me crazy for feeling the texture on trees, or walking barefoot, but then again everyone has his or her own eccentricities that others analyze as well. In essence tradition, or culture, is as crazy as one makes it. For example, western psychology may label someone who speaks very little and isolates him or herself from others to have a dissassociative disorder. To others, such as the Navajo or Buddhist monks, this is seen as a positive trait. Therefore, we cannot analyze or explain traditions or other cultures from our own Weltanschauung. Benedict would say that culture is “an independent force creating itself.” Thus, cultural relativism rules: each culture is equally valid, and its quirks are there for a reason that other cultures cannot fully understand. A culture or tradition can only be neurotic if analyzed by another culture without true understanding.




Neurosis Within Culture

Erin Neill

Benedict likely refers to the unconscious conflict that occurs within the traditions of a culture. Neurosis is defined as emotional instability and internal conflict, concepts that Benedict illustrates in her writings of different cultures. In hr “Psychological Types in the Cultures of the Southwest”, Benedict cites many examples of traditions being affected by the self-conscious nature of the culture they occur in. Benedict refers to the use of Datura by the Zuni and points out that in order for them to resolve the use of the drug/hallucinogen it must be followed by a ritualizing purging, involving the use of emetics (212). By developing a traditional solution to resolve the cultural conflict with drug use, the Zunis’ demonstrate the neurosis that exists in their cultural construct. Other examples used by Benedict include the scalp dance and ambivalence to it as well as the use of fasting as a spiritual cleansing rather than a vision inducing practice. Benedict seems to mean that the internal conflicts within a culture create traditions similar to behavior exhibited in a neurotic patient. Both try to resolve an internal conflict with a concept of an idea meant to “fix” the situation. I agree with Benedict that within the traditions of a culture there is often an internal conflict that tries to validate practices with accepted norms of a society. Every culture tries to rationalize their actions within their own sense of right and wrong.


Neurosis of Cultures Stabilizes Worldview

Sara Coburn


Tradition is by nature neurotic because when somebody strays from it, uncomfortable feelings arise among those involved, and chaos and upset often ensure. Similarly, a patient has a fixed set of ideas about what will be the outcome of their symptoms. Anything contradicting the stability of good health will upset the balance and consistency of a person’s state of being. I believe that tradition is what grounds us within our own cultures and societies, as well as in relation to other societies, and validates meaning and consistency of fixed patterns in those societies. I think that it could be interpreted that when Benedict writes that tradition is as neurotic as any patient, she means that any external stimulus influencing a steady pattern of belief(s) within a culture will be bent toward what the people of that culture already know and believe. I believe that a tradition of a culture can certainly be neurotic. As described in “Psychological Types in the Cultures of the Southwest,” Benedict employs two dichotomous “types” of Native American cultures: Apollonian and Dionysian. While the creation of these “types” of cultures are invented apart from the cultures that she applies them to, Benedict does bring neurotic tendencies to life with the description of Apollonian traits found in the Pueblos. The Pueblos, Benedict writes, “have even stripped sex of its mystic danger; they allow to the individual no disruptive role in their social order; certainly in all of these traits they stand so strikingly over against their neighbors that it is necessary to seek some explanation for the cultural resistances of the Pueblos.” I think that from an etic point of view, Benedict is drawing out one culture’s way of maintaining sanity and understanding of their worldview. She brings an interesting point of view to light with the example of clowning, used as social satire, and have adapted the European complex of “witch” to their own cultural interpretation. The very necessity of reinterpretation of another culture’s tradition to fit one’s own is neurotic because it falls outside of the boundaries of consistency with one’s own worldview.



Response to: Neurosis of Cultures Stabilizes Worldview

Mark Smith


Although, I can understand how anything "contradicting the stability of good health" of tradition can create initial chaos and upset, I do not believe this is necessarily the case--or necessarily a negative thing. My examples of this are: the Beat Generation and the 1960s counter-culture. While these two groups were often shocking to mainstream culture, overtime--through the battles over censorship of literature, the proliferation of illegal drugs, and anti-war protests much of today's culture and traditions stems from these counter-cultures. To be grounded within our own cultures and societies without testing the limits or the progression of new beliefs is essentially neurotic.

Benedict would say that cultures are ever changing and as a result it only makes sense for multiple neuroses (or different sub-cultures within a culture) to duke it out until a new equilibrium is reached.



Binding Traditions

Tyson Johnson

The environment of the community in which it develops does not dictate tradition. Tradition and culture exists on a level outside the physical world. Benedict uses the contradiction between the Apollonian and Dionysian cultures of Native Americans in the southwestern United States to illustrate this point. Despite the relative similarities in the environment, different cultures in the region have developed strikingly different traditions. Furthermore, these traditions have become ingrained in the community to the extent that they are relatively unchangeable. These two aspects of tradition, that it is unaffected by environment and unchanging over time, support Benedict’s claim that tradition is “as neurotic as any patient.” The term neurotic is often used to describe a person who is incapable of adaptation and personal growth. The inability to change results manifests itself in feelings of depression, anxiety, and ineffectuality. Deeply rooted traditions often elicit the same emotions in the cultures in which they exist. Members of the community feel the need to participate in traditions; they become dependent on their traditions. Their traditions provide a sense of continuity and a connection with the past, however they also act as an anchor that limits social and cultural adaptation in certain aspects. I agree that tradition can be neurotic in certain instances. The generational gap often demonstrate this phenomenon. Traditions become antiquated and younger generations struggle with the question of how to honor their traditions and simultaneously live in the modern world. In certain situations people can not explicitly explain the value of their traditions, however they feel duty-bound to honor them.



Joey Perry


Tradition is neurotic because it is diametrical opposed to itself. Tradition is a fundamental characteristic of culture and culture innately dynamic (consider kids who do not want to do anything exactly the same as their parents), yet society results in states of discomfiture and distress when people stray from the traditions that bind them. At the same time, specific traditions occasionally contradict themselves. Take sexuality in the West, for example; we are taught abstinence yet are constantly bombarded with sex idols and ideals in the media that oppose the previously mentioned lessons of abstinence. While Benedict’s statement can be interpreted in innumerable ways, I believe this duality one aspect of the neurosis she was referring to. While I believe that tradition is capable of being neurotic I do not believe that tradition is innately neurotic. It must be applied on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the basis of what is considered “normal” behavior within any given society.



Even after reading everyone's comments, I am still confused what Benedict meant by "tradition is neurotic." But I do believe I agree with Joey that tradition can be neurotic but would not be innately neurotic and that it depends. Even if it is neurotic at one moment it would not last long as some non-sense that cause the tradition to be neurotic might become a new tradition or at least be thought to be "normal" through out the course of time.


Sara Coburn

I agree with Joey and how specific traditions contradict themselves, such as abstinence yet media blatantly opposes this "tradition." I think there is some value in placing traditions in a historical context and allow room for the evolution of traditions to change with time and through generations. The traditions that might have been held by our grandparents might differ in our generation based on historical and cultural displacement of ideas, and the role that those ideas play on tradition. A tradition in neurotic in the sense that it reinforces security of something, so those who stray from the "older" traditions are essentially beginning to role a new ball of tradition in hopes that others will follow their beliefs, which are all rooted in culture. I agree that tradition can be neurotic but isn't necessarily neurotic depending on who the people involved are, and what their motives are to follow a tradition or not.


Response to some of the comments

Dave Schatz

I think we have to remember that Benedict has a background in psychology and thus has experience with studying and analyzing one patient. Just as her descriptions of Apollonian and Dionyesian cultures can be applied to one person or their actions, so to can the neuroses of one individual be observed in the culture entire. As some has said, cultural relativism does apply, but we can have a basis of evaluating culture without treading on its validity, and stress can be objective to the psychologist. To some, this conjecture may be a point of disagreement, for certainly not everyone believes that psychology can answer the deepest questions of an entire society. But we must take away from Benedict this divergence from other sociologists and anthropologists; that the actions of many individuals contributes to the entire culture, and thus tradition. If neurosis is contained within the tradition, then certainly a single patient may exhibit that neurosis as a consequence of being part of the larger culture.


Additional Response

Chelsey Megli

I think this will be a really good discussion for class. I interpreted Benedict's argument to mean that logic is fallible in any culture so all "traditions" have their own levels of neuroses. I do agree with Dave that it's important to note Benedict's idea that many individuals' actions contribute to the culture. Irrationality is culturally defined, so in the case of drug use and other examples brought forth by other students, what we interpret as neurotic action, when made by a large portion of the population, can become embedded in tradition and therefore be rationalized.


Neurotic as a Patient?

Ojaswi Kafle

I think Benedict’s quote can be interpreted in many ways because it is quite broad… Erin writes that (according to Benedict) in a culture, there rises a development of traditional solutions to fix the problem of using these drugs/hallucinogens. Erin then writes that “within the traditions of a culture there is often an internal conflict that tries to validate practices with accepted norms of a society.”  I am wondering if we, even Benedict, are in some way imposing our own views on drugs, etc? Are all societies really in conflict with the use of drugs because it somehow goes against their accepted norms that they must associate some kind of traditional action or event with it to make it ok to use these drugs? Using Mark’s discussion, may be cultures and traditions are neurotic to a person who analyzes them without truly understanding these cultures/tradition. If we were to apply absolute cultural relativism, would these cultures still be “as neurotic as any patient”?


Don't Forget the 'Patient'

Heddy Waters

As mentioned, Benedict tended to see psychological traits within cultures.  The classification of some cultures as Apollonian and some as Dionysian, show that she was looking for psychological characteristics and trends amongst the people and their subsequent cultural traditions.  I believe she is being cultural relative is acknowledging that much of what we see in other cultures (i.e. scalp rituals amongst Native American tribes) might be considered ‘neurotic’ and strange.  But they are precisely as ‘neurotic’ as we, as humans, are capable of.  Traditions are cultural constructions and change and vary according to ourselves.  A patient is varied, multifarious, and has a personality composed of many traits and possibilities.  The traditions amongst humanity are thus just as varied and are cultural constructs that represent the psychological characteristics of the people of that culture.  Therefore, traditions are just as ‘neurotic’ as the scope of personality (the ‘patient’) amongst humanity allows.

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