[Air-l] Is all communication commercial?

Conor Schaefer conor.schaefer at gmail.com
Tue Jul 17 05:07:09 PDT 2007


Your claim is well-received--namely that, as I understand it, early 
writing likely was not "commercial" in origin but rather religious, 
specifically divinistic or otherwise--but I must disagree.

My dissent rests solely on the definition of "economic"; for this 
purpose, let us say that the concept pertains to any activities which 
concern the management (whether procurement, production, consumption, or 
other destruction) of commodities (whether animals, inanimate resources, 
or the craftsmanship required to work either).

In this sense, is not the practice of divination entirely economic? I 
should think that the desire to know where to hunt would be great, given 
the low success and high injury rates rampant in hunting groups. "Will 
this hunt be productive? Should we head east or west today? Will I twist 
my ankle today like Billy did yesterday?"

All these matters directly affect management of commodities, and I think 
we should consider whether many religions may indeed have had economic 
origins; look, for example, at the common presence of rain gods in 
agriculture societies. If an economic thread to early communication can 
be perceived in foraging societies, then I think its prevalence is so 
intriguing that the possibility of its universality is something we must 
at least entertain.

I will here clearly state that I do not think ALL groups of humans can 
be said to have engaged in divination (economic) practices, but I would 
be receptive to a more liberal interpretation of my argument which would 
accommodate, and perhaps even encourage, such application.


Robert Withers wrote:
> I've heard that story about the cuneiform writing being commercial, but consider the following:
> "The cuneiform script (IPA pronunciation: [kjuˈniəˌfɔrm, ˈkjuniə-]) is one of the earliest known forms of written expression. Created by the Sumerians from ca. 3000 BC (with predecessors reaching into the late 4th millennium Uruk IV period[1]), cuneiform writing began as a system of pictographs. Over time, the pictorial representations became simplified and more abstract.
> . . . 
> "Originally, pictograms were drawn on clay tablets in vertical columns with a pen made from a sharpened reed stylus, or incised in stone. This early style lacked the characteristic wedge-shape of the strokes.
> "Certain signs to indicate names of gods, countries, cities, vessels, birds, trees, etc., are known as "determinants", and were the Sumerian signs of the terms in question, added as a guide for the reader. Proper names continued to be usually written in purely "ideographic" fashion.
> "From about 2900 BC, many pictographs began to lose their original function, and a given sign could have various meanings depending on context. The sign inventory was reduced from some 1,500 signs to some 600 signs, and writing became increasingly phonological. Determinative signs were re-introduced to avoid ambiguity. This process is directly parallel to, and possibly not independent of, the development of Egyptian hieroglyphic orthography."
> . . .
> This from Wikipedia. Other uses for writing mentioned include letters, reports of battles, inscriptions of the achievements of kings on stelae, and lists of the names of gods.
> Chinese writing is perhaps older . . .
> "The origin of Chinese writing is commonly placed around the XIV century b.C., around 3400 years ago. The first real "characters" are those found on the bones used for divination under the Shang and Zhou dynasties, which form the so-called jiagu wen."
> From http://www.geocities.com/Tokyo/Palace/1757/scrittura/scritturastoria.htm
> Divination and naming the gods seem intuitively more likely motivators for writing than commerce. Also consider Altamira--14-18 millenia ago. When does a stick figure become a pictograph?
> Is all communication voodoo? Shamanism? Hunting and gathering?
> Cheers,
> Robert
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