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Bactra Review

J M Balkin

Cultural software : a theory of ideology

We are all constrained by the norms of the societies in which we live, even when we want to frame an abstract discussion of those norms. So is it possible to escape from this recursion? In Cultural Software J M Balkin thinks that it is, but we should steer clear of attempts to systematize the process, which only results in another ideology. Instead we must rely on what looks like ad hoc thinking - metabricolage is the term Balkin uses. I felt that the book makes an excellent bridge between the scientific ideas of memes and the like and the more literary discussion of ideologies and social norms.

So how well does Balkin do at rising above the ideologies which envelop him? Well, on the positive side, he does present an anti-racist and anti-sexist case. However, in doing this he often makes it sound as if racism and sexism are the norm. In general he seems to present humanity in a negative light, giving the book a sort of 'holier than thou' aspect. For instance he suggests that the USA entered the Vietnam war with the 'Cowboys vs Indians' model of conflict, whereas I would think that the 2nd World War would be a more likely image. I felt that this aspect of the book tended to detract from some of the concrete examples Balkin gives, and so made the book harder to read than might otherwise be the case.  |  Chronon Critical Points  |  Recent Science Book Reviews