Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Israel, Spring 2009

For my regular readers, all four of you, you will likely note that this post is somewhat late. Upon my return from Israel I tried to sit and write about it, but the words would not come. Israel made lots of impressions upon me and I just could not get them all sorted out. And, to be quite honest, I still have not sorted them out.

As you may have noticed I often like to place people into one of two given camps. For example, everyone is either a morning person or night person. There are those who like India vs. those who don't, so on and so forth. I also think people can be divided into dog people and cat people.

Let's face it, most people either prefer dogs or cats. Few prefer both. I am a dog person and my brother is a cat person. While we share some of the same interests, we have very different personalities. I won't go into a Freudian spiel about what makes us dog people different than those cat people, suffice to say we are, in fact, different.

Immediately upon arrival in Tel Aviv, I noticed cats. Lots of cats, everywhere. I also noticed a conspicuous absence of dogs. Perhaps they were all in Gaza or maybe the West Bank. They were not in Tel Aviv nor in Jerusalem. Interestingly, I also sensed that most of the Israelis I had contact with were cat people. Of course, that begs the question of which came first: the cats or the cat people.

Are there lots of cats in Israel because Israel is a culture dominated by cat people and they brought the cats? Could it be that the presence of cats everywhere shaped the minds and subsequently the personalities of the Israelis? In other words to the cats reflect a national character of the Israeli people or is the national character the result of the presence of the cats?

With these questions in my head, I could not help to remember that I saw lots of dogs in India, but nary a cat. And guess what? The people I rubbed elbows with there were dog people!

There is an early twentieth century school of though in anthropology called culture and personality. Basically this approach seeks to understand the growth and development of personal and/or social identity as it relates to the influences of the social environment. Could these animals be significant influences of the social environment?

With the cat people of Israel and the dog people of India in my head I was reminded of the works of anthropologists Margaret Meade and Ruth Benedict. While they did much bigger and better things, Benedict and Mead were involved in national character studies sponsored by the Office of Strategic Services during the early 1940s. These studies of the French, Japanese, Russians and the British attempted to identify the “personalities” of these different societies. Should Meade and Benedict have considered the dog and cat as either promoting or reflecting the character of a people?

What in God's name have I stumbled upon here? Should the long dead culture and personality school be revisited with this new insight? It is out there, do with it what you wish.

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