Saturday, March 23, 2019

Legacy: An Anthropological Concept

“Legacy” and its various translations is a term that we humans use to define and describe the worth of our individual lives; and the lives of those who have gone before us. As a concept, writers frequently use the word to describe a historical connection, especially between their subject and the historical period in which they lived.  A legacy is the “transorganic” product of a life lived and remembered. 

For the living, consciously or unconsciously, a legacy is something we hope to leave behind for our family, friends and society. It is how we want history to judge us. A legacy is a desire by the living to influence the future memory and judgments of their lives made by others. As long as we are alive, we can try to control what we do and how we do it. These are the basic elements of any legacy. However once we die, figuratively or literally, history will render the final judgment. 

A legacy has a transorganic quality. It is the existential consequence of our actions. It is the result or consequence of our actions. The future will assign meaning to our legacy. That meaning will be based on our impact on the social and physical environment we occupied in reference to the present supraorganic. Thus, a legacy is our connection with the superorganic (culture), i.e. the traditions, beliefs, values, and meanings, that we pass on to the future generations. For most, this is a fading memory of our time on earth maintained by those who knew us. For some, however, our legacy transforms into a metaphor for who we were in the past, and a mythical personality that influences  the present  somewhere located in the superorganic.

Legacy, in the transorganic sense, is unique to self-reflective species. It combines the existential or physical result of the actions that are a result of our physical existence. And, with the ideational effort that went into their creation. That ideational effort was our purpose for doing it and the meaning we attached to that purpose. The legacy is how the future remembers it.

American anthropology is the legacy of western European contact with the peoples and places in the New World. The intersection of Morgan, Boas, Lowie, Wissler and Mitra marks the legacy of early American anthropology – the holistic perspective.

Note: This is the first of a set of short essays on the concept of legacy and anthropology, to be published through The Superorganic Blog