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Rites, Ritual and Power (PoliAnthMidterm)

Rites, Ritual and Power (PoliAnthMidterm)

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Published by Sean Potts

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Published by: Sean Potts on Feb 21, 2011
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Sean PottsAnthropology 351Dr. CiekawyFebruary 18, 2011 Midterm 2 Question A: Organizations, states, and religions dominate the lives of individuals in almost everysociety. The peculiar aspect of the power they hold lies in the fact that, at least in the materialworld, they do not really exist. A social organization can only maintain itself based on the extentto which its members recognize its legitimacy. Ever since the dawn of tribal hierarchies andshamanic priesthoods dating back to humanity¶s infancy, cultural institutions have workedtirelessly to solidify their existence. Legitimacy is inherently elusive for these abstract systems inthat they have no µface¶ for individuals to identify and interact with. As David Kertzer points out,social organizations have developed elaborate symbols and rituals to deal with their problem of only existing in an unsubstantial realm.Kertzer uses the elaborate identity constructed by the Ku Klux Klan as a prime exampleof an organization seeking to obtain legitimacy and respect from its members. Chapter two of 
Ritual, Politics, and Power 
opens on a group of initiates being welcomed into the Klan via anelaborate ceremony in 1946. Kertzer describes a multitude of white robed and hooded figuresbeing led by a central individual in green. In the light of a giant flaming cross, initiates cameforward with military precision in order to pledge an oath to their new affiliation. Bowing to twoKlansmen holding an American flag and the cross of Christianity, the new members swore anoath to protect the sacred words and symbols of the Ku Klux Klan. After swearing their allegiance, the new members rose belonging to a social body they believed bigger than
 
themselves. The sanctity with which the ritual was treated expressed that the organization, anentity with no material existence, now held priority over the individuals themselves.A number of symbols can be noted in the example above that give the ritual a sense of significance. The primary ingredient to any functional group is some extent emphasizing theinsignificance of the individual in comparison to the group. Most groups incorporate thisattribute lightly, such as states stressing patriotism and nationalism while still allowing their citizens to possess their own personal views. The Ku Klux Klan, however, radically underminesthe importance of the individual. Members of the Klan are expected to where white sheets andhoods during all events pertaining to the group; this uniform strips the individual of even their biological variety. The genetic characteristics of a person¶s face and body are overshadowed bythe unity of the group; every lay member is equal in their lack of identity. The aestheticunification of the Klansmen also reinforces the concept that this social group, above all others, ismore important. Whether they be politicians, lawyers, merchants, or farmers; members arestripped of the rank they hold in general society. The badges of police officers and the expensivesuits of wealthy businessmen are all covered by the robe.In continuance with the stressing of the groups importance, the only ranking system thatnow matters to group members is that which the clan uses. Regardless of his position in mainstream society, the Grand Dragon holds supreme authority over the entire group. As can begathered from the example, theatrics are highly important to Klan ritual. Fantastic titles such as³Imperial Wizard´, ³Grand Dragon´, and ³Knight´ are all used to evoke images of power anddomination. Most offices of authority do not rely solely on grandiose terms to legitimize their power, but the use of the office itself as a symbol of might is something the Klan put intopractice regularly. While the use of such imaginative titles can be considered odd to outsiders, it
 
is hard to argue that the term ³President´ conjures a more emotional response than ³ImperialWizard´.Other symbols are cleverly implemented by the Ku Klux Klan to heighten their authorityand mystique. Leaders of the group almost always wear different colored robes as opposed to thetraditional white of low ranking members. Differentiation between colors strengthens theseparation between ranks within the clan quite directly. Another interesting tactic the Klanemploys is the use of symbols that members have already been acclimated to by other socialgroups. The use of the American flag within the initiation ritual stresses the notion that what theKlan is doing is patriotic; members are doing right by their country when they aid the Klan in itsagenda.  By incorporating the cross, the Klan is not only stating that they have a ³Christian´mission, but also making the act more sacred. Humans are encultured into their respective statesand religions from an early age, other groups try to capitalize on this familiarity by depictingthemselves as an extension of the culture the person is already a part of.The Ku Klux Klan, an organization regarded with much distain in mainstream society,was and is the product of human perspective. Formed by white Protestants hoping to keep their society racially and religiously ³pure´, the Klan was formed based on the concept of exceptionalism. Like many societies and organizations before them, the Klan capitalized on thesimilarities between its members and denounced those who were different from them ± a basicstrategy for forming unity among a select assortment of people. Regardless of their agenda, theKlan is a very functional example of how a group solidifies their existence and importance.Symbols and rituals are not only important to social organizations that wield popular support and are already legitimized, they can also be central to those expressing dissidence andresistance towards the aforementioned groups. In some ways, revolutionary groups may invest

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