Amended version of the second half of a paper presented at the 58th annual conference of WAPOR in Cannes, France, September 15-17, 2005. (First half of this presentation here.) The conference theme was "Search for a New World Order — the Role of Public Opinion". Parts of this paper are excerpts from my book manuscripts "Gallup Goes International" and "The Many-Splendored Society." © The author.


Enlightenment in Western and Non-Western Polling

By Hans L Zetterberg, Bromma, Sweden

Emic and etic language

Anthropologists have a long practice of scholarship in the pursuit of research in non-Western lands. They have asked a very significant question: What is the difference between ordinary language in a society and the language used by scientists, scholars, and critics in their study of that society? Anthropologists have contributed to our understanding of this issue by developing a distinction proposed by the linguist Kenneth L. Pike (1954) between emic and etic language. The state of the art was illustrated in 1988 by a four-hour debate before an audience of 600 members of the American Anthropological Association, later published in a book edited by Headland, Pike, and Harris (1990).

Emic sentences are those that tell how the world is seen by a particular people who live in it. These sentences consist of all verbalized beliefs, values, standards, techniques, et cetera. Studies based solely on participation use only emic sentences and result in emic propositions and conclusions.

Etic sentences, by contrast, contain also other information besides the emic language. They are sentences of an observer or analyst rather than of a mere participant. They form the language of science, scholarship, and cultural criticism rather that of mere reporting by a participant.

Etic observation may contradict emic truths. The Aztec religion in pre-Columbian Mexico was a solar religion. The sun god was the source of life. He concentrated minds of the Aztecs to dominate their region like the sun dominates the sky. This sun god required a daily human sacrifice from the Aztecs to return with its light and warmth each day. Such were their emic truths.

The invading Spaniards with roots in medieval Catholicism might well have known of the sacrificial rites of Abraham and Jesus and others. But the Aztec sacrifices were alien. Moreover, the navigators and officers from the Spanish ships that had crossed the Atlantic with the Spanish invaders of the Aztec region were accustomed to think differently about the movements of the celestial bodies. Their etic conclusion was that the Aztecs were wrong; the sun would rise without a human sacrifice. Their grounded disbelief in Aztec magic gave them a sense of superiority, a common sentiment when Europeans ventured to new worlds in the era of colonialism.

Marvin Harris requires that the analyst with his etic language also to be an observer, not only a participant.

An emic sentence can be proven wrong if it can be shown that it contradicts the participants’ sense that entities and events are similar or different, real, meaningful, significant, or appropriate. – – –

Etic statements cannot be proven wrong if they do not conform to the participants’ sense of what is significant, real, meaningful, or appropriate. They can only be proven wrong by the failure of empirical evidence gathered by observers to support the statement in question (Harris 1999, pp 31-32).

Not everyone agrees with Harris. At present we can distinguish four positions or research strategies:

A first position refers to poststructuralist or hermetic philosophy. It dismisses the need for any etic considerations in analyses. It stays entirely with emic expressions. Many modern ethnographic museums take this view, thus attempting to present exhibits without what they see as the bias of Western interpretations.

A second position explores the possibility that the emic language actually contains a deep structure that is the appropriate etic language. The research strategy of Claude Lévy-Strauss based on the dictum that "society is like a language" belongs here.

A third position is an acceptance of those etic sentences in their analyses that are consistent with their intellectual tradition of choice. This pre-chosen tradition may be it Marxism, psychoanalysis, feminism, Thomism, or some other. A Marxist may, for example, reject certain emic reports from the field as "false consciousness" while accepting others as relevant information about class relations.

A fourth position refers to the scientific method as used in the natural sciences and some social science such as economics. The researcher may use emic language only if it is confirmed by observation and is consistent with propositions that can be confirmed by other researchers the using scientific method.

All these positions have some merits in different stages in the development of knowledge in social science. The first makes us familiar with other people’s thinking but it does not integrate it with our own thinking. The second one is a line of reasoning that is least self-evident, but is a promising strategy in the social sciences. The third one incorporates parts of other people’s thinking in our own systems of thought, including our ideologies. The forth, the position of Harris, is the ultimate arbiter when emic and etic statements are in conflict.

In public opinion research some etic elements are introduced by the selection and wording of questions in the questionnaires. Focused group are used to get at emic elements – what people actually say – but the moderator’s interview guide more often than not seem to introduce some etic elements also in the group discussions.

The Enlightenment the etic heritage of polling

Enlightenment became highly honored in Eighteenth Century Europe. In England, the philosopher and essayist Francis Bacon (1561-1626) laid bare a modern canon of scientific inquiry that is empirically grounded and theoretically consistent. His compatriot philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) explained the nature of human understanding of the world and the necessity to limit government to the tasks of defending freedom and property. The French philosopher François-Marie Voltaire (1694-1778) denounced bigotry and tyranny, and his compatriot Denis Diderot (1713-1784) explained new ideologies and all known technologies in a monumental encyclopedia. In Germany, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) wrote philosophies of knowledge and morals and his compatriot Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) gave universities a structure appropriate for science. In Scotland, David Hume (1711-1776) wrote a philosophy of skepticism and his compatriot Adam Smith (1723-1790) discovered how markets create wealth without use of violence and plunder.

The experience of "the Enlightenment" is a decisive event in European history. European history between the ancient Greeks and the Enlightenment is not particularly remarkable compared to the history of other regions of the world. However, from the time of the Enlightenment and its spread to North America we deal with unique developments, in volume, if not in kind. They may be comparable only to the achievements of China during the Sung period. Prior to the Enlightenment, a multitude of intellectual styles could claim superiority. In retrospect, their claims seem rather arbitrary. On this score the relativism of contemporary multiculturalists is right. After the Enlightenment, however, there is only one winner on the world scene, regardless of what multiculturalists say in support of the defensive bilge of the losers.

Among the products of the Enlightenment are various beliefs in reason. Liberalism and socialism, market economy and Marxism, modern democracy and republicanism, all are children of the Enlightenment. In the heritage of the Enlightenment we also find some endeavors of great interest to us here, namely, social research, and public opinion research.

The Enlightenment creed is the etic language of polling. In the spirit of enlightenment George Gallup formulated his interview questions that he thought delivered enlightened opinions. Also, he assumed an obligation to be enlightened in his write-ups and analyses of all opinions, also the irrational ones. And so it has continued into later days when we read the polling questions and their analysis by Andy Kohurt, Frank Newport, Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann, Hélène Riffault, Robert Worcester, Daniel Yankelovich and their ilk.

Let me list three kinds of emic language that the etic language of enlightened polling must reject as deceptive.

Magic: the first deceptive emic

It was a fantastic event when mankind found out that language used by a person can affect the behavior of other people. You say "Welcome to the table!" and people gather at the table. You say "Move this table closer to the window!" and helpful hands move it there. "Help yourself to some wine!" and people serve themselves from your wine. You say "Try this chocolate!" and people put the pieces of dark chocolate into their mouths.

Such experiences make it very easy to believe that language is omnipotent. So you say "Move this mountain!" or "Make this water into wine!" or "Rise, take up thy bed, and walk!" But nothing of the sort happens. You have merely engaged in the magic use of words in the belief that they can affect physics and move mountains, affect chemistry and turn water into wine, affect biology and cure sickness. In advanced forms this is sorcery or witchcraft. If you try to hurt people by magic we call it black magic. If you try to help people, it is white magic. But it does not matter whether you use advanced sorcery or sophisticated witchcraft, or if you have evil or good intentions. Language simply does not affect physical reality, nor does it change biological reality. It does define and affect social reality, but only in the special ways and circumstances that social science may specify.

The streaks of magic language are broad and vivid in children’s speech and in their preferred reading. In the years after the turn of the century, books on Harry Potter, trained in a magician school, top the best seller lists of children's books in many parts of the world. The streaks of magic are also wide in premordial societies, also in some great civilizations. Max Weber (1920) in his whole collection of studies of world religions, found only three that could thrive without magic. These three are the Indian doctrine of karma, Zoroastrian dualism, and the Calvinist doctrine of predestination.

Magic is never science – the two are like fire and water – but one can be scientific about magic. Malinowski (1925) discovered that the natives of the Trobiand Islands were quite able to distinguish practical efforts from magical ones. They would scoff if you suggested that they should attempt to replace their practices of gardening or fishing with magic. But at all uncertain turns, be it unpredictable weather or poor prospects of crop survival, they punctuated their cultivation and fishing with magic.

A first rule a student of mankind, including a pollster, must learn is to identify magic.

The shaman tradition is a strong religion on the Korean peninsula, probably stronger than Confucianism and Christianity. A shaman is a priest with magical abilities, called mudang among the Koreans. The Korean shamans are mostly women. They have contacts with the world of spirits. They can solve problems of health and fertility. They help dead spirits on earth move to the divine world of spirits. Such spirits may not have realized or acknowledged that they are dead, and they remain in this world. In Korea this means that they bring ill health and economic disasters for the surviving family members. Korean Gallup does not report on the spread of opinions of mudangs, and thus stays on the side of Enlightenment.

Spuma: the second deceptive emic

We will use the term 'spuma,' to stand for any froth of symbols, verbal or non-verbal. We will use the Latin spelling spuma rather than the English spume to underline that here is a technical term. If you don't want to be quite as serious you can say "balderdash" or "baloney."

In the midst of the loftiest human pursuit of the human mind, bodily spontaneity is always present. A quote from Schopenhauer (1819, book 4) about sexual desire permeating almost all human endeavor antedates Freud:

[It] exerts an adverse influence on the most important affairs, interrupts the most serious business at any hour, sometimes for a while confuses even the greatest minds, does not hesitate with its trumpery to disrupt the negotiations of statesmen and the research of scholars, has the knack of slipping its love-letters and ringlets even into ministerial portfolios and philosophical manuscripts" (Schopenhauer translated 1995, pp 263–264).

What Schopenhauer here says about sex seems to be true for all forms of bodily spontaneity.

Signals in connection with bodily spontaneity, including even reflection and exchanges, are not unknown among more developed animals. But they abound in humans. When such signals are mixed with the reactions of the reptilian brain the former usually occur after, not before, the actual physical behavior.

Studying the pre-language parts and language parts of the human brain, a researcher may first read traces in the brain of actions arising as bodily spontaneity, then, in another part of the brain, he sees the traces of symbols that call for action. Roughly speaking, the left hemisphere of the brain constantly weaves symbols into a more or less coherent account of the behavior chosen by the reptilian brain. The symbols that make up such accounts are mere froth, embellishments of the behaviors already being initiated or even executed at the level of bodily spontaneity. They belong to the broad phenomenon of spuma.

Hunting to kill animals is a spontaneous behavior. It was essential in another time to obtain food for sustenance. The modern hunter dresses his hunting habits in the spuma of hunting, the tallyho language. The climax of the hunt is the lustful kick when an animal is in the sight of his gun and he presses the trigger to kill. He may speak rapturously about the joy of hunting: it brings you outdoors and close to Mother Nature. But he hardly reaches the same joy when he is in the woods without his gun.

No spuma is scientific but you can be scientific about spuma. What Francis Bacon called "idols of the market place," the chatting phrases used in the streets, was loaded with spuma. The phenomenon of spuma also turns up in what was called "derivations" by the Italian economist and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto. His term signals that something we say about an action or a person may not be its core, its "residue," but embellishment, hogwash, bilge, claptrap, hallelujah-speak (Pareto 1916, distinction in §119 and 868, classification of residues in §888, and classification of derivations in §1419). Terms such as idols, derivations, and residues, however, have other meanings today to most students and a new terminology would be all to the good. We propose 'spuma.'

We may go astray in our study of society if we cannot identify the spuma when parents, peers, teachers, pop singers, newscasters, artists, and priests – and our respondents – lament about the economy, politics, morals, ugliness, and health. To cut through spuma is a necessary art for the student of society, also the pollster. Spuma is the sizzle rather than the steak. Pollsters in an enlightened tradition should report on the quality of the steak, not on the sizzle.

If you hear the words "I love you" you have to decode the message correctly. What does it mean this time? "I am bewitched, bothered and bewildered by you," "I want to share the rest of my life with you," "I simply want intercourse with you," "I enjoy(ed) our screwing." In studies of sexual behavior by interviewing adults, the total number of heterosexual intercourses reported by men should be the same as the total number reported by women. But the numbers do not tally. Men tell about more sex than do women. Since Alfred Kinsey and his coworkers (1948, 1953) had interviewed volunteers in their pioneering work on human sexual behavior, it was easy to suspect that their sampling had been biased by sexually active males. But with adequate probability sampling we found the same discrepancy in Sweden: men seemed to inflate their number of heterosexual intercourses, and women perhaps deflate theirs (Zetterberg 1969). The finding has been repeated in subsequent studies in many countries. This has lead to an animated methodological debate (for the summary see Fennell 2002, 22-26). The brain researchers may eventually resolve the dilemma by discovering more spuma in male talk about sex than in the accounts by females.

Spuma is also produced by people who have developed addictions, e.g. chemically manipulated their bodies to produce lust when they consume an addictive ware. If you ask an alcoholic why he or she drinks so much, you may hear a lot of spuma. A physician specializing in treating alcoholics may draw correct conclusions about actual alcohol consumption from an alcoholic's verbalizations. Others underestimate intakes of alcohol. A survey researcher asking the general public how much alcohol the respondents drink is usually off by about 50 percent or more when he tabulates the answers and compares them to the sales figures for alcohol, a fact discovered by Peranen (1974).

Defensive bilge: the third deceptive emic

In Aesop's fable, the fox who is unable to reach the grapes, attempts to get rid of his resentment of this failure by persuading himself that the grapes were sour and were not what he wanted anyway. Resentment also means that a person inferior on a common scale of evaluation harbors envy of a superior person. This phenomenon obtained its own label by Friedrich Nietzsche when he applied it to resentments in a collectivity. Add an i to resentment so that it reads "resentiment." The slaves develop resentiment, argues Nietzsche. They become convinced that it is good to be humble.

Nietzsche's resentiment belongs to a class of phenomena we may call 'defensive bilge.' To sailors, bilge is the water that slashes inside the boat at its bottom. It is not the real thing, the waves of the big sea. The bilge in the boat may rise to dangerous levels and it often stinks. For safe and pleasant sailing it is pumped into the ocean. Likewise, the bilge in society has a self-deceptive odor. The guardians of honesty and realism pump it out.

Anna Freud filled defensive bilge with content from psychoanalysis. The repertoire of maneuvers for person with a wounded self-image is much longer than sour grapes. For example, a worker who is doing a poor job may blame it on his poor equipment. Instead of saying, "I have done a poor job," he says "The tools were no good," i.e. resorting to a 'rationalization,' as this term is used in psychology to designate verbiage of excuses that may sound reasonable. Other steps might lead to the same end. Actions that are incompatible with his favorable self-evaluation tend to be described by the actor as acts of other agents: this is the process of 'projection.' Its typical expression is that "they" are the objects of blame, not "me." Another example is the sexually weak man who never misses an opportunity to tell others of his sexual adventures. To protect the evaluation he enjoys, he pictures his actions as being the opposite of what they really are. Actions that are incompatible with his accustomed favorable self-evaluation thus tend to be presented to oneself and to others as opposite to, or different from, what they really are, we label 'inversion.' In clinical experience one can observe whole chains of defense mechanisms. In our culture, the wife batterer, for example, tends to avoid recognition of his impulses in order to preserve his self-respect (denial). In addition, he may deny that his anger comes from himself, saying by no means, "I am angry," but rather, "You are angry" (projection). Furthermore, he may transfer the latter into "She hates me" (new projection) and thus develop paranoid ideas. All these so-called "defense mechanisms" (A. Freud 1936) may be viewed as typical ways in which our perceptions and communications change when our opinion of ourselves is lowered and no other easy design is found to raise it. The defensive mechanisms in Anna Freud's version early were confirmed by quantitative empirical research (Sears, 1951, Chap. 7).

For pollsters, as for any student of society, it is as essential to be able to identify defensive bilge as it is important to identify human magic and spuma. This is the third and most difficult rule for anyone who engages in the proper study of mankind.

The defense mechanisms used by a particular individual are a problem for his associates. But there are also collective expressions of illusions that become problems for entire societies. When a clan, a class, or a nation believes it is a master race, or an intellectually or morally superior group, destined to rule society, all others in the society face problems. Problems emerge also when groups feel mistreated and create defensive bilge to enhance their situation.

Polling in times that have rejected the enlightenment

The European Enlightenment did not manage to appreciate life’s fullness. It achieved cognitive goals but was deficient in appreciating emotive commitments. As we well remember, Shakespeare’s Hamlet says: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." And, at least in one context, the great mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) placed the grounds of the heart ahead of the grounds of reason. The Enlightenment never found the balance of a many-splendored society between the executive life areas of science, economy, and polity and the emotive life areas of art, ethics, and religion.

Rejection of polling is part of the anti-Enlightenment sentiments among our contemporary post-modern critics. I will not deal with this issue here.

Polling in areas outside the influence of the Enlightenment

Public opinion research faces obstacles when it goes outside the geography of the European enlightenment to areas of the world untouched by its creed.

A common indication of "progress" in the sense of the Enlightenment, is the stripping of magic elements from the language of a society. Large areas of the globe are, however, untouched by the European Enlightenment. A majority among males in a South African slum holds that HIV/AIDS can be cured by the magic of sexual intercourse with a virgin. This is not something that an enlightened pollster can recommend to his government as the will of the people.

Many Afro-Americans, like many educated Africans, whose ancestors did not have a written language to document their history, insist that classical Egyptian civilization was the work of black people south of the Sahara. They believe in the defensive bilge that the white Greeks stole this civilization, that Cleopatra was a black woman, that Pallas Athena in the Acropolis was an African black goddess. This defensive bilge is heartily endorsed by many Afrocentrists. Its origin, however, is not African, but a white American, Martin Bernal, sinologist at Cornell University.

As private individuals, pollsters and journalists may absorb defensive bilge in the opinion climate of their time and place and their particular circle of associates. Avoiding bias in question wording, analysis, and reporting can only be archived by awareness of one’s own defensive bilge.

The French once had a distinction between opinions founded on the discussions among the elites, that is, opinion publique, and opinions among the masses, opinion commune. This distinction has been wiped out by democracy and by opinion polling. I do not want to see it reintroduced.

We may, however, need a distinction of a similar kind but not based on the difference between elites and masses. We have opinions in the tradition of enlightenment as the enlightened public opinion, which is a products of discussions purged of magic, spuma and defensive bilge. They differ from the unenlightened common opinion, which admits any emic verbiage.

Elites may also express unenlightened common opinions. The enlightenment is today questioned by post-modern philosophies that have little regard for positive empirical evidence and hold that concepts and conclusions are essentially a matter of personal points of view and much influenced by the political powers of the day. A French left-wing intellectual steeped in such a position is thus able to write a best selling book called L'Effroyable Imposture. (It is said to be translated into 23 languages, called The Big Deceit in the English edition) The book let us "know" how President George W Busch engineered the 9/11 air plane attacks on the World Trade Center and a missile (sic) attack on the Pentagon, and then blamed it all on the Arabs to get their oil (Meyssan 2002).

Our idea of a new concept of enlightened public opinion returns us to the definition in the first English book entitled Public Opinion. It was written by William A. MacKinnon in1828 and stated that public opinion is "that sentiment on any given subject which is entertained by the best informed, most intelligent, and most moral persons in the community." (Quoted with thanks from Worcester 2005).


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