Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Blue Anthropologist in a Red State: Our Job is Not Done

I suppose I should make the standard joke about that making purple. But that won't be happening. Those molecules just won't bind. Heck, they won't even do lunch. And here is why....we anthropologists are very far from succeeding at the only agenda that we ever truly had: getting the 'us-es" to understand and accept the "them-s" as fully and completely human. If we had succeeded at that simple goal would we even need to bother debating the Human Terrain System-mockery of our discipline? If that message had pierced the psyche of those of us who hold wealth and power over the world, would we even have wars to fight? These weeks...this election, should be highlighting for anthropologists the extent of our failure.

The press is debating whether it is truly possible that Sarah Palin does not know that South Africa is an independent country and not a region of the wider country of Africa. Journalists, bless their egocentric, narcissitic, biased hearts can't believe that it is true. I do. I have students that ignorant. No biggie, they are young. The real problem is that I have colleagues, you know, College "professors" that dumb. The dumb leading the dumb. Dumb and dumber. Dumb from the top down. Bottoms up? Dumb. Worse than dumb, though, they are scary. Batshit scary.

Its been a rough time of late. We are expected to finish out the semester having lost two and a half weeks to Ike. Which translates to absolutely no margin of error. No missed lecture. No discussion that goes on beyond the clock ticking in the back of my head. But I am way behind having to explain the most fundamental concepts that they should have got in other classes.

I assume like most anthropologists, I have always held myself distant from political party affiliation and electoral issues. While disagreeing with everything the Republican party stands for, I have cast my own vote dutifully for the Democratic party primarily to avoid the philosophies of the opposition. I would happily participate in a global revolution, hey, hey, you know, we all wanna change the world (thanks, World's Hottest Poli Sci Prof) but, as yet, one hasn't passed my way.

But this year I jumped in and allowed myself to hope. I suppose with advancing years my expectations had lowered significantly. Or that having protested repeatedly and loudly against the Bush Doctrine and our growing imperialism and been attacked and criticized for being "unpatriotic", I was just so happy to recognize a message with a rational thought process behind it. And the package that the message came in was so appealing. A beautiful family. A (non-allergenic) pound puppy in the White House. Ground swells. Racial healing with a thousand soundtracks. Angels having orgasms. And a President who speaks with subject and verb agreement. And, yes, not only can he pronounce nuclear but I might actually trust him with that power.

Anyway, caught up in my fantasies of a President that would not embarrass me (and hopefully not invade any more countries killing vast numbers of human beings), I did not notice how isolated I was here in the Lone Star state. You would have thought that that "lone" would have been a dead give away but de-nial is a sneaky river, its upside down, you know. It wasn't that I didn't know Texas. It was that I didn't really know how bad my College environment is. Not really. Okay, I knew it was bottom up dumb but I was really hoping it wasn't top down dumb. Okay, I knew the top top was dumb but I had some hopes for the middle. I mean, that is usually were the yummy filling is, right?

I am trying to cover "Redistributive" economies. I am trying to get to the Moka and the Potlatch(oh no, Alaska!). We have watched "First Contact", a film I adore. Love teaching from it. Would talk about it for hours. All of the sudden, we are talking American tax system and I get "Obama is a Socialist". Oh, Sweet Baby Jane, how long is it going to take to explain this....fairly, academically, thoroughly, properly.

And I am now sure that I never really did, never really could. Like those Kwakiutl salmon, I was swimming upstream.

In the last week and a half, I have, had to swallow the realization that some 3-4 of our government (the Texas word for Poli Sci) teachers and 2 of our history (should I call them professors?) and geography guys believe just that. Obama is a socialist who has pal-ed around with domestic terrorists and the only proper solution to the world's problems is MORE war. And the cessation of all possible "welfare" with any social support being distributed through one's church because even though the mantra is "Country First", the group they wish to support is not their "country" but their own tribal compounds. Joe the Plumber gets welfare and that is okay. But not one of "them". But, oh, they are so cadgy about who "them" are. Just a little too smart to play the race card, they tar and feather with a different brush. And they freely share their views and imbue their lectures with those philosophies.

One year of American history and one year of American government are state-mandated in Texas. No one has to take me. We have a long way to go, baby.


Maximilian C. Forte said...

Definitely a long way to go, but at least you are already doing what those in the Human Terrain System fail to even comprehend as the most basic necessity for international peace: making change at home.

They come up with all sorts of excuses for inserting themselves into other people's settings, from service to patriotism to saving lives (hefty cash payments never mentioned, because they are pure altruists).

Each of those excuses would mandate that that stay home and rebuild New Orleans, not take down Fallujah; educate their own precisely as you say so that the "us-es" can recognize the humanity of the "thems"; educate their own about what love of country really means, which can't stand selfishness, greed, insularity, and hatred of one's neighbour (imagine that self-described Christians need to be TOLD this); work on poverty eradication at home, etc.

Aside from that, I very much appreciate the symbolism, hope, inspiration that people have brought to and carry away from the Obama victory. It stands on its own, and the celebrations are revealing. They are a testament to what was a growing insurgency within, and a deep desire for a new age of real decolonization without. That symbolism and hope might help to keep the grass roots movement alive, on which Obama founded his strength, and it may help to mend and build bridges with positive forces of change outside of the U.S.

But one needs to be wary of Barry. He has, and continues to show some nasty rightward tendencies that make him indistinguishable from Bush and whose policies play into the hands of the war corporatists. This may be the most massive exercise in mystification and appropriation that the world has ever seen. If true, the explosion of disillusionment could not just banish the Democrats from the political scene as a single entity, it could result in serious repression and perhaps a long overdue revolution. I worry then that Obama -- this man who seemed to come out of nowhere and with such force -- might be a cosmetic for another attempt at "the new American century." He still talks about American leadership, which makes me cringe, and makes me silently despise him. He surrounds himself with corporatists and selects a fruit of corruption such as Rahm Emmanuel, a right winger in the Democratic party, and a son of an Israeli terrorist. Change I cannot believe in, sorry.

To preempt any sense of being used by a political elite to prop up this makeover of American expansionism, the best thing for the various movements that supported Obama is to say thanks for all of the necessary inspiration, for offering a focus for collective action, and to say they will take things further on their own. Obama can either play catch up, offer support, or remain numb. If people aren't writing to Obama every day to remind him about "change," they will end up being betrayed, and he may end up being a one-term wonder who gets easily replaced by the likes of Sarah Palin.

Pamthropologist said...

I have been amused to watch Obama be labeled as "liberal" when his own students and colleagues reference his "ruthless pragmatism". There is no doubt he is an amazing technocrat. But as my own 18 year old daughter recognizes, he isn't that far from McCain on most of his policies. But in this election cycle, we keep it simple. Bush is out. Iraq was wrong. And, maybe, just maybe we as a people are not as bad as we suspected we were. This has been a ritual of rebellion. Perhaps Palin would have given us the true dialectical change to bring about the revolution. LOL.

My fantasy hope is that his win means that the majority of Americans value intelligent, open discourse over fear and jingoism. And that we can continue on a path of respecting those values. But that would be my "pragmatic" side not my idealistic one. Both are equally naive.

larry c wilson said...

The United States needs to get its own house in order and let the Iranians, the Iraqis, the etc. take care of their own affairs.

While I voted for Obama, it was only by holding my nose after he made clear that the United States needs to bring "change" to the world.

Physician heal thyself.

Pamthropologist said...

Now the pie-eyed optimist in me is back. What did you think he would say? His patriotism was under constant assault by McCarthy in drag and he responded with some high-flying rhetoric. If he manages to untangle even a fraction of the mess Bush created he will "change" the world.

When I was a little girl Kool-Aid was a treat and it still tastes good to me. I can't help it. No matter how much I try to talk myself out of it, I have hope.

Maximilian C. Forte said...

I was just re-reading my comment/essay -- rather conspiratorial sounding! Maybe I need to cool off with some Kool Aid...and perhaps a little bowl of Jello with banana slices, topped with Cool Whip, and some of those Rice Crispy squares. God I miss the 1970s.

Pamthropologist said...

Pop rocks and a hit of Coca Cola and you are good to go.