Sunday, December 21, 2008

Barack Obama meets Oscar Lewis: Sunday Morning Musings about the New Post-ideological Pragmatism

Thinking about the issues raised in this week's New York Times magazine feature article:

A Payoff Out of Poverty?

Points I am pondering: Isn't it terribly naive to suppose that conditional cash transfers are without ideology? Selecting which behaviors the money will reward is clearly an ideological choice. In an analogous situation, Rick Warren isn't a simple pragmatic choice. You aren't just sitting down to a table with him. He is being called upon to mediate with the sacred. It has meaning, damn it! Stop pretending it doesn't.

Nation versus NGO: Given the discussion in my last post discussing the Foreign Policy article about weak, failed states being further weakened by strong NGO involvement, would this procedure point to a possible solution to reinvigorating government--IF, and only IF, governments could, in fact, find the money in their budgets for such programs and the cash payouts were not given by NGO's, themselves. this just more power and control and interference. Am I more comfortable with national control than NGO control? But only in a nation were people have a voice and a vote?

Keith Hart reminds us not to assume that money is a "bad thing". Over the years he has taken anthropologists to task for our assumptions that money is inherently a bad thing to be brought into the mix for the world's people. And he has discussed in detail the ways in which money creates and defines identity and community and memory.

I am reminded of the vignettes in the film First Contact when the New Guinea Highlanders desire shells in trade and payment, only later to discover the value of their gold and money. We all know the fate of shell in New Guinea societies. My students are always quick to argue that the New Guinea Highlanders got what they wanted when they were paid in shell. Until I remind them that with money they could buy all the shell they wanted, what the New Guinea Highlanders lacked was the knowledge of the value of money in an outside world, once, they had that knowledge their desires quickly changed as did their sense and identity of community and their understanding of your own place in it.

As a member of a national community does it make sense to earn money for your own reproduction --in the form of education and healthcare--or not? After all, with money comes self-determination and community. Should the role of the nation-state be to pay its citizens for the labor of caring for themselves? Are national communities something we should be trying to achieve in an international world? Is this freedom or oppression or the potential for both? Have I got that right?

BTW, aren't we all just loving the whole "shoe" protest. Delightful in every way.


Maximilian C. Forte said...

(By the way, about the incessant link spamming that "seems" to come from me -- Wordpress is making a mess: because I have your feed in my sidebar, it decides that all of my posts must be linking to each of yours.)

About post-ideological, pragmatic Obama -- I have been following this, and found myself with dozens of articles and too much to write about it to actually write anything. I was also sickened, and thought, "let people learn the hard way." Pragmatism as the media assumes it, and a team experienced in tradition, with a compulsion to be in the centre...are really dangerous traits when entering a crisis where so much is wildly new. Bush would have accelerated the downfall greatly, Obama will ensure that the downfall happens at a more leisurely pace.

Pamthropologist said...

I must admit to having hoped for better, at least, in a very limited sense. I was caught up in the emotions of something I never expected to see in my lifetime. But my disgust and sadness are overwhelming. Rick Warren's activities in Africa are seriously disturbing and the Clintons just as disturbing. Looks like he won't be presiding over our decline with any of what I would call moral authority.

larry c wilson said...

What are Rick Warren's activities in Africa that are so disturbing? According to CNN, he is involved mostly in AIDS prevention.

Pamthropologist said...

Are you teasing me? Let's see where do I begin? His wife, Kay, decided a few years ago to save babies in Africa. And then Rick jumped on board. He made an alliance with Rwanda and has announced he would like it to be the first "Purpose-Driven Country". Since then his movement has spread to Uganda, as well and he has his eyes on Kenya. Tanzania is probably more problematic because of its large Muslim population and the threat of a Zanzibari revolt.

Anyway, since their influence began many of the messages and methods of AIDS prevention have been altered in east Africa. For example, in 2005 (?--I might have that date wrong) one-third of all funds from the U.S. government are given only to abstinence-based teaching. In general, the addition of a "moral" and religious message has interferred with successful programs. Condom usage is down and judgement of those getting HIV infection is up. There have been some disturbing examples of open preaching against condom usage and even one instance of a Ugandan minister publicly destroying condoms.

The Warrens have developed a(apparently trademarked) message for the overall package of their AIDS preaching which they argue they would like to switch from SLOW to STOP. That little SLOW/STOP message is a doozy. You can read Kay Warren explain it here:

That link alone should cause you to go into apoplexy.

BTW, you can forget about men having sex with men getting any support in east Africa for prevention or treatment.

Talk about your religious empire buildng. Warren will gain even more legitimacy in Africa with the Obama anointing

larry c wilson said...

Inspired, no doubt, by Nancy Reagan's very successful "Just Say No!" campaign.