Cyanida spill clarification

Nick Corduan (nickc@IQUEST.NET)
Sun, 27 Aug 1995 11:17:58 -0500

I feel, based upon some of the responses of gotten -- many of them in my
private mailbox, not on the list -- that I need to clarify my position on
this Cyanide Spill issue . . .

First of all, let me re-iterate that I am very concerned and distressed about
this tragic accident. Therefore I am offended by those people who have sent
me notes insinuating or stating that I am being apathetic towards the
tragedy. As I have tried to make clear on repeated occassions, I have no
problem with wishing to help the unfortunate people of Guyana. My only
question is whether this is ontopic, as phrased. (And I have some moderating
experience in my own right, so this is a pet-peeve of mine.)

Let me explain my questions and problems . . .

1) Several people have sent me notes explaining the importance of the thread,
in light of informing field-workers in Guyana of the dangers, and of
discussing or studying the effects of the disaster on human culture. Great!
Both of those seem to be to be highly relevant and honorable goals . . . But
the notes, as posted to the list, did not make mention of either goal. They
simply called for salvaging the disaster and/or informed people of the great
tragedy. If the posters had simply made mention of the anthropological
implications, the thread would have been highly on-topic and excellently
worthy, IMHO. Perhaps the implications are clear enough without explicit
enumeration, you say? Maybe. However, all news has such implications --
every event that occurs effects human culture, cultural development, and
anthropological field-work. The fire that destroyed several stores in my home
town has an effect on the culture of the citizens of this town. The murder
of a man in los Angeles has an effect on human culture. The buying-out of
Lotus by IBM has an effect on human culture. Every single item of news
effects humans and their culture. Do we really want to have daily news-posts
on this list, however? If I were to construct a letter examining the effects
that that fire had on the culture of this town, I think it would be quite
on-topic and informational. But just reporting the news of the fire would
not be -- and if everyone reported their pet news stories, this list would be
bogged down quite heavily!

2) Some people have written me explaining that the thread serves the cause of
anthropology, because anthropologists have a duty to the people they study,
who supply them with their liveliehood. I have multiple problems with this.
First of all, this treats these poor people as less than people, IMHO.
Calling them the basis of study reduces them to the level of lab
expiriments. If you wish to say that as students of mankind, we, above all
other people, should love and protect mankind, great! But to say, As
students of mankind we should protect mankind because without them we'd be
out of work, seems callous. Secondly, since when are we in the business of
elevating peoples? I thought were were students, not gods. Once
anthropolgists start making judgement-calls part of their work -- "These brown
folk are mere savages!"; "Look at what the white scourge has done now!";
"Why, those heathens pray to plants, for heaven's sakes!" -- their science is
tainted and obscured. I am *not* advocating any policies of trampling on
indigenous peoples; such actions disgust me and make my stomach turn.
However, it is not a part of anthropology to make a call one way or the
other. As human-beings we can and should look at atrocities and point them
out as being what they are. But we should not include that as part of our
science of anthropology.

I hope you all can now better understand my position -- that I am not
un-moved by the events in Guyana, but am merely annoyed by off-topic posts.


Nick Corduan                 "...there is as much dignity in tilling
     at                       a field as in writing a poem."
(                           --Booker T. Washington