Re: human rights

Sherwin P. Hicks (V935CF54@TEMPLEVM.BITNET)
Wed, 7 Dec 1994 19:04:44 EST

enous people.

Anthropologists (scientists in general) who seek to raise
the social, economic, and/or political standards of a NEWLY discovered
people will inevitably lead them to disaster. Capitalism is waiting, in the
background, to follow such a discovery and where there is capitalism there is
racism, sexism, and class separation. If there are valuable natural resouces
which exist in the area of a newly discovered people you can bet the farm that
their best interests will be lost in the quagmire of self-interest motivated
by greed. Since when in the history of the U.S. (maybe I shouldn't be so
broad in my question, it will no doubt lead to arguing unrelated specifics)
has social and environmental ills NOT taken a back seat to the interests
of capitalism.

I am not writing this to condemn the work already completed by anthropologists,
I am merely pointing out that there are too many social, polical, and environ-
mental ills in the U.S. to worry about fixing what we deem as "wrong" or "not
functioning" someplace outside our backyard. I don't recommend turning
our backs on the world but, enough is enough....if we can't cure OUR domestic
sores, how are we going to tell others what is right and/or wrong.........
would we not smear them with the ooze of our social sicknesses?? It is true
that history stands to show how "people mixing it up" has had a big influence
on our's unfortunate however that the vast majority of
people would agree that this type of education has been a mostly negative
experience. Let's not paint a picture of stars, sunshine and rainbows when
reality shows a long history of economic, social, environmental, political,
and educational abuse which happened/continues to happen in the U.S.. What are
we going to teach anyone about living a better life when we live in a society
plagued with violence. I don't want to get into an argument of "nature vs.
nurture" but, how can U.S. citizens set aside the thought pattern
being religiously, politically, economically, and socially superior (how
ruthless does the concept of infanticide seem when compared to the realities of
abortion and/or the ingestion of birth control pills...not much, eh?).
The mere fact that the seeker (scientist) looks (hunts) for indigenous people
is a statement regarding the superior/inferior posture involved in this
undertaking. Let's call a dog a dog and admit once and for all how damaging
it is for outsiders to discover "unlocated" people. I don't have
numerical data to support this statement but, for the majority of these
situations I am sure my statement holds true...... at the very
least I can point to a history book to support my statement....there
isn't a whole hell of alot to be found regarding how indigenous people
simular to the Yanomami, have been helped (long term). Is there an "issue"
regarding the intentions of a certain ethnographer concerning whether or not
HE manipulated Yanomami information for profit??? I hate to think anyone
would sensationalize field study material for profit and self-gratification.

Sherwin P. Hicks

---------------------------Original message----------------------------
Re Michelle Golden's post and what it means to culturally contextualize
oppression -- analyzing the cultural context of oppression is not just
something that can be used to "justify" the oppression, it's also a necessary
preliminary to figuring out how to change the oppression; if you don't know
what the objected practice is connected to, you're not likely to be successful
in changing it, and even if you do change it you're likely to introduce all
kinds of effects that are not seen as desirable by either you or the people
involved. And a decent cultural analysis will also show that ends and means
ARE connected, and for outsiders to come in and unilaterally, by threat of
force or other means connect with state power, change a practice, creates a
context that leads to an us vs. them mentality that's going to
result in consequences that most of us would probably agree are undesireable
further down the line. On the other hand, I personally do not subscribe to the
notion that anthropologists necessarily have to be on the side of preservation
of "tradition" and the status quo -- I do think that there is sometimes a role
for outsiders to work _together_ with insiders of a particular group to create
social change -- it's ridiculous to think that cultures should somehow be
"pure" and free from outside influences -- most of human history is about
people mixing it up and learning from each other. I talked about some of these
problems lately in connection with discussions about female circumcision
(infibulation) in the Sudan with my class (they were reading Janice Boddy's
book _Wombs and Alien Spirits_). The students were able to see that their
initial reaction to the practice, that it was simply a result of "ignorance"
and would vanish if M.D.'s came in and told them not to do it,
didn't take into account the meanings Sudanese women attach to the practice
and how it is embedded in marriage practices and the other institutions and
practical strategies that are part of people's lives -- all of which must be
taken into account in any strategy for changing the practice, as some Sudanese
feminists are themselves trying to do.

Eve Pinsker