Re: Mandate (fw)

William Bangs (wbbangs@U.WASHINGTON.EDU)
Mon, 20 Feb 1995 19:39:56 -0800

Dear everyone,

I seem to have sent my comments on this issue merely to the original
poster by mistake. Anyway, since I took the time to respond, I decided
I'd forward it to the list, since that's where I thought I was sending it
in the first place; I beg your indulgence.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 20 Feb 1995 19:35:07 -0800 (PST)
From: William Bangs <>
To: John Mcreery <jlm@TWICS.COM>
Subject: Re: Mandate

On Tue, 21 Feb 1995, John Mcreery made some interesting comments:

> Hugh Jarvis writes that Anthro-L's mandate is broad to enough to cover
> "government versus ethnic
> minority troubles in Chiapas, but not really earthquake related angst
> from Kobe." I don't mind including the former, but what, pray tell, are the
> grounds for excluding the latter. If the list is used purely to vent
> feelings or political opinions that is, I think, unfortunate. But why
> responses (governmental, ecological, psychological, whatever) to a war
> in Mexico should be grist for the anthros mill while responses (governmental,
> ecological, psychological) whatever to an earthquake in Japan are not
> is hard to fathom. The anthroplogy isn't in the event. It's in the
> understandings that anthropologists do or don't bring to it.
--Aside from the problem that would insue if we took this las sentence to
its logical extreme (events in themselves have absolutely NO
importance...) the general point is right on: if we want to look at how
the Japanese government constructs its world (and wish to tie that into
more basic questions about how the Japanese as a SOCIETY construct their
world) by way of analizing (say) how they treat foriegn disaster-relief
teams, then that's still anthropological. Even feelings and political
opinion are (in some sense) anthropoligical; let's remember that the
study of mankind is broad enough to include everything from socialization
to whatever that d-word is in the brain.
> Were I in a flaming mood, I would wonder about the politics/prejudice/racism
> behind a fascile dismissal of misfortune afflicting those little, yellow,
> Japan bastards who have had the temerity to get richer than we are
> combined with a sentimental concern for the miseries of the little brown
> brothers in Mexico. Do anthros, for all our talk about humanity, only
> care about those we are in a position to condescend to?
--This question, also, is right on target. Just 'cause Mexicans are
closer to us doesn't make them any more deserving than Japanese of our
> Note, I don't attribute these opinions to Hugh. I read them between his
> lines...which seems to be a fairly common tactic these days...When is it
> justified? When is it not? Is the linguist inferring a grammatical structure
> of which his informants' are unaware, or an analyst in pursuit of repression,
> fundamentally different from someone fighting with another who says "I
> heard that! You meant XXXX and you can't tell me any different!" Now, that's
> an interesting puzzle.
--Yes it is, and an important one! The way I see it is: if we're reading
a statement by a politician or PR person (they're related in that we
assume they're both concerned with managing images) then we have the
right to do this; they've agreed we can by holding themselves up to it.
Otherwise, the ladylike or gentlemanly thing to do is say form it as a
question, vis: "You know, that could be understood as XXX; is that really
what you want to say?". The problem with proceeding any other way is
that, as we know more than people in most other disiciplines, people can
get carried away by the tropes they live with daily (Does "I'm feeling up
today" really mean the person has consciously thought about what it
culturally means to represent "up" as "good" or "happy"?). What reading
between the lines does is make us aware, but I think that most of us ARE
by now aware, and I, at least, have many a time had people put words in
my mouth based on what was "implied" in my words. I share a frustration
with anybody who has ever felt mis-quoted by that process. Language
might indeed imply important things, but if we get so wrapped up in these
that we fail to recognize that it is also a vehicle for face-value
communication via ordinary old denotational meanings, then, to borrow yet
another metaphor US North Americans seem fond of: we are losing sight of
the forest for the trees. Every once in a while I want my words to mean
what the dictionary says they mean, and not something else.

Ben Bangs

We each must decide which values are worth saving,
which satisfactions are worth sacrificing,
what ultimately we wish from life.

I fear many do not give this proposition
the sufficient thought it deserves:
until they become too engrained in a superficial life,
too far removed to find such harmony again...