Robert Johnson: The Good
Vance Geiger (geiger@PEGASUS.CC.UCF.EDU)
Sat, 4 Mar 1995 10:47:11 -0500
According to Mr Johnson in a recent post:
"There has been much speculation as to my motives on the
anthropology and archaeological list groups. I wish to answer
those who have demanded an explanation.
Thus what Mr. Johnson presents can be placed in the context of
his explanation of his motives. This information can thus be
considered to have been chosen by him to present issues and make
points that can be ascribed to him. Just wnated that clear.
Mr. Johnson thus appropriates the words of one Steven Arvizu:
Anthropology can be, in the words of Chicano anthropologist
Steven Arvizu, "a force for the liberation of peoples" or it can
become, as one of the most powerful analytic tools ever evolved,
one of the most dangerous weapons in the hands of those who would
further enslave the world. Or ethnic cleanse it. Or destroy it.
In the context of Mr. Johnson's argument I can then ascribe to
him the intorduction of the "good" versus "evil" dualism where
anthropology can be either "good" or "evil."
Mr. Johnson is of course representative of the "good" and against
the "evil" as incarnated in:
"the corporate-money economy-New World Order or the unfortunate
but "necessary" assimilations of indigenous tribal peoples. And
anthropology whores itself to the preconceived packaging of the
expectations of National Science Foundation grants, World Bank
"development" schemes, and God knows what in need-to-know
corporate enterprising. Not to mention the continuing
"scientific" adventuring so common to academics and their student
prodigies, in many cases washed down by intensive fieldwork in
And further, offers himself up to martyrdom:
"There won't be any more ethnomethodology out of me. Censor me,
throw me off of lists, or inform on me as you will."
How nice, how considerate. Mr. Johnson, is however, not the
exception within anthropology that he would make himself out to
be. There are many who have, like Mr. Johnson, pursued
anthropology from the point of view that anthropology is not out
to discover the why of human behavior, the why is the world of
human beings the way it is, but the why not. Why is the world
not the nice place it should be. People who have predispositions
as to what anthropology should discover and consider the various
forms of despotism, genocide, domination, and general nastiness
found among human groups both synchronically and diachronically
to be an abberation, a deviation, a disease in need of a cure.
Thus for you, Mr Johnson, a perspective from a lower middle-class
southern white-trash white-boy wannabee.
The Appeal of Post-Modern Scientific Social Justice.
Welcome folks, to the farmer's intellectual, a radio program
to make you think. Today's topic is the appeal of post-modern
scientific social justice.
What was the intellectual appeal of scientific social
justice? I believe that the central appeal of Marxism was its
mechanistic explanation of what many people thought was
objectionable behavior. In essence, an answer to evil. Marxism
provided frames of reference, classes, that de-individualized the
behavior of people that led to the suffering of others.
Intellectuals then began to analyze the behavior of people in
terms of their class, and not their individual ethical or moral
frame of reference.
Why was there this appeal? Why was it preferable to think
of behavior that led to the suffering of others in terms of
groups of people rather than individuals? Well, let's us just
ask one of these inteeelectuals that very question.
We have with us today a boner fide inteeeelectuaaal, Mr.
Harry Brain. Mr. Brain is a graduate of both Harvard and Yale
and currently serves as Professor Demeritus of Philosophy at
Berkeley, that bastion of inteeelectuaaalism. Dr. Brain is a
specialist in the Philosophy of a Science of Social Justice.
"Now Mr. Brain, a question..."
"Harry, if you please. We don't stand on formality too much at
"Yes, yes of course." Interviewer spits tobacco juice 15 feet
into upturned cow skull serving as spittoon. "I'm all for that."
"Thanks." Interviewer coughs, "cof, cof, Cof, COF!", blows nose,
"sssssSSSCCCHHHHRRRRROOOOOOooooonk!" , wipes nose with sleeve of
coat. "Ah, 'scuse please."
"Now Mr. Brain, what exactly is a Science of Social Justice?"
"Well now, the Science of Social Justice is what used to be known
as Anthropology. That was back in the days before the discovery
the truth of Social Justice."
"I see," the interviewer says and then takes a swig straight
from a bottle of Old Tree Stump bourbon, wipes off the bottle
neck with his sleeve and offers it to his guest, who politely
"And just what is the truth of Social Justice," the interviewer
"Ah, the truth of Social Justice," replies Mr. Brain, wagging his
finger in the air and tilting his head back just far enough to
elevate his nose high enough to establish his academic bonafides.
"The truth of social Justice," Mr Brain continues, "is that our
present social condition, predicated, predisposed, preceding from
as it were, and generally based on a whole raft of inequalities
between the genders, the races, the economic classes, the
educated and uneducated, the old and the young, the young and the
younger, the rich and the poor, the owners and the laborers, the
quick and the dead, is an aberration, dare I say, an abomination,
of our true evolutionary roots which go deep into the rich,
nutritious soil of equality and equity."
"I see," said the interviewer. "That business about the roots
going deep into rich, nutritious soil, I think our listeners can
get into that, could you elaborate a little more on that?"
"Elaborate?." Mr Brain repeats the word as if it had just been
uttered by a domesticated farm animal, his voice expressing
"Yeah, elaborate, you know give us a little more detail on that
rich soil stuff," the interviewer adds in a helpful voice.
"Why yes...ah...you must attend to our evolutionary history, our
development as a species, as it were. You see there was a time,
a brief shining moment in our evolutionary development when the
inequities that so plague us today, did not exist."
"I see, Mr. Brain. Can you tell us when the brief shining moment
took place? At what stage of evolutionary development was our
species in during this utopian phase?" The interviewer asked as
he impelled another dollop of tobacco juice toward the upturned
skull and took another swig of Old Tree Stump.
"Utopian?" Said Mr. Brain repeating the words of the
interviewer, again with some degree of incredulity, now diluted
with some suspicion as well.
"Yeah, utopian, at least it sounds utopian." clarified the
interviewer. "Tell me Mr. Brain, was it during our monkey
"No, no," said Mr. Brain, shaking his head. "During our
monkey...no...I mean during the time when we were co-evolving
with what are now modern apes, not monkeys by the way, there was,
as we can see from the behavior of our modern apes, a lot of
inequality in society. Modern ape societies are not as
stratified as our own societies but there are still serious
inequities involving dominant males and females to subordinate
ones, inequalities between the young and old. No, no, our golden
age was before that."
"So it was before the monkey period," the interviewer rubbed his
jaw in contemplation. "Let's see...what come before the monkey
period? Hmmmmmmmmm." The interviewer burped. "AAwwwwwpp!" "I
think I got it!" The interviewer cried. "Before the monkey
period wasn't there some kinda small rodent time?"
"Hrrumph," Mr. Brain coughed. "Well, yes there was. And before
that there was a reptilian period and before that for a long time
there was a sea creature period. But, ...um, even during those
periods however there was still a lot of inequity to be had. No,
I don't believe that was the golden stage in human evolution."
"Well, Mr. Brain, sir, with all due respect," the interviewer
said. "We've pretty well used up the evolutionary chain. In
fact, there ain't much left but maybe some kinda a protozoa,
maybe those little one celled critters, bacterium I believe
they're called. Hmmmmm. Are you saying that our utopian analog
is the amoeba?"
"Precisely!" Mr. Brain cried, leaning forward and waving the
finger around again. "One celled asexually reproducing creatures
experience almost no inequality in their social structure!"
"Pardon me, Mr. Brain," the interviewer interrupted. "But amoeba
ain't got no social structure."
"Precisely!" Mr. Brain exclaimed.
"I see," said the interviewer, turning back to the camera. "Well
folks you heard it here first! You want equality? Make like an
amoeba!" The interviewer turns to another camera for a different
angle. "And now folks it's time for the farm report with Tommy
Turnip and a special feature yawll won't want to miss on ridding
that tomato patch of yellow spot disease caused by the nasty
bacteria E. foli! So until next time....