Re: what exactly do anthropologists do?

raja (
28 Jun 1995 22:01:26 GMT (Gerold Firl) wrote:

>But installing a telephone system is a non-trivial task. It takes time, it
>takes money, and it takes expertise. If people want to have telephones,
>they need to pay for it somehow. It's really quite simple. There are lots
>of companies which install telephone systems, but they can't do it for
>free. But they don't care about your beliefs, your personal habits, or the
>color of your skin. It's strictly business. No ideology involved. No
>country is compelled to accept western communications technology. If they
>want it, they can get it. It turns out that basically everyone wants it.

The explosion of commodities in markets around the world, which largely has to do with the processes of integration and global enclo=
sure I referred to earlier, is no doubt transforming the lives and consciousness of diverse peoples. You are right in suggesting th=
at certain commodities ease the lives of people and make work easier, etc. However, you missed the whole point by assuming that I w=
as arguing against the use-values of the commodities themselves. What I was pointing out was that such a presence of commodities in=
the third world is often used as evidence that third world peoples have embarked on the one-way journey from 'tradition' to 'modern=
ity.' That journey is a figment of an imagination that has ideological committments to the prerogatives of euroamerican capitalism a=
nd the inevitability of 'westernization.' Such an imagination however is the result of a long process of internalization; false cons=
ciousness is a condition that allows the victim to think and act in ways that work against his own long term interests. Thus a fals=
e understanding of one's world can only lead to self-delusion while serving the interests of power.

>>Can you give an example of this warfare you speak of, this clash of
>cultures? It looks different from the western perspective. In the US, >>there is enormous interest in other cultures.

When the US waged a brutal war against the people of Vietnam, butchering more than 3&1/2 million people, they had one overarching go=
al: to annhilate all opposition to their expansion plans in Asia. The US conspired with its European friends, bought off collaborat=
ors in the third world and committed what is probably one of the most heinous crimes in history. The attempt to expand into Asia wa=
s smashed quite surprisingly by a peasant army, whose only reason to fight was to protect their families, their land, their lives. =
They had no global plans, no megalomania, no plans to imagine universal domination..You would probably call them 'backward,' and und=
erstandably so, since you worship at the shrine of western supremacy. But hey, technology could not destroy their spirit, could it?=
The barbarism wrought by capitalism can only succeed in dehumanizing the very footsoldiers of capitalism; dehumanizing them to the=
point that capitalist society today is on the verge of psychological collapse. Infrastructural evidence of strength, dynamism, etc=
cannot hide the fact that people in the west are depressed, sad, unsatisfied, and demoralized. It has nothing to do with the pres=
ence or absence of religion or morality; it has everything to do with the morality of capitalism. Rationalization is essential for =
expanding commodification; commodification is essential to those who seek new avenues for profit; as competition increases, commodif=
ication increases; thus while increased competition is marketed in terms of the quality of commodities, necessitating the expansion =
of the myth of technopia, the fantastic future, Star Trek, etc., the actual result of increased competition is conflict. Why? Becau=
se we cannot have production beyond certain limits without pushing ourselves to the point of fighting.

Now, some people don't give a damn; they see the future as one hell of a wild-west; where they'll be fighting for survival, and it d=
oesn't really affect their conscience to think that many many people will have to suffer because of their strange fascination with t=
he wealth of material form. I say material form, because, commodities essentially end up being forms, since the logic of capitalism =
requires people (with incomes) to keep pursuing forms, so they keep buying; it is the activity of buying that keeps the system alive=
today. The average suburban American owns more things than he can use; he owns more than one tv, one car, a vcr, a stereo system, =
etc, etc,. etc. Now using the conventional modes of analysis, one may observe that since he owns all these things, his life is a lo=
t 'easier,' a lot better, etc. in short:he';s 'there,' destination 'progress', last stop for now at least (until commercials tell hi=
m he's backward and needs to buy somethng else to validate his existence again.) But if you were to pay closer attention to some det=
ails of his 'lifestyle' (the 'modern' substitute for life), you will notice that these commodities are more in number than he can us=
e; because he spends so much time selling his labor (or 'managing' others' labor) in order that he can pay his rent, maintain these =
commodities, and occassionally engage in pleasurable activities like lunch with the family, evening out with the kids, beer with fri=
ends, time to visit relatives, etc. These are quite common activities in the third world, usually derided by 'development experts' =
and their henchmen, as evidence of 'laziness, inefficiency, etc.'

To make a long point short, let's conclude that my argument pertains, not to the actual use-value of commodities, whose rather wonde=
rful (often dubious) qualities are well known to people the world over, but rather the actual lives of peoples within a system that=
marks people by the commodities they use, or more correctly, own. The above discussion of suburban American lifestyle was meant to=
point out that the ideology of capitalism cannot be found only in its commodities. Commodities do reflect capitalist relations (eg=
a watch), culturally specific uses (toilet paper), global relations of power (ivory, tea, cocoa), etc. It can be argued that tech=
nological developments in the west have largely focussed on reducing the role of labor in the production process, and also freeing l=
abor from the home, through commodities that are marketed with the ideology of 'faster is better.' One cannot simply use the mere f=
act that somebody somewhere wears a pair of jeans, and use that fact to say, 'hey, there's an example of how the world wants to be l=
ike us here in the west.' The guy wearing jeans might be writing a paper condemning the west for its hostility to his people, who k=

.to be continued..