Re: what exactly do anthropologists do?

Gerold Firl (
29 Jun 1995 17:27:49 -0700

In article <3sv61l$> (Todd Michel McComb) writes:

>In article <>,
>Gerold Firl <> wrote:

>>traditional rights of conquest. The only precedent I can recall was the
>>conversion and enlightenment of ashoka the great, in india, around 250 ad.
>>After conquering most of india, amid the usual bloodshed and strife, ashoka
>>was overcome with remorse and converted to buddhism, triggering a brief
>>florescence of indian unity. A similar enlightenment was re-enacted
>>following western global conquest.

>I agree that blanket terms like "ideological warfare" are not useful.
>However, I think you understate the relationship of the current
>economic situation to this catch-phrase. Economic *competition* is
>a term I often see; I think you can see that competition and warfare
>have similar loci, and I don't think that dismissing this connection
>out-of-hand is appropriate.

You seem to view competition as a ruthless, cut-throat, destructive
process; it can take those forms, but western business law, and customary
practice, attempts to prevent such action. Contrast competition and
monopoly; competition is more healthy, as well as more beneficial to the
economy as a whole.

In the early phase of capitalism, this wasn't understood. Hence the
development of anti-trust legislation. Such legislation recognizes the
danger of overly aggressive competition, but also the benefits. Can you say
the same?

>Further, a case can be made (and indeed it is an open topic in many
>circles) that the shift to "economic competition" (in its current
>guise) from "traditional rights of conquest" was marked by practicality
>as much as anything, and -- in effect -- involved no abjuration.

Certainly it is practical. As adam smith demonstrated, way back in 1776,
maximum wealth is created when each economic entity produces the goods for
which they have a competitive advantage, which are then redistributed by
free trade. And saying that the shift from an old-fashioned model of
conquest and rule-of-force to a laissez faire economy involves no
abjuration shows a real lack of historical perspective. The perils of the
marketplace aren't in the same league with the realities of the battlefield
and the slave block.

>I think that these are the sorts of issues that should be discussed
>if you are to claim to discuss the situation objectively, regardless
>of where the balance ultimately lies.

Sure. It's easy to look at the sidewalks of calcutta, with their attendant
human misery, and conclude that someone must be responsible for it. There
is enormous suffering in the overpopulated areas. Raja believes that
capitalism is to blame. And in a way it is, though not in the simple way he

You don't like simple answers to complex questions, and I don't blame you,
but this is just a usenet post, not a book, so simple is all we have time
for. Capitalism gave the world the means to drastically cut infant
mortality and childhood disease, along with high-yield agriculture. This
has led to very rapid population growth. Like it or not, this is a case
where a malthusian analysis is very apt. Europe had several centuries to
ramp-down fertility as death rates were controlled; the third world did
not. Population grew faster than the ability to support it. Hence calcutta.
In my opinion, vaccines, sanitation, and high-yield agricultural techniques
were given to the third world with no ulterior motives. The consequence has
been a population explosion which has stretched planetary resources to the
breaking point.

>>Mainstream western culture explicitly recognizes the right, and
>>indeed the value, of all groups maintaining their local identity.

>Again, I find that statement a little hard to believe.

The evidence can be seen in both the popular and corporate culture. Major
corporations across america have instituted "cultural diversity" programs
to teach their employees about the value, and necessity, of diversity. They
publish their own codes of business ethics, availible from personnel
departments if you want to see them, which stress the need for fairness in
all business practices. Ethnicity is big in fashion, in entertainment, and
even in american spirituality. Check the "new age" section of a bookstore
for evidence of the american interest in eastern and native spirituality.
Both government legislation and popular opinion mandate a strict respect
for all cultures; ethnic slurs and narrow ethnocentrism is very

>>Many people prefer nikes and jeans to bare feet and legs. It's easier on
>>the feet, and your legs don't get scratched so much. What sort of
>>documentation do you require? This isn't rocket science.

>How about some discussion of the _other options_? I mean, people didn't
>all go around with bare legs and feet before there were nikes and jeans,
>now did they?

Of course not. But when given the option of woven reed sandals and nikes,
they prefer nikes. Jeans give a good combination of strength, flexibility,
durability, comfort, and low cost. For most environments, you can't beat
them. People wear jeans and tennis shoes *not* because they've been
brainwashed into thinking that they can't be cool, hip, and modern without
them, but because they *work*. If they didn't work, they wouldn't be
fashionable; only dupes would wear them.

>>You may have a different threshold, but at some point, you will prefer
>>motorized transport to shanks mare. If not, then you are a very unusual

>If for some reason I wanted to transport a truly large object, that
>might be true, but I have never had such a need in my day-to-day

Ever gone grocery shopping? I've done it both ways. When I didn't have a
car, I would walk, ride a bike, or take the bus to get groceries. I have a
car now; it is much more convenient.

>Do you believe it is a physical hardship for "most people" to carry
>(let's say) 2 gallons of milk home from the corner store (posited
>as, say, 2kms away)? I find the suggestion absurd.

I wouldn't go so far as to call it a hardship; nonetheless, most people
prefer to drive. Call it laziness, call it local optimization; that's the
way people are.

>>If it comes from outside the
>>tribe, then it is viewed as an attack;

>Do you have any particular reason for making such bold generalizations
>on complex phenomena?

Western cultures are unusual in their desire for novelty. Braudel writes of
the surprize of a chinese visitor to paris in the 18th century, who
remarked that in the few years he was away, clothing styles had completely
changed. While the west seeks novelty and change, traditional cultures seek
stability. Look at the islamic belt, from morocco to indonesia. There is a
huge effort to prevent cultural pollution from the west. The same is true
of china. even japan is xenophobic, by western standards.

Cultures have an interesting set of adaptations which function like an
immune response; some are more allergic than others. It helps them to
maintain integrity in a sea of aliens, but also limits their adaptive

>>You've stated that you find my POV absurd, and complained about my lack of
>>documentation; I'd like to invite you to propose an alternative, and while
>>I don't demand any documentation, I'd like to see some rational arguments
>>to back up your position. "Says you" just isn't a very convincing counter,
>>as far as I'm concerned.

>First, I am not trying to make claims about why people do what they do.
>I tend to find such things objectionable on principle, especially when
>presented in short sentences without the slightest qualifier. Maybe
>that is fine in everyday speech, but it seems totally inappropriate to

Anthropology *is* the science of man. We try to understand why people do
what they do. Why do you find that objectioable?

>I do not find your POV "absurd" per se, since many people no doubt
>agree with you.

Just because people agree with an opinion, it isn't absurd? Majority rules?
It seems to me that many opinions which are widely held are absurd, or

>What always irritates me is the way you make these
>claims in sweeping terms while pretending to speak objectively.

Lets call it a given that *every* statement, made by every person, is just
a reflection of their personal opinion. Of course, sometimes what they say
is objectively true, and sometimes it is utterly false. Sometimes it is
purely subjective. But if I say something which looks wrong to you, I would
hope that you'd point-out my error. How else can we learn?

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf