Re: what exactly do anthropologists do?

Gerold Firl (
5 Jul 1995 15:04:37 -0700

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

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

>>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?

>I have studied economics extensively. I am an expert in modern finance
>and Wall Street trading strategies.

I take it that this is your way of saying that you *do* recognize the
benefits of competition? The form of competition used by rival gangs
engaged in trafficcing illegal goods often includes violence; when the
competition is eliminated, it doesn't come back. Such tactics are
recognized as illicit, counterproductive, and damaging for society, which
is why they are illegal, and only used by criminal organizations.

Monopoly is also recognized as dangerous; it is outlawed by complementary
legislation. Thus we see the need to maintain an optimum level of
competition - enough to bring the best possible products to the
marketplace, but not so much as to allow destructive market wars.

>>The perils of the marketplace aren't in the same league with the
>>realities of the battlefield and the slave block.

>I suppose.

I'm not sure I'm catching the proper nuance in your response. Is that
grudging agrement, or an ironic dismissal?

>>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.

>And why is that? Because they've been given the opportunity to
>always take the easy way out?

Well, first of all, every animal has a built-in energy-minimization
routine, which motivates it to find the least-energy path for any activity.
The adaptive advantage of such a set-up is obvious. The difficulty comes-in
as we expand the time period over which energy costs are measured; do we
care about the next decade? The next century? In the extreme local
short-run, it might make sense to drive the car down to the corner to buy a
pack of cigarettes, while if we calculate the costs over a longer time, and
over a wider span, a different conclusion will be reached.

Point being, laziness needs no ideological underpinning; it is a natural
part of life, physiological, to use our earlier terminology. Culture must
make active efforts to conquer laziness, and inculcate an ethic of work and
delayed gratification. Young people who have missed-out on this
enculturation tend to be lazy, as you point out, and local cultures tend to
have local optimization, also producing a lack of forward-looking effort
directed towards remote rewards. Notice how our culture is evolving a new
consciousness of the global costs of local optimization.

>Do you have any thoughts on how this
>idea might relate to the fact that it is youths who are swayed most
>easily by western ideas?

Older people get set in their ways. They are less adaptible. They *can't*
change. The young are still in their plastic phase. They see a better way
of doing things, they do it.

>>Western cultures are unusual in their desire for novelty.

>I claim that "progress" is only another form of stasis, in that
>it *insists* upon a certain mindset for its leaders.

I guess you could call it that, but it is a form of stasis which produces
fundamentally different results. "Progress" has now advanced to the point
that we have largely conquered disease, and where many people have the
ability to fully explore their unique capabilities.

Have you been following the "science and unemployment" thread, where
a hare krishna devotee calling himself swamy has extolled the virtues of
village life in india? _Profiles in ethnology_, by service, has a brief
synopsis of the social structure of a central indian village which provides
a useful counterpoint to the pastoral idyll of fantasy. (data from the
1950's; there may have been some recent changes - due to western influence,
of course.)

Out of a population of around 2400, the village contained roughly 300
casteless muslims, 700 untouchables, and 1600 members of the respectible
castes. The village economy largely functioned without money, with caste
duties obviating reciprocal obligations. One of the untouchable castes was
required to clean the streets, which were used as both latrine and garbage
dump. They had help from the dogs and pigs. One family owned 1/4 of the
arable land, and 8 families owned another quarter. The most important
yearly festival was dedicated to the goddess of smallpox.

I would like to contrast the stasis of progress with the stasis of unending
cyclic repetition. Progress has extirminated smallpox. Will this cause a
disruption of idyllic village life? Maybe. Maybe they will conclude that
their prayers and sacrifice induced the goddess to withdraw to the blessed
isles of the elect. Under western influence, the indian government has made
some "progress" in lifting the untouchables out of the lowest level of the
caste system. This may seem minor, cosmetic, or imperialist to you, but
many former untouchables, who are no longer constrained to remain as
garbage-pickers all their lives, would disagree.

>Well, perhaps I'll make more of an effort to respond substantially if
>you'll make some effort to modify your discursive style. Frankly, my
>impression is that you believe you do not have any conditioned biases
>or at least that you are able to speak around them.

I am not prepared to simply accept my biases, or throw up my hands and
declare that all hope to understand others is futile because I'm not them.
I attempt to understand my biases and thereby expand my perspective beyond

>I suppose I cannot
>really convey how your ideas look to me.

I do appreciate the effort however. Your response educates me about the
shortcomings in my attempts to communicate.

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