Dirty hands

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Sat, 9 Dec 1995 12:39:15 +0900

Martin Cohen writes,

>>He, on the other hand, was motivated by what he thought was the right thing
to do. Of course he ran his co. for profit. (He's retired now.)

On a related issue: We live in a capitalist society, like it or not.
However much we may disparage the system (and the man I referred to above
could enthrall you for hours on the evils of capitalism), it is the hight
of elitist arogance to disparage people in the process of earning a living
in this system. We academics, with our dependance on grants and public
funding, tuition collected by our employers, etc. are not above it all. In
fact, since we do not contribute to material production, there are plenty
of old time Marxists that would call us "social parisites." Advertising
moves products, thereby employing workers, who feed their families. It is
not more or less obnoxious than any other form of economic activity in a
capitalist society. How many academics (especially females) underpay some
hard working exploited woman from Latin America to care for their kids so
they can spend the day on campus?

The friend I described did something remarkable. He got his hands dirty in
capitalism, as we all must, without compromising his basic humanity. He
did make compromises in his career. He chose to support his family
succeeding in comercial production rather than starve to death trying to
make it directing motion pictures without studio backing.

As to all the grad students on the list: Beware of the arrogance of
academia - most of you will have to find some creative way to earn a living
or take jobs in marketing. Academic anthropology cannot support us all.

Thanks, Martin. As an anthropologist who has made his living in advertising working for the last 12 years for a major Japanese agency, it's wonderful to feel
(albeit indirectly) understood.

Let me add two points: First, it is one of the joys of anthropology that it
can be done anywhere. Being an anthropologist enriches whatever work you do
and the work itself is, of course, grist for the anthropological mill.
Second,the academy is not nearly so unforgiving as an intellectual diet
restricted to "critical theory" might suggest that it is. At the AAA in
Washington, I was pleased to discover far more people interested in and
supportive of what I am doing anthropologically than the--I think it was
actually zero--number of those who saw me as a pariah. In retrospect it has
been my own sense of shame that put anthropology on ice for all those
years before I felt able to take it up again.My own worst critic was me.

Thanks again,

John McCreery