Re: ethics?

Alx V. Dark (avd5863@IS.NYU.EDU)
Tue, 7 Feb 1995 21:10:18 -0500

On Mon, 6 Feb 1995, Mike Lieber wrote:

> Cliff and Alex, if the practice of anthropology is inherently unethical, then
> why are you doing it?
> Mike Lieber
I wonder why you would suppose that I said that anthropology was

You have provided a fine list of individuals who have worked on land
issues and other natural rights issues. This is a good and useful role
for anthropologists, given their knowledge, if they would thwart or
dismantle colonial processes. But this still misses the issue (which was
the real point of my retort) which is that it is not the who did and who
didn't of colonialism (because some anthropologists certainly have
contributed to colonial rule or other aspects of state power, hell,
even in Johnsonian proportions, although there's no reason to suppose
anthros were exceptional in this -- only that we've done it in our own
specific way; the list I'm not providing any person can supply although
this is self-defeating -- Griaule's theft of idols in Africa, the
collection of potlatch goods confiscated and sent to Ottawa, anthros who
unfortunately testify AGAINST native peoples in court, etc.). To
reiterate: these specifics don't close the discussion on these ethical

The point I would make one more time is that in response to general ethical
propositions we have as a gang of anthropologists mostly replied
defensively, using spurious ethical arguments, and in defiance of real
history and politics. We point to the political and historical situation
of other places like South Africa (Robert Thornton) and say of the
situation in America, "how naive." As for putting ethics into practice,
there are anthros who do this and there are treaties, laws and government
bodies which should (if they operated fairly all the time -- they don't)
redress past injustices. All of this only exists in the first place
because someone, somewhere, insisted on rights and responsibilities (one
way or another). What I find galling, in a word, is this
attitude of "that's the way it is." Wrong -- I must insist for five days
now. It is the way we have made and continue to make it to be.
That's all. That's our
responsibility and we can ask if the discipline overall has lived up to
this -- do we approach this question with defensiveness or a calculus of
individual actions? I think a combination of looking at specific
instances, good and bad, and relating them to various colonial and
imperial regimes and the role that anthropological endeavors (like other
forms of knowledge production) have played in this (of course its neither
black or white -- to forstall further arguments along these lines).

Meanwhile: why these dismissive arguments and defensive posturing?

Did Johnson post his proposition that all national parks be returned to
native peoples on ANTHRO-L, or only on NATIVE-L? It think I missed it

______________________________ ____________________________
Alx (no e, indeed) V. Dark Department of Anthropology
internet: New York University
"Wash your brains, think 25 Waverly Place
again, double check" -- H3O New York, NY 10003 USA