Re: community

Thomas W. Rimkus (trimkus@COMP.UARK.EDU)
Thu, 16 Mar 1995 10:20:19 -0600

On Wed, 15 Mar 1995, Lynn Nordquist wrote:

> What *I* observed in the list interactions was
> pack behavior. There began an attack and then a feeding frenzy that
> didn't stop until the "intruder" was gone. Doesn't this behavior
> prove one of Mr. Johnson's accusations, which was that he saw
> anthropologists as not caring as much about people as they do about
> concepts or publishing? I found the lack of thoughtful debate a bit
> frightening and to then banish the intruder (or was Johnson in truth
> consumed?) <shiver here>... Well I for one think that debate suffers
> when opposing viewpoints are shut down and not explored, modified, or
> exposed, as appropriate.

Another problem I have with the Nordquist letter
has to do with her assertion that the "feeding frenzy" on his posts
verifies one of his accusations, where he saw anthropologists as not
caring about people as they do about concepts or publishing. He was
talking about the subject matter of anthropology, not anthropologists. Mr
Johnson was the last to care about anthropologist as people as is
evidenced by his beligerent and sometimes vicious personal attacks. Not
all on the list were priveledged to these attacks in their private mail
sacks. His position (one of the few for which I had some sympathy) begs
the bigger question which by many in the field is usually considered
outside the hallowed universe of discourse: "What is the proper relationship
of the anthropologist to the subject matter, and what is the real effect
on the subject matter by the process of investigation?" I sometimes see
the field anthropologist somewhat akin to the missionary, both think they
have the right and the duty to access untouched native reality. Many
areas of the primitive world were first introduced to our "better way" by
the anthropologist. Anthropology cannot ignore this fact. I was struck
by the Blom "Ashram" in San Christobal de Las Casas by how comfortable and
interesting the lives of the anthropologists have been as they brought
visibility to the Lacandon people. Does anyone else see this

The list is the front edge of the profession, stuck out
there for all to see and chop away at. New ideas as well as worn out ones
are thrown to the "pack" to be torn apart and digested. I would not
expect reputations to be greatly enhanced in this environment (that
happens in the rarified and controlled environment of the standard
publication path), but a listmember's poorly supported positions could
damage a reputation. This may be why so many of the listers would rather
see this forum remain benign; they are not willing to risk great personal
losses for the possibility of minor personal gains. It is precisely this
ability to banish (outlined by Nordquist) which has in the traditional
venues, protected the professional from attack. On the net you do not
have this priveledge. You must stand and take the punishment from all
sectors. The professional is vulnerable to attack because of the conflict
of interest inherent in the duality of obligation to "professional
standards" and the need to protect the professional's self interest.
The specialized professional has an obvious weakness, he/she is
vulnerable to personal attack on issues by those who have nothing to lose
and, therefore, loses the flexibility to box it out with a fistfull of clear
thinking. Humor is lost in the stuffiness which attends professional
correctness, and the search for a better model is lost in the confusion
of protecting home base.

Most would, I think, see a great need to be part of this new medium, but it is
frustrating for them because of its anarchic nature. Some turn to name
calling when their voices are ignored or rebuffed. Some simply call for a
return to a controlled environment where the assumption of validity is
somehow linked to professional stature and rules which suit their
needs rather than a hashing out of the issues. This tool may be changing
the very definition of the profession.

"If you cant stand the heat, get out of the kitchen" is an old but
applicable tout. Having said all this, I must admit that I do not have a
professional position to protect and am restricted only by what seems to
me to be interesting and valid within some non-trivial context. My advice
is: keep your humor and get out there and rag it out! :>

Tom Rimkus
Madison County