Re: Appearances

Eve Pinsker (U56728@UICVM.BITNET)
Sat, 29 Oct 1994 00:15:09 CDT

[If you want the punchline moral, skip to the end. I was thinking online.Sorry]
Re Sherwin Hicks posting on the ineffectuality of polite, "nice" responses to
well-mannered mad men: the problem is that nasty responses aren't generally
successful either -- the "mad" men who remain calm and whose tone of voice is
read as signifying "reasonableness" end up looking better. People like
Louis Farrakhan and Derek Freeman know/knew that very well -- both the
aforementioned could sound venomous, but they were very careful, when
addressing potentially hostile audiences, to remain calm and speak in measured
tones, no matter how vituperous their interlocutors got.
I don't know, there's got to be another way than nice vs. nasty, or what's
read (incorrectly) as the "voice of reason" vs. (however legitimate) passion.
What do we do? Take more initiative and have the AAA issue a series of
position papers on issues currently discussed in the media?(probably wouldn't
work, as one can't get a group of anthropologists to agree on much, and
writing anything by committee is hell, usually both as to process and product).
I'm a political anthropologist who sometimes works on discourse, I should be
able to come up with some strategy for controlling discourse in Rushton-type
situations, but right now I'm drawing a blank. What Lieber did -- using the
legitimacy that anthropology still has re discussions of race to get an editor
to accept an op ed piece -- helps; at the minimum said quite clearly that
Murray et. al. were NOT representing a point of view endorsed by academic
anthropology or supported by anthropological research.
People like Deborah Tannen (although I understand she's gotten
some flack from more "purist" colleagues) who discuss complex research in
terms that can be understood and seen as relevant by a wide audience, help too.
I'm not saying every employed academic has to do that, but not maligning or
penalizing the people who do (within the field) would probably help.
I think Gould's articles in _Natural History_, later reprinted in book form,
probably helped raise the level of American discourse on "race" (in _The
Mismeasurement of Man_), although I guess we're talking here about a fairly
highbrow audience. But remember Margaret Mead used to have a monthly column
in _Redbook_ magazine? No anthropologist doing that now as far as I know. (I
understand Ellen Goodman had an undergraduate degree in anthropology, however.)
I guess what I'm saying is that rhetorically, it's best not to wait to enter
the media fray until your options are limited by having to respond to someone
else's attack. And the fact that most Americans probably get their news from
network TV (including talk shows) makes things more difficult -- that medium is
n't friendly to people who are worried about oversimplifying things -- but tha
t may change, what with the growing choices of cable etc., and the growing
possibility -- if Internet access isn't restricted to the privileged few -- tha
t netted and webbed hypertext with multimedia will change the way people access
information (see David Brin's scifi novel _Earth_, which someone mentioned her
e awhile back. In his 50-years-hence future, anyone with a video camera and
other by then inexpensive equipment can produce their own multimedia essays and
documentaries etc., which get uploaded onto the NEt and then can get choosen
by the ferret programs users send out to bring back stuff of interest to them -
- by word-of-mouth or web the good stuff gets passed around, and everytime some
one accesses a piece a few more cents of royalty goes back to the creator -- a
rosy view of a decentralized, demonopolized information economy). But that
won't do any good if the population doesn't have any skills in critical
thinking, so the moral of that story is, teach your undergraduates (or whatever
level students, or your children) critical thinking, viewing, hearing, etc.
skills. That's probably the best preemptive strike against Rushton's ilk that
we have. I know it sometimes seems like an uphill battle, but kudoes to you
all who are doing that.
Eve Pinsker