30 November 2007

Over-Estimation of Biomedicine

One of the biggest things that has shown me that capitalism is failing is the health care system. But, just today, I thought that this may be just one of several possible issues. Obviously the current state of political affairs and capitalism have led to corruption, bureaucracy and profit motives to the bloating of the health care system into a disgustingly slobbery and ineffective entity. However, like every issue it is not always so simple. Indeed, I think that the failings of our health care system come down to (surprise surprise) cultural misunderstanding and lack of perspective.

I was at the county health department today with some refugee children to get vaccines. As simple as this task should be, it ended up being much more complicated because the nurses could not simply give the shots but needed signed letters of consent from each parent to allow the administering of this sort of care. The nurse said it was for legal reasons. Beyond corruption and bureaucracy, our health care system is seeing skyrocketing prices of care due to frivolous law suits brought against doctors and hospitals. This is why to administer simple vaccines the health department must cover its ass to a ridiculous extent with useless forms, raise costs to cover lawsuit settlements and often refuse care from many who are unable to afford care or produce necessary approval. It was nearly impossible to translate documents, track down parents, and once again pull the children out of school to get the forms that the department wanted. The 4 children I had brought were essentially denied care.

Cultural misunderstanding is the source of these lawsuits that are plaguing the health care system. If there's one thing that I have learned studying anthropology, it is that however much sense our cultural ways make, there are many more out there and some put our ways to shame. Our health care system focuses on a biomedical tradition. Indeed, alternate healing forms are not covered under federal and private programs. By biomedicine, I refer to those practices that are seen as common sense healing, antibiotics, viral vaccines, surgery etc. This is just one of many healing traditions that are found throughout the world. In truth, biomedicine is incredibly effective, though it should not assume the all-powerful role that it is achieving. Like any healing system, biomedicine is not 100% effective. Many have found peace and healing in treatments like acupuncture, meditation and religious healing where biomedicine has failed.

The problem arises in a misunderstanding of the role biomedicine has in the world. It is one of many systems none of which are completely effective and fail-proof. Most assume that biomedicine, given is foundation in "objective" science, is the most developed and logical treatments. It is accepted by many as the only way to heal. If one has an illness, one can go to a doctor and find a diagnoses and get treatment and it will be successful. When this fails malpractice suits are brought; every minute detail of treatment is analyzed to find THE error that caused harm or death. Perhaps biomedicine's biggest failing is the human element; no doctor can be perfect. But we must not forget that it is just one of many systems and its other failings may just be the limits of "objective" science. If we understand this, then we cannot blame doctors and bring lawsuits against the system, for its imperfections and limitations are inherent and are the risk we, and every other human in the world, takes when seeking healing from whatever source. Lawsuits are pointless and certainly do more harm that good. If indeed they console the hearts of grieving families, their consolation would be better found in an understanding of the cultural aspects of healing, that no single form (especially biomedicine) can offer pure healing. We must accept it as part of our world that people will die, sometimes prematurely, sometimes when it seems that so much more could have been done.

I now realize the true intricacies of the problems of the world. I see many economic and political issues, and many cultural issues. This observation at the county health clinic has shown me that the two are likely to be highly intertwined. Ah, the intricacies of the world!

29 November 2007

Genocide, National Responsibility and Revisionists.

Discussion in my course on museum studies in the past several weeks has made me ashamed to live in the United States. We get an interesting perspective in the course from time because we have a student from Germany who occasionally makes insightful comments about US museum and ways they differ from the ones in her home country. She mentioned, in an off hand manner perhaps, about her surprise that US history or cultural museums never mentioned the "genocide." Anthropologists don't like this term because it has such harsh and evil connotations that it creates one-side support in situations that are far more complex. The US genocide this student refers to is, of course, what we could call "the discovery of the Americas" or "the foundation of our country;" something celebrated. Yet the fact that this continent was "discovered" long before Europeans arrived and the fact that the foundation of success of the United States relied heavily on the eradication of the indigenous inhabitants is indeed often left out of our national conscience.

Another topic that invoke similar feelings, which I will soon explain, was about the proposed Smithsonian exhibit on WWII and the atomic bombing of Japan that featured the Enola Gaye. This exhibit was eventually abandoned because of outcries from all angles of the spectrum. Veterans, peace-niks and the Japanese wanted to see a critical eye turned towards atomic weapons in this exhibit. Just as many veterans and US politicians however didn't want to see such an iconic artifact of US history belittled and shown as a bringer of evil. They accused the museum of being "revisionists," liberal scholars who wish to sully the good name of "America" (Need I mention again the foundation of the nation?). With the controversy flying left and right around the exhibit and a great fear of the Smithsonian losing federal money, the exhibit was abandoned.

Here are two examples of how the United States has managed to weasel its way out of taking responsibility for questionable periods in its history. National museums, notably in Germany (which hasn't hidden from the Holocaust legacy), create museums and exhibits devoted to things like "genocide." Meanwhile the US, which walks around with its head held high singing its own praises about being the protector of liberty, freedom an democracy, seems to live in a state of blissful ignorance of its own past. This nation has enjoyed so much power and influence (and lack of regulation) that it hasn't had to own up to its past. If either of the topics discussed above had made it into museums in their rawest forms, the controversy would be incredible but it would force the nation to deal with these topics. We may not like what happened in the past. We may want to respect that many young people have loved this nation so much that they fight for it, but we cannot forget that in fighting not only our US lives lost, but so are millions of others, many hundreds of thousands in mere seconds even. War is an interesting occurrence that at once calls for celebration and criticism. And it is not right to give one preference over the other for fear of getting "America" down. We don't have to visit the museums or feel good about them being there, but they should exist as reminders so that we no longer walk unaware and jaded in a world where we are so quick to judge other cultures and nations of their deeds.

There are many parallels between acts of violence throughout the history. The "American Genocide," September 11th, The Holocaust, The Crusades, Pearl Harbor, Japanese internment, the dropping of the Atomic Bomb, they're all on the same level as far as I'm concerned. Horrendous acts of violence that, despite their contested neccessity, unprovoked-ness, or senselessness, resulted in massive loss of life. Just note, for a second, that the Holocaust, The Crusades, Pearl Harbor and September 11th have all resulted in the perpetrator/s to be "dealt with" or at least to take responsibility for and commit such acts to national memory. Shouldn't we?

20 November 2007

Sweet Caroline...Kennedy? Really?

I've already expressed my disgust for television and the culture that goes along with it. Sadly, I was reminded again today why I find myself shaking my head when I catch snippets of programs.

I was watching the local news, which is depressing in its own right, but directly following the newscast was Entertainment Tonight. This show represents a lot of what's wrong with the world today. Intimate details of largely inconsequential people are shared and followed and analyzed by "experts" and (this is what amazes me most) millions tune in. For instance, I learned that some male celebritie's twins are suffering from an overdose of some anticoagulant and that one of the Olsen girls has a kidney infection and finally that Neil Diamond wrote the song "Sweet Caroline" inspired by images of Caroline Kennedy. You know, I feel that this stuff is really important. That the lives of people who make millions of dollars for acting in poorly written movies are very important and should influence, if not inspire, my own actions. Then I snap back to reality and realize that these people are living a life of luxury for doing absolutely nothing and the only contribution they make to humanity is occasional misguided and over-publicized donations to this or that charity.

Perhaps my point can be better made in an examination of the writer's strike. This strike is gaining huge amounts of media coverage, indeed I've seen a segment about the strike every time I turn on CNN or read headlines. I've read about the great impact this will have on television and that soon our shows will cease to be written and re-run anarchy will ensue and the minds of so many will be left misguided and conversation-less with no new episodes of Grey's Anatomy or the Daily Show to discuss the next day. When was the last time a "regular" labor union strike go so much attention? When was the last time that the impact of labor union strikes were considered in terms of workers rights and the struggle of the working class instead of the impact on lives of luxury and petty entertainment? I ask these questions not to imply that TV and entertainment shouldn't exist, but rather to illustrate our lost our society is, how obsessed we've become with false worlds that are created in the minds of writers and controlled by reality show staffs. Actual realities are ignored and replaced with ratings-wielding realities.

I call my writing pessimistic and depressing. A friend, however, described it as "...being honest." I mean not to upset people, but being cynical towards daily life is the only perspective that makes sense to me. Clearly, the majority of people who may or may not be depressed or angered by my opinions are just choosing not to evaluate what's really going on. We've managed to put social problems to the backs of our minds and experience our world relative to the technological and media-centered world that is created on televisions. It upsets me to an extent that I cannot have conversations with people without being accused of being too serious or pessimistic. My view of life and world is largely optimistic, an optimism derived from critical evaluation of the world that is falling apart around us. I see a lot of problems, and I see the biggest influences on the lives of people choosing to ignore these problems because they don't sell and make people feel fuzzy inside. I know though, that these problems cannot be ignored, and I am finding that there are more people out there like me (not neccessarily of the same opinion but same philosophies and methodologies for looking at the world). I know that the future will be hard to swallow but that humans will triumph and learn to deal with social and cultural problems.

I have to remind myself of this quite often during the day as my pessimisms and cynicisms are often brought to the fore by the way society functions today. I'm really not as evil and all hating as I seem, I promise.

18 November 2007

Fluidity, Humanity and Hope.

What does the future hold? Where do I see myself in 10-20 years? What is going to play the biggest role in the lives of humankind? These are hard questions, but I can up with only one answer; the humanities. In our shrinking world it is not science, medicine or business that will save us from ourselves. Not to say that these are not noble goals. Science is the hallmark of logic in thinking, something that will hopefully overcome in the minds of many people in this country. Medicine, while problematic at some levels, has only good intentions to keep people healthy. Business, I am not able to see how it is vital, but I'm sure that it plays a role in the organic mesh that is the world.

However, the humanities will be the most important aspect of our futures. In 10-20 years I see myself working as an anthropologist, teaching at a university, making anthropology and social science more accessible to all people, to begin to incorporate its most helpful insights into the minds of all people. I will provide opportunities to think outside the box, cross disciplinary lines and incorporate critical thinking and reflexivity into all aspects of life.

I want to show people that reliance on science as an alternate to religion will only result in bad things. Technology cannot save us, it cannot incorporate itself into the most fundamental levels of humanity and open our eyes. Science, technology, the internet; it creates an illusion of people being closer to each other with connections made with the touch of a button. In reality, it is bringing us father apart. We've created a world where it is possible to live one's life completely on the internet, leaving the house is not neccessary. Indeed, networks like second life allow an individual to create another state of existence, one separate from true human contact. Science encourages us to forget about interactions and problems, and to simply wait until the new ideas comes along that will solve whatever problem there is. Desertification you say? Science will come up with something to solve that. Drying up of oil? Science will create alternate fuel sources, until then we'll just do like always. Developments in technology and scientific understandings of the earth will be important, but they should be the sole idea considered in the "future."

I want to make people critical of medicine, consider the impacts of the biomedical tradition. Consider different forms of healing, forms that often have comparable success rates as biomedicine. Consider how the idea of illness and health varies across the world. The biggest worry I have about relying on medicine is that we will attempt to cure all illness and disease, perhaps with hopes of conquering death. People die for a reason, not to teach a lesson or set an example, not as punishment. Natural evolutionary processes require death. I can't help but wonder if by finding cures to disease after disease we create a population that is prone to illness, where sickly genes can defy the laws of natural selection and create a humanity that must live in hypoallergenic bubbles with weekly immunizations. It is ironic that the more germ-conscious and afraid of this disease and that one, the more we limit exposure to natural elements (no matter how discomforting they might be) that we will breed super-bugs that are resistant to the many ways we attempt to kill them. What will the population of the earth look like in 100 years if we cure cancer and heart disease, problems that have been unable to hamper massive population expansion? What far reaches of the earth will we marginalize people to to make room for people living to be 120, 150?, years old?

I want people to question the position of the US in the future. Capitalism will very soon be on its way out as we see how sick and problematic Adam Smith's capitalism really is. In the future a degree in business will be the equivalent to holding on to a dying tradition.

I want people to think critically, as I do here on this blog. I want people to take a step back and evaluate both the extremely good and the extremely bad to make as well rounded as an understanding as possible. This hope lies in strong support of the humanities, the social sciences, English, international studies, the liberal and fine arts. I want people to think of the world as a fluid place where people drift hour by hour from one role to another, to one lifestyle to another, not as a world where we are bound by cultures and vocations. Specialization will inevitably occur, but this does not mean shutting oneself out from interdisciplinary influences. Fluidity, humanity and hope will be the mantra to consider. With a grounding the humanities we can incorporate many ideas and disciplines, while accepting nothing as doctrine, nothing as universal truth. We will be able to weed out the goods and bads that are hidden within all ideas and ways of acting. The Humanities is where our future lies, it is where my future lies and, quite frankly, I think it is our only hope.

14 November 2007

Prime Time Trivialization

I don't watch too much TV, the occasional drama or documentary, but certainly not regularly. Today, though, I happened to walk into the room where the TV was on and saw a commercial for an upcoming episode of "Deal or No Deal." What can we expect from modern US television? Its either biased political news, mind-numbing perversions of the lives of idiots and fame-mongers or game shows. The news and reality TV are problematic in their own rights but are mere by-products of a sick, failing culture. This particular game show ad caught my attention because they were giving away, not 1 million, not 5 million, not even 10 million, the prize was 100 million dollars. All I could do was roll my eyes in shame.

How has it come to this point where we play games with ludicrous amounts of money. I can't even list the ways that 100 millions dollars could be used otherwise. 100 million in college scholarships, 100 million invested in libraries around the world, 100 million to bribe Bush to leave office early. When I see ads for programs like that I am amazed how we can live with ourselves when we trivialize monstrous amounts of money that could feed hundreds of people for years. No one person needs 100 million dollars to begin with. Oh sure, we'll have the story of the poor inner-city public school teacher winning a million. Even then a million is too much for one person. It doesn't matter what kind of poverty or misfortune you're living in, vast amounts of money are not going to help a bit. For the inner-city school teacher, how is a vast sum of 100 million going to help? Will it end the class system in the United States and make the students of your school equal with the students from the rich suburban school? Will it solve the fact that many children won't move on far in school because they need to work for sickeningly low wages to help support their family? Will it stop violence that stems from the dehumanizing condition of proletariat? Will it stop the fact that the government could care less about education and instead fight a colonial war? Here's the nail in the coffin: said teacher won't even get the entire sum of money, a fair chunk of it will go to the government which will then be used to further perpetuate capitalism, oppression of the working class and a war in the name of Christianity and capitalism.

I have other gripes, I'll try and make this one short. I've seen shows like Home Makeover, where ABC tries to find the most heart-wrenching story it can to viciously play on the emotions of viewers and then throws vast amounts of money at them and builds them enormous houses. I hate to sound emotionally dead but when people are so heartened and inspired by these stories I can't help but think of how naive they are. First and foremost there is not even the slightest humanitarian aspiration of these shows; they are simply taking advantage of our craving to see good in this world crumbling down around us. Second of all, there is absolutely no progress being made in these shows. Occasionally they manage to find someone living in "poverty" but building an over-sized, fancy, house-sized billboard does more harm than good. Change is a gradual thing, not something that can be fit into an hour slot on Sunday night. Fighting poverty and misfortune does not mean finding the worst situations and building impressive houses. Its like getting your arm cut off in a machine, then paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for a mechanical arm and then building a new machine that doesn't require your labor to run it. Its counter productive and doesn't realize the array of conditions and moments that lead one's self to a horrible situation.

While I sit next to crying and heartened people watching these shows, seeing good being done, seeing a down and out person finally getting a break, I can't help but realize that these problems will not stop because of television give aways. We trivialize wealth and social problems for the sake of entertainment and eventually making disgustingly large sums of money that are paid to high level CEOs and management who drive home in their BMWs to their huge houses in California where their children arrive home from private school and everyone enjoys a nice family dinner cooked by Rosa. Rosa, in turn, goes home to her on bedroom apartment in the slum, uses her wages to feed her child, deletes all the calls from creditors and government agencies, talks to her mother back home in Mexico and waits for ABC to coming knocking at her door to help her out.

12 November 2007

Global Warming and Grains of Sand

As may be emerging as a trend in these few blog entries here, I have rather different and critical views on life and the situation of the world today. Seeing as I just tonight attended a lecture on Climate Change and Religious Perspectives, I've decided to devote some time to my ideas on climate change.

In the early days of global warming I argued that it was a natural trend, that our planet moves in and out of climatic stages and trends. This argument is not to deny that global warming happens, but mostly that it should come as no surprise. I have been convinced, of late, that indeed human actions have had a great effect on natural trends and have increased them in an "unnatural" way. I criticize the term unnatural because if humans are not a natural organic being of this planet and earthly ecosystem than I do not know what is. Therefore, even the largest cities could be considered natural landscapes. Perhaps its a stretch and most won't agree, but nevertheless I see similar amounts of beauty in the setting sunlight reflecting off a glass facade of a building as I see in the same sun reflecting off a body of water.

While I accept humans role in global warming I still consider it a natural process. My problem with environmentalists is that they inevitably represent humans as the kings of the earth and the ultimate bringers of change. It seems that many should find conflict in the simple act of living, seeing the destructive and rapist role that humans play towards the world that has been protrayed. I think that the current global warming and climate change dialog greatly overestimates and egocentrically places a great influence and power that we simply do not have. Humans have existed on this planet, currently exist on this planet and will remain in existence on this planet for a minuscule amount of time. We need only consider the life of earth, some 4.5 billion years, in order to humble our futile presence. Our entire 400,000 year existence is but a blink of the eye in the history of our planet, that's own history is but a blink of the eye in the history of the galaxy and so on and so on down the road until we come to times that no human can logically or illogically conceive. That said, environmentalists seem to be under the impression that the world we see today was a once static place; that Pandas and White Tigers and Andean Condors have always and would have always beautified the planet were it not for humans. However, the world that we know and see today is also but a single grain of sand on the great beach of time.

Is it not egocentric and somewhat ridiculous to attempt to save Polar Bears and Iranian Cheetahs from the natural evolution or extinction that has and will always occur? I think it is. Despite how much I love seeing the far reaches of our environment populated by exotic and beautiful animal and plant life, I keep in mind the lack of permanence that my eye represents. Global warming is not a good thing, it is making change happen occur much faster (faster than we as a species have heretofore been able to cope with it), but it is silly to expect to turn off evolution and change and save the whales. Whatever our impact on the globe, it will come to an end one day, either because we mar it beyond recognition and move on to other planets, or because we too will simply become extinct.

This planet still has 4 billion good years left before that damned star our there decides to go supernova. Our impact on the globe will be permanent, but instead of viewing it as negative, indeed as a rape and plundering of the natural world, it is but one of many impacts that have changed the earth. One need only consider the great extinction events that have to date eliminated 99% of the life on the planet; including the most-well known event, the extinction of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago that changed the face of life on the planet.

Life will go on on this great blue planet until the sun explodes or the core stops spinning ("The Core" anyone?). Life in the future will be different, and perhaps humans will be part of a great extinction event that will change life drastically. This is not a bad thing, indeed it is as natural and as bad as an antelope being hunted, killed and devoured by a pride of Lion. Current discussion on climate change is selfish, short sided and homo-centric (?). Instead of thinking we have great control or great influence over the natural (however accelerated) processes, we should consider how to adapt the human condition to coping with such changes as raised sea levels and drought.

"...Living in a State Beyond Absurdity"

The following is a portion of a writing impulse I had in the very beginning of this semester (August 07):

Here’s where my mind fits in. I’m human. Everyone is human. Perhaps of all the universals, and theories, and ideas there is one truth; everyone is human. I must clarify, of course, this word, “everyone,” refers to people, on this planet of earth. Those living all over the surface. Those bipedal hairless, fragile, big-brained, mammals that can recognize the shapes in this writing as meaningful words or could understand these words were they spoken to them. If one could read this sentence, or if one has the cognitive capability of understanding the meaning that I wish to convey, that we are all humans, through whatever means necessary, then that individual is a “person.” I realize there are some that have not the cognitive capability to understand this, but they need not be excluded, for we can define humanity down to a genetic level. Perhaps its basic, perhaps it goes without saying, perhaps it is one of the largest oversights that human kind has made in the last several centuries, but nonetheless, the phrase, “We are all humans,” if mutually intelligible, is the one certain worldly truth. It is only by giving this simple sentence a moment of thought and consideration and then by acting on this sentence as a manifesto and call for action that this world will every become right.

In short, we are all humans, but the majority of humans don’t understand that. Religion, capitalism, war, technology; it’s all really meaningless. We’re all humans.

I’m full of contradictions. Here I sit, at a computer, in a high-priced university apartment, having just proclaimed recently, that while I love to study people I don’t really care about people, yet I assert that the future of humanity lies in realizing that we’re all humans and that nothing else beyond that really matters. I think, though, I am willing to make the changes necessary to realize this future. Perhaps I realize an inevitability and therefore feel little need to actively make changes in my lifestyle as of yet. There will come a time, though, I believe, where all these changes will be forced upon all humans by necessity. Many will suffer. Many are already suffering. I will suffer. It will be hard and probably violent. But the harsh truth is that the only form of living that will work will be borne out of the phrase that we are all humans.

Compared to the few, my most basic living conditions and experiences have been absurdly primitive. Compared to the many, my most basic living experiences have been absurdly luxurious and shameful. I am not afraid to realize that. But here I sit living in a state beyond absurdity.

I’ve given a lot of thought to the fact that we are all humans. I realize it. I see that we need to change as people. No amount of aid or love or money will make anything any better. The capitalist system will fail. The United States will fall from its position as a world power. Marx’s inevitable, unforced, and uninitiated revolution (or perhaps realization) will occur. Equality will be reached in its most primal sense. Only in understanding that everyone is a human can equality fully be realized. Legislation in human rights and universal rights will become senseless and foolish. Why dictate an inherent right, why attempt to give it meaning, a simple self-realization will suffice. Why pray to a God, why attempt to delude one’s self into believing that there is something beyond the fact that we are all human. Why convince one’s self and other individuals that the world works one way or another. Why attempt to make one’s self better than any other?

11 November 2007

On the Future and Anthropology

See an update to this entry here...

Whether or not we like it, the world is a shrinking place. I think most would wonder why advances in technology and communication could be disliked, but I say this because there are those of us who don't appreciate and, quite frankly, detest what our world has become. Therefore, it is a shame, for us, to see the world we have come to know and hate slowly creep over all that has potential for good. This is beside the point though, at least for me because I have resigned myself to the fact that the takeover of materialism, capitalism, neo-colonialism and ethnocentrism is inevitable. Simply put, we must wait it out.

This statement, then, coincides with the contradictory nature that thrives within me. While I have resigned myself to this fact, I can't simply let it happen. As a humanist I have hope in humanity and the human condition. It lies in education. Not the type that humanitarians think we should spread across the "third" world (as if this planet allowed some to be fenced off from others!), not the type that Oprah gives to the girls in South Africa, not the type that the Catholics have traditionally offered at home and abroad. No, in my own recognized ethnocentric nature, I suggest a different kind of education; anthropology. I have been embedded in this discipline for three years now and it saddens me that it is such a forgotten discipline. (As I write this, I can't help but wonder if maybe anthropology is one of those few good things left in the world.) Anthropologists are an interesting breed. We're often impossible to describe on an individual basis so let's forget generalizing. The fact is, the more anthropologists I spend time with the more my mind opens, the happier my life gets and the more I hope I have for the future. I think it is the ideas we have, the knowledge we gain and the perspective we take that offers hope for the future.

I was going to offer a case study of my own university, but for fear of becoming to lengthy, I thought better of it. The point is that current "diversity" and cultural education in this country is severely lacking, if not non-existent. As I wrote somewhere once, we unabashedly celebrate difference without sensitivity and thereby alienate ourselves and others. Somehow we think that we can teach students about others without approaches developed by a field which has devoted itself to studying cultures. I've attended few "diversity" events at my university, but I have taken the course that defines our approach to worldly understanding; instead of students learning of others, they learn of otherness. I see current approaches only reinforcing strict "them and us" dichotomies. This leads to a security in thought and action. We believe that our actions can only be good because we understand other people, we have dealt with "diversity" and we are sensitive to other cultures. In fact, while made strikingly aware of cultural differences, our own way is still celebrated, we only discuss others in our own terms. This is a dangerous security.

Anthropology, simple introductory classes, cultivate different and often times new understandings. The most simple concept to an anthropologist in the 21st century is cultural relativism. Cultures can only be understood and should only be considered on their own terms. Reflexivity is massively important, for we must be aware of biases. Why do we feel the way we do about things? Anthropologists are not gods, we cannot overcome our biases, but the very act of recognizing them and considering how they shape what we learn about others is a skill we all (at least those true anthropologists) acquire and seek to master.

We do not have the power to change differences between "us" and "them" and we should not want such power. Difference is something to live joyously alongside with. However, the one way barrier between us and them need not be impenetrable. Simply considerations of biases and how we have come to be who we are break down this barrier, allowing for a two way transfer where all factors are considered. This is what anthropology has to offer to our shrinking world; a world where cultures are clashing and clashing on a daily basis. A world where all that people know falls apart around them forcing them to reckon with unfamiliar and confusing norms. A world where populations of people, internally as diverse as the sun and the moon, are generalized and told that they do not understand our ways, they cannot function in the modern world without our help. It is in this world and the near future that the one-way barriers between us and them must be perforated if not torn down.

I'm not saying that everyone should be an anthropologist, indeed, it is a field suited for very few. But the ideas and approaches that we practice and study should not be kept and secret and left hidden deep within the ivory tower of academia. This is a call, not only to those who could benefit from such education, but also to those who live it every day. Why contradict ourselves and create barriers between the "lay" and ourselves? We must share and make our ideas accessible, we must create programs that share our approaches and allow students (from graduate to elementary) to learn how to break down barriers and reach better understandings around them. I believe that it is in our hands that the impetus for change lies, we cannot change the world by locking ourselves deep within the halls of scholarship. No, we must make available those ideas and theories that lie at our core, that make use who we are. Cultural relativism and reflexivity, the most basic of our tenets, this is where the future of humanity lies.

10 November 2007


So, to describe fall,
Let us look for an apt phrase.
Peachy Keen? Certainly not.
Peachy in color, and keen in timing,
For no leaf falls until it is ready,
'Til ripe in color.
Leafy Keen, then, one might say.
Leafy Keen.

09 November 2007

Beauty in Truths

A friend and I discussed how he was frustrated by the fact that so many find solace in Vonnegut, but that Vonnegut offers a recapitulation of the words of Jesus Christ, and that recognizing and accepting Jesus offers more than does recognizing Vonnegut. His argument presupposes a belief in a god however, implied when he added that Jesus offered so much more; the "more" being miracles and a path to God. When I asked about how he would explain atheism he answered that it was essentially pride, that atheists are too proud to humble themselves to God and follow him. Again, this explanation reaffirms his own belief and really doesn't quite reach what I was trying to get at.

To rephrase, how do you explain different and opposing realities or truths? We're not so different he and I, we're both not fans of religion, both heed a call for basic good, both liberals (however one wishes to construe such an identity), both having found our place in the world. How then does he reconcile that I don't believe in a god? (Without saying that I am wrong.) Essentially, we both came to the same place, a place where we reflected on our life and the world and what we were taught. We then each chose two completely separate truths. Here's where I am: My truth accepts all truths, I see millions upon millions of different truths, each equally as valid as the next. Who am I to say one's truth is false, or that it really fits into other truths? This is not say that there are no truths. My truth recognizes the fact that there is no one single answer, each person's answer to life is unique to them, even if it falls under the realm of Christianity, Islam, Humanism, Atheism. I know that my answer isn't everyone's answer, but, as everyone does, I think that my answer is the most logical.

So, to make my point in a different way I ask myself the same question. How do I explain theism? Belief in God is an individual's reckoning of the world they live in, the things they've been taught and an inward search. They find that there is a higher power that has put us here, that we have fallen out with it, but that we are striving to reach again in an eternity. How do I explain atheism? Atheism is an individuals reckoning of the world they live in, the things they've been taught and inward searching. They find that science explains the world in predictable ways and that the world can only be reasonably understood by what can be observed. How do I explain Humanism? Humanism is an individual's reckoning of the world they live in, the things they've been taught and inward reflection. They find that, despite all the seemingly endless and irreconcilable contradictions, that all people on this planet share the human condition; respect of the human condition as it exists in the material world frames how they act. By reconciling different beliefs and ideas in their own terms, instead of my own, I create a world view that accepts multiple real truths all creations of individuals in unique time and space. This doesn't make my ideas or anyone else's more or less valid, but simply recognizes them as they are. (I cannot possibly get inside my friend's head, nor he in mine, and because of this neither of us can alter the other's truth.)

I don't think that Jesus or Vonnegut are the ultimate truths, that one or the other is better to find solace in, both only share their message on their own terms. Jesus believed in God the Father (a reflection of his own personal experience as being the son of God), Vonnegut was cynical of religion and the wars that he perceived to go along with it (a reflection of his horrifying experience in World War II). I identify more with Vonnegut then because we share the same cynicism. However, I reckon a truth on my own terms, that while influenced by Vonnegut, certainly does not take an identical form.

I think that recognizing other truths and beliefs is not so much a specific path that runs in opposition to other paths. It's not an absolute ideology, but rather more of a courtesy within or complement to an existing ideology. I think that by doing this we can find beauty in our own truths as well as others'. I hope that he, my friend, need not be frustrated with Vonnegut, and that this frustration, no matter how profound, would keep him from reading his words. Indeed, some things are easy to learn, some things are fun, others force us to continually be critical and thoughtful and are terribly frustrating and difficult; even exhausting. Nevertheless we should never deny ourselves knowledge and experience, for this is the only way we can know better who we are.

08 November 2007

"Oprah doesn't give a damn about culture..."

I hate Oprah Winfrey. There are very few people that I truly dislike; only 4 out of all the people I've met. I've never met Oprah but I dislike her. She may be a wonderful person, amiable, well mannered, humble (hah!), but the role she has in society and her public actions make me sick to my stomach nearly giving me nightmares.

First off, the least of my concerns, is that she has far too much money. I don't know how anyone can feel good about themselves and their lives when they hold more wealth than some entire countries. Bill Gates and that IKEA guy are very much in this same boat. Oh sure, they donate large sums to various charities (which are rich in their own rights), but the simple fact that while millions around the world go hungry working for pennies an hour Bill Gates can hold however many billion dollars he's worth is immoral. I doubt that Bill Gates or Oprah donate truly significant portions of their wealth. The day that Bill Gates donates half his net worth to a truly worthy cause will be the day I reconsider respecting him. Until then, he and the wealth bracket he represent are greedy, immoral leeches, their parasitic jaws engorging themselves on the downtrodden, poor and impressionable.

My biggest concern has been reignited just lately, in the wake of the scandal, as it were, at Oprah's South African school (Which is named after her. Conceded? You decide.) When I first heard about this, as when I first hear about all seemingly good acts, I was critical. Nothing is so simple that it can be praised in totality. Oprah considers herself a saint, with a dream for bring salvation to Africa. This paternalistic attitude is eerily reminiscent of colonialism which considered the "other" to be in need of help, to be civilized. In her latest press conference Oprah says that she's considers these girls, "...her children." Oprah may be "african american" but this doesn't make her African or even really give any tangible connection to Africa at all, though however one decides to interpret descent is one's own choice. In her actions and rhetoric I see nothing further than wanting to civilize the savage Africans, bring "modernity" to them through "education." By educating she spreads western capitalistic, materialistic values. She throws radically different notions of culture and societal expectations into the minds of children without any cultural sensitivity to what is important to them. This is representative of a Neo-Colonialism that is manifesting itself in seemingly good "humanitarian" organizations that want to do something. That something being conceived within a US/western/industrial notions of culture, success and morality.

This rant is not to say that social problems should be ignored. AIDS and hunger in Africa are big problems, civil strife often displaces many. But Africa is not all strife and death and misery, there are beautiful places where people live on arable land and produce enough to feed families and trade in markets. People have lived in African for millions of years, certainly this fact deserves some credit. If we truly respect and want to help people in Africa then we need to consider them on their own terms. Let aid be distributed by Africans within Africa. Where do people in the United States, humanitarian workers, get off thinking that they know how to solve problems in tropical countries better than those who have survived there for years? Historical and cultural considerations are vital if any solution or, dare I say, progress is to be made. Oprah doesn't give a damn about culture, she wants the girls to go off, leave their families, live confined and cut off from the world on the school campus, assimilate to US western values, probably go to university in the United States where they are likely never to return to their home. How noble. She wants, more than that, to see her name and let people know that she "cares." I think of Victorian aristocrats feeling cultured after they have traveled to the deepest jungles in Africa and bartered with the savage.

It sickens me more that some people blindly support her and agree with her that she is truly noble, going out of her way to help the meek, saintly almost. Such blind and, essentially, ignorant support and devotion reeks of colonialism and will only cause more hurt than it did in the past.

07 November 2007


This is the 4th or 5th time I've started a blog. It's starting to get ridiculous. Chances are this will fall through the gaps like so many other blogs before it. I think this is because my inspirations and cravings to write are inconsistent; by the time I get another urge to write it will have been weeks or months and I'll start anew. I tout myself as being stable, consistent in though, solid in life philosophy. The truth is probably much more believable, I find myself content in the moment, subject to the whims of the future. That's not to say that certain things remain constant. I'm comfortable with who I am, I understand who I am (to the best of my ability), I've resigned myself to the fact that tomorrow I will be someone different. That's the excitement of it. Is this was what makes life worth living, the understanding that each day brings new challenges, new influences, knew outrage and new hope? Yes. It's one of the things in any event.

Of late I've become, dare I say, obsessed with humanism. My interest and goals in anthropology have always hinted at it, a genuine concern with humanity, an understanding of (rather than devotion to) the supernatural, confusion and criticism to all things good and bad. (I live a life of contradiction, where my only certainty lies in my inability to accept anything at face value.) I started with atheism, a distrust of religion brought on by a catholic upbringing. I moved on to socialism, perhaps a futile political association, but one that makes the best sense all the same. Finally, deeply embedded in academia, thought and liberalism I find humanism in Kurt Vonnegut Jr. His novels are the only thing that I have read and understood in a subconscious way that allowed me to accept them. I finished Slaughterhouse 5 for the second time and it nearly changed my life. Perhaps the fact that I finished it while living in a rural town in western Kenya, isolated from the capitalist and busy world at home had something to do with it. Perhaps the fact that I have surrounded myself with thoughtful and confused company helped as well.

"Well. Here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why." There is no why, only now. Only what I can do now, only what I can think now, only who I know now. Is why a silly question? No. Without asking why one is stuck. Imagine just living in the amber of the moment, unaware of the why. Maybe it's there maybe it's not, you don't know, you haven't asked. There's an easy answer to the why; someone put me here. It's an easy answer, a comforting one, it gives purpose. But it still leaves open the path to ask why again. Here is where faith and reality split. Some say, if I ask why the only answer I'm prepared to accept is the answer I already know, that someone put me here. So I won't ask why, I'll just have faith in what I already know. Others, continue asking why. We find that we're led around in circles, why's lead to more why's lead to more why's. We realize that there are a plethora of co-existing why's, individual why's. There is no great why, no final why, only the why's that surround us in the moment. There are plenty of them, enough to go around.

Each one of us is why really. Within ourselves, our humanity, the only thing that is shared universally.

I think I'm confusing myself. It happens. Why? There is no why, only the moment. If only I could come unstuck in time.

In the end there really is no figuring it out, no final answer, no concrete identity. There is only the comfort and ability to accept that we are one thing today, another tomorrow, and that's okay.