Adonis Diaries

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Anthropologists poking at Capitalism: With the 4-Field Manifesto? Part 2

Posted on March 1, 2012

Note: you may read the first part of this article

A short recapitulation of the first part. What kinds of fairy tales that capitalists dump on us?  

The premises of the market-capitalist religion are:

  1. Humans are naturally greedy-selfish.
  2. Capitalism harnesses greed and selfishness for productive dynamism.
  3. Capitalism successfully delivers the goods.
  4. Capitalism is invincible.

The second part is “on how Capitalism has not delivered the goods…”

Cultural Anthropology: Capitalism has not delivered the goods.

One reason anthropology knows more about capitalism than any other discipline is that anthropologists have not just studied capitalism from the inside: most anthropology was done with people subjected to capitalism, people who were often forced to provide the labor or coerced into furnishing the raw materials for capitalist dynamism.

For much of the world’s population, capitalism has already been a miserable failure.(Covid-19 pandemics has demonstrated this failure? Except for the mass media platforms?)

Of course indigenous response has varied:

1.  there have been those who have profited tremendously from capitalism;

2. people have ingeniously appropriated capitalist products and styles;

3. people have not just been pawns in the system but have actively influenced and altered that system; no one knows these facts better than anthropologists.Thomas Hylland Eriksen writes in a 2010 foreword to Eric Wolf’s Europe and the People Without History:

“Through the dual processes of integration and disintegration, wealth creation and poverty creation, empowerment and humiliation, global capitalism leaves contradictions in its wake. The story of contemporary globalization is not a straightforward saga of development and progress, Nor is it a simple tale of neo-colonialism and oppression.

It needs to be narrated from a local vantage point, and whatever their degrees of interconnectedness, localities are always unique blends of the old and the new, the endemic and the foreign, power and powerlessness”.

On balance, capitalism has at best been a mixed bag, at worst catastrophic.

And this fact applies not just on the edges of capitalism but at its heart. After some periods of relative stability and apparently fine-tuned management of the business cycle, we are back to lurching from crisis to crisis, in ways not seen since 1929 or the times of Marx and Engels. 

Trouillot wrote:

“Anthropologists are well placed to face these changes,

First by documenting them in ways that are consistent with our disciplinary history. The populations we traditionally study are often those most visibly affected by the ongoing polarization brought about by the new “spatiality” of the world economy. They descend directly from those who paid most heavily for the transformations of earlier times. . . .

We cannot abandon the four-fifths of humanity that the [ 1% ] see as increasingly useless to the world economy, not only because we built a discipline on the backs of their ancestors but also because the tradition of that discipline has long claimed that the fate of no human group can be irrelevant to humankind”.

The world needs cultural anthropology more than ever before.

We may disagree on the importance of Writing Culture–but we can agree that when much of the world’s population gets written off as irrelevant, then anthropological fieldwork has become even more necessary.

Back to Eriksen, who tells us Wolf’s “perspective is even more sorely needed than it was when Europe and the People Without History was written in the early 1980s”

Linguistic anthropology: Capitalism is not invincible

Capitalism is not just an economic system. What Trouillot terms the “geography of management” is accompanied by a “management of imagination” and a projection of “North Atlantic universals” through words like development, progress, and modernity:

“North Atlantic universals so defined are not merely descriptive or referential. They do not describe the world; they offer visions of the world. . . . They come to us loaded with aesthetic and stylistic sensibilities, religious and philosophical persuasions, cultural assumptions ranging from what it means to be a human being to the proper relationship between humans and the natural world, ideological choices ranging from the nature of the political to the possibilities of transformation. . . .

As a discipline, we have launched the most sustained critique of the specific proposals rooted in these universals within academe. Yet we have Not explored enough how much these universals set the terms of the debate and restricted the range of possible responses”.

It is here we most need the insights of a linguistic anthropology attuned to language and power, the condensed histories of words, and how words become harnessed to imagination.

Anna Tsing’s Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection contemplates a similar project, examining how the particular universals travel:

This brings to light a deep irony: Universalism is implicated in both imperial schemes to control the world and liberatory mobilizations for justice and empowerment. . . . Universals beckon to elite and excluded alike”

The world needs linguistic anthropology more than ever before. We may disagree on universal grammar or Sapir-Whorf, but we can agree that the imagination of capitalist invincibility is built on shaky and contested terms–terms that can also be used toward emancipatory ends.

Anthropology: Observe, describe, and propose

This account of contributions from each of anthropology’s major subfields is not meant to fragment and divide.

The world needs anthropology more than ever, for anthropologists to stand with anthropology as a whole. As Tim Ingold opens Being Alive: “I am an anthropologist: not a social or cultural anthropologist; not a biological or archaeological anthropologist; just an anthropologist” (So what is an anthropologist?)

Ingold’s comparison of anthropology with art and architecture is pertinent:

“The truth is that the propositions of art and architecture, to the extent that they carry force, must be grounded in a profound understanding of the lived world, and conversely that anthropological accounts of the manifold ways in which life is lived would be of no avail if they were not brought to bear on speculative inquiries into what the possibilities for human life might be.

Thus art, architecture and anthropology have in common that they observe, describe and propose.

There is a discipline waiting to be defined and named where those three fields meet, and if some readers would prefer to regard this book as a kind of manifesto for that discipline, then I shall not object”.

“After all, how could there have been a more perfect alignment of the stars than happened in 2008?

That year saw a wave election that left Democrats in control of both houses of congress, a Democratic president elected on a platform of “Change” coming to power at a moment of economic crisis so profound that radical measures of some sort were unavoidable, and at a time when popular rage against the nation’s financial elites was so intense that most Americans would have supported almost anything.

If it was not possible to enact any real progressive policies or legislation at such a moment, clearly, it would never be. Yet none were enacted. Instead Wall Street gained even greater control over the political process, and, since Republicans proved the only party willing to propose radical positions of any kind, the political center swung even further to the Right.

Clearly, if progressive change was Not possible through electoral means in 2008, it simply isn’t going to be possible at all. And that is exactly what very large numbers of Americans appear to have concluded”.

The article summerizes with the 10-recommandations:

1. That poverty and inequality–globally and regionally–be placed at the forefront of policy agendas.(Let kids have equal start in life, regardless of gender, race, financial comfort…)

2. Progressive income taxes and taxes on conspicuous consumption, with revenue devoted to a true national healthcare system: Medicare-for-All. (And free preventive health institutions)

3. Increasing inheritance taxes and other measures addressing wealth inequalities, with revenue devoted to prenatal care, infant nutrition and early childhood education. Particular attention to the ongoing racism manifest in infant-mortality disparities.

4. Abolition of off-shore tax havens, declaration of all income from investments, and full enforcement of capital-gains taxes, with revenue devoted to reparations.

5. Regulations on credit and banking so the financial industry becomes a boring sector dedicated to allocating investment, not a glamorous parade of outsized returns. Make banking boring again.

6. Investment in mass-transit and regional infrastructure to provide alternatives to individual automobiles.

7. An agricultural plan to phase out subsidies for mono-cropping, to encourage environmentally-sustainable farm management, and eliminate the tariffs harming the world’s poorest farmers.

8. A true jobs program to increase employment, with work targeted toward infrastructure improvement and environmentally-sensitive retrofitting. Consideration of measures such as reducing the work week in order to address contradictions of a high unemployment rate coupled to overwork by the employed.

9. Comprehensive immigration reform to bring rationality and humanity to a broken system.

10. Investment in education to create truly informed citizens. An educational system based on human holism, not just mono-dimensional economic efficiencies

Franz Boas in “An Anthropologist’s Credo, 1938)” wrote:

“In fact, my whole outlook upon social life is determined by the question: how can we recognize the shackles that tradition has laid upon us? For when we recognize them, we are also able to break them”.

Wallerstein wrote in The End of the World As We Know It: Social Science for the Twenty-First Century: “There is nothing to lose but our irrelevance. We can make the world less unjust; we can make it more beautiful; we can increase our cognition of it”

The life expectancy of irrelevance tends to be short.

More courageous and healthier is the acknowledgment of the many dead ends within the human disciplines brought about or brought to light by current global transformations, including the death of utopia.

Trouillot wrote:

“We might as well admit that all the human sciences may need more than a facelift; most will be deeply modified and others, in their current institutional shape, might disappear. As the world changes, so do disciplines

Note 1: Most excerpts were borrowed from the Findlay edition

Not terribly affected by External Influences: Community Anthropology

Anthropology is the study of traditional family structure along with relationship with the neighbors. For example, the rate of mixed marriages with foreign ethnic groups of immigrants, even to the second generation.

Most countries have a patrilinear family structure (from father) where the father represents the family status in the community, even if the wife is of a higher status. And the daughters are considered implicitly of a lower status than the sons.

Modern fast communication facilities, transportation and trades cannot obliterate the rooted family structures in the short term.

The traditional family structure in Germany, and the Germanophone countries or Homo-Helveticus such as Austria, Denmark, Switzerland, the three tiny States of Latvia, Estonia , Lithuania,  and including Sweden, Ukraine, Japan and Rwanda  has this additional characteristic:

Even the sons are not equals in the family attitudes and one of them, preferably the elder son, is the one representing the dynasty and the status of the family.

In these countries the community:

1. Blindly obey laws and respect hierarchy and authoritative figures: They are willing to stop at the red light for ever in a desolate street, and refrain from jaywalking when no cars are passing

2. They are isolationists and abhor the universality in philosophical thinking.

3. Communities enjoy self-autonmous political policies and consensus is the common denominator process.

4. Apprenticeship ,after graduation and for several years, is the main qualification for a well-oaid job. Consequently, graduate students don’t mind being paid pittance during their period of  apprenticeship.

These communities are prone to jump on the bandwagon of dictatorial regimes when opportunities are available in period of calamities.

The Anglo-Saxon societies such as England and the Netherland are universal in nature, but they don’t go as far the Latin countries such as France, Spain and Italy in applying their administrative systems on other societies when they occupy or colonize them.

The Anglo-Saxon societies refrained from applying blindly their unique laws on the colonies.

Their politics is: “Don’t meddle in internal affairs that don’t harm the sovereignty of the motherland, and make sure to take the money and wealth and run

Latin countries attempt to force uniform administrative systems on their colonies

Propaganda spread the myth that the US follow the anthropology of Anglo-Saxon societies. I beg to differ:

1. The US short history has demonstrated an isolationist trend in every turn and was comfortable growing and relying on its internal market.

Most of the discrimination behaviors of Germany were emulated according to the US laws and trends.

The US didn’t join the war against Germany in the two World wars until the very end, for financial reasons because Germany  didn’t accumulate much capital to repay its debts.

2. Until recently, the US exhibited the Anglo-Saxon economical strategy of “taking the money and run” and let the communities overseas fight out their differences.

The traditional family structure  in Poland is highly individualistic

The Slavic societies in central Europe and the Balkan countries (Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia…) have a different anthropology than Russia and Germany.

The Russian societies and Belarussia, including Viet Nam and Croatia, share the same anthropological trends

Note: It appears that a language is the expression of the anthropology of a society. The more common the terms and syntax structure the closer are the communities.

“How do you feel?” (Jan. 30, 2010)

            A friend asked me one of his frequently mindless questions: “How do you feel?”  I said “I am feeling my shit sexy.” Usually, I say what I mean.  After my glamorous bowel movement, I had lunch and then had a long walk, and then I read and wrote and I still felt the effects of my bowel movement.  Three hours later, I am feeling this lovely pain in my guts; a sensation that I had emptied a huge load with the accompanying pressures on my mind. I had siesta and felt this sexy pain. Satisfying bowel movement is the greatest achievement among my daily tasks.

            My friend was appalled by my incomprehensible reply and said: “I was under the impression that you are totally broke to indulge in luxury.”  I like to invent new expressions and terminologies in English: I was not born and raised in an authentic English speaking country.  I was saved from memorizing and regurgitating boring idioms; I am not up-to-date on the latest slangs.  I have got to do with the classics; more so that I was never in linguistics, anthropology, or ethnology fields of study.

            It was during one of these sensational feelings that Barak Obama was elected President.  You might heave a sigh of dejection but it is not just a coincidence. I don’t like certified crazy Bush Junior, that President who never set foot on “foreign soils” before he was elected also “President”, though he enjoyed the same moments of sensation. If you do the probability math you might realize that the odds are actually pretty high for coincidence of shitting sensations and catastrophic events.  I can confirm that the odds were a certainty that Martin Luther King and Malcom X would be assassinated.

            What is this?  When I am ecstatic I cannot think; when I am morose I cannot think. I have to induce that I think when I am in a lukewarm temperament. Thus, “Not Thinking” and extreme mood zones are highly correlated; thinking and tasteless moods are thus pretty much independent: it is a firm deductive result; you might think, you might not think (same different), what you are thinking do not make sense, or your thinking can be revolutionary verging to lunacy.

            Just to tell you that physical exigency is a fundamental factor to your mental output. I sometimes wonder at critics psychoanalyzing authors by their books.  If critics are honest then they should comprehend a book was mostly “excreted” during lukewarm mood periods; thus, psychoanalysis is not valid in these cases: the author should be observed in “a not thinking” instances. Critics believe that authors basically lie down on comfortable coach, talk to themselves and record their babbling; critics get in the skin of relaxed a author who is figuring out that audiences have sworn the oath of confidentiality as his mental shrink.  I don’t usually go off on tangents but it feels good.

Twilight of “Knowledge lovers”: Part 2

In part 1, I exposed the theme that philosophy was the super-structure of the dominant class in any period of what is now called “Class Ideology”, and that the economical aspect was not included in the philosophical system of reasoning.

Man has been asking questions; he has been cultivating doubts.

Every question generated many non-answered questions.  Every man is a philosopher once he starts jotting down coherent questions and then realizes that his “universe” is based on doubts.

Most of his questions have no satisfactory resolutions to constitute a perceived “structured comprehensive world” in his brain.

A philosopher sets out to devise a set of structural questions that he thinks are “logically deductive” in nature (it means that it would not be feasible to answer a previous question before resolving several basic questions).  Thus, philosophers have been driven to accepting a few fundamental “given” solutions, or “elemental facts,” or principles just to get going in their projects of building structured understanding of man and the universe.

Since Antiquity, philosophy (love of knowledge) was a catch-all term to represent all aspects of knowledge, including metaphysical concepts.  Since sciences were barely founded on facts or empirical experiments (not appreciated within the dominant classes), except during the Islamic Golden Age (9th to 12th century) and after Galileo in the 16th century “what is not measured should be measured”, philosophers fundamentally based their structure on abstract premises and deductive logic.

This makes sense: Once knowledge is firmly grounded on empirical facts (assuming the design of the experiment is valid) then philosophy should take secondary place in rational societies.

Sure, the name and meaning of philosophy was lost in the absurd long gestation toward the advance of knowledge.  The mathematician Descartes was the first who tried to delimit boundaries between sciences and philosophy: Descartes differentiated between invariant primal impressions and secondary perceived variables. It was the period when sciences got ascendance over abstract philosophical structures.

Before the 16th century, Europe’s philosophical systems were towing sciences (principally natural sciences).

Descartes influence stems from differentiating between forms of realities or “substances”.  The first kind of  substance is the mind which cannot be subdivided; examples of such substances are the notions of time, space, and mass with which quantitative properties of an object can be measured.  The second kind of substance or “extensions to the matter” represents the qualitative properties of an object such as color, smell, taste, and the like.  Descartes division in forms of reality is being validated in equations: the right hand side and left hand side in any equation must be compatible with the same dimensions of time, space, and mass (what is known as compatibility in units of measurement). By the way, Descartes was a lousy philosopher but first-rate mathematician.

There are attempts at “refreshing” interest in philosophy by giving new names and labels to ancient philosophical schools and beginning with the prefix “neo-something”.  For example, we hear about neo-empiricism, neo-Marxism, neo-Darwinism, neo-materialism, neo-existentialism, analytical philosophy and so forth.

All these new lines of current philosophical structures have historical roots that reach to antiquity and pre-Socratic philosophers. The new “refreshed” lines of thinking apply current scientific fields (such as anthropology, ethnology, archaeology, or sociology) to ancient philosophical systems to validate their contentions.

For example, current nuclear physicists are fundamentally pre-Socratic in their quest for the elemental matters; they want to be able to offer a satisfactory explanation of “what is matter?” This problem is thus a vital part of their “life’s philosophy”, the “essence” or an answer to the question “what is my nature”?

I conjecture that most universities have branches called “philosophy” or something related to logical processes: students need topics to write thesis and dissertations.

Sciences have taken over: they can extend answers to “what can be answered”.  Sciences are far more efficient than philosophy: faulty answers go unnoticed very effectively.

There are very few practiced scientists, but every man think he is a philosopher: man can feel what’s wrong with a philosophical system, but he refrains to claim knowledge in sciences.




June 2021

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