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Choosing Normal

11 Nov

veterans-day-2016-6213878699524096-hp

On this Veterans Day 2016 many social scientists, myself included, are asking ourselves what it means to be “American” and whether this meaning changed on 11/9. Is an anthropological perspective of understanding, compassion, and inclusion still normal?

Lived experience in any human society is shaped by a complex interplay of cultural factors, especially its norms:

  • “Typical patterns of actual behavior as well as the rules about how things should be done” (Welsch and Vivanco 2016:265. Asking Questions About Cultural Anthropology).

In times of political upheaval our norms can be challenged and/or reinforced. In the course of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, some of our most fundamental norms of acceptable behavior were challenged and often flagrantly violated. To prevent these violations from becoming an emboldened “new normal,” we should vigilantly reinforce our shared values and oppose the following:

Anti-Semitism (or any religious discrimination)

Bigotry

Bullying

Discrimination

Homophobia

Misogyny

Mocking the disabled

Racism

Scientific illiteracy

Sexism

Sexual assault

Xenophobia

These behaviors were not normal in the United States of 11/8/2016 and they remain unacceptable (and largely illegal) today. Starting in January 2017, we will be led by a character who personifies the worst attributes of the American past. Yet we retain the power to shape our own cultural norms. It has never been more critical to expect the best of ourselves and work tirelessly to encourage “the better angels of our nature” in others.

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Chinook Nation (You CAN Help!)

23 Feb

Making the world a better place sounds lofty, but can be pursued every day with simple actions. In this case, you can quickly and easily help address a historical injustice by simply signing a petition.

I had the chance to meet and talk with Tony Johnson, Chairman of the Chinook Indian Nation, at the recent Society for Cross-Cultural Research meetings in Portland, Oregon. Since then, I have learned a bit more about the Chinook Nation, their justified grievances, and continuing efforts to be federally recognized.

Attempts to gain such recognition reveal a history of broken treaties, misunderstandings, and debate about the specific criteria for federal recognition as a tribe. After reviewing these criteria, the outgoing Clinton administration granted the Chinook Indian Nation federal recognition. Unfortunately, this decision was reversed by the Bush administration just 18 months later.

Now, Tony and others are appealing to the Obama administration to review federal recognition criteria and clarify the legal standing of the Chinook. Please visit the Chinook Nation link above for more information about what you can do to help.

I have also started a petition at Whitehouse.gov to help draw attention to this issue. The petition must have 150 signatures to become searchable on the petition site, a necessary step if the petition is going to have any hope of reaching the 100,000 signatures necessary to be reviewed by presidential staff.

Please review and sign the petition here, and share widely so we can (minimally) reach that first threshold. Imagine how good it will feel to know that you have helped bring about this change – all you have to do is sign your name. Thanks!

Wanted: One Ethnocentric Anthropologist

17 Nov

Isn’t “narrow-minded anthropologist” an oxymoron?

 

Few professions are more antithetical to discrimination than anthropology. Understanding human differences is at the heart of everything we do. So, finding an anthropologist willing to tacitly approve of religious bigotry might be difficult. Nevertheless, I received a job listing from an academic institution attempting to do just that; they seek the elusive ethnocentric cultural anthropologist!

 

Can one even teach cultural anthropology while adhering to the restrictions below?

[BLANK] University, a Christ-centered community, prepares students spiritually, academically, and professionally to think with clarity, act with integrity, and serve with passion. Professors teach all truth as God’s truth, integrating all fields of learning around the person and work of Jesus Christ, bringing the divine revelations through sense, reason, and intuition to the confirming test of Scripture. All applicants must express a personal commitment to Jesus Christ and express their Christian testimony in a local church. In addition, professors agree to live in agreement with the Community Lifestyle Statement and affirm the theological commitments expressed in the Statement of Faith. Individuals who would fit this profile are encouraged to apply for current openings in our faculty.

 

In other words, non-Christians and/or Christians who do not share their narrow, dogmatic view of the faith need not apply. Presumably, LGBT anthropologists would be rejected since that would likely conflict with the “Community Lifestyle Statement.”

 

The world’s exceptionally well-qualified Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, non-religious, etc. cultural anthropologists are not good enough for BLANK University. Many of the most highly respected anthropologists in the history of the discipline would not be “a good fit” for this institution. Franz Boas (1858-1942), the “Father of American Anthropology,” would not be welcome there. Can you imagine turning away an applicant like Franz Boas because of his religious affiliation (or lack thereof)?

 

Worse, in the fine print, BLANK University awkwardly tries to appear non-discriminatory:

Because [BLANK] University is a Christian university, employment requires an evangelical Christian commitment and lifestyle consistent with the university’s mission. Within that mission, [BLANK] is an EEO employer and encourages minority and female applicants.

 

This kind of outrageous religious bigotry has no place in the 21st Century, and should not be excused because BLANK University is a private institution. I question the ethics and anthropological commitment of any applicant who would accept money from such an institution. Further, I’m proud to teach anthropology for four truly Equal Opportunity Employers who never inquired about my religious preference.

Land of the Beer Tank

25 Jun

Walking into my local grocery store, I noticed a large tube sticking out of a beer display. Looking at the display from the side, I realized what it was: a tank constructed out of Bud and Bud Lite.

Beer Tank

Archaeologists reconstruct past cultural systems based on the material remains they leave behind. I wonder what archaeologists of the future would interpret about the 2014 United States based on the beer tank! This monument to alcohol, commercialism, and militarism is begging for a cultural analysis (and I say this as a proud American).

 

Don’t Shoot, America!

10 Jun

At its heart, anthropology is a comparative discipline. We examine the minutiae of different cultural contexts and explore variation through time and across space. Doing so allows us to, among other things, shine a light on our own customs and behaviors. Using this perspective we can ask informed questions like “How do our familiar patterns compare to the ‘strange’ patterns of others?” or “Are there better ways of doing things?” Sometimes we end up discovering that we are the strange ones, when compared to global norms.

 

 

There was a school shooting near the college where I teach today. Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the event is that it was not unusual. As other developed nations respond with disbelief and horror, I realize that such events have become familiar within my cultural context. A recent headline from the satirical newspaper The Onion says it best:

“‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens

 

Now that is the anthropological perspective in action! So here’s my question for readers from the U.S. and readers from everywhere else: Why has America become the world capital of mass school shootings?

Guess who’s coming to dinner? Nine billion of your closest friends.

31 May

Humans eat, poop, and die just like all other animals. How’s that for a Saturday morning happy thought? All of the other wonders that “make us human” begin there: culture, art, religion, language, science, etc. You can’t travel to the stars on an empty tummy, so like the humble clam or hummingbird, we must consume energy in order to thrive and, most importantly, reproduce.

 

You Are Here.

You Are Here.

 

And, over the last 10,000 or so years, we’ve gotten exceedingly good at transforming nature to meet our caloric needs. So good that we practically can’t stop reproducing! For better or worse, we have a lot of people to feed. We’re likely going to need all of the ingenuity, intelligence, and experimentation that led us into this mess to get back out of it. How do we sustainably feed 9 billion people by the year 2050? The National Geographic Society is working on it, and you can help. Here’s their fundraising mailer:

 

“When I say food, what do you think of? Your favorite comfort food? Social gatherings? Family traditions? Food is such a central part of our lives. It’s also a critical issue facing our planet.

When we think of environmental threats, we tend to think of energy use, water and air pollution, or industrial waste. But the truth is, our growing need for food and the environmental challenges posed by agriculture are some of the biggest challenges we need to address.

This year, National Geographic is exploring how we can feed two billion more people by 2050 without harming the planet. You can support National Geographic’s programs, including our work toward finding better ways to produce and consume food in ways that don’t harm the planet…

Here’s a sample of the kind of work our grantees are doing, supported by your donation:

  • Helping farmers develop tools for designing sustainable agricultural systems based on the diversity and stability of local ecosystems, in places like Malawi, where agriculture has been winnowed down to the production of primarily one crop – corn.
  • Discovering, recording, and using traditional knowledge about medicinal and edible plants from cultures as diverse as the Sioux in South Dakota and native Jamaicans in the bio-diverse parish of Portland.
  • Examining the trade-offs of organic farming versus genetically modified crops for farmers and the environment in places like India.

Your gift will help us continue National Geographic’s programs, including exploring ways to double the availability of food to feed a predicted population of nine billion, while simultaneously cutting the environmental harms caused by agriculture.

Discovering low-input, high-output food cultivation practices and disseminating them to small farmers across the planet will both reduce agriculture’s significant contribution to climate change and provide a healthier diet for millions of people.

It will also add to our knowledge about how what we put into our bodies contributes to how we feel and function on a daily basis, and ultimately the length of our life” (www.nationalgeographic.com).

 

If you would like to contribute to National Geographic’s research, here is a link to make a donation. Thanks!

Return of the Jidaigeki

22 May

I’ve mused about the connections between Star Wars and anthropology before; 1) because those connections are culturally relevant, but 2) mostly just because I like Star Wars. A lot. (If you don’t, please bear with me until we return to more “strictly speaking” anthropological topics).

 

時代劇

 

Found an excellent 8-minute video called “How are Samurai Films Responsible for Star Wars?!?” this morning. It succinctly situates Star Wars in the context of 20th Century Japanese and American film history, including plenty of cross-cultural references. Highly recommended if you’re interested in Star Wars, Japanese culture, filmmaking, storytelling, etc. (Do be aware, it contains “strong language”).

 

Enjoy!