From Dorothy Thompson’s introduction to The Poverty of Theory
“Of course it produced responses. Some of these emerged at an extraordinary evening at a History Workshop conference in Oxford in December 1979. This was for some reason held in a dimly-lit ruined building, and had been set up as a discussion. It ended up however as an emotionally-charged event whose repercussions continued for months if not for years.
…At the end of the evening a leading History Workshop character asked whether he would continue to publish relevant material. Edward replied that he thought he would not be publishing much of anything for a while, since he felt that his time would be taken up trying to organize opposition to cruise missiles in Britain. The answer was ‘Cruise what Edward?’”“The answer was ‘Cruise what Edward?’” Rilly.
The rise of the neoliberal academy.
“I expect pissed-off lefties like Terry Turner to be ready to take the fight to the enemy. What I always find so depressing about these periods of academic blood letting is how poorly the ‘scientists’ behave as they extol an ideal of dispassionate objectivity while simultaneously savaging anyone who suggests to them that they may not be living up to their own ego ideal.”It’s not just the ‘scientists’ Witness an author on this blog “Sahlins move seems to represent a transformation of the conflict out of the arena of measured debate and into the symbolic.”
Such wounded reasonableness. “Why is Sahlins getting so angry?” A question asked from tribal loyalty, except for the fact that its tribal loyalty while denying even the possibility that that’s what it could be.
Tribal loyalty is human. The model of collaborative reason denies politics, so that arguments from authority and dripping with condescension if not outright contempt are allowed against outsiders. “What do women want?” the concerned men ask each other. “Why are they so angry?” Should it mean something that men are all scientists? Should it help their argument? Should it hurt?
Language is politics. The academy needs more open argument not less. It needs intellectual bloodsport to counter bureaucratic politesse, the intellectual model of the courtroom to counter the model of the lab. Courts aren’t barbaric they’re necessary. The defenders of Chagnon, not only “scientists” but petty bureaucrats, pretend politics are beneath them, but they live by it.
It’s not a “kerfuffle” it’s a fight over the definition of moral responsibility. If you don’t want to argue about that, stop pretending you have any intellectual interests at all. You’re just a happy technician. The model of the neoliberal academy.
I’ll add one more point before bowing out, since things are heating up, as they should.
I had arguments with David Graeber 30 years ago and later in Chicago when I realized. putting it bluntly, that anthropologists as academics no longer understand culture because they don’t understand their relation to the culture they’re a part of.
Any filmmaker will tell you that moral questions are the most important ones. To a humanist they’re the most interesting and most fun. They’re the good stuff. Everything else and you’re just a bricklayer or a file clerk of some sort or another. But here the good stuff is treated as a side issue that’s gotten in the way of science.”The Great Kalahari Debate” The moral questions are front and center. But the debate itself makes people uncomfortable.
The offense taken at Zero Dark 30 was that questions had gotten in the way of answers. What if torture works sometimes, as it did in Germany 10 years ago (Magnus Gäfgen) and it’s still wrong? In Lincoln and Argo it was the other way around. Too many answers not enough questions. And the CIA won the oscar for best picture. Chagnon would never have ended up as important as he is if moral questions were seen as interesting in themselves. Obviously they bored him a bit. And obviously also for some there’s a good career to be made in moralism. But reminding people of that is just another way of avoiding the questions of morality itself. And Chagnon is a moralist, isn’t he? The argument is that his moralism made him an incompetent scientist.
If you’re wondering about your relations with the people you study and you know you can’t treat them the way you treat your mother, just as an experiment spend a week treating your mother the way you’d treat the people you study. And when that makes you scared you know you’ve hit the sweet spot, until you get lazy and your subjects or your mother call you an asshole. And then you get scared again, as you should be. Anthropologists are part scholar and part scientist. Scientists are just plumbers. That’s my side of that argument.
What do I know about science? I’m only an artist, but I know the only anthropological films that are more than visual file clerking are by Wiseman. He’s one of the most important filmmakers alive and he calls his films "fictions". He keeps his eye right in the sweet spot.
I’m with Sahlins. But I’m too young to feel this old.
If questions of morality were only practical we wouldn’t need lawyers. As it is, give me the nihilism of lawyers, including and especially underpaid public defenders, over the idealism of philosophers. Lawyers have a formal relation to their clients. They’re paid advocates.
How primitive is that?
Housewives invented feminism, railroad porters started the civil rights movement and teary-eyed drag queens mourning the death of Judy Garland started the public fight for gay rights. No one gave a damn about the Jews and until recently no one gave a damn about the Palestinians.
Practice precedes theory.
I haven’t seen that Downey vid in years, and of course I forgot about Rouch. That was stupid.
“Science is exciting, fun, and joyous…” Enthusiasm is more dangerous than heroin.