Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wheel of Fortune: Ebonics is "wrong"

[I just posted this on Wheel of Fortune's contact page.]

On yesterday's show one puzzle included the word "embroidered." An African American woman solved the puzzle but pronounced this word so that it sounded like "emroided."  I believe that this happened because her underlying dialect (African American English) doesn't allow [r] before a consonant.  Pat Sajak (or the judges?) ruled it a "wrong pronunciation."  I believe this was a very serious error, not only in that the couple missed getting the round but also that a legitimate variety of English was dismissed as "wrong."  Her rendering was approximately [ɪmˡbrɔɪdəd].

I wonder whether someone from Boston, who might have pronounced it similarly, would also have been declared "wrong."

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Social Science at the Olympics

Friday night, watching the Olympic opening ceremony, I was reminded of Chinese-American anthropologist Francis Hsu. The commentator described the opening ceremony (which had some very nice moments) as representing one of the differences between Eastern and Western culture: the emphasis on the group over the individual.
In the West, and especially the US, the enculturation system cranks out hyper-individuals, often social monsters like Trump; group work is seen as "collectivism" or even "communism." In the traditional East, enculturation creates a social system in which individuals are dependent on the group, within which exist reciprocal rights and obligations between and among members. Ultimately, in my view, a far less dysfunctional arrangement.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Yesterday's email from the UNF president

From the desk of President John Delaney:

I wanted to follow up on a message I sent to the campus community earlier today, about a flurry of social media posts which included a threatening message and a disturbing image. While Federal law (FERPA) normally prohibits me from discussing details, the student in question has self-identified to a news organization. This gives me the opportunity to share the facts that the student has released to the media. 

The student calls himself a white supremacist, is a former member of the KKK, but is now a member of another white supremacist group. He posted a photo of himself with a gun in the context of confronting members of a student group, the Students for a Democratic Society, which is linked to the Black Lives Matter movement.  The photo was taken off campus. The thread of his posts also included a threatening message. These actions led to his immediate suspension. In addition, he has been barred from campus, pending a conduct hearing next week. He can only come on campus when escorted by a police officer.   

There have been a swarm of rumors surrounding this incident. As I said earlier today, rumors about a gun being displayed on campus are not true, and we did not order a lockdown of a building. 

In an abundance of caution, the University Police Department will have officers in uniform visible on campus, along with undercover officers in plain clothes. This is not a reason to be alarmed: this is the UPD being proactive. 

There is no need for classes to be canceled as I feel confident there is no threat to the campus. 

I understand this is a sensitive matter that has put some on edge. But we have always been a caring, supportive community and our strengths outweigh this incident. Further, no one should confuse the acts of a small handful of students with all that UNF is. We embrace diversity.

As I have said in the past, if you see something or hear something of concern, contact the UPD at (904) 620-2800. There are also many support groups on campus ready to help.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Carriacou in 1967

This is a silent video by someone named Dennis Furbush in Carriacou in February 1967.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

9/11: Something to think about

Osama bin Laden, quoted in The Guardian October 2004:

"God knows it did not cross our minds to attack the towers but after the situation became unbearable and we witnessed the injustice and tyranny of the American-Israeli alliance against our people in Palestine and Lebanon, I thought about it. And the events that affected me directly were that of 1982 and the events that followed - when America allowed the Israelis to invade Lebanon, helped by the US sixth fleet.
In those difficult moments many emotions came over me which are hard to describe, but which produced an overwhelming feeling to reject injustice and a strong determination to punish the unjust.
As I watched the destroyed towers in Lebanon, it occurred to me punish the unjust the same way [and] to destroy towers in America so it could taste some of what we are tasting and to stop killing our children and women."

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Why anthropology needs to be taught in school (guest blog)

Recently there has been a trend in education towards emphasizing the STEM academic disciplines while excluding the legacy disciplines of the “Social Sciences”. Recent (and continuing) news* shows the folly of moving away from the social sciences- in particular the academic discipline of Anthropology.
Humans need to understand what it means to be Human- our evolutionary biology, our unique form of communication, and our cultural diversity.
At my former university, anthropology courses were not required for any curriculum of study except for sociology. And I know of few anthropology courses taught in high schools, and even then they’re taught as electives.
Only Anthropology enables us to understand humanity because it's holistic covering our biological, linguistic, and cultural diversity. Other academic disciplines specialize in some of these fields, but only anthropology enables us to understand how they are interrelated.
For example, a sociology colleague (Kathleen) and I would present a “race” and racism seminar at our local police academy. We made a perfect team, she being a “black” female while I was (and still am) a “white” male. Kathleen discussed two terms, “prejudice” and “discrimination” trying to help the cadets understand the differences. On the other hand, I tried to dispel their misconceptions about human biological diversity by using the ABO blood group. Kathleen and I both were (and still are) O+. I then asked the cadets for their blood type and easily found a “white” male cadet with a blood type different from ours. I would tell the cadets that his blood infused into my body would kill me, yet Kathleen’s blood would save my life in a transfusion. Finally, I would ask the cadets what is more important, “race”? sex? age? or blood type when it comes down to blood transfusions.

Daniel Cring
Lafayette, Louisiana

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Senator Ben Sasse doesn't understand human nature (part II)

In my previous post, I tried to introduce the anthropological concepts of Independence Training (IT) and Dependence Training (DT).  These are contrasting parameters of enculturation that all human societies share, but to differing degrees.  All humans start out completely dependent on parents and other caregivers, perhaps even a whole village.  The task of enculturation is to produce adults who are autonomous, independent agents with the capacity for making appropriate decisions.  But to remain a functioning society, these individuals also need to maintain their interconnectedness, their interdependence, on all others in the group.

Some societies do a pretty good job of balancing these two competing parameters.  In general, though, we can say that small-scale societies in which most people know pretty much everyone else probably place a heavier emphasis on DT.  Small-scale societies, usually comprised of foragers, horticulturalists, or pastoralists, are fragile.  They value egalitarianism, and they use DT to keep members from growing into social monsters who can tear holes in the social fabric.

For example, Ju/'hoansi foragers of the Kalahari traditionally kept hunters from becoming full of themselves by "insulting the meat" that they brought in.  They would gather around a newly-killed antelope and complain about how bony and thin it was, how there was so little meat on it that it was hardly worth the effort the hunter made to bring it back to camp.  They did this, as they explained, to "cool the heart" of the hunter, to keep him from thinking of himself as a big man.  Then they happily devoured the antelope.

In larger-scale societies, things become trickier.  These are societies based on agriculture and, more recently, industrialism.  They are much more people-dense, and most people are strangers.  DT is harder to maintain; there are rulers (chiefs, queens, pharaohs, and so on.  There are ranked social classes.  Rather than promoting good behavior through internalized social controls, there is now external control: ecclesiastical religion, police, armies, and so on.

And there's something else.  Since the 17th century most large-scale societies have become embedded in what has become a world capitalist system.  Capitalism is an inherently exploitative and alienating system that discourages DT, because capitalists would rather deal with workers one at a time rather than as a group banded together for the collective good.  So IT is encouraged.  People are alienated from the means of production, and also from what were their traditionally meaningful and sustaining networks of kin, friends, and neighbors.

So we have moved away from the webs of relationships that dominate small-scale societies (DT).  Our webs are smaller: a nuclear family, a few friends, because capitalism requires that we be able to uproot ourselves across the country to the new factory or place of business.

 To be healthy, as intensely social mammals, and especially primates, we need our interrelationships, our webs of interdependence.  We are driven toward sociality by what a friend and I are calling our social imperative*, but we are stymied by our culture's hyper-IT, itself a servant of capitalism, which produces too many people who care only about themselves, who lack empathy and a sense of social responsibility.

These are the "adults" that Senator Sasse thinks we should all strive to be.  But this cannot form the basis for a functioning, healthy society.  It can only lead, as it largely already has, to dystopia and dysfunction.  It produces the sort of people who think they shouldn't have to pay school taxes because they, personally, have no children in school.

And that is our very serious problem.  Too many Donald Trumps.

* Cring and Kephart, hopefully forthcoming.