Sunday, January 22, 2012

Random thoughts on the presidential candidates

I know I've been lazy, but it's really just that so many insane things have been flying through the air for a while now that it's been hard to focus on just one. Catching up a little, with a bit of anthropological spin here and there...

Marriage is a 3,000 year-old sacrament
Candidate Newt Gingrich said, in the "debate" on January 7:  "The sacrament of marriage is based on a man and woman; has been for 3000 years."

Now, Gingrich likes to present himself as an "intellectual," after all he does have a PhD in history from Tulane.  He even taught history and geography for a while at West Georgia College, but he was denied tenure in 1978.  One wonders how much human history he really learned in his academic wandering, if he thinks that the "sacrament" of marriage, which refers primarily to the Christian/Catholic ceremony, is 3,000 years old, since the religious cult of Christianity is barely 2000 years old.  If he means "sacrament" in a more general, as simply a ceremony in which supernatural beings are presumed to participate, he's still off by at least tens of thousands of years.  Anthropologists regard marriage, i.e. the ritual uniting people and defining their rights of sexual access to each other, as a human cultural universal.  As such it must have existed for at least the last 50-100 thousand years, maybe longer, but the point is made.

Furthermore, even within the last 3,000 years, marriage has not always been stipulated as only between a female and a male.  Gingrich the historian might have read or heard at some point about the berdache or two-spirit people among Native Americans.  These were women or men who elected to play the opposite gender role in their society, including marrying people of the same sex.  They were generally respected, and sometimes revered as having special spiritual powers, among Native Americans, until of course the European Christians came along.

Life begins at conception
Back in August candidate Rick Santorum stated in an interview on CNN: "I shouldn’t say I believe it, it’s a biological fact that life begins at conception."

Apparently Santorum missed as many high school biology classes as Newt missed in history.  If he had been paying attention, he would know that "life" cannot possibly "begin at conception" because the egg and sperm that come together to produce a zygote are already alive!  If either is dead, nothing happens.  As philosopher George Carlin has pointed out, life began a couple of billion years ago and has never stopped.

Of course, and to be charitable, by "life" Santorum may or may not mean "human life."  But that too is wrong: all modern humans can trace their ancestry back to a small group who were (apparently) "alive" in Africa some 100,000 years ago.  There is, from then to now, a continuous, never extinguished thread of "human life."  Then again, maybe he means "an individual human life": the particular genome resulting from the unification of a particular sperm with a particular egg.  This ground is still shaky, since that genome doesn't actually become a pregnancy until it implants itself in the uterus (many don't make it to even this point; is each one of them a murder?  So maybe he means "fertilized egg implanted in the uterus"; but I doubt it, because Santorum is insane.

The anthropologist notes in passing that people in different cultures have different notions of when "life begins."  Some separate biological personhood from social personhood, which in some places begins when children are given a name, or begin to use language.

You're envious if you even mention the One Percent
Our third contestant, Willard "Mitt (Corporations are People my Friend)" Romney, told Matt Lauer on NBC's Today what he thinks about people calling attention to the increasingly and grotesquely uneven distribution of wealth in the US: "I think it's about envy. I think it's about class warfare."  When Matt gave him the opportunity to soften his message, he doubled down.  He suggested that issues of class and wealth should be talked about only in "quiet rooms," presumably out of hearing by the envious public.

Again, anthropologists and other social scientists have no problem demonstrating the nature of the US class system, as well as the ways in which that class system had become ever more rigid and punishing over the last thirty or so years.  Romney would prefer to ignore this reality.  After all, he pays about 15% in taxes on his income, which he "earns" by producing absolutely nothing but rather extracting wealth from other people.  His paid speeches brought in about $374,000 in pocket change last year, an amount he considers "not very much" (I have to work full-time for over six years to earn this amount; a median wage earner in the US, at around $20K, has to work full-time for nearly nineteen years!).

What we see here is a collection of willfully ignorant, plutocratic numbnuts.  And that's without mentioning the vicious racism of Paul and Gingrich, the hypocrisy of Gingrich's history with women, or Santorum's desire to ban all contraception and make raped women who become pregnant bear their rapists' babies.

The scariest thing of all: with a little electoral shenanigans like those of 2000 or 2004, one of these creosoids could end up in the White House.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great posting I have read. I like your article. Thank you


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