Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Trump's "natural instinct for science"

According to an article on the Intelligencer website, tRump says that his "natural instinct for science" convinces him that the science on climate change is incorrect.

I want to write something serious about this, but seriously... I will say that this stage of our attitude toward science has been brought to us, in part, by postmodernism, which in some of its guises argues that science is just another subjective way of knowing about the world. But it's also been brought to us by the US mode of enculturation we call independence training, which encourages everyone to believe that they, independently, can have an opinion about something that's as valid as anyone else's.
And to be fair, while we probably do have an internal program for making sense of the world, it's only the beginning of science. Our IT-driven educational system, supported by the larger culture, mostly beats it out of us by middle or high school. Some manage to overcome this; not tRump, though.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Thoughts on Kavanaugh

Friday night on Real Time, Bill Maher wondered aloud to the panel whether we are swinging the pendulum of justice too far, from never believing women who claim they've been assaulted to always believing them.  A neutral middle ground, maybe?  My opinion is that believing women should be the default option.

Over the years, decades, centuries, even millennia, we have emerged from cultures that systematically oppressed, exploited, mistreated, abused, and (to be frank) hated women.  For many of us, this culture was Indo-European, originally centered (probably) in Anatolia in what is now Turkey and spreading during the last 6-8,000 years or so to the southeast and northwest as far as parts of the Indian subcontinent and Scandinavia.  The Indo-Europeans were, essentially, farmers; as they spread they replaced or pushed into marginal habitats the foraging and other peoples who stood in their way.  It is the introduction of farming, especially the extensive farming required to support rapidly growing populations, that typically leads to reduced status of females in human cultures.

But this is not the only way of being human.  Foraging and horticultural societies do not typically share this sort of ideology; women and men tend to be relatively equal in status and often share leadership and other important group statuses.  These are what we anthropologists call small-scale societies, in contrast with the large-scale agricultural and, more recently, industrialized ones.  What I am leading up to is to suggest that the way we have treated women in our society is not the only way of being human.  In evolutionary terms, it is a derived, rather than primitive, trait, but it has a deep history.

We instituted affirmative action programs for minorities to counterbalance the effects of several hundred years of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and more subtle discrimination, especially for African Americans but also women and others.  Bill Maher, in suggesting that maybe we don't have to always believe women's accounts of sexual abuse, is like the people who claim that affirmative action is no longer necessary because discrimination is illegal.  I'm saying that we should believe them by default, because there are thousands of years of abuse to overcome.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The United States of Perpetual Unpreparedness

OK, somebody has to say it. 17 years ago close to 3,000 people died largely because the US was unprepared for an attack of that kind, or for that matter any kind. A year ago, a hurricane hit Puerto Rico and around 3,000 people died because, again, the US was unprepared. 13 years ago, possibly 2,000 people died when a hurricane struck New Orleans. Again, the US was unprepared. We are the Nation of Perpetual Unpreparedness.

Of course, I hasten to add, we are always prepared to drop bombs on people who have done us no harm.

Anyway, I wonder what will happen this time, as Hurricane Florence approaches the coast of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Guest post: McCain and Vietnam

From a friend:

I was an undergraduate when John McCain was flying bombing missions over the Vietnamese People (yes there was “collateral damage”). As an anthropology major I was learning about the cross-cultural approach and cultural relativism. And the science of anthropology afforded me a new perspective on foreign relations.
I still have the cassette tape recording of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations investigating the origins of the “Vietnam” War. There was testimony by an OSS officer who was attached to the Việt Minh during WWII, and he said that Ho Chi Minh greatly admired the USA because it had fought for its freedom against the British Empire. The OSS officer continued stating that Ho had hoped that the USA would help the Vietnamese People win their independence from the French Empire after the Japanese Empire had been defeated. But the Senate chambers fell silent when the OSS officer finally said that Ho felt that a big powerful country like America could never become interested in a small country like Vietnam.
The United States of America was the enemy. The People of Vietnam were fighting for their independence from the French Empire, the Japanese Empire, and finally from the American Empire. Most people should now have that horrific image of Kim Phuc burned and scarred for life by American napalm dropped from an airplane on her village.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

John McCain (1936-2018)

I have sympathy for his family, and I wished him no suffering, ever. But I still have a hard time with the "war hero" thing. He was bombing brown people in a country that was never a threat to the US (I sense a theme in US history there). He was defending capitalist imperialism (after the French gave up); not "freedom" in any humanistic sense.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Ongoing Trump Shit-Storm

It's been hard to write about this, because it seems like whenever something happens, and I might be starting to have a coherent thought about it, something else happens before I can put anything together.

There's no need at this point to go through the litany.  It's obvious to any rational person that Trump is his own shit-storm.  It's also pretty obvious that rather than having any actual political philosophy, he simply sees the world and everything happening in it in terms of how it might affect him, personally.  He operates under something that used to be called the Illusion of Central Position.  Babies and very young children have this illusion: the world is there for them, they are at the center of it all.  And this is Trump.  No matter what happens, in his reactions he makes sure we know that it was all about him.

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.