Sunday, November 21, 2010

Is Our Adults Being Educated?

I had a terrific time last week attending the American Anthropological Association meetings in New Orleans -- site of my debauched youth, and still one of my favorite cities. This is particularly true now that I managed to purchase, in a funky French Quarter shop, an intriguingly sinister cane. For a handle it has a glassy blue knob decorated with silver bats. And “bats” is what Darla implied I was when I bought it, but I still think it’s kind of cool.

Anyway, the anthropology convention was rewarding. There are an awful lot of brainy people in anthropology and what I particularly like is that so many of them have been to interesting places and are able to talk about them with first-hand knowledge. One session I attended focused on Afghanistan, and there I learned that even though I’ve read a bit about that conflict, my ignorance of the real situation is so profound that if I were in Barack Obama’s place I wouldn’t want to make a move on Afghanistan policy without first consulting with such experts as Thomas Barfield, Andrea Chiovenda and Noah Coburn. Mr. President, proceed with caution.

In another panel, Georgetown University Professor Rochelle Davis made the point that American officers and enlisted personnel in places like Iraq and Afghanistan tend to regard American style democracy and American society generally as so clearly superior to anything the local people might be doing that resistance to “Americanization” seems either foolish or evil, if not both.

Actually, it’s not just the “boots-on-the-ground” guys who are misled in this way. The actions of Viceroy J. Paul Bremer, when he gutted the Iraqi economy and attempted to set up a “free” (i.e., “corporate-friendly”) economy in Iraq, show that this “Our way is best and they better get with it,” mentality was shared all the way up the chain of command. As I have argued before, the arrogance of this mindset is responsible for much of the bloodshed and suffering that Iraqis and Americans have experienced since the early days of “shock and awe.” For a definition of “shock and awe,” see “terror.”

I’m kind of bragging on my fellow anthropologists here, but naturally there are plenty of disciplines in the academic world where people motivated by a yearning to understand things have managed to accumulate a treasure trove of knowledge. It seems to me that the best way to make sense out of what's happenin' in the world is by consulting these experts.

During the years of Y2K fever, for example, there were all kinds of irresponsible reports about how disastrous the turn of the millennium would be. To me the simplest way to gauge the level of the coming “disaster” was to check in with my friends in the computer science department here at Rollins. Their report: “Don’t worry, Y2K has been adequately handled ahead of time so that problems will be minimal.” Consequently I wasted no time or nervous energy fretting about it.

I have heard different factions of the Tea Party denouncing the Federal Reserve as though it were an agency of Satan, so I asked some of my pals in economics what the story was here. “Well,” they explained, “the anti-Fed fanatics are just a subcategory of those people who resent government in general.” Got it.

It seems to me that America is splitting into two separate worlds, Education World where people respect what curiosity-driven knowledgeable experts have to say and Fox World where people depend on cheesy self-promoters in the profit-driven media, people like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity.

Here’s a simple True-False test to figure out which World you belong to:

T F Barack Obama is a socialist.

T F Smaller government means more democracy.

T F For the good of the country, Congress should dedicate itself to undermining President Obama.

T F Our taxes are higher than ever these days, especially for the rich.

T F So-called "global warming" is a hoax perpetrated by evil scientists who are plotting to...I don't know, do something evil.

T F We should all apologize to BP for the mean things everyone said about them last summer.

T F Sarah Palin would make a fine president.

T F Reigniting the nuclear arms race with Russia is a smart way to make us safer.

T F Barack Obama is a Muslim.

T F FEMA camps are being prepared where innocent Americans will be incarcerated.

T F We would all be so much better off if President Obama had just allowed the economy to collapse last year.

T F Fox News is fair and balanced.

Well, I’ll let you figure out how to score this quiz.

Really, isn’t this split into Education World and Fox World the very thing that underlies the irreconcilable partisan divide now undermining our government’s ability to act? Well, IMHO it is. I’m old enough to remember the days when reasonable Republicans like Richard Lugar, could make deals with reasonable Democrats like Barack Obama, and our country was able to accomplish great things thereby. Are those days gone forever? And if they are, how much responsibility does Fox News hold for this condition? IMHO, lots.

Here follow some pictures from Morocco, a place I've learned about from my anthropologist friend, Professor Rachel Newcomb, and from Noureddine, my friend from Fes.

Professor Newcomb and Noureddine with Camel

A Moroccan Village

A Couple of Friendly Moroccan Chaps


 Village Kids Playing Soccer

Leatherworkers of Fes

Household Courtyard

Moroccan Pool Players

Berber Tent, Set Up for Hospitality (The politically correct word for Berber is "Amazigh.")

Farewell, Friendly Fes

Anthropology, Education and Morocco: three things I believe in.


  1. I find it interesting that the three men who were involved in the AAA panel on Afghanistan are mentioned as experts, while the two women are not mentioned at all. I am sure this is a coincidence.

  2. I only heard the two papers by Chiovenda and Coburn. I forget why. Probably there was a "must not miss" paper I had to go catch elsewhere. In any case, do I get credit for citing Rochelle Davis and Rachel Newcomb?


    The defense rests.