Saturday, October 15, 2011

Governor Scott vs. the Liberal Arts

Nobody has ever accused Florida Governor Rick Scott of being too smart for his own good, but if anyone were to level such an accusation against him, I would be the first to leap to his defense. Last week Governor Scott solidified his reputation as Florida’s Philistine in Chief when he said, “Is it a vital interest of the state of Florida to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.”

The governor argued that taxpayers should be spared the expense of educating their children in such fields as anthropology and psychology. I can understand why he’s hostile toward psychology. No doubt he’s aware that people who can understand the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) are the very ones who are likely to regard him as a “sociopath with narcissistic tendencies” or something along those lines.

Governor Scott

Diagnosis Pending

But why would he single out anthropology? Of course his daughter was an anthro major at William and Mary, and the governor may resent having paid her tuition while she pursued her education there. But there must be more to it than this.

My own guess is that he believes that anthropology is accurately represented in such films as Krippendorf’s Tribe, in which (the otherwise respectable) Richard Dreyfuss plays an anthropology professor who engages in an elaborate academic fraud by claiming to have discovered a lost tribe in New Guinea.

Well, let’s just say that the odds of Richard Dreyfuss or anyone else finding a lost tribe in the forests of New Guinea are pretty near zero. Of course, there may still exist “lost tribes” of sorts, but these are most likely to be along the lines of homeless people living under freeway bridges in Miami or Orlando. It’s true that if anyone is going to “discover” such tribes and bring them to the public’s attention, it would be anthropologists. But this should be a plus in Governor Scott’s eyes, since one of the few things he’s anxious to spend taxpayer money on is drug tests for poor people. Right here, under these freeway bridges, there lurks a veritable gold mine of untapped drug-testing opportunities for him.

To say the least, Governor Scott shows an unbecoming lack of gratitude toward students of the liberal arts, many of whom have helped keep him a free man over the past few years. Before he left Texas and skedaddled down to our state, he was CEO of Columbia/HCA, a medical company that got into hot water for a wide range of illegal activities including kickbacks to doctors, fraudulent billing practices and a host of other dirty dealings. Scott was forced to resign his position, but how, I wonder, did he escape indictment? I don’t know the details, but no doubt he retained a team of expensive lawyers who, I’m willing to bet, had not been physics or engineering majors in college. Same thing goes for the attorneys who fought the recent employment discrimination suit against Solantic, his spouse’s company (which, by the way, makes a good deal of money in drug testing).

The governor has been taking it on the chin lately for his attack on anthropology and the liberal arts. Some of the criticism has reached the national level, one good example being Rachel Newcomb’s article in the Huffington Post. Other national media have taken to lambasting the governor for his anti-anthropology position, including Mother Jones. And here in Florida, the St. Petersburg Times published my critique. Well, these are all very good for the time being, but I’m afraid that the only remedy for what ails us in Florida comes, after all, not in words, but in numbers: 2014.

Ruth Benedict - A Wise and Well Educated Anthropologist