Friday, August 28, 2009

A digression

This is going to take a lot longer than I thought. I need to address a number of issues that have been raised by people who are nice, thoughtful, very bright, and not perhaps inclined to see things the same way I do. So --
1. There isn't any best way of having kids. I mentioned in a response to a comment that we primates have a variety of ways of getting and caring for babies. People tend to look at some primates whose ways they admire and pine softly, "Why couldn't we be like them?" Well, because if we were like them, we wouldn't be us. The criterion for a "good" way of having and caring for babies is that the species survives.
2. We are the way we are because those of our ancestors who lived had the traits we do and passed them on down the line.
3. And here I shift gears considerably, I don't trust anthropologists. It seems to me that (especially the cultural guys) go into research with two handicaps. First, they know already what they are looking for. Two, they assume that the peoples they are studying are somehow dumb as rocks. They assume that the people they are studying won't notice they are there, or won't mind if they poke and prod. But let's face it folks, the non-technical people you are studying are just like us.
Shocking as it may seem, people don't seem to want to be studied. They resent being specimens.
Put yourself in their shoes (or lack thereof). Some geezer with a notebook and strange clothes comes into town and starts asking you intimate questions about yourself, such as "Do you eat your neighbors?" or "What's your sex life like?" All with an air of detached superiority. So, what do you do? Why, you do what the Samoans did to poor old Margaret Mead. You pull her leg. You lie outrageously. You have a good time at the stranger's expense. "War? We don't have that concept at all. Don't even have a word for it?" "Sex? Yes, sex is free and open?" "Food? We share what we have with all." As soon as the people leave, everybody has a good laugh and the anthropologist gets tenure. Gary Larson has a wonderful cartoon that shows a native running in calling, "Anthropologists," and everybody is rushing to hide the TVs and microwaves.


Jacqui Binford-Bell said...

Okay, me and my minor in anthropology will shut up.

And actually social anthropologist seldom ask. And they do attempt to factor for the observation. Like shrinks do.

On both your houses said...

I know, Jacqui, and I'm being unreasonably harsh, but the fact that the antrhos are there taking notes has to influence the equation. The very fact that they are studying the people, as one studies an ant colony, would be enough to put me off.