A Constructive (and Protective) Response for Our Discipline to the 2016 Elections

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  1. The spirit of the article is very welcome, but operationalizing the many initiatives listed will require many discussions in diverse settings; even collectively devoting a period of 10 years as “the decade of anthropological engagement,” for example would be too little, perhaps. Since the power of the lone observer at one location for a sustained period (or teams in multi-site projects) lies in the small, human scale, to respond to the planetary scope called for in the article draws us away from what we do well. Then there is the philosophical split between approaching any given problem in anthropological terms, describing what we observe stereoscopically between emic and etic lenses versus approaching a given problem first by assessing the dominant, status quo terms presented by others (framed by news media, other social commentators, quantitative measures) and saying what is missing. In other words, do we lead by persuasively pointing out what is lacking in the dominant narratives, or do we lead by persuasively expressing a point of view that differs to the one widely circulating (do we say the emperor is wearing no clothes, or do we say ‘look, here is a more sensible or fashionable mode of dressing now instead”). Another response that comes in the first reading of the article is that of “asymmetrical warfare,” when a small but dedicated group of people (AAA and sister associations outside of N. America) engages with an established and vast oppressor (consumer lives built upon petrochemical sources). In those circumstances, the best chance to change the direction of events is not to play by the oppressor’s terms, but instead to proceed outside the imagination and expectation and motivation of the oppressor. Perhaps playing with that metaphor of asymmetry is a way forward. And finally, borrowing from the 12-step programs for altering harmful habits of abuse (alcohol and other drugs, for example), there is the starting point: “in order to solve a problem you first have to recognize that there IS something wrong.” In the case of the planetary abuses to all sorts of lifeforms and their sustaining ecosystems, human and otherwise, surely there IS a set of connected problems. Denyers s have no ground to stand on. The whole matter described by the article is so very big, though. It is best to break the subject into manageable pieces upon which individual thinkers and doers, on campus and off campus, at home and abroad all can take hold and pull in the right direction. For subjects of delicacy, complexity, and of high-stakes, face-to-face and semi-structured circles for dialog are superior (for communicative clues of voice and non-verbal channels offered). But who among us is prepared , convene such problem-specific round-table discussions -among anthropologists and then among a wider circle of social scientists and finally with those is seats of business, Technology, Entertainment, Design, government and religion? Some are better situated than others to convene and lead, and we do have some friends among anthropological funders to call on, too.

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