Anthropology in a climate of change, war, and internecine environments 1

[In process]

Part 1**
Part 2*** [separate post]

* Background

I think there is a need for anthropological perspective in any issue of human existence.

It is a sad irony that the discipline (science) which is most comprehensive and fundamental (science is a human activity and the basic science of human activity is anthropology) has often seemed through its profession association to be narrowly focussed and consequently irrelevant.

Last month, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) accompanied the chairwoman of the Disaster Recovery subcommittee, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) to another hearing, in Anchorage, about the few places in Alaska designated for US Army Corps of Engineers environmental management [sic].

The anthropologists are about to have their annual conference in Washington DC and will be exercised about the U.S. Army recruiting anthropologists (Human Terrain Systems). On the other hand, Barack Obama is hip to Margaret Mead “Obama demonstrated that he understood the reasons why America for decades (think of the Bay of Pigs invasion) has made gravely serious national security decisions based on laughably inaccurate intelligence.”

Meanwhile, none of our western Alaska or Mississippi deltas is taken seriously. “Rush Limbaugh adds Alaskan to polarizing efforts.”

The best the state of Alaska has done so far is issue an official pass to a non-existent mass disease shelter in the region’s pandemic preparedness exercise this year (flu shot clinic).

I think if Governor Palin actually had a scientific advisor to her environmental sub-cabinet especially from rural Alaska or if Landrieu and Stevens could earmark enough funding out of the millions for the Corps mission in Alaska to pay for scientific support for the Unorganized Borough [over half of Alaska’s area, 970,500 km² (374,712 square miles), an area larger than France and Germany combined], this actually would be more effective than the endless photo-op and news stories about polar bears without ice.

How do we bring attention to the need for comprehensive analysis, assessment, and action on environmental change? No one would think of building a levee without an engineer, why are we doing relocation and reconstruction of communities — in Alaska and Louisiana / Mississippi — without a human scientist / human ecologist (anthropologist)?

[This analogy would work better if I didn’t already know that someone in DC thought of managing emergencies with a horse show announcer.] At the very least we need to aggregate the existing knowledge that we know full well must be included, whether for a northern or a southern delta.

It may not be a direct plus for NOLA– my records precede Katrina and I read Voices of New Orleans. If all the people and power and money there can’t get trailers that the Feds are allowed to inspect — but I think the imaginative scale in Alaska would be easier to actually test many of these concepts and approaches.


** Part 1

Earlier this month, in a forum of environmental anthropologists, an interesting summary of the discussion about global warming climate change was posed by Alan R. Beals, Ph.D.

Perhaps I have pushed technological change because I don’t like to think
about the social and cultural changes that lie ahead. In the worst case, we will be asking people whose houses flooded or burned to take in large numbers of refugees from the Netherlands or Bengal. With the economy in shambles, with the capitalist means of production in ruins, one wonders what will happen and how anthropologists might contribute to the reconstruction of culture and society across the world.

The future is now — massive upheavals of people/cultures, increasing over the next 2 weeks to 20 years. Not since the advent of sedentism (television and local schooling) has there been such biocultural changes. The immediate refugees are Alaskans.

What is described in this paragraph was also the scenario 20 years ago (another climate disaster modelling and planning). Then anthropologists in this country mostly refused to be involved. There was a session at the 1985 DC AAA meeting, which almost didn’t proceed because it was “unethical” for anthropologists to speak with those in policy areas and because even speaking about issues of humanity would cause the calamity to occur. ( “[Audience: What the hell…! Talking about the unthinkable makes it inevitable!]” ) Despite the interest by the rest of the world in the climate change models and our most telegenic representatives, there was no news coverage through the AAA press office.

Back to 2007

The rest of you are expected to pay the Billion(s) dollars [model estimates, limited as they are, are a minimum of an extra $3-6 Billion, over the required $32b, for climate change alone] for the 65,000 some displaced persons in 200+ communities that the (state, federal, tribal equivalents) Corps of Engineers or the USDA NRCS or EPA or Homeland Security or HHS or the churches want to spend building their ideas of homes. (However, they discuss only 3 or 4 communities to relocate not the 200+ in actual need.)

None of the people who will be spending your money have any inkling of biocultural adaptation or biocultural systems.
* I think there is one archaeologist with the Corps (Alaska)
* USDA NRCS bans anthropologists (the Big Book of Jobs says Anthropology “does not meet minimum educational requirements” for working with communities and natural resources)
* there isn’t a single social scientist with the state agency charged by Governor Palin for disaster mitigation and planning (homeland security)

They will not come to the temple. They don’t even see the temple, despite its periodic statements of dogmatic purity. In fact, there is no longer a need to go to anthropology. The new anthropology– in business, medicine, social services, and even academia– is now the derivative stakeholders and community-based participatory research (CBPR). Motorola, ATT, and IBM long-ago took over “culture change” +. Even lawyers are recognized as better qualified than anthropologists–

“Yochai Benkler, a Harvard Law School professor and the author of the already well revered book “The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom,” has some incredible observations of interest to anyone wondering about participatory media or participatory research. Or… participatory anything.”

In 1985 — there was a call at the AAA for anthropologists to recognize “that the most important decisions are made by a very few people, Need to de-isolate the experts and specialists” -Nader

In 2007
22 years later at this year’s meeting, the organization once again resolves that war is bad for anthropologists and other living things and draws up the list of heretics. It seems as I grow older that Anthropology (USA) insists on becoming ever more orthodox, parochial, ethnocentric. Therefore the issues which desperately need anthropological insight [the missing experts] must proceed without.

Perhaps someone can spare a minute to think about the value of anthropological relevance vs. isolation +

Back to the wilderness and your money
Like the AAA “Commission’s work did not include systematic study of the HTS project”, we also have no systematic study of environmental change in Alaska. There have already been some efforts to compare Katrina to Alaska, in the fight over money and resources. But the truly ugly and nonsensical (“race”) battle is coming.

Perhaps someone would stop by Sen. Stevens, Sen. Landrieu, and Sen. Murkowski, while in DC, and explain the need for a natural science A-word where people and their environment are concerned? Please?


+ footnote

“As Congress debates new rules for government eavesdropping, a top intelligence official says it is time that people in the United States changed their definition of privacy. Privacy no longer can mean anonymity, says Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence. “I think all of us have to really take stock of what we already are willing to give up, in terms of anonymity, but (also) what safeguards we want in place to be sure that giving that doesn’t empty our bank account or do something equally bad elsewhere.” ”,,-7068964,00.html

Don Kerr was the fourth Director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1979 to 1985, a time when the previous recognition that “science is a human activity” was replaced by a bottom-line business management model. Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (LASL) became LANL by dropping the science.

In 1985, he turned down a petition by Laboratory staff and senior management to include a human sciences (anthropology) component to the Lab’s technical expertise. At least then he would have had access to a correct understanding of complex, non-linear, dynamic, human systems.

However, in 2007, Kerr was introduced at the October meeting quoted above [pdf] by

BRIGADEER [sic] GENERAL MICHAEL G. LEE (Ret.): “But probably the key and our hardest job is our next keynote speaker. A lot of the issues that we have are cultural issues; a lot of the issues are policy issues, and certainly the next keynote speaker is in a great position to influence that and help make some changes as we work through.”

Kerr: “Instead, privacy, I would offer, is a system of laws, rules, and customs with an infrastructure of Inspectors General, oversight committees, and privacy boards on which our intelligence community commitment is based and measured. And it is that framework that we need to grow and nourish and adjust as our cultures change…. And as I settle into this job, I find myself thinking back to the beginnings of other jobs in the past. In some ways, they are all similar; there’s a lot of information coming at you very fast; there are new issues, new people, and most importantly, new cultures, to learn about.”


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2 responses to “Anthropology in a climate of change, war, and internecine environments 1

  1. Pingback: Anthropology in a climate of change, war, and internecine environments 2 « Biocultural Science & Management