Monday 15 July 2013

If You Call Yourself A Social Scientist (Even If You Don't Think Your Work Qualifies As Science) It's About Time You Did More Than Stand Up To Be Counted On Questions Of Social Justice.

I'm going to ask you to forget the Zimmerman verdict for a moment. Forget about global warming. Forget about the wars of aggression in Afganistan and Iraq. Forget about lobbyists. Forget about "special interests." It's time to show our collective humanity and let the Republican Party and all of its enablers, from tea-baggers to Southern Democrats, drown in their own filth.

Last Thursday the majority-Republican United States House of Representatives passed legislation that, for the moment at least, ends the so-called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) [a program previously known as food stamps in which the destitute poor in this country receive, on average, $134 a month to help them subsist.]. Yup. One organization reports that in April 2013 47,548,694 people were receiving SNAP benefits. Thus, with a snap of their collective finger [middle digit, almost certainly] the champions of the richest kicked nearly 50 million people to the kerb, to better to roam the nation's sidewalks begging for alms.

My vocation is making archaeological knowledge. Any North American archaeologist will tell you that what I do is anthropology. I have paid dearly to be so called, and I can say with pride that I study humanity from almost every possible angle, including what happened in the recent and distant past.

But, in light of the U.S. Congress's latest stick in the eye of the poor in this country, I must admit that my musings, even the ones considered worthy of publication, "don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world." And, just like Rick Blaine in Casablanca "I'm no good at being noble." A better way to put it might be "I don't have much success at the Hero thing." And what can I do now that food stamps have been axed from the only legislative vehicle that has provided for them since the 1970s? I greet this news with dismay, of course, but also with despair that my person, through my vocation, has no hope of effecting change than might release those 50 million from the pillory that is poverty. As for any hope of addressing global poverty, I can only throw up my hands and say that I'm just one person, and one person never changed anything.

Part of me hopes that I'm wrong in thinking that. Individuals have always been able to root out injustice and replace it with hope, most notably Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Schindler. However, the list is incredibly short. How can I be expected to join that club? In truth, I can't. But that doesn't mean I'll keep mum when I'm faced with a singular act that is as venal, as heinous, as despicable as that which the Republican Congress just evinced. So, I'm bending your ear, and hoping that something might come of it.

There are more than 11,000 members of the American Anthropological Association (AAA). I have to think that a significant number, perhaps the majority of the Society for American Archaeology's 7,000 or so members, choose not to belong to the AAA because for the past forty or so years they perceive a profound disconnect between anthropological theory and that which underpins Americanist archaeology. Sad, but true. The American Psychological Association boasts of 137,000 members. The American Sociological Association: 14,000+. About 18,000 economists comprise the American Economic Association. So, the optimistic number of people whose job descriptions includes improving the human condition through research? 187,000. Even if you include their like-minded relatives and acquaintances, those students whose minds they've molded, the number is frustratingly small.

Unfortunately in a country of around 300 million people, never mind the 187,000 beings who think they have the answers. Let's face it, if the musings of enearly 50 million people living on the edge of starvation don't amount to a hill of beans, what hope is there?

What can possibly explain why a majority of Americans parrot the Republican party line—that poor people are there because they deserve it, and for that reason the rest of us shouldn't be asked to pool our resources to help them out? Contra John Donne, it appears that there are more 'islands' among the people of this country than he could have imagined from his place in 17th century England's society. Nevertheless, in Donne's writings we can see that even in a time and place where many more people professed to be Christians than perhaps at any time in history, there was still a concern as to the level of charity that could be expected of individuals. Donne writes
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
There would have been no reason to utter these words had Donne not perceived a worrisome failure on the part of his compatriots to look to the well-being of their neighbours.

And so I leave as I entered. My 'bleeding' heart is broken, again. As is my spirit. Please, somebody 'splain to me what, as an anthropologist, I have done or can do in aid of the less fortunate, especially those less fortunate who're less fortunate than most less fortunate people, like me and you. What to do?

I'm old enough to remember protest songs and be ins and teach ins and an anti-war and later an anti-nuclear movement that I [perhaps naively] believe did make a difference. Just a lot of like-minded people doing more than just standing up to be counted, like so many members of scholarly associations.  Where is our Dylan now? Our Joan Baez? Cesar Chavez? Woody Guthrie? Where is everybody? Nose down, working hard, hoping to dodge the unemployment axe, uncomfortable and disquieted but nevertheless silent. Out of fear? What, then? Or am I just 'projecting,' as the psychologists say, and I'm actually the only one who hasn't figured out a way to make social change happen? The politicians have the so-called bully pulpit, they have the ears of FOX, CNN, MSNBC and so on and so on.

We could issue a statement! Buy space in the New York Times for a darned good argument against what the Republicans are doing!! Maybe a Superbowl commercial next year? How about a Public Service Announcement on network TV? All such suggestions get us nowhere. Who'd read the statement? Who gets the New York Times AND reads full-page arguments? No one would hear the PSA 'cause it'd be aired in the middle of the night. I doubt the Superbowl producers would allow an overtly political message—they've done it before. Well? We could all hold hands and sing "Kumbaya," the way the right in this country expects us to do! Or, perhaps, like the character of Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar when beset by the poor and leprotic crowd, we could profess an insufficiency of spirit and hope that it wasn't viewed as an insufficiency of concern.

Feel free to jump in any time. For my part, I'm adding about another 375 ml of wine to my daily chardonnay intake just to dull the 50 million new pains that I feel every time I take a breath in this world of so much hate.


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