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Valar Qringaomis

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Anthropology No More

Anthropology No More

"on the one hand, exotic technologies often co-opt pre-industrial cultures long-term. On the other hand, to purposefully withhold from those cultures things like computers, shotguns, and yes, measles vaccines, is to consign them to the status of performers who, to their own detriment, fulfill some perverse fantasy of the well-to-do...

Postmodernism was a fad invented largely by a coterie of French literati in the late 1960s. It subsequently degenerated into social ideology and found its way into other disciplines, notably philosophy, cultural studies, and, finally, anthropology. It was an ideology that privileged flourish over substance, sentiment over reason, and politics over principles. It had a long-standing love/hate relationship with science—quantitative studies are conspicuously absent from Human No More—and an equally stubborn hate/hate relationship with anything perceived to be of Western origin. Postmodernism reveled in sweeping pronouncements (e.g. “We are human no more”), so long as those pronouncements were couched in the pretentious postmodern idiom, whose vagueness served as a bulwark against refutation. When Whitehead writes that humans are part of larger “systems” (what does that mean so far?) that include “spirits,” is he seriously asserting that supernatural beings exist, or only that people believe in them? If it’s the former, then Whitehead is mistaken. If it’s the latter, he is making a claim no one would think of disputing...

The traces of the postmodern turn show up everywhere in Human No More. There are the obligatory homages to Derrida, Latour, Butler, and other gods of the postmodern pantheon, even when those gods have nothing relevant to say about the topic at hand. There is the compulsive use of scare quotes to qualify any word that might be construed as referring to some objectively real truth, as in “real”, “truth,” and, of course, “human”... lumping together the plight of middle-class devotees of World of Warcraft (Chapter 7) and the plight of homeless crack addicts of Sao Paolo (Chapter 11) is not a particularly progressive social view. For good measure, there is the occasional postmodern gimmick of bracketing of morphemes in paren(theses) for no particular reason (75, 89, 199).

Worst of all, Human Nor More is rife with examples of the pernicious postmodern addiction to sentences that don’t mean anything. Alemán adds nothing to her ethnography of the Waiwai when she concludes: “The somatic endurance requirements disappear only to be replaced by other requirements. In these subjective engagements, the field begins to shape-shift” (154). This is followed by puerile innuendo, yet another hallmark of the postmodern turn. Quoting Whitehead, Alemán writes that “such inadequate coverings as the fig leaf of scientific observation will now not be enough to hide the bulge of anthropological desire” (154)...

Ironically, the heirs to Chagnon’s sociobiology—Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Sarah Hrdy and others—have far outpaced postmodern anthropologists in explaining what human nature is like...

Anthropology is not at a critical intellectual juncture, as Whitehead claims. That juncture is more than a decade in the past. The decision anthropology now faces is whether to backtrack and find some genuinely fruitful approach to studying humanity, or else continue down this postmodern/posthuman path, which we already know is a cul-de-sac. As for Homo sapiens, we, like anthropology, face serious threats to our long-term survival. We will know when the posthuman era is upon us not because we have read Human No More, because we won’t be around to read any books at all."
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