In this fresh, literate, and biting critique of current thinking on some of today's most important and controversial topics, leading anthropologists take on some of America's top pundits.
This absorbing collection of essays subjects such popular commentators as Thomas Friedman, Samuel Huntington, Robert Kaplan, and Dinesh D'Souza to cold, hard scrutiny and finds that their writing is often misleadingly simplistic, culturally ill-informed, and politically dangerous. Mixing critical reflection with insights from their own fieldwork, twelve distinguished anthropologists respond by offering fresh perspectives on globalization, ethnic violence, social justice, and the biological roots of behavior. They take on such topics as the collapse of Yugoslavia, the consumer practices of the American poor, American foreign policy in the Balkans, and contemporary debates over race, welfare, and violence against women. In the clear, vigorous prose of the pundits themselves, these contributors reveal the hollowness of what often passes as prevailing wisdom and passionately demonstrate the need for a humanistically complex and democratic understanding of the contemporary world.
Available: November 2004
Pub Date: January 2005
Why America's Top Pundits Are Wrong Anthropologists Talk Back
Hugh Gusterson and Catherine Besteman
This book confronts some of the most controversial and divisive issues of the day. Why does poverty persist in the United States? Do the poor, through laziness or lack of initiative, somehow deserve their plight? Why do African Americans continue to get left behind in the American race for success? Are feminists right about violence against women in our society? How much of our behavior is genetically programmed? Why do some countries do better than others in the global economy? Why has the U.S. military found itself fighting Muslims so much of late? Will globalization and U.S. intervention abroad create a more peaceful or a more polarized world? Should the United States have intervened in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, or is that part of the world doomed to bloody and irremediable ancient hatreds?
In Congress, in coffee shops, in classrooms, in dorm rooms, on talk shows, and over the dinner table, these have been some of the most debated questions in American public life in recent years. Some of these questions—about race, gender, and class—are hardy perennials of American disputation; others, such as those about globalization and the apparent conflict with Islam, are particular to our times. In our national debate about such questions, some of the loudest voices belong to pundits: men (and, yes, they do almost all seem to be men) such as Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, Robert Kaplan of the Atlantic Monthly, Samuel Huntington of Harvard University, and Dinesh D'Souza of Stanford University's Hoover Institute. Some of these pundits are based in universities, others are not, but they share an ability to reduce controversial issues to sound bites and, consequently, to harness the full power of the media to project their opinions. Some are self-identified liberals, while others are conservatives; some focus their attention on international relations, while others write about domestic politics within the United States. Although they do not all come from the same side of the political map, they draw on and embellish a loosely coherent set of myths about human nature and culture that have a strange staying power in American public discourse: that conflict between people of different cultures, races, or genders is inevitable; that biology is destiny; that culture is immutable; that terrible poverty, inequality, and suffering are natural; and that people in other societies who do not want to live just like Americans are afraid of "modernity." We have put together a book subjecting these pundits to cold, hard scrutiny because of our concern that, while their voices are often the loudest, they are not necessarily the wisest. Although they may be glibly persuasive writers with strong points of view, their writing is also dangerously simplistic and ideologically distorted.
Pundit comes from the old Hindi word pandit, used to refer to a teacher of Indian religion and law.1 The Oxford English Dictionary defines a pundit as "an authority on a subject." Merriam-Webster's gives two definitions. The first—"a learned man; teacher"—echoes the Oxford English Dictionary. The second—"one who gives opinions in an authoritative manner"—is more to the point here. The pundits we discuss here are not particularly learned and are only superficially authorities on the subjects about which they write. Their skill lies not in detailed knowledge about their subject but in their ability, in an age of mass media and short attention spans, to learn quickly about the broad contours of a wide range of subjects and to project confidence and authority in talking about them. Indeed, their skill often lies not in authoritative knowledge of their subject but in their ability to hide their lack of authoritative knowledge. Pundits are people who, like the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, speak to a general audience rather than to specialists, often on many different issues. To win and keep a wide audience, they have to hurl out bold ideas, make big generalizations, and speak colorfully. While they are expected to pepper their arguments with facts and information, they know that their audiences will not—and usually cannot—judge them on their detailed knowledge of the subject at hand and will, instead, judge them on their ability to appear knowledgeable and be entertaining. This means that the pundits who thrive the most are those who cater to their audiences' existing prejudices, rather than those who upend their easy assumptions about the world and challenge them to see the world from a new angle. As the cultural critic Edward Said puts it, in reference to the appeal of Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations, one of the works we discuss in this book, "What has made it strike so responsive a chord among post-cold war policy makers, is this sense of cutting through large amounts of unnecessary detail, of masses of scholarship and huge amounts of experience, and boiling all of them down to a couple of catchy, easy-to-quote-and-remember ideas, which are then passed off as pragmatic, practical, sensible, and clear."2
Pundits, then, are modern-day mythmakers. All societies have mythmakers—people who provide a comforting explanation of why things are the way they are. Mythmakers provide a way to make sense of complexity, to reconcile contradictory realities, and to justify a particular course of action or worldview. They help a society imagine itself and its role in the world. Mythmakers in "primitive" societies explained why children died, why crops failed, and why chiefs were chiefs and the rest were not. They found design and purpose in pain and suffering. Mythmakers in contemporary America provide just-so stories to explain, for example, why many foreigners are angry at the United States, why the poor are poor, and why racial inequality persists.
The pundits we review here are American mythmakers with authority.3 They have captured our attention because of their book sales, their high profiles in public discourse, and their ability to influence the highest policy makers in the land. They are not the most extreme of America's contemporary commentators—the Ann Coulters and Bill O'Reillys. Rather, they hold positions at famous universities, publish in mainstream news magazines and newspapers, and are read by American presidents. While they successfully present themselves as globally knowledgeable and reasonable commentators, the myths they promote exert a reactionary force in public life. Often based on stereotypes of other people, these myths hobble our ability to think critically or to empathize with different kinds of people, and they have the effect of legitimating the status quo. They are also based on wrongheaded assumptions about human nature that we are determined to debunk.
All the contributors to this volume are distinguished and experienced anthropologists who can no longer watch America's pundits at work without speaking up. As anthropologists, we specialize in studying human nature, cultural interaction, ethnic conflict, social stratification, and the workings of race and gender—all the issues the pundits write about. In the following chapters we demonstrate over and over that the myths of the punditocracy, whether overtly liberal or conservative, are based on loudly voiced rhetorical and not scientific claims, and on the cultural assumptions of the privileged. Uncorrected, their assumptions about human nature and culture are not just wrong but also, given the pundits' influence in American public life, dangerous. Although most of the contributors to this book are to the left of political center, we do not have a shared political agenda; we are less concerned with speaking as exponents of a particular political philosophy than as anthropologists offering an alternative view of America's pundits not as partisans of a debate between liberals and conservatives but as joint contributors to a set of "myths we live by." Anthropology's traditional charge is to understand myths as charters for worldviews and ways of life. We evaluate myths that societies tell about themselves and others, and we try to understand where these stories came from, why they endure, and most important for our purposes here, how they might be dangerous. After all, some myths justify unnecessary human suffering while breeding fear, xenophobia, and ignorance about other ways of life.
As anthropologists who have all done fieldwork, we get our knowledge by deeply engaged, intense, face-to-face research, often in settings where disease and violence pose a real threat. Along with reading all the learned books and professional journals related to our subjects, we spend years in local communities, listening, observing, interviewing. Wanting all sides of the story, we talk with everyone from government officials and executives to peasants, activists, workers, and criminals. We are experts in the history, the politics, and the economics of the places we study, but we also understand these places in terms of the human interactions we have had with the people who live there. Significantly, our methodology encourages in-depth relationships with people generally ignored by pundits—those on the margins of society, rather than just the elite. Anthropology has a historical commitment to take seriously the perspectives of non-Western societies and non-elites. Such perspectives are front and center in our analyses, and they undergird anthropology's distinctive view of the world. Ours is the discipline whose best-sellers include the biography of a !Kung bushwoman in South Africa and the story of Ishi, "the last of his tribe" of Native Americans.4 Now, in the era of globalization and cyberspace, we are reporting on conversations with war refugees in the Congo, Islamic militants in the slums of Egypt, illegal immigrants who clean your local Wal-Mart and can barely make the rent, and young women who lose their eyesight assembling computers in sweatshops in Malaysia and the Philippines. We bring into the global conversation the voices that would otherwise be lost. Good anthropology, like good literature, challenges readers to see the world from inside someone else's skin and to rethink taken-for-granted assumptions.
The arguments we challenge here were published in articles and books that received widespread media attention in the 1990s, but our decision to write this book took on particular force with the renewed power and prominence of these writings following the September 11, 2001, tragedy and the American invasion of Iraq. The need to define the contours of the post-cold war world has taken on a new urgency for Americans reeling from the shock of a devastating terrorist attack on American soil and mired in the chaos of a post-Saddam Iraq. When we discovered that books by some of the pundits we target—Robert Kaplan, Samuel Huntington, and Thomas Friedman—were being promoted by a major national bookstore chain as useful roadmaps to our global reality in the era of the war on terrorism, we realized that our task—to draw on our anthropological knowledge to tell more accurate stories about the post-cold war world—was more important than ever. There was a time before the Vietnam War when anthropologists were themselves pundits playing a vital role in public debate. Franz Boas, the founder of modern American anthropology, championed Native Americans and was an outspoken public critic of eugenics and of racially biased intelligence testing in the early twentieth century. Margaret Mead, the most famous anthropologist of the twentieth century, used knowledge she gained from her research on adolescence and gender among Pacific Islanders to intervene in public debates about American sex roles and education. With less happy consequences, Margaret Mead also intervened in public policy debates about American foreign policy, including the Vietnam War. The debates of the Vietnam era, which left the American Anthropological Association deeply divided over the ethics of military research and over the propriety of the Vietnam War itself, scarred anthropology and left many anthropologists feeling that it was safer to avoid participation in national policy debates. We came together to write this book out of the conviction that it is time for anthropologists to reclaim Margaret Mead's legacy and find our voice as public intellectuals once more.
The Pundits Look Abroad
Let us begin with Robert Kaplan. Described by the New York Times as combining "the attributes of the journalist and the visionary,"5 he is the author of the influential books Balkan Ghosts and The Coming Anarchy. Balkan Ghosts was published in 1993 just as the former Yugoslavia was beginning to come apart at the seams and the newly elected U.S. president, Bill Clinton, was deciding whether or not to reverse the policy, inherited from his predecessor, of nonintervention in the Bosnian conflict. In Balkan Ghosts Kaplan sketched a picture of the Balkans as a region doomed to perpetual strife because of ancient feuds and grievances dating back to the Middle Ages that set Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim citizens at each others' throats. Although Kaplan was not an expert in Balkan history or culture, the commonsense appeal of his "ancient hatreds" argument combined with a muscular and vivid writing style won his book a wide audience at a time when newspaper and television screens were full of searing images of atrocities from the Bosnian war. Bill Clinton read the book during his first term as president, and it is said that Kaplan helped persuade him for a long time that people in this corner of the world had always hated one another and probably always would, and that the United States should stay out of their conflicts. Balkan Ghosts is a discomfiting reminder of the terrible damage that can be done by an author with a persuasive writing style and a good publicist, even if the account is largely a mishmash of myth, superficial impressions, and recycled stereotypes.
In the present volume, Tone Bringa sets the record straight on Bosnia. Unlike Kaplan, Bringa did not simply pass through the Balkans between book tours. Bringa is an anthropologist who won her knowledge the hard way—by living in a Bosnian village before and during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, getting to know its Bosnian Muslim and Croat Catholic inhabitants intimately. She was there when the villagers turned on one another. While Kaplan would have us believe that people in this part of the world were just itching for a chance to revisit old grievances, Bringa points out that, until the ethnic cleansing of the 1990s, Muslim and Catholic villagers had strong neighborly friendships. These interethnic friendships had been the rule rather than the exception in this part of the world and were blown apart only under the pressure of a war begun by Serb separatists in Belgrade. Far from being eager to attack one another, villagers finally turned against one another only after hard work by nationalist politicians. Bringa suggests that Kaplan's question—can these people ever be expected to get over their differences?—is the wrong question to ask. The right question, and the question Bringa addresses, is, How were people who had lived quietly together as neighbors for forty-five years manipulated into killing one another and burning each other's houses down?
Kaplan's subsequent book, The Coming Anarchy, was no less influential and, unfortunately, no less misguided. The book was preceded by an Atlantic Monthly article of the same name that was, remarkably, faxed by the U.S. State Department to every U.S. embassy in Africa. In it, Kaplan argues that the world was increasingly divided between the orderly, affluent societies of the West and anarchic, crime-ridden, overpopulated Third World societies headed for environmental degradation, outbreaks of disease, downward spirals of poverty, and civil strife. He likens the citizens of the West to passengers in a stretch limo, saying, "Outside the stretch limo would be a rundown, crowded planet of skinhead Cossacks and juju warriors, influenced by the worst refuse of Western pop culture and ancient tribal hatreds, and battling over scraps of overused earth."6 Warning about "places where the Enlightenment has not penetrated," and predicting that "distinctions between war and crime will break down,"7 he fears that globalization will make it harder and harder for the people in the stretch limo to avoid "the coming anarchy." Telling us that democracy is culturally unnatural in many parts of the globe, and that some cultures are too weak or pathological to cope with the stresses of globalization, he predicts that anarchic waves of crime and violence will wash across various regions of the globe, particularly Africa.
In chapter 5 below, Catherine Besteman takes issue with this dystopic vision of the present and the future. An anthropologist who has worked in Africa for many years, particularly in Somalia and South Africa, Besteman points out that the impression Kaplan gives of the African continent as an imploding zone of chaos and crime is empirically selective—that while Africans may be poor, in many parts of the continent their societies are peaceful and orderly. Echoing Bringa on the Balkans, she excoriates Kaplan for his attribution of "ancient tribal hatreds" to Africans, pointing out that colonial powers in Africa practiced a form of divide and rule that created and exacerbated tribal identifications, and that these "hatreds," far from being "ancient," are recent inventions. She also points out that, while Kaplan gives the impression that Third World societies are being eaten away by their own internal weaknesses (tribal hatreds, a congenital inability to create strong states, and an inability to control population), they are actually being undermined and deformed by exploitive relationships with the West. Western nations have made them a source of cheap raw materials and underpaid labor, and agencies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have forced them to cut social programs in order to demonstrate fiscal discipline. It is not that their unique cultural weaknesses are creating a wave of anarchy that may spread like a tidal wave from the Third World and drown us all, but that our relationships with them are generating suffering and exploitation that may blow back on us in the West.
The deformities in Kaplan's writing are, sadly, not unique to him. They form part of a broader pattern of distorted vision on the part of contemporary commentators that lends a coherence to the work of the pundits discussed in this book—even though they address quite disparate topics and would not see themselves as a unified group. Look at some of Kaplan's major themes—the inertia of ancient cultures and conflicts, the alleged inability of much of the Third World to deal with modernity, and the innocence of elites in the suffering of others—and you will find ideas that recur in different forms in the work of all the pundits we discuss in this book, like viruses that keep mutating and coming back. Thus, for example, if Kaplan presents human beings as captives of timeless, frozen cultural imperatives, a similar assumption mars Thomas Friedman's writing on "olive tree" cultures that cannot deal with modernity, Samuel Huntington's work on a supposedly predetermined "clash of civilizations," and Thornhill and Palmer's argument that contemporary men are compelled by ancient evolutionary imperatives to behave like sexual cavemen. In Kaplan's writing about the Balkans and about a rising tide of violence in the Third World, we see a penchant for blaming the victims. Similarly, Dinesh D'Souza blames poverty on the indolence and incapacity of the poor, Herrnstein and Murray say that intellectual inadequacy has held back African Americans, and Thornhill and Palmer tell us that women who do not want to be raped should not wear short skirts.
These are more than superficial resemblances. The pundits discussed here were all writing at a moment in time—on the brow of the new millennium—when the social and intellectual order of the late twentieth century, both at home and abroad, was suddenly up for grabs following the end of the cold war. This was a moment characterized in the international system by an intensification of globalization and civil conflict and, within the United States, by fierce debate about the domestic legacies of the 1960s, especially the civil rights and women's movements. At a moment when progressives, responding to the end of the cold war and the election of a democratic president and Congress, hoped that the 1990s would see a substantial demilitarization of global society, greater equality within and between societies, and further progress in civil and human rights, the pundits discussed in this book argued against them on many fronts. They argued that the world after the cold war was destined to be a violent one full of new threats to the West; they attacked the naïveté of those who argued for democratic forms of globalization that would ameliorate social conflict and inequality; and they disputed insights from the 1960s that the plight of women, the poor, and people of color was the product of an entire social system—a system that could be changed. Taken together, in other words, the pundits we discuss here have been engaged in a collective assault on the legacies of the Great Society era in American history. In the works discussed here, they are attempting to replace an established recognition—that we are all connected and that it is within our power to collectively change and improve our world—with a sort of neo-Darwinist ideology reminiscent of the ugly and mean-spirited ideas ascendant in the period of high capitalism and colonialism at the turn of the nineteenth century. The new social Darwinists preach the inescapability of conflict and competition, the unreformability of those who are not like "us," and the responsibility of the poor, the weak, and the oppressed for their own suffering. In writings on international affairs, expressions of this ideology range from Friedman's strident neoliberalism to Huntington's smug cultural separatism; in discussions of domestic politics, we see a revivification of old Dickensian ideas that everyone gets what they deserve.
These arguments offend us not only because of the callous politics that underlie them but also because they are sustained through a willful ignorance of a huge swathe of human experience and academic knowledge that we, as professional anthropologists, claim as our professional domain. For example D'Souza's arguments about the poor, Herrnstein and Murray's arguments about the low intelligence of African Americans, and Thornhill and Palmer's arguments about an alleged male propensity for rape fly in the face of decades of painstaking research by social scientists. Similarly, the assumptions about frozen traditions, conflicts, and cultures that one finds in the work of Friedman, Kaplan, and Huntington are premised on a stunning ignorance of the professional literature on culture and tradition—a literature that emphasizes the fluidity and malleability of culture and argues that ethnic conflict in such places as Rwanda and Bosnia has been the product of recent pressures, not ancient hatreds. The anthropologists in this book critique these ideas and the pundits who propound them in the fresh, vigorous prose of the punditocracy itself, but they do this without compromising their learning or simplifying the issues at stake.
Samuel Huntington, another pundit who writes on international affairs, is a Harvard professor who first became notorious as one of the architects of the "strategic hamlet" policy of counterinsurgency in the Vietnam War. In the 1990s, setting his jaw against Clintonist internationalism, he moved into the public eye once more with his predictions of an impending "clash of civilizations," which made him a cause célèbre, especially among those who hoped that the end of the cold war would not mean the end of cold-war levels of military spending. According to Huntington, the world contains seven civilizations: Western, orthodox, Chinese, Japanese, Hindu, Islamic, and Latin American. (If you are wondering where Africa went, Huntington is not sure that it qualifies as a civilization). Of these civilizations, Huntington sees the West as uniquely compatible with democracy, human rights, and secular reason. He has a special animus against Islam, which he presents as incompatible with modernity, saying that "Muslim bellicosity and violence are late twentieth century facts," and that "Muslims have problems living peacefully with their neighbors."8 Claiming that wars tend to occur on the "fault lines" between civilizations rather than within them, Huntington argues that globalization will probably intensify global conflict. This is because globalization makes it harder for countries to stay within their own civilizational backyards and because globalization is creating multicultural societies that, according to Huntington, suffer from "cultural schizophrenia" and are therefore unsustainable. He says, for example, in an argument that echoes Kaplan's warnings about the perils of multiculturalism, that the influx of Mexican immigrants into the United States creates a sort of Latin American fifth column within the United States that may eventually cause the loss of territory the United States once took from Mexico.
Hugh Gusterson, an anthropologist who writes on international security issues, attacks Huntington for the incoherence of his basic categories and for his cartoonish caricatures of complex cultural traditions. He points out, for example, that Huntington's separation of "Western" and "Orthodox" civilizations (the latter including both Russia and Greece) is odd, since so many cultural conservatives in the United States trace Western civilization and its democratic traditions back to the ancient Greeks. Gusterson also suggests that Huntington's characterizations of different cultures are often based on egregious stereotypes (Muslims are violent fundamentalists, the Chinese are authoritarian) that blur the diversity of opinion and belief within a society and deny the ability of societies to change over time. Taking issue with Huntington's representation of civilizations as enacting a timeless essence, Gusterson argues that if Europe "could evolve from a period when there was . . . no schism between Protestantism and Catholicism, and an assumption that kings ruled by divine right, to today's secular and pluralistic democracies," then surely the other civilizations of the world can also change in substantial and unpredictable ways.
Keith Brown's critique of Huntington is based on a fascinating close reading of his use of the notion of "kinship" within civilizations as a force in international relations. Kinship has traditionally been one of the central topics in anthropology, which has documented an astonishing variety of kinship practices around the world. By shining a light into the gap between Huntington's simplistic assumptions about kinship and anthropologists' rich knowledge of kinship as it is actually lived in all its diversity, Brown illuminates the simplifications and false assumptions that mar Huntington's work more generally. Huntington's argument depends upon a crude determinism that assumes civilizational "kin" will always tend to take one another's side against outsiders—like the Orthodox Russians tilting toward the Serbs in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Brown points out that, in the Balkans, this generalization seems highly dubious once one takes more than a superficial look. Thus, for example, the predominantly Christian United States was willing to take military action on behalf of the Bosnian Muslims and Muslim Kosovars in the 1990s, and, on the ground, other alliances in the region turned out to be more complex and counterintuitive than a theory of civilizational affinity would predict. Brown points out that marital ties can be as important as blood ties, and that, in the Balkans as in many other parts of the world, there are relations of "fictive kinship"—as exemplified by godparents—that enable people to turn allies and friends unrelated by blood into kin. Using as his starting point a Kosovar who named his daughter Kfor (after NATO forces) and who wanted a NATO general to be her godfather, Brown argues that new nations and oppressed peoples in eastern Europe in the 1990s used the idioms of fictive kinship to make real a powerful sense of lived solidarity with the United States, and that, more broadly, Huntington's flat and impoverished use of kinship as a way of understanding international alliances rests on a grave misunderstanding of the pliability of actual kinship relations and an underestimation of the human capacity to imagine relations of solidarity with others.
Our third foreign affairs pundit, Thomas Friedman, chides Kaplan and Huntington for their negativity and suggests that globalization and international trade can counteract tendencies toward anarchy or civilizational clashes. Best known for his biweekly opinion column in the New York Times and an earlier book on the politics of the Middle East, Friedman is also the author of The Lexus and the Olive Tree, a book that is, by nonfiction standards, a best-seller. Five years after its initial publication, it is still among the few hundred top sellers on Amazon.com. The Lexus in Friedman's title, a luxury automobile, represents the promise of affluence in globalization; the olive tree, the pull of the traditions that often inhibit countries from embracing market capitalism and its promise of progress and modernity. Friedman writes that a world without barriers to the flow of goods, ideas, and capital—a globalized system based on neoliberal economic policies—is the best hope for economic growth, political progress, and a world at peace. (Friedman claims that no two countries with McDonald's franchises have ever gone to war with one another.) Countries that refuse to embrace globalization, according to Friedman, are often inhibited by a fear of modernity and an irrational attachment to cultural tradition. Such countries will be left behind economically. The only hope for them is to open themselves to the market rationality of the "electronic herd" of banking experts and investors and to "globalution"—democratic revolution through globalization; the big danger is that they will allow themselves to be led astray by the "backlashers" and ignorant "turtles" who "just don't have the skills sets or the energy to make it into the Fast World."9
In this book, chapters by Angelique Haugerud, by Carolyn Nordstrom, and by Ellen Hertz and Laura Nader reveal the shallowness of Friedman's arguments. Angelique Haugerud, an anthropologist who spent fieldwork time in Africa over a period of two decades, and who is currently studying globalization activists, suggests that Friedman "misses the main story" about globalization. She argues that Friedman is so blinded by his perception of a global clash between modernity and tradition, and that his knowledge of the countries he jets into is so superficial, he cannot see that what he calls tradition is far from traditional. Friedman, Haugerud tells us, perceives a "dichotomy . . . between two rigidly separate worlds: that of the constantly ringing cell phones in his train car full of forward-looking middle- and upper-class Egyptians, and that of the 'barefoot Egyptian villagers . . . tilling their fields with the same tools and water buffalo that their ancestors used in Pharoah's day.'" This latter image, Haugerud notes, is visually arresting, but it is also "utterly false," given "Egypt's long history of agricultural innovation." Moreover, Haugerud points out, these villages with their water buffalo are actually at the center of a globalization from below, which Friedman fails to see. Many villagers have left the village to try their luck as migrant laborers in Egypt and beyond, and their relatives depend on the money they send and on the knowledge of labor and commodity markets they embody.
In the end, Haugerud concludes, Friedman's dichotomy between modernity and tradition is a phony distraction from the reality that resistance to globalization is "rejection not of modernity per se, but of the social injustices, environmental destruction, and brutal economic inequality that can accompany industrialization and economic neoliberalism." Observing that "globalizers" include migrant workers, protesters against the World Trade Organization, and rural farmers—rather than merely the banking and political elite so favored by Friedman—Haugerud explains that "what villagers, migrants, shantytown dwellers, and protesters seek is global and local social justice, not isolated olive groves of tradition." The globalizers from below who interest Haugerud are concerned with the neoliberal policies that shape how people must participate in the current global economy. Haugerud concludes her chapter by offering ideas for reforming globalization and enhancing its possibilities. Activists in the West and Third World villagers, whom Friedman so deprecates, do not insist on living in the past, but instead ask what alternative forms of globalization we might pursue in the future. While Friedman presents an up-or-down choice—globalization or no globalization?—they ask, "Globalization for whom?"
Where Friedman suggests that poor countries will be the countries unable or unwilling to participate in the global market, Carolyn Nordstrom, drawing on many years of field research in such desperately poor countries as Mozambique and Angola, shows that in reality this is not true. Nordstrom argues that, while poor African countries may appear to be left out of globalization according to official IMF or World Bank indices, they actually have huge black-market sectors that bring everything from weapons to cigarettes into the country while extracting diamonds (known to the locals as "conflict diamonds") and other precious materials for sale on terms highly favorable to the West and highly exploitive of the bulk of the local population. If Friedman thinks such countries have been left out of globalization, or that globalization will produce stable and balanced economic growth for their peoples, it is because he cannot tell the difference between the UN or IMF statistics he reads in the limousine from the airport and the world of the people his limousine whizzes past. (As Hertz and Nader observe, Friedman "has not talked to very many different kinds of people on his jaunts across the four-star-hotel-dotted globe.")
Pointing out that experts estimate that the black market represents 50 percent of Mozambique's economy and a staggering 90 percent of Angola's, Nordstrom warns of the danger of relying on formal economic statistics as a measure of such countries' participation in the global economy. Against Friedman's talk of Lexuses and olive trees, Nordstrom's icon of globalization is Marra, an African war refugee who survives where others drop from hunger and exhaustion by smuggling out from the war zone a diamond, for which she is paid the pitifully small sum of twenty dollars. Far from being an olive tree clinger, Marra is resourceful, adaptive—and exploited. Marra could not escape from globalization if she wanted to, since it is the warp and weft of her life: the impetus for the war that made her a refugee, and the source of the twenty dollars that may enable her children to live rather than die. Marra is the human face on the sharp end of globalization that Friedman, busy talking to World Bank economists and secretaries of the treasury, cannot see. Nordstrom's painstaking local research on globalized black market economies in southern Africa gives the lie to Friedman's claim that democratization and affluence are the universal benefits of plugging into the global market.
Struck by Friedman's manic authorial voice and his "globally proportioned ego," Ellen Hertz and Laura Nader write their critique in a parody of his style, which they describe as "breezy, sarcastic, anecdotal, accessible, and optimistic—the kind of not-too-serious writing that people might choose to read at the end of an all-too-serious workday." Since his understanding of the societies about which he writes is so superficial, and his arguments about globalization so simplistic, Hertz and Nader conclude that Friedman's style rather than his message attracts readers. Highlighting the dangers of a journalist who "relies so heavily on advertising copy for insights into worldwide phenomena," their chapter focuses on how Friedman's ad-copy writing style allows him to make gross generalizations and appalling simplifications and to avoid any kind of engagement with serious questions. Such questions, suggest Hertz and Nader, include: What kind of globalization do we want? What do we mean by free market capitalism? How is free market capitalism carried out? Does democracy mean nothing more than the freedom to consume? How do financial markets democratize, as Friedman insists they do? Hertz and Nader conclude by offering anthropological studies of globalization that counterbalance Friedman's "political-economic propaganda."
The Pundits at Home: The Genetic Basis for Wealth, Rape, and IQ
The last three chapters of the book focus on The Virtue of Prosperity by Dinesh D'Souza, A Natural History of Rape by Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer, and The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray. Whereas the three pundits discussed above seek to define the strengths of and challenges to American society in the global arena, these three books focus on American domestic issues. Taken together, they argue that we should accept the inequalities of class, gender, and race hierarchies in our society as inevitable, natural, and unalterable by social programs designed to promote equality. They offer a feel-good set of myths to gloss the fact that American society is growing more polarized and stratified every year.
D'Souza made his reputation in the early 1990s with his book Illiberal Education, a controversial attack on political correctness on campus. His subsequent books include Letters to a Young Conservative, What's So Great about America, and The End of Racism. In The Virtue of Prosperity, the book we focus on here, D'Souza writes about the distribution of wealth in contemporary America. Portraying himself as an "anthropologist in a strange land" in the opening chapter, he says that "you don't have to go anywhere" to understand the socioeconomic system emerging today. "Just turn on your computer and get on the internet."10 In a book where he quotes liberally from conversations with dot.com millionaires and writers for Forbes magazine, D'Souza argues that the poor have never had it so good: "Poverty . . . is no longer a significant problem in America," he tells us.11 Citing statistics showing that 98 percent of those below the official poverty line in America have refrigerators, 93 percent have televisions, and 72 percent have washing machines, he asks what they are complaining about, given that the poor in the Third World—the real poor as against the coddled American poor—could only dream of owning such commodities. More generally, arguing that "capitalism civilizes greed just as marriage civilizes lust," he says that American capitalism is a finely tuned piece of social machinery that converts talent and industry into wealth and status so that everyone ends up more or less where they deserve to be.12 "The prime culprit in causing contemporary social inequality seems to be merit," he says. "The guy who is worth little has probably produced little of value."13 As evidence that the American poor lack the virtues of those above them, he points to their higher incarceration rates.
Kath Weston is an anthropologist who has studied poverty by spending time with the poor rather than by opportunistically gathering the sorts of statistics and anecdotes about them that give comfort to the rich. Criticizing D'Souza's "commodity-based conception of class" and his "shopping-cart conception of capitalism," she points out that, when the federal government developed measures for the "poverty line" in the 1960s, it focused on consumer items and food but left out such expenses as child care and health care, which are much more important now than they were then. We live, she points out, in "a topsy-turvy economy in which it becomes possible to scrape together the money for household appliances that look like luxuries, yet inconceivable to cover the basic necessities that sustain life." While D'Souza says that the poor in India would envy the American poor their microwaves and televisions, Weston reminds us of the recent experiment by the best-selling Barbara Ehrenreich in which she abandoned her comfortable middle-class life and tried to live on the minimum wage she could earn as a waitress or hotel maid. Although eighty dollars per day might sound like a lot, Ehrenreich found that it was hard for many to live anywhere nicer than their cars or transient hotel rooms once confronted with the need for rental deposits, health care costs, transportation costs to work, and so on.14 Weston drives home the lived meaning of poverty (which cannot be measured by commodity indices) and dramatizes how little progress we have made in fighting it, despite decades of a rising gross national product, when she quotes James Baldwin's recollection of growing up poor and black in Harlem in the middle years of the twentieth century: "a cousin, mother of six, suddenly gone mad, the children parceled out here and there; an indestructible aunt rewarded for years of hard labor by a slow, agonizing death in a terrible small room; someone's bright son blown into eternity by his own hand; another turned robber and carried off to jail."15
If we were forced to pick the most offensive and intellectually shoddy of the books discussed here, it would be Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer's Natural History of Rape, a book that surely would have had Margaret Mead reaching angrily for her pen. Sadly, this is the one book in our hall of shame that was published by a university press—MIT Press, which doubled the initial print run to twenty thousand to capitalize on the controversy the book generated as its authors embarked on a media blitz against feminist accounts of rape. The authors—a biologist and a biological anthropologist who identify with evolutionary psychology—argue that rape is not about power, as many feminists, rape victims, and reformed rapists have argued, but is instead an evolutionary product best understood through processes of natural selection. Thornhill and Palmer argue that men are genetically predisposed to spread their sperm as widely as possible, while women are naturally monogamous. They offer proof of the male genetic propensity to rape in the form of examples of forced copulation throughout the animal world. Thus a special "rape organ" in male scorpionflies—a clamp that restrains a female scorpionfly so she cannot escape copulation—is offered as an analogue to the human male psychological imperative to rape. Concluding with a policy recommendation that takes us back to the '50s (arguably the 1650s rather than the 1950s), they suggest that, if we want to reduce the incidence of rape, then teenage boys should be taught about their natural urge to rape, and the importance of trying to restrain it, when they get their driver's licenses, while teenage girls should be taught not to dress provocatively.
Stefan Helmreich and Heather Paxson attack A Natural History of Rape as "conjectural biology" and a collection of "just-so" stories. They point out the shoddiness of the three-step argument favored by evolutionary psychologists (or as they used to be known, sociobiologists): "First, describe some aspect of universal 'human nature'—here, that men have a tendency to rape women—and offer analogies from animals to suggest that these traits are seated in shared nature. Second, claim that what is universal must be so because it emanates from biology. Third, since the evidence is not available, claim that traits in question arose through natural or sexual selection, and construct a logical tale for how whatever is universal was favored by evolution." The problems with this method are that the behavior is not universal, categories are confused by applying human cultural words such as rape and marriage to animal behaviors, and the case that rape was favored by evolution is assumed rather than proved. The result is a fairy tale dressed up in the language of science.
Helmreich and Paxson dramatize the lunacy of Thornhill and Palmer's argument particularly effectively in their discussion of recent organized rape campaigns in the Rwandan and Bosnian wars. In Rwanda, Tutsi women were raped, then killed—difficult to link to an evolutionary tale of reproductive fitness, one would think. In Bosnia the Serb rape camps were clearly an attempt not at individual genetic reproduction but, as in the Rwandan case, a nationalist and genocidal assault on another ethnic group through the bodies of its women. Helmreich and Paxson, referring to Thornhill and Palmer's advice that women who do not want to be raped should dress modestly, point out that the Bosnian and Tutsi rape victims were not raped for wearing bikinis and miniskirts. "Could tragedy in Rwanda have been averted if Tutsi women had paid closer attention to their attire?" they ask ironically. No example could more vividly demonstrate both the social causes of rape and the almost surreal irrelevance of Thornhill and Palmer's prescriptions for avoiding it.
The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray also uses the rhetorical trappings of science to mask a selective use of evidence and a malodorous political agenda. Herrnstein and Murray's agenda is to show that social programs such as affirmative action and Head Start are a waste of resources given that intelligence—and hence achievement—is largely inherited, and inherited in a way skewed by race. Herrnstein and Murray believe that raw, context-free intelligence exists, that it can be measured by IQ tests, and that these tests show, among other things, that whites have more of it than blacks do.
Jonathan Marks, a biological anthropologist, points out first of all that Alfred Binet, the inventor of IQ tests, always saw these tests as a device for assessing how roughly comparable children were doing in school, not as tests of a questionable metaphysical abstraction called intelligence. Noting that "it is hard to imagine that the ability to participate successfully in a buffalo hunt, say, is in any way measured by pencil-and-paper tests," Marks points out that intelligence is always specific to a particular context and that, besides, different cultures value different approaches to problem solving: in Samoa, for example, it is thought that the best route from A to B is the prettiest, not the quickest—an answer unlikely to earn high marks on an American IQ test. IQ tests measure only "what they were originally designed to measure," Marks argues: "performance in school."
Marks also points out that Herrnstein and Murray mishandle the statistics they use to make their case. The two compare IQ scores of blacks and whites without making much effort to ensure that the blacks and whites they stack against one another are comparable. According to Marks, when black children are compared with white children from families with comparable incomes, numbers of children, educational backgrounds, and access to good schools, then the statistical difference is negligible.
As Marks points out, we have seen these arguments before. In the early twentieth century, American anthropology was born out of the intellectual struggle between its founder, Franz Boas, and the social Darwinists of the time who argued that Irish, Mediterranean, and eastern European immigrants, as well as blacks, were poor because they were intellectually inferior. For some, these arguments led logically to a program of eugenics to limit the reproduction of the poor. Boas and his intellectual allies won the debate with the social Darwinists, showing that what they took to be natural was cultural. In today's context it would be bizarre to argue that Poles, Italians, or the Irish are intellectually inferior to people of English or German stock. But Herrnstein and Murray seek to revive this discredited social Darwinist tradition and apply it to our new minorities, papering over the cracks with new charts and graphs. As Marks says, "It is hard to see the goal of The Bell Curve as other than to rationalize economic inequality, to perpetuate injustice, and to justify social oppression. Such science gives the rest of the field a bad name."
All three of these books have received scalding reviews by scholars and commentators, who have subjected them to a thorough debunking. Yet the myths they promote seem to resonate deeply with American readers. It is somehow comforting to believe that biology and culture are linked, that one's outcome in life is genetically predetermined, that those who have more deserve it. Otherwise, how could we bear to live in a society characterized by such enormous inequality, such astronomical incarceration rates of African Americans, such obvious gender inequities? These myths provide a familiar set of stories that will not die—they get resurrected every few decades and trotted out to explain why our great democracy continues to produce poverty, incarcerate minorities disproportionately, and suffer violence against women.
Such myths nurture complacency in their justification of the way things are. They confirm the naturalness of a social order where white is superior to black, where women look over their shoulders in fear, where the wealthy deserve their wealth and the poor deserve their lot, and where Americans dominate the world. Anthropology, sometimes, is the voice of discomfort. By telling alternative stories about the way things are, by drawing on non-elite or marginalized knowledges and perspectives, the anthropologists in this volume seek to develop a humanistically complex, nonethnocentric, democratic understanding of the contemporary world.
The pundits critiqued in this book all share what we might call a reactionary determinism. They often call this "realism." In their essay on Friedman, Hertz and Nader call it TIS ("the inevitability syndrome"). These pundits all argue in their own way that what is must be, and that arguments to the contrary are naive and dangerous. If African Americans are disproportionately poor, it is because they are intellectually inferior, and social programs cannot change this; the rape of women is an inevitable consequence of our genes, not the result of a distorted culture; globalization is in the hands of "the electronic herd" and cannot be remade in a more humane fashion by activists, trade unionists, and environmentalists; the Serbs, Croats, and Muslims will keep on killing one another because that is the way they are; democracy will not come to Asia because it does not fit their timeless culture; and people from different cultural traditions are destined to interact antagonistically rather than constructively.
The authors of this book, believing that these ideas are based not only on bad politics but also on bad social science, promote a kind of realism different from that espoused by the pundits. Social science is neither left nor right, liberal nor conservative, but it does show quite clearly, if it shows anything at all, that cultures can change, that traditions are invented rather than indelible, that the poor carry heavier burdens than the rich, and that human beings constantly misrecognize the world they have made as the natural order of things. While the pundits whisper in our ears that nothing can be done to make the world a better place, we know that this is wrong! It is important that the general public knows this too.
1. Www.word-detective.com/020798.html, accessed on May 10, 2004.
2. Edward Said, "Clash of Definitions," in Reflections on Exile and Other Essays (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), pp. 569-90, quote is on p. 573.
3. We are not implying that there is something uniquely American about mythmaking, punditry, or the views espoused by some of the pundits targeted here. But because of America's power and global dominance, the ideas propagated by America's pundits have a radically disproportionate influence in the world.
4. Marjorie Shostak, Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Bushwoman (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000); and Theodora Kroeber, Ishi in Two Worlds: A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).
5. Robert D. Kaplan, The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War (New York: Random House, 2000), book jacket.
6. Ibid., p. 30.
7. Ibid., pp. 45, 49.
8. Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations (New York: Touchstone Books, 1996), pp. 138, 258.
9. Thomas Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1999), p. 270.
10. Dinesh D'Souza, The Virtue of Prosperity: Finding Values in an Age of Techno-Affluence (New York: Free Press, 2000), p. xi.
11. Ibid., p. 76.
12. Ibid., p. 126.
13. Ibid., pp. 182-83.
14. Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001).
15. James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (New York: Dial Press, 1963), p. 34.
About the Book
In this fresh, literate, and biting critique of current thinking on some of today's most important and controversial topics, leading anthropologists take on some of America's top pundits.
Reviews"The punditocracy are our modern day mythmakers. The anthropologists assembled in this collection deftly debunk their myths and make a passionate case for the importance of anthropology to public debate. The authors present sustained, intelligent, and often biting and humorous criticisms of some of the most influential recent popular writings on social science and international relations. This is a very important book."—Bill Maurer, author of Recharting the Caribbean
"From an anthropological standpoint, the world increasingly looks as if it is led by glib, but uninformed, insensitive dolts. In this volume, the authors fight back against the pundits whose influential publications presume the same expertise as anthropologists. They underscore the overgeneralizations, prejudices, false reasoning, and inaccuracies of these popular authors and in doing so provide a useful corrective."—William Beeman, author of The Study of Culture at a Distance
"This volume is a bold attempt, in language as accessible as the reigning rhetorics, to remake the terms of public debate, to lessen the fear of the primordial, and to allow Americans to understand better the challenges, the errors, and the possibilities of what is being done elsewhere in their name."—George Marcus, co-author of Anthropology as Cultural Critique
"This 'must read' volume is Public Anthropology at its best. It invokes the anthropological veto, brings in voices from the margins, and talks back to society's new tribe of talking chiefs—the spin doctors, myth-makers, and pundits who reduce the richness and complexity of global and national dilemmas into bite-size and dangerous platitudes."—Nancy Scheper-Hughes, author of Death Without Weeping: the Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil
Table of Contents
Hugh Gusterson and Catherine Besteman
2. The Seven Deadly Sins of Samuel Huntington
3. Samuel Huntington, Meet the Nuer:
Kinship, Local Knowledge, and the Clash of Civilizations
4. Haunted by the Imaginations of the Past:
Robert Kaplan’s Balkan Ghosts
5. Why I Disagree with Robert Kaplan
6. Globalization and Thomas Friedman
7. On The Lexus and the Olive Tree, by Thomas L. Friedman
Ellen Hertz and Laura Nader
8. Extrastate Globalization of the Illicit
9. Class Politics and Scavenger Anthropology in
Dinesh D’Souza’s Virtue of Prosperity
10. Sex on the Brain: A Natural History of Rape
and the Dubious Doctrines of Evolutionary Psychology
Stefan Helmreich and Heather Paxson
11. Anthropology and The Bell Curve
Suggested Further Reading
List of Contributors