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Untrue Things People Believe

Anthropology

This is the twenty fourth article addressing those things most people believe that are not true introduced in the article, "Most Of What You Believe Is Not True." To see all the articles, or any other one, please see the Index.

Literally, anthropology means the study of man, but it is not a study of the nature of man like physiology or neurology, or even the philosophical nature of man, as the rational animal, and it is not the study of what men have done, like history, or of man's accomplishments such as in the sciences and technological. It is not even a study of the great and important men which a study of the more significant biographies might be. Anthropology may best be thought of as the study of every failed, irrational, backward, and ignorant human culture, society, and practice in history.

Even that might be a worthwhile study, if the intent was to learn why such societies and cultures fail and are irrational, backward, and ignorant, to discover how to avoid such disasters, but that is not the intent of anthropology at all. Anthropology assumes no values or principles, such as ethics. It makes no comparisons of primitive tribes or societies dominated by superstition and ignorance, and their failings, with the successes of modern Western civilization.

Anthropologists are likely to do just the opposite, recommending that those who live in societies where most diseases have been wiped out, or can be cured, and most are well fed, and most live into their 80s and 90s and beyond copy the practices of those societies dominated by diseases such as malaria, ebola, encephalitis, typhus, typhoid, and more, who live with the constant threat of famine and starvation and rarely live beyond 40.

I once heard an anthropologist trying to explain why Americans ought to adopt the culture and practices of a certain society dominated by a well known superstition, because theft was virtually unknown in that society. Well he was right about that, because there is very little theft when there is not a thing worth stealing in the whole society.

Anthropology does not have the influence it once had. Sociology, which is frequently combined with anthropology, seems to be more influential today. In fact sociology, anthropology, psychology, and evolution, all pseudo-sciences, are often used to reinforce one another.

Here is the University of Chicago description of their undergraduate program in anthropology:

"Anthropology encompasses a number of historical and comparative approaches to human cultural and physical variety, ranging from the study of human evolution and prehistory to the study of cultures as systems of meaningful symbols. Anthropology involves, at one extreme, such natural scientific studies as anatomy, ecology, genetics, and geology; at the other, various social sciences and humanities ranging from psychology, sociology, and linguistics to philosophy, history, and comparative religion. Anthropology can lead (through graduate study) to careers in research and teaching in university and museum settings. More often it provides a background for further work in other disciplines of the social sciences, humanities, and biological sciences, as well as for professional careers in government, business, law, medicine, social services, and other fields."

God help the world on which the graduates of such a course of study are foisted.

Anthropological Absurdities

As a bonus, here are some examples of courses available from the anthropology department at the University of California, Berkeley:

Pharmaceutical Ambiguities, which is described as follows" "What does it mean to mark the pharmaceutical as an object of ethnographic inquiry? At once a mass-produced medical technology, a unit of symbolic exchange between doctor and patient, and an ambiguous object of fascination and anxiety, the pharmaceutical seems to move freely between multiple registers of analysis. As such, the pharmaceutical can act as a focusing lens for larger anthropological questions regarding political economy, diagnostic and prescriptive practices within the space of the clinic and under the sign of medical authority, and the wider relationship between human subjectivity and the demands of the material.

The discipline of anthropology is uniquely suited to engage with this multidimensionality, and we will draw upon texts from various disciplinary subfields as we explore the many places of the pharmaceutical within the ethnographic tradition. We will begin with readings addressing the pharmaceutical as a product of mass production and marketing, continue with a group of readings about the values and associations of the pharmaceutical in the context of medical practice, and close with a series of meditations on the vicissitudes of the psyche and its relationship to the body and world as mediated by the figure of the pharmakon."

I believe the preceding course is taught by Professor Irwin Corey.

This is a description of the Psychological Anthropology course:

"In the contemporary world, different systems of knowledge, philosophies, and techniques of the self, understandings of normality and pathology, illness and healing, are increasingly engaged in a dialogue with each other in the lives, on the bodies, and in the imagination of people. The terms of this dialogue are often unequal and painful, yet they are also productive of new subjectivities and new voices.

It is the task of a renewed psychological anthropology to study and reflect on these processes. Topics to be covered in this class include new forms of the subject and ethics at the intersection of psychical/psychiatric, political, and religious processes and discourses; ethno-psychiatry, psychoanalysis, the psychology of colonization and racism; anthropological approaches to possession and altered states, emotion, culture, and the imagination, madness and mental illness. The specific stress will be on the stakes of anthropology of the psyche today, for an understanding of power and subjugation, delusion and the imagination, violence, and the possibility of new forms of life."

What a wonderful course. It covers just about every crack-pot idea in the world. It is no wonder it includes, "madness and mental illness." If one is not familiar with these before the course, they certainly will be after the course in a very personal way.

—(03/20/16)