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September 01, 2006

Anthropological Agonistes

Should anthropologists assist the U.S. government?

In a hypothetical situation where the Pentagon asks you for information about a tribe or group you have studied, the information provided could lead to good or harm — and the decision not to provide information might lead the government to take a harmful action as well, said James L. Peacock, a professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and chair of the new committee. “That’s the dilemma. If you abstain from providing information and something happens, is that ethical? But if you become implicated, is that ethical?”

Peacock, who studies Muslim groups in Indonesia, has never worked for the U.S. government, but the association’s committee includes some scholars who have.

David Price, an anthropology professor at Saint Martin’s University, in Washington State, and also a member of the committee, said that his main concern is secrecy. He said that he would be inclined to answer questions from an intelligence agency — provided he had permission to post online everything he said once the meeting was over. The way to protect the interests of the people being studied is to keep everything in the open, he said.

Or, as another professor put it:
“My feeling is that anthropologists’ primary ethical contract is with the people they study. Their loyalty to their government has to come after their ethical obligation to the people they study,” he said.
Sounds well and good, unless of course you or the campus on which you work is the recipient of money from the federal government. Then the obligation seems more clear.

I am not a 'my country right or wrong' type of person. I recognize that the U.S. is not always right, and I am willing to criticize the government when I believe they are engaged in wrong actions. However, I am well aware of how much this country has given me. Living here gives me opportunities I would not otherwise have had, and I am grateful for that and do feel a sense of obligation to help further the interests of the United States when I can.

A certain segment of the left - artists, journalists, faculty - seem to believe that the phrase 'citizen of the world' actually has some real meaning. They act in ways that they believe benefit 'the global community' and do so regardless of whether their actions harm their country of origin. This 'citizen of the world' concept is all nonsense - it's the sort of mindless pablum that fits on a bumper sticker. There is no "world constitution" that gives them freedom - their rights are all a result of their citizenship in a country whose founding fathers felt individual rights were important enough to place in our written constitution.

It's both sad and infuriating that instead of being grateful for what they have received and helping where they can, people in those professions use their freedom to assist those for whom freedom is a foreign concept.

Do I think that faculty should be compelled to work on behalf of the government? No. However, I do wonder at the sort of ingratitude that leads one to believe the freedom given to us natural freedoms guaranteed protection by this country are best used to serve the interests (by omission in this case) of those who are working to destroy it.

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posted by Slublog at 09:49 AM

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