Arquivo mensal: fevereiro 2013

Anthropology Inc. (The Atlantic)


Forget online surveys and dinnertime robo-calls. A consulting firm called ReD is at the forefront of a new trend in market research, treating the everyday lives of consumers as a subject worthy of social-science scrutiny. On behalf of its corporate clients, ReD will uncover your deepest needs, fears, and desires.


Viktor Koen

On a hot Austin night last summer, 60 natives convened for a social rite involving stick-on mustaches, paella, and a healthy flow of spirits. Young lesbians formed the core of the crowd. The two organizers, who had been lovers for a couple months, were celebrating their birthdays with a Spanish-themed party, decorated in bullfighting chic. It was a classic hipster affair, and everyone was loose and at ease, except for one black-haired interloper with a digital camera and a tiny notepad.

This interloper was Min Lieskovsky, a 31-year-old straight New Yorker who mingled freely and occasionally ducked into a bathroom to scribble notes. She’d left a Ph.D. program in sociocultural anthropology at Yale two years earlier, impatient with academia but still eager to use the ethnographic skills she’d mastered. Tonight, that meant she partied gamely and watched her subjects with a practiced eye, noting everything: when the party got started and when it reached its peak, who stuck mustaches on whom—and above all, what, when, and how people drank.

For Lieskovsky, it was all about the booze. The consulting firm she worked for, ReD Associates, is at the forefront of a movement to deploy social scientists on field research for corporate clients. The vodka giant Absolut had contracted with ReD to infiltrate American drinking cultures and report back on the elusive phenomenon known as the “home party.” This corrida de lesbianas was the latest in a series of home parties that Lieskovsky and her colleagues had joined in order to write an extended ethnographic survey of drinking practices, attempting to figure out the rules and rituals—spoken and unspoken—that govern Americans’ drinking lives, and by extension their vodka-buying habits.

“There’s a huge amount of vodka that’s sold for drinking at home,” Lieskovsky says. “But no one knew where it was really goingapart from down someone’s throat eventually, and on a bad night perhaps back up again. Was it treated as a sacred fluid, not to be polluted or adulterated except by an expert mixologist? Some Absolut advertising and iconography suggested exactly this, assuming understandably that buyers of a “premium” vodka would want laboratory precision for their cocktails. Another possibility was that the drinkers might not care much about the purity of the product, and that bringing it to a party merely lubricated social interaction. “We wanted to know what they are seeking,” Lieskovsky says. “Do they want the ‘perfect’ cocktail party? Is it all about how they present themselves to their friends, for status? Is it collaboration, friendship, fun?”

Over the course of the company’s research, the rituals gradually emerged. “One after another, you see the same thing,” Lieskovsky told me. “Someone comes with a bottle. She gives it to the host, then the host puts it in the freezer and listens to the story of where the bottle came from, and why it’s important.” And then, when the bottle is served, it goes right out onto the table with all the other booze, the premium spirits and the bottom-shelf hooch mixed together, in a vision of alcoholic egalitarianism that would make a pro bartender or a cocktail snob cringe.

What mattered most, to the partygoers and their hosts, were the narratives that accompanied the drinks. “We found that there is this general shift away from premium alcohol, at least as it’s defined by price point, toward something that has a story behind it,” Lieskovsky says. “They told anecdotes from their own lives in which a product played a central role—humorous, self-deprecating stories about first encountering a vodka, or discovering a liqueur while traveling in Costa Rica or Mexico.” The stories were a way to let people show humor, or to declare that they’re, for instance, the kind of Austin lesbians who, upon finding exotic elixirs in far-off lands, are brave enough to try them.

ReD consultants fanned out and shadowed drinkers at about 18 different parties, trying to see which drinking practices held constant, whether in Austin, New York, or Columbus. This is one that did. Which meant that if a premium vodka brand tried to market itself solely as a product with chemistry-lab purity, it risked misunderstanding the home-party market and leaving money on the table.

The corporate anthropology that ReD and a few others are pioneering is the most intense form of market research yet devised, a set of techniques that make surveys and dinnertime robo-calls (“This will take only 10 minutes of your time”) seem superficial by comparison. ReD is one of just a handful of consultancies that treat everyday life—and everyday consumerism—as a subject worthy of the scrutiny normally reserved for academic social science. In many cases, the consultants in question have trained at the graduate level in anthropology but have forsaken academia—and some of its ethical strictures—for work that frees them to do field research more or less full-time, with huge budgets and agendas driven by corporate masters.

The world of management consulting consists overwhelmingly of quantitative consultants, a group well known from the successes of McKinsey & Company, the Boston Consulting Group, and Bain & Company. ReD’s entry into consulting represents an attempt to match the results of these titans without relying heavily on math and spreadsheets, and instead focusing on what anthropologists call “participant observation.” This method consists, generally, of living among one’s research subjects, at least briefly. Such immersive experiences lead not only to greater intimacy and trust, but also to a slowly emerging picture of the subjects’ everyday lives and thoughts, complete with truths about them that they themselves might not know.

Absolut, which paid ReD to observe home parties, is using both quantitative analysis and this new form of ethnographic research. “We are intensive consumers of market research,” Maxime Kouchnir, the vice president of vodka marketing for Pernod Ricard USA, which distributes Absolut, told me. “The McKinseys and BCGs of the world will bring you heavy data. And I think those guys sometimes lack the human factor. What ReD brings is a deep understanding of consumers and the dynamics you find in a society.” That means finding out not only what consumers say they want in a liquor, but also what their actions reveal about the social effect they crave from bringing it to a party. “If you observe them, they will be humans, exposed with all their contradictions and complexities,” Kouchnir says. “At the end of the day, we manufacture a spirit, but we have to sell an experience.”

The method dates back nearly a century in academic anthropology, though its pedigree in the business world is somewhat more recent. Xerox PARC, the legendary Palo Alto think tank that birthed many of the ideas that made the personal-computing revolution possible, employed anthropologists as early as 1979. Leslie Perlow, a Harvard Business School professor who has applied participant observation in corporate environments, says, “There is a long history of doing this in the study of organization—taking the ethnographic method from anthropology and, instead of taking it to faraway places, trying to understand the culture of our own work worlds.”

Now a handful of consultancies specialize in ethnographic research, and many companies (including General Motors and Dell) retain their own ethnographers on staff. Microsoft is said to be the second-largest employer of anthropologists in the world, behind only the U.S. government.

Tech firms, certainly, appear to be major consumers of ethnographic research. “Technology companies as a whole are in danger of being more disconnected from their customers than other companies,” says Ken Anderson, an ethnographer at Intel. Tech designers succumb to the illusion that their users are all engineers. “Our mind-set is that people are really just like us, and they’re really not,” Anderson says. Ethnography helps teach the techie types to understand those consumers who “aren’t living and breathing the technology” the way an Intel engineer might. (A curious exception to this cautious embrace of ethnographic methods is Apple, whose late co-founder, Steve Jobs, trusted his designers—and especially himself—more than he trusted consumers or researchers. “It isn’t the consumers’ job to know what they want,” he famously said.)

Min Lieskovsky, the ReD consultant on the Absolut project, has been a friendly acquaintance of mine for nearly a decade. Christian Madsbjerg, a co-founder of ReD, gave me access to ReD consultants on two other projects, one on home appliances and the other on health care, and allowed me to tag along while they did their research. I agreed not to disclose the clients behind these two projects, and to change the names of the two women whose households the company was studying. In each case, ReD paid the households a nominal amount to answer its consultants’ questions.

Microsoft is said to be the second-largest employer of anthropologists in the world.

Both interviews I attended felt unusually intrusive. As a journalist, I’ve interviewed people about sensitive topics, such as their murderous past, or their fondness for sex with children. But a six-hour ethnographic interview felt in many ways even more intimate. After all, the corporate clients who commissioned these studies already knew the type of consumer information they could get through phone or Internet surveys. They knew everything except their customers’ naked, innermost selves, and now they wanted ReD’s ethnographers to get them those, too.

The first ReD anthropologist I went into the field with was Esra Ozkan, an MIT Ph.D. who had joined the company less than a year earlier. She wrote her dissertation on the study of corporate culture in the U.S., but she was a trained ethnographer, and spoke fluently about how Michael Fischer, a cultural anthropologist at MIT, and Joseph Dumit, an anthropologist at the University of California at Davis, had influenced her work. By birth a Muslim from eastern Turkey, Ozkan is married to an American Jew, whose family provided the connection to the woman she’d be interviewing.

The household we were about to visit was in Forest Hills, New York, and Ozkan said it was a home kept so strictly kosher that it had two kitchens, one for daily use and another, ultraclean one for Passover. The plan, she said, was to ask the ranking female, a 50‑something working mother I’ll call Rebecca, how she and her family used their living space—how they negotiated the kitchens, the bedrooms, the living rooms; what rules they followed and, more important, which ones they sometimes broke. “We want to hear them describe their homes, both for functionality, but also to hear what emotion they use to describe places,” Ozkan said.

She said much of her method involves noting which objects are assigned special importance. Interviewees carefully select the parts of their lives they exhibit to an ethnographer, and sometimes they will pause over a certain item—say, a kitchen utensil that cost $5 at Walmart, but that carries with it the memories of 30 Passovers—indicating that the object’s meaning is greater than its utility. “Those moments, when something is more than itself, are the ones I pay attention to,” Ozkan told me.

We drove to the house, a detached two-story Tudor in a quiet wooded neighborhood, and parked on the street. Upon exiting the car, Ozkan immediately whipped out an iPhone and began photographing everything, from the front lawn to the windows to the mezuzah on the doorjamb. Rebecca answered the door before we had a chance to knock, and introduced her poodle—a little yapper named Sir Paul—before introducing herself.

We walked into the house, where the children’s photos and religious decorations—every room in the “public” areas of the house showed signs of Jewish practice—gave a clear sense of self-presentation and values. Upstairs, away from the area most visitors would see, she showed us her room-size shrine to the Beatles, packed floor-to-ceiling with concert posters, guitars, and other memorabilia.

Rebecca sat us down in a slightly messy dining room adjoining a large and well-used kitchen, and Ozkan set up a camera to record everything. Our host dove right in, pointing to various appliances and explaining what each one meant to her, and where it fit in with kosher law. For every note I made, Ozkan made two. Although she knew Jewish practice well through her husband and past research, Ozkan asked Rebecca to explain the holidays and purity laws, just to see how she talked about them.

Rebecca confessed without any prompting that she would occasionally let her kosher vigilance slip slightly when she ate out, and that her husband, also Jewish, would drop the kosher thing entirely without her. “He’d eat a bacon cheeseburger if I weren’t around,” she said, perhaps half-joking. But Rebecca also said that inside the house itself, and especially around the inner-sanctum Passover kitchen, she never considered defying kosher law. “It’s like breathing, for us,” she said.

Over lunch the next day, I asked Ozkan what she had concluded from the visit. She noted all the things that Rebecca had never stated explicitly, but that were clearly what mattered most in her life. “She treats the kitchen as a holy place,” Ozkan said. That made three holy places in the house, if you count the two kitchens separately, and the Beatles shrine upstairs. Her deviance on the outside was, Ozkan said, a point well worth noting. “If you listen really carefully, you’ll find some things that don’t quite match the super-ideal framework of kosher,” she said. “And it’s always great to see that. It’s a way to see how people deal with practicalities and challenges in life, and how they choose to break that ideal image.” Listen to people talk about how they break the rules, in other words, and you’ll figure out what they consider the important rules in the first place.

Ozkan’s questions had hinted at product ideas that ReD’s client, a home-appliance maker, was considering. Would Rebecca contemplate buying an automated fridge that would advise her when she was running short on orange juice? And as Rebecca responded, her implicit consecration of her kitchen became evident. She seemed to care less about whether her kitchen remained well stocked or running smoothly than whether it remained her sacred space, controlled by her for her family, and not by, say, a talking robot. As with the vodka drinkers, the key elements were emotional ownership and connection.

The client’s goals were, in this case, never made fully clear to me. But Rebecca’s was only one of 21 homes the consultants would visit, and the only kosher one on the list. The visit would, however, begin to tell a story about Americans who love and hate their own kitchens, fetishizing some gadgets while simultaneously viewing them as instruments of their own enslavement.

If you’re selling a personal computer in China, the whole concept of “personal” is culturally wrong.

If the lessons were indistinct, they were deliberately so. ReD is gleefully defiant of those who want clear answers to simple questions, and prefers to inhabit a space where answers tend not to come in yes/no formats, or in pie charts and bar graphs. “We know numbers get you only so far,” the company’s Web site announces. “Standard techniques work for standard problems because there’s a clear benefit from being measured and systematic. But when companies are on the verge of something new or uncertain … those existing formulas aren’t easily applied.”

Jun Lee, a ReD partner, says that when clients are confronted with the company’s anthropological research, they often discover fundamental differences between the businesses they thought they were in, and the businesses they actually are in. For example, the Korean electronics giant Samsung had a major conceptual breakthrough when it realized that its televisions are best thought of not as large electronic appliances, measurable by screen size and resolution, but as home furniture. It matters less how thoroughly a speaker system rattles the bones and eardrums of its listeners than how these big screens occupy the physical space alongside one’s tables, chairs, and sofas. The company’s project engineers reframed their products accordingly, paying more attention to how they fit into living spaces, rather than how they perform on their technical spec sheets.

Christian Madsbjerg co-founded ReD almost a decade ago, after a brief stint in journalism. He dresses the part of the Nordic intellectual, alternating slick minimalist threads (think Dieter fromSaturday Night Live’s “Sprockets”) with modish Western wear that no American could really pull off. After more than 30 years in London and his native Denmark, he fled for New York, where ReD operates out of a wood-paneled Battery Park office once occupied by John D. Rockefeller.

The founding story of ReD sounds more like the genesis of a doctoral dissertation than of a multimillion-dollar company. Madsbjerg says he became enamored first with post-structural theory, and then with the 20th-century German philosopher Martin Heidegger, who argued that the distinction between objects and their beholders needed to be effaced. When we consider a hammer, we might naturally think of its objective scientific properties: a certain weight and balance, a hardness, a handle with a rubber grip that has a particular coefficient of friction. What Heidegger posited is that these objective attributes are in fact secondary to the hammer’s subjective relationship with the person wielding it. The hammer has uses (a weapon, a tool), meanings (a symbol on the Soviet flag), and other characteristics that do not exist independently of the meeting of subject and object. A common mistake of philosophers, he claimed, is to think of the object as distinct from the subject. If all of this sounds opaque, I can assure you that in the original German it is much, much worse.

NowThisNews explores how Heidegger’s philosophy helps drive American marketing.

But before long, Madsbjerg had a list of clients desperate for Heideggerian readings of their businesses. The service he provides sounds even more improbable to a scholar who knows his Heidegger than to a layperson who does not. Many philosophers spend their lives trying and failing to understand what Heidegger was talking about. To interest a typical ReD client—usually a corporate vice president who is, Madsbjerg says, “the least laid-back person you can imagine, with every minute of their day divided into 15-minute blocks”—in the philosopher’s turgid, impenetrable post-structural theory is as unlikely a pitch as could be imagined.

But it’s the pitch Madsbjerg has been making. The fundamental blindness in the sorts of consulting that dominate the market, he says, is that they are Cartesian in their outlook: they view objects as the sum of their performance and physical properties. “If you are selling personal computers, you look at the machine and say it’s this many gigahertz, this many pixels,” he says. And you then determine whether a potential new market needs computers that perform faster than the ones currently on offer, and how big that market will be.

These specs, as well as data about how many households in, say, China will reach income levels that will allow a personal-computer purchase, fit nicely into spreadsheets and graphs. But they overlook human elements that exist in plain sight, the things the Anglo-Polish founder of the ethnographic method, Bronisław Malinowski, called “the imponderabilia of actual life.” These are, he wrote, “small incidents, characteristic forms of taking food, of conversing, of doing work, [that] are found occurring over and over again.”

These imponderabilia turn out to have huge consequences if you want to sell a personal computer in China. “We find that these objects have meanings, not just facts,” Madsbjerg says, “and that the meaning is often what matters.” So to sell a personal computer in China, for example, what matters is the whole concept of a “personal” computer, which is culturally wrong from the start. “Household objects don’t have the same personal attachment [in China as they do in America]. It has to be ashared thing.” So if the device isn’t designed and marketed as a shared household object, but instead as one customized for a single user, it probably won’t sell, no matter how many gigahertz it has.

China is a huge potential market, and every corporation with any ambition wants its piece of that pie, on the idea that if you make a dollar off each man, woman, and child in China, you’ve just made $1 billion. A source told me, for instance, that Coca-Cola approached ReD after years of trying and failing to sell bottled tea in China. (ReD would not confirm that the client in question was Coca-Cola.) The beverage company had imagined that this would be a simple variant on the fizzy-sugared-water business that had made it a global icon. Instead, it failed to seize a respectable market share, even though it was competing with lightweight local competitors.

Long-term observation revealed that when it comes to tea in China, what is for sale isn’t merely a tasty beverage. Instead, the consumption of tea takes place in a highly specific web of cultural rules, some of them explicit but many others not. For instance, you might serve strong tea to close friends, or to people you want to draw closer. But you would never serve strong tea to new acquaintances. That meant that no tea, however tasty, would sell if its strength was uniform. Let the consumer choose the strength, however, and you may be able to sell the product within the culture. Coca-Cola’s Chinese tea products are now on course to change accordingly.

To sell the ReD idea—that products and objects are inevitably encrusted with cultural meaning, and that a company that neglects to explore social theory is bound to leave profits on the table—Madsbjerg has evangelized with great success, giving what are surely the only successful corporate sales pitches salted with words like hermeneutics and phenomenology. Most of his consultants don’t have the usual business pedigree; M.B.A.s are very scarce (“tend not to fit in,” he says). Rather, many employees come from academia, and some from another interview- and observation-based realm: journalism. (I came to know the firm first through Lieskovsky—the former anthropology student on the Absolut project—and through another employee, who is a former editor at GQ.)

The second consultant I followed, Rachel Singh, also came from academia. A native of Manitoba, she’d joined ReD a year and a half earlier, after doing ethnographic work for Intel’s Ireland office and attending graduate school in digital anthropology at University College London.

We met a few blocks from the apartment of the day’s interview subject, at a café in the Los Angeles suburb of Tarzana—a concrete jungle named after the principal literary creation of Edgar Rice Burroughs, an early celebrity resident of the area. It occurred to me that in a previous era, before anthropologists discovered that their own societies were as irrationally rule-bound as so-called primitive ones, Singh might have aspired to perform fieldwork in actual jungles, and to study actual Tarzans.

The view of anthropologists as tourists in exotic lands is old and tired, which is not to say dead. Singh surprised me with her candor several times over the course of the day, but the first occasion was when she described her entry into the world of anthropology, which sounded to me like exactly that sort of romantic vision. “I came to university as a premed, and one day I just wandered into a lecture hall and heard a guy giving a lecture about his fieldwork with the Kwakiutl of British Columbia. He went on a ‘vision quest,’ and after falling asleep on a secluded beach, he woke up surrounded by seals. He returned to the village and was told by an elder that he had found his guardian animal.” Then, she said, the lecturer hiked up his sleeve to reveal a seal tattoo. Singh was hooked on the study of culture. She changed her major, and she sees continuity between her academic work and what she does now as an ethnographic hired gun.

In Tarzana, Singh was scheduled to meet, on behalf of a ReD client in the health-care field, a woman I’ll call Elsie. It was 10 a.m. on a beautiful Southern California Sunday—a perfectly awful time to sit inside and discuss the day’s topic, the visible precancerous skin lesions from which Elsie suffers. “It makes me feel like a leper,” Elsie confided after we began, and Singh nodded sympathetically, like an old friend. “It makes me feel like hiding.”

The interview started much the same way the previous one had, with the anthropologist documenting the setting in minute detail. With her iPhone, Singh snapped shots of the street, the parking garage, the squares of grass and the tropical trees in the neighborhood. Once inside, her eyes darted over every surface, and she noted the vacuum track marks on the floor; the drawers full of tubes of prescription creams; the European posters. Singh set up a video camera to record every minute of the six-hour interview—the better to capture the moments when Elsie’s responses revealed traces of unexpected emotion or meaning. Singh asked Elsie, a hefty, sun-spotted redhead of 52, about her medical regimen, then about the basic details of her life—what her childhood had been like, where she had lived, when she woke up every morning, what she ate, and whom she spoke with.

Singh unpacked Elsie’s responses methodically, adding an occasional compassionate or sympathetic word. When Singh asked about Elsie’s lesions, she phrased the questions carefully, suggesting that she could feel Elsie’s pain. “How would get this condition?” she asked. “What would be the symptoms?”

Elsie’s was the first of perhaps two dozen similarly in-depth interviews, Singh told me later. The client had created a product to treat one of Elsie’s conditions. The company knew very well what would happen to a lesion if it were frozen, zapped, or rubbed with cream. But what about the person attached to the lesion? A simplistic model of patient behavior might say that patients want whatever the most effective treatment is. But the conversation with Elsie revealed a much more fraught human experience. She had her taboos, such as being forced to even say the word lesion. She wanted to escape not just her lesions, but the shame they brought on.

Once Singh had completed the interview, before we parted ways, she made clear that there was at least one argument within anthropology that she was tired of hearing about: “Just don’t make this another story about the clash between practicing anthropologists and academics.”

The politics of anthropologists in academia tends to the Marxist left, even more so than the politics of academics in general. And to many of them, the defection of young scholars to the corporate world looks like a betrayal at best, and a devil’s bargain at worst. I told Singh that academic anthropologists had already shared some harsh words for their applied-anthropology brothers and sisters. “Well, they’re endangered,” she said of the academics, a little snootily. “We’re doing work that’s needed. We’re dealing with human issues.”

ReD offers businesses Heideggerian analysis, which sounds even more improbable to a scholar than to a layperson.

The corporate anthropologists I met generally come across as people who acknowledge the limits of what they do. Ken Anderson, the Intel ethnographer, co-founded a conference called EPIC for corporate ethnographers. Over the phone, he was warm and jokey, seemingly without rancor when he told me about his failed quest for an academic job out of graduate school (“At the time, the employment opportunities for white guys in academic anthropology were pretty darn slim”). He found instead a corporate career that has encouraged anthropological work—as long as it could hold relevance to the corporation at some point. He has spent weeks in London hanging out with bike messengers for Intel, and hunkered down in the Azores as digital technology reached remote settlements. Sure enough, his research sounds very blue-sky, and on a recognizable continuum with the anthropological research cultivated in the groves of academe.

A few years ago, he conducted an ethnographic study of “temporality,” about the perception of the passage and scarcity of time—noting how Americans he studied had come to perceive busy-ness and lack of time as a marker of well-being. “We found that in social interaction, virtually everyone would claim to be ‘busy,’ and that everyone close to them would be ‘busy’ too,” he told me. But in fact, coordinated studies of how these people used technology suggested that when they used their computers, they tended to do work only in short bursts of a few minutes at a time, with the rest of the time devoted to something other than what we might identify as work. “We were designing computers, and the spec at the time was to use the computer to the max for two hours,” Anderson says. “We had to make chips that would perform at that level. You don’t want them to overheat. But when we came back, we figured that we needed to rethink this, because people’s time is not quite what we imagine.” For a company that makes microchip processors, this discovery has had important consequences for how to engineer products—not only for users who constantly need high-powered computing for long durations, but for people who just think they do.

Among the luxuries of working for a corporate master is, of course, deliverance from the endless hustle to find funding. My partner is an academic anthropologist, and she goes from year to year having to pull together funding for trips to field sites in the Central African Republic—which, unlike China, is not a hotbed of corporate interest. (By contrast, Madsbjerg told me, “Our resources are not infinite. But almost.”)

But the bigger issue for academics is the fear that corporate anthropology is an ethical free-fire zone. “If there isn’t an IRB [institutional review board], a sort of neutral third party that watches out for the interests of those who are being researched, then obviously there is cause for concern,” says Hugh Gusterson, a George Mason University professor who has led anthropologists in opposing cooperation with certain U.S. military projects. He pointed to fury among his colleagues a few years ago, when it became known that Disney had paid ethnographers to study teenagers’ spending habits, the better to sell them Disney products. “They were learning about people—and not just any people, but minors—so they could exploit them, for profit.”

To get a research project approved at a modern university, a researcher faces a review board of professors commissioned to scrutinize the proposal and check for ethical sticking points—ways the project could hurt the people it studied, disrupt their lives, or take advantage of them. ReD, meanwhile, is bound only by the sense of decency of its senior partners. Luckily, they are Danish. I asked Madsbjerg if he had ever turned away a contract on account of scruples, and he told me the military of a South American country had approached him to discuss an ethnographic project on weapons design. He refused, on the grounds that helping people shoot other people wasn’t what ReD was about. Nor would he do work for a company that wanted to sell junk food to children. On the other hand, even contracts that are less obviously perilous, ethically speaking, could raise the hackles of an academic review board. Helping Coca-Cola feed sweetened beverages to 1.3 billion Chinese, for example, will probably not have a healthy impact on that country’s incidence of diabetes.

Roberto González, a cultural anthropologist who teaches at San Jose State University, goes so far as to argue that those who don’t follow the American Anthropological Association’s code of ethics should no longer be considered anthropologists at all. “Part of being an anthropologist is following a code of ethics, and if you don’t do that, you’re not an anthropologist”—just as you’re no longer fit to call yourself a doctor if you do unauthorized experiments on your patients. “Of course,” Hugh Gusterson adds, “we don’t license anthropologists, so we can’t un-license them either.”

Some anthropologists caution against assuming that the work done by ReD consultants and their corporate brethren is really ethnography at all. During the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Army convened a team of purported ethnographers to staff a group called the Human Terrain System, which was tasked with producing militarily significant ethnographic reports and providing cultural advice. Professional anthropologists raised hell, condemning the participants for using their training inappropriately, but in time it became clear that there weren’t many anthropologists on the HTS staff at all. (One team member I knew had a doctorate in Russian literature.) The civilians on the staff were, for the most part, just a bunch of well-educated people reading up on Iraqi and Afghan tribes and writing reports that were quasi-anthropological at best.

That, it seems to me, is probably the best way to view much of what ReD does as well. The value the firm brings to clients comes partly from anthropology, practiced in a way that may or may not please those still in academia. But the value is also just an effect of putting an impressive ethnographic sheen on the work of many smart, right-brained individuals in a sector that overvalues quantitative research. Much of what I encountered while shadowing ReD’s consultants seemed like the type of insight that any observant interviewer might have produced, with or without an anthropology degree or a working knowledge of Heidegger.

Madsbjerg’s admiration for Heidegger does, however, show something of his genius for self-marketing. Many consulting firms plot growth curves and recommend efficiency strategies, but few offer the kind of research ReD does. Still fewer firms immerse themselves so happily in academic language, and only Madsbjerg has the cojones to walk into a corporate boardroom and tell his audience that the impenetrable works of a long-dead German philosopher hold the keys to financial success.

I asked Madsbjerg how he would sell his firm to a potential employee currently teaching at a university, and he leaned toward me with a smile, slipping comfortably into the Marxist lingo of academia. “Do you want to sit and write about the world,” he asked, “or do you want to do something in it?”

I couldn’t help but think of Steve Jobs’s famous entreaty to John Sculley, then the president of PepsiCo, asking him to join Apple in 1983 as CEO. “Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life?,” Jobs asked. “Or do you want to come with me and change the world?”

The irony, of course, is that ReD is changing the world in part by helping a global beverage company sell more sugared water.

Graeme Wood is an Atlantic contributing editor.

Nobel de Química fala sobre a ‘magia da ciência’ em São Carlos (Fapesp)

Na palestra de abertura do simpósio em homenagem ao professor do MIT Daniel Kleppner, Dudley Herschbach, ganhador do prêmio de Química em 1986, apresentou parábolas para ilustrar o que a química é capaz de fazer (foto:Silvio Pires/FAPESP)


Por Karina Toledo

Agência FAPESP – Com uma palestra intitulada “Glimpses of Chemical Wizardry” (Vislumbres da Magia da Química), o norte-americano Dudley Herschbach – ganhador do prêmio Nobel de Química de 1986 – deu início às atividades de um simpósioque reúne esta semana grandes nomes da ciência mundial em São Carlos, no interior de São Paulo.

A um auditório repleto de estudantes, principalmente dos cursos de Física, Química e Ciências Biológicas da Universidade Federal de São Carlos (UFSCar), Herschbach apresentou três “parábolas moleculares” com o intuito de mostrar algumas das coisas espetaculares que a ciência é capaz de fazer.

Em uma das histórias, intitulada “A vida em turnê no interior das células”, Herschbach falou sobre técnicas avançadas de microscopia com super-resolução desenvolvidas por Xiaowei Zhuang, pesquisadora da Universidade Harvard, que permitem, por exemplo, estudar a interação entre células e a expressão de genes em tempo real.

“A ciência faz coisas que realmente pareciam impossíveis antes de acontecerem. De vez em quando, alguém, em alguma parte do mundo, faz algo mágico e muda as coisas. É maravilhoso saber que você faz parte disso. É parte da recompensa da ciência que você não tem na maioria das profissões”, disse Herschbach à Agência FAPESP.

Graduado em Matemática pela Universidade Stanford, Herschbach fez mestrado em Física e em Química, além de doutorado em Físico-Química pela Universidade Harvard, onde hoje é professor.

“Fui o primeiro da minha família a ir para a universidade. Ofereceram-me uma bolsa para jogar futebol [norte-americano], mas acabei trocando por uma bolsa acadêmica, pois o técnico havia me proibido de frequentar as aulas de laboratório para não me atrasar para os treinos. A verdade é que eu achava a ciência muito mais fascinante”, contou.

Nos anos 1960, o cientista conduziu experimentos pioneiros com a técnica de feixes moleculares cruzados para estudar reações químicas e a dinâmica dos átomos das moléculas em tempo real. Por suas pesquisas nesse campo, recebeu em 1986 – junto com o taiwanês Yuan Lee e o canadense John Polanyi – o Nobel de Química.

Os resultados foram de grande importância para o desenvolvimento de um novo campo de pesquisa — o da dinâmica de reação — e proporcionaram um entendimento detalhado de como as reações químicas acontecem.

“Quando olho no espelho, ao me barbear, percebo que ganhar o Nobel não mudou nada em mim. A única diferença é que as pessoas ficaram mais interessadas no que tenho a dizer. Convidam-me para palestras e entrevistas. E isso acabou me transformando numa espécie de embaixador da ciência”, disse Herschbach.

Poesia em sala de aula

Durante toda a apresentação, Herschbach combateu o mito de que ciência é algo muito difícil, reservado para os muito inteligentes. “Costumo ouvir pessoas dizendo que é preciso ser muito bom em matemática para ser um bom pesquisador, mas a maioria dos cientistas usa a mesma matemática que um caixa de supermercado. Você não precisa ser bom em tudo, apenas em uma coisa, achar um nicho”, afirmou.

Ao comparar a ciência com outras atividades humanas, Herschbach disse que, em nenhuma outra profissão, você pode falhar inúmeras vezes e ainda ser aplaudido quando consegue fazer alguma coisa certa. “Um músico pode tocar quase todas as notas certas em um concerto e ser criticado por ter errado apenas algumas”, comparou.

Herschbach contou que costumava pedir a seus alunos que escrevessem poemas para lhes mostrar que é mais importante se preocupar em fazer as perguntas certas do que encontrar a resposta certa.

“Isso, mais do que resolver equações, é como fazer ciência de verdade. Ninguém diz se um poema está certo ou errado e sim o quanto ele é capaz de abrir seus olhos para algo que parecia ordinário, fazer você enxergar aquilo de outra forma. É assim com a ciência. Se você faz pesquisa de fronteira, coisas novas, é muito artístico. Quero que os estudantes percebam que eles também podem ser feiticeiros”, concluiu.

O Simpósio em Homenagem ao Prof. Daniel Kleppner “Física atômica e áreas correlatas”, que termina no dia 1º de março, é promovido pelo Centro de Pesquisa em Óptica e Fotônica (Cepof) de São Carlos, um dos Centros de Pesquisa, Inovação e Difusão (CEPID) financiados pela FAPESP.

O objetivo do encontro é prestar uma homenagem ao físico norte-americano Daniel Kleppner, do Instituto de Tecnologia de Massachusetts (MIT), que receberá o título de professor honorário do Instituto de Física de São Carlos, da Universidade de São Paulo (IFSC-USP).

Além de Herschbach, amigo de Kleppner desde os tempos da graduação, outros quatro ganhadores do Nobel também participam do evento: Serge Haroche (Nobel de Física 2012), David Wineland (Nobel de Física 2012), Eric Cornell (Nobel de Física 2001) e William Phillips (Nobel de Física 1997).

Indígenas ameaçam guerra para barrar hidrelétricas no rio Tapajós (Valor Econômico)

JC e-mail 4671, de 25 de Fevereiro de 2013.

Um grupo de líderes de aldeias localizadas no Pará e no norte do Mato Grosso esteve em Brasília para protestar contra ações de empresas na região

Não houve acordo. O governo teve uma pequena amostra, na semana passada, da resistência que enfrentará para levar adiante seu projeto de construção de hidrelétricas ao longo do rio Tapajós, uma região isolada da Amazônia onde vivem hoje cerca de 8 mil índios da etnia munduruku. Um grupo de líderes de aldeias localizadas no Pará e no norte do Mato Grosso, Estados que são cortados pelo rio, esteve em Brasília para protestar contra ações de empresas na região, que realizam levantamento de informações para preparar o licenciamento ambiental das usinas.

Os índios tiveram uma reunião com o ministro de Minas e Energia (MME), Edison Lobão. Na mesa, os projetos da hidrelétricas de São Luiz do Tapajós e de Jatobá, dois dos maiores projetos de geração previstos pelo governo. Lobão foi firme. Disse aos índios que o governo não vai abrir mãos das duas usinas e que eles precisam entender isso. Valter Cardeal, diretor da Eletrobras que também participou da discussão, tentou convencer os índios de que o negócio é viável e de que eles serão devidamente compensados pelos impactos. Os índios deixaram a sala.

Para o cacique Arnaldo Koba Munduruku, que lidera todos os povos indígenas da região do Tapajós, o resultado do encontro foi negativo. “Nosso povo não quer indenização, nem quer o dinheiro de usina. Nosso povo quer o rio como ele é”, disse Koba ao Valor. “Não vamos permitir que usinas ou até mesmo que estudos sejam feitos. Vamos unir nossa gente e vamos para o enfrentamento. O Tapajós não vai sofrer como sofre hoje o rio Xingu”, afirmou o líder indígena, referindo-se às complicações indígenas que envolvem o licenciamento e a construção da hidrelétrica de Belo Monte, em Altamira (PA).

Numa carta que foi entregue nas mãos do secretário-geral da Presidência, ministro Gilberto Carvalho, os índios pediram “que o governo brasileiro respeite a decisão do povo munduruku e desista de construir essas hidrelétricas”. No mesmo documento, os índios cobram agilidade na investigação da morte de Adenilson Kirixi Munduruku, que foi assassinado com três tiros em novembro do ano passado, na região do Teles Pires, rio localizado no norte do Mato Grosso e que forma o Tapajós, em sua confluência com o rio Juruena.

Os índios se negaram a assinar um documento apresentado pela Presidência, que previa compromissos a serem assumidos pelo governo, por entenderem que se tratava de uma consulta prévia já atrelada ao licenciamento das usinas do Tapajós. “Viemos até aqui para cobrar a punição pelo assassinato de nosso irmão, mas vimos que a intenção do governo era outra. Ele queria mesmo era tratar das usinas, mas não permitimos isso”, disse o líder indígena Waldelirio Manhuary Munduruku. “Não vamos nos ajoelhar. Não haverá usinas, nem estudos de usinas. Iremos até o fim nessa guerra.”

No balanço do Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento (PAC) divulgado na semana passada, o cronograma de São Luiz do Tapajós e de Jatobá estabelece o mês de setembro para conclusão dos estudos ambientais das usinas. O levantamento de informações na região começou a ser feito pela Eletrobras há pelo menos um ano e meio. Analistas ambientais e técnicos da estatal têm enfrentado resistências na região para colher informações dos moradores.

O grupo de empresas que o governo reuniu em agosto do ano passado para participar da elaboração dos estudos dá uma ideia do interesse energético que a União tem no Tapajós. Com a Eletrobras estão Cemig Geração e Transmissão, Copel Geração e Transmissão, GDF Suez Energy Latin America Participações, Endesa do Brasil e Neoenergia Investimentos.

Com as usinas de São Luiz e Jatobá, o governo quer adicionar 8.471 megawatts de potência à sua matriz energética. O custo ambiental disso seria a inundação de 1.368 quilômetros quadrados de floresta virgem, duas vezes e meia a inundação que será causada pela hidrelétrica de Belo Monte. O governo diz que é pouco e que, se forem implementadas todas as usinas previstas para a Amazônia, menos de 1% da floresta ficaria embaixo d”água.

(André Borges – Valor Econômico)

The Politics of Disimagination and the Pathologies of Power (Truth Out)

Wednesday, 27 February 2013 00:00

By Henry A GirouxTruthout | News Analysis

Eye reflecitng TV(Photo: tryingmyhardest). You write in order to change the world knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that [writing] is indispensable to the world. The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter even by a millimeter the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” – James Baldwin

The Violence of Neoliberalism

We live in a time of deep foreboding, one that haunts any discourse about justice, democracy and the future. Not only have the points of reference that provided a sense of certainty and collective hope in the past largely evaporated, but the only referents available are increasingly supplied by a hyper-market-driven society, megacorporations and a corrupt financial service industry. The commanding economic and cultural institutions of American society have taken on what David Theo Goldberg calls a “militarizing social logic.”[1] Market discipline now regulates all aspects of social life, and the regressive economic rationality that drives it sacrifices the public good, public values and social responsibility to a tawdry consumerist dream while simultaneously creating a throwaway society of goods, resources and individuals now considered disposable.[2] This militarizing logic is also creeping into public schools and colleges with the former increasingly resembling the culture of prison and the latter opening their classrooms to the national intelligence agencies.[3] In one glaring instance of universities endorsing the basic institutions of the punishing state, Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, concluded a deal to rename its football stadium after the GEO Group, a private prison corporation “whose record is marred by human rights abuses, by lawsuits, by unnecessary deaths of people in their custody and a whole series of incidents.” [3A] Armed guards are now joined by armed knowledge.  Corruption, commodification and repressive state apparatuses have become the central features of a predatory society in which it is presumed irrationally “that market should dominate and determine all choices and outcomes to the occlusion of any other considerations.”[4]

The political, economic, and social consequences have done more than destroy any viable vision of a good society. They undermine the modern public’s capacity to think critically, celebrate a narcissistic hyperindividualism that borders on the pathological, destroy social protections and promote a massive shift towards a punitive state that criminalizes the behavior of those bearing the hardships imposed by a survival-of-the-fittest society that takes delight in the suffering of others. How else to account for a criminal justice stacked overwhelmingly against poor minorities, a prison system in which “prisoners can be held in solitary confinement for years in small, windowless cells in which they are kept for twenty-three hours of every day,”[5] or a police state that puts handcuffs on a 5-year old and puts him in jail because he violated a dress code by wearing sneakers that were the wrong color.[6] Why does the American public put up with a society in which “the top 1 percent of households owned 35.6 percent of net wealth (net worth) and a whopping 42.4 percent of net financial assets” in 2009, while many young people today represent the “new face of a national homeless population?”[7] American society is awash in a culture of civic illiteracy, cruelty and corruption. For example, major banks such as Barclays and HSBC swindle billions from clients and increase their profit margins by laundering money for terrorist organizations, and no one goes to jail. At the same time, we have the return of debtor prisons for the poor who cannot pay something as trivial as a parking fine. President Obama arbitrarily decides that he can ignore due process and kill American citizens through drone strikes and the American public barely blinks. Civic life collapses into a war zone and yet the dominant media is upset only because it was not invited to witness the golf match between Obama and Tiger Woods.

The celebration of violence in both virtual culture and real life now feed each other. The spectacle of carnage celebrated in movies such as A Good Day to Die Hard is now matched by the deadly violence now playing out in cities such as Chicago and New Orleans. Young people are particularly vulnerable to such violence, with 561 children age 12 and under killed by firearms between 2006 and 2010.[8] Corporate power, along with its shameless lobbyists and intellectual pundits, unabashedly argue for more guns in order to feed the bottom line, even as the senseless carnage continues tragically in places like Newtown, Connecticut, Tustin, California, and other American cities. In the meantime, the mainstream media treats the insane rambling of National Rifle Association’s (NRA) Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre as a legitimate point of view among many voices. This is the same guy who, after the killing of 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, claimed the only way to stop more tragedies was to flood the market with more guns and provide schools with more armed guards. The American public was largely silent on the issue in spite of the fact that an increase of police in schools does nothing to prevent such massacres but does increase the number of children, particularly poor black youth, who are pulled out of class, booked and arrested for trivial behavioral infractions.

At the same time, America’s obsession with violence is reinforced by a market society that is Darwinian in its pursuit of profit and personal gain at almost any cost. Within this scenario, a social and economic order has emerged that combines the attributes and values of films such as the classics Mad Max and American Psycho. Material deprivation, galloping inequality, the weakening of public supports, the elimination of viable jobs, the mindless embrace of rabid competition and consumption, and the willful destruction of the environment speak to a society in which militarized violence finds its counterpart, if not legitimating credo, in a set of atomizing and selfish values that disdain shared social bonds and any notion of the public good. In this case, American society now mimics a market-driven culture that celebrates a narcissistic hyperindividualism that radiates with a new sociopathic lack of interest in others and a strong tendency towards violence and criminal behavior. As John le Carré once stated, “America has entered into one of its periods of historical madness.”[9] While le Carré wrote this acerbic attack on American politics in 2003, I think it is fair to say that things have gotten worse, and that the United States is further plunging into madness because of a deadening form of historical and social amnesia that has taken over the country, further reproducing a mass flight from memory and social responsibility. The politics of disimagination includes, in this instance, what Mumia Abu-Jamal labeled “mentacide,” a form of historical amnesia “inflicted on Black youth by the system’s systematic campaign to eradicate and deny them their people’s revolutionary history.”[10]

America’s Plunge Into Militarized Madness

How does one account for the lack of public outcry over millions of Americans losing their homes because of corrupt banking practices and millions more becoming unemployed because of the lack of an adequate jobs program in the United States, while at the same time stories abound of colossal greed and corruption on Wall Street? [11] For example, in 2009 alone, hedge fund manager David Tepper made approximately 4 billion dollars.[12] As Michael Yates points out: “This income, spent at a rate of $10,000 a day and exclusive of any interest, would last him and his heirs 1,096 years! If we were to suppose that Mr. Tepper worked 2,000 hours in 2009 (fifty weeks at forty hours per week), he took in $2,000,000 per hour and $30,000 a minute.”[13] This juxtaposition of robber-baron power and greed is rarely mentioned in the mainstream media in conjunction with the deep suffering and misery now experienced by millions of families, workers, children, jobless public servants and young people. This is especially true of a generation of youth who have become the new precariat[14] – a zero generation relegated to zones of social and economic abandonment and marked by zero jobs, zero future, zero hope and what Zygmunt Bauman has defined as a societal condition which is more “liquid,”less defined, punitive, and, in the end, more death dealing.[15]

Narcissism and unchecked greed have morphed into more than a psychological category that points to a character flaw among a marginal few. Such registers are now symptomatic of a market-driven society in which extremes of violence, militarization, cruelty and inequality are hardly noticed and have become normalized. Avarice and narcissism are not new. What is new is the unprecedented social sanction of the ethos of greed that has emerged since the 1980s.[16] What is also new is that military force and values have become a source of pride rather than alarm in American society. Not only has the war on terror violated a host of civil liberties, it has further sanctioned a military that has assumed a central role in American society, influencing everything from markets and education to popular culture and fashion. President Dwight D. Eisenhower left office warning about the rise of the military-industrial complex, with its pernicious alignment of the defense industry, the military and political power.[17] What he underestimated was the transition from a militarized economy to a militarized society in which the culture itself was shaped by military power, values and interests. What has become clear in contemporary America is that the organization of civil society for the production of violence is about more than producing militarized technologies and weapons; it is also about producing militarized subjects and a permanent war economy. As Aaron B. O’Connell points outs:

Our culture has militarized considerably since Eisenhower’s era, and civilians, not the armed services, have been the principal cause. From lawmakers’ constant use of “support our troops” to justify defense spending, to TV programs and video games like “NCIS,” “Homeland”and “Call of Duty,” to NBC’s shameful and unreal reality show “Stars Earn Stripes,” Americans are subjected to a daily diet of stories that valorize the military while the storytellers pursue their own opportunistic political and commercial agendas.[18]

The imaginary of war and violence informs every aspect of American society and extends from the celebration of a warrior culture in mainstream media to the use of universities to educate students in the logic of the national security state. Military deployments now protect “free trade” arrangements, provide job programs and drain revenue from public coffers. For instance, Lockheed Martin stands to gain billions of dollars in profits as Washington prepares to buy 2,443 F-35 fighter planes at a cost of $90 million each from the company. The overall cost of the project for a plane that has been called a “one trillion dollar boondoggle” is expected to cost more “than Australia’s entire GDP ($924 billion).”[19] Yet, the American government has no qualms about cutting food programs for the poor, early childhood programs for low-income students and food stamps for those who exist below the poverty line. Such misplaced priorities represent more than a military-industrial complex that is out of control. They also suggest the plunge of American society into the dark abyss of a state that is increasingly punitive, organized around the production of violence and unethical in its policies, priorities and values.

John Hinkson argues that such institutionalized violence is far from a short-lived and aberrant historical moment. In fact, he rightfully asserts that: “we have a new world economy, one crucially that lacks all substantial points of reference and is by implication nihilistic. The point is that this is not a temporary situation because of the imperatives, say, of war: it is a structural break with the past.”[20] Evidence of such a shift is obvious in the massive transfer upward in wealth and income that have not only resulted in the concentration of power in relatively few hands, but have promoted both unprecedented degrees of human suffering and hardship along with what can be called a politics of disimagination.

The Rise of the “Disimagination Machine”

Borrowing from Georges Didi-Huberman’s use of the term, “disimagination machine,” I argue that the politics of disimagination refers to images, and I would argue institutions, discourses, and other modes of representation, that undermine the capacity of individuals to bear witness to a different and critical sense of remembering, agency, ethics and collective resistance.[21] The “disimagination machine” is both a set of cultural apparatuses extending from schools and mainstream media to the new sites of screen culture, and a public pedagogy that functions primarily to undermine the ability of individuals to think critically, imagine the unimaginable, and engage in thoughtful and critical dialogue: put simply, to become critically informed citizens of the world.

Examples of the “disimagination machine” abound. A few will suffice. For instance, the Texas State Board of Education and other conservative boards of education throughout the United States are rewriting American textbooks to promote and impose on America’s public school students what Katherine Stewart calls “a Christian nationalist version of US history” in which Jesus is implored to “invade” public schools.[22] In this version of history, the term “slavery” is removed from textbooks and replaced with “Atlantic triangular trade,” the earth is 6,000 years old, and the Enlightenment is the enemy of education. Historical figures such as Jefferson, Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin, considered to have suspect religious views, “are ruthlessly demoted or purged altogether from the study program.”[23] Currently, 46 percent of the American population believes in the creationist view of evolution and increasingly rejects scientific evidence, research and rationality as either ‘academic’ or irreligious.[24]

The rise of the Tea Party and the renewal of the culture wars have resulted in a Republican Party which is now considered the party of anti-science. Similarly, right-wing politicians, media, talk show hosts and other conservative pundits loudly and widely spread the message that a culture of questioning is antithetical to the American way of life. Moreover, this message is also promoted by conservative groups such as The American Legislative Exchange Council, (ALEC) which has “hit the ground running in 2013, pushing ‘model bills’ mandating the teaching of climate change denial in public school systems.”[25] The climate-change-denial machine is also promoted by powerful conservative groups such as the Heartland Institute. Ignorance is never too far from repression, as was recently demonstrated in Arizona, where State Rep. Bob Thorpe, a Republican freshman Tea Party member, introduced a new bill requiring students to take a loyalty oath in order to receive a graduation diploma.[26]

The “disimagination machine” is more powerful than ever as conservative think tanks provide ample funds for training and promoting anti-public pseudo-intellectuals and religious fundamentalists while simultaneously offering policy statements and talking points to conservative media such as FOX News, Christian news networks, right-wing talk radio, and partisan social media and blogs. This ever growing information/illiteracy bubble has become a powerful force of public pedagogy in the larger culture and is responsible for not only the war on science, reason and critical thought, but also the war on women’s reproductive rights, poor minority youth, immigrants, public schooling, and any other marginalized group or institution that challenges the anti-intellectual, anti-democratic worldviews of the new extremists and the narrative supporting Christian nationalism. Liberal Democrats, of course, contribute to this “disimagination machine” through educational policies that substitute critical thinking and critical pedagogy for paralyzing pedagogies of memorization and rote learning tied to high-stakes testing in the service of creating a neoliberal, dumbed-down workforce.

As John Atcheson has pointed out, we are “witnessing an epochal shift in our socio-political world. We are de-evolving, hurtling headlong into a past that was defined by serfs and lords; by necromancy and superstition; by policies based on fiat, not facts.”[27] We are also plunging into a dark world of anti-intellectualism, civic illiteracy and a formative culture supportive of an authoritarian state. The embrace of ignorance is at the center of political life today, and a reactionary form of public pedagogy has become the most powerful element of the politics of authoritarianism. Civic illiteracy is the modus operandi for creating depoliticized subjects who believe that consumerism is the only obligation of citizenship, who privilege opinions over reasoned arguments, and who are led to believe that ignorance is a virtue rather than a political and civic liability. In any educated democracy, much of the debate that occupies political life today, extending from creationism and climate change denial to “birther” arguments, would be speedily dismissed as magical thinking, superstition and an obvious form of ignorance. Mark Slouka is right in arguing that, “Ignorance gives us a sense of community; it confers citizenship; our representatives either share it or bow down to it or risk our wrath…. Communicate intelligently in America and you’re immediately suspect.”[28] The politics and machinery of disimagination and its production of ever-deepening ignorance dominates American society because it produces, to a large degree, uninformed customers, hapless clients, depoliticized subjects and illiterate citizens incapable of holding corporate and political power accountable. At stake here is more than the dangerous concentration of economic, political and cultural power in the hands of the ultrarich, megacorporations and elite financial services industries. Also at issue is the widespread perversion of the social, critical education, the public good, and democracy itself.

Toward a Radical Imagination

Against the politics of disimagination, progressives, workers, educators, young people and others need to develop a a new language of radical reform and create new public spheres that provide the pedagogical conditions for critical thought, dialogue and thoughtful deliberation. At stake here is a notion of pedagogy that both informs the mind and creates the conditions for modes of agency that are critical, informed, engaged and socially responsible. The radical imagination can be nurtured around the merging of critique and hope, the capacity to connect private troubles with broader social considerations, and the production of alternative formative cultures that provide the precondition for political engagement and for energizing democratic movements for social change – movements willing to think beyond isolated struggles and the limits of a savage global capitalism. Stanley Aronowitz and Peter Bratsis point to such a project in their manifesto on the radical imagination. They write:

This Manifesto looks forward to the creation of a new political Left formation that can overcome fragmentation, and provide a solid basis for many-side interventions in the current economic, political and social crises that afflict people in all walks of life. The Left must once again offer to young people, people of color, women, workers, activists, intellectuals and newly-arrived immigrants places to learn how the capitalist system works in all of its forms of exploitation whether personal, political, or economic. We need to reconstruct a platform to oppose Capital. It must ask in this moment of US global hegemony what are the alternatives to its cruel power over our lives, and those of large portions of the world’s peoples. And the Left formation is needed to offer proposals on how to rebuild a militant, democratic labor movement, strengthen and transform the social movements; and, more generally, provide the opportunity to obtain a broad education that is denied to them by official institutions. We need a political formation dedicated to the proposition that radical theory and practice are inextricably linked, that knowledge without action is impotent, but action without knowledge is blind.[29]

Matters of justice, equality, and political participation are foundational to any functioning democracy, but it is important to recognize that they have to be rooted in a vibrant formative culture in which democracy is understood not just as a political and economic structure but also as a civic force enabling justice, equality and freedom to flourish. While the institutions and practices of a civil society and an aspiring democracy are essential in this project, what must also be present are the principles and modes of civic education and critical engagement that support the very foundations of democratic culture. Central to such a project is the development of a new radical imagination both through the pedagogies and projects of public intellectuals in the academy and through work that can be done in other educational sites, such as the new media. Utilizing the Internet, social media, and other elements of the digital and screen culture, public intellectuals, cultural workers, young people and others can address larger audiences and present the task of challenging diverse forms of oppression, exploitation and exclusion as part of a broader effort to create a radical democracy.

There is a need to invent modes of pedagogy that release the imagination, connect learning to social change and create social relations in which people assume responsibility for each other. Such a pedagogy is not about methods or prepping students to learn how to take tests. Nor is such an education about imposing harsh disciplinary behaviors in the service of a pedagogy of oppression. On the contrary, it is about a moral and political practice capable of enabling students and others to become more knowledgeable while creating the conditions for generating a new vision of the future in which people can recognize themselves, a vision that connects with and speaks to the desires, dreams and hopes of those who are willing to fight for a radical democracy. Americans need to develop a new understanding of civic literacy, education and engagement, one capable of developing a new conversation and a new political project about democracy, inequality, and the redistribution of wealth and power, and how such a discourse can offer the conditions for democratically inspired visions, modes of governance and policymaking. Americans need to embrace and develop modes of civic literacy, critical education and democratic social movements that view the public good as a utopian imaginary, one that harbors a trace and vision of what it means to defend old and new public spheres that offer spaces where dissent can be produced, public values asserted, dialogue made meaningful and critical thought embraced as a noble ideal.

Elements of such a utopian imaginary can be found in James Baldwin’s “Open Letter to My Sister, Angela Davis,” in which he points out that “we live in an age in which silence is not only criminal but suicidal.”[30] The utopian imaginary is also on full display in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” where King states under the weight and harshness of incarceration that an “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere … [and asks whether we will] be extremists for the preservation of injustice – or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?”[31] According to King, “we must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy.”[32] We hear it in the words of former Harvard University President James B. Conant, who makes an impassioned call for “the need for the American radical – the missing political link between the past and future of this great democratic land.” [33] We hear it in the voices of young people all across the United States – the new American radicals – who are fighting for a society in which justice matters, social protections are guaranteed, equality is insured, and education becomes a right and not an entitlement. The radical imagination waits to be unleashed through social movements in which injustice is put on the run and civic literacy, economic justice, and collective struggle once again become the precondition for agency, hope and the struggle over democracy.


David Theo Goldberg, “Mission Accomplished: Militarizing Social Logic,”in Enrique Jezik: Obstruct, destroy, conceal, ed. Cuauhtémoc Medina (Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2011), 183-198.

See, for example, Colin Leys, Market Driven Politics (London: Verso, 2001); Randy Martin, Financialization of Daily Life (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002); Pierre Bourdieu, Firing Back: Against the Tyranny of the Market 2. Trans. Loic Wacquant (New York: The New Press, 2003); Alfredo Saad-Filho and Deborah Johnston, Neoliberalism: A Critical Reader (London: Pluto Press, 2005); Henry A. Giroux, Against the Terror of Neoliberalism (Boulder: Paradigm, 2008); David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007); Manfred B. Steger and Ravi K. Roy, Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); Gerad Dumenil and Dominique Levy, The Crisis of Neoliberalism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011). Henry A. Giroux, Twilight of the Social (Boulder: Paradigm, 2013); Stuart Hall, “The March of the Neoliberals,” The Guardian, (September 12, 2011). online at:

See most recently  Kelly V. Vlahos, “Boots on Campus,” Anti (February 26, 2013). On line: and David H. Price, Weaponizing Anthropology (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2011).

3A. Greg Bishop, “A Company that Runs Prisons Will Have its Name on a Stadium,”New York Times (February 19, 2013). Online:

Ibid. Goldberg, pp. 197-198.

Jonathan Schell, “Cruel America”, The Nation, (September 28, 2011) online:

Suzi Parker, “Cops Nab 5-Year-Old for Wearing Wrong Color Shoes to School,” Take Part, (January 18, 2013). Online:

Susan Saulny, “After Recession, More Young Adults Are Living on Street,” The New York Times, (December 18, 2012). Online:

Suzanne Gamboa and Monika Mathur, “Guns Kill Young Children Daily In The U.S.,” Huffington Post (December 24, 2012). Online:

John le Carre, “The United States of America Has Gone Mad,” CommonDreams (January 15, 2003). Online:

Eric Mann Interviews Mumbia Abu Jamal, “Mumia Abu Jamal: On his biggest political influences and the political ‘mentacide’ of today’s youth.” Voices from the Frontlines Radio (April 9, 2012).

See, for example, Charles Ferguson, Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America (New York: Random House, 2012).

Michael Yates, “The Great Inequality,” Monthly Review, (March 1, 2012).


Guy Standing, The New Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (New York: Bloomsbury, 2011).

Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007).

This issue is taken up brilliantly in Irving Howe, “Reaganism: The Spirit of the Times,” Selected Writings 1950-1990 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990), pp. 410-423.

I take up this issue in detail in Henry A. Giroux, The University in Chains: Challenging the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex (Boulder: Paradigm, 2007).

Aaron B. O’Connell, “The Permanent Militarization of America,” The New York Times, (November 4, 2012). Online:

Dominic Tierney, “The F-35: A Weapon that Costs More Than Australia,” The Atlantic (February 13, 2013). Online:

John Hinkson, “The GFC Has Just Begun,”Arena Magazine 122 (March 2013), p. 51.

Georges Didi-Huberman, Images in Spite of All: Four Photographs from Auschwitz, trans. Shane B. Lillis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), pp. 1-2.

Katherine Stewart, “Is Texas Waging War on History?”AlterNet (May 21, 2012). Online:


See, for instance, Chris Mooney, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science – and Reality (New York: Wiley, 2012).

Steve Horn, “Three States Pushing ALEC Bill to Require Teachng Climate Change Denial in Schools,” (January 31, 2013).

Igor Volsky, “Arizona Bill to Force Students to Take a Loyalty Oath,” AlterNet (January 26, 2013).

John Atcheson, “Dark ages Redux: American Politics and the End of the Enlightenment,” CommonDreams (June 18, 2012). Online:

Mark Slouka, “A Quibble,” Harper’s Magazine (February 2009).

Manifesto, Left Turn: An Open Letter to U.S. Radicals, (N.Y.: The Fifteenth Street Manifesto Group, March 2008), pp. 4-5.

James Baldwin, “An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis,” The New York Review of Books, (January 7, 1971). Online:

Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” (1963), in James M. Washington, The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Harper Collins, 1991), pp.290, 298.

Ibid, 296.

James B. Conant, “Wanted: American Radicals”, The Atlantic, May 1943.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission of the author.

A tinta vermelha: discurso de Slavoj Žižek aos manifestantes do movimento Occupy Wall Street (Boitempo)

Oct 9, 2011

Não se apaixonem por si mesmos, nem pelo momento agradável que estamos tendo aqui. Carnavais custam muito pouco – o verdadeiro teste de seu valor é o que permanece no dia seguinte, ou a maneira como nossa vida normal e cotidiana será modificada. Apaixone-se pelo trabalho duro e paciente – somos o início, não o fim. Nossa mensagem básica é: o tabu já foi rompido, não vivemos no melhor mundo possível, temos a permissão e a obrigação de pensar em alternativas. Há um longo caminho pela frente, e em pouco tempo teremos de enfrentar questões realmente difíceis – questões não sobre aquilo que não queremos, mas sobre aquilo que QUEREMOS. Qual organização social pode substituir o capitalismo vigente? De quais tipos de líderes nós precisamos? As alternativas do século XX obviamente não servem.

Então não culpe o povo e suas atitudes: o problema não é a corrupção ou a ganância, mas o sistema que nos incita a sermos corruptos. A solução não é o lema “Main Street, not Wall Street”, mas sim mudar o sistema em que a Main Street não funciona sem o Wall Street. Tenham cuidado não só com os inimigos, mas também com falsos amigos que fingem nos apoiar e já fazem de tudo para diluir nosso protesto. Da mesma maneira que compramos café sem cafeína, cerveja sem álcool e sorvete sem gordura, eles tentarão transformar isto aqui em um protesto moral inofensivo. Mas a razão de estarmos reunidos é o fato de já termos tido o bastante de um mundo onde reciclar latas de Coca-Cola, dar alguns dólares para a caridade ou comprar um cappuccino da Starbucks que tem 1% da renda revertida para problemas do Terceiro Mundo é o suficiente para nos fazer sentir bem. Depois de terceirizar o trabalho, depois de terceirizar a tortura, depois que as agências matrimoniais começaram a terceirizar até nossos encontros, é que percebemos que, há muito tempo, também permitimos que nossos engajamentos políticos sejam terceirizados – mas agora nós os queremos de volta.

Dirão que somos “não americanos”. Mas quando fundamentalistas conservadores nos disserem que os Estados Unidos são uma nação cristã, lembrem-se do que é o Cristianismo: o Espírito Santo, a comunidade livre e igualitária de fiéis unidos pelo amor. Nós, aqui, somos o Espírito Santo, enquanto em Wall Street eles são pagãos que adoram falsos ídolos.

Dirão que somos violentos, que nossa linguagem é violenta, referindo-se à ocupação e assim por diante. Sim, somos violentos, mas somente no mesmo sentido em que Mahatma Gandhi foi violento. Somos violentos porque queremos dar um basta no modo como as coisas andam – mas o que significa essa violência puramente simbólica quando comparada à violência necessária para sustentar o funcionamento constante do sistema capitalista global?

Seremos chamados de perdedores – mas os verdadeiros perdedores não estariam lá em Wall Street, os que se safaram com a ajuda de centenas de bilhões do nosso dinheiro? Vocês são chamados de socialistas, mas nos Estados Unidos já existe o socialismo para os ricos. Eles dirão que vocês não respeitam a propriedade privada, mas as especulações de Wall Street que levaram à queda de 2008 foram mais responsáveis pela extinção de propriedades privadas obtidas a duras penas do que se estivéssemos destruindo-as agora, dia e noite – pense nas centenas de casas hipotecadas…

Nós não somos comunistas, se o comunismo significa o sistema que merecidamente entrou em colapso em 1990 – e lembrem-se de que os comunistas que ainda detêm o poder atualmente governam o mais implacável dos capitalismos (na China). O sucesso do capitalismo chinês liderado pelo comunismo é um sinal abominável de que o casamento entre o capitalismo e a democracia está próximo do divórcio. Nós somos comunistas em um sentido apenas: nós nos importamos com os bens comuns – os da natureza, do conhecimento – que estão ameaçados pelo sistema.

Eles dirão que vocês estão sonhando, mas os verdadeiros sonhadores são os que pensam que as coisas podem continuar sendo o que são por um tempo indefinido, assim como ocorre com as mudanças cosméticas. Nós não estamos sonhando; nós acordamos de um sonho que está se transformando em pesadelo. Não estamos destruindo nada; somos apenas testemunhas de como o sistema está gradualmente destruindo a si próprio. Todos nós conhecemos a cena clássica dos desenhos animados: o gato chega à beira do precipício e continua caminhando, ignorando o fato de que não há chão sob suas patas; ele só começa a cair quando olha para baixo e vê o abismo. O que estamos fazendo é simplesmente levar os que estão no poder a olhar para baixo…

Então, a mudança é realmente possível? Hoje, o possível e o impossível são dispostos de maneira estranha. Nos domínios da liberdade pessoal e da tecnologia científica, o impossível está se tornando cada vez mais possível (ou pelo menos é o que nos dizem): “nada é impossível”, podemos ter sexo em suas mais perversas variações; arquivos inteiros de músicas, filmes e seriados de TV estão disponíveis para download; a viagem espacial está à venda para quem tiver dinheiro; podemos melhorar nossas habilidades físicas e psíquicas por meio de intervenções no genoma, e até mesmo realizar o sonho tecnognóstico de atingir a imortalidade transformando nossa identidade em um programa de computador. Por outro lado, no domínio das relações econômicas e sociais, somos bombardeados o tempo todo por um discurso do “você não pode” se envolver em atos políticos coletivos (que necessariamente terminam no terror totalitário), ou aderir ao antigo Estado de bem-estar social (ele nos transforma em não competitivos e leva à crise econômica), ou se isolar do mercado global etc. Quando medidas de austeridade são impostas, dizem-nos repetidas vezes que se trata apenas do que tem de ser feito. Quem sabe não chegou a hora de inverter as coordenadas do que é possível e impossível? Quem sabe não podemos ter mais solidariedade e assistência médica, já que não somos imortais?

Em meados de abril de 2011, a mídia revelou que o governo chinês havia proibido a exibição, em cinemas e na TV, de filmes que falassem de viagens no tempo e histórias paralelas, argumentando que elas trazem frivolidade para questões históricas sérias – até mesmo a fuga fictícia para uma realidade alternativa é considerada perigosa demais. Nós, do mundo Ocidental liberal, não precisamos de uma proibição tão explícita: a ideologia exerce poder material suficiente para evitar que narrativas históricas alternativas sejam interpretadas com o mínimo de seriedade. Para nós é fácil imaginar o fim do mundo – vide os inúmeros filmes apocalípticos –, mas não o fim do capitalismo.

Em uma velha piada da antiga República Democrática Alemã, um trabalhador alemão consegue um emprego na Sibéria; sabendo que todas as suas correspondências serão lidas pelos censores, ele diz para os amigos: “Vamos combinar um código: se vocês receberem uma carta minha escrita com tinta azul, ela é verdadeira; se a tinta for vermelha, é falsa”. Depois de um mês, os amigos receberam a primeira carta, escrita em azul: “Tudo é uma maravilha por aqui: os estoques estão cheios, a comida é abundante, os apartamentos são amplos e aquecidos, os cinemas exibem filmes ocidentais, há mulheres lindas prontas para um romance – a única coisa que não temos é tinta vermelha.” E essa situação, não é a mesma que vivemos até hoje? Temos toda a liberdade que desejamos – a única coisa que falta é a “tinta vermelha”: nós nos “sentimos livres” porque somos desprovidos da linguagem para articular nossa falta de liberdade. O que a falta de tinta vermelha significa é que, hoje, todos os principais termos que usamos para designar o conflito atual – “guerra ao terror”, “democracia e liberdade”, “direitos humanos” etc. etc. – são termos FALSOS que mistificam nossa percepção da situação em vez de permitir que pensemos nela. Você, que está aqui presente, está dando a todos nós tinta vermelha.

*   *   *

Slavoj Žižek speaks at Occupy Wall Street: Transcript (Impose)

BY SARAHANA » Don’t fall in love with yourselves

Posted on October 10, 2011

slavoj zizek speaking at occupy wall street

Yesterday at noon, this blog’s trusty mentor, the Slovenian philosopher-scholar Slavoj Žižek, spoke at Zuccotti Park, where Occupy Wall Street protests are being held. Here is a full transcript of his speech. Update: Transcript of the Q&A portion of the talk has been posted as well.

Made some corrections, Oct 25, 6:30PM EST


They are saying we are all losers, but the true losers are down there on Wall Street. They were bailed out by billions of our money. We are called socialists, but here there is always socialism for the rich. They say we don’t respect private property, but in the 2008 financial crash-down more hard-earned private property was destroyed than if all of us here were to be destroying it night and day for weeks. They tell you we are dreamers. The true dreamers are those who think things can go on indefinitely the way they are. We are not dreamers. We are the awakening from a dream that is turning into a nightmare.

We are not destroying anything. We are only witnessing how the system is destroying itself. We all know the classic scene from cartoons. The cat reaches a precipice but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is nothing beneath this ground. Only when it looks down and notices it, it falls down. This is what we are doing here. We are telling the guys there on Wall Street, “Hey, look down!”

In mid-April 2011, the Chinese government prohibited on TV, films, and novels all stories that contain alternate reality or time travel. This is a good sign for China. These people still dream about alternatives, so you have to prohibit this dreaming. Here, we don’t need a prohibition because the ruling system has even oppressed our capacity to dream. Look at the movies that we see all the time. It’s easy to imagine the end of the world. An asteroid destroying all life and so on. But you cannot imagine the end of capitalism.

So what are we doing here? Let me tell you a wonderful, old joke from Communist times. A guy was sent from East Germany to work in Siberia. He knew his mail would be read by censors, so he told his friends: “Let’s establish a code. If a letter you get from me is written in blue ink, it is true what I say. If it is written in red ink, it is false.” After a month, his friends get the first letter. Everything is in blue. It says, this letter: “Everything is wonderful here. Stores are full of good food. Movie theatres show good films from the west. Apartments are large and luxurious. The only thing you cannot buy is red ink.” This is how we live. We have all the freedoms we want. But what we are missing is red ink: the language to articulate our non-freedom. The way we are taught to speak about freedom— war on terror and so on—falsifies freedom. And this is what you are doing here. You are giving all of us red ink.

There is a danger. Don’t fall in love with yourselves. We have a nice time here. But remember, carnivals come cheap. What matters is the day after, when we will have to return to normal lives. Will there be any changes then? I don’t want you to remember these days, you know, like “Oh. we were young and it was beautiful.” Remember that our basic message is “We are allowed to think about alternatives.” If the taboo is broken, we do not live in the best possible world. But there is a long road ahead. There are truly difficult questions that confront us. We know what we do not want. But what do we want? What social organization can replace capitalism? What type of new leaders do we want?

Remember. The problem is not corruption or greed. The problem is the system. It forces you to be corrupt. Beware not only of the enemies, but also of false friends who are already working to dilute this process. In the same way you get coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, ice cream without fat, they will try to make this into a harmless, moral protest. A decaffienated protest. But the reason we are here is that we have had enough of a world where, to recycle Coke cans, to give a couple of dollars for charity, or to buy a Starbucks cappuccino where 1% goes to third world starving children is enough to make us feel good. After outsourcing work and torture, after marriage agencies are now outsourcing our love life, we can see that for a long time, we allow our political engagement also to be outsourced. We want it back.

We are not Communists if Communism means a system which collapsed in 1990. Remember that today those Communists are the most efficient, ruthless Capitalists. In China today, we have Capitalism which is even more dynamic than your American Capitalism, but doesn’t need democracy. Which means when you criticize Capitalism, don’t allow yourself to be blackmailed that you are against democracy. The marriage between democracy and Capitalism is over. The change is possible.

What do we perceive today as possible? Just follow the media. On the one hand, in technology and sexuality, everything seems to be possible. You can travel to the moon, you can become immortal by biogenetics, you can have sex with animals or whatever, but look at the field of society and economy. There, almost everything is considered impossible. You want to raise taxes by little bit for the rich. They tell you it’s impossible. We lose competitivity. You want more money for health care, they tell you, “Impossible, this means totalitarian state.” There’s something wrong in the world, where you are promised to be immortal but cannot spend a little bit more for healthcare. Maybe we need to set our priorities straight here. We don’t want higher standard of living. We want a better standard of living. The only sense in which we are Communists is that we care for the commons. The commons of nature. The commons of privatized by intellectual property. The commons of biogenetics. For this, and only for this, we should fight.

Communism failed absolutely, but the problems of the commons are here. They are telling you we are not American here. But the conservatives fundamentalists who claim they really are American have to be reminded of something: What is Christianity? It’s the holy spirit. What is the holy spirit? It’s an egalitarian community of believers who are linked by love for each other, and who only have their own freedom and responsibility to do it. In this sense, the holy spirit is here now. And down there on Wall Street, there are pagans who are worshipping blasphemous idols. So all we need is patience. The only thing I’m afraid of is that we will someday just go home and then we will meet once a year, drinking beer, and nostaligically remembering “What a nice time we had here.” Promise yourselves that this will not be the case. We know that people often desire something but do not really want it. Don’t be afraid to really want what you desire. Thank you very much.


Here’s Astra Taylor, who made the documentaries Zizek! and An Examined Life. (She also happens to be married to Jeff Mangum, who performed earlier in the week for the protestors.)

Free training included how to undo a handcuff:

– See more at:

Edward O. Wilson: The Riddle of the Human Species (N.Y.Times)

THE STONEFebruary 24, 2013, 7:30 pm


The task of understanding humanity is too important and too daunting to leave to the humanities. Their many branches, from philosophy to law to history and the creative arts, have described the particularities of human nature with genius and exquisite detail, back and forth in endless permutations. But they have not explained why we possess our special nature and not some other out of a vast number of conceivable possibilities. In that sense, the humanities have not accounted for a full understanding of our species’ existence.

So, just what are we? The key to the great riddle lies in the circumstance and process that created our species. The human condition is a product of history, not just the six millenniums of civilization but very much further back, across hundreds of millenniums. The whole of it, biological and cultural evolution, in seamless unity, must be explored for an answer to the mystery. When thus viewed across its entire traverse, the history of humanity also becomes the key to learning how and why our species survived.

A majority of people prefer to interpret history as the unfolding of a supernatural design, to whose author we owe obedience. But that comforting interpretation has grown less supportable as knowledge of the real world has expanded. Scientific knowledge (measured by numbers of scientists and scientific journals) in particular has been doubling every 10 to 20 years for over a century. In traditional explanations of the past, religious creation stories have been blended with the humanities to attribute meaning to our species’s existence. It is time to consider what science might give to the humanities and the humanities to science in a common search for a more solidly grounded answer to the great riddle.

To begin, biologists have found that the biological origin of advanced social behavior in humans was similar to that occurring elsewhere in the animal kingdom. Using comparative studies of thousands of animal species, from insects to mammals, they have concluded that the most complex societies have arisen through eusociality — roughly, “true” social condition. The members of a eusocial group cooperatively rear the young across multiple generations. They also divide labor through the surrender by some members of at least some of their personal reproduction in a way that increases the “reproductive success” (lifetime reproduction) of other members.

Leif Parsons

Eusociality stands out as an oddity in a couple of ways. One is its extreme rarity. Out of hundreds of thousands of evolving lines of animals on the land during the past 400 million years, the condition, so far as we can determine, has arisen only about two dozen times. This is likely to be an underestimate, due to sampling error. Nevertheless, we can be certain that the number of originations was very small.

Furthermore, the known eusocial species arose very late in the history of life. It appears to have occurred not at all during the great Paleozoic diversification of insects, 350 to 250 million years before the present, during which the variety of insects approached that of today. Nor is there as yet any evidence of eusocial species during the Mesozoic Era until the appearance of the earliest termites and ants between 200 and 150 million years ago. Humans at the Homo level appeared only very recently, following tens of millions of years of evolution among the primates.

Once attained, advanced social behavior at the eusocial grade has proved a major ecological success. Of the two dozen independent lines, just two within the insects — ants and termites — globally dominate invertebrates on the land. Although they are represented by fewer than 20 thousand of the million known living insect species, ants and termites compose more than half of the world’s insect body weight.

The history of eusociality raises a question: given the enormous advantage it confers, why was this advanced form of social behavior so rare and long delayed? The answer appears to be the special sequence of preliminary evolutionary changes that must occur before the final step to eusociality can be taken. In all of the eusocial species analyzed to date, the final step before eusociality is the construction of a protected nest, from which foraging trips begin and within which the young are raised to maturity. The original nest builders can be a lone female, a mated pair, or a small and weakly organized group. When this final preliminary step is attained, all that is needed to create a eusocial colony is for the parents and offspring to stay at the nest and cooperate in raising additional generations of young. Such primitive assemblages then divide easily into risk-prone foragers and risk-averse parents and nurses.

Leif Parsons

What brought one primate line to the rare level of eusociality? Paleontologists have found that the circumstances were humble. In Africa about two million years ago, one species of the primarily vegetarian australopithecine evidently shifted its diet to include a much higher reliance on meat. For a group to harvest such a high-energy, widely dispersed source of food, it did not pay to roam about as a loosely organized pack of adults and young like present-day chimpanzees and bonobos. It was more efficient to occupy a campsite (thus, the nest) and send out hunters who could bring home meat, either killed or scavenged, to share with others. In exchange, the hunters received protection of the campsite and their own young offspring kept there.

From studies of modern humans, including hunter-gatherers, whose lives tell us so much about human origins, social psychologists have deduced the mental growth that began with hunting and campsites. A premium was placed on personal relationships geared to both competition and cooperation among the members. The process was ceaselessly dynamic and demanding. It far exceeded in intensity anything similar experienced by the roaming, loosely organized bands of most animal societies. It required a memory good enough to assess the intentions of fellow members, to predict their responses, from one moment to the next; and it resulted in the ability to invent and inwardly rehearse competing scenarios of future interactions.

The social intelligence of the campsite-anchored prehumans evolved as a kind of non-stop game of chess. Today, at the terminus of this evolutionary process, our immense memory banks are smoothly activated across the past, present, and future. They allow us to evaluate the prospects and consequences variously of alliances, bonding, sexual contact, rivalries, domination, deception, loyalty and betrayal. We instinctively delight in the telling of countless stories about others as players upon the inner stage. The best of it is expressed in the creative arts, political theory, and other higher-level activities we have come to call the humanities.

The definitive part of the long creation story evidently began with the primitive Homo habilis (or a species closely related to it) two million years ago. Prior to the habilines the prehumans had been animals. Largely vegetarians, they had human-like bodies, but their cranial capacity remained chimpanzee-size, at or below 500 cubic centimeters. Starting with the habiline period the capacity grew precipitously: to 680 cubic centimeters in Homo habilis, 900 in Homo erectus, and about 1,400 in Homo sapiens. The expansion of the human brain was one of the most rapid episodes of evolution of complex organs in the history of life.

Still, to recognize the rare coming together of cooperating primates is not enough to account for the full potential of modern humans that brain capacity provides. Evolutionary biologists have searched for the grandmaster of advanced social evolution, the combination of forces and environmental circumstances that bestowed greater longevity and more successful reproduction on the possession of high social intelligence. At present there are two competing theories of the principal force. The first is kin selection: individuals favor collateral kin (relatives other than offspring) making it easier for altruism to evolve among members of the same group. Altruism in turn engenders complex social organization, and, in the one case that involves big mammals, human-level intelligence.

The second, more recently argued theory (full disclosure: I am one of the modern version’s authors), the grandmaster is multilevel selection. This formulation recognizes two levels at which natural selection operates: individual selection based on competition and cooperation among members of the same group, and group selection, which arises from competition and cooperation between groups. Multilevel selection is gaining in favor among evolutionary biologists because of a recent mathematical proof that kin selection can arise only under special conditions that demonstrably do not exist, and the better fit of multilevel selection to all of the two dozen known animal cases of eusocial evolution.

The roles of both individual and group selection are indelibly stamped (to borrow a phrase from Charles Darwin) upon our social behavior. As expected, we are intensely interested in the minutiae of behavior of those around us. Gossip is a prevailing subject of conversation, everywhere from hunter-gatherer campsites to royal courts. The mind is a kaleidoscopically shifting map of others, each of whom is drawn emotionally in shades of trust, love, hatred, suspicion, admiration, envy and sociability. We are compulsively driven to create and belong to groups, variously nested, overlapping or separate, and large or small. Almost all groups compete with those of similar kind in some manner or other. We tend to think of our own as superior, and we find our identity within them.

The existence of competition and conflict, the latter often violent, has been a hallmark of societies as far back as archaeological evidence is able to offer. These and other traits we call human nature are so deeply resident in our emotions and habits of thought as to seem just part of some greater nature, like the air we all breathe, and the molecular machinery that drives all of life. But they are not. Instead, they are among the idiosyncratic hereditary traits that define our species.

The major features of the biological origins of our species are coming into focus, and with this clarification the potential of a more fruitful contact between science and the humanities. The convergence between these two great branches of learning will matter hugely when enough people have thought it through. On the science side, genetics, the brain sciences, evolutionary biology, and paleontology will be seen in a different light. Students will be taught prehistory as well as conventional history, the whole presented as the living world’s greatest epic.

We will also, I believe, take a more serious look at our place in nature. Exalted we are indeed, risen to be the mind of the biosphere without a doubt, our spirits capable of awe and ever more breathtaking leaps of imagination. But we are still part of earth’s fauna and flora. We are bound to it by emotion, physiology, and not least, deep history. It is dangerous to think of this planet as a way station to a better world, or continue to convert it into a literal, human-engineered spaceship. Contrary to general opinion, demons and gods do not vie for our allegiance. We are self-made, independent, alone and fragile. Self-understanding is what counts for long-term survival, both for individuals and for the species.

Edward O. Wilson is Honorary Curator in Entomology and University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University. He has received more than 100 awards for his research and writing, including the U. S. National Medal of Science, the Crafoord Prize and two Pulitzer Prizes in non-fiction. His most recent book is “The Social Conquest of Earth.”

*   *   *

Interview with Edward O. Wilson: The Origin of Morals (Spiegel)

February 26, 2013 – 01:23 PM

By Philip Bethge and Johann Grolle

American sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson is championing a controversial new approach for explaining the origins of virtue and sin. In an interview, the world-famous ant reseacher explains why he believes the inner struggle is the characteristic trait of human nature.

Edward O. Wilson doesn’t come across as the kind of man who’s looking to pick a fight. With his shoulders upright and his head tilting slightly to the side, he shuffles through the halls of Harvard University. His right eye, which has given him trouble since his childhood, is halfway closed. The other is fixed on the ground. As an ant researcher, Wilson has made a career out of things that live on the earth’s surface.

There’s also much more to Wilson. Some consider him to be the world’s most important living biologist, with some placing him on a level with Charles Darwin.

In addition to discovering and describing hundreds of species of ants, Wilson’s book on this incomparably successful group of insects is the only non-fiction biology tome ever to win a Pulitzer Prize. Another achievement was decoding the chemical communication of ants, whose vocabulary is composed of pheromones. His study of the ant colonization of islands helped to establish one of the most fruitful branches of ecology. And when it comes to the battle against the loss of biodiversity, Wilson is one of the movement’s most eloquent voices.

‘Blessed with Brilliant Enemies’

But Wilson’s fame isn’t solely the product of his scientific achievements. His enemies have also helped him to establish a name. “I have been blessed with brilliant enemies,” he says. In fact, the multitude of scholars with whom Wilson has skirmished academically is illustrious. James Watson, one of the discoverers of the double helix in DNA is among them, as is essayist Stephen Jay Gould.

At 83 years of age, Wilson is still at work making a few new enemies. The latest source of uproar is a book, “The Social Conquest of Earth,” published last April in the United States and this month in a German-language edition. In the tome, Wilson attempts to describe the triumphal advance of humans in evolutionary terms.

It is not uncommon for Wilson to look to ants for inspiration in his writings — and that proves true here, as well. When, for example, he recalls beholding two 90-million-year-old worker ants that were trapped in a piece of fossil metasequoia amber as being “among the most exciting moments in my life,” a discovery that “ranked in scientific importance withArchaeopteryx, the first fossil intermediary between birds and dinosaurs, and Australopithecus, the first ‘missing link’ discovered between modern humans and the ancestral apes.”

But that’s all just foreplay to the real controversy at the book’s core. Ultimately, Wilson uses ants to explain humans’ social behavior and, by doing so, breaks with current convention. The key question is the level at which Darwinian selection of human characteristics takes place. Did individuals enter into a fight for survival against each other, or did groups battle it out against competing groups?

Prior to this book, Wilson had been an influential champion of the theory of kin selection. He has now rejected his previous teachings, literally demolishing them. “The beautiful theory never worked well anyway, and now it has collapsed,” he writes. Today, he argues that human nature can only be understood if it is perceived as being the product of “group selection” — a view that Wilson’s fellow academics equate with sacrilege. They literally lined up to express their scientific dissent in a joint letter.

Some of the most vociferous criticism has come from Richard Dawkins, whose bestselling 1976 book “The Selfish Gene” first introduced the theory of kin selection to a mass audience. In a withering review of Wilson’s book in Britain’s Prospect magazine, Dawkins accuses a man he describes as his “lifelong hero” of “wanton arrogance” and “perverse misunderstandings”. “To borrow from Dorothy Parker,” he writes, “this is not a book to be tossed lightly aside. It should be thrown with great force.”

SPIEGEL recently sat down with sociobiologist Wilson to discuss his book and the controversy surrounding it.

SPIEGEL: Professor Wilson, lets assume that 10 million years ago some alien spacecraft had landed on this planet. Which organisms would they find particularly intriguing?

Wilson: Their interest, I believe, would not have been our ancestors. Primarily, they would have focused on ants, bees, wasps, and termites. Their discovery is what the aliens would report back to headquarters.

SPIEGEL: And you think those insects would be more interesting to them than, for example, elephants, flocks of birds or intelligent primates?

Wilson: They would be, because, at that time, ants and termites would be the most abundant creatures on the land and the most highly social creatures with very advanced division of labor and caste. We call them “eusocial,” and this phenomenon seems to be extremely rare.

SPIEGEL: What else might the aliens consider particularly interesting about ants?

Wilson: Ants engage in farming and animal husbandry. For example, some of them cultivate fungi. Others herd aphids and literally milk them by stroking them with their antennae. And the other thing the aliens would find extremely interesting would be the degree to which these insects organize their societies by pheromones, by chemical communication. Ants and termites have taken this form of communication to extremes.

SPIEGEL: So the aliens would cable back home: “We have found ants. They are the most promising candidates for a future evolution towards intelligent beings on earth?”

Wilson: No, they wouldn’t. They would see that these creatures were encased in exoskeletons and therefore had to remain very small. They would conclude that there was little chance for individual ants or termites to develop much reasoning power, nor, as a result, the capacity for culture. But at least on this planet, you have to be big in order to have sufficient cerebral cortex. And you probably have to be bipedal and develop hands with pulpy fingers, because those give you the capacity to start creating objects and to manipulate the environment.

SPIEGEL: Would our ancestors not have caught their eye?

Wilson: Ten million years ago, our ancestors indeed had developed a somewhat larger brain and versatile hands already. But the crucial step had yet to come.

SPIEGEL: What do you mean?

Wilson: Let me go back to the social insects for a moment. Why did social insects start to form colonies? Across hundreds of millions of years, insects had been proliferating as solitary forms. Some of them stayed with their young for a while, guided them and protected them. You find that widespread but far from universal in the animal kingdom. However, out of those species came a much smaller number of species who didn’t just protect their young, but started building nests that they defended …

SPIEGEL: … similar to birds.

Wilson: Yes. And I think that birds are right at the threshold of eusocial behaviour. But looking at the evolution of ants and termites again, there is another crucial step. In an even smaller group, the young don’t only grow up in their nest, but they also stay and care for the next generation. Now you have a group staying together with a division of labor. That is evidently the narrow channel of evolution that you have to pass through in order to become eusocial.

SPIEGEL: And our ancestors followed the same path?

Wilson: Yes. I argue that Homo habilis, the first humans, also went through these stages. In particular, Homo habilis was unique in that they already had shifted to eating meat.

SPIEGEL: What difference would that make?

Wilson: When animals start eating meat, they tend to form packs and to divide labor. We know that the immediate descendants of Homo habilis, Homo erectus, gathered around camp sites and that they actually had begun to use fire. These camp sites are equivalent to nests. That’s where they gathered in a tightly knit group, and then individuals went out searching for food.

SPIEGEL: And this development of groups drives evolution even further?

Wilson: Exactly. And, for example, if it now comes to staking out the hunting grounds, then group stands against group.

SPIEGEL: Meaning that this is the origin of warfare?

Wilson: Yes. But it doesn’t take necessarily the forming of an army or a battalion and meeting on the field and fighting. It was mostly what you call “vengeance raids”. One group attacks another, maybe captures a female or kills one or two males. The other group then counterraids, and this will go back and forth, group against group.

SPIEGEL: You say that this so called group selection is vital for the evolution of humans. Yet traditionally, scientists explain the emergence of social behavior in humans by kin selection.

Wilson: That, for a number of reasons, isn’t much good as an explanation.

SPIEGEL: But you yourself have long been a proponent of this theory. Why did you change your mind?

Wilson: You are right. During the 1970s, I was one of the main proponents of kin selection theory. And at first the idea sounds very reasonable. So for example, if I favored you because you were my brother and therefore we share one half of our genes, then I could sacrifice a lot for you. I could give up my chance to have children in order to get you through college and have a big family. The problem is: If you think it through, kin selection doesn’t explain anything. Instead, I came to the conclusion that selection operates on multiple levels. On one hand, you have normal Darwinian selection going on all the time, where individuals compete with each other. In addition, however, these individuals now form groups. They are staying together, and consequently it is group versus group.

SPIEGEL: Turning away from kin selection provoked a rather fierce reaction from many of your colleagues.

Wilson: No, it didn’t. The reaction was strong, but it came from a relatively small group of people whose careers are based upon studies of kin selection.

SPIEGEL: Isn’t that too easy? After all, 137 scientists signed a response to your claims. They accuse you of a “misunderstanding of evolutionary theory”.

Wilson: You know, most scientists are tribalists. Their lives are so tied up in certain theories that they can’t let go.

SPIEGEL: Does it even make a substantial difference if humans evolved through kin selection or group selection?

Wilson: Oh, it changes everything. Only the understanding of evolution offers a chance to get a real understanding of the human species. We are determined by the interplay between individual and group selection where individual selection is responsible for much of what we call sin, while group selection is responsible for the greater part of virtue. We’re all in constant conflict between self-sacrifice for the group on the one hand and egoism and selfishness on the other. I go so far as to say that all the subjects of humanities, from law to the creative arts are based upon this play of individual versus group selection.

SPIEGEL: Is this Janus-faced nature of humans our greatest strength at the end of the day?

Wilson: Exactly. This inner conflict between altruism and selfishness is the human condition. And it is very creative and probably the source of our striving, our inventiveness and imagination. It’s that eternal conflict that makes us unique.

SPIEGEL: So how do we negotiate this conflict?

Wilson: We don’t. We have to live with it.

SPIEGEL: Which element of this human condition is stronger?

Wilson: Let’s put it this way: If we would be mainly influenced by group selection, we would be living in kind of an ant society.

SPIEGEL: … the ultimate form of communism?

Wilson: Yes. Once in a while, humans form societies that emphasize the group, for example societies with Marxist ideology. But the opposite is also true. In other societies the individual is everything. Politically, that would be the Republican far right.

SPIEGEL: What determines which ideology is predominant in a society?

Wilson: If your territory is invaded, then cooperation within the group will be extreme. That’s a human instinct. If you are in a frontier area, however, then we tend to move towards the extreme individual level. That seems to be a good part of the problem still with America. We still think we’re on the frontier, so we constantly try to put forward individual initiative and individual rights and rewards based upon individual achievement.

SPIEGEL: Earlier, you differentiated between the “virtue” of altruism and the “sin” of individualism. In your book you talk about the “poorer and the better angels” of human nature. Is it helpful to use this kind of terminology?

Wilson: I will admit that using the terminology of “virtue” and “sin” is what poets call a “trope”. That is to say, I wanted the idea in crude form to take hold. Still, a lot of what we call “virtue” has to do with propensities to behave well toward others. What we call “sin” are things that people do mainly out of self-interest.

SPIEGEL: However, our virtues towards others go only so far. Outside groups are mainly greeted with hostility.

Wilson: You are right. People have to belong to a group. That’s one of the strongest propensities in the human psyche and you won’t be able to change that. However, I think we are evolving, so as to avoid war — but without giving up the joy of competition between groups. Take soccer …

SPIEGEL: … or American football.

Wilson: Oh, yes, American football, it’s a blood sport. And people live by team sports and national or regional pride connected with team sports. And that’s what we should be aiming for, because, again, that spirit is one of the most creative. It landed us on the moon, and people get so much pleasure from it. I don’t want to see any of that disturbed. That is a part of being human. We need our big games, our team sports, our competition, our Olympics.

SPIEGEL: “Humans,” the saying goes, “have Paleolithic emotions” …

Wilson: … “Medieval institutions and god-like technology”. That’s our situation, yeah. And we really have to handle that.


Wilson: So often it happens that we don’t know how, also in situations of public policy and governance, because we don’t have enough understanding of human nature. We simply haven’t looked at human nature in the best way that science might provide. I think what we need is a new Enlightenment. During the 18th century, when the original Enlightenment took place, science wasn’t up to the job. But I think science is now up to the job. We need to be harnessing our scientific knowledge now to get a better, science-based self-understanding.

SPIEGEL: It seems that, in this process, you would like to throw religions overboard altogether?

Wilson: No. That’s a misunderstanding. I don’t want to see the Catholic Church with all of its magnificent art and rituals and music disappear. I just want to have them give up their creation stories, including especially the resurrection of Christ.

SPIEGEL: That might well be a futile endeavour …

Wilson: There was this American physiologist who was asked if Mary’s bodily ascent from Earth to Heaven was possible. He said, “I wasn’t there; therefore, I’m not positive that it happened or didn’t happen; but of one thing I’m certain: She passed out at 10,000 meters.” That’s where science comes in. Seriously, I think we’re better off with no creation stories.

SPIEGEL: With this new Enlightenment, will we reach a higher state of humanity?

Wilson: Do we really want to improve ourselves? Humans are a very young species, in geologic terms, and that’s probably why we’re such a mess. We’re still living with all this aggression and ability to go to war. But do we really want to change ourselves? We’re right on the edge of an era of being able to actually alter the human genome. But do we want that? Do we want to create a race that’s more rational and free of many of these emotions? My response is no, because the only thing that distinguishes us from super-intelligent robots are our imperfect, sloppy, maybe even dangerous emotions. They are what makes us human.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Wilson, we thank you for this conversation.

Interview conducted by Philip Bethge and Johann Grolle

The Destruction of Conscience in the National Academy of Sciences (Counter Punch)

FEBRUARY 26, 2013

An Interview With Marshall Sahlins


Last Friday, esteemed University of Chicago anthropologist Marshall Sahlins formally resigned from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the United States’ most prestigious scientific society.

Sahlins states that he resigned because of his “objections to the election of [Napoleon] Chagnon, and to the military research projects of the Academy.” Sahlins was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1991.  He issued the below statement explaining his resignation:

“By the evidence of his own writings as well as the testimony of others, including Amazonian peoples and professional scholars of the region, Chagnon has done serious harm to the indigenous communities among whom he did research.  At the same time, his “scientific” claims about human evolution and the genetic selection for male violence–as in the notorious study he published in 1988 in Science–have proven to be shallow and baseless, much to the discredit of the anthropological discipline. At best, his election to the NAS was a large moral and intellectual blunder on the part of members of the Academy. So much so that my own participation in the Academy has become an embarrassment.

Nor do I wish to be a party to the aid, comfort, and support the NAS is giving to social science research on improving the combat performance of the US military, given the toll that military has taken on the blood, treasure, and happiness of American people, and the suffering it has imposed on other peoples in the unnecessary wars of this century.  I believe that the NAS, if it involves itself at all in related research, should be studying how to promote peace, not how to make war.”

Napoleon Chagnon rose to fame after his fieldwork among the Yanomami (also known as Yanomamo) in the rainforests of northeastern South America’s Orinoco Basin in the 1960s and 70s.  He wrote a bestselling ethnography used in introductory anthropology classes around the world, describing the Yanomami as “the fierce people” because of the high levels of intra- and inter-group warfare observed during his fieldwork, warfare that he would describe as innate and as representing humankind in some sort of imagined natural state.

Chagnon, is currently basking in the limelight of a national book tour, pitching a memoir (Nobel Savages) in which he castes the bulk of American anthropologists as soft-skulled anti-science postmodern cretins embroiled in a war against science.

The truth is that outside of the distortion field of the New York Times and a few other media vortexesthere is no “science war” raging in anthropology.  Instead the widespread rejection of Chagnon’s work among many anthropologists has everything to do with the low quality of his research.  On his blog, Anthropomics, anthropologist Jon Marks recently described Chagnon as an “incompetent anthropologist,” adding:

“Let me be clear about my use of the word “incompetent”.  His methods for collecting, analyzing and interpreting his data are outside the range of acceptable anthropological practices.  Yes, he saw the Yanomamo doing nasty things.  But when he concluded from his observations that the Yanomamo are innately and primordially “fierce”  he lost his anthropological credibility, because he had not demonstrated any such thing.   He has a right to his views, as creationists and racists have a right to theirs, but the evidence does not support the conclusion, which makes it scientifically incompetent.”

The widely shared rejection of Chagnon’s interpretations among anthropologists comes from the shoddy quality of his work and the sociobiological nature of his analysis, not with an opposition to science.

Among Chagnon’s most dogged critics was my dissertation chair, anthropologist Marvin Harris, himself an arch positivist and a staunch advocate of the scientific method, yet Harris rejected Chagnon and his sociobiological findings in fierce academic debates that lasted for decades, not because Harris was anti-science, but because Chagnon was a bad scientist (I should note that Harris and Sahlins also famously feuded over fundamental theoretical differences; yet both shared common ground objecting to the militarization of the discipline, and rejecting Chagnon’s sociobiological work).

I suppose if there really were battles within anthropology between imagined camps embracing and rejecting science, I would be about as firmly in the camp of science as anyone; but if such divisions actually existed, I would be no closer to accepting the validity and reliability (the hallmarks of good science) of Chagnon’s findings than those imagined to reject the foundations of science.

In 2000, there was of course a huge painful crisis within the American Anthropological Association following the publication of Patrick Tierney’s book Darkness in El Dorado, in which numerous accusations of exploitation (and worse) were leveled against Chagnon and other anthropologists working with the Yanomami (see Barbara Rose Johnston’s essay on the José Padilha’s film, Secrets of the Tribe). Without detailing all the twists and turns involved in establishing  the wreckage of Chagnon and the paucity of his claims, suffice it to say that the choice of offering one of the select seats in the National Academy of Sciences’ Section 51 to Dr. Chagnon is an affront to a broad range of anthropologists, be they self-identified as scientists or not.

Marshall Sahlins’ resignation is an heroic stand against the subversion of science to those claiming an innate nature of human violence, and a stand opposing the increasing militarization of science.  While Sahlins’ credentials as an activist opposing the militarization of knowledge are well established—he is widely recognized as the creator of the “teach-in,” organizing the February 1965 University of Michigan teach-in—it still must have been difficult for him to resign this prestigious position.

In late 1965 Sahlins traveled to Vietnam to learn firsthand about the war and the Americans fighting it, work that resulted in his seminal essay “The Destruction of Conscience in Vietnam.”   He became one of the clearest and most forceful anthropological voices speaking out against efforts (in the 1960s and 70s, and in again in post-9/11 America) to militarize anthropology.

In 2009 I was part of a conference at the University of Chicago critically examining renewed efforts by U.S. military and intelligence agencies to use anthropological data for counterinsurgency projects.  Sahlins’ paper at the conference argued that, “in Vietnam, the famous anti-insurgency strategy was search and destroy; here it is research and destroy.  One might think it good news that the military’s appropriation of anthropological theory is incoherent, simplistic and outmoded – not to mention tedious – even as its ethnographic protocols for learning the local society and culture amount to unworkable fantasies. ”

Yesterday, Sahlins sent me an email that had been circulated to NAS Section 51 (Anthropology) members, announcing two new “consensus projects” under sponsorship of the Army Research Institute.  The first project examined “The Context of Military Environments: Social and Organizational Factors,”  the second, “Measuring Human Capabilities: Performance Potential of Individuals and Collectives.”   Reading the announcement of these projects forwarded by Sahlins, it is apparent that the military wants the help of social scientists who can streamline military operations, using social science and social engineering to enable interchangeable units of people working on military projects to smoothly interface.  This seems to be increasingly becoming the role Americans see for anthropologists and other social scientists: that of military facilitator.

Below is the exchange, I had with Sahlins yesterday discussing his resignation, Chagnon’s election to the National Academy of Sciences, and the Academy’s links to military projects.

Price:  How has Chagnon so successfully turned numerous attacks on his ethically troubling research and scientifically questionable methods and findings into what is widely seen as an attack on science itself?

Sahlins: There has been no address of the issues on Chagnon’s part, notably of the criticism of his supposed empirical results, as in the 1988 Science article, and the numerous criticisms from Amazonian anthropologists of his shallow ethnography and villainously distorted portrayal of Yanomami.  These Cro-Chagnon scientists simply refuse to discuss the facts of the ethnographic case.  Instead they issue ad hominem attacks–before it was against the Marxists, now it is the ‘fuzzy-headed humanists.’ Meanwhile they try to make it an ideological anti-science persecution–again ironically as a diversion from discussing the empirical findings.  Meanwhile the serious harm, bodily and emotionally, inflicted on the Yanomami, plus the reckless instigation of war by his field methods, are completely ignored in the name of science. Research and destroy, as I called the method. A total moral copout.

Price: Most of the publicity surrounding your resignation from the National Academy of Sciences focuses either exclusively on Napoleon Chagnon’s election to the Association, or on the supposed “science wars” in anthropology, while little media attention has focused on your statements opposing the NAS’s increasing links to military projects.   What were the reactions within NAS Section 51 to the October 2012 call to members of the Academy to conduct research aimed at improving the military’s mission effectiveness?

Sahlins: The National Association of Science would not itself do the war research. It would rather enlist recruits from its sections–as in the section 51 memos–and probably thus participate in the vetting of reports before publication.  The National Research Council organizes the actual research, obviously in collaboration with the NAS. Here is another tentacle of the militarization of anthropology and other social sciences, of which the Human Terrain Systems is a familiar example. This one as insidious as it is perfidious.

Price: Was there any internal dialogue between members of NAS Section 51 when these calls for these new Army Research Institute funded projects were issued?

Sahlins: I was not privy to any correspondence, whether to the Section officers or between the fellows, if there was any–which I don’t know.

Price: What, if any reaction have you had from other NAS members?

Sahlins: Virtually none. One said I was always opposed to sociobiology

Price: To combine themes embedded in Chagnon’s claims of human nature, and the National Academy of Sciences supporting to social science for American military projects; can you comment on the role of science and scientific societies in a culture as centrally dominated by military culture as ours?

Sahlins: There is a paragraph or two in my pamphlet on The Western Illusion of Human Nature, of which I have no copy on hand, which cites Rumsfeld to the effect (paraphrasing Full Metal Jacket) that inside every Middle eastern Muslim there’s an American ready to come out, a self-interested freedom loving American, and we just have to force it out or force out the demons who are perpetrating other ideas [see page 42 of Sahlins; The Western Illusions of Human Nature].  Isn’t American global policy, especially neo-con policy, based on the confusion of capitalist greed and human nature? Just got to liberate them from their mistaken, externally imposed ideologies. For the alternative see the above mentioned pamphlet on the one true universal, kinship, and the little book I published last month: What Kinship Is–And Is Not.

Price: You mention a desire to shift funding streams from those offering military support, to those supporting peace.  Do you have any insight on how we can work to achieve this shift?

Sahlins:  I have not thought about it, probably because the idea that the National Academy of Sciences would so such a thing is essentially unthinkable today.

There is a rising international response supporting Sahlins’ stance.  Marshall shared with me a message he received form Professor, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, of the National Museum, Rio de Janeiro, in which de Castro wrote,

“Chagnon’s writings on the Yanomami of Amazonia have contributed powerfully to reinforce the worst prejudices against this indigenous people, who certainly do not need the kind of stereotyping pseudo-scientific anthropology Chagnon has chosen to pursue at their cost. The Yanomami are anything but the nasty, callous sociobiological robots Chagnon makes them look – projecting, in all likelihood, his perception of his own society (or personality) onto the Yanomami. They are an indigenous people who have managed, against all odds, to survive in their traditional ways in an Amazonia increasingly threatened by social and environmental destruction. Their culture is original, robust and inventive; their society is infinitely less “violent” than Brazilian or American societies.

Virtually all anthropologists who have worked with the Yanomami, many of them with far larger field experience with this people than Chagnon, find his research methods objectionable (to put it mildly) and his ethnographic characterizations fantastic. Chagnon’s election to the NAS does not do honor to American science nor to anthropology as a discipline, and it also bodes ill to the Yanomami. As far as I am concerned, I deem Chagnon an enemy of Amazonian Indians. I can only thank Prof. Sahlins for his courageous and firm position in support of the Yanomami and of anthropological science.”

We are left to wonder what is to become of science, whether practiced with a capital (at times blind) “S” or a lower case inquisitive variety, when those questioning some its practices, misapplications and outcomes are increasingly marginalized, while those whose findings align with our broader cultural values of warfare are embraced.  The NAS’s rallying around such a divisive figure as Chagnon, demonizing his critics, claiming they are attacking not his practices and theories, but science itself damages the credibility of these scientists.  It is unfortunate that the National Academy of Sciences has backed itself into this corner.

The dynamics of such divisiveness are not unique to this small segment of the scientific community. In his 1966 essay on, “The Destruction of Conscience in Vietnam,” Sahlins argued that to continue wage the war, America had to destroy its own conscience—that facing those destroyed by our actions was too much for the nation to otherwise bare, writing: “Conscience must be destroyed: it has to end at the barrel of a gun, it cannot extend to the bullet.  So all peripheral rationales fade into the background.  It becomes a war of transcendent purpose, and in such a war all efforts on the side of Good are virtuous, and all deaths unfortunate necessary.  The end justifies the means.”

It is a tragic state of affairs when good people of conscience see the only acceptable act before them to be that of resignation; but sometimes the choice of disassociation is the strongest statement one can courageously make.

David Price a professor of anthropology at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Washington. He is the author of Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State published by CounterPunch Books.

‘Noble Savages’: Chagnon’s new book triggers resignation and protests (Survival International)

26 February 2013

Davi Kopenawa, Yanomami spokesperson and shaman, has spoken out against Napoleon Chagnon's new book 'Noble Savages'.

Davi Kopenawa, Yanomami spokesperson and shaman, has spoken out against Napoleon Chagnon’s new book ‘Noble Savages’. © Fiona Watson/Survival

A new book by controversial American anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon has triggered a wave of protests among experts and Yanomami Indians:

  • Marshall Sahlins, ‘the world’s most respected anthropologist alive today’, has resigned from the US National Academy of Sciences in protest at Chagnon’s election to the Academy. Sahlins previously wrote a devastating critique of Chagnon’s work in the Washington Post.
  • Davi Kopenawa, a spokesman for Brazil’s Yanomami and President of the Yanomami association Hutukara, has spoken out about Chagnon’s work: ‘[Chagnon] said about us, ‘The Yanomami are savages!’ He teaches false things to young students. ‘Look, the Yanomami kill each other because of women.’ He keeps on saying this. But what do his leaders do? I believe that some years ago his leader waged a huge war – they killed thousands of children, they killed thousands of girls and boys. These big men killed almost everything. These are the fierce people, the true fierce people. They throw bombs, fire machine guns and finish off with the Earth. We don’t do this…’
  • A large group of anthropologists who have each worked with the Yanomami for many years have issued a statement challenging Chagnon’s assessment of the tribe as ‘fierce’ and ‘violent’. They describe the Yanomami as ‘generally peaceable.’
  • Survival International’s Director Stephen Corry has said, ’Chagnon’s work is frequently used by writers, such as Jared Diamond and Steven Pinker, who want to portray tribal peoples as ‘brutal savages’ – far more violent than ‘us’. But none of them acknowledge that his central findings about Yanomami ‘violence’ have long been discredited.’

Napoleon Chagnon’s autobiography ‘Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes – the Yanomamö and the Anthropologists’, has just been published. His 1968 book ‘Yanomamö: The Fierce People’ portrayed the Yanomami as ‘sly, aggressive and intimidating’, and claimed they ‘live in a state of chronic warfare’. It is still a standard work in undergraduate anthropology.

The Yanomami live in Brazil and Venezuela and are the largest relatively isolated tribe in South America. Their territory is protected by law, but illegal goldminers and ranchers continue to invade their land, destroying their forest and spreading diseases which in the 1980s killed one out of five Brazilian Yanomami.

Napoleon Chagnon's view that the Yanomami are 'sly, aggressive and intimidating' and that they 'live in a state of chronic warfare' has been widely discredited.Napoleon Chagnon’s view that the Yanomami are ‘sly, aggressive and intimidating’ and that they ‘live in a state of chronic warfare’ has been widely discredited. © Fiona Watson/Survival

Chagnon’s work has had far-reaching consequences for the rights of the Yanomami. In the late 1970s, Brazil’s military dictatorship, which was refusing to demarcate the Yanomami territory, was clearly influenced by the characterization of the Yanomami as hostile to each other and in the 1990s, the UK government refused funding for an education project with the Yanomami, saying that any project with the tribe should work on ‘reducing violence’.

Most recently, Chagnon’s work was cited in Jared Diamond’s highly controversial book ‘The World Until Yesterday’, in which he states that most tribal peoples, including the Yanomami, are ’trapped in cycles of violence and warfare’ and calls for the imposition of state control in order to bring them peace.

Survival International’s Director Stephen Corry said today, ‘The greatest tragedy in this story is that the real Yanomami have largely been written out of it, as the media have chosen to focus only on the salacious details of the debate that rages between anthropologists or on Chagnon’s disputed characterizations. In fact, Yanomamö: The Fierce People had disastrous repercussions both for the Yanomami and tribal peoples in general. There’s no doubt it’s been used against them and it has brought the 19th century myth of the ‘Brutal Savage’ back into mainstream thinking.’

Note to editors:
The full statements and additional information about the controversy can be found here.

Ao menos 70% das espécies da Terra são desconhecidas (Fapesp)

Dando início ao Ciclo de Conferências 2013 do BIOTA-FAPESP Educação, Thomas Lewinsohn (Unicamp) falou sobre o tempo e o custo estimado para descrever todas as espécies do planeta (foto:Léo Ramos)


Por Karina Toledo

Agência FAPESP – Embora o conhecimento sobre a biodiversidade do planeta ainda esteja muito fragmentado, estima-se que já tenham sido descritos aproximadamente 1,75 milhão de espécies diferentes de seres vivos – incluindo microrganismos, plantas e animais. O número pode impressionar os mais desavisados, mas representa, nas hipóteses mais otimistas, apenas 30% das formas de vida existentes na Terra.

“Estima-se que existam outros 12 milhões de espécies ainda por serem descobertas”, disse Thomas Lewinsohn, professor do Departamento de Biologia Animal da Universidade Estadual de Campinas (Unicamp), durante a apresentação que deu início ao Ciclo de Conferências 2013 organizado pelo programa BIOTA-FAPESP com o intuito de contribuir para o aperfeiçoamento do ensino de ciência.

Mas como avaliar o tamanho do desconhecimento sobre a biodiversidade? “Para isso, fazemos extrapolações, tomando como base os grupos de organismos mais bem estudados para avaliar os menos estudados. Regiões ou países em que a biota é bem conhecida para avaliar onde é menos conhecida. Por regra de três chegamos a essas estimativas”, explicou.

Técnicas mais recentes, segundo Lewinsohn, usam fórmulas estatísticas sofisticadas e se baseiam nas taxas de descobertas e de descrição de novas espécies. Os valores são ajustados de acordo com a força de trabalho existente, ou seja, o número de taxonomistas em atividade.

“No entanto, o mais importante a dizer é: não há consenso. As estimativas podem chegar a mais de 100 milhões de espécies desconhecidas. Não sabemos nem a ordem de grandeza e isso é espantoso”, disse.

Lewinsohn avalia que, para descrever todas as espécies que se estima haver no Brasil, seriam necessários cerca de 2 mil anos. “Para descrever todas as espécies do mundo o número seria parecido. Mas não temos esse tempo”, disse.

Algumas técnicas recentes de taxonomia molecular, como código de barras de DNA, podem ajudar a acelerar o trabalho, pois permitem identificar organismos por meio da análise de seu material genético. Por esse método, cadeias diferentes de DNA diferenciam as espécies, enquanto na taxonomia clássica a classificação é baseada na morfologia dos seres vivos, o que é bem mais trabalhoso.

“Dá para fazer? Sim, mas qual é o custo?”, questionou Lewinsohn. Um artigo publicado recentemente na revista Science apontou que seriam necessários de US$ 500 milhões a US$ 1 bilhão por ano, durante 50 anos, para descrever a maioria das espécies do planeta.

Novamente, o número pode assustar os desavisados, mas, de acordo com Lewinsohn, o montante corresponde ao que se gasta no mundo com armamento em apenas cinco dias. “Somente em 2011 foram gastos US$ 1,7 trilhão com a compra de armas. É preciso colocar as coisas em perspectiva”, defendeu.

Definindo prioridades

Muitas dessas espécies desconhecidas, porém, podem desaparecer do planeta antes mesmo que o homem tenha tempo e dinheiro suficiente para estudá-las. Segundo dados apresentados por Jean Paul Metzger, professor do Instituto de Biociências da Universidade de São Paulo (USP), mais de 50% da superfície terrestre já foi transformada pelo homem.

Essa alteração na paisagem tem muitas consequências e Metzger abordou duas delas na segunda apresentação do dia: a perda de habitat e a fragmentação.

“São conceitos diferentes, que muitas vezes se confundem. Fragmentação é a subdivisão de um habitat e pode não ocorrer quando o processo de degradação ocorre nas bordas da mata. Já a construção de uma estrada, por exemplo, cria fragmentos isolados dentro do habitat”, explicou.

Para Metzger, a fragmentação é a principal ameaça à biodiversidade, pois altera o equilíbrio entre os processos naturais de extinção de espécies e de colonização. Quanto menor e mais isolado é o fragmento, maior é a taxa de extinção e menor é a de colonização.

“Cada espécie tem uma quantidade mínima de habitat que precisa para sobreviver e se reproduzir. Não conhecemos bem esses limiares de extinção”, alertou.

Metzger acredita que esse limiar pode variar de acordo com a configuração da paisagem, ou seja, quanto mais fragmentado estiver o habitat, maior o risco de extinção de espécies. Como exemplo, ele citou as áreas remanescentes de Mata Atlântica do Estado de São Paulo, onde 95% dos fragmentos têm menos de 100 hectares.

“Estima-se que ao perder 90% do habitat, deveríamos perder 50% das espécies endêmicas. Na Mata Atlântica, há cerca de 16% de floresta remanescente. O esperado seria uma extinção em massa, mas nosso registro tem poucos casos. Ou nossa teoria está errada, ou não estamos detectando as extinções, pois as espécies nem sequer eram conhecidas”, afirmou Metzger.

Há, no entanto, um fator complicador: o período de latência entre a mudança na estrutura paisagem e mudança na estrutura da comunidade. Enquanto as espécies com ciclo curto de vida podem desaparecer rapidamente, aquelas com ciclo de vida longo podem responder à perda de habitat em escala centenária.

“Cria-se um débito de extinção e, mesmo que a alteração na paisagem seja interrompida, algumas espécies ficam fadadas a desaparecer com o tempo”, disse Metzger.

Mas a boa notícia é que as paisagens também se regeneram naturalmente e além do débito de extinção existe o crédito de recuperação. O período de latência representa, portanto, uma oportunidade de conservação.

“Hoje, temos evidências de que não adianta restaurar em qualquer lugar. É preciso definir áreas prioritárias para restauração que otimizem a conectividade e facilitem o fluxo biológico entre os fragmentos”, defendeu Metzger.

Colhendo frutos

Ao longo dos 13 anos de existência do BIOTA-FAPESP, a definição de áreas prioritárias de conservação e de recuperação no Estado de São Paulo foi uma das principais preocupações dos pesquisadores.

Os resultados desses estudos foram usados pela Secretaria Estadual do Meio Ambiente para embasar políticas públicas, como lembrou o coordenador do programa e professor do Instituto de Biologia da Unicamp, Carlos Alfredo Joly, na terceira e última apresentação do dia.

“Atualmente, pelo menos 20 instrumentos legais, entre leis, decretos e resoluções, citam nominalmente os resultados do BIOTA-FAPESP”, disse Joly.

Entre 1999 e 2009, disse o coordenador, houve um investimento anual de R$ 8 milhões no programa. Isso ajudou a financiar 94 projetos de pesquisa e resultou em mais de 700 artigos publicados em 181 periódicos, entre eles Nature e Science.

A equipe do programa também publicou 16 livros e dois atlas, descreveu mais de 2 mil novas espécies, produziu e armazenou informações sobre 12 mil espécies, disponibilizou e conectou digitalmente 35 coleções biológicas paulistas.

“Desde que foi renovado o apoio da FAPESP ao programa, em 2009, a questão da educação se tornou prioridade em nosso plano estratégico. O objetivo deste ciclo de conferências é justamente ampliar a comunicação com públicos além do meio científico, especialmente professores e estudantes”, disse Joly.

A segunda etapa do ciclo de palestras está marcada para 21 de março e terá como tema o “Bioma Pampa”. No dia 18 de abril, será a vez do “Bioma Pantanal”. Em 16 de maio, o tema será “Bioma Cerrado”. Em 20 de junho, será abordado o “Bioma Caatinga”.

Em 22 de agosto, será o “Bioma Mata Atlântica”. Em 19 de setembro, é a vez do “Bioma Amazônia”. Em 24 de outubro, o tema será “Ambientes Marinhos e Costeiros”. Finalizando o ciclo, em 21 de novembro, o tema será “Biodiversidade em Ambientes Antrópicos – Urbanos e Rurais”.

Programação do ciclo:

India’s rice revolution (The Guardian)

In a village in India’s poorest state, Bihar, farmers are growing world record amounts of rice – with no GM, and no herbicide. Is this one solution to world food shortages?

John Vidal in Bihar, India

The Observer, Saturday 16 February 2013 21.00 GMT

Sumant Kumar

Sumant Kumar photographed in Darveshpura, Bihar, India. Photograph: Chiara Goia for Observer Food Monthly

Sumant Kumar was overjoyed when he harvested his rice last year. There had been good rains in his village of Darveshpura in north-eastIndia and he knew he could improve on the four or five tonnes per hectare that he usually managed. But every stalk he cut on his paddy field near the bank of the Sakri river seemed to weigh heavier than usual, every grain of rice was bigger and when his crop was weighed on the old village scales, even Kumar was shocked.

This was not six or even 10 or 20 tonnes. Kumar, a shy young farmer in Nalanda district of India’s poorest state Bihar, had – using only farmyard manure and without any herbicides – grown an astonishing 22.4 tonnes of rice on one hectare of land. This was a world record and with rice the staple food of more than half the world’s population of seven billion, big news.

It beat not just the 19.4 tonnes achieved by the “father of rice”, the Chinese agricultural scientist Yuan Longping, but the World Bank-funded scientists at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, and anything achieved by the biggest European and American seed and GM companies. And it was not just Sumant Kumar. Krishna, Nitish, Sanjay and Bijay, his friends and rivals in Darveshpura, all recorded over 17 tonnes, and many others in the villages around claimed to have more than doubled their usual yields.

The villagers, at the mercy of erratic weather and used to going without food in bad years, celebrated. But the Bihar state agricultural universities didn’t believe them at first, while India’s leading rice scientists muttered about freak results. The Nalanda farmers were accused of cheating. Only when the state’s head of agriculture, a rice farmer himself, came to the village with his own men and personally verified Sumant’s crop, was the record confirmed.

A tool used to harvest riceA tool used to harvest rice. Photograph: Chiara Goia

The rhythm of Nalanda village life was shattered. Here bullocks still pull ploughs as they have always done, their dung is still dried on the walls of houses and used to cook food. Electricity has still not reached most people. Sumant became a local hero, mentioned in the Indian parliament and asked to attend conferences. The state’s chief minister came to Darveshpura to congratulate him, and the village was rewarded with electric power, a bank and a new concrete bridge.

That might have been the end of the story had Sumant’s friend Nitish not smashed the world record for growing potatoes six months later. Shortly after Ravindra Kumar, a small farmer from a nearby Bihari village, broke the Indian record for growing wheat. Darveshpura became known as India’s “miracle village”, Nalanda became famous and teams of scientists, development groups, farmers, civil servants and politicians all descended to discover its secret.

When I meet the young farmers, all in their early 30s, they still seem slightly dazed by their fame. They’ve become unlikely heroes in a state where nearly half the families live below the Indian poverty line and 93% of the 100 million population depend on growing rice and potatoes. Nitish Kumar speaks quietly of his success and says he is determined to improve on the record. “In previous years, farming has not been very profitable,” he says. “Now I realise that it can be. My whole life has changed. I can send my children to school and spend more on health. My income has increased a lot.”

What happened in Darveshpura has divided scientists and is exciting governments and development experts. Tests on the soil show it is particularly rich in silicon but the reason for the “super yields” is entirely down to a method of growing crops called System of Rice (or root) Intensification (SRI). It has dramatically increased yields with wheat, potatoes, sugar cane, yams, tomatoes, garlic, aubergine and many other crops and is being hailed as one of the most significant developments of the past 50 years for the world’s 500 million small-scale farmers and the two billion people who depend on them.

People work on a rice field in BiharPeople work on a rice field in Bihar. Photograph: Chiara Goia

Instead of planting three-week-old rice seedlings in clumps of three or four in waterlogged fields, as rice farmers around the world traditionally do, the Darveshpura farmers carefully nurture only half as many seeds, and then transplant the young plants into fields, one by one, when much younger. Additionally, they space them at 25cm intervals in a grid pattern, keep the soil much drier and carefully weed around the plants to allow air to their roots. The premise that “less is more” was taught by Rajiv Kumar, a young Bihar state government extension worker who had been trained in turn by Anil Verma of a small Indian NGO called Pran (Preservation and
Proliferation of Rural Resources and Nature), which has introduced the SRI method to hundreds of villages in the past three years.

While the “green revolution” that averted Indian famine in the 1970s relied on improved crop varieties, expensive pesticides and chemical fertilisers, SRI appears to offer a long-term, sustainable future for no extra cost. With more than one in seven of the global population going hungry and demand for rice expected to outstrip supply within 20 years, it appears to offer real hope. Even a 30% increase in the yields of the world’s small farmers would go a long way to alleviating poverty.

“Farmers use less seeds, less water and less chemicals but they get more without having to invest more. This is revolutionary,” said Dr Surendra Chaurassa from Bihar’s agriculture ministry. “I did not believe it to start with, but now I think it can potentially change the way everyone farms. I would want every state to promote it. If we get 30-40% increase in yields, that is more than enough to recommend it.”

The results in Bihar have exceeded Chaurassa’s hopes. Sudama Mahto, an agriculture officer in Nalanda, says a small investment in training a few hundred people to teach SRI methods has resulted in a 45% increase in the region’s yields. Veerapandi Arumugam, the former agriculture minister of Tamil Nadu state, hailed the system as “revolutionising” farming.

SRI’s origins go back to the 1980s in Madagascar where Henri de Laulanie, a French Jesuit priest and agronomist, observed how villagers grew rice in the uplands. He developed the method but it was an American, professor Norman Uphoff, director of the International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development at Cornell University, who was largely responsible for spreading the word about De Laulanie’s work.

Given $15m by an anonymous billionaire to research sustainable development, Uphoff went to Madagascar in 1983 and saw the success of SRI for himself: farmers whose previous yields averaged two tonnes per hectare were harvesting eight tonnes. In 1997 he started to actively promote SRI in Asia, where more than 600 million people are malnourished.

“It is a set of ideas, the absolute opposite to the first green revolution [of the 60s] which said that you had to change the genes and the soil nutrients to improve yields. That came at a tremendous ecological cost,” says Uphoff. “Agriculture in the 21st century must be practised differently. Land and water resources are becoming scarcer, of poorer quality, or less reliable. Climatic conditions are in many places more adverse. SRI offers millions of disadvantaged households far better opportunities. Nobody is benefiting from this except the farmers; there are no patents, royalties or licensing fees.”

Rice seedsRice seeds. Photograph: Chiara Goia

For 40 years now, says Uphoff, science has been obsessed with improving seeds and using artificial fertilisers: “It’s been genes, genes, genes. There has never been talk of managing crops. Corporations say ‘we will breed you a better plant’ and breeders work hard to get 5-10% increase in yields. We have tried to make agriculture an industrial enterprise and have forgotten its biological roots.”

Not everyone agrees. Some scientists complain there is not enough peer-reviewed evidence around SRI and that it is impossible to get such returns. “SRI is a set of management practices and nothing else, many of which have been known for a long time and are best recommended practice,” says Achim Dobermann, deputy director for research at the International Rice Research Institute. “Scientifically speaking I don’t believe there is any miracle. When people independently have evaluated SRI principles then the result has usually been quite different from what has been reported on farm evaluations conducted by NGOs and others who are promoting it. Most scientists have had difficulty replicating the observations.”

Dominic Glover, a British researcher working with Wageningen University in the Netherlands, has spent years analysing the introduction of GM crops in developing countries. He is now following how SRI is being adopted in India and believes there has been a “turf war”.

“There are experts in their fields defending their knowledge,” he says. “But in many areas, growers have tried SRI methods and abandoned them. People are unwilling to investigate this. SRI is good for small farmers who rely on their own families for labour, but not necessarily for larger operations. Rather than any magical theory, it is good husbandry, skill and attention which results in the super yields. Clearly in certain circumstances, it is an efficient resource for farmers. But it is labour intensive and nobody has come up with the technology to transplant single seedlings yet.”

But some larger farmers in Bihar say it is not labour intensive and can actually reduce time spent in fields. “When a farmer does SRI the first time, yes it is more labour intensive,” says Santosh Kumar, who grows 15 hectares of rice and vegetables in Nalanda. “Then it gets easier and new innovations are taking place now.”

In its early days, SRI was dismissed or vilified by donors and scientists but in the past few years it has gained credibility. Uphoff estimates there are now 4-5 million farmers using SRI worldwide, with governments in China, India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam promoting it.

Sumant, Nitish and as many as 100,000 other SRI farmers in Bihar are now preparing their next rice crop. It’s back-breaking work transplanting the young rice shoots from the nursery beds to the paddy fields but buoyed by recognition and results, their confidence and optimism in the future is sky high.

Last month Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz visited Nalanda district and recognised the potential of this kind of organic farming, telling the villagers they were “better than scientists”. “It was amazing to see their success in organic farming,” said Stiglitz, who called for more research. “Agriculture scientists from across the world should visit and learn and be inspired by them.”

A man winnows rice in Satgharwa villageA man winnows rice in Satgharwa village. Photograph: Chiara Goia

Bihar, from being India’s poorest state, is now at the centre of what is being called a “new green grassroots revolution” with farming villages, research groups and NGOs all beginning to experiment with different crops using SRI. The state will invest $50m in SRI next year but western governments and foundations are holding back, preferring to invest in hi-tech research. The agronomist Anil Verma does not understand why: “The farmers know SRI works, but help is needed to train them. We know it works differently in different soils but the principles are solid,” he says. “The biggest problem we have is that people want to do it but we do not have enough trainers.

“If any scientist or a company came up with a technology that almost guaranteed a 50% increase in yields at no extra cost they would get a Nobel prize. But when young Biharian farmers do that they get nothing. I only want to see the poor farmers have enough to eat.”

Janet Chernela Interview with Davi Kopenawa (Affinities Blog)

Published 23 FEBRUARY 2013

Janet Chernela Interview with Davi Kopenawa
Recorded in Demini, Parima Mountain Range, Brazil
June 7, 2001

This interview was conducted June 7, 2001, in the Yanomami village of Demini, Parima Highlands, Brazil. I had known Davi, who is a recognized spokesperson on indigenous affairs, through prior meetings in New York and in Brazil. Arrangements for the interview were made through CCPY, a Brazilian non-governmental organization working on behalf of the Yanomami. In this I relied on long-term contacts with CCPY and their abilities to reach Davi by radio. (Individuals who provided assistance included Marcos Wesley de Oliveira, Bruce Albert, Gale Gomez, and Ari Weidenshadt.) Although Davi now lives in Demini, he is from Totoobi, where, as a child of 9 he was vaccinated by the Neel team. Davi’s comments about the period of the Neel collections must be understood as childhood recollections. In the measles epidemic of 1968 Davi lost his mother and siblings. He and his older sister are the only remaining members of his immediate family. Both recall having supplied blood to the researchers. As you will see in the interview, they are not concerned with the whereabouts of their own blood as they are the whereabouts of the blood of their deceased relatives.

I invited Davi to participate in what I call “reciprocal interviewing” — that is, he could interview me as I could interview him. You will see that he exercises his privilege toward the end of the interview. He understood that he was invited to speak to the American Anthropological Assocation in this interview, and refers to the Association in the course of his talk.

Davi and I spoke in Portuguese. The interview was recorded on audio and video-tape, and later translated from tapes into English. Paragraphs, titles, and bracketed comments were added. Since Portuguese is not first language to either of us, it is not clear that the word choices were ideal. In some cases I included Davi’s choice of Portuguese term.

The publication of Patrick Tierney’s Darkness in El Dorado is dated Jan. 17, 2002; an English-language copy was circulating on the internet about six months prior to its publication. At the time of the interview no Spanish or Portuguese version yet existed. A number of anthropologists had discussed the Tierney book with Davi before my arrival. Among these were Bruce Albert, Leda Martins, and an anthropologist whose name Davi could not recall. That anthropologist may have been Javier Carrera Rubio, a Venezuelan anthropologist who worked briefly for CCPY. I was accompanied in this interview by Ari Weidenshadt of CCPY, who participated actively in the discussion. For an understanding of events in 1968 the interview should be evaluated in light of documents that have been released since it was conducted. The words of Davi Yanomami, however, continue to have resonance beyond the past to include the enterprise of anthropological research, in general. The implications for globalization, cultural rights, and morality, are far-reaching.


While walking to the shabono, a circular, thatch-roofed communal dwelling, I can overhear Ari speaking to Davi in the distance. Through my tape-recorder, I first hear Davi:

Davi: “hunt, tapir, monkey…bringing relatives together…call together people to kill the guy who killed own member…remembering, crying, everyone is…Everyone goes there, they paint themselves. Prepare arrows. Get together alot of people — 50 Yanomami. They go to another shabono. Bring food, arrows, sleep in the forest. Next day get closer, and sleep close to the shabono. So they know..they will be avenged. At dawn, the enemy approaches. While people are sleeping inside, they wait…then when people go out to urinate — tchong! They strike with arrows. Arrows. Everyone wakes up, grabs his bow and arrows [and flees]. Everyone is running. They run out another exit, shootong as they go. There are three types of fighting. This is the third. THIS is war.

Janet: Does this actually happen?

Davi: Yes.

Janet: Did it happen in your lifetime?

Davi: Yes. I know about it because when I was small my uncle carried out alot of wars like this.

Janet: So it no longer occurs?

Davi: No, no one does this anymore. The warriors died. We are their children and we don’t make war. You can’t fight any more.

Janet: Is that group in Surucucú fighting?

Davi: Yes, they are fighting there. Because there they killed alot of people — they killed the headman of Surucucú so they [group from Surucucú] went over to Moxavi and killed the headman over there. The headman of Surucucú was a valiant warrior and a hard worker. He was an honest person. So his children avenged his death and killed the headman of Moxavi. Now it’s calm.

Janet: Where are the children today?

Davi: They are over there in Surucucú — Xerimú, Vinice, Hakoma, Tarimú Davi’s comments about the period of the Neel collections must be understood as the recollections of a child at the time., they are in Surucucú — enemies of Moxavi. Three groups are friends: Piris, Surucucú, Arawapu.

Janet: How many people live in Surucucú Davi’s comments about the period of the Neel collections must be understood as the recollections of a child at the time?

Davi: Thirty-something people, divided. The group that is making war is four hours walk away. They stopped fighting — they had to go back to work in their gardens. Food began to run out — there were no more bananas because they were afraid to leave the house to work in the gardens. They were afraid that people from Moxavi would attack. They are using fire arms over there at Surucucú [army post in Brazil near Venezuelan border].

Janet: How did they get these fire arms?

Davi: They got them from the goldminers who invaded our land.

Janet: Are there Yanomami in the army base at Surucucú Davi’s comments about the period of the Neel collections must be understood as the recollections of a child at the time?

Davi: No. In the beginning they [government] wanted that. They called Yanomami to serve in the army base. But no. Life in the armed forces isn’t a good thing. It’s very bad. It’s another kind of work — another fight. So they went back. They continue to be Yanomami. You must be who you are, the way you are. If not, you will suffer alot. It will be wrong. You will do many things wrong.

Janet: In Homoxi do they have war?

Davi: I don’t know. The Escurimuteri were allies of the Wahakuwu and they are enemies of people of Thirei and Homoxi [villages I visited in 2000].

Janet: Do people of Thirei use shotguns?

Davi: Yes.

Janet: From where did they get them?

Davi: From the miners.

Formal Interview: Davi on the book Darkness in El Dorado by Patrick Tierney

Davi: An anthropologist entered Yanomami lands in Venezuela. Many people know about this. …This book told stories about the Yanomami and it spread everywhere. So I remembered it when our friend [unnamed anthropologist] mentioned his name. When that young man spoke the name I remembered. We called him Waru. He was over there in Hasabuiteri… Shamatari…A few people — Brazilian anthropologists — are asking me what I think about this.

Anthropologists who enter the Yanomami area — whether Brazil or Venezuela — should speak with the people first to establish friendships; speak to the headman to ask for permissions; arrange money for flights. Because nabu (the white) doesn’t travel without money. Nabu doesn’t travel by land. Only by plane. It’s very far. So he’s very far away, this anthropologist who worked among the Shamatari. Those people are different.

He arrived, like you, making conversation, taking photos, asking about what he saw. He arrived as a friend, without any fighting. But he had a secret. You can sleep in the shabono, take photos, I’m not saying no. It’s part of getting to know us.
But, later what happened was this. After one or two months he started to learn our language. Then he started to ask questions, “Where did we come from, who brought us here?” And the Yanomami answered, we are from right here! This is our land! This is where Omam placed us. This is our land. Then the anthropologist wanted to learn our language. I know a little Shamatari, but not much. So, he stayed there in the shabono, and he thought it was beautiful. He thanked the headman and he took some things with him. He brought pans, knives, machetes, axes. And so he arrived ready, ready to trick the Yanomami. This is how the story goes. I was small at the time…[pointing to a boy] like this..about nine. I remember. I remember when people from there came to our shabono. They said, “A white man is living over there. He speaks our language, he brings presents, hammocks.” They said that he was good, he was generous. He paid people in trade when he took photos, when he made interviews, [or] wrote in Portuguese [likely Spanish], English, and Yanomami, and taperecording too. But he didn’t say anything to me. [tape changes here]

An anthropologist should really help, as a friend. He shouldn’t deceive. He should defend…defend him when he is sick, and defend the land as well…saying “You should not come here — the Yanomami are sick.” If a Yanomami gets a cold, he can die. But he didn’t help with this. The first thing that interested him was our language. So today, we are hearing — other Yanomami are talking about it — people from Papiu, Piri, and here. People of Tootobi — my brothers-in-law — they also are talking about the American anthropologist who worked in Hasabuiteri. He wrote a book. When people made a feast and afterward a fight happened, the anthropologist took alot of photos and he also taped it. This is how it began. The anthropologist began to lose his fear — he became fearless. When he first arrived he was afraid. Then he developed courage. He wanted to show that he was brave. If the Yanomami could beat him, he could beat them. This is what the people in Tootobi told us. I am here in Watorei, but I am from Tootobi. I am here to help these people. So I knew him. He arrived speaking Yanomami. People thought he was Yanomami. There was also a missionary. He didn’t help either. They were friends. That’s how it was. He accompanied the Yanomami in their feasts…taking [the hallucinogen] ebena, and after, at the end of the feast, the Yanomami fought. They beat on one anothers’ chests with a stone, breaking the skin. This anthropologist took photos. And so he saved it, he “kept” the fight. So, after, when the fight was over, and the Yanomami lay down in their hammocks, in pain, the anthropologist recorded it all on paper. He noted it all on paper. He wrote what he saw, he wrote that the Yanomami fought. He thought it was war. This isn’t war, no! But he wrote without asking the people in the community. You have to ask first. He should have asked, “Yanomami, why are you fighting? You are fighting, hitting your very brother.” He should have helped us to stop fighting. But he didn’t. He’s no good.

I will explain.

The nabu [whites] think that every type of fighting is war. But there are three kinds of fighting [as follows].

Ha’ati kayu [titles were added later]: the chest fight to relieve anger. Let’s say your relatives take a woman. So you get angry. The Yanomami talk and form a group to fight against the other group that took the woman. So they make a feast. They call him [the relative that took the woman.] They hold him and use this club [gesturing to indicate a length about a foot long] to hit him on the chest. This club-striking is not war. It’s fighting. So, let’s say this guy took my woman. I become his enemy. So I hit him here [pointing to chest]. I want to cause him pain. He can hit me too. This club is not war. It’s to get rid of a mess in the community. Then there’s the headman. What does the headman do? He says, “OK, you have already fought. Now stop this.” So they stop. This fight doesn’t kill anyone.

Xeyu. There’s another kind of fight, Xeyu. Let’s say I have a friend who speaks badly of me. He might say I’m a coward, or he might say I’m no good. So he has to fight my relatives, my family. I have ten brothers. So I can decide whether he’s a man, whether he has courage. So we call friends from other shabonos and set a date. We go into the forest and make a small clearing for the fight, so people can see that we are angry. We take this weapon — it’s a long stick — about 10 ms long. So everyone is there. I’m here, and the enemy is there. Everyone is ready to hit. When I hit the enemy he hits me as well. My brother hits his brother and his brother hits mine back. This is how we fight [two lines with people fighting in pairs].

Janet: How does it end?

Davi: When everyone is covered with blood — heads bloodied, everyone beaten. So the headman says, ‘OK, enough. We’ve already shed blood. So, it’s over. This isn’t war either, no.

Janet: It’s not war. But it includes one group lined up on one side, and another on the other — yes?

Davi: Yes. One group of brothers or the members of a shabono in one line and the other brothers in another line.

Davi: Then there is another kind of fight with a club that’s about a meter long — Genei has one. Everyone gathers and stands in the center of the shabono. The enemy comes over. But again the headman is there. He says, ‘you can’t hit here, you can’t hit here [gesturing] — you can only hit here — in the middle of the head. It doesn’t kill anyone.

Yaimu, Noataiyu, Nakayu, Wainakayu, Bulayu. But if you hit in the wrong place, he can die. So, if this happens, a brother will grab an arrow and go after the one who killed his brother. They will both die — the first with club, the second with arrow. So, what happens? The relatives of the man killed with the club carry the body to the shabono. They take it there. They put it in the fire, burn it, gather the ashes and remaining bones and pound them into powder. They put the ash in a calabash bowl. His father, his mother, his brothers, all of his relatives sit there at the edge of the fire, crying. So the warrior thinks. If they have ten warriors, all angry, they are going to avenge the death. So the father may say, “Look, they killed my son with a club, not with arrow.” He can stop the fighting right there and then. Or, he can say, “Now we will kill them with arrows.” Then they would get all their relatives and friends from the shabono and nearby communities. They make a large feast, bringing everyone together. We call this Yaimu, Noataiyu, Nakayu, Wainakayu, Bulayu. Then they get manioc bread [beiju] and offer food to everyone. Everyone is friends — the enemies are way over there. Then they leave together. The women stay in the house, and the warriors leave to make war. They cover themselves in black paint. This is war. This is war: Waihu, Ni’aiyu. Waihu, Ni’aiyu, Niaplayu, Niyu aiyu. Then, at about nine or ten o’clock at night they start walking. These warriors are going to sleep at about 5 AM. In the forest they make a small lean-to of saplings. The next day they leave again. They are nearing the enemy. After tomorrow they are there. They don’t arrive in the open — they sneak up on the shabono. They move in closer about 3 or 4 in the morning. The enemies are sleeping in the shabono. The warriors arrive just as the sun is coming up. This is ‘fighting with arrows’ — Waihu, Ni’aiyu, Niaplayu, Niyu aiyu. These are war — war with arrows, to kill. He [the enemy] can be brother, cousin, uncle.

Janet: Is it vengeance?

Davi: It is vengeance.

Davi: So this Chagnon, he was there; he accompanied it. He took photographs, he recorded on tape, and he wrote on paper. He wrote down the day, the time, the name of the shabono, the name of the local descent group. He put down these names. But he didn’t ask us. So we are angry. He worked. He said that the Yanomami are no good, that the Yanomami are ferocious. So this story, he made this story. He took it to the United States. He had a friend who published it. It was liked. His students thought that he was a courageous man, an honest man, with important experience.

Janet: What is the word for courageous?

Davi: Waiteri. He is waiteri because he was there. He is waiteri because he was giving orders. He ordered the Yanomami to fight among themselves. He paid with pans, machetes, knives, fishooks.

Janet: Is this the truth or this is what is being said?

Davi: It’s the truth.

Janet: He paid directly or indirectly?

Davi: No, he didn’t pay directly. Only a small part. The life of the indian that dies is very expensive. But he paid little. He made them fight more to improve his work. The Yanomami didn’t know his secret.

Janet: But why did he want to make the Yanomami fight?

Davi: To make his book. To make a story about fighting among the Yanomami. He shouldn’t show the fights of the others. The Yanomami did not authorize this. He did it in the United States. He thought it would be important for him. He became famous. He is speaking badly about us. He is saying that the Yanomami are fierce, that they fight alot, that they are no good. That the Yanomami fight over women.

Janet: It is not because of women.

Davi: It’s not over women that we go to war.

Janet: It’s not over women that one goes to war with arrows?

Davi: It’s not over women that we go to war with arrows. It is because of male warriors that kill other male warriors.
Janet: to avenge the death?

Davi: [Yes,] to avenge. I no longer think that the Yanomami should authorize every anthropologist who appears. Because these books come out in public.

I ask if he has message.

Davi: I don’t know the anthropologists of the United States. If they want to help, if …you whites use the judicial process ..
Janet: Would you like to send a message to the American Anthropological Association?


Davi: I would like to speak to the young generation of anthropologists. Not to the old ones who have already studied and think in the old ways. I want to speak to the anthropologists who love nature, who like indigenous people — who favor the planet earth and indigenous peoples. This I would like. This is new, clean, thinking. To write a new book that anyone would like, instead of speaking badly about indigenous peoples. There must be born a new anthropologist who is in favor of a new future. And the message I have for him is to work with great care. If a young anthropologist enters here in Brazil or Venezuela, he should work like a friend. Arrive here in the shabono. He should say, “I am an anthropologist; I would like to learn your language. After, I would like to teach you.” Tell us something of the world of the whites. The world of the whites is not good. It is good, but it is not all good. There are good people and bad people. So, “I am an anthropologist here in the shabono, defending your rights and your land, your culture, your language, don’t fight among yourselves, don’t kill your own relatives.”

We already have an enemy among us — it is disease. This enemy kills indeed. It is disease that kills. We are all enemies of disease. So the anthropologist can bring good messages to the Indian. They can understand what we are doing, we can understand what they are doing. We can throw out ideas to defend the Yanomami, even by helping the Yanomami understand the ways of the whites to protect ourselves. They cannot speak bad of the Yanomami. They can say, “The Yanomami are there in the forest. Let’s defend them. Let’s not allow invasions. Let’s not let them die of disease.” But not to use the name of the indian to gain money. The name of the Indian is more valuable than paper. The soul of the Indian that you capture in your image is more expensive than the camera with which you shoot it. You have to work calmly. You have to work the way nature works. You see how nature works. It rains a little. The rain stops. The world clears. This is how you have to work, you anthropologists of the United States.

I never studied anything. But I am a shaman, hekura. So I have a capacity to speak in Yanomami and to speak in Portuguese. But I can’t remember all the Portuguese words.

Ari: You have to be clear, this is important.

Davi: To repeat, Chagnon is not a good friend of our relatives. He lived there, but he acted against other relatives. He had alot of pans. I remember the pans. Our relatives brought them from there. They were big and they were shallow. He bought them in Venezuela. When he arrived [at the village], and called everyone together, he said, [Yanomami]…”That shabono, three or four shabonos,” as if it were a ball game. “Whoever is the most courageous will earn more pans. If you kill ten more people I will pay more. If you kill only two, I will pay less.” Because the pans came from there. They arrived at Wayupteri, Wayukupteri, and Tootobi. Our relatives came from Wayupteri and said, “This Chagnon is very good. He gives us alot of utensils. He is giving us pans because we fight alot.”

Janet: They killed them and they died?

Davi: Yes. Because they used poison on the point of the arrow. This isn’t good. This kills. Children cried; fathers, mothers, cried. Only Chagnon was happy. Because in his book he says we are fierce. We are garbage. The book says this; I saw it. I have the book. He earned a name there, Watupari. It means king vulture — that eats decaying meat. We use this name for people who give alot of orders. He smells the indians and decides where he will land on the earth. He ordered the Yanomami to fight. He never spoke about what he was doing.

Davi: And, the blood. If he had been our friend he would not have helped the doctor of the United States. He would have said, you can go to the Yanomami. The Yanomami don’t kill anyone — only when you order them to. Chagnon brought the doctors there, he interpreted because the Yanomami don’t speak English. When the doctor requested something he translated it. So when the doctor wanted to take blood, Chagnon translated it. But he didn’t explain the secret. We didn’t know either — no one understood the purpose of giving blood; no one knew what the blood had inside it. …

After, the missionaries who lived in Totoobi spoke to my uncle, my father-in-law. He said, “Look, this doctor would like to take your blood; will you permit it?” And the Yanomami said, “Yes.” He agreed because he would receive pans — pans, machetes.

Janet: But he didn’t explain why?

Davi: The Yanomami was just supposed to give blood and stand around looking. He didn’t talk about malaria, flu, tuberculosis, or dysentery. He said nothing about these things. But he took alot of blood. He even took my blood. With a big bottle like this. He put the needle here [pressing the veins of his inner arm]; put it here, the rubber tube over here. He took alot! I was about nine or ten. He arrived there in Totoobi with the doctor. Chagnon translated. The missionaries, Protestants, lived there in Totoobi. They camped there. They slept there. And they ordered us to call other relatives: there were three shabonos. They called everyone together. Husband, wife, and children, altogether. They always took the blood of one family together. They took my mother’s blood. They took my uncle’s blood. My father had already died. And me. And my sister. She remembers it too. It was a bottle — a big one — like this. He put a needle in your arm and the blood came out. He paid with matihitu– machete, fishhooks, knives. The doctor asked him to speak for him. He translated. He would say, “Look, this doctor wants you to allow him to take your blood.” And the Yanomami understood and allowed it. The missionaries who lived there hardly helped. They were mimahodi, innocents.

Janet: The law controls this now.

Davi: Nobody can do this anymore. So now we are asking about this blood that was taken from us without explanation, without saying anything, without the results. We want to know the findings. What did they find in the blood — information regarding disease? What was good? Our relatives whose blood was taken are now dead. My mother is dead; our uncles, our relatives have died. But their blood is in the United States. But some relatives are still alive. Those survivors are wondering — “What have the doctors that are studying our blood found? What do they think? Will they send us a message? Will they ask authorization to study and look at our blood?” I think that Yanomami blood is O positive. Is it useful in their bodies? If that’s the case, and our blood is good for their bodies — then they’ll have to pay. If it helped cure a disease over there, then they should compensate us. If they don’t want to pay, then they should consider returning our blood. To return our blood for our terahonomi. If he doesn’t want to return anything, then lawyers will have to resolve the issue. I am trying to think of a word that whites do…sue. If he doesn’t want to pay, then we should sue. If he doesn’t want a suit, then he should pay. Whoever wants to use it, can use it. But they’ll have to pay. It’s not their blood. We’re asking for our blood back. If they are going to use our blood then they have to pay us.

Janet: I don’t know where it is. It may be in a university.

Davi: The blood of the Yanomami can’t stay in the United States. It can’t. It’s not their blood.

Janet: So this is a request for those who have stored the blood?

Davi: I am speaking to them. You take this recording to them. You should explain this to them. You should ask them, “What do you Nabu think?” In those days no one knew anything. Even I didn’t know anything. But now I am wanting to return to the issue. My mother gave blood. Now my mother is dead. Her blood is over there. Whatever is of the dead must be destroyed. Our customs is that when the Yanomami die, we destroy everything. To keep it, in a freezer, is not a good thing. He will get sick. He should return the Yanomami blood; if he doesn’t, he [the doctor] and his children will become ill; they will suffer.

Janet: Were there repercussions in the area of medical services after this book came out?

Davi: No. FUNAI used to bring in vaccines. When they stopped the government health agency, FUNASA, took over. Now it’s [the NGO] URIHI. They have ten posts in the region and bring vaccines to all the villages. Each post has an employee.

Janet: Are these services only on the Brazilian side of the border?

Davi: Only in Brazil.

Janet: Is that why Yanomami from Venezuela frequent the URIHI posts?

Davi: Yes. Here we have a chief. The president of Brazil. He is bad, but he is also good. He provides a little money for us to get medicines. He provides airplanes and nurses to bring vaccinations and treatments from Boa Vista all the way here. The Brazilian government is now helping — somewhat. It’s not very much, but it is something. We in Brazil are very concerned about our Venezuelan relatives. Because over there people are dying — many people — from malaria, flu.

Ari: I am talking about the epidemic of measles in 1968. I am asking Davi if this began before or after the arrival of Neel and Chagnon.

Davi: I think it began before their arrival. Many were dying. After they took blood, many died. So this missionary, Kitt, went to Manaus. He went to Manaus and there his daughter became ill with measles. She picked up measles in Manaus. At first they didn’t know it was measles. They took a plane from Manaus to Boa Vista and from there to Totoobi. She arrived sick there, all three — father, mother and child. Then they realized that it was measles. So they asked us to please stay away from them. He said, “If you get measles you will all die. Please stay far away.” They had no vaccine in those days. A Yanomami entered to greet her and he ordered the Yanomami to leave. But he had already caught it. So then the missionary spoke to us all, saying, “Look, you can’t come to our house because my daughter is ill with measles. Stay in your house.” It didn’t accomplish anything. The disease spread. It went to the shabono. Everyone began to get sick, and to die. Three nearby shabonos — each of them with people ill and dying. My uncle was the first to die. Then my mother died. Another sister, uncle, cousin, nephew. Many died. I was very sick but I didn’t die. I think Omam protected me to give this testimony. My sister and I remained.

Janet: Your uncle died, your nephew, your mother…

Davi: uncle, nephew, mother, relatives…So, later [when the road opened], we died also. This place was part of Catrimani. When the road [BR 210, Perimetral Norte] was open, there were MANY people here. Most died then of measles. Only a few survived [he recalls the names of the survivors] — only ten men survived. I was here [working with FUNAI at the time], we brought vaccines for the measles epidemic then. These things happened in our land…FUNAI didn’t take care of us before the road opened.

Janet: What years are we discussing?

Davi: 1976, no 1975.

Ari: The road went from the Wai Wai to the mission at Catrimani.

Davi: They had roads BR 210-215.

Ari: After it was closed the forest reclaimed the road.

Janet: When was it closed?

Davi: After the invasion of the garimpeiros.

Janet: Did the garimpeiros come in this far by road?

Davi: Yes. We would try to stop them. I once got everyone together to go to the road with bows and arrows to block the entrance. I said, this isn’t a place for miners. We won’t allow it. I said if you want to mine, it had better be far from here, because if you stay here you will die here. Our warriors are angry. So they left. I invented all that so they would leave and they did. So they passed by. There were more than 150 — more people than we had.

Janet: Is there a word for “warrior” in Yanomami?

Davi: Yes, waiteri.

Janet: Waiteri means warrior.

Davi: Yes; waiteri is courageous, brave. Those that aren’t are horebu.

Janet: And that means..?

Davi: Scared, fearful, weak.

Janet: Do these concepts have power still today?

Davi: No. This fight isn’t going on any more. But we are still waiteri. No one controls us. Here, we control ourselves. And there are some warriors. There’s one over there in Ananebu. A waiteri is over there in Ananebu, in the forest. Here at home, in THIS shabono, we are all cowards [chuckles].

Davi Interviews Janet

Davi: I want to ask you about these American anthropologists. Why are they fighting among themselves? Is it because of this book? Is this book bad? Did one anthropologist like it and another one say it’s wrong?

Janet: First, in the culture of anthropologists there is a type of fighting. This fight comes out in the form of publications. One anthropologist says, ‘things are like this,’ the other one says, ‘no, things are like this.’ So, after Chagnon’s book came out he received many criticisms from other anthropologists. Some said, this should not be called war. Just as you said. But Chagnon provided a definition of war and continued to use that word. This was one of the criticisms made by anthropologists. After this there were others, and these debates went on in the publications and in conferences. In the year 1994 there was a conference in which anthropologists debated the anthropology of Chagnon and others among the Yanomami. In 1988-89, when there was a struggle over demarcation of Yanomami lands and the Brazilian government favored demarcation in island fragments, the anthropologists of Brazil criticized Chagnon’s image of the Yanomami as “fierce,” saying it served the interests of the military in limiting Yanomami land rights. At that time the American Anthropological Association did not have explicit ethical guidelines. At that point they formed a committee to develop guidelines for ethical fieldwork and a committee of human rights. Now, with the book by Tierney and the support of anthropologists who have had criticisms of Chagnon, the issue was brought before the Association. This raises questions about the ethical conduct of anthropologists.

Davi: But will the anthropologists resolve this problem?

Janet: They will demand that anthropologists conform to the norms of the newly revised ethics. They will explicitly clarify the obligations of the anthropologists.

Ari: In 1968 when Chagnon worked, there was no code of ethics of the Association.

Davi: What about the taking of blood?

Janet: Performing any experimentation has been controlled by the medical profession since 1971. It is now prohibited to involve people in experiments without their explicit authorization. They must be made completely aware of the advantages and disadvantages, and all purposes. They must decide whether they will agree or disagree to participate. Nowadays, this consent has to be in writing or taped.

Davi: This Yanomami blood is going to stay there? Or will they return the blood?

Janet: I don’t know. It must be in a blood bank, perhaps at the University of Michigan.

Ari: Chagnon [once] proposed an exchange between the Universidade Federal of Roraima and the University of California at Santa Barbara. He was proposing a collaboration in human genetics with a graduate student in biology. She worked with DNA. He invited her there. Her name is Sylvana Fortes. She is now doing a doctorate at FIUCRUZ in Rio de Janeiro. Another issue in this dispute is Darwinian evolutionism. Is this the idea of the impact of the environment on man?

Davi: I don’t like this, no. I don’t like these anthropologists who use the name of the Yanomami on paper, in books. One doesn’t like it. Another says its wrong. For us Yanomami, this isn’t good. They are using our name as if we were children. The name Yanomami has to be respected. It’s not like a ball to throw around, to play with, hitting from one side to another. The name Yanomami refers to the indigenous peoples of Brazil and Venezuela. It must be respected. This name is authority. It is an old name. It is an ancient name. These anthropologists are treating us like animals — as they would fish or birds. Omam created us first. We call him Omam. He created earth, forest, trees, birds, river, this earth. We call him Omam. After him, he called us Yanomami [Yan-Omam-i]. So it must be respected. No one uses it on paper to fight — they have to respect it. It is our name and the name of our land. They should speak well of us. They should say, “These Yanomami were here first in Brazil and Venezuela.” They should respect us! They should also say that we preserve our land. Yanomami know how to conserve, to care for their lands. Yanomami never destroyed the earth. I would like to read this. Speaking well of Omam, and of the Yanomami. This would be good. But if they are going to go on fighting like this–I think that the head of the anthropologists has money …

Ari: But Tierney’s book, even as it criticizes Chagnon, has become a major seller. He is earning money selling his book because of the theme. …

Davi: Bruce Albert, Alcida Ramos are not Yanomami. You have to call the very Yanomami, to hear them speak. Look, Alcida speaks Sanuma. Chagnon speaks Shamatari. And Bruce speaks our language. So there are three anthropologists who can call three Yanomami to speak at this meeting. The anthropologists should ask us directly. The Yanomami can speak his own language. These anthropologists can translate. They have to hear our language. They have to hear us in our own language. What does the Yanomami think? What does the Yanomami think is beautiful? You have to ask the Yanomami themselves. These people are making money from the Yanomami name. Our name has value. They are playing with the name of an ancient people. I don’t know alot about politics. But I see and hear that an anthropologist is becoming famous. Famous — why? Some think its good. So he became famous, like a chief. So among them nothing will be resolved. One becomes famous, the other one [his critic] becomes famous, and they go on fighting among themselves and making money…

Janet: Did you know Tierney?

Davi: I met him in Boa Vista. I went to his house. He didn’t say anything to me about what he was doing. So, Chagnon made money using the name of the Yanomami. He sold his book. Lizot too. I want to know how much they are making each month. How much does any anthropologist earn? And how much is Patrick making? Patrick must be happy. This is alot of money. They may be fighting but they are happy. They fight and this makes them happy. They make money and fight.

Janet: Yes; the anthropologists are fighting. Patrick is a journalist.

Davi: Patrick left the fight to the others! He can let the anthropologists fight with Chagnon, and he, Patrick, he’s outside, he’s free. He’s just bringing in the money — he must be laughing at the rest. Its like starting a fight among dogs. Then they fight, they bark and he’s outside. He spoke bad of the anthropologist — others start fighting, and he’s gaining money! The name Yanomami is famous [and valuable] — more famous than the name of any anthropologist. So he’s earning money without sweating, without hurting his hands, without the heat of the sun. He’s not suffering. He just sits and writes, this is great for him. He succeeded in writing a book that is bringing in money. Now he should share some of this money with the Yanomami. We Yanomami are here, suffering from malaria, flu, sick all the time. But he’s there in good health — just spending the money that he gained in the name of the Yanomami Indians.

Ari: One American had patented the name Yanomami on the internet.

Davi: She was using our name for an internet site or to write a book and earn US$20,000. A Canadian working for CCPY discovered this. My friend explained that they are using the name of the Yanomami without requesting authorization. I said I didn’t like it. So I sent her a letter. She was an American journalist. So she stopped. So I was able to salvage the name of the Yanomami. … They have alot of names. They don’t know the trunk and the roots of the Yanomami. They only know the name. But the trunk and the roots of the Yanomami, they don’t know. They don’t know where we were born, how we were born, who brought us here. Without knowing these things, no one can use the name.

I am speaking to the American Anthropology Association. They are trying to clean up this problem. They should bring three Yanomami to their meeting. There are three anthropologists who understand our three languages: Chagnon, Alcida, and Bruce. These anthropologists could translate. We could speak, and people could ask questions of us. I could go myself, but it would be best to have three from Venezuela, or four, perhaps one from Brazil. They need to see our faces. Alcida doesn’t look like a Yanomami. Nor do Bruce or Chagnon. They don’t have Yanomami faces. The Americans will believe us if they see us. I went to the United States during the fight against the goldminers. They believed me. For this reason, I say, it’s important to go there and speak to them. … This is a fight between men who make money.

I ask what the appropriate form of compensation for an anthropology interview, and he says money. “That way he can buy what he wants — pan, machete, axe, line, fishing hooks. It is good to speak to Yanomami. If you give money to the whites, they put it in their pocket. Nabu loves money. It’s for this reason that the nabu are fighting. Its not for him, for friends, its for money.”

Jungle Fever: Marshall Sahlins on Napoleon Chagnon and the Darkness in El Dorado controversy (The Washington Post)

Internet Source: The Washington Post, BOOK WORLD; Pg. X01, December 10, 2000

Jungle Fever

Marshall Sahlins

How Scientists and Journalists
Devastated the Amazon
By Patrick Tierney
Norton. 417 pp. $ 27.95

Guilty not as charged.

Well before it reached the bookstores, Patrick Tierney’s Darkness in El Dorado set off a flurry of publicity and electronic debate over its allegations that, at about the same time American soldiers were carrying out search-and-destroy missions in the jungles of Vietnam, American scientists were doing something like research-and-destroy by knowingly spreading disease in the jungles of Amazonia. On closer examination, the alleged scientific horror turned out to be something less than that, even as it was always the lesser part of Tierney’s book. By far the greater part is the story, sufficiently notorious in its own right, of the well-known anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon: of his work among the Yanomami people of Venezuela and his fame among the science tribe of America.

The pre-publication sound and fury, however, concerned the decorated geneticist and physician the late James Neel–for whose researches in the upper Orinoco during the late 1960s and early 1970s Chagnon had served as a jungle advance man and blood collector. Sponsored by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), Neel’s investigations were designed to establish mutation rates in a population uncontaminated by nuclear radiation for comparison with the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But according to Tierney, Neel also had another agenda: He wanted to test an original theory of immunity-formation in a “virgin soil” population, exposed for the first time to a devastating foreign disease. Hence the sensational chapter on “The Outbreak,” where Tierney alleges that Neel abetted, if not created, a deadly measles epidemic by inoculating Yanomami Indians with an outmoded type of vaccine known to cause severe reactions. Or so it says in the original review galleys of the book.

But by the time Darkness in El Dorado was published, it was already in a second, revised edition, one that qualified some of Tierney’s more sensational claims in the galley proofs of “The Outbreak.” Tierney is an investigative journalist, and critical aspects of his original indictment of Neel took the form of well-documented speculation, leaving plenty of space for the heated exchanges by e-mail and Internet that ensued among respectable scholars who for the most part hadn’t read the book. These hasty incriminations and recriminations created their own versions of what Neel had done–and, accordingly, criticisms of Tierney that had nothing to do with what he had said. Still, it became clear enough that Neel could not have originated or spread genuine measles by the vaccine he administered. Tierney then revised the conclusion of the relevant chapter in the published version, making the vaccine issue more problematic–and to that extent, the chapter self-contradictory. Other issues, such as whether Neel was doing some kind of experiment that got out of hand, remain unresolved as of this writing.

The brouhaha in cyberspace seemed to help Chagnon’s reputation as much as Neel’s, for in the fallout from the latter’s defense many academics also took the opportunity to make tendentious arguments on Chagnon’s behalf. Against Tierney’s brief that Chagnon acted as an anthro-provocateur of certain conflicts among the Yanomami, one anthropologist solemnly demonstrated that warfare was endemic and prehistoric in the Amazon. Such feckless debate is the more remarkable because most of the criticisms of Chagnon rehearsed by Tierney have been circulating among anthropologists for years, and the best evidence for them can be found in Chagnon’s writings going back to the 1960s.

The ’60s were the longest decade of the 20th century, and Vietnam was the longest war. In the West, the war prolonged itself in arrogant perceptions of the weaker peoples as instrumental means of the global projects of the stronger. In the human sciences, the war persists in an obsessive search for power in every nook and cranny of our society and history, and an equally strong postmodern urge to “deconstruct” it. For his part, Chagnon writes popular textbooks that describe his ethnography among the Yanomami in the 1960s in terms of gaining control over people.

Demonstrating his own power has been not only a necessary condition of Chagnon’s fieldwork, but a main technique of investigation. In a scientific reprise of a losing military tactic, he also attempted to win the hearts and minds of the people by a calculated redistribution of material wealth, and in so doing, managed to further destabilize the countryside and escalate the violence. Tierney quotes a prominent Yanomami leader: “Chagnon is fierce. Chagnon is very dangerous. He has his own personal war.” Meanwhile, back in California a defender of Chagnon in the e-mail battles has lauded him as “perhaps the world’s most famous living social anthropologist.” The Kurtzian narrative of how Chagnon achieved the political status of a monster in Amazonia and a hero in academia is truly the heart of Darkness in El Dorado. While some of Tierney’s reporting has come under fire, this is nonetheless a revealing book, with a cautionary message that extends well beyond the field of anthropology. It reads like an allegory of American power and culture since Vietnam.

“I soon learned that I had to become very much like the Yanomami to be able to get along with them on their terms: sly, aggressive, and intimidating,” Chagnon writes in his famous study Yanomamo: The Fierce People. This was not the usual stance toward fieldwork in the 1960s, when the anthropologist already enjoyed the protection of the colonial masters. Chagnon was working in the Amazonian Wild West, populated by small, independent and mobile communities in uneasy relations of alliance and hostility that could readily escalate to death by poisoned arrow. Moreover, when Chagnon began to collaborate with biological scientists, his fieldwork became highly peripatetic itself, and highly demanding of the Yanomami’s compliance. By 1974, he had visited 40 to 50 villages in less than as many months, collecting blood, urine and genealogies–a tour punctuated by stints of filmmaking with the noted cineaste Timothy Asch. Hitting-and-running, Chagnon did fieldwork in the mode of a military campaign.

This helps explain why many other anthropologists who have done longer and more sedentary work in particular Yanomami villages, including former students and colleagues of Chagnon, have disavowed his one-sided depiction of the Yanomami as “a fierce people.” “The biggest misnomer in the history of anthropology,” said anthropologist Kenneth Good of Chagnon’s use of that phrase in the title of his popular textbook.

Good and other Yanomami specialists make it clear that the supreme accolade of Yanomami personhood–the term waiteri that Chagnon translates as “fierce people”–involves a subtle combination of valor, humor and generosity. All of these, moreover, are reciprocal relations. One should return blow for blow, and Chagnon is hardly the only male anthropologist to get into dust-ups with Yanomami warriors. But according to his own account, while Chagnon readily joined the negative game of holding one’s ground, he knowingly brought contempt on himself by refusing to be generous with food. Continuous food-sharing is a basic criterion of humanity for Yanomami, the material foundation of their sociality.

Needing blood and information quickly, Chagnon would announce his visits to a village in the guise of a Yanomami warrior: dressed only in loincloth, body painted red, feathered–and carrying a shotgun. His field kits have been known to contain chemical mace and an electric stun gun. He tried to cultivate a reputation for dangerous magical power by engaging in narcotic shamanistic seances. When someone stole from him, he got children to inform on the thief; then he returned the favor by carrying off the latter’s hammock until he got his stuff back. But when it came to the reciprocity of food sharing, he protested that he could not feed the whole village. On the contrary, he disgusted curious Yanomami by telling them the canned frankfurters he was eating were animal penises, and peanut butter likewise was just what it looked like. Unselfconsciously, he acknowledges that his unwillingness to share food generously or widely made him “despicable in their eyes.”

“The next morning,” he writes, “I began the delicate task of identifying everyone by name and numbering them with indelible ink to make sure that everyone had only one name and identity.” Chagnon inscribed these indelible identification numbers on people’s arms–barely 20 years after World War II.

But he indeed had a delicate problem. He badly needed to know the people’s names and their genealogies. This information was indispensable to the AEC biological studies. He was also engaged in an absurdist anthropological project, which he took seriously, of finding ancestor-based lineage institutions among a people who by taboo could not know, could not trace and could not name their ancestors–or for that matter, could not bear to hear their own names. To utter people’s names in their presence is the gravest offense, a horror: “In battle they shout out the name because they are enemies.” As for the dead, they are completely excluded from Yanomami society, ritually as well as verbally, as a necessary condition of the continued existence of the living. But for the sake of science, Chagnon had to know–and so set in motion an opposition between their humanity and his epistemology that developed progressively through his professorial career.

Chagnon invented draconian devices for getting around the name taboos. He exploited animosities within the village to induce some people to tell on others. He “bribed” (his quotation marks) children to disclose names when their elders were not around. Most productive of all, he went to enemy villages to get people’s genealogies, and then confirmed the information by seeing if they got angry when he recited the names to their faces. By the early 1970s Chagnon had collected some 10,000 Yanomami names, including 7,000 names of the dead. It must have caused a lot of pain and hate.

Collecting names and blood was destabilizing not only for the insults it required, but because Chagnon was buying these with large payments of machetes, axes, utensils and other steel trade goods. These were prize objects of Yanomami desire, but not simply because of their economic advantages. The history of native Americans is too often written as if there had to be a white man behind every red man. Incorporating the foreign technology in their own cultural order, the Yanomami became the authors of its distinctive historical effects. They placed imported steel in the highest category of their own hierarchy of values, together with their most precious things, a position to which the foreign objects were entitled because of their analogous associations with marvelous powers–in this case, European powers. Surely steel was useful, but its utility was transcendent, beyond the ways Yanomami knew of making or controlling things. And as signs and means of power, the foreign goods were engaged in the fundamental transactions of a native Yanomami system of alliance and competition. They were materials of feasting, marriage payments, trading, making alliances, attracting followers, sorcerizing and much more. More than producing food, trade goods produced and reproduced Yanomami culture, hence every kind of satisfaction the Yanomami know. Accordingly, the foreign goods themselves became objects of native competition–as did their human sources, notably Napoleon Chagnon.

Chagnon was not the only outsider whose distribution of steel goods plunged him in a maelstrom of Yanomami violence, although it’s doubtful that any other anthropologist became so involved in participant-instigation. “The distribution of trade goods,” as Chagnon observed early on, “would always anger people who did not receive something they wanted, and it was useless to try and work any longer in the village.” Yet moving could only generate further contention, now among the villages so favored and disfavored by Chagnon’s presence. Hostilities thus tracked the always-changing geopolitics of Chagnon-wealth, including even pre-emptive attacks to deny others access to him. As one Yanomami man recently related to Tierney: “Shaki [Chagnon] promised us many things, and that’s why other communities were jealous and began to fight against us.”

Movie-making was an additional mode of provocation, especially when Chagnon and Timothy Asch used wealth to broker alliances among previously hostile groups for that purpose. The allies were then disposed to cement their newfound amity by combining in magical or actual raids on Yanomami third parties. Deaths from disease were also known to follow filming, prompting Tierney to observe that Chagnon and Asch were being awarded prizes for “the greatest snuff films of all time.”

Over time, the demands on Chagnon’s person and goods became more importuning and aggressive, to which he would respond with an equal and opposite display of machismo. (“He glared at me with naked hatred in his eyes, and I glared back at him in the same fashion.”) Soon enough he had good reason to fear for his life, by magical as well as physical attack–including the time when some erstwhile Yanomami friends shot arrows into an effigy of him. Yet Chagnon also knew how to mobilize his own camp. Early on, he fostered what was to become a life-long sociology of conflicts whose “basic logic,” as Tierney put it, saw “Yanomami villages opposed to Chagnon attacking those villages that received him.”

By 1976, however, Chagnon’s ethnography had cost him official anthropological support in Caracas, and for nearly a decade he was unable to secure a permit to resume fieldwork. In 1985, when he did return, in the company of one of his students, the latter reported they were greeted by a crowd of Indians shouting the Yanomami version of “Chagnon go home!” In 1989 Chagnon was again kept out because the law required that foreign researchers collaborate with Venezuelan scientists, and, as he complained to a missionary whose help he sought, “the local anthropologists do not like me.” Bereft of legitimate support, Chagnon returned in 1990 under the dubious aegis of Cecelia Matos, the mistress of then-president of Venezuela, and one Charles Brewer Carias, a self-proclaimed naturalist, known opponent of Indian land rights and entrepreneur with a reputation for illegal gold mining. The trio had concocted a scheme to create a Yanomami reserve and scientific biosphere in 6,000 square miles of the remote Siapa Highlands, to be directed by Brewer and Chagnon and subsidized by a foundation set up by Matos. According to Tierney, Brewer had his eye on rich tin resources in Yanomami territory. In an intensified repetition of a now-established pattern, the huge amount of goods that military aircraft ferried in for the project helped set off the bloodiest war in Yanomami history, with Chagnon’s people pitted against a coalition of Yanomami opponents, directed by a charismatic leader of their own.

In three years, the scheme collapsed. Matos was eventually indicted for corruption, in part for her role in commandeering military support for the reserve caper, and she remains a fugitive from Venezuelan justice. In September 1993, in the wake of huge protests that followed from their appointment as administrators of the reserve, Chagnon and Brewer were expelled from Yanomami territory by judicial decree. (Among the protesters were the 300 Indians representing 19 tribes at the first Amazon Indian Congress, who took to the streets against Chagnon and Brewer in the town of Porto Ayachuco.) An army colonel escorted Chagnon to Caracas and advised him to leave the country, which he did forthwith.

In America anyhow, he suffered no such indignities. On the contrary, the more unwanted Chagnon became in the Venezuelan jungle, the more celebrated he was in American science. The day before his last expulsion from Yanomami land, the New York Academy of Sciences held a special meeting devoted to his work.

In the course of Chagnon’s career, the further away he got from any sort of anthropological humanism, the more he became a natural scientist. (This could be a lesson for us all.) Whatever the accusations of ferocity and inhumanity made against his ethnography, he increasingly justified it by claims of empirical-scientific value. So he was able to answer his growing chorus of critics by the scientific assertion that they were “left-wing anthropologists,” “anti-Darwinian romantics” and other such practitioners of the “politically correct.” One might say that Chagnon made a scientific value of the belligerence in which he was entangled, elevating it to the status of the sociobiological theory that human social evolution positively selects for homicidal violence. Whatever the other consolations of this theory, it brought Chagnon the massive support of prominent sociobiologists. The support remained constant right through the fiasco that attended his attempt in 1988 to prove the reproductive (hence genetic) advantages of killing in the pages of Science.

The truth claims of the argument presented by Chagnon in Science may have had the shortest half-life of any study ever published in that august journal. Chagnon set out to demonstrate statistically that known killers among the Yanomami had more than twice as many wives and three times as many children as non-killers. This would prove that humans (i.e., men) do indeed compete for reproductive advantages, as sociobiologists claimed, and homicidal violence is a main means of the competition. Allowing the further (and fatuous) assumption that the Yanomami represent a primitive stage of human evolution, Chagnon’s findings would support the theory that violence has been progressively inscribed in our genes.

But Chagnon’s statistics were hardly out before Yanomami specialists dismembered them by showing, among other things, that designated killers among this people have not necessarily killed, nor have designated fathers necessarily fathered. Many more Yanomami are known as killers than there are people killed because the Yanomami accord the ritual status of man-slayer to sorcerers who do death magic and warriors who shoot arrows into already wounded or dead enemies. Anyhow, it is a wise father who knows his own child (or vice versa) in a society that practices wife-sharing and adultery as much as the Yanomami do. Archkillers, besides, are likely to father fewer children inasmuch as they are prime targets for vengeance, a possibility Chagnon conveniently omitted from his statistics by not including dead fathers of living children. Nor did his calculations allow for the effects of age, shamanistic attainments, headship, hunting ability or trading skill–all of which are known on ethnographic grounds to confer marital advantages for Yanomami men.

Supporters of Chagnon, and lately Chagnon himself, have defended his sociobiology by referring to several other studies showing that men who incarnate the values of their society, whatever these values may be, have the most sex and children. Even granting this to be true–except for our society, where the rich get richer but the poor get children–this claim only demonstrates that the genetic impulses of a people are under the control of their culture rather than the other way around. For dominant cultural values vary from society to society, even as they may change rapidly in any given society. There is no universal selective pressure for violence or any other genetic disposition, nor could genes track the behavioral values varying rapidly and independently of them. It follows that what is strongly selected for in human beings is the ability to realize innate biological dispositions in a variety of meaningful ways, by a great number of cultural means. Violence may be inherently satisfying, but we humans can make war on the playing fields of Eton, by sorcery, by desecrating the flag or a thousand other ways of “kicking butt,” including writing book reviews. What evolution has allowed us is the symbolic capacity to sublimate our impulses in all the kinds of cultural forms that human history has known.

In time, Chagnon became a legend of ferocity in the Amazon. Representations of him grew more monstrous in proportion to the scale of the struggles he provoked, and even his trade goods were poisoned with the memories of death. Tierney reports that shamans now portray his cameras, guns, helicopters and blood-collecting equipment as machinery of black magic, the products of a factory of xawara wakeshi, the deadly smoke of disease.

Yet in America, the scientific doctors accord the sociobiological gases emanating from this same technology the highest esteem, worthy of hours and hours of inhalation in the rooms of the New York Academy of Sciences. On college campuses across the country, Chagnon’s name is a dormitory word. His textbooks have sold in the millions. In the huge undergraduate courses that pass for education in major universities, his prize-winning films are able to hold late adolescents spellbound by primitivizing, hence, eternalizing, their own fascination with drugs, sex and violence. America.

Marshall Sahlins is the Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology emeritus at the University of Chicago. He is the author of the just- published essay collection “Culture in Practice.

Chemicals, Risk And The Public (Chicago Tribune)

April 29, 1989|By Earon S. Davis

The public is increasingly uncomfortable with both the processes and the results of government and industry decision-making about chemical hazards.

Decisions that expose people to uncertain and potentially catastrophic risks from chemicals seem to be made without adequate scientific information and without an appreciation of what makes a risk acceptable to the public.

The history of environmental and occupational health provides myriad examples in which entire industries have acted in complete disregard of public health risks and in which government failed to act until well after disasters were apparent.

It is not necessary to name each chemical, each debacle, in which the public was once told the risks were insignificant, but these include DDT, asbestos, Kepone, tobacco smoke, dioxin, PCBs, vinyl chloride, flame retardants in children`s sleepware, Chlordane, Alar and urea formaldehyde foam. These chemicals were banned or severely restricted, and virutally no chemical has been found to be safer than originally claimed by industry and government.

It is no wonder that government and industry efforts to characterize so many uncertain risks as “insignificant“ are met with great skepticism. In a pluralistic, democratic society, acceptance of uncertainty is a complex matter that requires far more than statistical models. Depending upon cultural and ethical factors, some risks are simply more acceptable than others.

When it comes to chemical risks to human health, many factors combine to place a relatively higher burden on government and industry to show social benefits. Not the least of these is the unsatisfactory track record of industry and its regulatory agencies.

Equally important are the tremendous gaps in scientific knowledge about chemically induced health effects, as well as the specific characteristics of these risks.

Chemical risks differ from many other kinds because, not only are the victims struck largely at random, but there is usually no way to know which illnesses are eventually caused by a chemical. There are so many poorly understood illnesses and so many chemical exposures which take many years to develop that most chemical victims will not even be identified, let alone properly compensated.

To the public, this difference is significant, but to industry it poses few problems. Rather, it presents the opportunity to create risks and yet remain free of liability for the bulk of the costs imposed on society, except in the rare instance where a chemical produces a disease which does not otherwise appear in humans.

Statutes of limitations, corporate litigiousness, inability or unwillingness of physicians to testify on causation and the sheer passage of time pose major obstacles to chemical victims attempting to receive compensation.

The delayed effects of chemical exposures also make it impossible to fully document the risks until decades after the Pandora`s box has been opened. The public is increasingly afraid that regulators are using the lack of immediately identified victims as evidence of chemical safety, which it simply is not.

Chemical risks are different because they strike people who have given no consent, who may be completely unaware of danger and who may not even have been born at the time of the decision that led to their exposure. They are unusual, too, because we don`t know enough about the causes of cancer, birth defects and neurological and immunologic disorders to understand the real risks posed by most chemicals.

The National Academy of Sciences has found that most chemicals in commerce have not even been tested for many of these potential health effects. In fact, there are growing concerns of new neurologic and chemical sensitivity disorders of which almost nothing is known.

We are exposed to so many chemicals that there is literally no way of estimating the cumulative risks. Many chemicals also present synergistic effects in which exposure to two or more substances produces risks many times greater than the simple sum of the risks. Society has begun to see that the thousands of acceptable risks could add up to one unacceptable generic chemical danger.

The major justification for chemical risks, given all of the unknowns and uncertainties, is an overriding benefit to society. One might justify taking a one-in-a-million risk for a product that would make the nation more economically competitive or prevent many serious cases of illness. But such a risk may not be acceptable if it is to make plastic seats last a little longer, to make laundry 5 percent brighter or lawns a bit greener, or to allow apples to ripen more uniformly.

These are some of the reasons the public is unwilling to accept many of the risks being forced upon it by government and industry. There is no “mass hysteria“ or “chemophobia.“ There is growing awareness of the preciousness of human life, the banal nature of much of what industry is producing and the gross inadequacy of efforts to protect the public from long-term chemical hazards.

If the public is to regain confidence in the risk management process, industry and government must open up their own decision-making to public inquiry and input. The specific hazards and benefits of any chemical product or byproduct should be explained in plain language. Uncertainties that cannot be quantified must also be explained and given full consideration. And the process must include ethical and moral considerations such as those addressed above. These are issues to be decided by the public, not bureaucrats or corporate interests.

For industry and government to regain public support, they must stop blaming “ignorance“ and overzealous public interest groups for the concern of the publc and the media.

Rather, they should begin by better appreciating the tremendous responsibility they bear to our current and future generations, and by paying more attention to the real bottom line in our democracy: the honest, rational concerns of the average American taxpayer.

Why Are Environmentalists Taking Anti-Science Positions? (Yale e360)

22 OCT 2012

On issues ranging from genetically modified crops to nuclear power, environmentalists are increasingly refusing to listen to scientific arguments that challenge standard green positions. This approach risks weakening the environmental movement and empowering climate contrarians.

By Fred Pearce

From Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring to James Hansen’s modern-day tales of climate apocalypse, environmentalists have long looked to good science and good scientists and embraced their findings. Often we have had to run hard to keep up with the crescendo of warnings coming out of academia about the perils facing the world. A generation ago, biologist Paul Ehrlich’sThe Population Bomb and systems analysts Dennis and Donella Meadows’The Limits to Growth shocked us with their stark visions of where the world was headed. No wide-eyed greenie had predicted the opening of an ozone hole before the pipe-smoking boffins of the British Antarctic Survey spotted it when looking skyward back in 1985. On issues ranging from ocean acidification and tipping points in the Arctic to the dangers of nanotechnology, the scientists have always gotten there first — and the environmentalists have followed.

And yet, recently, the environment movement seems to have been turning up on the wrong side of the scientific argument. We have been making claims that simply do not stand up. We are accused of being anti-science — and not without reason. A few, even close friends, have begun to compare this casual contempt for science with the tactics of climate contrarians.

That should hurt.

Three current issues suggest that the risks of myopic adherence to ideology over rational debate are real: genetically modified (GM) crops, nuclear power, and shale gas development. The conventional green position is that we should be opposed to all three. Yet the voices of those with genuine environmental credentials, but who take a different view, are being drowned out by sometimes abusive and irrational argument.

In each instance, the issue is not so much which side environmentalists should be on, but rather the mind-set behind those positions and the tactics adopted to make the case. The wider political danger is that by taking anti-scientific positions, environmentalists end up helping the anti-environmental sirens of the new right.

The issue is not which side environmentalists should be on, but rather the mind-set behind their positions.

Most major environmental groups — from Friends of the Earth to Greenpeace to the Sierra Club — want a ban or moratorium on GM crops, especially for food. They fear the toxicity of these “Frankenfoods,” are concerned the introduced genes will pollute wild strains of the crops, and worry that GM seeds are a weapon in the takeover of the world’s food supply by agribusiness.

For myself, I am deeply concerned about the power of business over the world’s seeds and food supply. But GM crops are an insignificant part of that control, which is based on money and control of trading networks. Clearly there are issues about gene pollution, though research suggesting there is a problem is still very thin. Let’s do the research, rather than trash the test fields, which has been the default response of groups such as Greenpeace, particularly in my home country of Britain.

As for the Frankenfoods argument, the evidence is just not there. As the British former campaigner against GMs, Mark Lynas, points out: “Hundreds of millions of people have eaten GM-originated food without a single substantiated case of any harm done whatsoever.”

The most recent claim, published in September in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, that GM corn can produced tumors in rats, has been attacked as flawed in execution and conclusion by a wide range of experts with no axe to grind. In any event, the controversial study was primarily about the potential impact of Roundup, a herbicide widely used with GM corn, and not the GM technology itself.

Nonetheless, the reaction of some in the environment community to the reasoned critical responses of scientists to the paper has been to claim a global conspiracy among researchers to hide the terrible truth. One scientist was dismissed on the Web site GM Watch for being “a longtime member of the European Food Safety Authority, i.e. the very body that approved the GM corn in question.” That’s like dismissing the findings of a climate scientist because he sits on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the “very body” that warned us about climate change. See what I mean about aping the worst and most hysterical tactics of the climate contrarians?

Stewart Brand wrote in his 2009 book Whole Earth Discipline: “I dare say the environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than any other thing we’ve been wrong about.” He will see nods of ascent from members of a nascent “green genes” movement — among them environmentalist scientists, such as Pamela Ronald of the University of California at Davis — who say GM crops can advance the cause of sustainable agriculture by improving resilience to changing climate and reducing applications of agrochemicals.

Yet such people are routinely condemned as apologists for an industrial conspiracy to poison the world. Thus, Greenpeace in East Asia claims that children eating nutrient-fortified GM “golden rice” are being used as “guinea pigs.” And its UK Web site’s introduction to its global campaigns says, “The introduction of genetically modified food and crops has been a disaster, posing a serious threat to biodiversity and our own health.” Where, ask their critics, is the evidence for such claims?

The problem is the same in the energy debate. Many environmentalists who argue, as I do, that climate change is probably the big overarching issue facing humanity in the 21st century, nonetheless often refuse to recognize that nuclear power could have a role in saving us from the worst.

For environmentalists to fan the flames of fear of nuclear power seems reckless and anti-scientific.

Nuclear power is the only large-scale source of low-carbon electricity that is fully developed and ready for major expansion.

Yes, we need to expand renewables as fast as we can. Yes, we need to reduce further the already small risks of nuclear accidents and of leakage of fissile material into weapons manufacturing. But as George Monbiot, Britain’s most prominent environment columnist, puts it: “To abandon our primary current source of low carbon energy during a climate change emergency is madness.”

Monbiot attacks the gratuitous misrepresentation of the risks of radiation from nuclear plants. It is widely suggested, on the basis of a thoroughly discredited piece of Russian head-counting, that up to a million people were killed by the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986. In fact, it is far from clear that many people at all — beyond the 28 workers who received fatal doses while trying to douse the flames at the stricken reactor — actually died from Chernobyl radiation. Certainly, the death toll was nothing remotely on the scale claimed.

“We have a moral duty,” Monbiot says, “not to spread unnecessary and unfounded fears. If we persuade people that they or their children are likely to suffer from horrible and dangerous health problems, and if these fears are baseless, we cause great distress and anxiety, needlessly damaging the quality of people’s lives.”

Many people have a visceral fear of nuclear power and its invisible radiation. But for environmentalists to fan the flames — especially when it gets in the way of fighting a far more real threat, from climate change — seems reckless, anti-scientific and deeply damaging to the world’s climate future.

One sure result of Germany deciding to abandon nuclear power in the wake of last year’s Fukushima nuclear accident (calamitous, but any death toll will be tiny compared to that from the tsunami that caused it) will be rising carbon emissions from a revived coal industry. By one estimate, the end of nuclear power in Germany will result in an extra 300 million tons of carbon dioxide reaching the atmosphere between now and 2020 — more than the annual emissions of Italy and Spain combined.

Last, let’s look at the latest source of green angst: shale gas and the drilling technique of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, used to extract it. There are probably good reasons for not developing shale gas in many places. Its extraction can pollute water and cause minor earth tremors, for instance. But at root this is an argument about carbon — a genuinely double-edged issue that needs debating. For there is a good environmental case to be made that shale gas, like nuclear energy, can be part of the solution to climate change. That case should be heard and not shouted down.

Opponents of shale gas rightly say it is a carbon-based fossil fuel. But it is a much less dangerous fossil fuel than coal. Carbon emissions from burning natural gas are roughly half those from burning coal. A switch from coal to shale gas is the main reason why, in 2011, U.S. CO2 emissions fell by almost 2 percent.

Many environmentalists are imbued with a sense of their own exceptionalism and original virtue.

We cannot ignore that. With coal’s share of the world’s energy supply rising from 25 to 30 percent in the past half decade, a good argument can be made that a dash to exploit cheap shale gas and undercut this surge in coal would do more to cut carbon emissions than almost anything else. The noted environmental economist Dieter Helm of the University of Oxford argues just this in a new book, The Carbon Crunch, out this month.

But this is an unpopular argument. Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, was pilloried by activists for making the case that gas could be a “bridge fuel” to a low-carbon future. And when he stepped down, his successor condemned him for taking cash from the gas industry to fund the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. Pope was probably wrong to take donations of that type, though some environment groups do such things all the time. But his real crime to those in the green movement seems to have been to side with the gas lobby at all.

Many environmentalists are imbued with a sense of their own exceptionalism and original virtue. But we have been dangerously wrong before. When Rachel Carson’s sound case against the mass application of DDT as an agricultural pesticide morphed into blanket opposition to much smaller indoor applications to fight malaria, it arguably resulted in millions of deaths as the diseases resurged.

And more recently, remember the confusion over biofuels? They were a new green energy source we could all support. I remember, when the biofuels craze began about 2005, I reported on a few voices urging caution. They warned that the huge land take of crops like corn and sugar cane for biofuels might threaten food supplies; that the crops would add to the destruction of rainforests; and that the carbon gains were often small to non-existent. But Friends of the Earth and others trashed them as traitors to the cause of green energy.
Well, today most greens are against most biofuels. Not least Friends of the Earth, which calls them a “big green con.” In fact, we may have swung too far in the other direction, undermining research into second-generation biofuels that could be both land- and carbon-efficient.

We don’t have to be slaves to science. There is plenty of room for raising questions about ethics and priorities that challenge the world view of the average lab grunt. And we should blow the whistle on bad science. But to indulge in hysterical attacks on any new technology that does not excite our prejudices, or to accuse genuine researchers of being part of a global conspiracy, is dishonest and self-defeating.

We environmentalists should learn to be more humble about our policy prescriptions, more willing to hear competing arguments, and less keen to engage in hectoring and bullying.

Can non-Europeans think? (Aljazeera)

What happens with thinkers who operate outside the European philosophical ‘pedigree’?

Last Modified: 15 Jan 2013 11:41

The works of French philosopher Michel Foucault is usually at the forefront of Eurocentric philosophy [AFP]

In a lovely little panegyric for the distinguished European philosopher Slavoj Zizek, published recently on Al Jazeera, we read:

There are many important and active philosophers today: Judith Butler in the United States, Simon Critchley in England, Victoria Camps in Spain, Jean-Luc Nancy in France, Chantal Mouffe in Belgium, Gianni Vattimo in Italy, Peter Sloterdijk in Germany and in Slovenia, Slavoj Zizek, not to mention others working in Brazil, Australia and China.

What immediately strikes the reader when seeing this opening paragraph is the unabashedly European character and disposition of the thing the author calls “philosophy today” – thus laying a claim on both the subject and time that is peculiar and in fact an exclusive property of Europe.

Even Judith Butler who is cited as an example from the United States is decidedly a product of European philosophical genealogy, thinking somewhere between Derrida and Foucault, brought to bear on our understanding of gender and sexuality.

To be sure, China and Brazil (and Australia, which is also a European extension) are cited as the location of other philosophers worthy of the designation, but none of them evidently merits a specific name to be sitting next to these eminent European philosophers.

The question of course is not the globality of philosophical visions that all these prominent European (and by extension certain American) philosophers indeed share and from which people from the deepest corners of Africa to the remotest villages of India, China, Latin America, and the Arab and Muslim world (“deep and far”, that is, from a fictive European centre) can indeed learn and better understand their lives.

That goes without saying, for without that confidence and self-consciousness these philosophers and the philosophical traditions they represent can scarce lay any universal claim on our epistemic credulities, nor would they be able to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard and write a sentence.

Thinkers outside Europe 

These are indeed not only eminent philosophers, but the philosophy they practice has the globality of certain degrees of self-conscious confidence without which no thinking can presume universality.

The question is rather something else: What about other thinkers who operate outside this European philosophical pedigree, whether they practice their thinking in the European languages they have colonially inherited or else in their own mother tongues – in Asia, in Africa, in Latin America, thinkers that have actually earned the dignity of a name, and perhaps even the pedigree of a “public intellectual” not too dissimilar to Hannah Arendt, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Michel Foucault that in this piece on Al Jazeera are offered as predecessors of Zizek?

“Why is European philosophy ‘philosophy’, but African philosophy ‘ethnophilosophy’?”

What about thinkers outside the purview of these European philosophers; how are we to name and designate and honour and learn from them with the epithet of “public intellectual” in the age of globalised media?

Do the constellation of thinkers from South Asia, exemplified by leading figures like Ashis Nandy, Partha Chatterjee, Gayatri Spivak, Ranajit Guha, Sudipta Kaviraj, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Homi Bhabha, or Akeel Bilgrami, come together to form a nucleus of thinking that is conscious of itself? Would that constellation perhaps merit the word “thinking” in a manner that would qualify one of them – as a South Asian – to the term “philosopher” or “public intellectuals”?

Are they “South Asian thinkers” or “thinkers”, the way these European thinkers are? Why is it that if Mozart sneezes it is “music” (and I am quite sure the great genius even sneezed melodiously) but the most sophisticated Indian music ragas are the subject of “ethnomusicology”?

Is that “ethnos” not also applicable to the philosophical thinking that Indian philosophers practice – so much so that their thinking is more the subject of Western European and North American anthropological fieldwork and investigation?

We can turn around and look at Africa. What about thinkers like Henry Odera Oruka, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Okot p’Bitek, Taban Lo Liyong, Achille Mbembe, Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, Souleymane Bachir Diagne, V.Y. Mudimbe: Would they qualify for the term “philosopher” or “public intellectuals” perhaps, or is that also “ethnophilosophy”?

Why is European philosophy “philosophy”, but African philosophy ethnophilosophy, the way Indian music is ethnomusic – an ethnographic logic that is based on the very same reasoning that if you were to go to the New York Museum of Natural History (popularised in Shawn Levy’s Night at the Museum [2006]), you only see animals and non-white peoples and their cultures featured inside glass cages, but no cage is in sight for white people and their cultures – they just get to stroll through the isles and enjoy the power and ability of looking at taxidermic Yaks, cave dwellers, elephants, Eskimos, buffalo, Native Americans, etc, all in a single winding row.

The same ethnographic gaze is evident in the encounter with the intellectual disposition of the Arab or Muslim world: Azmi Bishara, Sadeq Jalal Al-Azm, Fawwaz Traboulsi, Abdallah Laroui, Michel Kilo, Abdolkarim Soroush. The list of prominent thinkers and is endless.

In Japan, Kojin Karatani, in Cuba, Roberto Fernandez Retamar, or even in the United States people like Cornel West, whose thinking is not entirely in the European continental tradition – what about them? Where do they fit in? Can they think – is what they do also thinking, philosophical, pertinent, perhaps, or is that also suitable for ethnographic examinations?

The question of Eurocentricism is now entirely blase. Of course Europeans are Eurocentric and see the world from their vantage point, and why should they not? They are the inheritors of multiple (now defunct) empires and they still carry within them the phantom hubris of those empires and they think their particular philosophy is “philosophy” and their particular thinking is “thinking”, and everything else is – as the great European philosopher Immanuel Levinas was wont of saying – “dancing”.

The question is rather the manner in which non-European thinking can reach self-consciousness and evident universality, not at the cost of whatever European philosophers may think of themselves for the world at large, but for the purpose of offering alternative (complementary or contradictory) visions of reality more rooted in the lived experiences of people in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America – counties and climes once under the spell of the thing that calls itself “the West” but happily no more.

The trajectory of contemporary thinking around the globe is not spontaneously conditioned in our own immediate time and disparate locations, but has a much deeper and wider spectrum that goes back to earlier generations of thinkers ranging from José Marti to Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, to Aime Cesaire, W.E.B. DuBois, Liang Qichao, Frantz Fanon, Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, etc.

So the question remains why not the dignity of “philosophy” and whence the anthropological curiosity of “ethnophilosophy”?

Let’s seek the answer from Europe itself – but from the subaltern of Europe.

‘The Intellectuals as a Cosmopolitan Stratum’

In his Prison Notebooks, Antonio Gramsci has a short discussion about Kant’s famous phrase in Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) that is quite critical in our understanding of what it takes for a philosopher to become universally self-conscious, to think of himself as the measure and yardstick of globality. Gramsci’s stipulation is critical here – and here is how he begins:

Kant’s maxim “act in such a way that your conduct can become a norm for all men in similar conditions” is less simple and obvious than it appears at first sight. What is meant by ‘similar conditions’?

To be sure, and as Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (the editors and translators of the English translation of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks) note, Gramsci here in fact misquotes Kant, and that “similar conditions” does not appear in the original text, where the German philosopher says: “I am never to act otherwise than so that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law.” This principle, called “the categorical imperative”, is in fact the very foundation of Kantian ethics.

So where Kant says “universal law”, Gramsci says, “a norm for all men”, and then he adds an additional “similar conditions”, which is not in the German original.

“The world at large, and the Arab and Muslim world in particular, is going through world historic changes – these changes have produced thinkers, poets, artists, and public intellectuals at the centre of their moral and politcial imagination.

That misquoting is quite critical here. Gramsci’s conclusion is that the reason Kant can say what he says and offer his own behaviour as measure of universal ethics is that “Kant’s maxim presupposes a single culture, a single religion, a ‘world-wide’ conformism… Kant’s maxim is connected with his time, with the cosmopolitan enlightenment and the critical conception of the author. In brief, it is linked to the philosophy of the intellectuals as a cosmopolitan stratum”.

What in effect Gramsci discovers, as a southern Italian suffering in the dungeons of European fascism, is what in Brooklyn we call chutzpah, to think yourself the centre of universe, a self-assuredness that gives the philosopher that certain panache and authority to think in absolutists and grand narrative terms.

Therefore the agent is the bearer of the “similar conditions” and indeed their creator. That is, he “must” act according to a “model” which he would like to see diffused among all mankind, according to a type of civilisation for whose coming he is working-or for whose preservation he is “resisting” the forces that threaten its disintegration.

It is precisely that self-confidence, that self-consciousness, that audacity to think yourself the agent of history that enables a thinker to think his particular thinking is “Thinking” in universal terms, and his philosophy “Philosophy” and his city square “The Public Space”, and thus he a globally recognised Public Intellectual.

There is thus a direct and unmitigated structural link between an empire, or an imperial frame of reference, and the presumed universality of a thinker thinking in the bosoms of that empire.

As all other people, Europeans are perfectly entitled to their own self-centrism.

The imperial hubris that once enabled that Eurocentricism and still produces the infomercials of the sort we read in Al Jazeera for Zizek are the phantom memories of the time that “the West” had assured confidence and a sense of its own universalism and globality, or as Gramsci put it, “to a type of civilisation for whose coming he is working”.

But that globality is no more – people from every clime and continent are up and about claiming their own cosmopolitan worldliness and with it their innate ability to think beyond the confinements of that Eurocentricism, which to be sure is still entitled to its phantom pleasures of thinking itself the centre of the universe. The Gramscian superimposed “similar conditions” are now emerging in multiple cites of the liberated humanity.

The world at large, and the Arab and Muslim world in particular, is going through world historic changes – these changes have produced thinkers, poets, artists, and public intellectuals at the centre of their moral and politcial imagination – all thinking and acting in terms at once domestic to their immediate geography and yet global in its consequences.

Compared to those liberating tsunamis now turning the world upside down, cliche-ridden assumption about Europe and its increasingly provincialised philosophical pedigree is a tempest in the cup. Reduced to its own fair share of the humanity at large, and like all other continents and climes, Europe has much to teach the world, but now on a far more leveled and democratic playing field, where its philosophy is European philosophy not “Philosophy”, its music European music not “Music”, and no infomercial would be necessary to sell its public intellectuals as “Public Intellectuals”.

Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York. Among his most recent books is The World of Persian Literary Humanism (2012).

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

An Anthropologist’s War Stories (N.Y.Times)


“Noble Savages”


Published: February 18, 2013

What were our early ancestors really like as they accomplished the transition from hunter-gathering bands to more complex settled societies? The anthropologist Napoleon A. Chagnon may have come closest to the answer in his 35-year study of a remarkable population, the Yanomamö of Venezuela and Brazil.

His new book, “Noble Savages,” has three themes. First, it is a beautifully written adventure story of how Dr. Chagnon learned to survive in an entirely alien culture and environment, among villages locked in perpetual warfare and jaguars that would stalk his tracks through the jungle. Second, it describes the author’s gradual piecing together of how Yanomamö society actually works, a matter of great relevance to recent human evolution. Third, it recounts his travails at the hands of the American Anthropological Association.

Most tribes studied by anthropologists have lost much of their culture and structure under Western influences. In the 1960s, when Dr. Chagnon first visited them, the Yanomamö were probably as close as could be to people living in a state of nature. Their warfare had not been suppressed by colonial powers. They had been isolated for so long, even from other tribes in the Amazon, that their language bears little or no relationship to any other. Consisting of some 25,000 people, living in 250 villages, the Yanomamö cultivated plantains, hunted wild animals and raided one another incessantly.

Trained as an engineer before taking up anthropology, Dr. Chagnon was interested in the mechanics of how the Yanomamö worked. He perceived that kinship was the glue that held societies together, so he started to construct an elaborate genealogy of the Yanomamö (often spelled Yanomani.)

The genealogy took many years, in part because of the Yanomamö taboo on mentioning the names of the dead. When completed, it held the key to unlocking many important features of Yanomamö society. One of Dr. Chagnon’s discoveries was that warriors who had killed a man in battle sired three times more children than men who had not killed.

His report, published in Science in 1988, set off a storm among anthropologists who believed that peace, not war, was the natural state of human existence. Dr. Chagnon’s descriptions of Yanomamö warfare had been bad enough; now he seemed to be saying that aggression was rewarded and could be inherited.

A repeated theme in his book is the clash between his empirical findings and the ideology of his fellow anthropologists. The general bias in anthropological theory draws heavily from Marxism, Dr. Chagnon writes. His colleagues insisted that the Yanomamö were fighting over material possessions, whereas Dr. Chagnon believed the fights were about something much more basic — access to nubile young women.

In his view, evolution and sociobiology, not Marxist theory, held the best promise of understanding human societies. In this light, he writes, it made perfect sense that the struggle among the Yanomamö, and probably among all human societies at such a stage in their history, was for reproductive advantage.

Men form coalitions to gain access to women. Because some men will be able to have many wives, others must share a wife or go without, creating a great scarcity of women. This is why Yanomamö villages constantly raid one another.

The raiding over women creates a more complex problem, that of maintaining the social cohesion required to support warfare. A major cause of a village’s splitting up is fights over women. But a smaller village is less able to defend itself against larger neighbors. The most efficient strategy to keep a village both large and cohesive through kinship bonds is for two male lineage groups to exchange cousins in marriage. Dr. Chagnon found that this is indeed the general system practiced by the Yanomamö.

After overtaxing one of his informants, the shaman Dedeheiwä, about the reason for a succession of village fissions into smaller hostile groups, Dr. Chagnon found himself rebuked with the outburst, “Don’t ask such stupid questions! Women! Women! Women! Women! Women!”

During his years of working among the Yanomamö, Dr. Chagnon fell into cross purposes with the Salesians, the Catholic missionary group that was the major Western influence in the Yanomamö region. Instead of traveling by canoe and foot to the remote Yanomamö villages, the Salesians preferred to induce the Yanomami to settle near their mission sites, even though it exposed them to Western diseases to which they had little or no immunity, Dr. Chagnon writes. He also objected to the Salesians’ offering the Yanomamö guns, which tribe members used to kill one another as well as for hunting.

The Salesians and Dr. Chagnon’s academic enemies saw the chance to join forces against him when the writer Patrick Tierney published a book, “Darkness in El Dorado” (2000), accusing Dr. Chagnon and the well-known medical geneticist James V. Neel of having deliberately caused a measles epidemic among the Yanomamö in 1968.

On the basis of these accusations, two of Dr. Chagnon’s academic critics denounced him to the American Anthropological Association, comparing him with the Nazi physician Josef Mengele. The association appointed a committee that, though it cleared Dr. Chagnon of the measles charge, was nevertheless hostile, accusing him of going against the Yanomamös’ interests.

In 2005, the association’s members voted by a 2-to-1 margin to rescind acceptance of the committee’s report. But the damage was done. Dr. Chagnon’s opponents in Brazil were able to block further research trips. His final years of research on the Yanomamö were disrupted.

In 2010 the A.A.A. voted to strip the word “science” from its long-range mission plan and focus instead on “public understanding.” Its distaste for science and its attack on Dr. Chagnon are now an indelible part of its record.

Dr. Chagnon’s legacy, on the other hand, is that he was able to gain a deep insight into the last remaining tribe living in a state of nature. “Noble Savages” is a remarkable testament to an engineer’s 35-year effort to unravel the complex working of an untouched human society.

Read an excerpt of “Noble Savages.”

A version of this review appeared in print on February 19, 2013, on page D3 of the New York edition with the headline: An Anthropologist’s War Stories.

Forecasting Climate With A Chance Of Backlash (NPR)


February 19, 2013 3:14 AM

When it comes to climate change, Americans place great trust in their local TV weathercaster, which has led climate experts to see huge potential for public education.

The only problem? Polls show most weather presenters don’t know much about climate science, and many who do are fearful of talking about something so polarizing.

In fact, if you have heard a weathercaster speak on climate change, it’s likely been to deny it. John Coleman in San Diego and Anthony Watts of Watts Up With That? are among a group of vocal die-hards, cranking out blog posts and videos countering climate science. But even many meteorologists who don’t think it’s all a hoax still profoundly distrust climate models.

“They get reminded each and every day anytime their models don’t prove to be correct,” says Ed Maibach, who directs the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, and has carried out several surveys of TV weathercasters. “For them, the whole notion of projecting what the climate will be 30, 50, a hundred years from now, they’ve got a fairly high degree of skepticism.”

And yet, Maibach has found that many meteorologists would like to learn more and would like to educate their viewers. A few years back, he hatched a plan and found a willing partner in an unlikely place.

Prepared For Backlash

“I loved it. That’s exactly what I wanted to do,” says Jim Gandy, chief meteorologist at WLTX in Columbia, S.C.

Gandy had actually begun reading up on climate change several years earlier, when — to his surprise — a couple of geology professors at a party asked whether he thought global warming was real. Gandy was disturbed by what he learned and was game to go on air with it, even in what he calls a “dark red” state with a lot of “resistance” to the idea of climate change.

“We talked about it at length,” he says, “and we were prepared for a backlash.”

Researchers at George Mason University, with the help of Climate Central, tracked down information specific to Columbia, something many local meteorologists, with multiple weather reports a day, simply have no time to do. They also created graphics for Gandy to use whenever the local weather gave him a peg. And Gandy’s local TV station gave him something precious: 90 seconds of air time in the evening newscast.

The segment was called “Climate Matters,” and Gandy kicked it off in late July 2010. He dove in deep, packing his limited time with tidbits usually buried in scientific papers. One segment looked at what Columbia’s summer temperatures are projected to be in 40 years. Another explained how scientists can track man-made global warming, since carbon dioxide from fossil fuels has a specific chemical footprint.

Gandy also made the issue personal for viewers, reporting on how climate change will make pollen and poison ivy grow faster and more potent. He says people stopped him on the street about that.

And the backlash? There were a few cranky comments. “To my knowledge,” Gandy says, “there was at least one phone call from someone saying they needed to fire me.” But generally, the series went over well.

Better Informed Viewers

Meanwhile, researcher Ed Maibach polled people before Climate Matters began, then again a year into it. He says compared with viewers of other local stations, those who watched Jim Gandy gained a more scientifically grounded understanding of climate change, from understanding that it’s largely caused by humans, that it’s happening here and now and that it’s harmful.

“All of this is the kind of information that will help people, and help communities, make better decisions about how to adapt to a changing climate,” Maibach says.

Maibach hopes to expand the experiment, eventually making localized climate research and graphs available to meteorologists across the country. And there are other efforts to help weather forecasters become climate educators.

Last March, longtime Minnesota meteorologist Paul Douglas, founder of WeatherNationTV, posted an impassioned letter online urging his fellow Republicans to acknowledge that climate change is real.

“Other meteorologists actually emailed me and said, ‘Thanks for giving voice to something I’ve been thinking but was too afraid to say publicly,’ ” he says.

Douglas is part of a group pushing to tighten certification standards for meteorologists.

“If you’re going to talk about climate science on the air,” he says, you would “need to learn about the real science, and not get it off a talk show radio program or a website.”

After all, both he and Gandy say it’s becoming harder to separate weather from climate. That means TV weathercasters will be busier, and more closely followed, than ever.

How Napoleon Chagnon Became Our Most Controversial Anthropologist (N.Y.Times Magazine)

Brian Finke for The New York Times

Napoleon Chagnon, one of America’s best-known and most maligned anthropologists.


Published: February 13, 2013 – 167 Comments

Among the hazards Napoleon Chagnon encountered in the Venezuelan jungle were a jaguar that would have mauled him had it not become confused by his mosquito net and a 15-foot anaconda that lunged from a stream over which he bent to drink. There were also hairy black spiders, rats that clambered up and down his hammock ropes and a trio of Yanomami tribesmen who tried to smash his skull with an ax while he slept. (The men abandoned their plan when they realized that Chagnon, a light sleeper, kept a loaded shotgun within arm’s reach.) These are impressive adversaries — “Indiana Jones had nothing on me,” is how Chagnon puts it — but by far his most tenacious foes have been members of his own profession.

All photographs from Napoleon Chagnon.

At 74, Chagnon may be this country’s best-known living anthropologist; he is certainly its most maligned. His monograph, “Yanomamö: The Fierce People,” which has sold nearly a million copies since it was first published in 1968, established him as a serious scientist in the swashbuckling mode — “I looked up and gasped when I saw a dozen burly, naked, filthy, hideous men staring at us down the shafts of their drawn arrows!” — but it also embroiled him in controversy.

In turning the Yanomami into the world’s most famous “unacculturated” tribe, Chagnon also turned the romantic image of the “noble savage” on its head. Far from living in harmony with one another, the tribe engaged in frequent chest-pounding duels and deadly inter-village raids; violence or threat of violence dominated social life. The Yanomami, he declared, “live in a state of chronic warfare.”

The phrase may be the most contested in the history of anthropology. Colleagues accused him of exaggerating the violence, even of imagining it — a projection of his aggressive personality. As Chagnon’s fame grew — his book became a standard text in college courses — so did the complaints. No detail was too small to be debated, including the transliteration of the tribe’s name. As one commentator wrote: “Those who refer to the group as Yanomamö generally tend to be supporters of Chagnon’s work. Those who prefer Yanomami or Yanomama tend to take a more neutral or anti-Chagnon stance.”

In 2000, the simmering criticisms erupted in public with the release of “Darkness in El Dorado,” by the journalist Patrick Tierney. A true-life jungle horror story redolent with allusions to Conrad, the book charged Chagnon with grave misdeeds: not just fomenting violence but also fabricating data, staging documentary films and, most sensational, participating in a biomedical expedition that may have caused or worsened a measles epidemic that resulted in hundreds of Yanomami deaths. Advance word of the book was enough to plunge anthropology into a global public-relations crisis — a typical headline: “Scientist ‘Killed Amazon Indians to Test Race Theory.’ ” But even today, after thousands of pages of discussion, including a lengthy investigation by the American Anthropological Association (A.A.A.), there is no consensus about what, if anything, Chagnon did wrong.

Shut out of the jungle because he was so polarizing, he took early retirement from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1999. “The whole point of my existence as a human being and as an anthropologist was to do more and more research before this primitive world disappeared,” he told me bitterly. He spent much of the past decade working on a memoir instead, “Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes — the Yanomamö and the Anthropologists,” which comes out this month. It is less likely to settle the score than to reignite debate. “The subtitle is typical Chagnon,” says Leslie Sponsel, an anthropologist at the University of Hawaii and a longtime critic of Chagnon. “Some will interpret it as an insult to the Yanomami and to anthropology in general.” Sponsel despaired that what is known as “the fierce controversy” would ever be satisfactorily resolved. “It’s quicksand, a Pandora’s box,” he said. “It’s also to some degree a microcosm of anthropology.”

When Chagnon first went into the jungle, in 1964, the public image of anthropology was at its peak. Claude Lévi-Strauss’s “Tristes Tropiques,” his magisterial memoir of his years studying tribes in Brazil, had recently been translated into English, prompting Susan Sontag to declare anthropology “one of the rare intellectual vocations that do not demand a sacrifice of one’s manhood. Courage, love of adventure and physical hardiness — as well as brains — are used by it.” “Dead Birds” (1963), Robert Gardner’s depiction of ritual warfare among the Dani people of New Guinea, was greeted as a landmark of ethnographic filmmaking. In the “Stone Age” culture of the Dani, anthropologists believed they had a snapshot of human development at a crucial early stage, and rumors of other “uncontacted” tribes fueled fantasies of genuine discovery. Membership in the A.A.A. doubled between 1960, when Margaret Mead, the field’s pre-eminent authority, served a term as president, and 1968.

Chagnon was well cast for life in the field. A 26-year-old graduate student at the University of Michigan, he grew up poor in rural Port Austin, Mich., the second of 12 children. He was self-sufficient and handy with a shotgun — minimum requirements for surviving on jungle terrain where the nearest airstrip was several hours downstream by motorized canoe. “It’s the harshest environment in the world, physically speaking,” Kenneth Good, an anthropologist at New Jersey City University, who accompanied Chagnon to Venezuela in 1975 and eventually married a teenage Yanomami woman, told me. “I nearly died of malaria several times.”

Today, Chagnon’s own health is fragile. He had open-heart surgery in 2006 — “a likely consequence of the attacks on me,” he says — and suffers from a lung condition that keeps him tethered to a portable oxygen tank much of the time. Still, when I met him in January, at his home in a wooded subdivision near the University of Missouri in Columbia, where he and his wife, Carlene, had just moved so that he could take up a new position in the anthropology department, he had half a dozen pheasants in his freezer, quarry from a recent hunting expedition with his German shorthaired pointer, Darwin. “Pheasant breast on toast with butter is one of the more delicious breakfasts I’ve ever eaten,” he said solemnly.

In his baseball cap and faded jeans, with a thermos of Heineken at his side, he seemed a pointed rebuke to Ivory Tower decorum. The house, a cavernous brick two-story, was only partly furnished — the Chagnons had lived there all of 10 days. But elegantly arrayed along a ledge above the mantel were a couple dozen woven baskets, like so many households around the rim of a shabono — the vine-and-leaf structure that encloses an entire Yanomami village.

Chagnon’s account of his first encounter with the tribe is legendary: he crept through the low entrance of a shabono, startling a group of Yanomami warriors — the dozen “filthy, hideous men” — who had just concluded a bloody club fight with a neighboring village over the abduction of seven women. “Immense wads of green tobacco were stuck between their lower teeth and lips making them look even more hideous,” Chagnon wrote, “and strands of dark-green slime dripped or hung from their noses.” (The green snot was a side effect of ebene, a hallucinogen that the Yanomami blow into one another’s nostrils.)

By the end of that first day, Chagnon knew he needed to rethink what he had been taught. Apart from a handful of reports by missionaries and European ethnographers, little was known about the Yanomami, who were scattered among several hundred shabonosacross roughly 70,000 square miles on the Venezuelan-Brazilian border. According to the reigning “cultural materialist” doctrine — which owed as much to Marx as to the noble-savage ideal — conflict among groups arose only when there was competition for strategic resources: food, tools, land. The Yanomami in Bisaasi-teri, the shabono that Chagnon had entered, appeared not to be lacking these things. They shouldn’t have been fighting with their neighbors, and certainly not over women — that kind of reproductive competition, cultural materialists claimed, had nothing to do with warfare. During Chagnon’s initial 17 months in the field, one nearby village was raided 25 times. “I began realizing that my training in Michigan was not all that it was supposed to be,” he said.

He spent his first few months trying to learn the villagers’ names and kinship ties, a standard practice at the time and a particular challenge in this case, given the Yanomami’s name taboos: to call someone by his name is often an insult, and the names of the dead aren’t supposed to be uttered at all. Chagnon rewarded informants with fish hooks, matches and, for men who really dished, knives and machetes. (The Yanomami made no metal tools themselves.) Then, on a visit to another village, Chagnon cautiously mentioned the names of the Bisaasi-teri headman and his wife. The residents burst out laughing. He realized that he’d been had: the names he’d been given were slang for genitalia.

Genealogies became Chagnon’s driving obsession. They were crucial for tracing patterns of reproduction — determining which men had the most offspring or how many had wives from other villages. By the end of his last trip to the jungle, in 1995, Chagnon had data on about 4,000 Yanomami, in some cases going back to the 19th century. “That’s what he lives for,” Raymond Hames, an anthropologist at the University of Nebraska who worked with Chagnon as a graduate student, told me. “To collect the data, update the data, crosscheck it. He’s incredibly meticulous.”

Genealogies could also be useful for understanding genetic variations within social groups — then a new avenue of research. Before leaving Ann Arbor, Chagnon met with James V. Neel, a prominent geneticist at the university’s medical school, to propose a collaboration. Neel was best known for his genetic studies of survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. But he was interested in indigenous populations, in part because, having never been exposed to atomic radiation, they could provide a base line for comparison. After taking samples of the Yanomani’s blood, Neel discovered that the tribe’s levels of heavy metals and other environmental toxins were similar to Westerners’. They also lacked immunity to measles. In 1968, Chagnon helped Neel’s team vaccinate 1,000 Yanomami against the disease, just as it broke out near Bisaasi-teri.

Chagnon believed that biology was essential to understanding the tribe’s warfare over women. After all, more women meant more opportunities to pass on genes through reproduction — a basic tenet of evolutionary thought. But biology had no place in the cultural-materialist paradigm. And explanations of human behavior that relied on evolutionary theory were typically met with suspicion in anthropological circles, a legacy of the American eugenics movement, which invoked Darwinian ideas to justify racist efforts to “improve” the gene pool. “The last bastions of resistance to evolutionary theory,” Chagnon told me, “are organized religion and cultural anthropology.”

Marvin Harris, the leading cultural materialist and a professor at Columbia, was adamant that the Yanomami could not be fighting over women, and in 1975, he threw down a gauntlet. One of Harris’s former students, Daniel Gross, had just published a paper arguing that a scarcity of animal protein led to conditions that favored violence among Amazonian tribes, a theory Harris enthusiastically adopted. Chagnon, who had taken a job at Penn State, and three graduate students met with Harris in New York, on their way to Venezuela. “Harris said, ‘If you can show me that the Yanomami get the protein equivalent of one Big Mac per day, I’ll eat my hat,’ ” recalled Chagnon, who accepted the challenge.

By then Chagnon was waging battles on several fronts. That year, the Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson published “Sociobiology,” to the dismay of many anthropologists, who were appalled by what they perceived as Wilson’s attempt to reduce human social behavior to an effect of genes. But Chagnon was excited by Wilson’s ideas, and in 1976 he and a colleague arranged for two sessions on sociobiology to take place at the annual A.A.A. convention. The evening before the sessions, several scholars moved to prohibit them. “Impassioned accusations of racism, fascism and Nazism punctuated the frenzied business meeting that night,” Chagnon writes in “Noble Savages.” Only after Margaret Mead denounced the motion as a “book burning” was it defeated.

At the same time, Chagnon’s portrayal of Yanomami aggression was meeting with increasing resistance. One theory had it that his habit of rewarding cooperative subjects with steel tools — common practice at the time — worsened conflicts. Jacques Lizot, a French anthropologist who spent more than 15 years in a village near Bisaasi-teri, wrote that he hoped to “revise the exaggerated representation that has been given of Yanomami violence. The Yanomami are warriors; they can be brutal and cruel, but they can also be delicate, sensitive and loving.” These latter traits also appeared, though less prominently, in Chagnon’s work. In “The Fierce People,” he recounts the night he became “emotionally close to the Yanomamö for the first time.” A village headman had been killed in a raid, and his brothers were audibly mourning his death. Moved, Chagnon lay quietly in his hammock, not wanting to intrude with his tape recorder or notebook. When asked why he was not “making a nuisance of himself as usual,” Chagnon explained that he was sad. This news was quickly passed around, and for the rest of the night he was treated with great deference: “I was hushuo, in a state of emotional disequilibrium, and had finally begun to act like a human being as far as they were concerned.”

What could have been fruitful academic debates became personal and nasty. It didn’t help that Chagnon could be arrogant and impolitic. “Oh, God, did we have some fights in the field,” says Raymond Hames, who accompanied him on the 1975 protein-challenge trip. “He’s pretty damn sure of himself.” Hames, who remains a close friend, says he and Chagnon “made it work out.” But this was not the case with others.

Kenneth Good was also on the trip and was delegated to study protein consumption at a village far upstream from Bisaasi-teri. Chagnon, he says, refused to give him a steel boat or replenish his anti-malaria pills and didn’t care that he capsized and was stranded without food for three days. “If he had behaved in a civil way, we could have been lifelong allies,” Good told me. (Chagnon says that Good’s demands were unreasonable: “He wasn’t civil to me from the very beginning. I took him into the most exciting field opportunity that existed in anthropology at the time, and he never even sent me a progress report.”)

After Good returned to the United States, he left Chagnon’s department and finished his dissertation with Harris. When the protein studies were finally published, the findings, perhaps unsurprisingly, were split: Good showed that the Yanomami in his village ate slightly less protein than what’s in a Big Mac; Chagnon and Hames showed that their group ate much more. Daniel Gross, who recently retired from the World Bank, says the debate remains unresolved. He pointed out that the Yanomami are about five feet tall, on average. “You have to wonder what accounts for their low stature,” he said. “It’s most likely not a genetic trait.”

Chagnon also fell out with Lizot, the French anthropologist, and with Timothy Asch, an ethnographic filmmaker with whom he collaborated on more than a dozen documentaries. The partnership yielded ingenious work, including “A Man Called ‘Bee’ ” (1974), in which the camera turns, for once, on the ethnographer. Chagnon strides into the middle of a shabono in a loincloth and faded high tops and strikes a warrior pose — a bearded Tarzan aping his subjects, to their audible delight. (The film’s title comes from Chagnon’s Yanomami nickname, “Shaki,” their word for a particularly pesky species of bee.) But by 1975, with the release of “The Ax Fight,” a prizewinning record of a Yanomami brawl, Chagnon and Asch’s own fighting, mostly over who should get top billing in the credits, had destroyed their relationship.

Nor did Chagnon manage to stay on good terms with the local Salesian priests, who, thanks to their influence in Caracas, had considerable say over which scientists got to work with the tribe. In 1993, Chagnon attacked the Salesians in an Op-Ed in The New York Times, charging that the Yanomami were using mission-issued guns to kill one another. The Salesians fought back, depositing anti-Chagnon leaflets at the annual A.A.A. convention and mailing packets of letters — including one from Lizot — to anthropology departments across the country, denouncing his claims.

Chagnon sensed that his access to the Yanomami was ending. Anthropology was changing, too. For more than a decade, the discipline had been engaged in a sweeping self-critique. In 1983, the New Zealand anthropologist Derek Freeman delivered a major blow when he published “Margaret Mead and Samoa,” charging that Mead had been duped by informants in her pioneering ethnography, “Coming of Age in Samoa.” Postmodern theory precipitated a crisis. Under the influence of Derrida and Foucault, cultural anthropologists turned their gaze on their own “texts” and were alarmed by what they saw. Ethnographies were not dispassionate records of cultural facts but rather unstable “fictions,” shot through with ideology and observer bias.

This postmodern turn coincided with the disappearance of anthropology’s traditional subjects — indigenous peoples. Even the Yanomami were becoming assimilated, going to mission schools, appearing on television in Caracas and flying to the United States to speak at academic conferences. Traditional fieldwork opportunities may have been drying up, but there was still plenty of work to do exposing anthropologists’ complicity in oppressing “the other.” As one scholar in the journal Current Anthropology put it, “Isn’t it odd that the true enemy of society turns out to be that guy in the office down the hall?”

One way to confront the field’s ethical dilemmas was to redefine the ethnographer’s role. A new generation of anthropologists came to see activism on their subjects’ behalf as a principal part of the job. Chagnon did not; to him, the Yanomami were invaluable data sets, not a human rights cause — at least not primarily. In 1988, he published a provocative article in Science. Drawing on his genealogies, he showed that Yanomami men who were killers had more wives and children than men who were not. Was the men’s aggression the main reason for their greater reproductive success? Chagnon suggested that the question deserved serious consideration. “Violence,” he speculated, “may be the principal driving force behind the evolution of culture.”

The article was seized on by the press, including two newspapers in Brazil, where illegal gold miners had begun invading Yanomami lands. The Brazilian Anthropological Association warned that Chagnon’s “dubious scientific conclusions” could have terrible political consequences: “Wide publicity about Yanomami ‘violence’ in racist terms . . . is being used by the powerful lobby of mining interests as an excuse for the invasion of these Indians’ lands.”

As Alcida Ramos, a Yanomami expert at the University of Brasilia, later explained to Science: “To do anthropology in Brazil is in itself a political act. We don’t separate our interests as anthropologists from our responsibility as citizens.” Her colleague Bruce Albert told Science that a plan by the Brazilian government to divide the tribe’s land into a series of disconnected “islands” was being justified by claims that, as the reporter put it, the Yanomami “are violent and need to be kept separate so they will stop killing each other.” Nevertheless, the reporter noted, Albert “cannot demonstrate a direct connection between Chagnon’s writings and the government’s Indian policy.”

Scientists have since endorsed Chagnon’s Science article. “It shouldn’t be a shocking finding,” Steven Pinker, the Harvard evolutionary psychologist who cites the paper in his book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” told me. “As a pattern in history, it’s well documented.” Pinker said that he was troubled by the notion that social scientists should suppress unflattering information about their subjects because it could be exploited by others. “This whole tactic is a terrible mistake: always putting your moral action in jeopardy of empirical findings,” he told me. “Once you have the equation that the Yanomami are nonviolent and deserve to be protected, the converse is that if they are violent they don’t deserve to be protected.”

Chagnon had alienated most of the anthropologists in Venezuela and Brazil who might have helped broker his visits to the tribe. In 1990, desperate to return to the jungle, he accepted an invitation from an old contact, Charles Brewer-Carías, to serve as an adviser to Fundafaci, a Venezuelan foundation established by Cecilia Matos, the consort of President Carlos Andrés Pérez, to help the country’s poor. The association proved disastrous for Chagnon. Brewer-Carías, a well-connected dentist and former Venezuelan youth minister, had been accused of illegally mining for gold on Yanomami land. (Brewer-Carías has denied the allegations.) “He’s a dapper opportunist,” Chagnon told me. “Charlie can talk his way into and out of just about everything.”

For months, Fundafaci helicopters flew in and out of some of the most pristine Yanomami settlements, ferrying researchers, television crews and the occasional wealthy tourist — as well as, inevitably, their germs. According to Patrick Tierney, during one helicopter landing, several Yanomami were injured when the roof of a shabono collapsed. Chagnon and Brewer-Carías also urged President Pérez to turn part of the region into a biosphere, which, Tierney writes, would have given them “a scientific monopoly over an area the size of Connecticut.” The A.A.A., which appointed an El Dorado task force to look into Tierney’s allegations, concluded that this charge could not be proved, since Pérez abandoned the Fundafaci proposal. But the task force was harshly critical of Chagnon, stating that his affiliation with Fundafaci “violated Venezuelan laws, associated his research with the activities of corrupt politicians and involved him in activities that endangered the health and well-being of the Yanomami.”

The adventure came to an end in 1993, when Pérez was impeached. Chagnon, characteristically, is unrepentant. “I got a year’s worth of data,” he said. “It was worth it for that reason.”

Was Fundafaci an isolated case of bad judgment, or part of a pattern of ethically egregious behavior? Tierney’s “Darkness in El Dorado,” which he spent more than a decade reporting, took the latter view and was eagerly anticipated by Chagnon’s critics: the moment when a rogue anthropologist would get a rare public comeuppance. In August 2000, while the book was still in galleys, Leslie Sponsel, of the University of Hawaii, and Terence Turner, an anthropologist at Cornell, sent an e-mail to the A.A.A.’s leadership, warning of an “impending scandal,” unparalleled in its “scale, ramifications and sheer criminality and corruption.” In lurid detail, they laid out the book’s major allegations, concluding: “This nightmarish story — a real anthropological heart of darkness beyond the imagining of even a Josef [sic] Conrad (though not, perhaps, a Josef Mengele) — will be seen (rightly in our view) by the public, as well as most anthropologists, as putting the whole discipline on trial.”

By November, when the A.A.A. met for its annual meeting, the scandal had hit the press, and “Darkness in El Dorado” had been excerpted in The New Yorker and named a finalist for the National Book Award. Much of the coverage focused on Tierney’s most sensational charges regarding the 1968 measles epidemic.

In his galleys, Tierney speculated that Neel, who died in 2000, hoped to simulate a measles epidemic among the Yanomami as part of a genetics experiment. In the published book, this theory was no longer explicit — Tierney had made last-minute changes — but it was insinuated. “Measles,” Tierney wrote, “was tailor-made for experiments.” Moreover, Neel’s choice of vaccine, Edmonston B, “was a bold decision from a research perspective” because it “provided a model much closer to real measles than other, safer vaccines, in the attempt to resolve the great genetic question of selective adaptation.” Although he quoted a leading measles researcher emphatically denying that measles vaccine can transmit the virus, he nevertheless maintained that it was “unclear whether the Edmonston B became transmissible or not.” (This line was excised from the paperback edition.) Tierney repeatedly faulted the expedition’s members for putting their scientific objectives ahead of the tribe’s health. By vaccinating the Yanomami against measles, he maintained, Neel and Chagnon may have been responsible for needless illness and death.

At an open-mike A.A.A. session, attendees, few of whom had read the book, weighed in on the controversy. Thomas Gregor and Daniel Gross later described the event in a damning article in American Anthropologist: “Virtually every aspect of [Chagnon’s] behavior, relevant or otherwise, was open for public dissection. One participant took the microphone and claimed that Chagnon had treated her rudely in the field during the 1960s. A colleague from Uganda praised Tierney’s book and suggested that Westerners manufactured the Ebola virus and disseminated it in his country, just as Chagnon and Neel had started the measles epidemic. Members of the audience applauded both speakers.” For Gregor, who recently retired as an anthropologist at Vanderbilt, the session was “a watershed moment.” “These are people who are supposed to be scientists,” he told me. “This had the look of an emotionally charged witch hunt.”

Within a few months, half a dozen academic institutions had refuted aspects of Tierney’s claims, including the International Genetic Epidemiology Society, whose statement reflected a growing consensus: “Far from causing an epidemic of measles, Neel did his utmost to protect the Yanomamö from the ravages of the impending epidemic by a vaccination program using a vaccine that was widely used at the time and administered in an appropriate manner.” (In an e-mail to me, Tierney defended his book, acknowledging only “several small errors,” concerning Neel’s work in Japan.)

The A.A.A.’s El Dorado task force was the most ambitious investigation to date but was undermined by a lack of due process. The group went so far as to interview Yanomami in Venezuela but, according to Chagnon, failed to give him an opportunity to respond to its verdicts. As Gregor and Gross put it, what the inquiry most clearly demonstrated was not Chagnon’s guilt or innocence but rather anthropology’s “culture of accusation,” a “tendency within the discipline to attack its own methods and practitioners.”

At least one task-force member had doubts about the exercise. In April 2002, shortly before the group released its report, Jane Hill, the task force’s chairwoman and a former president of the A.A.A. wrote an e-mail to a colleague in which she called Tierney’s book “just a piece of sleaze, that’s all there is to it (some cosmetic language will be used in the report, but we all agree on that).” Nevertheless, she said, the A.A.A. had to act: anthropologists’ work with indigenous groups in Latin America “was put seriously at risk by its accusations,” and “silence on the part of the A.A.A would have been interpreted as either assent or cowardice. Whether we’re doing the right thing will have to be judged by posterity.”

The e-mail is quoted in a paper by Alice Dreger that appeared in the journal Human Nature in 2011. Dreger, a professor of bioethics at Northwestern, was writing a book about scientific controversies in the Internet age, when she learned about the scandal in anthropology. She researched the case for a year, conducting 40 interviews, and by the time she published her paper, she considered Chagnon a friend, a fact reflected in her sometimes zealous tone. Among other things, she discovered that Tierney helped prepare a dossier critical of Chagnon, which he attributed to Leda Martins, a Brazilian anthropologist: “Leda’s dossier was an important resource for my research.” (Martins says that she translated the dossier into Portuguese.) But Dreger reserves her most withering remarks for the A.A.A. She told me, “All these people knew that Tierney’s book was a house of cards but proceeded anyway because they needed a ritualistic cleansing.”

In fairness, Tierney seems to have gotten some things right. The task force called his account of Chagnon’s Fundafaci episode one of the “better supported allegations.” And many have vouched for Tierney’s description of Jacques Lizot, Chagnon’s French rival, ensconced in the jungle with an entourage of Yanomami boys, whom he plied with trade goods in exchange for sex. (Lizot has said that the sex was between consenting adults.)

Yet it’s possible to imagine how a discipline seeking to expiate its sins could have overreached in Chagnon’s case. He was prominent and controversial, a sociobiologist who declined to put activism on a par with research. On the rare occasions that he adopted the mantle of advocate, the gesture typically backfired, as when he told a Brazilian magazine: “The real Indians get dirty, smell bad, use drugs, belch after they eat, covet and sometimes steal each other’s women, fornicate and make war. They are normal human beings. This is reason enough for them to deserve care and attention.” His critics, appalled by the first sentence, typically ignored the rest.

In this charged atmosphere, Tierney was to play a vital role: that of the impartial journalist who would give the discipline’s verdict on Chagnon the stamp of objectivity. Yet as Tierney himself admitted, he was not impartial. “I gradually changed from being an observer to being an advocate,” he wrote. “It was a completely inverted world, where traditional, objective journalism was no longer an option for me.” Was objectivity possible for anyone?

In 2005, the A.A.A.’s members agreed to rescind the task-force report, by a vote of 846 to 338. Daniel Gross called Chagnon to give him the news. “I saved that phone message for years,” Chagnon told me. “That was the point at which my emotional stability began to ascend.” Last spring, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences — a prestigious honor that he took as vindication. “A lot of anthropologists have red faces from the extent to which they advocated in support of the accusations against me,” he said.

Not every critic has conceded. “The charges have not all been disproven by any means,” Leslie Sponsel pointed out. Leda Martins, who teaches at Pitzer College in Los Angeles, was more circumspect. “The controversy is so big, and the devil is all in the details,” she said. “Unless you know where Chagnon was, in what village, and what he was doing — unless you know everything — it’s really hard to talk about it.” I told her I thought that Tierney was sure he’d found another Kurtz, another “Heart of Darkness.” “Patrick and Chagnon have some similar characteristics,” Martins replied. “How ironic is it that Patrick got carried away in the same way that Chagnon got carried away?”

By now, at least a few Yanomami have read both “The Fierce People” and “Darkness in El Dorado,” and many more have been told about their contents by people with varied agendas. During an interview with a member of the A.A.A.’s task force, Davi Kopenawa, a Brazilian Yanomami leader, was invited to pose some questions of his own. “I want to ask you about these American anthropologists,” he said. “Why are they fighting among themselves? Is it because of this book?”

The interviewer answered in the affirmative, and Kopenawa went on: “So, Chagnon made money using the name of the Yanomami. He sold his book. Lizot, too. I want to know how much they are making each month. How much does any anthropologist earn? And how much is Patrick making? Patrick must be happy. This is a lot of money. They may be fighting, but they are happy. They fight, and this makes them happy.”

Emily Eakin has written for The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books blog. Her last article for the magazine was on Jonathan Franzen.

Editor: Sheila Glaser

Richard A. Muller: The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic (N.Y.Times)



Published: July 28, 2012

Berkeley, Calif.

CALL me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

My total turnaround, in such a short time, is the result of careful and objective analysis by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, which I founded with my daughter Elizabeth. Our results show that the average temperature of the earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.

These findings are stronger than those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations group that defines the scientific and diplomatic consensus on global warming. In its 2007 report, the I.P.C.C. concluded only that most of the warming of the prior 50 years could be attributed to humans. It was possible, according to the I.P.C.C. consensus statement, that the warming before 1956 could be because of changes in solar activity, and that even a substantial part of the more recent warming could be natural.

Our Berkeley Earth approach used sophisticated statistical methods developed largely by our lead scientist, Robert Rohde, which allowed us to determine earth land temperature much further back in time. We carefully studied issues raised by skeptics: biases from urban heating (we duplicated our results using rural data alone), from data selection (prior groups selected fewer than 20 percent of the available temperature stations; we used virtually 100 percent), from poor station quality (we separately analyzed good stations and poor ones) and from human intervention and data adjustment (our work is completely automated and hands-off). In our papers we demonstrate that none of these potentially troublesome effects unduly biased our conclusions.

The historic temperature pattern we observed has abrupt dips that match the emissions of known explosive volcanic eruptions; the particulates from such events reflect sunlight, make for beautiful sunsets and cool the earth’s surface for a few years. There are small, rapid variations attributable to El Niño and other ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream; because of such oscillations, the “flattening” of the recent temperature rise that some people claim is not, in our view, statistically significant. What has caused the gradual but systematic rise of two and a half degrees? We tried fitting the shape to simple math functions (exponentials, polynomials), to solar activity and even to rising functions like world population. By far the best match was to the record of atmospheric carbon dioxide, measured from atmospheric samples and air trapped in polar ice.

Just as important, our record is long enough that we could search for the fingerprint of solar variability, based on the historical record of sunspots. That fingerprint is absent. Although the I.P.C.C. allowed for the possibility that variations in sunlight could have ended the “Little Ice Age,” a period of cooling from the 14th century to about 1850, our data argues strongly that the temperature rise of the past 250 years cannot be attributed to solar changes. This conclusion is, in retrospect, not too surprising; we’ve learned from satellite measurements that solar activity changes the brightness of the sun very little.

How definite is the attribution to humans? The carbon dioxide curve gives a better match than anything else we’ve tried. Its magnitude is consistent with the calculated greenhouse effect — extra warming from trapped heat radiation. These facts don’t prove causality and they shouldn’t end skepticism, but they raise the bar: to be considered seriously, an alternative explanation must match the data at least as well as carbon dioxide does. Adding methane, a second greenhouse gas, to our analysis doesn’t change the results. Moreover, our analysis does not depend on large, complex global climate models, the huge computer programs that are notorious for their hidden assumptions and adjustable parameters. Our result is based simply on the close agreement between the shape of the observed temperature rise and the known greenhouse gas increase.

It’s a scientist’s duty to be properly skeptical. I still find that much, if not most, of what is attributed to climate change is speculative, exaggerated or just plain wrong. I’ve analyzed some of the most alarmist claims, and my skepticism about them hasn’t changed.

Hurricane Katrina cannot be attributed to global warming. The number of hurricanes hitting the United States has been going down, not up; likewise for intense tornadoes. Polar bears aren’t dying from receding ice, and the Himalayan glaciers aren’t going to melt by 2035. And it’s possible that we are currently no warmer than we were a thousand years ago, during the “Medieval Warm Period” or “Medieval Optimum,” an interval of warm conditions known from historical records and indirect evidence like tree rings. And the recent warm spell in the United States happens to be more than offset by cooling elsewhere in the world, so its link to “global” warming is weaker than tenuous.

The careful analysis by our team is laid out in five scientific papers now online at That site also shows our chart of temperature from 1753 to the present, with its clear fingerprint of volcanoes and carbon dioxide, but containing no component that matches solar activity. Four of our papers have undergone extensive scrutiny by the scientific community, and the newest, a paper with the analysis of the human component, is now posted, along with the data and computer programs used. Such transparency is the heart of the scientific method; if you find our conclusions implausible, tell us of any errors of data or analysis.

What about the future? As carbon dioxide emissions increase, the temperature should continue to rise. I expect the rate of warming to proceed at a steady pace, about one and a half degrees over land in the next 50 years, less if the oceans are included. But if China continues its rapid economic growth (it has averaged 10 percent per year over the last 20 years) and its vast use of coal (it typically adds one new gigawatt per month), then that same warming could take place in less than 20 years.

Science is that narrow realm of knowledge that, in principle, is universally accepted. I embarked on this analysis to answer questions that, to my mind, had not been answered. I hope that the Berkeley Earth analysis will help settle the scientific debate regarding global warming and its human causes. Then comes the difficult part: agreeing across the political and diplomatic spectrum about what can and should be done.

Richard A. Muller, a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and a former MacArthur Foundation fellow, is the author, most recently, of “Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines.”

O futuro dos índios: entrevista com Manuela Carneiro da Cunha (O Globo)

16.02.2013 – Blog Prosa

Por Guilherme Freitas

Muitas vezes vistos como “atrasados” ou como entraves à expansão econômica, os povos indígenas apontam, com seus saberes e seu modo de se relacionar com o meio ambiente, um caminho alternativo para o Brasil, diz a antropóloga Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, que lança coletânea de ensaios sobre o tema. Em “Índios no Brasil: História, direitos e cidadania” (Companhia das Letras), ela reúne trabalhos das últimas três décadas sobre temas como a demarcação de terras e as mudanças na Constituição. Nesta entrevista, a professora da Universidade de Chicago, convidada pelo governo federal para desenvolver um estudo sobre a relação entre os saberes tradicionais e as ciências, critica o ‘desenvolvimentismo acelerado’ da gestão Dilma e defende ‘um novo pacto’ da sociedade com as populações indígenas.

“Índios no Brasil” é uma compilação de textos publicados desde o início da década de 1980. Ao longo desse período, quais foram as principais mudanças no debate público brasileiro sobre as populações indígenas?

Eu colocaria como marco inicial o ano de 1978, ano em que, em plena ditadura, houve uma mobilização sem precedentes em favor dos direitos dos índios. Na época, o Ministro do Interior, a pretexto de emancipar índios de qualquer tutela, queria “emancipar” as terras indígenas e colocá-las no mercado. O verdadeiro debate centrava-se no direito dos índios às suas terras, um princípio que vigorou desde a Colônia. Nesse direito não se mexia. Mas desde a Lei das Terras de 1850 pelo menos, o expediente foi o mesmo: afirmava-se que os índios estavam “confundidos com a massa da população” e distribuía-se suas terras. Em 1978, tentou-se repetir essa mistificação. A sociedade civil, na época impedida de se manifestar em assuntos políticos, desaguou seu protesto na causa indígena. Acho que o avanço muito significativo das demarcações desde essa época teve um impulso decisivo nessa mobilização popular. Outro marco foi a Assembleia Constituinte, dez anos mais tarde. O direito às terras tendo sido novamente proclamado e especificado, o debate transferiu-se para o que se podia e não se podia fazer nas terras indígenas, e dois temas dominaram esse debate: mineração e hidrelétricas. Muito significativa foi a defesa feita pela Coordenação Nacional dos Geólogos de que não se minerasse em áreas indígenas, que deveriam ficar como uma reserva mineral para o país. Desde essa época, as mudanças radicais dos meios de comunicação disseminaram para um público muito amplo controvérsias como a que envolve por exemplo Belo Monte e hidrelétricas no Tapajós, e situações dramáticas como as dos awá no Maranhão ou dos kaiowá no Mato Grosso do Sul. Creio que a maior informação da sociedade civil mudou a qualidade dos debates. Um tema novo de debates surgiu com a Convenção da Biodiversidade, em 1992, o dos direitos intelectuais dos povos indígenas sobre seus conhecimentos. E finalmente, com a Convenção 169 da Organização Internacional do Trabalho (OIT), está se debatendo a forma de colocar em prática o direito dos povos indígenas a serem consultados sobre projetos que os afetam.

Você observa que a população indígena no país aumentou de 250 mil pessoas, em 1993, para 897 mil, segundo o Censo de 2010. A que pode ser atribuído esse aumento? As políticas de demarcação de terras e promoção dos direitos indígenas têm correspondido a ele?

O grande aumento da população indígena se deu no período de 1991 a 2000. Entre 2000 e 2010, o aumento foi proporcionalmente menor do que na população em geral. Só uma parcela desse crescimento pode ser atribuído a uma melhora na mortalidade infantil e na fertilidade. O que realmente mudou é que ser índio deixou de ser uma identidade da qual se tem vergonha. Índios que moram nas cidades, em Manaus por exemplo, passaram a se declarar como tais. E comunidades indígenas, sobretudo no Nordeste, reemergiram. Mas, contrariamente ao que se pode imaginar (e se tenta fazer crer), essas etnias reemergentes não têm reclamos de terras de áreas significativas.

Como avalia a atuação do governo da presidente Dilma Rousseff em relação às populações indígenas, diante das críticas provocadas pela Portaria 303 (que limitaria o usufruto das terras indígenas demarcadas) e o novo Código Florestal, por exemplo?

O Executivo tem várias faces: seu programa de redistribuição de renda está sendo um sucesso; mas seu desenvolvimentismo acelerado atropela outros valores básicos. Além disso, o agronegócio só tem aumentado seu poder político, o que desembocou no decepcionante resultado do aggiornamento do Código Florestal em 2012. O governo tentou se colocar como árbitro, mas ficou refém de um setor particularmente míope do agronegócio, aquele que não mede as consequências do desmatamento e da destruição dos rios. A Sociedade Brasileira para o Progresso da Ciência e a Academia Brasileira de Ciências, em vários estudos enviados ao Congresso e publicados, apresentaram as conclusões e recomendações dos cientistas. Foram ignoradas. Agora acaba de sair um estudo do Imazon (Instituto do Homem e Meio Ambiente da Amazônia) que reitera e quantifica uma das recomendações centrais desses estudos. Para atender à demanda crescente de alimentos, a solução não é ocupar novas terras, e sim aumentar a produtividade, particularmente na pecuária, responsável pela ocupação de novos desmatamentos. O governo tem um papel fundamental a desempenhar: cabe a ele estabelecer segurança, regularizando o caos que hoje reina na titulação das terras no Brasil. Basta ver que, como se noticiou há dias, as terras tituladas no Brasil ultrapassam as terras que realmente existem em área equivalente a mais de dois estados de São Paulo. Um cadastro confiável é perfeitamente possível, é preciso vontade política para alcançá-lo. Você perguntou especificamente pela Portaria 303/2012, da Advocacia Geral da União, que pretende abusivamente estender a todas as situações de terras indígenas as restrições decididas pelo STF para o caso complicadíssimo de Raposa Serra do Sol em Roraima. Ela é mais um sintoma de tendências contraditórias dentro do Executivo, que, por um lado, conseguiu “desintrusar” pacificamente uma área xavante, mas, por outro lado, admite uma portaria como essa. Ela é um absurdo, e não é à toa que foi colocada em banho-maria pelo governo. Foi suspensa, mas não cancelada… A própria Associação Nacional dos Advogados da União pediu em setembro sua revogação e caracterizou sua orientação como “flagrantemente inconstitucional”. Essa portaria também fere pelo menos quatro artigos da Convenção 169 da OIT, da qual o Brasil é signatário.

Em um ensaio da década de 1990, você já falava sobre a disputa por recursos minerais e hídricos em áreas indígenas. Acredita que essas disputas estão mais acirradas hoje?

Já na Constituinte, em 1988, esses dois temas foram centrais. Chegou-se a um compromisso, que estipulava condições para acesso a esses recursos: ouvir as comunidades afetadas e autorização do Congresso Nacional (artigo 231 parágrafo 3). A disputa não mudou, mas o ambiente político atual favorece uma nova ofensiva da parte dos que nunca se conformaram. E assim surgem novas investidas no Congresso: projetos de lei para usurpar do Executivo a responsabilidade da demarcação das terras e para abrir as áreas indígenas à mineração. Por sua vez, Belo Monte foi enfiado goela abaixo de modo autoritário: o Executivo atropelou a consulta prévia, livre e informada a que os índios têm direito, e não foram cumpridas condicionantes essenciais acordadas, por exemplo no tocante ao atendimento à saúde indígena.

No ensaio sobre a política indigenista do século XIX, você mostra como naquele momento se consolidou uma visão dos índios como povos “primitivos” que teriam por destino serem incorporados ao “progresso” ocidental. Até que ponto essa ideia persiste hoje?

Essa visão está cada vez mais obsoleta: a noção triunfalista de um progresso medido por indicadores como o PIB é hoje seriamente criticada. Valores como sustentabilidade ambiental, justiça social, desenvolvimento humano e diversidade são parte agora do modo de avaliar o verdadeiro progresso de um país. Por outra parte, no século XIX, positivistas e evolucionistas sociais puseram em voga a ideia de uma marcha inexorável da História: qualquer que fosse a política, os índios estariam fadados ao desaparecimento, quando não simplesmente físico, pelo menos social. Essa também é uma falácia que a História ela própria desmistificou: os índios, felizmente, estão aqui para ficar. A História não se faz por si, são pessoas que fazem a História, e seus atos têm consequências. Usa esse entulho ideológico quem carece de argumentos.

No ensaio “O futuro da questão indígena”, você defende a necessidade de “um novo pacto com as populações indígenas” e aponta a “sociodiversidade” como “condição de sobrevivência” para o mundo. Como define “sociodiversidade”, e o que seria esse “novo pacto”?

O Brasil não é só megadiverso pela sua grande diversidade de espécies, ele também é megadiverso pelas sociedades distintas que abriga. Segundo o censo do IBGE de 2010, há 305 etnias indígenas no Brasil, que falam 274 línguas. Essa sociodiversidade é, segundo Lévi-Strauss, um capital inestimável de imaginação sociológica e uma fonte de conhecimento. Um mundo sem diversidade é um mundo morto. E quanto ao pacto com as populações indígenas que evoco, trata-se do seguinte: os índios que conservaram a floresta e a biodiversidade até agora (basta ver como o Parque Nacional do Xingu é uma ilha verde num mar de devastação) estão sujeitos a grandes pressões de madeireiras e de vários outros agentes econômicos. Nada garante, se as condições não mudarem, que possam continuar nesse rumo. Para o Brasil, que precisa com urgência de um programa de conservação da floresta em pé, um pacto com as populações indígenas para esse fim seria essencial.

Na Rio+20, você participou de um painel sobre as contribuições dos saberes indígenas para as ciências. O que pode ser feito para possibilitar esse diálogo?

O conhecimento das diversas sociedades indígenas pode continuar a trazer contribuições da maior relevância para temas como previsão e adaptação a mudanças climáticas, conservação da biodiversidade, ecologia, substâncias com atividade biológica, substâncias com possíveis usos industriais e muitos outros. Isso já está reconhecido e posto em prática no âmbito da Convenção pela Diversidade Biológica e no Painel do Clima, por exemplo. Poder-se-ia pensar que bastaria recolher essas informações e usá-las na nossa ciência quando úteis. Mas há outra dimensão importante desses saberes, que é seu modo específico de produzir conhecimento. Essa diversidade nos permite pensar diferentemente, sair dos limites de nossos axiomas. Não se trata, como fazem certos movimentos new age, de atribuir um valor superior aos conhecimentos tradicionais; não se trata de aderir a eles. Tampouco se trata de assimilá-los e diluí-los na ciência acadêmica. A importância de modos de conhecimento diferentes é nos fazer perceber que se pode pensar de outro modo. Foi abandonando um único postulado de Euclides que Lobatchevski e Bolayi viram de modo inteiramente novo a geometria. Por isso o diálogo dos diferentes sistemas de conhecimentos entre si e com a ciência deve preservar a autonomia de cada qual. O Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovação, via CNPq, encomendou-me um estudo para lançar as bases de um novo diálogo entre ciência e sistemas de conhecimentos tradicionais. Não é simples. Mas desde já sabemos que isso implicará formas institucionais que empoderem os vários parceiros. Um projeto-piloto que está sendo planejado nesse contexto responde a uma das diretrizes da FAO (Organização das Nações Unidas para Agricultura e Alimentação) que faz parte do Tratado sobre Recursos Fitogenéticos. Trata-se da conservação da diversidade agrícola de cultivares de mandioca, sob a condução de populações indígenas do Rio Negro. A escolha não é por acaso. As agricultoras do médio e do alto Rio Negro conseguiram manter, criar e acumular centenas de variedades de mandioca.

Como interpreta mobilizações populares recentes em torno de causas indígenas, como aconteceu em favor dos guarani kaiowá?

Acho salutares essas mobilizações que, como já disse, são fruto de uma nova era na informação. Diante do recuo político nas questões ambiental, indígena e quilombola, há vozes que se levantam com indignação. A situação trágica dos guarani kaiowá, pontuada por suicídios de jovens, é emblemática do absurdo que seria a aplicação da Portaria 303/2012. Uma ampliação mais do que justa de suas terras — já que as que lhes garantiram não correspondem ao que determina o artigo 231 da Constituição — levaria a colocar em risco as poucas terras que têm. Os suicídios kaiowá atingem cada um de nós: somos todos kaiowá.

Power of Suggestion (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

January 30, 2013

The amazing influence of unconscious cues is among the most fascinating discoveries of our time­—that is, if it’s true

By Tom Bartlett

New Haven, Conn.

Power of SuggestionMark Abramson for The Chronicle Review. John Bargh rocked the world of social psychology with experiments that showed the power of unconscious cues over our behavior.

Aframed print of “The Garden of Earthly Delights” hangs above the moss-green, L-shaped sectional in John Bargh’s office on the third floor of Yale University’s Kirtland Hall. Hieronymus Bosch’s famous triptych imagines a natural environment that is like ours (water, flowers) yet not (enormous spiked and translucent orbs). What precisely the 15th-century Dutch master had in mind is still a mystery, though theories abound. On the left is presumably paradise, in the middle is the world, and on the right is hell, complete with knife-faced monster and human-devouring bird devil.

By Bosch’s standard, it’s too much to say the past year has been hellish for Bargh, but it hasn’t been paradise either. Along with personal upheaval, including a lengthy child-custody battle, he has coped with what amounts to an assault on his life’s work, the research that pushed him into prominence, the studies that Malcolm Gladwell called “fascinating” and Daniel Kahneman deemed “classic.” What was once widely praised is now being pilloried in some quarters as emblematic of the shoddiness and shallowness of social psychology. When Bargh responded to one such salvo with a couple of sarcastic blog posts, he was ridiculed as going on a “one-man rampage.” He took the posts down and regrets writing them, but his frustration and sadness at how he’s been treated remain.

Psychology may be simultaneously at the highest and lowest point in its history. Right now its niftiest findings are routinely simplified and repackaged for a mass audience; if you wish to publish a best seller sans bloodsucking or light bondage, you would be well advised to match a few dozen psychological papers with relatable anecdotes and a grabby, one-word title. That isn’t true across the board. Researchers engaged in more technical work on, say, the role of grapheme units in word recognition must comfort themselves with the knowledge that science is, by its nature, incremental. But a social psychologist with a sexy theory has star potential. In the last decade or so, researchers have made astonishing discoveries about the role of consciousness, the reasons for human behavior, the motivations for why we do what we do. This stuff is anything but incremental.

At the same time, psychology has been beset with scandal and doubt. Formerly high-flying researchers like Diederik Stapel, Marc Hauser, and Dirk Smeesters saw their careers implode after allegations that they had cooked their results and managed to slip them past the supposedly watchful eyes of peer reviewers. Psychology isn’t the only field with fakers, but it has its share. Plus there’s the so-called file-drawer problem, that is, the tendency for researchers to publish their singular successes and ignore their multiple failures, making a fluke look like a breakthrough. Fairly or not, social psychologists are perceived to be less rigorous in their methods, generally not replicating their own or one another’s work, instead pressing on toward the next headline-making outcome.

Much of the criticism has been directed at priming. The definitions get dicey here because the term can refer to a range of phenomena, some of which are grounded in decades of solid evidence—like the “anchoring effect,” which happens, for instance, when a store lists a competitor’s inflated price next to its own to make you think you’re getting a bargain. That works. The studies that raise eyebrows are mostly in an area known as behavioral or goal priming, research that demonstrates how subliminal prompts can make you do all manner of crazy things. A warm mug makes you friendlier. The American flag makes you vote Republican. Fast-food logos make you impatient. A small group of skeptical psychologists—let’s call them the Replicators—have been trying to reproduce some of the most popular priming effects in their own labs.

What have they found? Mostly that they can’t get those results. The studies don’t check out. Something is wrong. And because he is undoubtedly the biggest name in the field, the Replicators have paid special attention to John Bargh and the study that started it all.

As in so many other famous psychological experiments, the researcher lies to the subject. After rearranging lists of words into sensible sentences, the subject—a New York University undergraduate—is told that the experiment is about language ability. It is not. In fact, the real test doesn’t begin until the subject exits the room. In the hallway is a graduate student with a stopwatch hidden beneath her coat. She’s pretending to wait for a meeting but really she’s working with the researchers. She times how long it takes the subject to walk from the doorway to a strip of silver tape a little more than 30 feet down the corridor. The experiment hinges on that stopwatch.

The words the subject was asked to rearrange were not random, though they seemed that way (this was confirmed in postexperiment interviews with each subject). They were words like “bingo” and “Florida,” “knits” and “wrinkles,” “bitter” and “alone.” Reading the list, you can almost picture a stooped senior padding around a condo, complaining at the television. A control group unscrambled words that evoked no theme. When the walking times of the two groups were compared, the Florida-knits-alone subjects walked, on average, more slowly than the control group. Words on a page made them act old.

It’s a cute finding. But the more you think about it, the more serious it starts to seem. What if we are constantly being influenced by subtle, unnoticed cues? If “Florida” makes you sluggish, could “cheetah” make you fleet of foot? Forget walking speeds. Is our environment making us meaner or more creative or stupider without our realizing it? We like to think we’re steering the ship of self, but what if we’re actually getting blown about by ghostly gusts?

John Bargh and his co-authors, Mark Chen and Lara Burrows, performed that experiment in 1990 or 1991. They didn’t publish it until 1996. Why sit on such a fascinating result? For starters, they wanted to do it again, which they did. They also wanted to perform similar experiments with different cues. One of those other experiments tested subjects to see if they were more hostile when primed with an African-American face. They were. (The subjects were not African-American.) In the other experiment, the subjects were primed with rude words to see if that would make them more likely to interrupt a conversation. It did.

The researchers waited to publish until other labs had found the same type of results. They knew their finding would be controversial. They knew many people wouldn’t believe it. They were willing to stick their necks out, but they didn’t want to be the only ones.

Since that study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,it has been cited more than 2,000 times. Though other researchers did similar work at around the same time, and even before, it was that paper that sparked the priming era. Its authors knew, even before it was published, that the paper was likely to catch fire. They wrote: “The implications for many social psychological phenomena … would appear to be considerable.” Translation: This is a huge deal.

When he was 9 or 10, Bargh decided to become a psychologist. He was in the kitchen of his family’s house in Champaign, Ill., when this revelation came to him. He didn’t know everything that would entail, of course, or what exactly a psychologist did, but he wanted to understand more about human emotion because it was this “mysterious powerful influence on everything.” His dad was an administrator at the University of Illinois, and so he was familiar with university campuses. He liked them. He still does. When he was in high school, he remembers arguing about B.F. Skinner. Everyone else in the class thought Skinner’s ideas were ridiculous. Bargh took the other side, not so much because he embraced the philosophy of radical behaviorism or enjoyed Skinner’s popular writings. It was more because he reveled in contrarianism. “This guy is thinking something nobody else agrees with,” he says now. “Let’s consider that he might be right.”

I met Bargh on a Thursday morning a couple of weeks before Christmas. He was dressed in cable-knit and worn jeans with hiking boots. At 58 he still has a full head of dark, appropriately mussed-up hair. Bargh was reclining on the previously mentioned moss-green sectional while downing coffee to stay alert as he whittled away at a thick stack of finals papers. He rose to greet me, sat back down, and sighed.

The last year has been tough for Bargh. Professionally, the nadir probably came in January, when a failed replication of the famous elderly-walking study was published in the journal PLoS ONE. It was not the first failed replication, but this one stung. In the experiment, the researchers had tried to mirror Bargh’s methods with an important exception: Rather than stopwatches, they used automatic timing devices with infrared sensors to eliminate any potential bias. The words didn’t make subjects act old. They tried the experiment again with stopwatches and added a twist: They told those operating the stopwatches which subjects were expected to walk slowly. Then it worked. The title of their paper tells the story: “Behavioral Priming: It’s All in the Mind, but Whose Mind?”

The paper annoyed Bargh. He thought the researchers didn’t faithfully follow his methods section, despite their claims that they did. But what really set him off was a blog post that explained the results. The post, on the blog Not Exactly Rocket Science, compared what happened in the experiment to the notorious case of Clever Hans, the horse that could supposedly count. It was thought that Hans was a whiz with figures, stomping a hoof in response to mathematical queries. In reality, the horse was picking up on body language from its handler. Bargh was the deluded horse handler in this scenario. That didn’t sit well with him. If the PLoS ONE paper is correct, the significance of his experiment largely dissipates. What’s more, he looks like a fool, tricked by a fairly obvious flaw in the setup.

Bargh responded in two long, detailed posts on his rarely updated Psychology Todayblog. He spelled out the errors he believed were made in the PLoS ONE paper. Most crucially, he wrote, in the original experiment there was no way for the graduate student with the stopwatch to know who was supposed to walk slowly and who wasn’t. The posts were less temperate than most public discourse in science, but they were hardly mouth-foaming rants. He referred to “incompetent or ill-informed researchers,” clearly a shot at the paper’s authors. He mocked the journal where the replication was published as “pay to play” and lacking the oversight of traditional journals. The title of the post, “Nothing in Their Heads,” while perhaps a reference to unconscious behavior, seemed less than collegial.

He also expressed concern for readers who count on “supposedly reputable online media sources for accurate information on psychological science.” This was a dig at the blog post’s author, Ed Yong, who Bargh believes had written an unfair piece. “I was hurt by the things that were said, not just in the article, but in Ed Yong’s coverage of it,” Bargh says now. Yong’s post was more, though, than a credulous summary of the study. He interviewed researchers and provided context. The headline, “Why a classic psychology experiment isn’t what it seemed,” might benefit from softening, but if you’re looking for an example of sloppy journalism, this ain’t it.

While Bargh was dismayed by the paper and the publicity, the authors of the replication were equally taken aback by the severity of Bargh’s reaction. “That really threw us off, that response,” says Axel Cleeremans, a professor of cognitive science at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. “It was obvious that he was so dismissive, it was close to frankly insulting. He described us as amateur experimentalists, which everyone knows we are not.” Nor did they feel that his critique of their methods was valid. Even so, they tried the experiment again, taking into account Bargh’s concerns. It still didn’t work.

Bargh took his blog posts down after they were criticized. Though his views haven’t changed, he feels bad about his tone. In our conversations over the last month or so, Bargh has at times vigorously defended his work, pointing to a review he published recently in Trends in Cognitive Sciences that marshals recent priming studies into a kind of state-of-the-field address. Short version: Science marches on, priming’s doing great.

He complains that he has been a victim of scientific bullying (and some sympathetic toward Bargh use that phrase, too). There are other times, though, when he just seems crushed. “You invest your whole career and life in something, and to have this happen near the end of it—it’s very hard to take,” he says. Priming is what Bargh is known for. When he says “my name is a symbol that stands for these kinds of effects,” he’s not being arrogant. That’s a fact. Before the 1996 paper, he had already published respected and much-cited work on unconscious, automatic mental processes, but priming has defined him. In an interview on the Web site Edge a few years ago, back before the onslaught, he explained his research goals: “We have a trajectory downward, always downward, trying to find simple, basic causes and with big effects. We’re looking for simple things—not anything complicated—simple processes or concepts that then have profound effects.” The article labeled him “the simplifier.”

When I ask if he still believes in these effects, he says yes. They have been replicated in multiple labs. Some of those replications have been exact: stopwatch, the same set of words, and so on. Others have been conceptual. While they explore the same idea, maybe the study is about handwriting rather than walking. Maybe it’s about obesity rather than elderly stereotypes. But the gist is the same. “It’s not just my work that’s under attack here,” Bargh says. “It’s lots of people’s research being attacked and dismissed.” He has moments of doubt. How could he not? It’s deeply unsettling to have someone scrutinizing your old papers, looking for inconsistencies, even if you’re fairly confident about what you’ve accomplished. “Maybe there’s something we were doing that I didn’t realize,” he says, explaining the thoughts that have gone through his head. “You start doing that examination.”

So why not do an actual examination? Set up the same experiments again, with additional safeguards. It wouldn’t be terribly costly. No need for a grant to get undergraduates to unscramble sentences and stroll down a hallway. Bargh says he wouldn’t want to force his graduate students, already worried about their job prospects, to spend time on research that carries a stigma. Also, he is aware that some critics believe he’s been pulling tricks, that he has a “special touch” when it comes to priming, a comment that sounds like a compliment but isn’t. “I don’t think anyone would believe me,” he says.

Harold Pashler wouldn’t. Pashler, a professor of psychology at the University of California at San Diego, is the most prolific of the Replicators. He started trying priming experiments about four years ago because, he says, “I wanted to see these effects for myself.” That’s a diplomatic way of saying he thought they were fishy. He’s tried more than a dozen so far, including the elderly-walking study. He’s never been able to achieve the same results. Not once.

This fall, Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist, sent an e-mail to a small group of psychologists, including Bargh, warning of a “train wreck looming” in the field because of doubts surrounding priming research. He was blunt: “I believe that you should collectively do something about this mess. To deal effectively with the doubts you should acknowledge their existence and confront them straight on, because a posture of defiant denial is self-defeating,” he wrote.

Strongly worded e-mails from Nobel laureates tend to get noticed, and this one did. He sent it after conversations with Bargh about the relentless attacks on priming research. Kahneman cast himself as a mediator, a sort of senior statesman, endeavoring to bring together believers and skeptics. He does have a dog in the fight, though: Kahneman believes in these effects and has written admiringly of Bargh, including in his best seller Thinking, Fast and Slow.

On the heels of that message from on high, an e-mail dialogue began between the two camps. The vibe was more conciliatory than what you hear when researchers are speaking off the cuff and off the record. There was talk of the type of collaboration that Kahneman had floated, researchers from opposing sides combining their efforts in the name of truth. It was very civil, and it didn’t lead anywhere.

In one of those e-mails, Pashler issued a challenge masquerading as a gentle query: “Would you be able to suggest one or two goal priming effects that you think are especially strong and robust, even if they are not particularly well-known?” In other words, put up or shut up. Point me to the stuff you’re certain of and I’ll try to replicate it. This was intended to counter the charge that he and others were cherry-picking the weakest work and then doing a victory dance after demolishing it. He didn’t get the straightforward answer he wanted. “Some suggestions emerged but none were pointing to a concrete example,” he says.

One possible explanation for why these studies continually and bewilderingly fail to replicate is that they have hidden moderators, sensitive conditions that make them a challenge to pull off. Pashler argues that the studies never suggest that. He wrote in that same e-mail: “So from our reading of the literature, it is not clear why the results should be subtle or fragile.”

Bargh contends that we know more about these effects than we did in the 1990s, that they’re more complicated than researchers had originally assumed. That’s not a problem, it’s progress. And if you aren’t familiar with the literature in social psychology, with the numerous experiments that have modified and sharpened those early conclusions, you’re unlikely to successfully replicate them. Then you will trot out your failure as evidence that the study is bogus when really what you’ve proved is that you’re no good at social psychology.

Pashler can’t quite disguise his disdain for such a defense. “That doesn’t make sense to me,” he says. “You published it. That must mean you think it is a repeatable piece of work. Why can’t we do it just the way you did it?”

That’s how David Shanks sees things. He, too, has been trying to replicate well-known priming studies, and he, too, has been unable to do so. In a forthcoming paper, Shanks, a professor of psychology at University College London, recounts his and his several co-authors’ attempts to replicate one of the most intriguing effects, the so-called professor prime. In the study, one group was told to imagine a professor’s life and then list the traits that brought to mind. Another group was told to do the same except with a soccer hooligan rather than a professor.

The groups were then asked questions selected from the board game Trivial Pursuit, questions like “Who painted ‘Guernica’?” and “What is the capital of Bangladesh?” (Picasso and Dhaka, for those playing at home.) Their scores were then tallied. The subjects who imagined the professor scored above a control group that wasn’t primed. The subjects who imagined soccer hooligans scored below the professor group and below the control. Thinking about a professor makes you smart while thinking about a hooligan makes you dumb. The study has been replicated a number of times, including once on Dutch television.

Shanks can’t get the result. And, boy, has he tried. Not once or twice, but nine times.

The skepticism about priming, says Shanks, isn’t limited to those who have committed themselves to reperforming these experiments. It’s not only the Replicators. “I think more people in academic psychology than you would imagine appreciate the historical implausibility of these findings, and it’s just that those are the opinions that they have over the water fountain,” he says. “They’re not the opinions that get into the journalism.”

Like all the skeptics I spoke with, Shanks believes the worst is yet to come for priming, predicting that “over the next two or three years you’re going to see an avalanche of failed replications published.” The avalanche may come sooner than that. There are failed replications in press at the moment and many more that have been completed (Shanks’s paper on the professor prime is in press at PLoS ONE). A couple of researchers I spoke with didn’t want to talk about their results until they had been peer reviewed, but their preliminary results are not encouraging.

Ap Dijksterhuis is the author of the professor-prime paper. At first, Dijksterhuis, a professor of psychology at Radboud University Nij­megen, in the Netherlands, wasn’t sure he wanted to be interviewed for this article. That study is ancient news—it was published in 1998, and he’s moved away from studying unconscious processes in the last couple of years, in part because he wanted to move on to new research on happiness and in part because of the rancor and suspicion that now accompany such work. He’s tired of it.

The outing of Diederik Stapel made the atmosphere worse. Stapel was a social psychologist at Tilburg University, also in the Netherlands, who was found to have committed scientific misconduct in scores of papers. The scope and the depth of the fraud were jaw-dropping, and it changed the conversation. “It wasn’t about research practices that could have been better. It was about fraud,” Dijksterhuis says of the Stapel scandal. “I think that’s playing in the background. It now almost feels as if people who do find significant data are making mistakes, are doing bad research, and maybe even doing fraudulent things.”

In the e-mail discussion spurred by Kahneman’s call to action, Dijk­sterhuis laid out a number of possible explanations for why skeptics were coming up empty when they attempted priming studies. Cultural differences, for example. Studying prejudice in the Netherlands is different from studying it in the United States. Certain subjects are not susceptible to certain primes, particularly a subject who is unusually self-aware. In an interview, he offered another, less charitable possibility. “It could be that they are bad experimenters,” he says. “They may turn out failures to replicate that have been shown by 15 or 20 people already. It basically shows that it’s something with them, and it’s something going on in their labs.”

Joseph Cesario is somewhere between a believer and a skeptic, though these days he’s leaning more skeptic. Cesario is a social psychologist at Michigan State University, and he’s successfully replicated Bargh’s elderly-walking study, discovering in the course of the experiment that the attitude of a subject toward the elderly determined whether the effect worked or not. If you hate old people, you won’t slow down. He is sympathetic to the argument that moderators exist that make these studies hard to replicate, lots of little monkey wrenches ready to ruin the works. But that argument only goes so far. “At some point, it becomes excuse-making,” he says. “We have to have some threshold where we say that it doesn’t exist. It can’t be the case that some small group of people keep hitting on the right moderators over and over again.”

Cesario has been trying to replicate a recent finding of Bargh’s. In that study, published last year in the journal Emotion, Bargh and his co-author, Idit Shalev, asked subjects about their personal hygiene habits—how often they showered and bathed, for how long, how warm they liked the water. They also had subjects take a standard test to determine their degree of social isolation, whether they were lonely or not. What they found is that lonely people took longer and warmer baths and showers, perhaps substituting the warmth of the water for the warmth of regular human interaction.

That isn’t priming, exactly, though it is a related unconscious phenomenon often called embodied cognition. As in the elderly-walking study, the subjects didn’t realize what they were doing, didn’t know they were bathing longer because they were lonely. Can warm water alleviate feelings of isolation? This was a result with real-world applications, and reporters jumped on it. “Wash the loneliness away with a long, hot bath,” read an NBC News headline.

Bargh’s study had 92 subjects. So far Cesario has run more than 2,500 through the same experiment. He’s found absolutely no relationship between bathing and loneliness. Zero. “It’s very worrisome if you have people thinking they can take a shower and they can cure their depression,” he says. And he says Bargh’s data are troublesome. “Extremely small samples, extremely large effects—that’s a red flag,” he says. “It’s not a red flag for people publishing those studies, but it should be.”

Even though he is, in a sense, taking aim at Bargh, Cesario thinks it’s a shame that the debate over priming has become so personal, as if it’s a referendum on one man. “He has the most eye-catching findings. He always has,” Cesario says. “To the extent that some of his effects don’t replicate, because he’s identified as priming, it casts doubt on the entire body of research. He is priming.”

That has been the narrative. Bargh’s research is crumbling under scrutiny and, along with it, perhaps priming as a whole. Maybe the most exciting aspect of social psychology over the last couple of decades, these almost magical experiments in which people are prompted to be smarter or slower without them even knowing it, will end up as an embarrassing footnote rather than a landmark achievement.

Then along comes Gary Latham.

Latham, an organizational psychologist in the management school at the University of Toronto, thought the research Bargh and others did was crap. That’s the word he used. He told one of his graduate students, Amanda Shantz, that if she tried to apply Bargh’s principles it would be a win-win. If it failed, they could publish a useful takedown. If it succeeded … well, that would be interesting.

They performed a pilot study, which involved showing subjects a photo of a woman winning a race before the subjects took part in a brainstorming task. As Bargh’s research would predict, the photo made them perform better at the brainstorming task. Or seemed to. Latham performed the experiment again in cooperation with another lab. This time the study involved employees in a university fund-raising call center. They were divided into three groups. Each group was given a fact sheet that would be visible while they made phone calls. In the upper left-hand corner of the fact sheet was either a photo of a woman winning a race, a generic photo of employees at a call center, or no photo. Again, consistent with Bargh, the subjects who were primed raised more money. Those with the photo of call-center employees raised the most, while those with the race-winner photo came in second, both outpacing the photo-less control. This was true even though, when questioned afterward, the subjects said they had been too busy to notice the photos.

Latham didn’t want Bargh to be right. “I couldn’t have been more skeptical or more disbelieving when I started the research,” he says. “I nearly fell off my chair when my data” supported Bargh’s findings.

That experiment has changed Latham’s opinion of priming and has him wondering now about the applications for unconscious primes in our daily lives. Are there photos that would make people be safer at work? Are there photos that undermine performance? How should we be fine-tuning the images that surround us? “It’s almost scary in lots of ways that these primes in these environments can affect us without us being aware,” he says. Latham hasn’t stopped there. He’s continued to try experiments using Bargh’s ideas, and those results have only strengthened his confidence in priming. “I’ve got two more that are just mind-blowing,” he says. “And I know John Bargh doesn’t know about them, but he’ll be a happy guy when he sees them.”

Latham doesn’t know why others have had trouble. He only knows what he’s found, and he’s certain about his own data. In the end, Latham thinks Bargh will be vindicated as a pioneer in understanding unconscious motivations. “I’m like a converted Christian,” he says. “I started out as a devout atheist, and now I’m a believer.”

Following his come-to-Jesus transformation, Latham sent an e-mail to Bargh to let him know about the call-center experiment. When I brought this up with Bargh, his face brightened slightly for the first time in our conversation. “You can imagine how that helped me,” he says. He had been feeling isolated, under siege, worried that his legacy was becoming a cautionary tale. “You feel like you’re on an island,” he says.

Though Latham is now a believer, he remains the exception. With more failed replications in the pipeline, Dijksterhuis believes that Kahneman’s looming-train-wreck letter, though well meaning, may become a self-fulfilling prophecy, helping to sink the field rather than save it. Perhaps the perception has already become so negative that further replications, regardless of what they find, won’t matter much. For his part, Bargh is trying to take the long view. “We have to think about 50 or 100 years from now—are people going to believe the same theories?” he says. “Maybe it’s not true. Let’s see if it is or isn’t.”

Tom Bartlett is a senior writer at The Chronicle.

O recorde de Dilma (Brasileiros)

3 de fevereiro de 2013 – 10:37

Metade dos impostos arrecadados pelo governo são destinados a programas sociais

50,4%. Essa é a porcentagem do que o governo federal gasta de sua arrecadação com programas sociais e verbas destinadas diretamente a famílias registradas em políticas de auxílio. As informações são da Folha de S. Paulo.

O número, um recorde nacional, mostra que entre regime geral de previdência, amparo ao trabalhador e assistência, o governo da presidenta Dilma Rousseff distribuí R$ 405,2 bilhões. O valor representa 9,2% do Produto Interno Bruto (PIB) brasileiro.

O aumento das despesas do governo com medidas sociais podem ser creditados ao aumento do salário mínimo, que subiu 7,5% acima da inflação, maior guinada desde o ano de 2006. Assim como as aposentadorias, pensões e benefícios trabalhistas, os programas assistências seguem o salário mínimo como referência.

A política social explica a carga de impostos nacional, que hoje representa 35% da arrecadação do governo. Em outros países emergentes da América Latina e da Ásia, a carga tributária representa entre 20% e 25% da arrecadação. Recentemente, a Argentina subiu seus impostos e se aproximou dos valores tributados arrecadados pelo Brasil.

Queda da taxa de desemprego

Os valores investidos pelo governo federal parecem estar surtindo efeito junto à população. Na última quinta-feira, dia 31, o Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE) divulgou que a taxa de desemprego no país em 2012 foi de 5,5%, a menor da série histórica iniciada no ano de 2003.

Em relação ao seguro-desemprego, um novo decreto editado recentemente apresenta mudanças para quem deseja usufruir do benefício. Agora, trabalhadores que ingressarem no programa pela terceira vez terão que participar de curso profissionalizante para garantir o direito.

Programa símbolo do governo de Lula, o Bolsa Família representa a maior despesa entre os programas sociais mantidos pelo governo federal. Criado há quase dez anos, o programa passou por significativa reformulação sob a tutela de Dilma Rousseff.

A linha de ação da presidenta busca beneficiar famílias que estão abaixo da linha da miséria. Enquadram-se nessa categoria famílias cujo rendimento é inferior ao valor de R$ 70 por pessoa. Em virtude dessa meta, a despesa com o programa saltou de R$ 13,6 bilhões no fim do governo Lula para R$ 20,5 bilhões em 2012. O Bolsa Família beneficia 13,9 milhões de famílias em todo o Brasil.

Dez anos de Fome Zero ajuda Guaribas (PI) a elevar IDH (Agência Brasil)

Da Agência Brasil – 03/02/2013

Lucas Rodrigues
Enviado Especial da EBC

Guaribas (PI) – Lançado no dia 3 de fevereiro de 2003, no município com o menor Índice de Desenvolvimento Humano (IDH) do país, o Programa Fome Zero foi criado com o objetivo de erradicar a miséria, com a transferência de renda e garantindo o alimento para as famílias que viviam na extrema pobreza. Hoje, o Brasil ainda tem pelo menos 5,3 milhões de pessoas sobrevivendo com menos de R$ 70 por mês, diferentemente do início dos anos 2000, quando eram 28 milhões de pessoas abaixo da linha da pobreza.

Nos último dez anos, esse número vem diminuindo. Em parte, por causa de políticas públicas de ampliação do trabalho formal, do apoio à agricultura e da transferência de renda. Hoje, a iniciativa, que ganhou o nome de Bolsa Família, chega a quase 14 milhões de lares. Ela nasceu do Programa Fome Zero, criado para garantir no mínimo três refeições por dia a todos os brasileiros. E foi do interior do Nordeste que essa iniciativa partiu para o restante do país.

Depois de dez anos, a Agência Brasil voltou a Guaribas, no sul do Piauí, escolhida como a primeira beneficiária do programa de transferência de renda. Localizada a 600 quilômetros ao sul da capital, Teresina, Guaribas não oferecia condições básicas para uma vida digna de sua população: faltava comida no prato das famílias, que, na maioria das vezes, só tinham feijão para comer. Não havia rede elétrica e poucas casas tinham fogão a gás.

Mulheres e crianças andavam quilômetros para conseguir um pouco de água e essa busca, às vezes, durava o dia inteiro. A dona de casa Gilsa Alves lembra que, naquela época, “era difícil encontrar água para lavar roupa”, no período de seca. “Às vezes, até para tomar banho era com dificuldade”.

O aposentado Eurípedes Correa da Silva não se esquece daquele tempo, quando chegou a trabalhar até de vigia das poucas fontes que eram verdadeiros tesouros durante os longos períodos de seca, com água racionada. Hoje, a água chega, encanada, à casa dele.

Pai de sete filhos, Eurípedes tem televisão e geladeira. Além do dinheiro da lavoura e da aposentadoria, ele recebia o benefício do Fome Zero e agora conta com o Bolsa Família. O benefício chega a 1,5 mil lares e a meta é alcançar 2 mil neste ano, o que representa oito em cada dez moradores da cidade. A coordenadora do programa em Guaribas, Raimunda Correia Maia, diz que “o dinheiro que gira no município, das compras, da sustentação dos filhos, gera desenvolvimento”.

A energia elétrica também chegou a Guaribas e trouxe com ela internet e os telefones celulares. No centro da cidade, há uma praça com ruas calçadas e uma delegacia, além de agências bancárias, dos Correios e escolas. A frota de veículos cresceu e, hoje, o que se vê são motos, em vez de jegues.

O município conquistou o principal objetivo: acabar com a miséria. Mesmo assim, ainda está entre os mais pobres do país e enfrenta o êxodo dos jovens em busca de emprego em grandes cidades. Segundo o IBGE, entre 2000 e 2007, quase 10% dos moradores deixaram Guaribas.

Alan e Rosângela podem ser os próximos. O Bolsa Família e as melhorias na cidade não foram suficientes para manter o casal no município, já que ali os dois não encontram trabalho. Os irmãos já foram para São Paulo e é impossível sustentar a família de oito pessoas com um cartão (do Bolsa Família) de R$ 130.

Quem escolheu ficar na cidade sabe que muita coisa tem que melhorar. O esgoto ainda não é tratado; algumas obras não saíram do lugar, como a do mercado municipal. Até o memorial erguido em homenagem ao Fome Zero está abandonado há anos. Longe de Teresina, os moradores se sentem isolados, principalmente por causa da dificuldade de chegar à cidade mais próxima: são 54 quilômetros de estrada de terra, em péssimo estado, até Caracol.

Isso torna difícil escoar a produção de feijão e milho e faz com que todos os produtos cheguem mais caros. A dificuldade de acesso também prejudica uma das conquistas da região: a unidade de saúde. A doméstica Betânia Andrade Dias Silva levou o filho de 5 anos para uma consulta e não encontrou médicos.

Há mais de um mês, o atendimento é feito apenas por enfermeiras e por um dentista. Mesmo oferecendo um salário que chega a R$ 20 mil, a prefeitura diz que não consegue contratar médicos. O jeito é mandar os pacientes mais graves para as cidades Ela desabafa: “É ruim né?! Principalmente numa cidade pequena, na qual você precisa de um atendimento melhor, tem que sair para ir para outra cidade, Caracol, São Raimundo, que fica longe daqui. Por exemplo, caso de urgência, se você estiver à beira da morte, acaba morrendo na estrada… Então, é difícil”.

Mas essa situação pode começar a mudar ainda neste ano. Segundo informou a Secretaria de Transportes do Piauí, o trecho da BR-235 que liga Guaribas a Caracol deve começar a ser asfaltado em outubro. Por enquanto, está sendo asfaltado outro trecho da rodovia, entre Gilbués e Santa Filomena.

O casal Irineu e Eldiene saiu de Guaribas para procurar trabalho em outras cidades, mas voltou. Agora eles levantam, pouco a pouco, uma pousada no centro da cidade. Irineu diz que a obra que está fazendo não é “nem tanto pensando no agora”, é para o futuro. “Estou vendo que a cada ano que está passando, Guaribas está desenvolvendo mais”.

A expectativa de Irineu e Edilene é resultado da mudança dessa que já foi a cidade mais pobre do país. Mesmo com dificuldades, os moradores de Guaribas, agora, olham para o futuro com mais esperança e otimismo. Eldiene garante que vai ficar e ver a pousada cheia de clientes.

Veja aqui galeria de fotos de Guaribas na época do laçamento do Fome Zero.

Edição: Tereza Barbosa

Flap Over Study Linking Poverty to Biology Exposes Gulfs Among Disciplines (Chronicle of Higher Education)

February 1, 2013

Flap Over Study Linking Poverty to Biology Exposes Gulfs Among Disciplines 1

 Photo: iStock.

A study by two economists that used genetic diversity as a proxy for ethnic and cultural diversity has drawn fierce rebuttals from anthropologists and geneticists.

By Paul Voosen

Oded Galor and Quamrul Ashraf once thought their research into the causes of societal wealth would be seen as a celebration of diversity. However it has been described, though, it has certainly not been celebrated. Instead, it has sparked a dispute among scholars in several disciplines, many of whom are dubious of any work linking societal behavior to genetics. In the latest installment of the debate, 18 Harvard University scientists have called their work “seriously flawed on both factual and methodological grounds.”

Mr. Galor and Mr. Ashraf, economists at Brown University and Williams College, respectively, have long been fascinated by the historical roots of poverty. Six years ago, they began to wonder if a society’s diversity, in any way, could explain its wealth. They probed tracts of interdisciplinary data and decided they could use records of genetic diversity as a proxy for ethnic and cultural diversity. And after doing so, they found that, yes, a bit of genetic diversity did seem to help a society’s economic growth.

Since last fall, when the pair’s work began to filter out into the broader scientific world, their study has exposed deep rifts in how economists, anthropologists, and geneticists talk—and think. It has provoked calls for caution in how economists use genetic data, and calls of persecution in response. And all of this happened before the study was finally published, in the American Economic Review this month.

“Through this analysis, we’re getting a better understanding of how the world operates in order to alleviate poverty,” Mr. Ashraf said. Any other characterization, he added, is a “gross misunderstanding.”

‘Ethical Quagmires’

A barrage of criticism has been aimed at the study since last fall by a team of anthropologists and geneticists at Harvard. The critique began with a short, stern letter, followed by a rejoinder from the economists; now an expanded version of the Harvard critique will appear in February inCurrent Anthropology.

Fundamentally, the dispute comes down to issues of data selection and statistical power. The paper is a case of “garbage in, garbage out,” the Harvard group says. The indicators of genetic diversity that the economists use stem from only four or five independent points. All the regression analysis in the world can’t change that, said Nick Patterson, a computational biologist at Harvard and MIT’s Broad Institute.

“The data just won’t stand for what you’re claiming,” Mr. Patterson said. “Technical statistical analysis can only do so much for you. … I will bet you that they can’t find a single geneticist in the world who will tell them what they did was right.”

In some respects, the study has become an exemplar for how the nascent field of “genoeconomics,” a discipline that seeks to twin the power of gene sequencing and economics, can go awry. Connections between behavior and genetics rightly need to clear high bars of evidence, said Daniel Benjamin, an economist at Cornell University and a leader in the field who has frequently called for improved rigor.

“It’s an area that’s fraught with an unfortunate history and ethical quagmires,” he said. Mr. Galor and Mr. Ashraf had a creative idea, he added, even if all their analysis doesn’t pass muster.

“I’d like to see more data before I’m convinced that their [theory] is true,” said Mr. Benjamin, who was not affiliated with the study or the critique. The Harvard critics make all sorts of complaints, many of which are valid, he said. “But fundamentally the issue is that there’s just not that much independent data.”

Claims of ‘Outsiders’

The dispute also exposes issues inside anthropology, added Carl Lipo, an anthropologist at California State University at Long Beach who is known for his study of Easter Island. “Anthropologists have long tried to walk the line whereby we argue that there are biological origins to much of what makes us human, without putting much weight that any particular attribute has its origins in genetics [or] biology,” he said.

The debate often erupts in lower-profile ways and ends with a flurry of anthropologists’ putting down claims by “outsiders,” Mr. Lipo said. (Mr. Ashraf and Mr. Galor are “out on a limb” with their conclusions, he added.) The angry reaction speaks to the limits of anthropology, which has been unable to delineate how genetics reaches up through the idiosyncratic circumstances of culture and history to influence human behavior, he said.

Certainly, that reaction has been painful for the newest pair of outsiders.

Mr. Galor is well known for studying the connections between history and economic development. And like much scientific work, his recent research began in reaction to claims made by Jared Diamond, the famed geographer at the University of California at Los Angeles, that the development of agriculture gave some societies a head start. What other factors could help explain that distribution of wealth? Mr. Galor wondered.

Since records of ethnic or cultural diversity do not exist for the distant past, they chose to use genetic diversity as a proxy. (There is little evidence that it can, or can’t, serve as such a proxy, however.) Teasing out the connection to economics was difficult—diversity could follow growth, or vice versa—but they gave it a shot, Mr. Galor said.

“We had to find some root causes of the [economic] diversity we see across the globe,” he said.

They were acquainted with the “Out of Africa” hypothesis, which explains how modern human beings migrated from Africa in several waves to Asia and, eventually, the Americas. Due to simple genetic laws, those serial waves meant that people in Africa have a higher genetic diversity than those in the Americas. It’s an idea that found support in genetic sequencing of native populations, if only at the continental scale.

Combining the genetics with population-density estimates—data the Harvard group says are outdated—along with deep statistical analysis, the economists found that the low and high diversity found among Native Americans and Africans, respectively, was detrimental to development. Meanwhile, they found a sweet spot of diversity in Europe and Asia. And they stated the link in sometimes strong, causal language, prompting another bitter discussion with the Harvard group over correlation and causation.

An ‘Artifact’ of the Data?

The list of flaws found by the Harvard group is long, but it boils down to the fact that no one has ever made a solid connection between genes and poverty before, even if genetics are used only as a proxy, said Jade d’Alpoim Guedes, a graduate student in anthropology at Harvard and the critique’s lead author.

“If my research comes up with findings that change everything we know,” Ms. d’Alpoim Guedes said, “I’d really check all of my input sources. … Can I honestly say that this pattern that I see is true and not an artifact of the input data?”

Mr. Ashraf and Mr. Galor found the response to their study, which they had previewed many times over the years to other economists, to be puzzling and emotionally charged. Their critics refused to engage, they said. They would have loved to present their work to a lecture hall full of anthropologists at Harvard. (Mr. Ashraf, who’s married to an anthropologist, is a visiting scholar this year at Harvard’s Kennedy School.) Their gestures were spurned, they said.

“We really felt like it was an inquisition,” Mr. Galor said. “The tone and level of these arguments were really so unscientific.”

Mr. Patterson, the computational biologist, doesn’t quite agree. The conflict has many roots but derives in large part from differing standards for publication. Submit the same paper to a leading genetics journal, he said, and it would not have even reached review.

“They’d laugh at you,” Mr. Patterson said. “This doesn’t even remotely meet the cut.”

In the end, it’s unfortunate the economists chose genetic diversity as their proxy for ethnic diversity, added Mr. Benjamin, the Cornell economist. They’re trying to get at an interesting point. “The genetics is really secondary, and not really that important,” he said. “It’s just something that they’re using as a measure of the amount of ethnic diversity.”

Mr. Benjamin also wishes they had used more care in their language and presentation.

“It’s not enough to be careful in the way we use genetic data,” he said. “We need to bend over backwards being careful in the way we talk about what the data means; how we interpret findings that relate to genetic data; and how we communicate those findings to readers and the public.”

Mr. Ashraf and Mr. Galor have not decided whether to respond to the Harvard critique. They say they can, point by point, but that ultimately, the American Economic Review’s decision to publish the paper as its lead study validates their work. They want to push forward on their research. They’ve just released a draft study that probes deeper into the connections between genetic diversity and cultural fragmentation, Mr. Ashraf said.

“There is much more to learn from this data,” he said. “It is certainly not the final word.”