Jonathan Neale writes: One of the puzzling and enraging things about the covid pandemic is the anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers in the United States, Britain, and more widely. And then there are the other forms of covid denial – ‘It’s only the flu’, ‘It’s not real’, ‘There are no cases in hospital’, ‘Herd immunity will save us’.
Many people explain this by saying those other people are mad, deluded, stupid, paranoid, the victims of the internet and conspiracy theories. Or by saying it’s a mystery why they do that. I want to present a political explanation. It comes from some thinking Nancy Lindisfarne and I have been doing about big lies and fascist movements.
Yesterday, at Biden’s inauguration, we saw a moment that marked a turning point in the history of poetry in English. We saw also how three women marked and lived the contradictions of a turning point in the history of the United States.
Joe Biden’s speech was never going to be the centrepiece of the event. He does not have the skills as an orator. More important, the politics of compromise he brings to this moment could not do justice to the passions of the movement that put him there. So the weight of the moment fell on the shoulders of the artists, two singers and a poet, three women, one white, one Latina, one black, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Amanda Gorman. Continue reading →
In 1971 and 1972 Richard Tapper and I lived with Afghan villagers for nearly a year. The Piruzai, some 200 families, lived in two small settlements near the town of Sar-e Pol in northern Afghanistan. They were Pashtu-speakers, pastoralists and peasant farmers, poor people, working very hard to survive in a vicious feudal system.
The people, the setting, and even the division of labour between Richard and myself seemed to conform to every stereotype about the Middle East. There were veiled women, men on horseback, camel caravans, stunning scenery and dramatic lives. These were stereotypes shared by the Afghan officials, politicians and urban professionals we met in Kabul. But the people we met were not two dimensional.
They were warm, funny, clear-thinking and tough. They understood we were doing research – anthropology – insanshenasi – and they wanted to help us ‘write a book’. They wanted their words to be heard and written down. Living with the Piruzai was an immense privilege and our obligation to tell the story of the Piruzai is on-going. Continue reading →
[Originally published as a letter/comment in Anthropology Today, March 2020.]
The editorial by Thomas Hylland Eriksen (AT Feb 2020, Vol 36, no 1) is a passionate plea for more anthropological engagement in public debates about global warming. His focus is on knowledge – ‘what we can say’ and storytelling – ‘how can we say it?’ His hope is that anthropologists can find ways to intervene more effectively in political debate. I agree and would add that to do so, we need to be willing to take sides, and draw on our anthropological and historical understanding of resistance, social movements and the mechanics of social change (Armbruster & Laerke 2008; Lindisfarne 2010). And in the case of global warming, there is one utterly compelling way to take Eriksen’s plea for action further.
This article does two things. First, we pass on Timothy Snyder’s reasons for describing as fascist the invasion of the Capitol building in Washington. Second, we explain why fascists have to tell big lies, why they tell the particular lies they do, and how this is connected to the class con which is basic to fascist politics.
Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: Yesterday we tuned in to watch Rachel Maddow’s nightly one-hour show on the US cable news network, MSNBC. Something extraordinary happened. Twenty minutes into the show Maddow began to talk about the Harvey Weinstein case. Over the next forty minutes she set forth, in powerful and coherent detail, how her bosses had attempted to protect Weinstein from the exposure of his sexual harassment and rapes on NBC News. Maddow accused her bosses, her bosses’ bosses, and her bosses’ bosses’ bosses, of lying, and of actions that were illegal and immoral. On live TV. Continue reading →
Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: Lurking behind any discussion of men and masculinities is a deep presumption that men are aggressive sexual predators disposed to raging violence, while women are passive victims good only for reproduction. If this binary construction is ‘natural’, if it is our DNA as a species, then what is the point of asking ‘Why are men and women unequal?’ ‘Why are lesbians and gays oppressed?’ ‘Why are many men violent?’ ‘Why is sexual violence so common?’
Yet these are old, very important questions. For thousands of years the most forceful answers have come from the people who dominate society. Continue reading →
Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: With Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the US Supreme Court, the majority of justices are against women’s abortion rights. This is the second of two posts about the “abortion wars” in the United States. In retelling this history we are looking for insights that might help us to fight for abortion rights going forward. Continue reading →
This is the first of two posts looking to the history of abortion rights in America. Both focus on lessons learned that we can use in the fight for abortion rights in the future. We make two central points in this post. Abortion rights were won by a mass movement, not the Supreme Court. Second, the abortion wars continue because abortion has come to stand for women’s equality, sexual freedom and desire. Continue reading →