Friday, October 15, 2021


 As an anthropologist, I find today's America provides the greatest source of cultural diversity and challenges to a discipline that many in the public still identify as the study of "rocks and bones". Cultures clash and synthesize all around us. They compete with one another and cooperate synergistical with others in larger systems. It is this quality that leads me to view organizations, communities and institutions -- societies for short -- a superorganic entities.

Nature creates plant and animal communities that adapt and fill their ecological zones and expand to neighboring territory through adaptation. Adaptation comes from inbreeding whether by genes, synergeyes,  ideas, values, and/or through inter- and cross-breeding. History provides the record of the new emergent structures. Patterns emerge as these systems grow, and then eventually retreat into a smaller, narrow ecological zone much like we see in biological viruses or social movements such as the Taliban, or cultish political ideologies. There they join to form a local system. or community. Each element becomes part of the community's own life cycle.

But more than just a rich field for academic research is the challenge of applying the lessons learned by humanity over the thousands of years of our existence ,collected, analyzed, and evaluated by academics to the solution of human and societal problems that serve all human-kind and the general welfare of human actions on the planet.

Today, as we see, the world is becoming a singular place, people and a vast network of conflicting values. A challenge to anthropology and all the social, biological and medical sciences.

This is the world of the present and future. Technology and climate change are forcing all life to adapt, adjust, or die off. Earth will survive but will the higher life forms or at Venus or Mars our eventual destiny?

SOPA -- a brief history of local applied anthropology circa 1980


Society of Professional Anthropologists (SOPA)

               Founded in 1974; Disbanded in 1983

               Mailing list of about 300 persons

               Addresses [? What would be the best one to use?]

               Correspondents: Barry Bainton and Margaret Knight

A.     History and leadership

After incubating during the fall and winter of 1974-75, SOPA came into being during an open invitation party that winter at the Statler Hilton on Miracle Mile in Tucson, Arizona. Fifty people attended. Margaret Knight and Barry Bainton had discussed their ideas for a local anthropology organization and concluded that there was a strong need for such a group to help pave the way for the future of the discipline outside of academia. Originally, they considered the possibility of forming a program evaluation group (the Southern Arizona Program Evaluation Group), but later moved in the direction of organizing local anthropologists who were working outside of academia.

According to Bainton: “The keystone to the SOPA concept is the definition of the professional anthropologist as someone who has training in anthropology, identifies with anthropology, and shares the anthropological perspective...”


“SOPA tries to fill a structural void in the profession by:

(1)    building links the local academic anthropologist and the practicing anthropological communities;

(2)    creating a forum where individuals can interact with each other as professionals, regardless whether each has a PhD;

(3)    providing responsiveness to local, rather than national or even regional needs of anthropologists, and

(4)    removing the barriers that often confront working anthropologists  …” (1979: 319)


During the first SOPA meetings attendees expressed a good deal of hostility against the anthropology establishment for the lack of preparation of graduate student for working outside of the university. Furthermore, many felt that they had entered into a field, become converted tp an anthropology identity, and then when they ended up working outside the traditional university setting, they were considered “less than holy” in the eyes of the discipline.


A Steering Committee was established, consisting of Barbara Curran, Ann Cowan, Gordon Krutz, Ernie Walter, Bainton, Knight, and A. D. Rund (?). [any others?]. They held board meetings every other week in addition to regular monthly or bimonthly evening programs. Many of the people participating in SOPA were working in community development organizations. SOPA leaders really networked to find members. Resulting in a really substantial mailing list of about 300. During the hay days, 50 - 60 people attended meetings.


SOPA was especially active in the 1970s, and then as some of the original core group left the area. It gradually went out of existence. A second generation of potential leaders did not take the reins; furthermore, the times, the people, and the environment all changed. During the late Spring of 1983, they held a party and spent the rest of the money in the treasury [and went out of business].



Tucson and the State of Arizona were alive with anthropologists applying their wares in the 1970s. It was a very unique period.

Considerable federal and state monies were available for projects in many programs those associated with OEO [Office of Economic Opportunity], the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Health Services, the Bureau of Ethnic Research [? U of A], and the National Park Service, etc. While anthropologists were working in research and evaluation, surveys, planning, transportation, museums, education, health much of what they were doing could come under the rubric of community development. With the change in the federal administration in the 1980s, funding for such programs drastically declined, and many of the anthropologists who an applied focus at the time. Ned Spicer is remembered as having been “more than an were leaders in SOPA left the area to take positions elsewhere.


Some of the initial SOPA leaders had graduated from the University of Arizona, Department of Anthropology. Under the efforts of Dr. Edward H. Spicer and others, the anthropology program had anthropologist.” An extremely charismatic person who was an embodiment of what he taught. In addition to “turning out applied anthropologists during the 1960s and early 1970s, he backed SOPA all the way.

While SOPA’s may mission focused on providing a network for anthropologist working outside of the university, it also made a point to maintain cooperative links to the department for mutual benefit.  SOPA was determined to bridge the academic-practitioner gap and was persistent in explaining its goals and needs of its members to the academic anthropologists.


The dissolution of SOPA was spurred, in part due by internal organizational development and in part by changes in the society. The original steering committee was no longer able to lead the organization. Barbara Curran, a very important founder and leader died. While others left the area, including  Barry Bainton and Margret Knight.


While some of the people were really excited by what SOPA was doing at the time, there was not enough support to sustain the organization as the leadership turn over.  Another very important factor was the economic constriction of programs and projects anthropologists were involved in, in Arizona reflecting national political-economic changes.



SOPA met very regularly during its hay day. Members really enjoyed getting together, and they did not have problems of getting people to come to meetings. Dues were levied. In an attempt to keep things simple and manageable, they did not publish a journal. They did have a newsletter and a directory of members. Newsletters and other SOPA documents are held in the archives of the Arizona State Museum, Tucson, Arizona, 85721.



SOPA was the first LPG (Local Practitioner Groups). It served as a model for the generation of WAPA, SCAAN, COPA, and MAPA.  Realizing that they would need to put their energy into themselves, SOPA did not spend a lot of time developing links to other organizations. Early in SOPA’s history, Edward Lehman, Executive Director of the AAA at the time, visited Tucson and met with SOPA and was encouraged to see this development at the grass roots level in applied anthropology.


No formal links were established, however [at the time] with either AAA or SfAA.



[This essay is a copy, with minor editing, of a paper I wrote initially in the 1990’s]

Saturday, July 24, 2021


Myth is the history of cultural values buried in a story of an ideal past. History is the chronology of a society's experience based on physical evidence from the past.

Both serve an important role in the development of a socio-cultural system and for the enculturation of the next generation. Yet individuals and societies must be able to distinguish between the two. 

The former, Myth is the glue that holds society together and makes it one. Shared myths determine who is "one of us" and "who isn't". The latter, History is the explanation of how we got to this point. It is, if done scientifically, conservative and scientific based on physical evidence and weighted against a standard of "preponderance" evidence and agreement among those who study the evidence. Both maybe true, both maybe false, and both may contradict one another. This is the human and societal dilemma. 

In the scholarly world, myth is the territory of religion and history is the territory of science.

Politics is the battleground on which the various points of view are fought. And Nature (or God) could care less. We are part -- not of Nature's or God's plan -- but their experiment. This is an experiment that began with BIG BANG some 12 billion years ago, while the human race (Homo Sapien species) is only approachmently 100,000 years old. That is 100,000/12,000,000,000 or 1/12,000 of the time Nature has experimented with the BIG BANG or .0000008333 per cent of the time that the universe has been estimated to have been around. 

These two human adaptations to our time on Earth have shaped Human existence and human institutions. As modern man left Africa and invaded Europe and Asia Sapiens have encountered related Homo species, mating with and/or conquering them. And adapting to their new environments.

Our adaptation was not the miracles that our mythology tells us about but what our genes and the survival of procreating adults produced.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

LAW vs Fairness: An anthropological perspective

A basic question for society is, "How does it balance the interests, needs, wants, and rights of the individual member with those of the group, or society? 

Further, "How does the society transfer its knowledge and solutions from generation to generation?"

 For thousands of years, humanity has evolved solutions to these questions. Each have been specific to the time and circumstance and have proven to be successfully passed on generation to generation. In the process, there have emerged thousands upon thousands of individual and distinct societies with their own distinct culture. And in each of these, the same questions are asked and answered. "How does the individual relate to the group, and how does the group relate to the individual? From a broad perspective, it has been through addressing the basic question of individual fairness versus the collective benefit or interests that we recognize the role Law plays in the evolution of culture.

What is a "fair share" and "how do we determine it?"

As anthropologists, we have found that there are a number of recurring solutions to the human questions of fairness. These solutions exhibit a similarity over time and space. In addition, they also reveal an underlying pattern of growth and focus. By growth, I am referring to the inclusion of situations that show a particular bias that favors the individual or the group. By focus, I am referring to the process of resolution -- fairness or law. The goal of any society is to create a method that the group, as a whole, will ues to create a sense of "fairness" among its members.

 Fairness comes in two forms -- situational and cultural.

 Situational fairness is the "deal" where two parties negotiate the costs and benefits of resolving certain points of conflict that prevent them from mutually benefiting from the situation. Each openly lays out its list of costs and benefits as its sees the situation. Then they begin a process of weighing their individual cost or benefit to accepting or rejecting the other's claims. Through this process, the parties arrive at a conclusion. That conclusion maybe either a deal, that each agrees satisfies their individual need, or no deal that may result in a simple agreement to disagree, or elevating the conflict into a violent confrontation using force to achieve "personal" objectives despite the objections of the other party.

 It is the latter outcome, passed on from situation to situation, from generation to generation, that leads from an individual to collective feeling of fairness and unfairness. Fair deals become routine. The beheavors become almost ritualistic. Like the Kula ring described by Malinowski, the Potlatch described by , or the Church offering described by , these acts are based on a culturally defined TRUST between the parties.

 Unfair deals are seen as threats or rights, Threats or rights depend on what outcome one might expect if the deal is not made. A threat is a potential loss of the status quo, property, identity or life. In modern society, the lose in a game may be seen by the parties to the game as a threat to status. The purchase of a house may be seen as a threat to the buyer and seller unless guaranteed by the bank writing the mortgage. The loss of a driver's license can be a threat to one's identity where such a license from the state is used to guarantee one's identity. And, the warning label on the dangers of a given product tells of the threat of misuse of the product can lead to death.

 A right, on the other hand, is the anticipated privilege or standing that one finds in the situation. When these expectations are passed on, generation to generation, they become normative expectations or cultural rules of fairness and unfairness. The right to own a house is guaranteed by the ability to get a mortgage, to buy liquor or board a plane is guaranteed by a driver's license, And the manufacturer's warranty or seal of approval is a guarantee of the safety of the product.

 Laws are the social and cultural counterparts to fairness. These are the elements of a deal that have been reached and accepted by the parties involved, who find themselves in a similar situation time after time. They are the solutions to situations that group members have resolved in the past. The most significant feature of the Law is how group authority is acquired and the degree to which it is legitimized. It is the individual granting authority to precedent. It is permission by the parties to a deal to accept past decisions as the solution to similar future problems or situations.

 Laws, if democratically debated and approved, is the compromise of a civil society. It is a compromise over a complex set of issues that otherwise could or would divide the public. It is the Art of the Deal that leads to shared actions and collective order. It is not the BIG LIE that "personal fairness" sometimes pretends to be.

 That is the point. Fairness is an individual and small group value and relates to a more personal interaction such as "a fair price" or "fair exchange". Lawful is a political term referring to a formal agreement that socially and culturally defines the Context and circumstances in which it is "FAIR" to do and act in a communal way. Fairness is more emotional, more personal, more immediate, and more idiosyncratic than the LAW. Fairness rest upon TRUST based on personal or family experience.

 The LAW is more abstract, more cultural, more dependent on literacy and most of all, on authority. It is abstract in the sense that it requires an analysis of the facts measured against some principle of fairness, shared or in conflict. It is cultural in the sense that it is historical built on group experience. It requires literacy since it is based on written rules of evidence and histories. And most of all, has the authority of the social order to determine priority the relative rights of the parties involved.

 On a personal level, fairness and lawful are the same. But on the social level there can be a wide difference between the two. Lawful justice weighs the claims of "fairness" of both sides in order to render a decision that should "always" be applied to such an issue. It does this to the determine and weigh the facts in the situation, i.e. the evidence. The question that the LAW must answer is, Who or What will administer the process?

 This is the challenge facing the professional applied anthropologist both morally and ethically.

1. Should the anthropologist working on a principle of fairness? And if so, "fair" to whom?

2. Should the anthropologist work as an expert witness, adding clarity to authority of the LAW.

3. Should the anthropologist serve as advocate, and if so for whom or what?

 The anthropologist can never separate his or herself from the fact they are human, cultural beings, and actors in the situations they seek to study. They are in many ways their own subjects.

Like the society that they are a part of, anthropologists find themselves tools of the authority structure they live in as human beings. Among western applied anthropologist, there is a bias toward "fairness" embodied in the idea of "do no harm."

 The conflict between what is "fair" and what is "legal" is the challenge of Democracy. A democracy is "fairness" under law. All other social orders are "law" under what is "fair" to those who are in power and with the power.

 We live in a binary world of reality. What is personal is only half of the equation. What is professional is another part of the equation.



Human beings fear failure and seek security. The smaller the social group the more conservative the group is. It is the radical, the one who will question the status quo, and risks failure who advances the group and the human race.

Socialism as an economic system is an example of the former. Capitalism as an economic system is an example of the latter. The former is the society of conservatives. The latter is the society of the radicals. Yet, we seem to confuse the two. We call Socialists, left wingers radicals. And we can Capitalists, right wingers and conservatives. As anthropologists, we should be more careful in our use of these terms. When we look at human history we find that there is a constant pushing and pulling between the individual and society, between the fear of failure and the desire to take risks in order to win. 

The Socialist wants security by insuring winning and by avoiding all risks. The Capitalist is willing to lose everything in order to win something new. The larger the society, the greater and more intense the struggle between the forces of the fear of failure and the forces willing to take risks. This is the world today.

We are in the Twilight Zones and the New and Old Normal are at war.

It is time for INVESTMENT and that means GOVERNMENT must think in terms of INVESTING IN THE FUTURE rather than worrying about maintaining the past with minimum investment and by cutting taxes.

The one of the first great Constitutional Issue faced by the Supreme Court, was McCulloch v Marshall in 1819. It dealt with the right of the Federal Government to form a National Bank in addition to the State's right to establish and manage a banking system. (See

It is an has been the evolution of the Federal Government's role as the Investor of first and last resort that has built America and made it possible for the Nation to grow. The Government has become the underwriter that makes Capitalism successful. Not what the Greedy beneficiaries of these investments would have taxpayers believe. 

Individual taxpayers benefitted by the Louisiana Purchase from France by opening up the Mississippi Valley and the Mid-west to settlement and investment by ordinary citizens. The purchase of northern California from Russia put America on both Coasts and created a Continental Power in the 19th Century.

In the 20th Century, Federal Investment during the Great Depression helped to save the country and instituted a tremendous investment in Capital projects through the New Deal. (see The Cold War was a major driving force through DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Project) and later ARPA in the civilian sectors.

The Federal bailout of the Savings and Loans in the 20th Century and the Mortgage Crisis of the 2007 point to the importance of the Federal Government investment to save the Capitalist System. It is Federal Investment through the Tax System that enables the Rich to risk their wealth in new ventures.

It is our Government, that takes the risk of failures that WE, as citizens, are afraid to take. Government in Capitalistic society is the Investment BANK and Not the Savings and Loan in a Socialistic society. This is the difference between the Left and the Right. The Left would risk failure to win the long game. The Right is afraid of losing any gain from the past if it means risking the future.

As Anthropologists,and social scientist, we should know that civilization advances when the resources of society expand. And that civilizations collapse and die when the voice of capitalism at the highest level becomes to afraid of taking chances. 

Monday, June 28, 2021

Qanon -- An Anthropological Perspective

 Qanon is a rich field of study for the anthropologist to understand what is happening today in American politics and comparatively with the rest of the world. Life has sped up and the result is psychological and cultural stress and fear. Where once culture and society advanced slowly throughout human history often shared by generations of the local community, today in many places it is not even shared between generations of the same nuclear family.

From an anthropological perspective, Qanon is like any other messianic movement that frequently arises or arose among "native peoples"​ when the IMMIGRANT (political, economic, and/or technologically) dominant took control of the NATIVE's land, culture, and children's education.

Messianic movement are the history of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, that arose when traditional religions failed to adapt to the "new"​ reality. In modern times these have been in Europe -- the many forms of Protestantism which lead to the break with Catholicism and the settling in North America of the multitude of Protestant Sects.

This lead to American Indian societies response with Handsome Lake, Peyote, Ghost Shirt, etc, movements. Trumpism is messianic in that it builds on the fears of white, christian fears of the OTHER. We saw this earlier in the popularity of the American Democracy, Communism, Nazism. And more recently, we see it in the USA in the Left Behind phenomena, beliefs in the Rapture, Jim Jones and Other Cults.

The Movements create an audience, first of "True Believers" that then attracts the False Prophets, the Greedy and the Scammers. All of those who seek to profit from the fears of True Believers. In the past these movement were local and only the strongest that survived over time and through generations became a major Religion or Philosophy. Today, aided by a global technology, they spread like wildfire and engulf whole communities of believers, foster insurrections, and capture governments.

For anthropologists, this is a goldmine. For politicians and governments it can be a tool and route to power or the very threat they fear most.

Monday, May 24, 2021



               As we go through life, we encounter persons who are living in the NOW. Taking life as it is and making the most of it. This is frequent saying among youth. Others, generally older, are living in the SOON, planning and preparing for events. And some even live in the LATER , when things uncertain today maybe more certain LATER.

                Things happen in life. Some are happening NOW. Some happen in the near future. And some happen much later. We can try to control what is happening now because NOW is the present and the impact of the past. NOW is the result of events that happened and their consequences on our lives today. NOW is our Fate. If we can deal with NOW, we can begin to control SOON.

                SOON is the short time horizon when NOW is beginning to take form. SOON is the opening of the possibilities of the NOW.  It is open to choices, as much as it is open to fate. This is the universe we  live and operate in every day. The circumstances we face are the reality we accept. If this reality calls for actions, then we have the option of acting or not acting. If we have the option of acting, we also have the choice of what action we will take. It is like coming to a crossroad. You decide which way to go. The choice determines the path of your SOON.

               LATER is the future that becomes real as SOON becomes the NOW and NOW becomes the consequences of your past decisions. Life is the cycle of NOW, SOON, and LATER. It is the life cycle of the self, the individual. Reality for the individual, is the NOW of the moment. It is both the choices made and the consequences of all of the forces present at the time of the choice. These forces are the universe in which we are living, in which we are both aware and unaware.

                Those elements we are aware of, set the tone for how we approach and deal with the NOW. They are influenced by the NOW of others whom we encounter in the NOW and with the choice(s) we make in the NOW. The choices are based on the individual perceived needs, wants and desires of each member of the group. When these correlate for the members, we have a shared “culture”, or in Spicerian terms “a persistent culture”. When these do not correlate, we have a mob or crowd. If we take this as a model of the situation, we can see that our choices are determined by the situational context.

               The situational context is the correlation between our perception of what we might gain or lose in the situation and when that might happen. It determines our freedom of choice. We can envision a 3x3 matrix where freedom of choice is plotted against time.

                               NOW                    SOON                   LATER   







               We might expect that as we move from left to right that certainty diminishes, while as we move from top to bottom our freedom of choice increases, albeit it may not be the choice we make. This is like predicting the path of a hurricane, where the future course of the storm is projected as an ever- widening cone as current conditions are extrapolated into the future. This establishes a zone of probability and allows managers (among others) to plan for future contingencies. When applied to human behavior, we need to know both status and roles of the key players and the strength of those bonds.

               The strength of the bonds is measured by formal and informal relationships between the actors and the powers assigned to the actors. The former is determined by the scope of the interactions between the parties, i.e. where is the line drawn between official and the social relationships? And the latter by the formal power assigned to status. Put another way, how much freedom does the individual have to make a choice and how much is assigned to or delegated to the status/role?

               The more structured the status/roles are and integrated into a coordinated system the more “sociological” the structure is to perform the prescribed actions assigned to the position. That is, the actions and sequence are “programmed” into the system and the individual will be evaluated for his/her performance of the program, rather than their idiosyncratic solution to the problem. This is often referred to as a “bureaucratic” performance and normally established, by law or policy. This generally found in government programs or agencies. But also found in older and larger private organizations. It reflects both an aging of the organization and smoothing out of rights and responsibilities of the organizational units, especially in reference to their place within a larger structure.

               In a “private” organization, there is a much wider scope of action in the early stages of development where solving the problem is valued more than simply adhering to the rules. In a free capitalistic society this is the source of tension, for fairness – the government should act according to the law, rules established and enforced equally and fairly in reference to all parties. Yet, the organizations established under a capitalistic model depend upon and are encouraged to seek out opportunity in the production, assembly, distribution and marketing of products that serve a basic need of the public (or a public). This means finding unorganized or underexploited areas of activity, more efficient means for doing the activity, or more market focused activity.

               This is outlined in the elements of the organizational life cycle, e.g. Adize. The burden on management is to grow the business or activity to a point of where it is self-sustaining and yet adaptable to the changing environment. And to maintain this posture is the NOW and SOON while planning for the LATER.

               It is the test that time and nature have created for all the natural world. Humans and Human Institutions are exempt from these tests, as human history will attest.