Saturday, March 23, 2019

Legacy: An Anthropological Concept

“Legacy” and its various translations is a term that we humans use to define and describe the worth of our individual lives; and the lives of those who have gone before us. As a concept, writers frequently use the word to describe a historical connection, especially between their subject and the historical period in which they lived.  A legacy is the “transorganic” product of a life lived and remembered. 

For the living, consciously or unconsciously, a legacy is something we hope to leave behind for our family, friends and society. It is how we want history to judge us. A legacy is a desire by the living to influence the future memory and judgments of their lives made by others. As long as we are alive, we can try to control what we do and how we do it. These are the basic elements of any legacy. However once we die, figuratively or literally, history will render the final judgment. 

A legacy has a transorganic quality. It is the existential consequence of our actions. It is the result or consequence of our actions. The future will assign meaning to our legacy. That meaning will be based on our impact on the social and physical environment we occupied in reference to the present supraorganic. Thus, a legacy is our connection with the superorganic (culture), i.e. the traditions, beliefs, values, and meanings, that we pass on to the future generations. For most, this is a fading memory of our time on earth maintained by those who knew us. For some, however, our legacy transforms into a metaphor for who we were in the past, and a mythical personality that influences  the present  somewhere located in the superorganic.

Legacy, in the transorganic sense, is unique to self-reflective species. It combines the existential or physical result of the actions that are a result of our physical existence. And, with the ideational effort that went into their creation. That ideational effort was our purpose for doing it and the meaning we attached to that purpose. The legacy is how the future remembers it.

American anthropology is the legacy of western European contact with the peoples and places in the New World. The intersection of Morgan, Boas, Lowie, Wissler and Mitra marks the legacy of early American anthropology – the holistic perspective.

Note: This is the first of a set of short essays on the concept of legacy and anthropology, to be published through The Superorganic Blog 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Margaret Mead's observations from 1951

The history of anthropology is captured in the historical record that Anthropologists leave us with. It is not just what or who we studied or wrote about, but also how this informed us about ourselves. And especially, about what we learned and perceived to be the impact we have on the future. Here Margaret Mean opines on the theme   "Our Awareness Controls Human Destiny" of a 1951 lecture  NPR broadcast  recording archived on February 8, 2009

Margaret Mead's Discussion of the role of anthropology

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Is this Anthropology?

According to Amber Case in this YouTube presentation, Cyborg Anthropology is the study of mankind's relation to technology.

Cyborg Anthropology: A Short Introduction

Date: This event took place live on August 05 2010
Presented by: Amber Case
Duration: Approximately 8 minutes.

"Cyborg Anthropology is a way of understanding how we live as technosocially connected citizens in the modern era."

According to the presentation Cyborg anthropology is now a recognized sub-field within American Anthropology. But is this really a unique human phenomena in anthropological sense? Is it an extension of the long line of human cultural evolution? Or, Is it just another fad that attempts to redefine anthropology and in the process cut anthropology away from its roots?

In the Anthropology Newsletter Vol 29 Number 5 (May 1988) Philip Saltzman, from McGill University wrote an article entitled, "Fads and Fashions in Anthropology." If he were to write that article today, I am quite certain Cyborg Anthropology would be near the top of the list. As Saltzman said back in 1988 ,

We anthropologists seem to change allegiances and world views almost as quickly and repeatedly as Little Richard switches between gay rock star and Baptist preacher.
What is Cyborg about Cyborg Anthropology?

Let's start by exploring the concept "cyborg."  Cyborg is a term was coined in 1960 in an article by  Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline entitled "Cyborgs and Space"  which appeared in Astronautics (September 1960). Their goal was to consider what would be needed to free Man to explore space. It would have to be a system that integrated man and machine to perform the self-regulating functions that a biological organism performs on earth, but perform these in a hostile environment.  They stated:
What are some of the devices necessary for creating self-regulating man-machine systems? This self-regulation must function without the benefit of consciousness in order to cooperate with the body’s own autonomous homeostatic controls. For the exogenously extended organizational complex functioning as an integrated homeostatic system unconsciously, we propose the term “Cyborg.” 
This concept of a "cyborg" relates to a dramatic extension of human capabilities to adapt through cultural means to environmental challenges. The "cyborg" concept is really an extension of the diving bell, breathing apparatus used by firemen, the submarine and other technological adaptations humanity has developed over the millennium to exploit new opportunities or adapt to new threats. In facing the challenges of an extra-planetary excursion, as envisioned in 1960, the question of protecting the individual crew member from the hazards of such an environment called for much deeper thinking than missions here on Earth. How is the man-machine interface to take place? What should that interface include and how should it operate?

Today, the presents of humans in space has been limited mostly to orbital flights to build the space station. These have include extra vehicular "space walks."

Are Cyborgs and Robots the same?

Writers of science fiction grabbed onto the idea of man machine, machine man and variation there of as early as Karel Čapek's play R.U.R. in 1921. In 1942, Issac Asimov proposed  three laws of robotics and intelligent machines.
  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
   Issac Asimov went on to develop the positronic robot in a series of stories beginning 1950. This was a robot with a fictional technological device that serves as a central computer for a robot, and, in some unspecified way, provides it with a form of consciousness that is recognizable to humans.Asimov influenced a generation of science fiction writers and others. Yet today as we push forward in building weapons systems with AI (artificial intelligence) we, as Gods to these systems, are already violating the Laws of Robots as proposed. And like God, we may regret our invention.

While our attention may be tilted toward Space and warfare, a more subtle change is taking place here on Earth in regard to the biological, organic relationships between humanity and other life forms and between humans themselves. This is the role of the "superorganic" or "cultural" dimension that is bridging the generational gaps on the one hand and destroying the remaining indigenous human cultures on the other.

Case refers to cyborg culture as a tool that has become an extension of humanity into the mind, Humanity evolved through the ability to create existential objects, technologies, that solved problems based on the ability to conceptualize and invent material solutions. The hand ax to cut and chop meat and bone where the biological tool -- teeth and nails could not compete with fang and claw -- replaced the need and time required to evolve and adapt. Tool making initially augmented the human capacity to do work. Today these tool have made it possible to fly to the moon and dive to the bottom of the sea. We can dig two miles into the planet after gold and build broadcast towers that extend a half mile into the sky. These are physical, existential things that can be seen and felt and used.

But the cyborg culture that she refers to world of binary strings that mimic the animal brain that takes in signals picked up by the sensory organs through bio-chemical and bio-electronic means. These signals are captured by our sensors, cell phones, etc, and transferred and stored, not just in our physical memory. Instead it becomes stored in our devices and available for immediate  recall. But even more than that, it transfers and stores the memories of everyone making it available to everyone at any time. [Forget about the code messages and firewalls -- they are temporary lapses to be hacked later through the evolving human invention of AI].  Amber Case has expanded our ideas about "culture" and "technology" as humanity's Darwinian process of adaptation to our self create environment. It is a worthy subject for anthropological study and speculation.

The only question that remains is: Will this adaptation be positive or negative for the planet and our species in the long run? There is no guarantee that the current success will not lead to extinction in the long run to be replaced by the next stage of life on this planet.

Your Comments on this question will be deeply appreciated.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018


Duality is the nature of the universe: Good and Bad, Life and Death, the Known and the Unknown.
In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang ("dark—bright") describes how opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.
In the Jewish and Christian Bibles, creation came about in two stories. One, deals with the origin of the universe and the Other the origin of humankind. In both we find the emergence of duality. “In the beginning God created heaven and Earth.” God separates from his creation, e.g. “The Earth was without form or void and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters (Genesis 1:1-2) Then God separates the elements of his creation, e.g. “And God said , Let there be light and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good and God divided the light from the darkness (Genesis 1.3-4)
In the Second creation story revolves around the story of Adam and Eve and the creation of humanity. Here GOD creates Adam, the human, in his own image and breathed in the breath of life. God created Adam was to be GOD’s companion. And again he separates himself from his creation, e.g. HE gave Adam dominion over all HIS Earthly creation. Later, GOD discovers that Adam is lonely so He decides to create a human companion for Adam. Again, God separates the elements of his creation, e.g.  He creates Eve. Made from Adam’s rib, HE creates Woman and thus humanity began on its road of duality.
               How has the human organism evolved to become the true master of its dominion? The above examples are part of the universal theme of humanity’s question – “Where did we come from and where are we going?” These are the universal questions and our answers, based on fact and myth, that tell our stories of our evolutionary journey. The goal of Anthropology as a science and discipline is to discover and understand how humanity has adapted to this duality.

The essence of human experience is the discovery and the management of the existential world of light and ideational world of darkness. The existential world is the physical environment in which humankind finds itself. The existential world depends upon one’s own existence as Subject and one’s awareness of humanity’s existence as the Other. The Existential is the constant of a shared life.

The ideational world depends upon of our individual and collective experiences and interpretation of the unknown and unpredictable in our lives shared with others. The ideational world gives structure to what has no known structure. The ideational is based on shared axioms, or assumptions, about the structure, and it provides meaning where there is no “real” understanding.

Humanity has progressed by experiencing the light of existence and challenging the darkness of the unknown waters. The light is life. The darkness is the cause and meaning of our own origin and destination. The existential is to be discovered in what we know through experience. The ideational is to be found in what we believe. It is our attempt to understand and explain the nature of life, birth and death.

The focus of the anthropological perspective is to discover the unity that lies below the duality. And, to understand the basic axioms in which the human universe exists.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Race vs. Racism Anthropological Perspective

 Here early in the 21st Century with all of its rapid technological advances and scientific discoveries, we are encountering the primitive responses of  bigotry, racism, miscegenation, nationalism, and ethnocentrism based on scientifically discredited biological assumption and justification. 

When Charles Darwin published his ORIGIN OF SPECIES in 1859, he upset the prevailing Western European world view about the Biblical creation and mankind's role in it. The first three chapters of the Old Testament's Book of Genesis was, and is, for many even today, the complete answer to who we are and how the world works. Central to the Genesis story is the special place Adam and Eve play in the history of humankind. It relates back to the idea that only the descendents of this couple are God's creation of humanity. And this raises the question of who are those other people, or are they people?  

Anthropology, or proto-anthropology, arose and has struggled with this conflict between the Biblical creation and the scientific discoveries and theories that the Darwinian revolution has caused. Today we can point to hard physical evidence of the role chromosomes and gene sequences in DNA play in the phenotypes of individuals -- human and otherwise. Go on TV and you can find ads for having your DNA analyzed and a profile of your ethnic/genetic heritage drawn for you.

Despite this, or maybe because of it, may people feel threatened by the idea that humankind are all related, all part of the same species. From the most sophisticated intellectual to the most primitive of persons in the Amazon forest or New Guinea highlands, we are all part of the same family of God created, or better, emergent creatures. Anthropologist in the 19th Century struggled with the question and split along a number of lines. There were those who favored a more biblical interpretation of human origins, others who accepted a Darwinian explanation for a biological evolution  but restricted in timing and to particular, especially Northern European, "races." Still others sought differences in a different place -- in the evolution of Culture.

Social Darwinism sought to explain the differences between peoples and populations based on the differential evolution of culture by different 'race' groups. For Anthropology, this division was most prominent in the formation of the American Anthropological Association where physical anthropology and cultural anthropology competed intellectually over the basic question of "nature" vs "nurture". 

Based on the statistical studies of Francis Galton in 1883. Galton, ironically was a cousin of Charles Darwin. The gross physical differences (phenotypes) that could be observed in different populations were assumed to represented  different levels of intellectual evolution. Therefore,one could postulate that differences in cultural development as evidence for their evolutionary and biological position in the human species. Some physical anthropology argued that humans, as animals, evolved in a similar way to all species and could be bred in the same way other domesticated animals are bred. Arising out this was a theory of eugenics

On the other hand, cultural anthropologists would argue that cultural differences arose from different historical and environmental challenges that different human populations faced and adapted to overtime. History, expressed as cultural differences, was more important in explaining human variation than the inheritance of biological differences This culturally relative position was argued by Franz Boas and his students.

The eugenics movement led to the formation of the Galton Society. The role of Madison Grant in promoting a racial based philosophy is found in his writings such as The Passing of the Great Race  which Hitler called his Bible.  A number of physical anthropologist joined this group in the early days of the 20th Century. The movement appeared to have died within anthropology in the 1930's and a viable  scientific idea by the end of WWII.  In many respects, it was and has become one of anthropology's great mistakes. 

Today, with modern medicine, genetic engineering, boutique babies, commercial DNA services, the alienation and tribalism in our politics here in the US and around the world, some are suggesting that by seizing political power is the way toward "racial" purity. These groups if they achieve their political goals, can and will use those technologies to achieve their eugenic objectives. Modern science is giving extremists the false hope that by simply seizing political apparatus they may further their eugenic goals  with the new technologies. 

Will anthropologists stand up against such an ideology? Can a strong valid anthropological argument be made that separates the difference between "race" as a  dangerous cultural belief system and "race" as a false biological concept?

Does Robert Lowie's observation hold when the biological constant becomes a cultural variable?
 Since biological change occurs slowly and cultural changes occur in every generation, it is futile to try to explain the fleeting phenomena of culture by a racial constant. We can often explain them—in terms of contact with other peoples, of individual genius, of geography—but not by racial differences.  
           Robert H. Lowie  Austrian-American anthropologist (12 Jun 1883 - 21 Sep 1957)

Professional Ethics equals Professional Responsibility

Any reader/follower of this Blog knows, I have two major concerns -- Ethics and the Profession, and the application of anthropology.

My Awakening

These concerns have a long history which began with a very simple question that came up when, as an undergraduate in the early 1960s, I read "Nomads of the Long Bow", Allen Holmberg's dissertation about his research among a very "primitive" band living in the Amazon region of Bolivia. At one point he tells of an experiment he conducted.

One case deserves special mention. Enia (Knee)
was the brother-in-law of Chief Eantandu. He 
had had some contact with the outside, but 
because of maltreatment had run away from his 
patron and returned to native life. He was an 
intelligent man with an unusual ability (for a 
Siriono) to adjust to white civilization. He was 
a hard worker and reliable, and he knew consider- 
able Spanish. His one weakness was that he 
could not hunt as well as his countrymen. Time 
after time I saw him leave with his bow and 
arrows, and time after time I watched him return 
empty-handed, while his fellow tribesmen left 
after him on the same trail and returned with 
game. He was generally referred to as "not 
knowing how to hunt." He was openly insulted 
at drinking feasts for his inability to hunt. He 
had lost at least one wife to better men. His 
status was low; his anxiety about hunting, high. 
He had, however, made some kind of readjustment 
to native life by planting more crops and collecting 
more forest products than the others and trading 
some of his vegetable products for meat. But 
still he was not satisfied. Noting this condition, I 
set out to raise his status. First he accompanied 
me with his bow and arrows on hunting trips. He 
carried in game which I shot, part of which was 
given to him and which we told others was shot 
by him. His status began to improve. Shortly 
thereafter I taught him to use a shotgun, and he 
brought in game of his own. Needless to say, when 
I left Tibaera he was enjoying the highest status, 
had acquired several new sex partners, and was 
insulting others, instead of being insulted by them.  (Italics added p. 58 )
My question, at the time, was "What happened to the shotgun when Holmberg left, or when Tibaera ran out of shotgun shells?  

Maybe a dumb question at the time, "human subjects" was not a real issue in research ethics at the time. But I find myself always returning to it when I consider, "What is our professional responsibility?"

Academic vs Applied Biases

My position has always been as a representative of the applied point of view. As a result of these concerns I actively participated in the discussions of professional ethics and profession as represented by the AAA, SfAA, and NAPA throughout the 1970s and 1980s. This included service on committees and task forces set up by the AAA Ethics Committee to explore and revise the Standards of Professional Responsibility.

As part of my dissertation on the professionalization of anthropology, the history of the ethical movement within the profession became a major issue. One of the discoveries in my research was  what the ethical concerns were emotional and there existed a profound ignorance of the implications of such concerns had for the anthropologists and their organizational institutions. Specifically, it centered around the question of "responsibility" vs "taking responsibility." The difference is critical and one we have yet to accept. The former is ideational and based on moral beliefs and biases. "What should you do?" The latter is behavioral and based on social norms of expected and accepted role performance based on social status. "What can you do?"

 Since writing my dissertation I have found that the decade of the 1970s was a watershed in the discussion of ethics in anthropology. We still struggle with the issue. y_and_Business

Ethics as Action, not Belief:
I have addressed this issue since then as it relates to applied anthropology and business.
Ethics, as opposed to mortality, is a question of behavior, not principle. How should one behave in a given context? Unlike etiquette, which asks how should one act properly in a given situation, ethics is a question of proper role behavior associated with a socially defined status in a social network/structure. Ethics is based on the reciprocal relationships between statuses within the social matrix that the individual operates. It is a compromise between one's "personal" moral code and the expectations that others have for someone's performance. Ethics are socially defined and sanctioned status. That is, "ethics" implies responsibility for one's action as a social agent.

Professional ethics implies taking on responsibilities for what one professes to be based on the principle beliefs and standards espoused by the institution they represent. It means accepting that you can be and will be held personally accountable for your actions in the role as a "professional" and agent of the institution you represent.

To be professional requires that there is a clear understanding of "who is a professional." The public expects that the "professional institutions" that claim to represent their members will develop a code of conduct (behavior) and enforce such a code. To develop a code of conduct (behavior) in the vacuum of the clear definition of professional status is an exercise in futility. Without the institution taking responsibility for certifying who is and who is not a professional is also futile. Unfortunately this has been the history of the ethical discussion within anthropology throughout the post 1970 period.

Academic Mentality vs Social Reality toward Research

In 1979, and recently revised and published, I attempted to point out the connection between ethics and the law and their implications for the "profession", especially as it refines itself as a research discipline. I did this with a discussion based on US Government's requirements and regulations covering federal support of Human Subjects research at the Workshop on Regulation of Applied Social Research: Legal and Ethical Issues, at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology, Philadelphia, PA. (see SfAA reference above).

The Law, in the form of regulations, took the responsibility away from the individual researcher, especially the academic researcher, for determining what was ethical or not in their research. And the government placed it in the hands of Institution for whom the researcher works or is employed. It established the requirement for Informed Consent by the subjects of such research, and it required the establishment of Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) to over see the evaluation and monitoring of proposals issued by the Institution. 

Law represents the social expression of society's morality on the one hand when to defines principles of justice, and ethics when it proscribes the ritual or procedures that are required and expected in achieving justice. Under the regulations described above and under the Law itself, there is considerable individual latitude granted to the institutions and to professions to proscribe policies that define and restrict behavior in specific roles that form the basis of the status of the professional. Where these standards exceed the reasonable authority of the institution, the more general laws of society apply.

What does this have to do with anthropological ethics?  A quick look at the "ethics" codes of the SfAA. the AAA, and NAPA point to the aversion these institutions have toward accepting responsibility for their members' actions as professionals. These codes are advisory only. They apply only to dues paying members who achieved their status by paying their annual dues. This allows the dues paying member to publicly present him/herself as an "anthropologist."

Meanwhile the codes address multiple issues associated with the individual's anthropologist's role not necessarily under the control of the academic institution and which may be covered, more effectively, by the regulations and ethics associated with the individual's other roles associated with their other social statuses. For example, the treatment of  students is an issue that arises not from being an anthropologist but from being teacher/faculty member and covered by the policies and procedures of the institution and laws under which they are permitted to operate. On human subject  research, the role of researcher is defined by the IRB, the federal regulation, and the moral authority that these impose on human subjects research in general. In an applied setting, well, there are no rules except the general and specific criminal and torts law apply to the situation and behavior.

The point here is that if we are to be truly recognized as a profession and discipline, worthy of public recognition and respect, we need to accept the responsibility that come with it. We need to develop a professional ethical structure which focuses on the role we claim to play in society.  That role must be tied to the statuses we claim as our specialty within the social matrix in which we operate. We must claim the right and ownership of that specialty and, institutionally, accept the responsibilities that such a claim imposes upon us collectively and individually. Our code must be explicit, required, and enforceable.

How else can we answer the question that I still find myself asking of Holmberg's ghost,  for future generations?

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Polar Elements of Anthropology

There are TWO polar elements that make up Anthropology. These are the Organic evolution of Humans and the Second is the Superorganic (or Culture).

The First is the Organic pole that focuses on humans and their evolution as a species. It makes up the core of Paleoanthropology as carried out by archaeologist and paleontologist focused on early humans.

The Second is the Superorganic pole that focuses on the ideational or cultural domain of humans living in supraorganic or social groups. It makes up the broad areas of Social/Cultural anthropology and Linguistic Anthropology.

One must also remember that between the poles there comes a blending of elements. Physical anthropology, for example, ranges from the study of the similarities and differences in the physical body of individuals to the effects of physical reproduction (genes) on a supra-organic population. Linguistics, in the broader sense as semiotics, deals not only with the encoding of sound patterns, but also on the range of behavioral communication activities performed by individuals that melds into the superorganic (meanings) of cultures.

The former is existential in the sense that its evidence is physical and real in the form of archaeological sites, bones, tools, and features. The latter is ideational in the sense that it is expressed through language and behaviors. These are the ways that the members of the social unit express themselves and their meanings through their behavior and their works (technologies).

To ignore the former is to ignore the fact that humans are part of the natural evolution of life on the planet. To ignore the latter is to ignore the importance of culture as the mechanism through which humans have risen to the point of the dominant species on the planet. To ignore the middle ground is to ignore what has and will make us human.

The emergence of technology, or transorganic behavior, as the human method for solving survival problems and transmitting the solutions across generations is the link between the organic and superorganic poles. It is also the glue that holds us together as a self-aware and self-reflective species.

Updated version 8 14 2018