Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Professional Ethics -- 2 Inherent Conflicts

Throughout the post WWII period, the U.S. Federal Government established the many programs, domestic and international, to address Cold War concerns and fight the War on Poverty. In the process, the Federal Government became the major source that university researchers looked to for research dollars. By the 1960s, this presented the membership of the American Anthropological Association with a real ethical challenge. "What role should anthropologist play when accepting federal funding for their research projects supporting the Federal Government policies, ?"

One of the many social sciences to benefit from the Federal "largest,"was anthropology. Some of these funded anthropological projects focused on basic research, gathering data about local and foreign institutions. Other research projects, however, were policy oriented. Some of these were designed to establish baselines or subsequent evaluations for specific programs designed by such agencies as HUD, HEW, OEO, USAID, etc. The problem arose when the values of academic researcher conflicted with the funding agency's values to promote a political agenda. These projects were designed to produce information to further government political policies and not specific scientific questions.

During the Depression and WWII era, many anthropologists found employment with the expanding Federal Government.  As pointed out by David H. Price and others, many of these because of their concerns over labor and minority rights came under scrutiny by the FBI, the McCarthy Hearings, and the House Un-American Activities Committee for the real or alleged affiliations or sympathies with the Communist Party.

Price offers a very detailed and insightful discussion of that period and the key personalities affected by it. He points fingers at the failures of the very academic institutions one might expect to stand up for the individuals targeted. The AAA, the AAUP, and the universities that publicly proclaimed their  support for academic freedom, failed to support their "suspected" colleagues on promotion and tenure committees. This failure of institutional anthropology and academia in general set the stage for the ideological changes that emerge in younger generation of anthropology students, the sons and daughters of the generation then in power of the "traditional" institutions of professional anthropology.

Themes such as civil rights, anti-war movements, economic inequalities, colonialism, student rights, gender rights, gay rights and even an attempt to justify pedophilia rights, became acceptable causes for the new generation of anthropology student. Once feared as part of the Communist agenda, the anthropologists trained during the Depression and serving in War effort found that such views could be held against them as they returned to or attempted to reenter the traditional academic career path.

 At the same time, the federal government replaced the private foundations as the principle funding source for social science research dollars. Routine security background checks for researchers, especially those applying for grants to do social science research overseas appear to have been fairly routine, if not totally acknowledged as part of the process. As an aside, the same held for those applying for positions in the newly created Peace Corps as this writer can attest.

Radical anthropologists of the 1960s and 1970s turned on their elders and questioned many of the assumptions that formed the basis of traditional academic anthropology ethics.

The Bannon Blitzkrieg

{Author's Note: This posting is out of line with the general purpose of the Blog, yet it points to a situation that should be of Anthropological Interest -- the role of the Individual as an agent of Cultural Change. The Trump election is a watershed in the evolution of liberal democracy in the United States. It is a case of Nationalism in the extreme against the modern concept of the State, the Individual against the species. I might refer you to Edward Spicer's Posthumous paper "The Nations of the State" to see how these two concepts often conflict. See Kroeber, Karl (ed) American Indian Persistence and Resurgence 1994 Duke University Press. What follows are personal observations and hypothesis}

Last night while watching Rachel Madow she announced the firing of the acting attorney general. it reminded me of Nixon's Saturday Night massacre, an image that didn't escape anyone who lived through it. It seemed like another irrational ego driven reaction from Trump, the spiteful bully.

But stepping back from this and putting it in context -- it was far more sinister and dangerous. What we are seeing, I feel is the undercutting of the load bearing wall of the Constitution with the goal of causing an implosion of America and American values. It is Purposeful, Calculated, and beyond the mind of the President. It is even counter to his own interests. Trump is a Brand and he is destroying his own Brand even as he seek to protect it. But worse, he and his followers are destroying the American brand.

Today, the New York Times carried an OpEd piece:entitled "President Bannon?" in which they question the relationship between Trump, the President, and Bannon, the "adviser", The puppet master is Bannon, whose raise to power has been going on under the radar for some time. Based on the recent events it seems that he is in control of the President and the Administration. Fear and hatred are his weapons. The real question today is what is the weapon or tool, that he has over Trump? Are the Tax returns the weapon?

I know this sounds like a conspiracy theory, and maybe it is. But logic leads me to wonder why Trump would go to such lengths to commit financial and reputational suicide? He has four years to bring about the changes he said he wanted. He has a Congress controlled by his party and soon he may have a Supreme Court that shares his "conservative nationalism. What is the hurry?

Things are moving very fast. It is like Hitler's Blitzkrieg on Poland in 1939. The strategy appears to be to hobble the free press out of fear that their plans will fail if the public knew the truth, They may also fear that the Congress might awaken from its partisan nightmare. Or, that true legislators would have time to read Article One of the Constitution and actual do their job. Maybe then they would have time to think and understand how they are being invaded by a hostile and hateful force.

Nuclear weapons can not only destroy an enemy. In a world of MAD they will destroy you as well. But to scare a population into forsaking their basic values and play upon their ethnic fears, prejudices and hatreds you can gain control of the whole system with a minimum of physical damage. It is the strategy of the right wing Israeli government and their right wing Palestinian counterparts. Rule through fear.The recent actions of the Trump Administration appear to be under the guidance of "President Bannon"rather than a President Trump.

Fear mongering is a super-organic tool for social control. As anthropologist, we should consider how individuals and groups use and instill fear of the Other in order to control themselves and the members of their group.