Bigger, Stronger, Faster

by B.J. on 5/14/2008 07:27:00 PM 0 comments Print this post

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Bigger, Stronger, Faster

"Is it cheating if everyone is doing it?"

Anthropology has a history of leading the charge in chastizing "other" cultures for breeding "undesirable" attitudes.

When I say this, I have in mind Oscar Lewis' "Culture of Poverty" in which he uses the same judgmental terms as the "dominant" society uses to characterize low-income folks. He only defines these low-income folks based on what they do NOT have in comparison to the non-impoverished classes. He calls their living conditions "marginal", and makes the conclusion that they do not have a "cosmopolitan world view."

This paper probably touched off a chain reaction or chain web of events. It contributed to the Moynihan Report, a report by the liberal senator Moynihan whose report put a focus on the deterioration of the black-American family. This focus on the division and disintegration turn was something that Ronald Reagan seized upon in his campaign ads. Born was the stirring image of the welfare queen and its partner-in-crime, the self-help, pull-yourself-by-the-bootstraps discourse. I really wish someone would vandalize or burn that man's library in Simi Valley. LA Graffiti and gang about your complete misplacement of energy and efforts. Crips, Bloods, Truchas, Mafia, Mobsters, 18th Street, Triggs, Wa-Chings, Maravillas there's a property on 40 Presidential Drive, Simi Valley, CA that needs some claiming.

But I digress.

The point is that once "poverty" became a "culture", as if it was a way of life people "chose", it became easy for regular people to say that those low-income people should simply "not choose" that way of life. As a result, anything associated with the black family just became lumped and interrelated with each other in popular discourse. Blacks in poverty? Easy, you can blame that on the fact that most of them are lazy and don't have a father figure.

People outside of academia have generally failed to look at root causes or look further into to why they've made the observations they've made. Unless they have been in the culture and/or they can understand or even make an attempt to understand, people did not and generally still do not take the extra step to look into what makes so many of them lazy and/or even better, what supplants laziness, what they are not lazy in, and/or why it appears they are lazy.

Wikipedia on Moynihan Report

If anthropology can criticize "others", the field of anthropology can lead the charge in chastizing "this" culture for breeding "undesirable" attitudes.

My first course in Psychological anthropology asked the question of whether or not "culture" can make someone "sick." Even though I had been an anthropology major for 2 years to that point and not having been a fan of the perceived dominant tenets of American culture since a high school history class, I had never thought of this question.

And so now in an era of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds using steroids, Olympics stars like Marion Jones going to jail for using drugs, and the sport of cycling being dented every year because of some kind of drug scandal, what does this say about us and our most prominent cultures of excess and poverty?

However not to be completely mudslinging at these dominant cultures, and to differ a bit from their approach, maybe we should also ask, what are the root causes, and what gives people so much opportunity and space to consume what it does in excess?

Another question separate from focusing on the culture of excess but rather the culture surrounding "enhancement" is why there is such a moral code and imperative ascribed to sports as opposed to none whatsoever in the fields of academia or medicine? We don't care at all that a seizable chunk of them take brain enhancers. No one would call that "cheating." The Onion makes fun of that fact.

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