Archive for April, 2008

28
Apr
08

Dreaming of a New World (Movement²)

Previously I outlined briefly the meaning of “new world knowledge” and its Caribbean roots in the New World Movement. Since the late 1960s, a number of new schools of theory, research, and anaylsis have developed and taken root, in a ways that furthered, added to, or otherwise amended the research and activist orientations of the New World Movement. Among these we can include world-systems analysis, practice theory, Third World feminism, some form or variant of what some call post-modernism, post-colonialism, and critiques of Orientalism and Eurocentrism.

Perhaps it is due to the plethora of voices, of shades and inflections of tendencies, of overlaps and sometimes very abstract dividing lines, of a massive literature, endless conferences, and so forth, that I personally have lost a sense of the ‘crispness’, the sharp orientations that produced statements in bold relief that for me characterized so much of what was produced by the New World Movement, where “nuance” would have sounded like compromise, where compromise sounded like a call to more of the same old collaboration. Even in my relatively short life experience, nuance and negotiation, as academic buzz words are still relatively new, definitely post-1980s in my case.

More importantly, I have lost sense of locally rooted scholarship with clearly defined political orientations. I wonder if there are scholars “out there”, especially those with some connection to the Caribbean, who have had the same dream of “reviving” the New World Movement, with the aim of reexamining and building upon some of its central tenets:

  • bringing the promises of independence and decolonization to life;
  • achieving the development of local economic self-sufficiency;
  • popular democracy;
  • cultural autochthony; and,
  • social transformation

With the exception of perhaps a few holdouts, such as Latin American Perspectives and The Monthly Review, I can’t think of when the last time was that I reencountered such goals being openly espoused in scholarly writing, despite the mass-mediated notions that universities are bastions of some kind of socialist radicalism.

Principles, such as those listed above in rather un-nuanced form, in my mind become pertinent and valuable once again, if one sees the world as not having outlived and overcome colonial legacies; a renewal of imperialist projects (i.e., the “Project for a New American Century”); the revitalization of old discourses of civilization vs. savagery; the undermining of national independence; the hegemonic grasp of a capitalist world market that can be seen at its worst in bleeding nations that became dependent on imported foods rather than putting their faith in unfashionable ideas (for free marketeers and technocrats) of food sovereignty; the spread of a Western consumer culture and the expanded projection of Western tastes and values, with consequences for the environment, political independence, and sustainable lifeways.

The Caribbean, for those who live there, were raised there, or have developed personal connections to the region, stands out as one of the regions on earth that is most vulnerable to all of these changes. It would be fitting if a new, New World Movement were to emerge for what is, arguably, a region of world historic importance. This idea was well expressed most recently by Junot Diaz, the Dominican winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for fiction, in an interview with Newsweek:

The Caribbean generally and the island of Hispaniola specifically is the linchpin, the pivot point where the old world swung into the new world. If you want the transformation point, if you want the ground zero where the Old World died and the New World began, it’s there. I mean, nothing is more quintessentially American-in the entire span of that description-than the Caribbean and more specifically the Dominican Republic. If you want to be incredibly grandiose, the entire world, we’re all the children of what happened in the Caribbean, whether we know it or not. I mean, the extermination of indigenous people, the conquest of the New World, slavery and in some ways the rise of this form of capitalism that we all live under. I mean really the modern world was given rise by what began in the Caribbean.

If anyone “out there” is also dreaming of a New World Movement², let’s collaborate.

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21
Apr
08

New•World•Knowledge: A Caribbean Legacy

Many thanks again to inspiration from fellow bloggers at Savage Minds with their article by Dylan Kerrigan who teaches the Anthropology of the Caribbean course at the St. Augustine, Trinidad, campus of the University of the West Indies (I had met his predecessor back in 2002, and thanks to a failing memory I am disappointed that I cannot recall his name at the moment).

I was a student for three years at UWI-St. Augustine, and my seven years of living in Trinidad are the source of my greatest intellectual debt and inspiration, far outweighing any one of my degrees, though my undergraduate background in Caribbean studies at York University in Toronto was certainly a major bedrock for what would become of me afterwards.

Some might be surprised to learn that the concept of New•World•Knowledge, as I use it, is of Caribbean origin. Part of this phrase, New World, is meant as a tribute and direct reference to what some have called the New World Movement, or the New World studies group, that originated among Caribbean scholars and public intellectuals in the late 1960s, part of that region’s experience of what Immanuel Wallerstein has called the World Revolution of 1968. Many figures, locally prominent and some internationally famous as well had roots in this movement, or were associated with it, including: Norman Girvan, George Beckford, Clive Thomas, Walter Rodney, Orlando Patterson, Trevor Munroe, Lloyd Best, Edward Kamau Brathwaite, Richard Bernal, and many others. Added to the independence movement of the 1960s throughout the Anglophone Caribbean, what was then a still recent Cuban Revolution, the rising to prominence of Rastafari and Reggae, and various open lectures in the region by C.L.R. James, and Dr. Eric Williams’ speeches to public audiences in Port of Spain at what was dubbed the “University of Woodford Square”, where he spoke both as a historian of repute and as an independence leader–these times were momentous and of lasting importance. Lloyd Best, Trinidadian, recently passed away and his work especially as published in the T&T Review, and the work of the associated Trinidad and Tobago Institute of the West Indies and the Tapia House Group, also had a strong formative impact on my own thinking. Between Tapia, based in Tunapuna, and C.L.R. James who was born in Tunapuna, they managed to turn this otherwise marginal and rundown “town” in Trinidad into one of some world importance, and coincidentally I lived there for one rather trying year as a student (memories of hunger, heat, blackouts, rats, and huge toads).

The multiple currents of the New World Movement defy an easy summary, but I will try nonetheless. These currents included political economic analyses of the legacies of slavery and plantation society that paralleled the development of Latin American Dependency Theory. The foci were on greater economic, political, but also cultural autonomy; a quest to build the bases for a new Caribbean autochthony; a search for a new indigeneity; regional integration and collaboration between Island territories; a focus on local industry, self-reliance, and pride in local traditions, local foods; a sharp stance against transnational corporations and American cultural imperialism; a critique of monoculture and import dependency; calls for a new politics focusing on real and popular democracy rather than ossified forms of Westminster parliamentary democracy that allowed for bureaucratic and populist authoritarianism; a revalorization of local language and arts; the construction of a Caribbean philosophy and an investigation of the existence of a Caribbean civilization–all momentous, magnificent, and without rival since. These were both popular and academic currents, where scholars communicated with broad publics, narrow audiences, and among themselves. The university was no longer an Ivory Tower but a hotbed for social transformation, sometimes to the great ire of national political leaders (Walter Rodney banned from Jamaica, and C.L.R. James ostracized by Eric Williams).

So when I say NEW WORLD knowledge, I am attempting to draw on this background, with the hope and aim of amplifying it, perpetuating it, and adapting it to a decolonized anthropology. I write alone on this blog, for now anyway, but I am not alone in seeking these goals. While I speak of a legacy, and personal experience in a region that I still think is a crucible of great import, I have also had the honour and privilege of inspiring contemporaries who lived and practiced the bridge between the New World Movement and the next emphasis:

New WORLD KNOWLEDGE. By “world knowledge” I mean something that deliberately sounds like what anthropology has sought to be, but is more open than institutionalized and professionalized anthropology (which is why I speak of an Open Anthropology). I mean global knowledge that draws on all ways of knowing and expressing, one that refutes disciplinary boundaries, the divide between natural science and the humanities, between academy and society. I will also be drawing upon and integrating various existing currents: public anthropology, native anthropology, world anthropology, anarchist anthropology, and as much as possible from activist and interdisciplinary currents.

Nor do I think this is an unattainable goal, and this is where I come back to inspiring contemporaries.

ROI KWABENA

I will not cease to sing the praises, for as long as I live, about and to my collaborator, mentor, and spiritual brother, the late Dr. Roi Guanapo Ankhkara Kwabena, a Trinidadian, former Senator in Trinidad and Tobago, resident in the UK as a committed public intellectual. Roi Kwabena died this past 09 January, and was to review the emergence of this blog but at a time when his lung cancer was already well advanced. Roi was a classic Caribbean renaissance man: poet, musician, philosopher, historian…seer. In 2001-2002, he was the Poet Laureate for Birmingham, England, where he resided after leaving Trinidad. He was a Diaspora man, and a Roots man. He was trained as an anthropologist, but never wore that on his sleeve. In 2007, the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool named Roi one of history’s greatest Black Achievers–see the stories in The Independent (UK) and The Trinidad Guardian. Roi was also a determined user of the Internet, with multiple sites still on the Internet, and a prolific publisher whose many works are available as print-on-demand. A list of his sites can be found here. In addition, he has a MySpace page, where one can begin to glimpse the many lives that he deeply touched. Just as a sample, I am attaching one of his music files, Deep Obeah, from his overwhelming CD album, Y42K. The song/poem was made available online and expresses some of the main currents of his thought and art. See the “shared documents” box in the sidebar of this blog for that mp3 file. Roi stands for me as a vision of what a future anthropology could and should look like, I am making that very clear. I told Roi how much of an inspiration he was for me, and modest and generous as he was he claimed that I was his inspiration. My speaking of Roi on this blog has long been overdue, and now it will mark an important turning point as well.

Roi, you are still manifesting and distributing spirit blows.

18
Apr
08

09-11-1984, The Calculus of Fear: When Trivial Terrors Become the “Real Threats”

Orange has become America’s new national colour.

Before the Hate had proceeded for thirty seconds, uncontrollable exclamations of rage were breaking out from half the people in the room. The self-satisfied sheep-like face on the screen, and the terrifying power of the Eurasian army behind it, were too much to be borne: besides, the sight or even the thought of Goldstein produced fear and anger automatically. He was an object of hatred more constant than either Eurasia or Eastasia.

A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic.

For how could the fear, the hatred, and the lunatic credulity which the Party needed in its members be kept at the right pitch, except by bottling down some powerful instinct and using it as a driving force?

Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery is torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress towards more pain…. always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever.

Extracts from George Orwell’s 1984.

When fear is distributed by the mass media, managed and promoted by the state, even with calibrations of fear that assign specific values to different threats (the colour coding of threat levels in the U.S.), with armies of taxpayers called upon to pay ever more for more “security”, when they have less real income than before, supposedly with the aim of prolonging their lives against “the terrorist threat”, then one has to talk about fear as something that is calculated, controlled, and controlling. It has an economy, a symbolic system, assigned messengers, an armed apparatus, and a routinized discourse. It is not genuine fear–genuine fear is spontaneous, emotional, it goes as quickly as it comes, it cannot be articulated. The fear of terrorism is instead a managed fear, orchestrated by authority, invested with power in the defense of power.

One may be wrong to call the “fear of terrorism” an irrational fear when it has been so carefully rationalized, in all of the senses of the term, both popular and academic. The outcomes, however, cannot be defended as rational ones.

The fact remains apparent, to anyone willing to look critically, that terrorist attacks are, by very far, one of the least causes of premature death on this planet. The death toll from the popularly caricatured “Islamo-fascist jihadist” is comparatively minimal, to the point of being trivial, insignificant, irrelevant, and probably worthwhile ignoring given the social, economic, and political costs of the kind of excessive attention it has been receiving in the North American mass media and among politicians.

In 2001, almost 3,000 people were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In that same year, 42,636 people died in traffic accidents in the United States. Does one need to be a statistician, someone with training in calculating probability, to realize that it is far more likely that an American will die driving than from a terrorist attack? And yet, millions of Americans continue to drive, without seeking to ban it.

What have the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost the United States and what are the likely immediate costs for the near future?

In October 2007, the Congressional Budget Office projected that additional war costs for the next 10 years could range from $570 billion if troop levels fell to 30,000 by 2010, or $1.1 trillion if troop levels fell to 75,000 by about 2013. Under these scenarios, CBO projects that funding for Iraq, Afghanistan and the GWOT could reach from about $1.2 trillion to about $1.7 trillion for FY2001-FY2017.

With enactment of the FY2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R.2764/P.L. 110-161 on December 26, 2007, Congress has approved a total of about $700 billion for military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care for the three operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks: Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) Afghanistan and other counterterror operations; Operation Noble Eagle (ONE), providing enhanced security at military bases; and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). (Source 1, Source 2)

In 2009, the United States will spend $706 billion on defense.

Keeping in mind that about 3,000 died on September 11, 2001, in the attacks in New York and Washington, and that there have been terrorist attacks in London, Madrid, Bali, and so forth — let’s be really generous and produce an over-sized estimate of 1 million people killed from terrorist attacks since 2001, worldwide.

The key question we need to ask then is: SO WHAT?

Chronic disease was estimated to take 35 million lives in 2005, out of the total 58 million who died globally (source). If you think the death toll from global terrorism has been high, consider that in 2002, 7.2 million people died of coronary heart disease, 5.5 million from stroke or another form of cerebrovascular disease, according to the World Health Organization (source). Also according to the WHO, 7.6 million died from cancer worldwide in 2005 alone (source). Another 3 million people died from AIDS in 2005 as well, according to one estimate (see below). Since 1981, more than 25 million people worldwide have died from AIDS (source).

According to UNAIDS:

An estimated 38.6 million [33.4 million-46.0 million] people worldwide were living with HIV at the end of 2005. An estimated 4.1 million [3.4 million-6.2 million] became newly infected with HIV and an estimated 2.8 million [2.4 million-3.3 million] lost their lives to AIDS.

But, as we know, the US all by itself has spent about $700 billion in its so-called Global War on Terror. From a very rough tally of those dying from AIDS, cancer, heart disease, roughly giving us a death toll of 52 million people in one year globally, and assuming an outrageously high figure of 1 million deaths per year from “terrorism”, we can see which is the far greater threat to people’s lives. And yet:

In 2005, $8.297 billion (US) were spent on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.

In 2003 $125.8 billion (US) were spent on health research, globally.

In other words, a fraction of what is spent on airport security, on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, on training for “first responders”, on new equipment and surveillance programs, on new surveillance and new agencies, outweighs spending on far greater threats to human life.

Even in anthropology, many of us, myself included, engaged in debates about the role of anthropology in counterinsurgency, with some defending such a role, as if keeping the “terrorist threat” at bay even mattered–when in comparative and numerical terms alone, it clearly cannot and should not matter at all.

The promised eternal defense against terrorist threats, with symbolic prohibitions against bottles of water on aircraft while cargo on planes and ground crew go largely unchecked, the long lines at security in airports, the repeated announcements of “Code Orange” by the “Department of Homeland Security”, the detentions and surveillance, and the incessant, obsessive fixation of the mass media on terrorist threats and how to counteract them, is more than a gigantic waste of energy and resources, it is a threat in itself. The real terror is the constant repetition that there is a terrorist threat, and that such a threat should matter to us.

If terrorism seems to matter to so many, to the extreme extent that they would re-elect a George Bush, consider a non-alternative as a John Kerry, think that John McCain might be better for national security, or cheer a Barack Obama who has done little to suggest the need to diminish the obsession with security, then there must be a reason, aside from pure indoctrination.

One reason may be that a terrorist attack, unlike a heart attack, is loaded with ostensible, audible, tangible politics. It is a goal scored against one’s home team. The game is on. We have to show them who they’re messing with. Another may be that HIV, cancer, and other diseases are automatically relegated to the realm of “nature”, rooted in biology, with multiple causes and in many cases no known way of “winning” against them–whereas terrorism is caused by people, who can be targeted, who inhabit a “culture” of terrorism. In fact, it is not uncommon to hear leaders likening “Islamic radicalism” to a “cancer” that can spread–however, it is in likening terrorism to a cancer that one implicity acknowledges that it is not cancer (or the logical bases for comparison would not exist), and that cancer is still the more powerful threat (terrorism is “like” it, or could become like it, and thus become “really bad”). How many will perceive that distinction? Cancer, the bigger threat, is named in the process of overemphasizing terrorism, the minimal threat.

In the meantime, those in power relish and revel in the new command opportunities to be exploited by a population that wants to “put it across” to the enemy. Terrorism is lucrative for important supporters of a given regime; it provides excuses for shutting up and tarnishing opponents; it helps to produce a patriotism that whitewashes continuing differences within the society, while exacerbating them and creating new lines of cleavage; it encourages people to police others and themselves; it wins votes for the tough talkers; it allows for a sweeping overhaul of a social and political order; and, by fomenting new forms of destruction, it creates opportunities for “economic growth”.

But for those who will persist with the authorized forms of fear, I can only offer a gift. Here are your two minutes of hatred, dear “patriots”:

This is our land.
A land of peace and of plenty.
A land of harmony and hope.
This is our land.
Oceania.

These are our people:
The workers, the strivers, the builders.
These are our people:
The builders of our world,
Struggling, fighting, bleeding, dying,
On the streets of our cities,
And on the far-flung battlefields,
Fighting against the mutilation of our hopes and dreams.

Who are they?
They are the dark armies,
The dark, murdering armies of Eurasia.
In the barren deserts of Africa and India,
On the oceans of Australasia,
Courage, strength and youth are sacrificed.
Sacrificed…to barbarians whose only honour is atrocity.

Even as we grasp at victory,
There is a cancer.
An evil tumour,
Growing, spreading in our midst.
Shout. Shout! Shout out his name!

It is figuring out which the real threat that should be named that remains a tremendous challenge for too many.

03
Apr
08

Indigeneity, Créolité, and Independence: Mylène Priam

In an April 3, 2008, article in the Harvard University Gazette we are introduced to Mylène Priam, an assistant professor of Romance languages and literatures, who argues that French citizenship for the locals of Guadeloupe and Martinique does not necessarily translate into their possessing a French national identity. Priam studies “Créolité” (Creoleness) which is a literary movement that developed from the 1980s onwards in the French Caribbean. The guiding idea is that a locally fashioned Creole identity and not French continental identity should lead in defining the islands’ cultures and literatures. As the article explains:

According to the authors, Créolité could provide a way for West Indians to have a say in their destiny. Furthermore, they argued, Caribbean identity could be defined not only by the legacy of French Colonialism and slavery, but rather by a flexible and unlimited combination of influences that might include indigenous Caribbean, European, and even Asian culture (among others).

Priam will be exploring these themes further in an upcoming book titled, Creole Soup for the Caribbean Soul: The Créolité Manifesto.

The reason for singling out this notion of Créolité is that it opens a long closed door to indigenous identity and indigenous presence in the Caribbean. It does so in a way that allows indigenous identity to be expressed not in the form of over emphasized indigenous authenticity, that could lend itself to the reproduction of well worn stereotypes that might be alien to the Caribbean region, but in a more realistic sense as part of a wider Caribbean fabric. One can see emerging ways that indigenous creoleness is being expressed on Trinidadian blogs for example (e.g. see Guanaganare in the recommended blogs list on this page), where aboriginality is fused with a broader sense of localness, of human universality, and of national identity, an uneasy mix but a much more lived and everyday mix rather than a bookish ideology, I think. This is another reason why we have so much to learn from the Garifuna–the only Caribbean culture (outside of the Guyanas) to retain an indigenous language (Island Carib), within a cultural frame that easily incorporates African and other elements, without any attempt to produce a hard edged look of indigenous purity. There is nothing “obvious” and plain about the Caribbean, and this has applicability for both the presumed absence or sometimes overstated presence of indigeneity.

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