I have been avoiding writing much about the Human Terrain System since I am not an “official voice” of the program. Also, as I have written before, I don’t consider myself a scholar in any way. I don’t write (or desire to) create the usual peer reviewed materials. I am part of the long proud tradition of tradesmen… craftspeople. I am an anthropological handyman if you will. People have a problem or issue and I am happy and lucky enough to use my training to help them with a resolution.
But what to make of my next adventure? It is of course an adventure, albeit a very serious one. When I started this road a few months ago some issues were pretty academic. Now, 4 months later, people I have known have been killed and injured pursuing this commitment to an idea.
Its hard to put into words how it makes you feel. I have been a corporate person for many years, my friends and colleagues span the corporate and academic worlds. Few of us have ever considered that there is a chance of getting killed during the fieldwork.
So why am I doing this? God knows, the program has its warts, thats hardly a mystery. As far as the nattering of the Concerned Network Of Anthropologists go, (yea, I am looking at you Gusterson and González), I see you as bolstering your flagging careers on the backs on both the people of Iraq and my passed colleagues.
I think its important to say that never, as in not once, has a corporate or academic anthropologist ever given me a moments grief about my choice. Most are very supportive and even the most conservative express their reservations by saying “no, I am not comfortable with this, but I will be interested in seeing what your experience is..” See people, thats science. You question, you may or may not agree and you say “ok, lets wait and see what the data tells us.” Thats always a respectable position.
The objections to Social Scientists working the corporate or military sectors is a vocal minority at best. Look, its 2008: Marx is dead, global warming is real, tobacco causes cancer, fossils are not “gods little jokes” and the experiment of communism really, really didn’t work out. Get the hell over it already. Most of us like to work, own homes, play nintendo Wii and send the kids to college. Money, as opposed to clam shells, seems to be the primary method of making this happen.
Its not the money… life would be safer (and my base pay was higher) in silicon valley, I would have done it for far less than I am making. For me, I feel like after all my time in the corporate world, I have something to give back, I hope. I am wiser than I was the year I got out of grad school, meaning I have learned I don’t know everything. But i can say without modesty that with my teams, we have provided advice to companies that have saved or earned them many millions of dollars over the years.
Surely I can turn that skill to something more meaningful, and a longer lasting effect?
So thats why I am doing it. I need to put my money where my mouth is. Do I believe in the power of cultural understanding to prevent violence or not?
I do. Of course, I might be wrong. Thats just the way it goes with human endeavors. They are uncertain, dangerous, it seems often outright stupid, but we all plod on regardless. I like to think that most of us do it to our own drumbeat that is guided by what our gut tells us is the right thing to do.
Will this all blow up in my face? Maybe.