Wake Up and Smell the (Fair-trade) Coffee

While I find your particular conflation of “liberal,” “Marxist,” and “academic anthropologist” delightfully mid-century, (although probably going to garner you a D on the final exam), Mark, I have let it slide long enough. I’ve got news for you, in the United States, you ARE a left-leaning anthropologist, and there’s little you can do about it. Why? Because the way that the political lines are drawn in this country and the terms “left” and “right” are defined, you fall squarely to the left and so does nearly every anthropologist in the country. (Oh, drat! Shouldn’t there be some discipline that studies the way that people get categorized into groups against their will? Someone should totally get on that! Any takers? Mark?)

In this country, if you accept the idea that traditionally described racial categories are a social construction and not a biological reality, you’re a liberal. If your eyes roll when you hear that medical insurance covers Viagra because it treats a medical condition, while birth control pills should be purchased with the patient’s own dime because they represent a life-style choice, you’re a lefty. And apparently, if you believe that there are historical structures related to the nature of our economic system that work not only to create socioeconomic classes but preserve them intact for generations, you’re a Marxist.

Are we the most left-leaning discipline in the academy? Does it matter?! We are one of the only (if not the only) disciplines that rests on assumptions about humankind that are classified as liberal in this country (you know, like evolution and human rights). If you accept the central tenet of American anthropology, cultural relativism, not only are you a liberal in this country, you are likely a bleeding heart liberal. The very nature of the enterprise of contemporary anthropology — to understand human diversity, to place value on difference, to eschew meta-narratives, to challenge the status quo and the naturalization of cultural traditions, etc. — are hallmarks of what people in this country call liberal.

I’ve been an anthropologist for a little over 20 years now, and learned my trade in your bastions of “liberalism,” and have never met anyone who fits your stereotype of the academic anthropologist — especially the part where you seem to keep confusing communism and Marxism. Don’t even get me started with the way you throw post-modernism around. (Maybe someone should have paid a little more attention in the classroom if he was planning on using these words later on.) And if we have reached the point where “caring about the oppressed” makes either a discipline or a person fundamentally flawed, well then, we liberals have alot more educating to do, don’t we?

So, Mark, I think it IS true that you, along with virtually all of your anthropological kin are left-leaning when you stand on the American political landscape. You are correct, however, about one major factor that makes it difficult to classify you as a liberal by American standards (and no, I am not talking about the Pentagon funding): you are incredibly comfortable with the inflammatory, over-generalizing, “truthiness” that characterizes the rhetoric of the most vocal members of the American right.

The devil is in the details, they say, and lord knows, neither one of you would be caught talking to that commie bastard. Accuracy – be damned.

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