Inside Higher Ed ran a long piece this morning entitled “Torture and Social Science”:http://insidehighered.com/news/2006/11/22/anthro that covers the goings-on at the AAAs general business meeting we “recently blogged about”:/2006/11/20/aaa-democracy/. What I find most interesting about the article are the comments that people have made on it, which include lines like:
This condemnation by the American Anthropological Association carries about as much conviction as a condemnation of human rights violations by the United Nations’ General Assembly i.e. none at all.
My worry is that anthropology may have become too self-marginalized as a discipline, increasingly irrelevant to the big questions of the day in our world, content to snipe from the sidelines as soon as it seems safe.
I have to admit that my sympathies are more with this line of argument. As many of you can probably imagine, I am anti-torture. But the enormous amount of energy and acrimony that goes into adopting some sort of measure like this is enormous, and I often wonder what sort of practical effect it will have other than salving the conscience whose super egos need some form of topical treatment. I mean: think of the concrete, substantive effect the Yanomami debacle had on Chagnon’s career! Don’t get me wrong — I am sympathetic by those who oppose the weaponizing of anthropology. And I recognize that for some people passing resolutions and measures etc. is an end in itself. But… aren’t we danger of generating rather more heat than light?