A blog at the BBC picked up this piece at Asia Times on Obama and called it “insightful, utterly wrong-headed, weird, incomprehensible all in one,” tagging it with the headline above. We already knew this, but we ought to be prepared, cause anthropology is going to figure prominently in the 2008 US election. I don’t think anthropology will always be lauded as a virtuous scientific or humanistic pursuit. Consider the scurrilous propoganda of the Asia Times article, as the author parrots anthropological critique:
America is not the embodiment of hope, but the abandonment of one kind of hope in return for another. America is the spirit of creative destruction, selecting immigrants willing to turn their back on the tragedy of their own failing culture in return for a new start. Its creative success is so enormous that its global influence hastens the decline of other cultures. For those on the destruction side of the trade, America is a monster. Between half and nine-tenths of the world’s 6,700 spoken languages will become extinct in the next century, and the anguish of dying peoples rises up in a global cry of despair. Some of those who listen to this cry become anthropologists, the curators of soon-to-be extinct cultures; anthropologists who really identify with their subjects marry them. Obama’s mother, the University of Hawaii anthropologist Ann Dunham, did so twice.
Obama profiles Americans the way anthropologists interact with primitive peoples.
That’s only the beginning. There is so much going on in the AT column that it is hard to know where to begin. Obama is slimed in a number of ways.
As a Third Worldist/communist revolutionary:
When Ann Dunham chose to follow Lolo Soetero to Indonesia in 1967, she brought the six-year-old Barack into the kitchen of anti-colonialist outrage…
Barack Obama is a clever fellow who imbibed hatred of America with his mother’s milk, but worked his way up the elite ladder of education and career.
As a whimp under the thumb of important women and therefore not a real man (…a meme also reproduced in the pages of the NYT fairly frequently by everyone’s favorite nutty columnist, Maureen Dowd):
…there is a real Barack Obama. No man – least of all one abandoned in infancy by his father – can conceal the imprint of an impassioned mother, or the influence of a brilliant wife…
…Never underestimate the influence of a wife who bitch-slaps her husband in public…
As a Muslim (the author reproduces suspicion while ostensibly rejecting it):
Barack Obama received at least some instruction in the Islamic faith of his father and went with him to the mosque, but the importance of this experience is vastly overstated by conservative commentators who seek to portray Obama as a Muslim of sorts… He shares the resentment of Muslims against the encroachment of American culture…
As mentally ill:
…he is the political equivalent of a sociopath.
It is conceivable that Barack Obama, if elected, will destroy himself before he destroys the country. Hatred is a toxic diet even for someone with as strong a stomach as Obama.
In this one column are condensed many recent threads here at SM, from the question of anthropology’s putative Euro-American bias (ironically, Asia Times accuses anthropology of being an arbiter of anti-American values and a fomenter of revolution), to the policing of the family (“As he recalled in his 1995 autobiography, Dreams From My Father, Obama idealized the Kenyan economist who had married and dumped his mother, and was saddened to learn that Barack Hussein Obama, Sr, was a sullen, drunken polygamist”) to the status of anthropological knowledge in contemporary political debates. This is coming from a publication called Asia Times, but the author is the anonymous Spengler, about whom not much is apparently known, including his nationality. Obama is an outsider in so many ways with regard to the typical profile of a presidential candidate, all of which this AT column indexes under the sign of ‘anthropology.’ “Anthropology” means: feminine or effeminate, non-white, leftist, elitist, dishonest, multi-personalitied, and so on. Sure, the AT piece is a rant in an obscure corner of the internet. But you can bet that should Obama receive the nomination, we will see much more bullshit like this. You can expect this kind of examination of Ann Dunham to leap into primetime on Fox News and MSNBC, if it hasn’t already. The question will be whether Obama’s brilliance and charisma can shine through. I certainly hope so.
Anyway, I don’t know. This thing leaves me nonplussed. What do we do with this?