Savage Minds Around the Web

Preaching to the Choir (or more from the border wars front) … Scott Jaschik at reports on how sociologists are turning to religion. According to Jaschik, what was once seen as a secondary or trivial concern for sociological study is now gaining popularity.  Jaschik notes the irony that religion may have been a central concern of founding scholars (e.g. Durkheim and Weber), but took a long time to be institutionalized within the discipline.

Cultural Diagnosis: Roy Richard Grinker wrote a recent op-ed for the New York Times on the changing medical diagnoses of Aspergers, the reduction of social stigma, and how Asperger’s patients have been making cultural sense of their medical diagnoses.

Heart of a Tiger: Victor Mair at Language Log wrote a post on how Chinese pop slang use clever transliterations of homonyms (or homonyms of transliterations?) of English words and stock phrases.   Up for Valentines Day was “I LAO3HU3 老虎 U” which sounds like “I Love You” and means “I Tiger You.”  You can go to the post and see how this play on words is being taken up in advertising as well.

From the Inside: David Price’s latest report on HTS tracks the story of John Allison, who went into Human Terrain Team training a skeptic and left a vehement opponent of the entire project (which is not a program). A lot of Allison’s insights into the culture clash, if you will, of military personnel and social scientists are fascinating.

Publications by the Numbers: Lorenz at takes a look at how Anthropology can survive (or thrive?) in the era of academic commodification.

Doll 2.0: Barbie, the doll that has its finger on the pulse of the American culture of ten years ago, unveils the plastic bombshell’s 126th career as a computer engineer.

17 thoughts on “Savage Minds Around the Web

  1. The below quote and observation strikes HTS dead in its tracks. If this is what HTS teaches in training, the program really is a complete fraud:

    “One interesting fact that was revealed today is that the time that an anthropologist or social scientist has to finish an interview before the probability of a sniper attack becomes drastically high, is about 7 minutes. How deep an understanding, rapport or trust develops in 7 minutes? It seems that the ‘data’ sought is very limited to operationally tactically useful stuff. For anything deeper, they “reach back” to the research centers for work from anthropologists that they will use without permission and without attribution.”

    Classical ethnographic research usually takes a year or more of fieldwork before anthropologists begin figuring how things work. Given HTS’s difficulty in hiring culturally competent social scientists, seven minutes isn’t even enough time for an ethnographer to get properly confused.

  2. bq. Classical ethnographic research usually takes a year or more of fieldwork before anthropologists begin figuring how things work. Given HTS’s difficulty in hiring culturally competent social scientists, seven minutes isn’t even enough time for an ethnographer to get properly confused.

    I know this is almost certainly asking too much given how polarizing any mention of HTS is, but would anyone *actually in the know* care to clarify what kind of ethnographic data is expected from HTS? I expect that village censuses and sketch maps would be much more useful to the ISAF than would a nuanced account of Pashtun cosmology.

  3. According to John Allison in this article their HTS classes covered:

    Information Operations (InfoOps) they were told that HTTs are used to “measure the change in the population’s mental image after a PsyOps propaganda pamphlet drop.” John wrote that “part of HTS’s job is to devise such measures and make such an evaluation to be presented to the commander as a brief PowerPoint slide presentation.” Such mercenary acts transform anthropological sensitivities into mechanical instruments measuring the efficiency of military occupations.

    Most of the articles descriptions sounded like Human Terrain anthropologists interview local people to see who things are going.

    Seven minutes for interviews is insane.

  4. bq. Seven minutes for interviews is insane.

    It depends on the purpose of the interview. I think most people would be truly and deeply frightened if they knew the amount of time that passed between when their MD walked into the room and when he/she had decided on a diagnosis.

    bq. Such mercenary acts transform anthropological sensitivities into mechanical instruments measuring the efficiency of military occupations.

    As a U.S. citizen my perspective is that there are a range of issues that must be taken into account by anyone who pretends to pronounce on the presence of the United States Armed Forces in Afghanistan and their conduct there. These issues are not just synchronic—they should include a consideration of things past (is my country not in a considerable amount of debt given the fact that the Afghan people were the proxy army and their territory the battlefield for a war which went a long way towards destroying the nation which was perceived as the main security threat to my own at the time?) and future (what are the most likely outcomes to both an immediate withdrawal from and a continued and long term presence of U.S. forces in the country?). I’m not an expert in either the geographic area or matters military I do feel that there is no unproblematic stance to be taken. So I accept that there one can on principle be against any involvement by the U.S. military in Afghanistan. It also seems acceptable to me that one might work against such involvement via one’s professional organization.

    That said, I feel like there is a different principle at work in much of the opposition to HTS from within the ranks of professional anthropologists, namely the principle of putting up a _cordon sanitaire_ between a morally self-righteous discipline and an unseemly proceeding. I know there are plenty of people out there who would vocally disagree with me, but I sincerely feel that most of the anthropological opposition to HTS is about being able to say that the discipline has kept its hands clean rather than about not harming the Afghanis and their land. I mean, at what level do an anthropologist’s actions cease to be “mercenary”? Is it acceptable to analyze already extant data collected under the shield of IRB approval? Is it acceptable to accept a Fulbright given that the write up of the research it would fund might be accessed by the U.S. Armed Forces? Is it acceptable to pay your federal income tax given that some of it will invariably be used to fund our nation’s capacity to make war?

  5. I doubt you guys are willing to have another go on the Jared Diamond merry-go-round, but thought I may as well relay the following (via John Hawks) for Savage Minds around the Web.

    Nature has just published a review written by Diamond of “Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire” which is an edited volume of critques of his work. Referring to a chapter by Errington and Gewertz, Diamond offers the following defence:

    “Another essay describes a New Guinean man named Yali, giving a lengthy reinterpretation of his views about the European colonization of New Guinea in the light of the experiences of another man with the same name — not realizing that the two Yalis were different people, 40 years apart in age and with dissimilar life stories and opinions.”

    Say what? Either I am missing something or else Diamond is claiming that his informant was not the Yali of the cargo cults etc. I don’t know that this changes the basic argument laid out by Errington and Gewertz, but hmm…

  6. “Classical ethnographic research usually takes a year or more of fieldwork before anthropologists begin figuring how things work. Given HTS’s difficulty in hiring culturally competent social scientists, seven minutes isn’t even enough time for an ethnographer to get properly confused.”

    That’s funny, but it sounds like the kind of thing the army would do, just to screw with an academic to get them to realize where they are going. No one would ever conduct a 7 min. interview, unless they were using a survey instrument, or testing one. Perhaps, clarifying something with an informant. You can do that in 7 mins. if you really have to, but if there’s a sniper in the area, the security element isn’t going to let the team out of the truck.
    Also, they aren’t doing classic anthropology, which isn’t done by anyone anymore outside of academia. I’m damned lucky if I get 6 months. Data is collected in teams, at different times and at different places, using a multi-discipline approach, and the data is collectively analyzed. This is extremely common for applied anthro., and is better than most. Smart Revenue doesn’t even come close to it.

    “Information Operations (InfoOps) they were told that HTTs are used to “measure the change in the population’s mental image after a PsyOps propaganda pamphlet drop.””

    It’s just called IO, and PSYOP. Anyone that had that training would not use that terminology, or associate PSYOP with propaganda. They do counterpropaganda. Propaganda is defined as, “Any form of communication in support of national objectives designed to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, or behavior of any group in order to benefit the sponsor, either directly or

    This defines every commercial you’ve ever watched.
    You are thinking “disinformation,” is intentionally false and done by an intelligence agency.

    The army does not do that which is something reserved for the CIA. It is a clandestine activity, which can’t be done wearing a uniform.

    If HTT members are trying to determine the effectiveness of something like a radio message, or a certain flier dropped from a plan, they are simply being asked whether or not it is proper for the audience intended. That is, was the format and message acceptable for locals, in a language they understand (dialect, terms, slang), and most importantly did it convey the message. So in Afghanistan where most people are illiterate and fliers are dropped warning locals about mine fields laid by the Taliban, or how to apply for an agricultural program, did the flier convey the message in a culturally acceptable, credible and intelligible way?

    This is no different than pretesting a survey instrument. There’s nothing ominous about that.

    Full disclosure, I’ve been in the army and done that job. We kind of relish in a kind of Jedi Mind Trick reputation, but its all just window dressing. Telling people the truth is the best way to influence them. If you think a commercial is lying to you, or has lied to you, they will never gain your trust again.

    “namely the principle of putting up a cordon sanitaire between a morally self-righteous discipline and an unseemly proceeding.”

    I think that’s it exactly.

  7. The only problem I’ve found with Price’s articles and speeches, is that they are largely created from a mistake of domain dependency. What I mean by that is that he makes many inferences, and concludes many things, which he would never if he was actually using an anthropological lens. Basically, he ceases being an anthro., and becomes just some guy on the street who falls victim to serious personal bias and imagination.
    There was a show on NPR yesterday on “All Things Considered:”

    The story was about the fact that a person’s opinion about climate change has more to do with their cultural worldview, than about the facts. I think we know this to be obvious as anthros., but we fail to see when we do the same things. That is domain dependence. This debate isn’t framed in an anthropological way, so it becomes simply a common “talking heads” shouting match.

    After reading Pierce’s article about his letters from a friend, it reminded me about a time when anthropologists really did their work through correspondence with missionaries and travelers. He bases his insight on biased interpretations of a third-hand, written biased accounts. His interpretations are that his assumptions, which are based entirely on his worldview and conceptions of the army, DOD, etc… are correct. This is worse than simply observing behavior in a public place in an unknown culture, and assuming you know what’s going on without talking to anyone, without any actual methodology, just watching behavior and interpreting it from your own worldview. It is worse, because he does that once removed.

    There is simply no trying to understand what might be going on, by either his friend, or himself.

    We would never roll up on a different culture and automatically impose our values upon others, and act indignant toward them. If we did, then we could expect a negative response. The culture in the army is so different from any culture experienced in civilian America, that you might as well be in a South American jungle and speaking a different language. It is a culture that has formed through adapting to war.
    It is a highly ritualized culture, a la Rappaport. This is because there is continuous signaling among its members through ritualized behavior. One of the main purposes of ritual is to connect the mundane to the ineffable, which helps to maintain social control of members, but is also about trust. There is an overwhelming insecurity among soldiers based on the creation of trust. When the bullets start flying you have to deal with the fact that you have to trust that the guy next to you will protect you and not leave you, and he has to trust that you will do the same. Problem is that you simply do not actually know until it happens. You do not know how anyone will react until it happens, and there is no way for them to prove it until it happens. You don’t know how you’ll actually react. People need to know that if they get hit, that you won’t leave them. Most of the ritualized behavior is patterned to create a sense of trust, which must be continuously reproduced, and to homogenize behavior in the hopes that people will actually do what they’ve promised often unconsciously.

    Knowing this in advance, you can see how damaging it would be to roll up to a group of soldiers, and former soldiers that have been to war, as a civilian and unknown variable, and signal to them right away that you don’t actually value their lives; that you are not there for them, rather you are there for others. It’s really hard to recover from the kind of damage to trust that you’ve just done. Once they feel that you can be trusted, through rapport, ritual, etc…, then you can expand on the fact that you are also there for others, and that being there fore others, is primary to the mission, which is also something they understand.

    Yet it is they who are f#%cked up in this narrative, rather than the anthropologist that does something he’d be drummed out of the AAA for doing anywhere else. That is no different than a British colonialist being offended because they did something to offend locals, and thereby reinforce his conception that they are mere savages.

    There is so much that is wrong with the articles based on misunderstanding and assumption, but I’ll start there.

  8. Actually, because that last post went through, one more thing.

    In his article, he assumes that a random (they are random in the sense that scenarios are rotated) training scenario, with a group of governmental separatists means that the US army is training to fight the green movement. First, according to the FBI the two greatest internal threats of this type are based on both the radical far right and left. They are more concerned with the far right (I’ve talked to the agent in charge of this), because they are becoming very sophisticated, but are also concerned with the far left because of billions in property damage every year.

    The Civil War was the last referendum on how the Federal gov’t would react to any state or group intent on cesseeding from the Union. There is nothing illegal about such a training scenario. It is really unusual though, and I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve seen scenarios a lot where such a thing was happening in fictitious another country like Pineland, or the Republic of Cortina. Actually, I’ve never in my life seen a scenario played out with actual countries mentioned. This makes me very skeptical of this account, but I’ll take it at face value.

    So, here we have someone assuming a whole lot from an observation of an observation, and concluding that the army is training to defeat environmentalists. Here the army is training to defeat separatists, and to make it relevant to reality, they are leftist radicals. I have no doubt that another rotated scenario has radical right-wingers.

  9. For my part, it is a coincidence that Price’s HTS work happens to be one of the themes in Jay’s omnibus post. I was just trying to note (in the most generally relevant recent post) a new “Savage Minds Around the Web” item. While reviews of blogs have appeared elsewhere in the journal literature, I found it noteworthy (and positive) that a review of SM had appeared in the American Anthropologist.

  10. Sorry, I didn’t intend that rant to be directed any anyone but Dr. Price.

    I’ve been in contact with social scientists in the HTS, and there are certain practices that are clearly unethical. It isn’t things they are doing though, rather it is things they aren’t doing. If they aggregate all data, so that the source of individual data can’t be known, and improve the selection process, and ensure proper consent practices, at least verbally, then they’d be up to standard. Currently I wouldn’t work for them as an anthropologist, but I wouldn’t condemn anyone who did and worked to improve things.

    These are things that can be fixed, but people like Price don’t want them fixed. They want the program gone.

  11. i can guess why rick is so crazed about price’s measured piece describing his correspondence with the human terrain anthropologist. the piece is devastating to hts’s claims. rick has no specifics, offers no counter arguments or specific contradictions and just rants ad hominem and politically. human terrain has fallen apart and anyone who looks into it finds the same thing, and anyone who documents how bad it is gets attacked by all the ‘ricks’ out there. same old story, same angry military defenders attacking anyone who tell the details of how bad things really are in human terrain. a real shame.

  12. There wasn’t one ad hominem attack in there, and there was some very nuanced anthropological theory gained from any years in both the navy, and then in army as a psychological operations soldier.
    I know exactly what he’s talking about, because that is the standard way we train. I can visualize it, because I’ve done it so many times.
    I don’t think you read it very well. I also, see where there are problems with the program, as I wrote above, and said that currently I wouldn’t feel comfortable being a part of it. Mainly because I am not going to deal with any more stupid training and death-by-power point. Army schools are like nothing you could imagine unless you go, and it would be a massive shock to any academic. However, we have to remember that the purpose of the training is to the SS acculturated in the very basics of army cutlure, jargon, organization, skills, etc… And, do the same for the other guys in social science. Neither gonna walk away an expert. Army schools are designed to teach you the absolute minimum to function and survive in a role. You are expected to learn on the job, and by the experts around you. You are supposed to learn by others in the process of doing, not in a classroom. This is a cultural difference. It is relative to that culture. I hate it, but I loved school. Like all things about other cultures that bother us, we deal with it.
    My basic point is this. Those things that I pointed out above that would bring the HTS to standard, can be done. We could do that. If Price spent his time on that, we’d all be better off. His implication is that it simply cannot ever work period, and therefore we must destroy it. This is because anthropologists life in rarefied air, in the clouds with the gods, and not among other dirty, unethical social scientists that actually affect things in the world.

    I can see exactly where Price is either over-blowing, or adding heuristics, and assuming kinds of evil plots where there are none. I can see how having zero experience with the military, and too many movies and t.v., will shape a person’s mind to think that we are up so some fiendish plot.
    I have concrete reasons why many of the anthros. are getting frozen out in training, which is something they would do at any job or fieldsite, if they behaved like that. I’ve gotten into fistfights with other soldiers arguing about thing that Price is talking about here, I know what I’m talking about. Later in the article, the person writing Price says they are giving him shit because he won’t learn how to shoot a weapon. I know it’s voluntary to carry one, but if you have the balls to join the HTS and want to be put on a team that goes into warzone, and you refuse to even learn how to shoot…. you’ve just signaled to everyone that your life doesn’t matter to you, and therefore their lives matter even less. I would never let a guy ride with me if he refused to learn how to at least fire a weapon. In anthropological terms that’s right up there one of the most disrespectful and stupid things you could ever do. It sounded like they had some patients with him, but he refused to budge an inch. In the army they say that you don’t have to be motivated as long as you can fake it. All the bluster and bravado is just that. It is an overblown aspect of warrior culture. When I first went into the army I was deeply offended by some of the cadences that we sang, but I got used to it, and now I thing their fun, and actually I understand their adaptive quality.
    I remember one guy that I argued with at an army school

    Well that an no formalized education in organizational studies. The only reason to do that is to study complex bureaucracies, with most academics don’t want to do. The army is a huge bureaucracy, and a rather decentralized one at that. The illusion of absolute order is, as with all organizations, largely an illusion. This is no different than any other aspect of organization. This is why I shake my head and start to laugh a little with people actually thing that our gov’t could have pulled off 9/11. I think to myself, “have you ever worked for the government?” Boggles the mind.

    From American Anthropologist: Batteau – 102 (4). 2000

    Organization is an ongoing struggle to impose order, for strategic ends. Organizational life seldom lives up to the facade of order in projects. Unorganized order among local groups is a normal state of human affairs… …Organizations are more successful in propagating the ideology of rationalized order than they are in sequestering [it]… …The experience of anyone inside an organization includes large measures of confusion, scrambling, chaos, and disorder.”

    We all know this to be true. What Price and others have done is to say that this organization must be the first one in the history of the world to maintain perfection, and true rationalized order, or it is deemed evil and must be destroyed. This is a ridiculous stance.
    They are judging things by their values and beliefs, not anything they actually experience or even read about. Their minds were made the second they hear two words in the same sentence: Army, and Anthropology.

    In 2003 when the army first pulled into Iraq. I had a buddy who sat down and tried to negotiate a settlement with a group of enemy fighters. He said that they thought we were either vampires or like that movie Universal Soldier, grown in government labs. They thought that because they saw soldiers get hit, and get up and continue fighting. They didn’t know about body armor, and all they knew about us was from movies and propaganda.
    This is kind of what I’m seeing. You guys are acting like soldiers are monsters, or something. And, completely ignoring that half its culture is informal.

  13. Embarrassing. Very tired, lots of mistakes, and this got cut off:

    I remember one guy that I argued with at an army school… basically the story goes that he and I argued about the importance of minimizing civilian casualties. Then one day he turns to me and says, “look, are you here for us for them! Would you let me die to save the life of someone you don’t know?” I told him that if was obvious that his, and our lives are equally important. It was after that that we said basically, of course we should ensure we don’t hurt innocent people. We both came to the argument with a set of assumptions. He assumed because I cared so much for civilians, that I cared less about him. That argument went on for two weeks, before I had that ethnographic moment of clarity. We became friends after that.

  14. @Tim,

    Diamond’s sudden assertion, in his Nature review of Questioning Collapse, that there are two famous Yalis in Papua New Guinea politics–not just one–is only one problem.

    We, at, have two reports regarding Diamond’s undisclosed conflict within the review. The Nature review never discloses the fact that the Questioning Collapse book is solely a collection of essays critical of Diamond, the reviewer.

    We just published an update that includes a response from Nature who defends their choice of Diamond as reviewer and further, states there is no undisclosed conflict.

    The Science book review editor and ethics professors also comment.


  15. @ Rhonda Shearer.

    I don’t know what it is with your organization, but the lot of you seem like you’re on a witch hunt.

    The move by Nature is not some scandal. I welcome Diamond reviews of the book, though indeed they should have put a one line disclaimer so that those who need to be spoon-fed information can connect all the dots.

  16. @Chris, As our post clearly demonstrates, a lot of people disagree with you, including the editor of book reviews at Science, media ethics experts and “Questioning Collapse” editors and authors .

    Since Nature is a general science journal, how would non-specialists know– unless told in the review– that “Questioning Collapse” is not a general book on societal collapse but is specifically and solely criticizing Diamond’s book “Collapse,” who therefore has a conflict of interest when writing a negative review?

    As to your comment: “What it is with your organization, but the lot of you seem like you’re on a witch hunt.” It’s out of line and can not be factually supported.

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