A Threat to Academic Freedom Everywhere? A CEU Update

An estimated 70,000 people turned out to rally in support of Central European University in Budapest on Sunday. The amendment to the higher education law, given the moniker LexCEU, which would effectively close the international university was voted on and approved by the Hungarian parliament April 4th.  On Sunday April 9th, demonstrators called for President János Áder to veto the bill but their cries fell on deaf ears. On Monday night, as one of my friend’s put it in her facebook post, “President Áder decided not to give a damn about 80.000 people in his country and signed the law.” Continue reading

Pandora’s Brew: The New Ayahuasca Part 6

Oklevueha Native American Church

In addition to the widespread appropriation of Native North American culture that characterizes neo-shamanic discourse, the current spate of ayahuasca churches in the U.S. adds insult to injury by claiming that their practices are legal because they are official branches of the Native American Church, specifically the Oklevueha Native American Church (ONAC), led by James Mooney. At least four churches and one retreat center have been established under the ONAC aegis focusing specifically on ayahuasca (though they may offer other services and products as well including herbal elixirs, cuddle parties and the ceremonial use of Life Frequencies Essentials and Chakra Tools computer software). These churches falsely claim to be offering legal ayahuasca ceremonies in the United States. Membership in these churches is available to the public for a fee, and in keeping with the common framework of Amazonian shamanic tourism, they charge a second (usually much higher) fee for ceremonial services.

Death in Kentucky

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Anthropology is an empty pint carton, and our existential projects are the ice cream

Because I regularly teach the history of anthropology, I have thought a lot about classical texts and the shape of our discipline. I also recently had a chance to sit in on a roundtable on Decolonizing Anthropology at #AES2017. Sitting in that panel reminded me of something that Max Weber said. I first encountered Weber’s thoughts on value ideals and concept formation in the 1990s. That was back in the day when Weber used to come over to my apartment and we would smoke out and watch anime. The time I’m thinking of, he got the munchies really bad and ate a pint of Ben & Jerry’s — a pint — before we even got to the first commercial break of the Cowboy Bebop episode we were watching. I was all like: “Freckles” — back then everyone called him Freckles — “Freckles, you just ate a pint of Ben and Jerry’s in, like, two minutes” and Weber just looked at me and said:

“Reality is ordered according to categories that are subjective, in that they are based on the presupposition of the value of the truth that knowledge is able to give to us. We have nothing to offer a person to whom this truth is of no value. We all harbour some belief in the validity of those fundamental and sublime value ideas in which we anchor the meaning of our existence, but the concrete configuration of these values remains subject to change far into the dim future of human culture. Everyone who works in the cultural sciences will regard his work as an end in itself. But, at some point, the colouring changes: the significance of those points of view grows uncertain, the way forward fades away in the twilight. The light shed by the great cultural problems has moved in. Then science, too, prepares to find a new standpoint and a new conceptual apparatus. It follows those stars that alone can give meaning and direction to its work.”

At the time, those words had a profound effect on me, despite the fact that as he spoke them Weber had Cherry Garcia dripping down his beard. They made me realize that anthropology is merely an empty pint carton, and our existential projects — the things we care about — are the ice cream that fills it up. Continue reading

Pandora’s Brew: The New Ayahuasca Part 5

“The New Paradigm”

Yesterday marked exactly a year since Ayahuasca Healings submitted to the DEA their petition for exemption from the Controlled Substances Act. The cover letter, dated April 4, 2016, sets the tone for some of the backpedaling that will follow:

At the outset, petitioners wish to admit that they were previously mistaken about the current state of the law regarding Ayahuasca…This misconception has since been corrected, and Petitioners offer their sincere apologies for any prior conduct which the DEA believes might have run afoul of its regulatory agenda…[AHNAC 2016:1]

The petition process has been developed by the DEA for groups wishing to claim exemption from the Controlled Substances Act in order to practice their religion, under the standards set by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment to the Constitution. Much of AH’s petition seeks to describe Ayahuasca Healings as a religion, and to their credit, the group’s creativity shines through. However, there are some inconsistencies, or to be more generous, selective eclecticisms, that an anthropologist might pick up on, even if the DEA doesn’t.

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Around the Web Digest- March 27

As the buds start popping out on the northern hemisphere, I emerge with your readings for the week.

As contemporary travel writing continues to perpetuate colonialist ideas and ignore the impact of military occupation in Hawaii; I ask all readers to never call poke, “sashimi salad”.

As violence in Chicago increases due to rising socioeconomic disparity and racial segregation, friendship among children are clouded with apprehension, fear, and strategic choices.

The current political climate will undoubtedly provide artists with new material for years to come, but fifty artists reflect on the power of art as a form of protest and their duty to speak truth to power.

Brandon Jones offers a few tips and suggestions on how to teach climate change in a humanities environment.

Speaking of climate change, Medical Anthropology Quarterly posted a series of essays on “Sensorial Engagements with a Toxic World”.

Allegra Laboratory posts an essay on the lives of Syrian women in Istanbul and the role gender has on their displacement.

If you need a quick introduction of Edward Said and Orientalism to Facebook friends that continue to post xenophobic garbage, Al Jazeera posted an easy to digest short video that complicates the binary thinking of the West.

This week in anthropological rebuttals to Charles Murray

Just when you think that The Bell Curve has been thoroughly debunked, it rears its ugly head…again. It’s like a weed that just won’t go away–and that should give us something to think about. Charles Murray, one of the authors of that book, is apparently on a US tour promoting his ideas about intelligence and race to a new generation. Oh great. But, all things considered, we shouldn’t be surprised that these ideas have once again resurfaced in the public sphere (they never really went anywhere, after all). Now is probably a good time to ask why these ideas persist, and why they get so much applause and support from certain segments of American society. Hmmm.

I’ve been hoping for an anthropological response to Murray’s latest quest to share his “knowledge” with the world, and this week there were two. First we had Agustin Fuentes share his response to Murray’s talk at Notre Dame. Fuentes comes in at about 53:00 (see YouTube video below), but it might be a good idea to watch the whole thing if you haven’t encountered the work of Mr. Murray. Just in case you don’t know the lay of the psuedoscientific landscape. I also suggest reading the late Stephen Jay Gould’s “The Mismeasure of Man” if you haven’t already. That will definitely get you up to speed. Here’s the short version of what Fuentes had to say:

And then Jon Marks wrote this great response on his blog. In it he covers a bit of the history behind Murray and his ideas, and examines the question of whether or not he should be invited to college campuses. Here’s part of Marks’ answer:

We should not be debating the innate intelligence of black people, or of the poor, on college campuses or anywhere.  It is a morally corrupt pseudoscientific proposition. 

It’s like inviting a creationist or an inventor of a perpetual motion machine. The university should not be a censor, but it sure as hell is a gatekeeper.  At this point, sometimes they go all radical epistemological relativist and and say that all ideas deserve a hearing.  But all ideas don’t deserve a hearing.  The universe of things that do get discussed and debated on college campuses is rather small in proportion to the ideas that people have debated over the years.  Should we stone witches? No. Might the speed of light be 140,000 miles per second, rather than 186,000? No.  Might the universe just be made up of earth, air, water, and fire? No.  Might Africans just be genetically stupid? Might people who want to debate this point have their fundamental civic morality called into question instead?

Well said, Mr. Marks. There you have it. Check out both, then post your comments below or on twitter: @anthropologia and/or @savageminds.

Central European University Under Threat in Populist Hungary

As guest blogger for the month, I’m going to be talking about Hungary, where I’ve been doing field research in since 2004. In doing so, I also have to talk about Trump. I don’t want to, but I have to, since Hungary has had a far right populist leader for a lot longer than the U.S. Viktor Orbán is the head of the right-wing party, Fidesz, and has been the prime minister of Hungary since 2010. Pretty much everything Trump has threatened to do, Orbán has already done louder and more effectively. Demonize the press as purveyors of “fake news”? Check. One of Orbán’s first acts in office was to change the constitution to limit the power of the free press. Now the vast majority of the media outlets are controlled by the government, private entities closely tied to the ruling party, or fear for their closure. Build a wall to keep out immigrants? Check. A razor-wire border fence stands at the southern border of Hungary to keep out asylum-seekers, most of whom international agencies claim meet the definition of a refugee. Attack institutes of higher education as breeding grounds for liberalism? Check. Last Tuesday, March 28th, legislative amendments were introduced that could effectively close Central European University (CEU), an institution that has stood as a proponent of internationalism and democracy since 1991. Continue reading

Artisanal Anthropology Workshop

Savage Minds is pleased to announce our first workshop in artisanal anthropology. As we imagine a future for our discipline that is both sustainable and ethical, it is necessary that we look to the traditions established by our founding mothers and fathers. Theirs was an honest scholarship that was based on a healthy respect for the process of crafting research by hand.

While this blog  has previously rushed to embrace new technology, we are now advocating adopting a “slow” or “craft” approach to anthropological research. An artisanal anthropology means valuing the hand-crafted labor that went into scholarship before social media turned everything into a meme. Workshop participants will learn how to record interviews on acetate disc and taking down observations in handmade notebooks using antique fountain pens. And what better way to slow down your research than to write it up on a Victorian era typewriter? (Please note all paper is direct sourced and patiently cut by hand.) Copying and pasting with scissors and glue ensures that proper care is given to each edit. Once your draft is prepared, it will be lovingly wrapped in kraft paper and twine, and sent to a leading scholar who will provide feedback to you by snail mail. The published collection will be carefully hand-stitched into a folio made from wagyu leather and will be delicately etched to commemorate your participation in the workshop.

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Around the Web Digest- March 19

As spring begins to rear its head, I come bearing the fruits of internet.

Buenos Aires, anarchism, and pastries. If a similar movement in bakeries happened in the U.S., I would like to propose the “cake pop(ulism)s” and immediately apologize for that joke I spent 20 minutes thinking about.

NPR illustrates the lives and history of a forgotten immigrant community in the Southern U.S., the Chinese of the Mississippi Delta.

For anthropologists looking to work with indigenous communities in the U.S., a helpful list was compiled on Native Anthro filled with tips to avoid awkward neocolonial moments.

CNN follows the life of Jorge Matadamas as he attempts to readjust to life in Mexico after being deported from the U.S.

Even after years of work to prove race as a social reality, not a biological one; Governments and public policy continues to be driven by the ideology of racial panic.

See you all next week.

 

 

Kendzior: In Defense of Complaining

This was meant to be a book review. Instead, it’s an essay about the power—and importance—of complaining.[1]

The book under consideration here is Sarah Kendzior’s The View from Flyover Country, which was published in 2015. In case you don’t know, Kendzior is an anthropologist-turned-journalist whose academic work on authoritarianism turned out to be just slightly relevant to the recent turn of events here in the US (and elsewhere).

People ask me all the time what you can do with a degree in anthropology. Now, thanks to Kendzior, I can suggest that students study the intricacies of autocracies and use their analytical skills to warn fellow citizens of the impending erosion of constitutional democracies.[2] Just for starters.

If you follow Kendzior’s work, you know she is willing to speak out. She is not shy. She doesn’t waver. She was willing to talk about issues that many academics—including myself—are hesitant to address. Ever since I first heard of her work, I respected her willingness to take on the kinds of issues that many academics often save for our closed conferences and pay-walled journals (or, perhaps, our Twitter accounts). I’m not sure if she identifies primarily as an anthropologist these days, but in my view she’s one of the few who is doing the kind of “public anthropology” that many of us talk so much about. This is what happens when the analytical perspective of anthropology is unleashed.

The View from Flyover Country is a collection of essays Kendzior wrote for Al Jazeera English between 2012 and 2014. I read most of these essays when they first came out. But readings through them again was a powerful reminder of issues, and voice, that Kendzior brings to the table. The book is arranged in 5 parts: 1) Flyover Country; 2) The Post-Employment Economy; 3) Race and Religion; 4) Higher Ed; and 5) Beyond Flyover Country. There’s also a Coda titled “In Defense of Complaining” that is so poignant to the present moment I’m going to start—and end—there. Continue reading

Pandora’s Brew: The New Ayahuasca Part 4

Ayahuasca Healings

Last week (March 18, 2017), I received an email that read, in toto:

Just like I promised:
Get the free eBook here (right click, “Save Link As…”)
I wrote this back in 2010, and the secrets contained within this eBook, have allowed me to create and live the most beautiful, fulfilling life I could have ever imagined.
It is actually a “channeled” book, are you familiar with what channeling is?
Back in 2010, I met The Teachers who showed me how to create my ideal life experience, no matter where I was at.
(The Teachers are the true authors of this eBook)
Following Their words, led me down a path more magical, more beautiful, more filled with joy, love and freedom, than anything I could have ever dreamt up.
Because they taught me, how to truly follow my heart. There’s no secret, that following your heart, is
the key to creating the life of your dreams.
The question is:
How?
You know you want a life of freedom, but how do you get there?
The mind can be so strong in it’s fears and doubts.
And we can be so controlled by other people’s expectations of us…
So the question is, above all of that, how can you still follow your heart?
This is the key to your most fulfilling life, ever.
And this eBook gives you the answers, and shows you, how you can move forward, to create the life that your heart and soul, so deeply yearn for.
It’s time!
So enjoy this eBook, and I’ll talk to you soon! [To be continued..]
With infinite gratitude, so happy to share this,
Trinity de Guzman & The Ayahuasca Healings Family

About once or twice a week I get a missive like this from Trinity, the messianic young founder of Ayahuasca Healings Native American Church. Since I initiated my membership in the Ayahuasca Healings community (by reluctantly giving them my e-mail address), I have received at least 48 of these love bombs, with subject lines ranging from “Welcome Beautiful Soul” to “Day 6 – How To Choose The Right Shaman” to “…I’m going to be a father!! Yay!!” Continue reading

Pandora’s Brew: The New Ayahuasca Part 3

Part 3: Legality (or lack thereof)

(In the last post, I promised to start this one with some explanation of what goes into ayahuasca that makes it the concern of the US Drug Enforcement Agency, and why some people in the U.S. can drink it legally while others can’t. Here goes.)

Ayahuasca is most commonly defined in the literature both lay and academic as a brew made from the combination of two plants: a vine, ayahuasca (Banistseriopsis caapi); and a leaf, usually chacruna (Psychotria viridis) but sometimes chaliponga, chagroponga or yáji (Diplopterys cabrerana). Although this definition obscures the myriad historical and contemporary iterations of brews that use the ayahuasca vine as a base, the ayahuasca-chacruna dyad is the basis for the spread of ayahuasca usage in the Amazon and around the world.

The leaves that go into the ayahuasca brew contain a substance, dimethyltryptamine or DMT, that has a number of interesting characteristics. It is produced in the healthy human body and brain, and recent research (here, here, and here) suggests that it modulates the immune system and may provide other biologically protective functions as well. DMT is also produced in numerous other plant and animal species. When extracted, purified, and smoked (or injected, as it was in a series of clinical experiments that jump-started the current wave of psychedelic research), DMT produces prodigious if short-lived hallucinations. When ingested orally, however, it does nothing at all. That’s because an enzyme in the human digestive system, monoamine oxidase or MAO, breaks down the DMT before it can get into the bloodstream and through the blood-brain barrier.

On the other hand, ayahuasca the vine (and subsequently the brew) contains substances that inhibit the monoamine oxidase (we call them mono-amine oxidase inhibitors, or MAOIs), thus rendering the DMT orally active and, therefore, hallucinogenic.

The legal problem arises over the fact that DMT is a Schedule 1 substance, a classification reserved for drugs that the US government defines as having no legitimate medical use and a high potential for abuse. Possession of Schedule 1 substances is illegal. Therefore, possession of ayahuasca is, ostensibly, illegal as well.

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Remembering Teresia Teaiwa: An Open Access Bibliography

Scholars of the Pacific are mourning the loss of Teresia Teaiwa this week. Teresia was an iconic figure in Pacific Studies: A poet and critic, dedicated teacher, and determined institution builder. Teresia was the director of the Va‘aomanū Pasifika (Pacific Studies Center) at Victoria University in Wellington, the first and only place (afaik) where you can earn a Ph.D. in Pacific Studies.

I only had a chance to meet Teresia a few times, and I can’t speak to her life the way that so many others can, except to say that she was an impressive figure in every sense whether it be reading poetry or rethinking Pacific Studies. She had mana. She was a trenchant critic of colonialism and other things, but in person she was hardly austere or intimidating. She was an approachable person, down to earth, with a sense of humor. I think in her mixture of dignity and a willingness to laugh she was deeply Pacific.  So many people counted on so many more years of work and inspiration from her. I can’t say I knew her enough to mourn her the way her family and friends do, but her presence and project impacted everyone who ever met her or read her work. Just being in the same room was enough. She was on a journey, and still is. But we had hoped to spend more time traveling with her then we were allowed.

Teresia was a prolific author, and much of her work is open access. However, google searches for her work produce a maze of citations that is hard to find your way around in.  I feel like my way to contribute to her memory is to help provide a guide to her work which can help future readers stop digging through search results and start reading Teresia. What follows is a quick bibliography of work that is available open access. I’ve included both poetry and academic publications. I’ve linked to stable repositories as much as possible so the information on this page will age well. Many of these links will take you to a repository entry and you will then have to click through to the PDF. Others are online journals which lack librarian-friendly meta-data. In all cases I’ve tried to give reasonable citations but I’m sure there are irregularities in the format that I’ve used. There are also probably typos. Also, please note that these are just the open access texts Continue reading

Rogue: Scholarly Responsibility in the Time of Trump

What if scholars need to go rogue? If anthropologists need to go rogue? In the USA right now, we are not in normal times, but in a new period of attack on academia and science, on facts and funding, on communities with whom anthropologists conduct their research, and on communities to which anthropologists belong. Our scholarly knowledge is increasingly needed in new political ways. But, how do we act effectively and with an awareness of the issues and risks involved?

On Saturday, February 4, 2017, I gave a talk at Duke University as part of their “Precarious Publics” workshop. My invitation was to speak about public anthropology and the current political moment. The initial title of my talk, decided upon after the election but before the inauguration, was “Political Crisis and Scholarly Responsibility, or, Public Anthropology in the Time of Trump.” After the inauguration, things changed, and so did my title. Amidst not only the Muslim ban/immigration ban, but also the attack on climate change science, including the banning of the open, public sharing of scientific knowledge, and in some cases, the erasure of scientific research conducted during the period of the Obama administration, it was no longer sufficient to simply consider “public” anthropology. Instead, along with colleagues in numerous governmental offices and institutions—from the National Park Service to the EPA to NASA to the White House itself—it was time to think of a rogue anthropology. The new title for my talk, delivered on the sixteenth day of the Trump presidency (and posted here on the sixty-first day) was: “If On the Sixteenth Day … : Rogue Anthropology.” Continue reading

Black flags from Rome: Mafia and Isis, as before Mafia and Al Qaeda

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Stefano Portelli. Stefano is a cultural anthropologist with a doctorate in Urban Studies, his primary fieldsites are a barrio of Barcelona and the Ostia neighborhood of Rome, where the issue of mafia is crucial. Starting September 2017, he will be a Marie-Curie fellow for Leicester University’s Department of Geography.

Black flags from Rome: Mafia and Isis, as before Mafia and Al Qaeda
by Stefano Portelli

After the Charlie Hebdo massacre of January 2015, some social networks mostly based in Southern Italy published an uncanny piece of news, that bounced back on the web immediately after the much more deadly attacks in November. The Sicilian mafia boss Totò Riina, from the maximum security jail where he is secluded since 1993, was reported answering to the fear of terrorism spreading across Italy, by suggesting that if the Italian state really wanted to defeat Isis, they should release him from prison, and let him do. “Ci penso io” is a sentence that could condense the mafioso’s claim of being able to deal with the Islamic state: a very ambiguous formula in Italian, as anthropologists know. It entails taking charge of somebody else’s problem through one’s connections and savoir faire, but without disclosing the means. It creates a relation of gratefulness tinged with admiration – the basis for dependency and patronage.

The piece of news was certainly a hoax, as some of the websites themselves suggested. Still, that same January some newspapers echoed it in a more ‘respectable’ form, by quoting an interview with an anonymous secret agent, who literally said: “Terrorist leakings are much more difficult in the South [of Italy], where there is somebody who controls or even manages the territory”. A title was “Half of the country is safe (under the Mafia)”, the other “Isis only fears the Mafia”. In November the idea gained even more popularity, when the online version of an influential weekly magazine built a whole article on it, quoting another source from the intelligence community who declared that “the real protection” for Italy against Isis is “the indirect one wielded by criminal organizations”. “The Mafia succeeds in opposing terrorism”, was the title. The thesis was promptly rejected by an Italian left-wing journalist, but its very presence in public discourse reveals a rather unexplored consequence of the terrorist threat. Fear quickly evokes national cohesion, but can reach the point of crossing the boundary of what is publicly admitted, into the realm of the unspeakable, and of the obscure.

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