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Why America’s Top Pundits Are Wrong

Why America’s Top Pundits Are Wrong: Anthropologists Talk Back

Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 282
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  • Book Info
    Why America’s Top Pundits Are Wrong
    Book Description:

    In this fresh, literate, and biting critique of current thinking on some of today's most important and controversial topics, leading anthropologists take on some of America's top pundits. This absorbing collection of essays subjects such popular commentators as Thomas Friedman, Samuel Huntington, Robert Kaplan, and Dinesh D'Souza to cold, hard scrutiny and finds that their writing is often misleadingly simplistic, culturally ill-informed, and politically dangerous. Mixing critical reflection with insights from their own fieldwork, twelve distinguished anthropologists respond by offering fresh perspectives on globalization, ethnic violence, social justice, and the biological roots of behavior. They take on such topics as the collapse of Yugoslavia, the consumer practices of the American poor, American foreign policy in the Balkans, and contemporary debates over race, welfare, and violence against women. In the clear, vigorous prose of the pundits themselves, these contributors reveal the hollowness of what often passes as prevailing wisdom and passionately demonstrate the need for a humanistically complex and democratic understanding of the contemporary world. Available: November 2004 Pub Date: January 2005

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93848-9
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-23)
    Hugh Gusterson and Catherine Besteman

    This book confronts some of the most controversial and divisive issues of the day. Why does poverty persist in the United States? Do the poor, through laziness or lack of initiative, somehow deserve their plight? Why do African Americans continue to get left behind in the American race for success? Are feminists right about violence against women in our society? How much of our behavior is genetically programmed? Why do some countries do better than others in the global economy? Why has the U.S. military found itself fighting Muslims so much of late? Will globalization and U.S. intervention abroad create...

  4. TWO The Seven Deadly Sins of Samuel Huntington
    (pp. 24-42)
    Hugh Gusterson

    Harvard University’s Samuel Huntington is a member of America’s scholarly elite. His books are blurbed by Henry Kissinger and widely read by professionals in the fields of international relations and comparative politics. He has a knack for getting the ear of policy makers and pundits. In the 1960s he was an important adviser to the U.S. government and was reportedly an architect of the “strategic hamlet” policy in the Vietnam War. In the mid-1990s, at a moment when opinion makers were debating what would replace the cold war, his ideas burst onto the scene with, first, a widely discussed article...

    (pp. 43-59)
    Keith Brown

    In his influential 1993Foreign Affairsarticle, the leading political scientist Samuel Huntington made the phrase “the clash of civilizations” his own.¹ In the article, and in his ensuing 1996 book, Huntington made a bold and straightforward central claim: Political ideologies and selfinterest, although still factors in international relations, are being superseded by cultural ties between groups and countries. In Huntington’s vision, the contemporary world can (and should) be understood as composed of seven (or eight) “civilizations,” many of which are led by a “core state,” and all of which are held together by what he calls “cultural kinship.” Conflicts...

  6. FOUR Haunted by the Imaginations of the Past: ROBERT KAPLAN’S BALKAN GHOSTS
    (pp. 60-82)
    Tone Bringa

    Robert Kaplan writes that, as he sets foot on the part of the earth he thinks of as “Balkan,” he wonders, “What does the earth look like in places where people commit atrocities? Is there a bad smell, a genius loci, something about the landscape that might incriminate?”¹ A few pages on, he offers his answer: “The earth here had the harsh, exhausted face of a prostitute, cursing bitterly between coughs. The landscape of atrocities is easy to recognize: communism had been the Great Preserver.”² But he has to hurry before the place loses its primitive, peasant character: “My time...

  7. FIVE Why I Disagree with Robert Kaplan
    (pp. 83-101)
    Catherine Besteman

    In 1994, theAtlantic Monthlypublished a provocative essay called “The Coming Anarchy” by journalist Robert Kaplan. A dire portrait of the post–cold war world, replete with warnings to Western readers about their future survival, the essay received tremendous attention and reappeared as the title chapter in a book of Kaplan’s essays.¹ While “The Coming Anarchy” found a wide readership,² many anthropologists reacted to it with horror and hostility because of Kaplan’s myopic obsession with violence and criminality in Africa, in particular, and in humanity in general. His glib conclusions are contradicted by serious anthropological research in the very...

  8. SIX Globalization and Thomas Friedman
    (pp. 102-120)
    Angelique Haugerud

    Who could possibly be against globalization? Only “a Noah’s ark of flat-earth advocates, protectionist trade unions and yuppies looking for their 1960s fix,” according to Thomas Friedman, foreign affairs columnist for theNew York Times.¹ “Senseless in Seattle” was his epithet for the thousands of protesters—many dressed as monarch butterflies and sea turtles—who disrupted the December 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings in Seattle.² Unfortunately, Friedman utterly mistakes the protesters’ agendas, starting with the antiglobalization label itself, which they reject as a media invention. The activists’ real aims are global social justice and new forms of global democracy....

  9. SEVEN On The Lexus and the Olive Tree, by Thomas L. Friedman
    (pp. 121-137)
    Ellen Hertz and Laura Nader

    It is intriguing to read a book such as Thomas L. Friedman’sLexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization,a book that received accolades from all the major newspapers, only to realize that one disagrees with almost every bit of praise heaped upon it.¹ To put Friedman’s argument in a nutshell, globalization—or the New World Order—is driven by free market capitalism of a new kind. Since the technology and information revolutions of the 1980s and 1990s, and because of the growing importance of financial markets in the production and distribution of wealth in the world, this new capitalism...

  10. EIGHT Extrastate Globalization of the Illicit
    (pp. 138-153)
    Carolyn Nordstrom

    While doing fieldwork, I can watch people driving German-made cars talking on their Italian cell phones and taking a look at their Chineseproduced watches.¹ They pop Panadols from India for the headaches they get while negotiating military weapons procurement deals with Brazilian and British representatives, or while checking on shipments of laptop, satellite-linked communications computers from California. They oversee shipments of raw diamonds that will end up on the fingers of brides from Cincinnati to Calcutta, as they puff on cigarettes of Virginia tobacco. Their uniforms, whether military or business suits, are massproduced in an urban center in Mexico, their...

  11. NINE Class Politics and Scavenger Anthropology in Dinesh D’Souza’s Virtue of Prosperity
    (pp. 154-179)
    Kath Weston

    The argument is as old as the hills, or at least as old as capitalism: Those who have money deserve money, and those who don’t, well, it’s a pity, but too bad for them. This tired refrain echoes throughThe Virtue of Prosperity,Dinesh D’Souza’s entry into debates about how global capitalism is reshaping the distribution of wealth.¹ D’Souza builds upon John Kenneth Galbraith’s claim that the United States has produced the first mass affluent class in history. Apparently the “haves” have never done better, certainly not in such numbers. The rest, insists D’Souza, are “losers” who lack entrepreneurial talent...

    (pp. 180-205)
    Stefan Helmreich and Heather Paxson

    Recent best-selling books with such pastoral titles asA Natural History of LoveandA Natural History of Parentingpromise a collection of educational stories about the birds and the bees, sung in the key of the scientifically informed nature program.¹ Into this celebration of the kinship between human habits of the heart and animal and plant reproductive customs, however, has lately enteredA Natural History of Rape,offering a stern baritone reprimand to the gentle lullabies of more bucolic accounts of the nature of sex.

    Rape is natural: this is the central claim made by the biologist Randy Thornhill...

  13. ELEVEN Anthropology and The Bell Curve
    (pp. 206-228)
    Jonathan Marks

    The Bell Curvewas one of the most talked-about books of 1994–1995.¹ In rehashing many old scientific and pseudoscientific fads, it capitalized on the notoriously short memory of the American public. Mercifully, that same feature has worked against it: a few years later, when I ask undergraduates aboutThe Bell Curve,they have some vague idea of it as a ponderous and frightening old piece of literature that they’d rather not read, likeThe Brothers KaramazovorMartin Chuzzlewit.

    On the other hand, it may have had a real impact on public policy. Those of us who value scientific...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 229-260)
  15. Suggested Further Reading
    (pp. 261-266)
  16. List of Contributors
    (pp. 267-270)
  17. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 271-272)
  18. Index
    (pp. 273-282)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 283-283)