Actions Do Speak Louder…

TOPIC: #2 Relativism
TITLE: Actions do Speak Louder…
SOURCE: Casual discussion with a friend on Devon Mihesuah’s book American Indians: Stereotypes and Realities; What Would You Do?. ABC: Television; Spurlock, Morgan, Dir. Supersize Me. Kathbur Pictures, 2004. Film.
RELATION: Conformity and Conflict (Spradley) p. 40
Cultural Anthro (Robbins) pp. 8-10, 16, 25-26
Recent talk about relativism and the morality of anthropology has gotten me to thinking, if I were faced with a disagreeable situation, would I react how I feel is right or would I be inhibited by fear of the risks involved? Furthermore, how can one expect to be mentally prepared to speak up on matters such as these? I know for myself, while I would like to think I am capable of speaking up for another human being in my own backyard, I cannot say I would be so brave when faced with issues in another culture’s territory (page 16 in Robbin’s Cultural Anthro provides a list of anthropologists who lost their lives for having a different point of view.)
For example, in her essay Tricking and Tripping, Claire E. Sterk is faced with the issue that the prostitutes she has become close with are taking risking their health by not using condoms. Although she knows what is best for the girls, she relates to the pressures of their job, that using the condom may alter their pay or reputation with certain clients. It is all she can do to provide them with the information and supplies, and hope they take it. Although this example is not in another country, this culture has a different standard of what is acceptable.
To elaborate more on this subject, think of ABC’s hit television series “What Would You Do?” A show where cameras are hidden in to reveal what ordinary people would do when faced with controversial issues. When I watch this show, I can’t help but speculate on what I would do if faced with issues such as racism or abuse. Ideally I would want to speak up and help those in need, but I cannot know how I would really act until faced with the experience. It is easy to sit back and speculate on how you WOULD do things, but in practice it seems who we want to be is never who we are.
An experience I have with this situation is on the topic of racism. I have several friends who will make racist or stereotypical comments, but legitimize themselves because they have friends who are of that race. On one recent occasion, a friend of mine and I were discussing content from a book Native American Stereotypes and Realities by Devon Mihesuah. One of which is that “Native Americans were conquered because they were inferior.” He blatantly stated that this was true, and when I attempted to correct him by bringing up that one of the main causes was diseases brought over by Europeans, he stopped my reasoning by stating that he is “part Cherokee,” so he can joke around about things like that. Whether or not he is part Cherokee, I found his point of view to be naïve and insensitive.
On the subject of moral anthropology, the big question for me is what constitutes an act to be so immoral as to attempt to change it? Robbins brings up genital mutilation and cannibalism (both gruesomely brutal ideas to westerners) as examples, but does an act need to be so explicitly violent to warrant intrusion? Robbins describes the American fast food industry as a “text to be read” for American culture, providing examples of our economic and consumption patterns. I wish he had mentioned more about the negativity associated with this diet. In 2004, Morgan Spurlock changed the industry with his documentary “Supersize Me,” where he ate Mcdonalds for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for one month. He almost couldn’t make it through the full 30 days, due to the decline he experienced in his health. Many people from other cultures, and even in our own country see this industry as not only slowly destroying America’s health, but doing so in a greatly immoral fashion (with copious amounts of advertising, and luring youth with popular toys). Is it time to step in and put an end to this practice as well?

Edit: 11/29/2011
SOURCE: Moore, Henrietta, and Todd Sanders, ed. Anthropology in Theory:Issues in Epistemology. Malden,Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006.
I have been doing research on Anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes and her concept of “militant anthropology.” Her idea is that of an “active, politically committed, morally engaging anthropology”(Moore and Sanders 506). She urges anthropologists to become involved against what may be seen as controversial issues, that “not to look, not to touch, not to record can be the hostile act, an act of indifference and of turning away” (Moore and Sanders 509).

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