I’ve been watching the news on current events around the world, including the massive wildfires in California that so far have killed at least thirty people and displaced hundreds of thousands. I know a number of people in the area, and even though they are not in the direct path of the fires they’ve been on my mind for the past several days. We’re still due to arrive in San Jose in just a few days for an anthropology conference, but it seems surreal to travel so far to talk about anthropology while there are many people suffering not too far away. From what I understand the smoke has traveled far and wide across the state. In fact, we just got an email from the American Anthropological Association reaffirming that the conference will proceed as planned, but also warning us that the air quality may not be suitable for older adults, young children, and people with health problems. Maybe that’s what we’re supposed to do—try to live life as normally as possible in times of stress. I’m not sure that it feels totally right, but I also donated to help some of the people affected (some suggestions here ).
The American Museum of Natural History just released a video “Seven Million Years of Human Evolution.” I think it’s very well done.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre/ The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/ The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.
-William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming
To a large extent, this blog has been an exercise in finding reasons to be hopeful about humanity. I’ve written about finding perspective even during periods of death and loss, about finding commonality even during times of war, about reconciliation after conflict, about the evolutionary unity of humanity, about the logic of cooperation, about altruism in other species, about the complexity and flexibility of human biology and behavior, and the fact that we are not fated to war and conflict. I even tried to cling to the idea of truth at a time when some are promoting discord and confusion.
I have to admit that it’s hard to find much of that optimism right now. As a kid, I used to think that the world would always get better. Previous generations were racist, held slaves, and committed genocides, but they did those things out of ignorance. My generation was more enlightened, integrated, and tolerant. Then as a young adult, gay people started to gain more acceptance, and it seemed like progress was inevitable. With the rise of the Internet, I thought greater connection would mean wider sharing of views and greater empathy and tolerance, that those anonymous strangers “over there” would become real people who weren’t all that different from ourselves. I thought the best ideas and truth would rise to the top. It seemed inevitable.
Now I think I was profoundly naïve. I see a world succumbing to division and the intentional, cynical fomenting of hatred. I see people putting selfish interests that hurt the many for the benefit of a few. I see cruelty and malice being portrayed as virtues. I see vulnerable people being disregarded, left out in the cold, and painted as the scum of the world. Children are being thrown in camps.
Powerful people don’t relinquish their privileges easily, and they often prioritize private profits over the greater good. They sometimes deem people expendable, including entire groups of people. Now I see the Internet as not inherently bad or good, but a tool that can be manipulated, either bringing people together or splitting them apart. White supremacist movements, including neo-Nazis are growing around the US and Europe. Inequality has grown. It is all pretty depressing. I haven’t given up hope completely, but things seem pretty bleak right now. Keep fighting the good fight, everyone.
This is an interesting video on neuroscience and one individual’s story of getting over a relationship. A while back, I did a series titled “Humans are (Blank)-ogamous,” including romantic love. What I find intriguing about the video is the idea that someone could possibly look at their own brain in operation and use that as a way to intervene and improve someone’s mental state.
It reminds me of a fortune cookie I once read: “Love is like war; easy to begin but hard to stop.”
By the way, Skunk Bear is the best.
“When will they ever learn?”
I just got notice from the American Anthropological Association about my session for the annual meeting, to be held this November at the San Jose Convention Center.
Mark Toussaint organized the session (“Knowledge Production and Framing in Biological Anthropology: Perspectives and Case Studies”) and invited me to talk about research on war-affected populations. We’re scheduled for Friday, Nov 16, 2018 from 10:15 AM – noon.
Children are the same everywhere.
And may others pardon me,
But the children are the same,
In Paris or in Göttingen.
O may it never come back
The time of blood and of hate
Because there are people I love
In Göttingen, in Göttingen.
There’s more on the song that made history here: