Tag Archives: civilization

Planting Landmines

The ever-thoughtful Carl Dyke graciously provided me with this expression as a way to talk about edubloggers might call “lifelong learning.” Part of teaching is about exposing students to some notions which may have radical effects later on in their lives. This is especially true for us in social sciences as some of the things we discuss not only go against the grain of some well-ingrained notions but also connect with very intimate ideas people may hold.

I think the example we were using was the construction of ideas about Nation-States/Countries, Citizenship, and Democracy. Lots of people (and, clearly, most of our students) assume that the ideas we have about States and governance are continuous and even equivalent with those held by any group at any point of history. Simply put, national identity is taken as a “natural” idea. Which makes it hard for some people to discuss such issues in a historical perspective. This is one reason I enjoyed Appiah’s “Golden Nugget” idea so much (not to mention that his talk was quite entertaining). It’s a way to put the very notion of “Civilization” in perspective (without using an evolutionary model). Carl also provided me with references to Eugen Weber and to the Taviani Brothers’ Padre Padrone. We could even use scene 3 of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (video). All of these things are, in my mind, landmines. Actually, “mind landmines” or, erm, “landminds.” (Should I get a trademark?)

Of course, literature on nationalism (Benedict Anderson, Terence Ranger, Eric Hobsbawm, etc.) can also be used. Personally, I tend to like work on similar subjects by ethnographers like Regina Bendix and Kelly Askew.

Those “landminds” are only triggered when people start really looking into issues lying underneath society and politics. But when they explode, these landminds can be quite transformative. As per the deadly effects of the explosives from which they’re inspired, these landminds destroy some apparently strong intellectual models.

So, although I see landmines as a major problem, I do see part of my work as “planting landminds.”

Much less positive than the usual “planting the seeds of knowledge” metaphors, but also much more powerful.


Adding It Up

Been thinking. Yes, it’s dangerous. But it does happen to any of us.

Starting up with my own comments about Yu Koyo Peya and Jared Diamond’s Collapse. It’s no secret that Diamond’s approach often clashes with the anthropological tendency toward critical thinking. But still…
From The Matrix, Agent Smith saying that humans are a disease. The YKP on-screen message that “civilization” (however defined) is the disease. A further claim could be that a specific civilization is a disease. Fun to think about. Where does it lead us, exactly? And, really, what do we mean by “civilization” in those cases? State-level “democracy” based on the illusion of national identity and individual autonomy, and motivated by market economy? And that’s all so important why, exactly? After all, there are alternatives of different types and in different places

Haven’t read Diamond’s books but it’s quite likely that Collapse in fact describes the decline of a specific social model. Actually, to a Québécois, the recent tribute to Rémy Girard’s career makes the analogy even more salient. Some have asked what year the U.S. were stuck in. Some date between 410 and 476 would be many people’s guess. But it could be later.

It might be the end of Occidentalism. Or, simply, perceived radical changes based on a series of significant events.

It reminds me of a well-known Swiss novel and a movie made about it. English-speakers would likely think of Chicken Little. Again, windmills and shelters.
Many events are connected to these times. From the end of the Cold War to Hurricane Katrina. From a climate of terror and paranoia to the rise of Chindia. From the Washington Consensus to notions of terrorists and freedom fighters,

There’s no conspiracy. Just a bunch of loosely linked social changes on a rather large but still very limited stage.
What are we to do?

Look further than the end of our collective nose?