"The insecure American needs help by anthropologists" - AAA-meeting part II
The annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association received more media attention than usual. One important topic was the relationship between anthropology and the military as noted earlier (see also Culture Matters), new media, and circumcision. Another topic: Gated Communities and “insecure Americans".
Washington Post writer Eugene Robinson has attended a panel discussion titled “The Insecure American.” He writes:
We Americans like to think of ourselves as strong, rugged and supremely confident – a nation of Marlboro Men and Marlboro Women, minus the cigarettes and the lung cancer. So why do we increasingly find ourselves hunkered behind walls, popping pills by the handful to stave off diseases we might never contract and eyeing the rest of the world with an us-or-them suspicion that borders on the pathological?
Last week, I heard some of the nation’s leading cultural anthropologists try to explain these and other phenomena. I came away convinced that we, as a nation, definitely should seek professional help.
Professional help? Yes, by anthropologists!
“The Insecure American” turned out to be a revelation – by turns alarming, depressing and laugh-out-loud amusing – as scholar after scholar presented research showing just how unnerved this society is.
We’re afraid of one another, we’re afraid of the rest of the world, we’re afraid of getting sick, we’re afraid of dying. Maybe if we study our insecurities and confront them, we’ll learn to keep them in check. Before we turn the whole nation into one big, paranoid gated community, maybe we’ll learn that life isn’t really any better behind the walls.
At the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington last week, incoming association president Setha Lowe painted a picture so dispiriting that the audience guffawed in schadenfreude. The gated community residents Lowe interviewed had fled from ethnically challenging cities, but they have not managed to escape from their fear.
Before we turn all of America into a gated community, with a 700 mile steel fence running along the southern border, we should consider the mixed history of exclusionary walls. Ancient and medieval European towns huddled behind massive walls, only to face ever-more effective catapults, battering rams and other siege engines. More recently, the Berlin Wall, which the East German government described fondly as a protective “anti-fascism wall,” fell to a rebellious citizenry. Israel, increasingly sealed behind its anti-Palestinian checkpoints and wall, faced an outbreak of neo-Nazi crime in September – coming, strangely enough, from within.