Mars and Minerva
By Robert Bateman
When my friend Paul recently saw me for the first time in over a decade, he immediately lapsed into late-80s-speak. We had been lieutenants together in a rifle battalion of the 25th Infantry Division.
"Duuuuuude! Yer baaaald!"
My friend Paul has always been an absolute master of the blindingly obvious.
I am, indeed, bald as an egg nowadays, but in my case this Alopecia Totalis condition is entirely by choice -- I shave my head every morning.
I started doing so a few years ago when I was assigned to a position that would require me to work within a quasi-academic environment. I knew that even while wearing civilian clothes, the high-and-tight haircut I had maintained since I was 18 years old would give me away as "the military guy." Fairly extensive experience within academe to that point had taught me that being identified as "the military guy" was not good, at least intellectually. In an academic setting it automatically lowered the assessment of my comments and input by at least two intellectual notches. I wanted people to engage with my ideas, my rhetoric, my logic and my evidence on an equal basis. So I shaved my head.
High-and-tight haircuts are rare within academe. Baldness is not. It worked.
That, friends, is a sad statement on the state and nature of academe. Personally I did not mind losing my hair. Indeed, after a short time I came to enjoy the new look and feel. But the fact that I felt compelled to conceal my identity in order to be treated as an equal...well that is pathetic and it speaks poorly of the Social Science academics with which I interacted. It is a pathetic irony that the fact is that within the academic fields which are supposedly the most open and accepting of social or cultural or biological differences (history, anthropology, political science, etc), a man has to shave his head to conceal his background in order to be accepted as a peer. I was reminded of this irony recently when I learned about a recent counter-initiative coming from within my second home of academe. (Full disclosure: In addition to being a Regular Army officer, I relish my role as an academic. I used to teach at West Point, then in my spare time at George Mason. Currently I teach at Georgetown University.)
A few months ago the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, initiated a fairly direct plea. He asked academia to help the United States, and in particular the military, to understand other nations and cultures.
Whoa! Holy Switcheroo, Batman! The Secretary of Defense reaching out to the Social Sciences to help us understand other cultures? Who saw that one coming? I mean, seriously -- As Secretary Rumsfeld demonstrated, Secretaries of Defense are theoretically immune to outside advice and are congenitally driven to oppose intellectual freedom and dissent. Yet here was Secretary Gates, putting his money where his mouth was and asking for the assistance of the Social Sciences in developing understandings of foreign cultures. Foucault, were he alive, would doubtless be doing cheetah-flips (watch at minute 5:39 in the clip) over the varying implications of this request.
The response? Professor Hugh Gusterson, an Anthropology Professor at George Mason University, lays out the foundation for the almost instant opposition to the SecDef's request in this Foreign Policy essay:
"...many will refuse simply on principle: Anthropology is, by many measures, the academy's most left-leaning discipline, and many people become anthropologists out of a visceral sympathy for the kinds of people who all too often show up as war's collateral damage. Applying for Pentagon funding is as unthinkable for such people as applying for a Planned Parenthood grant would be for someone at Bob Jones University. One thousand anthropologists have already signed a pledge not to accept Pentagon funding for counterinsurgency work in the Middle East."
Frankly, this does not make sense to me. But maybe you are smarter. Read Secretary Gate's
Interestingly, the group which is central to the opposition to the Minerva Project is also the same team of anthropologists who oppose the US Army efforts to understand the people among whom you civilians have ordered us to operate, the Network of Concerned Anthropologists. Professor Gusterson, a co-founder of that group, in his essay for Foreign Policy cites "One thousand anthropologists" who join him in opposition, not once, but twice, continuing in his reasoning this way:
"Minerva, of course, isn't analogous to McCarthyism. It is, in fact, an attempt to draw from a broader range of knowledge and opinion--an impulse for which we should applaud Secretary Gates. However, given the prevailing academic allergy to defense funding, any attempt to centralize thinking about culture and terrorism under the Pentagon's roof will inevitably produce an intellectually shrunken outcome. Remember the reluctant anthropologists? The Pentagon will have the false comfort of believing that it has harnessed the best and the brightest minds, when in fact it will have only received a very limited slice of what the ivory tower has to offer--academics who have no problem taking Pentagon funds. Social scientists call this "selection bias," and it can lead to dangerous analytical errors."
Yet when I called him for an interview this morning, the Professor stated that the 1,000 signatures which his group has collected do not identify any of the signatories as to their level of education, their positions, or even their academic field. It is just 1,000 signatures, no titles, no positions, no academic accreditation, nothing which would allow one to check anything. I am not sure what to make of this. Normally academics are very careful when providing numbers. Normally.
But that is not the case, so I thought I would check how these numbers shake out for myself.
The American Anthropological Association states that there are some 15,000 working anthropologists, by which it appears that they mean "those with PhDs." Given their cited graduation rate for PhDs, this would seem to be consistent. Yet the Network of Concerned Anthropologists explicitly solicits not only the 15,000 "working anthropologists" for signatures, but instead puts it this way in their FAQ:
"3. I don't have a Ph.D. in anthropology, but I'm an anthropology graduate student. (Or: I don't have a Ph.D. in anthropology, but I am a scholar in a closely related field.) Can I still sign the Pledge?
Yes, you can still sign the Pledge! We welcome anthropology graduate students and scholars in related fields (particularly those that use ethnographic methods) to sign the Pledge and join our email list."
Not to put too fine of a point upon it, but this means that instead of 1,000 out of 15,000 possible signatures, the Network of Concerned Anthropologists seems to have collected 1,000 out of a possible, say, 200,000 or 300,000. Since there is no vetting of the signatures collected whatsoever, and they are collecting signatures from overseas as well, the pool is potentially much larger. (If one includes the academic fields of journalism, history, political science, economics, education, geography, sociology, criminology, within the broad call for signatures from "related fields," and do not exclude graduate students, or even undergraduates, from signing, the numbers could potentially be even larger.) Frankly, that is not at all what I would expect from an honest and careful collection of academics. It is downright disappointing. All of which leads me to the following conclusions:
A. Secretary Gate's Minerva Project is an offer to academia which represents a valuable potential contribution to humanity. Along the same lines, the US Army's efforts to gain cultural insights through the use of (the poorly named) Human Terrain Teams , is also a potentially valuable contribution. Both seek to avoid, or mitigate against, the use of force through a better understanding of other cultures.
B. The people who oppose these efforts do so primarily from a collection of poorly constructed (and apparently illogical) assumptions based primarily upon political biases, not evidence. Their assumptions are also apparently unsupported by any evidence and trade mainly upon mythologies about the nature of the military, the nature of the United States Armed Forces, and the history of war. Moreover, in attempting to further their arguments they are willing to cite numbers which their own data collection process cannot substantiate. (You cannot say there are "one thousand anthropologists" who signed your petition when you have no way at all of determining who, if anybody, on your list actually is an anthropologist." That is very sloppy indeed.)
C. These people are the reason I had to shave my head.
These opinions are those of the author and do not reflect those of the Department of Defense, the Army, or any element thereof.
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