Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The Idea Behind the Blog

Part of my aim in writing this blog is to provide a sceptical angle on some aspects of anthropology, philosophy, and world history that some people out there might benefit from.  I'm fascinated - and more than a little disturbed - by "ancient alien" theory, the nonsensical, pseudo-scientific, pseudo-historical view that human life or human civilization (or at the very least, aspects of those things) resulted from intervention by extra-terrestrial beings.  I find it fascinating because it's somewhat popular (several History Channel seasons and innumerable drecky books attest to this), and disturbing not only because it is egregiously incorrect about everything it asserts (which it is) but also because the assumptions behind major aspects of it are deeply unscientific and even racist.  So I shall be writing a few things on ancient alien theory.

I'm equally disturbed by any ethno-nationalism, and I intend to tackle some of the pseudo-history produced by Afrocentrists, Aryan-myth-believing racists, and any and all other nutters.  I have no political axe to grind on this front (although I do endorse a species of cosmopolitanism), but I hate the idea of people walking around with such incorrect views about the world.  That's enough justification for me to leap on these topics, which is something I already do.

Another area of anti-scientific prejudice and pseudo-academic idiocy is to be found closer to home for me.  I took a master's degree in anthropology, and I am scrambling together funds to start a PhD next year.  My interests are in fairly down-to-earth things (things mundane, but with greater importance than at first appears), and my PhD proposal is about researching marriage alliance in eastern Indonesia.  This is something that is worthwhile and interesting in its own right, and very much at the core of anthropology - just not the anthropology departments of today.  The name "anthropology" is becoming more and more a label for a brand of "critical theory"-based social not-really-science predicated on either radical bullshit philosophy or left-wing political activism.  I'm interested in understanding human beings and their products naturalistically, not in changing all of society to fit a utopian dream, and it's surprising and ultimately frightening to me that social anthropology, once a technical discipline concerned with sociological problems not dealt with by other disciplines (like marriage alliance in Indonesia, which is hardly covered by, say, political science), has become a redoubt of kooky bad philosophy that other departments would and do reject as unbecoming of academia.  That doesn't mean I want to keep the subject in stasis, or that I want to revert to a previous incarnation of anthropology.  I'd rather that social anthropology were a productive part of the human sciences: connected to and contributing to psychology, history, linguistics, primatology, &c, and with a focus of its own, on pre-industrial societies, to complement sociology's focus on industrial and post-industrial societies (for the purposes of division of labour more than anything).

In any case, "critical theory" and continental philosophy is mostly bullshit, so I shall be covering these as well as other more traditional sceptical topics.

I intend to leaven this gritty bread with some more nourishing material, however.  I don't want to simply debunk or destroy the precious myths of "critical theorists", white racists, and other nutballs.  I'd much rather write engaging posts about truly fascinating things.  I'm interested in a heck of a lot of things, and I have some measure of expertise in a few of them, and it is on these things that I will concentrate.  Human kinship, Austronesian-speaking society, ancient Indonesia, early long-distance voyaging, Presocratic philosophy, epigraphy - yep, I have more than enough to say about these things to warrant writing a blog on them.  I may also write a few things about the arguments against the existence of deities.  This is hardly an uncommon topic in the blogosphere, but there are still some fresh angles left to cover, or at least make more prominent, and it's interesting to me regardless.

If there's any particularly strange claim made by a woo-woo merchant out there that you'd particularly like to see addressed, don't hesitate to let me know about it in the comments. :)

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