Wednesday Round Up #47

shepard-fairey-barack-obamaThis week, in celebration of Barack Obama’s inauguration yesterday, I have put together a collection on how Obama intersects with the themes of this site. In other words, Obama is a neuroanthropologist!

Let me just start off by saying that Barack Hussein Obama hit it right in his speech yesterday when he said, “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.” We are switching from party and field-specific ideologies to seeing what works and what does not. As you’ll see below,a diverse background proves a great help for engaging in that process.

His Parents and Their Legacies

Paula Bender, Legacy of the President’s Mother
A profile of Stanley Ann Dunham, an anthropologist, from her alma mater, University of Hawaii at Manoa

Janny Scott, Obama’s Mother – An Unconventional Life
More on Obama’s mother, with this tagline “Anthropologist disliked ethnic barriers, sought to aid world’s poor”. For more, see her Wikipedia profile.

Ruth Behar, The Anthropologist’s Son
A good portion of the well-known anthropologist’s Chronicle of Higher Education piece on Obama and his anthropologist mother. John Jackson reacts and reflects in his piece, America’s Anthropological President

Sally Jacobs, A Father’s Charm, Absence
An extended profile of the “self-confident, complex dreamer”, Barack Obama Sr.

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Paleofantasies of the perfect diet – Marlene Zuk in NYTimes

Prof. Marlene Zuk (University of California Riverside), author of Riddled with Life: Friendly Worms, Ladybug Sex and the Parasites That Make Us Who We Are (Amazon, Google books), has a very nice short essay in The New York Times on the recent discussion of whether or not our dietary problems stem from our bodies being ‘out of step’ evolutionarily with things like Mars bars and Big Macs: The Evolutionary Search for Our Perfect Past. We’ve seen these sorts of arguments all over the place, that a ‘Paleolithic diet’ can make you healthy and banish bulges from inopportune places, after all, just look at Raquel Welch in 10,000 BC!

Paleolithic dieter?  Not exactly...

Paleolithic dieter? Not exactly...

When I talk about diet and human evolution in my freshman class, I have to point out that there are a tremendous number of complications, including the fact that the vast majority of us do not have the cultural knowledge to get ANY nutritional resources out of the environment around us (see my earlier post with my slides from that lecture, if you like). It’s all well and good to say, ‘Eat meat, roots and berries,’ but that just means spending our time in the grocery store aisles a bit differently for most of us, not actually transforming the ways that we get food, how we relate to our environment, or even the quality of the meat, roots and berries we’re getting (after all, even the meat we get is from the animal world’s equivalent of couch potatoes, not the wild stuff on the hoof– or for that matter, dead on the ground where we can scavenge it).

Zuk draws on Leslie Aiello’s concept of ‘paleofantasies,’ stories about our past spun from thin evidence, to label the nostalgia some people seem to express for prehistoric conditions that they see as somehow healthier. In my research on sports and masculinity, I frequently see paleofantasies come up around fight sports, the idea that, before civilization hemmed us in and blunted our instincts, we would just punch each other if we got angry, and somehow this was healthier, freer and more natural (the problems with this view being so many that I refuse to even begin to enumerate them). It’s an odd inversion on the usual Myth of Progress, the idea that things always get better and better; instead, paleofantasies are a kind of long range projection of Grumpy Old Man Syndrome (‘Things were so much better in MY day…’), spinning fantasies of ‘life before’ everything we have built up around us.

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