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Weekly commentaries on current issues. Commentaries are posted every Monday, in English and Spanish. Please, read our previous commentaries in the Archive section.
Let’s be honest: many of us are living saturated and hopeless lives, excluded both from the present and the future. And it is not that our honesty has just found out about that undeniable fact. It is not just my opinion. It is a reality that Sherry Ortner calls “dark anthropology”
Ortner, of the University of California at Los Angeles, wrote a paper about that topic las year. The paper, Dark anthropology and its others, appear in the Journal of Ethnographic Theory (JET).
According to Ortner, qe live at a “harsh time” for our social life, because, regardless of where in the world you may live, many of us face economic disparities, abuses of power and even oppression.
In other words, we live saturate lives (neither our minds nor our bodies can properly rest), hopeless lives (we can’t find solutions and can’t trust anybody), excluded lives (we are not accepted in the present and we are part of the future), and dark lives (we are anonymous and the humanities in us is not even recognized).
The result, as Ortner points out, is depression and desperation now affecting many (and probably most) of the adults in this country. And, I add, due to the new reality we are now facing, the uncertainty about the future has increased the depression and the desperation to levels seldom seen before, according to the American Psychological Association.
We you realize, as Ortner says, that the path humanity follows is “turning to dark”, for that reason, you should also realize that we need not a new anthropology, but several new “anthropologies of the good”, that is, we should focus on a good life, on happiness, on ethics, and in whatever generates hope and aspirations.
Ortner defines “aspirations” in the context of “well-being”, that is, something that “gives purpose and direction” to people’s lives, even if they are facing difficult circumstances.
But, how can we stop living a life controlled by anonymous and impersonal algorithms and based upon constant risks, unpayable debts, and deep dysfunctionality? In other words, how can we transition from a dark anthropology to anthropologies of the good?
According to Ortner, the change begins with critical attitude to move beyond the way of thinking imposed to us by language, history, and culture, to create a coherent and harmonic new anthropology, that is, a new humanity, based not on emphasizing whatever divides us, but on what unites us.
In another article, written by Arjun Appadurai, of New York University (and also published in JET in 2016), Appadurai suggests that “perhaps we are now ready” for the new anthropology, an anthropology based on rejection, but on aspirations, on remaining “lucid, generous, and optimistic.”
If you think those words are superficial Utopias, it is because you are still thinking from within the “dark anthropology”. That’s nothing new. Two and half millennia ago, Heraclitus also invited us to listen to what unites us (fragment 1) and to the divine in us (fragment 119.) But that’s a different story.