A news article in the Christian Science Monitor describes an Anthropology class that teaches students to understand cultural change by making up fake cultures, and then going into the “big bad globalist conqueror versus poor natives who lose their wonderful culture” mode to teach them about globalization.

The people of Mekka’ kneel in the dirt, sorting pastel cereal loops for their colonizer, the Peek-a-boo nation. “Put each color into [its] own little baggy as quick as possible, and then we will feed you,” orders a Peek-a-boo boss clad in a pink Kansas State sweat shirt. Later, Peek-a-boo declares it is killing off the rebellious populations of two other colonies – Bagheera and Phanat Nikhom. “We’ve been genocided,” a dejected victim says

What’s wrong with this picture?

Well, first of all, it’s a variation of the “mind” games of the 1970’s, when students were placed into similar games to raise their consciousness about oppression of their own class, or to instruct women of how they were victims of the patriarchy.

The second problem is that the scenarios are fake. Take this example:

“When you learn by doing – like in the World Sim – you can come across these profound discoveries that you just couldn’t get in a lecture,” says Nick Timmons, another teaching assistant. The Evanaves planned to be peaceful colonizers, but they killed someone who refused to work for them. “When it was declared that we killed someone, we were just laughing,” says Vishrut Patel a student who arrived in the US from India in the fall. “It gives you a sense of how the colonizers feel,” he says of his group’s cavalier attitude.

Sound familiar? It should. It is the “Black legend” of the Spanish, revised via Marxist rhetoric, and being spoon fed to college students as reality.

So this type of indoctrination is nothing new.

But what it is not is Anthropology.

For to understand other cultures, you need to understand how people think, and how their culture has taught them to cope. This “coping” includes obedience to superiors, and a passive acceptance of bad things (bad government, sickness, injury, floods, famines etc).

Often these attitudes are reinforced by religious belief.

But the “bad colonizer versus innocent tribes who they terrorize” scenario is a caricature of the days of colonialism, and has even less to do with reality in the days where former colonies are now independent.

Are the “colonizers” worse than the local tribal chiefs and war lords who they supplanted? Is picking fake diamonds out of dirt to feed your family worse than facing drought and locusts and hoeing in the hot sun all day?

Or are the games supposed to mimic the “Blood diamonds” scenario, something that has more to do with the lack of a central government and the resurgence of tribal wars in Liberia(which never was colonized by Europe, by the way) that spilled over into Sierra Leone.

In other words, their scenario won’t teach them a thing about the impact of globalization or culture change.You are not going to train American students whose only job was probably a part time job at McDonalds so they could buy an IPod, to understand the good and bad parts of cultural change when it comes to a village whose people have a very different perspective. I will give you an example.

Item One: Some American writers suggest that if the people of Zimbabwe were given guns, they would rise up and throw out Mugabe. The passivity of those in Zimbabwe against Mugabe is not because they lack weapons (Machetes work fine for killing), or even that they fear him (which they do) but because the majority Mashona culture has coped with living on the edge of poverty by insisting on cooperation and not showing anger or violence.

For one hundred years, those in Zimbabwe have become educated in Western ideas, yet the most common scenario when faced with tyranny is either passive suffering, or to flee to South Africa and send money home so your family won’t starve.

The clue to a lot of this is the word “starving”. When discussing globalization, a lot of outsiders who encourage traditional cultures not to change don’t see the bad points of these traditions, from the times of famine to the women and children dying in childbirth.

But most of these elitists who lament the impact of “globalization” on culture change come from wealthy societies that stress individualism and independence.

They not only  tend to overlook the poverty of those they want to protect (by keeping them poor) but the good parts of traditional cultures: The strong families, where people sacrifice so that the entire family can survive.

To understand the people, you need to see the world through their eyes, and recognize they think differently.

Item: when the boat people fled and Cambodia was suffering a holocaust, I was upset. My colleague, who was from India, said: No, it doesn’t matter. In a couple hundred years, they will rise up and regain freedom.

Explanation:Those in the ancient cultures of Asia see such things in the perspective of millenia. The passivity is a way to survive until the next change of fortune.

Item: In our African nutrition center, we had to emphasize the eggs were for the children.

Explanation: In African society, the man gets the best food, because if he is sick or dies, the entire family dies, whereas if children die, they can be replaced, but the family remains intact.

Item: when we vacationed on a beautiful beach, and watched the fishermen, I commented on their wonderful life. My husband’s comment was that one couldn’t eat scenery.

Explanation: the replacement of poor fishing villages into resorts (or allowing mines or oil drilling or biodiesel plantations) where the poor have jobs working for rich people has good and bad points. The poor however might prefer 8 hour jobs, better food, basic medicine, and the chance of their kids to go to school. These children will live a better life than their parents, and if the resort/mine/plantation isn’t there, the children will remain in poverty, or emigrate or work overseas.

Yes, this is due to “globalization”, but emigrating to new areas to make a living is an ancient way of coping with poverty.

Preserving the culture ignores that cultures do change.

The change may be caused by the Huns riding into town, or the black plague that “opened” new farmlands to settle in, or the decision of your hunter gatherer tribe to stay and plant emmer wheat when the glaciers melted and the game migrated to other areas.

The trick is to preserve what is good in cultures while allowing change.

China, with it’s many revolutions and invasions, has managed to do this.

Europe, with it’s fragmentation and independence, has not, but it’s ability to change culture according to circumstances is also a way of coping.

There are many ways to teach Anthropology, to explain the good and bad points of globalization, and the things people have to cope with these changes.

But playing fake games is not one of them. ————————————————————- Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.  She has worked with various cultures as a physician.

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