More Publications on Anthropology & Counterinsurgency

Perhaps it would be best if I avoided any more discussion of the work of anthropologists in counterinsurgency programs, especially when I see opening lines like this one: “To wage war, become an anthropologist.” The reason I say that is that I am not keen about either domination or resistance, about either passive or active opposition, when for very long time my philosophy has been a withdrawalist one, which in practice can be exemplified by the following:

  • If they want to take your house away, burn it.
  • If they come to plunder your fields, torch the crops.
  • If they arrive looking for your gold, dump it all in the ocean.
  • If they think you need them, walk away.
  • If they assume that you depend on their services, and are at their mercy, close the account.
  • If they think you worry about your credit rating, skip payments for a couple of months.
  • If they think you will do anything to keep your job, quit.

One could think of many other examples — and unfortunately it can be tragic as well, as in the case of African slaves committing suicide, or murdering their newborns to keep them out of the hands of the slave owners. Perhaps this is why, to my knowledge, this is not clearly articulated as a political philosophy in the West (whatever West may be, but we all have an intuitive, working notion of what it might be) — it is a slave ideology. It has no prominent theorist. Unless, of course, we lump in “civil disobedience” as a form of withdrawalism, and then we at least have Gandhi and perhaps Martin Luther King Jr. If we extend it to relations between nations in the global market, then this ideology can take the form of autarky, and autarky has few if any examples of having ever existed, or having existed and inspiring a following. So I am in trouble, and it’s no wonder that for very long I tended to suppress this thinking and maintain it at a barely conscious level. I like it, but then again, I don’t live by it, not always, and I am not even sure I like it now. What I don’t want is a reputation for being the man who preaches “early withdrawal.” That would be premature.

At this stage, I am out of energy and will not comment on details or arguments, but rather just list the items I have come across of relevance to anthropology and the Human Terrain System:

Please feel free to read these, and get depressed.

4 thoughts on “More Publications on Anthropology & Counterinsurgency

  1. This sounds similar to the sort of ‘engaged withdrawal’ suggested by David Graeber in his ‘Fragments of an anarchist anthropology.’ No?

  2. As it happens, I just received a copy of the Fragments book last week. From your comment, it seems that I should move this up to the top of my toxic, glowing mountain of backlogged readings. I should be reviewing more of Graeber’s work in the coming months, in greater detail, including his Possibilities book, which I also just received. Engaged withdrawal in the meantime sounds terribly interesting. Thanks very much for your message.

  3. The Fragments book can be completed in a few hours (which is not a slight against it); Possiblities reads more like a cross between this style of writing and that of his academic articles, or his Value book, which is excellent despite an engorged and bloated central chapter. Unfortunately, I don’t think he deals extensively with the notion of engaged withdrawal anyway – in Fragments, it is…well….a fragment.

    Cheers for the blog – I only discovered it a few days ago, via anthropologi.

  4. Thanks again very much. I am looking forward to it, and you’re right it really is quite slim. Hopefully before too long I can produce some sort of commentary on it on this blog. And, of course, many thanks for visiting. (That antropologi blog is quite wonderful.)

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