This Be The Verse

This Be The Verse — by Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.


Now replace the reference to “mum and dad” with either “anthropology teachers” or “anthropological theorists” or any other suitable reference to the older heads in this room filled with white people talking about non-white people. (And those who talk about white people as if they were less-than-white.)

Replace the word “man” with “anthropologist.” Then replace the last sentence with something like this: “And don’t enroll any yourself.”

11 thoughts on “This Be The Verse

  1. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for This Be The Verse « OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY [] on

  2. Max Ajl

    I’ll respond with something from a mailing list I’m on, written by Chuck Grimes [which gets back to Larkin’s point, not yours, but what the hell]:

    The old saying make `love not war’ has a lot more meaning and wisdom to
    it than it might seem. I can’t quite unpack it this morning. It’s not a
    very analytic thing so it doesn’t translate well into words. For parents
    it translates into saying that lots of affection and enjoyment with your
    kids, goes a long way toward protecting them. I think of affection,
    enjoyment, even a certain kind of comradeship as weapons against the
    society of greed, hate and war.

    There is also a lot of social wisdom packed into the teaching and
    teachers from the progressive education era in the 30s, and the red
    diaper days of the 50s that helps fight the capitalist individual
    fetish. I started to learn some of that wisdom under a great mentor. She
    later became a Head Start teacher.

    The way this commie social wisdom works for teachers and kids is a lot
    of group or collective activities like singing, dancing, reading
    stories, sharing, sharing words and stories, the corny stuff Pete Seeger
    did. What’s happening here is a social protection system built to keep
    the ego and social destructive `competition’ shit down, and make your
    kids happy, enjoyable, and interesting to be around.

    Cooperation feels good. It always has. Walking down the street holding
    hands. Gathering together to go on a field trips to the museum. In some
    mysterious way, competition destroys learning while cooperation enhances
    learning. Active cooperation and engagement between children builds up
    an inner trust of self as well as a kid solidarity. I think it does.
    It’s just what I think I saw when our kid started school and was more
    often around other kids with teachers who tended to stress the
    collective stuff over the individual performance and competitive stuff.

    In many education settings kids are set up to compete against each other
    in a hierarchy of who’s best, who’s smartest, who’s fastest, who’s good,
    who’s bad etc. Nasty shitty stuff. We have a few winners and everybody
    else is a loser? This creates a whole classroom of sulking, guilt
    ridden, miserable, loser kids. Just think about the logic of A, B, C
    grades. Being average is third place?

    The anti-cooperation models built into most of the latest `education
    reforms’ pushed by the private think-tank industry is mostly about how
    to get back to the `traditional’ schoolroom. These reactionary reformes
    are vastly more socially destructive than most people realize.

    It probably seems like I have strayed a long way from thinking about how
    to tell kids about war. What I think is we don’t have to worry how we
    tell your kids about war, if we already have their love, trust, and
    confidence. There are a couple of other things. Children protect
    themselves pretty well if they are well treated.

    What I think the more cooperative based built-in social system does for
    kids later, is it gives them the confidence to stand up to the crowd
    when the crowd has a bad idea like, let’s go kill Iraqis.

    I want to end with this, because it is such a beautiful quote:

    “Meija, who refused to go back to Iraq and served time in prison as a
    conscientious objector, told his daughter Samantha that he was going to
    jail because he didn’t want to fight in a war. When she asked him what
    war was, he told her, `War is when you go to another country, you kill
    other people and they try to kill you.’ She wanted to know if children,
    mommies and daddies get killed, and he said yes. `Why are you going to
    jail for not wanting to do that?’ she demanded.”

    Samantha, honey, that’s a good question, but I have no answer. I’ve
    never figured it out. I don’t know. Children love catching out
    grown-ups. So give them the honor.

  3. Jen

    On cooperation v. competition, I’m conflicted. The post on constructing schools in Afghanistan left me thinking about American education. Teaching cooperation can also be negative.

    Actually, it’s the TEACHING part of “cooperation” that becomes problematic.

    At age 11 I won a “citizenship” award at school in the US. I won it because I kept my mouth shut all semester – I didn’t speak ONCE, unless directly asked a question. The teachers sat up front keeping a tally. The class was concert band. It stressed cooperation above competition, collective harmony, blending your sound with the group. One girl stood up every once in a while and cussed out the teachers during class. I can’t remember why. I do remember that she went to detention a lot and flunked the course.

    Should “good citizenship” really mean “shut up and listen to the director”? Anyway, that’s what I was learning.

    Other classes were the opposite. Or, maybe these two examples convey the same message through roundabout means. Teacher: “Why don’t you speak up in class? You have such good ideas!” – Student’s thought: “Actually, teacher, I was too busy taking notes on what you were saying so I could repeat your perspective back to you for the test.” Or, here’s one on ‘sharing’ from 6th grade English class:

    Teacher: “Read your paper to the class so they can hear how good it is.”
    Student: “I don’t want to.” (I said this one out loud.)
    Teacher gives a puzzled/angry look: “Do it or I’ll give you a lower grade.”
    Student: “Fine.” *Reads some dumb story about a monster and a lake.*

    Are anthropologists any worse than other kinds of teachers? I still feel anthropology is a TAD bit less horrible than other kinds of indoctrination, at least in encouraging people to put more thought into what’s going on in the world. Am I deceiving myself? I mean, philosophy classes had me sitting around for weeks arguing with people about how we could prove that the table in front of us really exists. In math, well, numbers and theorems – not that it’s not fun or valuable, but if you think about little else, you’re missing a lot.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      “philosophy classes had me sitting around for weeks arguing with people about how we could prove that the table in front of us really exists” — you are making me jealous. These are exactly the kinds of intellectual exercises we could use. In my latest post, the one following this one, we talk about individuals who can go into a war zone and essentially not see the war.

      Otherwise, I have to agree, teaching cooperation can be oppressive to the point of being intellectually lethal.

    2. Max Ajl

      I’m recalling a passagefrom Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed. Teaching cooperation can be bad, no question, especially if it becomes kowtowing to authority or the total denial of individuality. But that’s bad teaching of cooperation; the problem is the teaching, not the cooperative pedagogy, I think. You examples you cite are totally horrible pedagogy, having nothing to do with cooperation, I don’t think; maybe just the idea of it passed through so many prisms that it’s something else.

  4. ryan

    “And don’t enroll any yourself.”

    you know, before i quit my job as a bartender around 2002 and went back to school to study anthropology, well, i had some serious misgivings with academia. interestingly, i still have pretty much the same set of misgivings 7 years later, and a whole other pile too. at the same time, there are the good aspects. hopefully i break even in the end. still, whether it’s naive or not i think that something good can come of all this. and teaching intro courses has given another perspective. one of my goals: keep telling them to question everything. nobody has all the answers, no matter what they tell you.

    that’s the whole game. go through the system without losing basic principles.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Well, when you say “nobody” has all the answers of course you meant to add: “except for Max.” Just kidding of course, maybe I should avoid writing comments late at night.

      When I think back to the chain of decisions I made, the unforeseen directions (I had no intentions originally of going beyond the M.A.), the constraints at work (must apply for the next funding, the next program, no place and no money to pause and think things through), I realize that there were many misgivings that I suppressed. In some senses, there was also a lot that I did not know (and of course that is still true). Perhaps what bothers me most is not being “old” and yet having a lot of the regrets of an “old” person and visions of what I would have done differently if I had the chance to go back and start again. That would be alright by itself, except that it is compounded by the sense that I am on a sinking ship, and I have the character of a rat.

      What I try not to do is to lull others into a false sense of security because their recruitment counts towards my professional position. I meet students who openly say they want to be professors in anthropology, and as always I have a copy of University Affairs next to me, with all its ads listed in alphabetical order by discipline. I ask them to open it and look for the “Anthropology” ads — and as bad “luck” would have it, there never is such a section. I ask them to look at Sociology, Political Science, etc., and there are always several or many openings in each. Given the additional facts that universities are not replacing retiring professors with new tenure track positions (either leaving them empty or at most hiring part time faculty), plus the projected 50 year decline in student enrollments in Canada starting in 2013, and the continued drop in anthropology enrollments that is steeper…and it all looks grim. Since I joined my current department, three full-time anthropologists have left, and they have been replaced by one. There is no talk about filling the other two positions. Naturally, I must worry about new graduates entering the field, even more so now that for some reason we have chosen to go ahead and establish a Ph.D. program.

  5. Jen

    Don’t worry. Wal-Mart will always be hiring. In fact, if anyone wants MY job, I’ll trade! And you’ll get paid twice my salary ;).

    Everyone who has a job that’s NOT tenured has to deal with the reality that they could lose their job any day of the week and might have to go out and find an alternative.

    If someone goes into anthropology to teach, and can’t get a university job, they could always teach at the K-12 level. Teach for America, if it’s still around by then, will you a job for two years plus help pay for certification. There’s also the state department, international business, marketing, museums, park service . . . You’d likely have as many misgivings in any of these jobs as in anthropology.

    Of course, I say this while sitting on the fence between undergrad and graduate school. . . . I’ll probably hang around in limbo at least another year.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Interesting ideas Jen.

      My advice to undergrads in anthropology is not that different: I suggest to them that their anthropology degree is strengthened by combining it with a degree and/or diplomas in communications, journalism, international relations, political science, law, etc. On its own, and by itself, it is much weaker and less helpful for finding jobs in a non-academic market.

  6. ryan

    hey max.

    sorry for the reply lag time. i was bogged down in weber all weekend. great stuff in many ways though.

    i think it’s good to be realistic about the possibilities of anthropology as a career, and it’s good to be open and up front with students. i came into the field pretty aware of the limitations, but still wanting to go through anthropology toward my own ends. i started off in photography/journalism, and came over to anth to get some other foundations before spouting my mouth off.

    so my plan is pretty flexible. the end result of what i do with a PhD in anthropology may be a combination of journalism/documentary work. i am open to teaching, but if it’s not open to me i am going to have plan B, C, and D. also, there is always bartending, which i did for 6 years already. that was still the most $$$ i have ever made. sad, but it shows where to market is ;)

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