Ask Questions

I find myself a little frustrated and annoyed today. I had been given a Christmas giftcard by my boss, for Amazon. My immediate thought was ‘I’ll buy a book!’ because it would enable me to spend a bit more on a book than I’d ordinarily spend on myself. These days, when I buy paper books, I’m generally looking at research books. I’m also contemplating the next step in career, given I’m almost a year into a two-year contract. But for this… I wanted something that would be sheer indulgence. 

Only problem is, when I started poking at my interests in research in different categories, I keep running into a theme of… well, let’s just say that I don’t trust books which are written by ‘scientists’ who have obvious agendas that don’t align with pursuing honest inquiries and hypotheses. The scientific method, which ought to be the approach brought to any field, involves careful measurements and accurate observations. It requires skepticism – not only of the data, but of one’s own assumptions. Science cannot exist in the vacuum of unquestioning assumptions; that is the realm of storytelling and fiction. As a fiction author, I can assure these so-called scientists that even fiction will be challenged for assumptions that defy the suspension of disbelief. Forbidding questioning only raises suspicion of what ‘science’ is truly being done. Who says this? Why? What rationale lies behind it? Where is the data? 

I think this article crystallizes some of my concerns, and reasons I chose not to even consider an academic career. Elizabeth Weiss mourns Anthropology in Ruins:

It seems as if anthropology lies in ruins. Much has gone into the demolition work, including talks about oneself, an avoidance of traditional scientific methods, a lack of imagery, a preoccupation with current political fads, and a self-hatred of the field’s history.

I want a good book on food anthropology. Not one that veers off into current socio-political babble. The trends towards allowing political entities to control what is discovered about the past, in the interests of keeping the narrative of the present favorable to their current interests, is dismaying and I fear that much knowledge will be lost. With the advances in technology, we could learn so much about the past, but the rush instead is to draw a curtain over that which could give us solid data. They prefer to project their own made-up images on that curtain, rather than risk excavations into facts that might disrupt their convenient fictions. 

As a scientist, I find this distasteful in the extreme. For one thing, it means I can’t trust research material that should be up-to-date and turns out to be shallow and twisted. I have neither the time nor the resources to be able to analyze cooking pots and discover the recipes of those who came before. It’s inconsequential, perhaps, but even more troubling is the movement to eradicate science in favor of the establishment of fictive narrative to enhance socio-political movements. 

I want data! Instead, I get less than anecdote. 

For now, I’ll set aside the little book fund, and perhaps when I have some time, I’ll find an older book that will give me what I want. Nothing from the last twenty years, likely. I hate the intellectual dishonesty become so prevalent, that forces me into this position.

13 thoughts on “Ask Questions

  1. Would older cookbooks help?
    Internet Archive has cookbooks going back to 1475, although THAT one is written in Latin.
    The oldest text in English I could find (a very cursory search) is from 1703, “A Collection of Cookery and Medical Receipts,” by Lady Catherine Fitzgerald.
    Might be fun, although it doesn’t speak directly to your desire for a book on food anthropology.
    You might also be interested in:

    Peace be on your household.

  2. First, I love the pictures! Those are wonderful!

    Second, I totally agree with your premise. This is why I want older history books (probably at least pre-WWII). It’s such a shame — we have the technology and the resources and the discoveries to have learned so very much more than we knew before, but it’s not being used to learn but to declaim! Reminds me of the burning of the library of Alexandria, though not quite the same mechanism. (Though I’ve always suspected that there may have been some really nasty stuff stored in that library that God thought we’d all be better off without — not all knowledge is good.)

  3. I worry about our “scientists”, “engineers” and other technical specialties being “taught” today. I expect bridges, buildings, and other constructions to fail for lack of hard knowledge.

    And those are only a part of important knowledge based professions that will have massive impact on life.

  4. Way back in the late 1980’s, the handwriting was on the wall with anthropology – the shifts in perspective were already taking place.

    Which is why I chose to look into specializing in forensic anthropology. Less wiggle room with hard measurements.

    1. Even that is under attack these days. Weiss’s Old Bones is a very affordable primer for bioarchaeology, for those readers wanting such, from a solid approach. Phred, it would be too basic for you I suspect.

    2. I remain astonished that I wasn’t bounced of of university (I did drop out, a little while later, but of my own volition) when I took a Cultural Anthro class as part of the mandated Race Or Ethnicity requirement. The professor was the sort of university Marxist who thought the only arguments he needed to make was to read words of people he didn’t like in a sneering tone, and end with “and that’s all that needs to be said about that.”

      The thing that saved me was that the TA who actually graded me, despite being a true believer who lived a semester in a Yurt in Nepal, was honest, rather than the petty vindictive mean girl one might expect. She didn’t agree with me, but she respected that I was smart and engaging (however annoyingly) with the material, which got me more respect than it ever would today. Heck, it was remarkable she didn’t punish me for wrongthink even then, in the mid-’90s.

      1. I challenged my cultural anthro prof pretty hard, but I’d amused him on the first day of class with the old ‘trysexual’ joke, and he was an old hippie. So long as I could cite my sources (and did) he graded me fairly.

  5. There I was. Married to a developmental psychologist (we got divorced) listening to university gossip back in the 80’s. There were anthropologists who had gone to communist China. They literally lost their careers for documenting the forced abortions. I HAD been thinking about economics. It was already down to about four universities in the US that you could do free market economics at and expect to graduate.

  6. Questions? I have one. In the lede image, top right, are four roughly triangular items in a cloth-lined basket. They are spotted. What in the world are they. SHE WHO MUST BE OBEYED thinks some sort of bread. Maybe panettone?

  7. I don’t know if it is quite what you are interested in, but the Foods and Nations series has some excellent books about why certain foods are so prominent in some regions, and how politics (in some cases) and social trends play into favorite foods. The first book, Al Dente, goes back into prehistory and spends a lot of time in Medieval Italy, for example. There are ten books in the series, the three I’ve read were great.

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