BOOK REVIEW: Social and Cultural Anthropology [VSI] by John Monaghan & Peter Just

Social and Cultural Anthropology: A Very Short IntroductionSocial and Cultural Anthropology: A Very Short Introduction by John Monaghan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This was one of the most interesting “Very Short Introduction” books — of the many titles in the series that I’ve read. The authors use stories and examples to convey the basics of the subject in way that’s not mind-numbingly dry (i.e. the scholarly norm) – in fact, there’s a fair amount of humor laced throughout the book.

Most of the examples come from the two tribes that these two authors study – i.e. one in Mexico and the other in Indonesia. However, those two groups provide a rich arena of interesting anecdotes, and the authors do use social groups outside their research focus when necessary.

In addition to learning about the nature of ethnographic fieldwork and what anthropologists do, there’s an exploration of culture, the various ways in which people are socially organized (i.e. kinship, castes, societies, etc.,) and how different societies view religious belief, economic activity, and selfhood.

If you’re starting from zero and are seeking an introduction to anthropology, I’d highly recommend this one.

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BOOK REVIEW: Myth: A Very Short Introduction by Robert A. Segal

Myth: A Very Short IntroductionMyth: A Very Short Introduction by Robert A. Segal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This book situates myth amid the broader body of scholarship by examining what role myth plays within – or in opposition to – various academic disciplines, including: science, philosophy, religion, the study of ritual, literature, psychology, structuralism, and social studies. The book is organized so as to compare competing ideas of various major scholars in each of the aforementioned domains. So, as the blurb is upfront about, the book doesn’t spend much time talking about what myths are, and the discussion of how myths are structured is only made as relevant to distinguishing various hypotheses.

One does obtain some food-for-thought about what myths are as one learns how different scholars have approached myth. Questions of how narrowly myth should be defined (e.g. only creation stories v. all god and supernatural tales,) and how myths compare to folktales, national literatures, and the like are touched upon. One also learns that some scholars took myths literally (and, therefore, saw them as obsolete in the face of science and modern scholarship,) but other scholars viewed myths more symbolically.

If you’re looking for an introductory book to position myth in the larger scholarly domain and to examine competing hypotheses about myths, this is a great book for you. However, those who want a book that elucidates what myths are (and aren’t) and how they are structured and to what ends, may find this book inadequate for those objectives. Just be aware of the book you’re getting.


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My Humble Narcissistic Opinion on Organizations

Whenever an organization is built around an idea or set of values, that idea or set of values shrinks dwarf-like into the background. What looms large is the imperative to protect and expand the organization.

The organization is an organism, but one whose only growth governor is the attractiveness of its ideas. You think those ideas are the organization’s genes, but they aren’t. They aren’t the codes by which the organization lives. They aren’t its DNA. They are its skin. But even the loveliest beauty queen can be a gloppy, cancerous mess on the inside. No, the code that your organization lives by is the same viral code by which all organizations live.

Step 1: Preserve the organization.

Step 2: Grow the organization.

Step 3: Annihilate competitors.

Step 4: Repeat steps 1 through 3 until you’ve consumed the world.

You say that I’m not a loyal Party man. Guilty. I cannot be loyal to Party without being disloyal to my own mind. If one’s views mirror those of the Party, how likely is it that one didn’t twist one’s ledger into line? Not likely, I’d say. My thoughts are not static. They evolve. I learn. I will no more subordinate my belief s to a Party then I will chain my neck to a rock.

Your Company doesn’t make widgets, it makes Company.

You say I don’t believe in God. I see God in every leaf. I see him in the new fallen snow. I see him in the confident aerial leap of a nervous squirrel. I feel the pulse of him in my hand when it holds another hand. No, what I don’t believe in is religion. They say the problems of religion are the fault of flawed individuals. I say they have it exactly backwards. There wasn’t an evil cell in Hitler’s body, but together they formed an evil seed. Yet, one man cannot make a holocaust. Ever increasing numbers had to fall in love with a skin-deep mirage of an idea, and ignore the ugliness inside.  A man can only be as evil as the world lets him, but a government? a church? Those, my friend, can consume worlds.