Many US state legislatures are pushing personhood for zygotes and embryos. There is even a movement to put it into the US Constitution. For Women’s History Month, I am reposting this video: It’s a Missed Period.
There is a push by some Christian groups in the United States to rewrite history. They want teachers to tell their students that the Founders didn’t really mean it when they said that there was a wall that separated Church from State. In this video, Dr. Anth cites the Founders themselves to make clear that the Founders built a solid wall between Church and State.
March 8 is International Women’s Day.
More than a day to celebrate women, it is a day to consider what actions still need to be taken for all women to achieve equity with men so that women can live the lives of their own choosing.
Watch these videos to learn more about the societal changes that are needed to improve the lives of women.
The Being a Woman Playlist from Dr. Anth Talks is focused on the biological, cultural, and social needs of women.
Between March 2, 2021 and April 19, 2021, I published 15 short videos on my Dr. Anth Talks Channel. Each week, 2 short videos are published on topics related to being human in a complex world.
Check out the past videos and make sure not to miss any in the future by subscribing to my Dr. Anth Talks Channel.
As an Anthropologist, I try to create activities and projects for students in my college classes that encourage them to learn more about themselves and others. Last semester, I decided to take that a step further by having the students do a Capstone Project that would also serve the community.
On the first day of class, the students are randomly assorted into groups. The name of each group is that of one of the world’s remaining foraging populations. Their first activity is to learn about the group and share that information with their fellow group members. They will sit with their group members throughout the semester and do activities with their group.
The Capstone Project is the final group activity. Each group is assigned a different aspect of a current refugee crisis. Using an anthropological perspective, they must research that crisis. From their research, they create a slide presentation that will be shown to the class during the final exam period. All students evaluate each presentation as part of their final exam grade.
During the semester break, I select from the information the groups have gathered to create a blog page devoted to that refugee crisis. The page is part of a new blog devoted to Refugee Crises. Each semester, students will study a new crisis and new pages will be added to the blog.
This Capstone Project provides students with a tangible result that helps embed in their memories the most important theme of Anthropology: Build Bridges, Not Walls.
In recent years, an increasing number of students at my institution are either immigrants or children of immigrants from several different countries in Africa. Some of them have discussed with me their concerns about what they perceive as an extreme lack of knowledge displayed not only by their fellow students but by staff and faculty about the continent of Africa and the 54 countries within that continent. It also appears to these students that none of these individuals are particularly interested in improving their knowledge.
In large part, we can blame the educational system and the media which, intentionally or unintentionally, perpetuates the racism of the Colonial Era in which Africa was depicted, if depicted at all, as a place of exotic animals and backward, “uncivilized” humans. Far too many people in the United States view Africa as a country (not a continent) dominated by poverty rather than as the second-largest landmass in the world filled with dynamism and an entrepreneurial spirit. Too many in the United States do not care about Africa and do not see why they should care.
In my classes, I attempt to change this perception, but it is difficult when it begins in elementary school with students’ first exposure to world maps. Below are several world maps. Study the maps and choose the one that seems to be the most useful and accurate.
You probably chose the one with which you are most familiar. Now watch this video.
The Boston, MA school system has realized that the world maps they were using in the classrooms are a problem. They will now use the Peters Projection.
Given the indoctrination that diminishes the relative size of the African continent, True Size is both entertaining and educational in showing the true size of countries and continents when compared to each other. Note how tiny Greenland truly is in relation to the African continent.
Africa is a continent of 54 countries that differ dramatically from each other in terms of size, population, ecology, and economy.
While there are remote areas with little access to modern technologies, these are quickly becoming part of the past. Even remote areas are gaining access to cell phones and the internet. Many of the cities are every bit as modern as those in the U.S.
Let’s focus on a few countries. We will begin with Nigeria, the most-populous country in Africa where over 500 languages, in addition to English, are spoken. In Nigeria, it is common to be multi-lingual.
Nigeria is larger than Texas. Lagos, the world’s 10th largest city with a population of 21 million, is on the coast. It is a dynamic center of trade, technology, and entertainment. Nollywood produces more than 2000 films per year.
Our next country, Ghana, is a near-neighbor of Nigeria on the west coast of the African Continent.
Accra has a population of 2.3 million in a country of 26 million. Ghana is about the size of Oregon.
Our next stop is Uganda, a Central-East African country.
Kampala is a city of 2 million in a country of 38 million. Uganda is similar in size to Wyoming.
One of the countries to the east of Uganda is Kenya, which is slightly smaller than Texas and has a population of over 46 million.
Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, has a population of around 3.5 million.
The last stop on our tour will be the country of South Africa.
South Africa has a population of 54 million in an area about twice the size of Texas. Johannesburg, with a population of about 4.5 million, is the largest city in South Africa.
However, for the current U.S. population, it may be best known as the home of Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show.
There are still another 49 countries for you to explore on the Continent of Africa. The odds are high that you or your children will work for someone who is from Africa, is an immigrant from Africa, or is the offspring of an immigrant.
If you click on this site, you can see how well you do identifying the 54 countries of Africa. You can retry multiple times.
According to The Next Africa by Jake Bright and Aubrey Hruby, African immigrants and their children are the most-highly-educated group in the United States.
In 2015, Harold Ekeh, son of Nigerian immigrants, was accepted at all 8 Ivy League schools.
In 2016, Augusta Uwamanzu-Nna, daughter of Nigerian immigrants, was accepted at all 8 Ivy League schools.
In 2017, Jude Okonkwo, son of Nigerian immigrants, was accepted at all 8 Ivy League schools.
In conclusion, please watch the following video and understand that it is important to become educated about the Continent of Africa and its 54 countries so that one does not appear ignorant to those individuals who are from any of those countries.
I recently read a book that presents a disturbing analysis of the criminal justice (actually, injustice) system of the United States. Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice by Adam Benforado is extremely well-written and well-reasoned. It can also be viewed as the companion volume to Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy which I reviewed in a prior post. This post will include a number of direct quotes from Unfair.
We want “…to see the world as a fair place where people receive their just deserts. When confronted with an example of a seemingly ‘good’ person, like a virgin, suffering a terrible outcome, we experience a strong dissonance. And we eliminate that discomfort–and maintain our perception of justice–by finding fault with the victim.” p. 17
Benforado discusses research about why cops see threats where there are none. The research study showed that research subjects who were holding a gun were more likely to perceive an individual shown on a screen as threatening (no matter what the individual on the screen was doing) than research subjects who were not holding a gun. “…having a gun at your fingertips can make the world seem a far more threatening place, with potentially deadly consequences.” p. 61
Later, Benforado analyses the flaws of police lineups. “…studies of actual police lineups show that eyewitnesses select innocent people more than 30 percent of the time. Would we as a society tolerate the sale of a car whose brake lights malfunctioned on every third trip, or a hospital that handed out the wrong medicine to every third patient? Obviously not; we would demand immediate change. So why do we accept the claim that the legal system works just fine as it is? p. 129
Judges lack training in analyzing expert testimony and don’t grasp the importance of scientific literacy. “Federal and state judiciaries should commit to rigorous training of judges in assessing expert testimony…A lack of proficiency can bring devastating consequences…making scientific literacy mandatory doesn’t demean judges; it’s a testament to the importance of what they do.” p.155
Why do we punish those convicted of crimes? “[T]here is a growing scientific consensus that it is a desire for retribution–not deterrence or incapacitation–that has the strongest influence on why we punish. [T]he motive to deliver payback to the perpetrator operates as a sort of automatic default.” p.191
“[W]e often seem to be driven to punish first and seek justification second.” p.194
“[O]ur desire to find a culprit and reset the moral scales by inflicting punishment may sometimes override our commitment to fair treatment…[R]etaliatory acts look far less like accidents, anomalies, and collateral damage. They look like reflections of our true nature–who we really are.” p 196-7
Punishment that is meted out differs by the ‘race’ of the perpetrator and the ‘race’ of the victim. Example [p. 197]: Pete murders a woman who spurns him. If the woman is white, Pete is more likely to face than death penalty than if the woman is black. If Pete is black, his odds of facing the death penalty are far higher than if he were white. Black men “…also receive higher bails, face a greater incarceration rate, and are subject to longer sentences than white defendants.” They “are also more likely to actually be executed.” p. 197
Research has shown that stereotypes and bias affect views of guilt and punishment. Study participants read a story about a boy with prior juvenile convictions who committed a violent crime. “The texts given to the groups were identical, aside from one word: for the first group, the defendant was described as black; for the second group, he was described as white. Participants who had read about the black teenager express more support for the severe sentence and for the notion that kids are as blameworthy as adults.” p. 198 That is: white boys are boys, but black boys are men.
“It’s not just whether you are black; it’s how black (italics in original) you are. The broadness of a defendant’s nose, the thickness of his lips, and the darkness of his skin have all been correlated with capital punishment decisions: in cases where the victim is white, the more stereotypically black a defendant’s facial features, the more likely he is to receive the death penalty.” p. 199
Religious views also affect the severity of punishment meted out by the judicial system. “[I]f you believe in the existence of pure evil…you will tend to support harsh punishment and view efforts at reforming offenders as pointless.” p. 203 You will be more likely to support the death penalty and less likely to appreciate nuance and “…the various forces outside of an offender’s control that may have led him to commit a terrible act.” p.204
Slavery existed in what became the United States since the 1600s. The US is still dealing with the effects of enslaving millions of its residents. “A country that abolished slavery 150 years ago now has a greater number of black men in the correctional system than there were slaves in 1850 and a greater percentage of its black population in jail than was imprisoned in apartheid South Africa.” p.209 The US prison system is essentially a continuation of slavery.
“[I]n every state, we imprison people for relatively minor, nonviolent crimes–like using drugs or passing a bad check–that would receive a slap on the wrist in other countries. While no more than 10 percent of those convicted of crimes in Germany and the Netherlands are sentenced to prison, in the United States it’s 70 percent.” p.209
Solitary confinement is more cruel than corporal punishment. “The notable thing about isolation, of course, is not the infliction of direct suffering; it’s the withholding of the things people need in order not to suffer–in particular, human contact.” p. 217 In addition, solitary confinement “…frequently aggravates the symptoms of mental illness. More egregious still, when that person’s psychological condition deteriorates–leading him to throw food or feces or act out against guards–we punish him with more isolation, adding years or even decades onto his sentence.” p. 220
“If we really wanted to deter crime, we would stop wasting our time with harsh mandatory minimums, three-strikes laws, and life without the possibility of parole, which have a minimal or nonexistent impact on offending…A punishment needs to be distasteful, but it doesn’t need to be long.” p. 226
Harsh treatment by guards and warehousing with little or nothing to do is a prescription for violence within correction facilities. “In Georgia between 2010 and 2014, for example, there were thirty-four murders that occurred inside [italics in original] state prison. Our correctional facilities are incubators for brutality.” p. 228
“Depriving people of normal human contact does not eliminate criminal behavior; it eliminates the capacity to engage in normal human contact…it leaves them unprepared to get a job or interact with the outside world when they are released.” p.229
“[T]he extreme harshness of our punishments may actually increase the likelihood of malfeasance because they suggest that the law is not worthy of respect. If a couple of garage break-ins over the summer and a stolen car can land a nineteen-year-old in prison for life, then it is hard to trust the system, believe in its rules, and rely on its processes and officers.” p. 230
“The total bill for our correctional system is some $60 billion each year…The irony is that spending money on education–in particular to keep male high school students from dropping out–appears to be a far more effective way to combat crime.” p. 231
There are solutions to the unfairness of our judicial system. Norway has a far-more-humane way of treating its prisoners. “A monstrous prison will create monsters. And what is the point of that?” p. 232
Germany is also concerned about the humanity of its prisoners. “Germany’s Prison Act, for example, makes rehabilitating the inmate the sole aim of incarceration; protecting the public is simply a natural outgrowth of ensuring the inmate’s successful transition back into society upon release.” p.233
What and who we choose to protect or punish is wildly unfair. “We will fight tirelessly to protect the rights of those who spew hate in the public square, stockpile weapons capable of wiping out classrooms of children, and flood our airwaves with lies to sway elections, but we draw the line at permitting a man convicted of stealing videotapes a door to his toilet, the chance to spend a night with his family, or the experience of preparing his own dinner in his own shirt. If ensuring freedom for those who may harm us is worth the risk when the costs are high, that must certainly be the case when protecting their rights leaves us safer.” p. 235
“[P]owerful individuals and institutions are already exploiting the weaknesses in our legal system for their own gain. What does that mean in practice? If you are rich and connected, you go free. If you are poor and uneducated, you go to prison.” p. 248 As Bryan Stevenson has said, “The opposite of poverty is justice.”
“There’s a reason that this book about unfairness hasn’t talked about white-collar crime: those who engage in corporate self-dealing, illegal accounting schemes, and securities fraud get more than a fair deal.
For those at the bottom, by contrast, the lack of access initiates a devastating downward cycle. You can’t stop losing, because every time you return from prison, you are in a worse position to gain the help you need…And you pass on the curse to your children…Entire inner-city communities become locked into this self-reinforcing inequity, while gated ones across the river are able to secure wealth and success for generations to come.” p. 252
A major part of the problem in policing and justice is implicit racial bias. “[I]mplicit racial bias puts unarmed blacks at a significantly greater risk of being shot than unarmed whites…One successful approach [to reduce implicit bias] is to show people images of well-known blacks with strong positive associations (like Martin Luther King Jr.) and well-known whites with strong negative associations (like Charles Manson) in order to disrupt racial stereotypes.” p. 258
Trials do not necessarily achieve a just outcome. Prosecutors can tilt a trial in their direction by failing to give the defense team all the evidence. As a solution, “…we could have forensic reports automatically sent from the crime lab to the prosecution and defense at the same time, or have all police reports entered into an open-access file with no input or revision by the prosecution.” p. 261
There are a number of methods that are being used in some jurisdictions to ensure that crimes are properly investigated and that negate reliance on faulty witnesses, intuitions, and biased memories. These methods include cameras that are triggered by gunshots and record the scene. Panoscan which records a complete view of the crime scene that allows detailed inspection even months after the fact. Smartphone apps that give responding officers details about any prior incidents at that address. To reduce deaths, officers should have trauma kits and know how to use them. This could save thousands of lives each year.
In order to reduce judicial bias and replace self-serving amicus briefs, Benforado suggests the creation of an independent panel that would provide neutral data on the relevant points in a particular case. “This simple fix could combat judicial tunnel vision and ensure that all of the justices have access to the same data, which would make it harder to ignore conflicting evidence. ” p.264
Surgery errors and pilot errors have been dramatically reduced through the use of checklists. A smartphone app that guides officers through the proper steps of managing a crime scene would also reduce errors and the chance of a wrongful conviction. “[I]t seems misguided to fret about the impact of such technology when the consequences of a mistake are so high.” p. 266
Benforado proposes a radical, but sensible idea: trials should be virtual with neutral avatars representing all involved individuals. This would eliminate all biases based on an individual’s behavior or appearance. If juror’s don’t know what a person looks or sounds like, their focus is then directed solely to the evidence. Lawyers and judges wouldn’t know anything about the jurors and so would also have to focus on the evidence and witness statements. Witnesses wouldn’t have to worry about their safety. Trials would be more efficient, rapid, and cheaper. Therefore, more cases could go to trial rather than being pleaded out, which would benefit poor defendants, many of whom, although innocent, plead out in order to avoid remaining in jail, sometimes for years, until their case is tried. The current system may make for high drama, but with limited justice.
Another proposal by Benforado is the creation of a virtual corrections environment in which “[t]hose convicted of crimes might continue to live in their homes and work at their jobs but be required to spend two hours every day in an immersive online space tailored to serve whatever ends we deemed best, whether deterrence, rehabilitation, or something else. The eventual payoff could be enormous. For one thing, we would no longer have to house, feed, and clothe most inmates, which would drastically reduce correctional costs. More critically, only the convict would experience the punishment, not his children, spouse, parents, and friends, as in the current system, and it would be only the punishment that we directly intended, not the assaults that plague today’s prisons.” p.271
“We need to stop viewing the people we arrest, prosecute, convict, and imprison as evil and less than human, for that toxic combinations drives us to hate and hurt, makes our brutish treatment seem justified, and does little to make us safer. We must challenge the structures that prevent us from seeing our commonalities, hide our shared goals, and dampen our empathy for our fellow human beings. And we must build new mechanisms that encourage us to understand the perspectives and situations of others.” p. 271
“The arc of history does not bend toward justice unless we bend it.” p. 286
Join millions around the world celebrating the power of education to change the world.
The Positive Deviance Initiative defines Positive Deviance as an approach that realizes “…that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers, while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges.”
This methodology has been used by the Initiative in a wide variety of contexts. One of the first initiatives involved improving child nutrition in Viet Nam. Researchers to villages with high levels of child malnutrition found that not all children were malnourished. They studied the mothers with healthy children to see what these “positive deviants” were doing differently and then asked those women to teach the other women. Malnutrition was reduced.
Another action involved altering cultural perceptions towards female genital mutilation in Egypt and other countries. When women and men listened to stories of local women who had not been ‘cut’, were not promiscuous, and were able to marry, attitudes began to change. Change was further propelled by women who told their stories of how ‘cutting’ had ruined their lives.
A major problem in culture of honor societies, such as those in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is the negative attitude of men towards women. Misogyny is rampant and fierce. How can positive deviance tackle this problem? Fortunately, we have an important example of positive deviance in Ziauddin Yousafzai.
Although raised in a very traditional family in a small community in Pakistan, Yousafzai valued education so much he decided to become an educator and open schools for both boys and girls. His first child was a daughter. Instead of ignoring her, he made sure she knew she was valued and that she received a quality education. Thanks to this positive deviant father, Malala has become a voice heard world-wide making the case for educating all girls everywhere.
Positive deviance is dangerous in regions controlled by the Taliban and like-minded men. What can we do to find and support positive deviants?