MIDWIFE TO A (PERSONAL) REVOLUTION
Keith Hart on being at home in the world, resisting alienation, understanding emergent world society.
When people are in dark corners, struggling to make sense of what is going on, they revert to personal manifestos and those come in a range of formats. Some are written, some sung, some videographed, some not captured at all. Mine have always been creations of dead people. I’m getting used to looking and finding guidance from someone occupying my time, sometimes even my continent. Alas, for the last year or so, Keith Hart has been something of a daily lighthouse. This speaks to some of my particular dead-ends and predicaments.
How then might each of us find a more secure foundation for self-knowledge as individuals and as a species? The world must be imaginatively reduced in scale and our subjectivity expanded, in order for a meaningful link to be established between the two. Once people achieved this by praying to God and many still do. Works of fiction – movies, novels and plays — fill the gap for those of us who do not pray. We need to feel more at home in the world, to resist alienation, and that means embracing movement rather than fixture in place.
Emergent world society is the new human universal – not an idea, but the fact of our shared occupation of the planet crying out for new principles of association. By this I mean making a world where all people can live together, not the imposition of principles that suit some powerful interests at the expense of the rest. The next universal will be unlike its predecessors, the Christian and bourgeois versions through which the West sought to dominate or replace the cultural particulars that organize people’s lives everywhere. The main precedent for such an approach to discovering our common humanity is great literature which achieves universality through going deeply into particular personalities, relations and places. Ethnography does the same in its own way. The new universal will not just tolerate cultural particulars, but will be founded on knowing that global community can only be realized through them.
It is now harder for self-designated guilds to control access to professional knowledge. People have other ways of finding out for themselves, rather than submit to academic hierarchy. And there are many agencies out there competing to give them what they want, whether through journalism, tourism or all the self-learning possibilities afforded by the internet. Popular resistance to the power of experts is essentially moral, in that people insist on restoring a personal dimension to human knowledge. Anthropologists’ current dependence on academic bureaucracy leaves us highly vulnerable to such developments.
A Kantian anthropology would focus on whatever we need to know about humanity as a whole if we want to build a more equal world fit for everyone. Such a usage could be embraced by students of history, sociology, geography, political economy, philosophy and literature, as well as by some anthropologists. Many disciplines might contribute without being exclusively devoted to the project. The idea of “development” played a similar role in the last half-century. It is possible that we are witnesses to the first stirrings of a global democratic revolution. Anthropology was born in the eighteenth century as the intellectual midwife of democratic revolution. That, I believe, should be its future role too.
UPDATE: I dabble in music from time to time. On a whim, I took a long dust collecting track and included some excerpts from one of Keith Hart’s lecture. People seem to have strangely positive reaction to it. I suspect Prof. Hart, if he ever hears it, might simultaneously feel appalled, annoyed, or bored. Whichever it is, here it is: