Debt, Discipline, and Consumerism

Education is discipline, and debt is consumerism. We learn
to consume and live by our debts.
Photo credit: beware of images
by douglas reeser on March 29, 2013
Maybe you've noticed the picture of Noam Chomsky accompanying a quote from an unidentified source that has been making the rounds on Facebook and a number of websites. I've tried to find where the quote came from, and the best I can tell is that it was from an article in the Ottawa Citizen that no longer has a working link from back in 2011. I've also found links back to the Chomsky Quotes Tumblr, but was unable to find the exact source there either. Regardless of exactly where the quote came from, or even if Chomsky said or wrote it, the message is still compelling, and fits well with the emerging movement to alleviate student debt on a national level.

The meme-ing quote reads:
Students who acquire large debts putting themselves through school are unlikely to think about changing society. When you trap people ina system of debt they can't afford the time to think. Tuition Fee increases are a disciplinary technique, and by the time students graduate, they are not only loaded with debt, but have also internalized the disciplinarian culture. This makes them efficient components of the consumer economy. 
In my mind, the quote is a little all over the place, and could probably use some context (hence my curiosity about where it came from). Still, I think it captures the attention for linking debt, discipline, and mindless consumerism. Again, being unsure about the context of the quote, I hesitate to offer much critique, other than to criticize those who continue to share it without including a source. At least the quote is attributed, but without the source, it retains little of its original value. What remains worth some further comment are those three primary concepts: debt, discipline, and consumerism.

No Housing on Minimum Wage: No Problem for the Rich

It's hit the mainstream - the rich are getting richer, and the poor
are getting poorer. Cartoon courtesy of AM 1600 WWRL.
by douglas reeser on March 21, 2013
Having spent my teenage years in and around the city of Philadelphia, and with my family still there, it's a morning ritual of mine to read through the Philly news on This morning in the business section, I couldn't help but notice the stark negativity on display in the headlines. Leading off the section, with a photo and large type was an article titled, Rich get richer, everyone else poorer, which contrasted the record levels hit on the Dow, widely recognized as a leading indicator for the US economy, with a 17-month low on a survey of US consumer confidence. According to the article, economists don't know how to explain the 17-month low and the lingering effects of the Great Recession, however, this statement is contradicted just a few paragraphs later:
Economist, Emmanuel Saez of the University of California at Berkeley, crunched the numbers for the two years coming out of the financial meltdown, starting in 2009, and came up with the jaw-dropping finding that the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans had captured 121 percent the nation's gains in income. Income for the remaining 99 percent actually declined further over those same two years.
In other words, "we" have moved out of the recession only if we consider "we" to be the top 1% of the wealthiest Americans. Meanwhile, high unemployment rates are keeping wages suppressed for the rest of us. The other headlines in the business section seemed to support this unpleasant reality: Study: Philly leads nation in 'deep-poverty' residentsLow-wage workers gloomy about futureCollege educated dishwashersSurvey: Low-wage workers missing out on training. Kind of a depressing series of articles to stumble upon in the morning, although I am trying to see it as a positive development that this issue is being addressed in the mainstream media. 

Health or Debt? It's Really Not a Choice

March 21, 2013
Strike Debt, the organization that grew out of the Occupy Movement and began buying up student debt, has added medical debt to its list of targets. This great animated video explains why in a pretty clear way, and hopefully it continues to inspire solidarity and collective action. It is by helping each other that we will find our way forward through all of this...

Check out the video, and then visit Strike Debt to get involved.

"Speak. Share yourself with people": Finding Unity in Common Struggle

Can we connect through our common struggles? 
by douglas reeser on march 17, 2013
"Do not simply respect others, but offer them a common struggle, since our most pressing problems today are problems we have in common."
I keep seeing this quote posted around the internet, and from what I can tell it's by Slavoj Žižek from his 2012 book, The Year of Dreaming Dangerously. In this short and concise statement, Žižek offers a call to action to those working towards positive change in the world. It offers hope that by identifying what we have in common with others, we establish a point upon which to build dialogue. We have a concise plan through which to work: Identify commonality; Engage in dialogue; Initiate action; Witness change. 

This theme of commonality has been following my lately. I concluded my last article about why I work in Belize with a comment on global connectedness and common interests: 
Global interconnectedness has helped in the realization that our lives and actions reach beyond where we live, that problems faced in Belize are really problems faced by all of us. We can no longer go about our daily lives ignorant of our effects on others. Just as our actions reach all corners of the globe, our home is no longer a concept confined to a specific locale. Our home is the earth, and we’re all in this together. 
I then began noticing the above quote from Žižek pop up on my twitter feed, on facebook, and even on random blogs. I was resonating with this message of commonality and connections, and wondering how my work fit into all of this.

Relationships, Identity, and Home in the Field, or, Why am I in Belize?

My 1988 Trooper (an old local taxi) brought me on some adventures in
the bush, and it also influenced what people thought of me around town.
 Photo by douglas reeser.
Views from the ANThill
by douglas reeser on March 13, 2013

What made you come to Belize?”

“Why aren’t you working in your own country? I know there are problems there too!”

Some of the more common questions I have been asked while in the field have to do with why I, as a white man from the US, with no clear ties to Belize, have decided to work in a country other than my own. For me, answers to these queries have not always come easy, for there really is no simple explanation.

Anthropological fieldwork has long been associated with traveling to far-off locales and the study of “different” people. The discipline has evolved, however, as can be evidenced by increasing numbers of anthropologists working in their home-communities, whether in the US or abroad. Traveling to unknown locales is no longer “what anthropologists do” (and to be fair, it never was all that we did), and the questioning of intent reveals how issues of power remain embedded in our encounters and relationships with others.

Consumption Junction: What's in Store for Reading?

What's the future of bookstores and newspapers?
Consumption Junction
by lana lynne on March 9, 2013

Barnes & Noble recently announced it will be closing more stores over the next decade, about 20 each year, news that has been met with mixed reaction. As a proponent of small businesses versus behemoth box stores, I can’t help but feel a small sense of smug satisfaction at hearing this news. On the other hand, there is a part of me that says, “But wait. Conspicuous consumption and gluttonous spending is good if it’s a bookstore!” No doubt this other feeling comes from the fact that there are so few alternatives to patronizing the chain, which is why it is encouraging to read the news from the American Bookseller Association of the 43 new independent bookstores that ABA members opened in 2012.  While 43 stores compared to over 400 Barnes & Nobles, the number the chain projects it will keep open after 10 years, seems almost anecdotal, hoping that these new brick and mortar stores filled with print matter are the start of a market trend is not all that much different than hearing arguments of the reverse that tout the revolution of the e-book.

Speaking of which, late last year, Bowker Market Research released their numbers regarding book sales, which tells us that in the second quarter of 2012, e-books accounted for 22% of book spending, up from 14% in the second quarter of 2011, but still trailing hardcovers (27%) and paperbacks (30%). What I’d like to extrapolate from this data is that e-books are finding their comfort zone in the midst of traditional books, and to say they are poised to take over the entire market is just premature. I’d also like to think that I’m not the only one thinking this way. In other recent Barnes & Noble news, the founder of the chain, Leonard Riggio, has revealed he wants to buy back the stores and the website, but, interestingly enough, not the Nook part of the business.

Anthropology and the Dilemma of Critique

Critique, long a hallmark and core contribution of anthropology is
too often reduced to criticism, especially in the national media.
Photo courtesy of In the Library with the Lead Pipe
Views from the ANThill
by douglas reeser on March 6, 2013
Recent attention in the national media has once again placed anthropology in an unflattering light. Two new book releases are behind the latest uproar: Noble Savages, by controversial anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon, and The World Until Yesterday, by controversial writer Jared Diamond. Each book received attention in the New York Times and other outlets, while also causing a fair amount of commentary from anthropologists (check out Anthropology Report and Savage Minds for examples and round-ups). At the same time, Chagnon was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors in the U.S. for scientists, which in part, led to the resignation from the Academy by anthropologist Marshall Sahlins in protest.

This type of attention does not instill trust or respect for anthropology within the media-reading public. The discipline is easily rendered as petty and unorganized, and more seriously, opens the door for unfounded and inaccurate portrayals by journalists and other public commentaries. Unfortunately, I think this problem is one that won't be easily dismissed, as it is rooted in one of anthropology's core activities and contributions: critique.

First Friday Picture Show: Collected Works by Rachel Moore

"Abstract Wetscape 6" by Rachel Moore

Recycled Minds Picture Show
by Rachel Moore on March 1, 2013 
This month's Picture Show features the paintings of Philadelphia artist Rachel Moore.

"I am a third generation artist, born and raised in Philadelphia. Most of my work has been within the abstract realm of oil painting, but I have dabbled all around from glass blowing to machine embroidery. My explorations in other mediums have been very important, some winning my interest for a year or two, but I always come back to painting."

"Pear Tree" by Rachel Moore
 "The subject of my work over the past decade has been the push and pull of the natural and the artificial. Some pieces are more abstract than others, but my process always begins with action painting. My job is then to fight those original marks down to something more organized. Sometimes it gets too tidy and I have to rough it up a bit. The process itself is a demonstration of the subject; the natural effects of gravity and bleeding versus the action of my brush and the image I have planned. Once I get started, I am fueled by curiosity to see what will emerge."

Visit Rachel online at and read an interview with her at

Click to view the rest of the show:

Bradley Manning and Subconscious War

~ Bradley Manning ~
Photo from Wikipedia
by douglas reeser on March 1, 2013
News is again active with reports on the latest turn in the Bradley Manning case. If you've missed the story, Manning is the U.S. Army soldier arrested and accused of releasing classified material to WikiLeaks. Reuters reports that the case is the largest leak of government secrets in the history of the United States. To the surprise of many, Manning has just plead guilty to charges that he "misused classified information." However, in a slight twist to the story, he denied the top charge of "aiding the enemy" (the Iraqi "insurgents"). Manning, who has been jailed for nearly 3 years now, was able to testify:
I believe that if the general public ... had access to the information ... this could spark a domestic debate as to the role of the military and foreign policy in general... I felt I accomplished something that would allow me to have a clear conscience... This was the type of information...[that] should become public.
The need to have a public re-evaluation of the role of war in U.S. foreign policy is long passed (the War in Iraq started in 2003, and we've been at war for the 10+ years since). A look through the many documents on WikiLeaks helps explain why the U.S. army and government want to see Manning imprisoned for life. The counter-argument is that citizens have the right to know of the actions taken in their name by their own government. 

If you're unconvinced, take the time to watch this 30 minute documentary, Subconscious War, which was created with some of the more disturbing footage that Manning released.