Monthly Archives: January 2012

Painful Topics: Primate Conservation

I realize that the title of my blog probably makes some think that I’d be talking about non-human primates a bit more.  But, despite the fact that I could be called an expert on them, I find it very difficult to devote much time or thought to these creatures that I love.  It simply hurts way too much.

Bonobo (Pan paniscus) - photo by FJ White

I went to Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) to study female cooperation among bonobos in 1996.  I had to leave after a couple months, in part because a civil war was brewing (it continues to simmer).  War is bad for any primate that’s unwittingly caught in the middle – for large monkeys and apes in Africa, it means an increased threat of poaching as well-armed mauraders move through their habitats.  In Congo, a lot of the money that keeps the war going comes from coltan – essentially, people like us buying electronic gadgets.

Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii) - photo by M Merrill

So I changed my research topic to social learning in orangutans, and went to Sumatra in 1999.  While I was there, one of the research sites where I lived was being logged illegally.  I wrote letters and set up a website about it, but I wasn’t able to do much to stop it.  I somehow managed to get through analyzing what data I had and get my dissertation done in 2004, and I haven’t really been involved in primate research since.  The wounds just never healed right.

I face the pain from this every semester when I come to the place in the Introduction to Biological Anthropology classes I teach where I have to talk about my research and primate conservation.  It’s always a hard week.

Now I’ve been asked to co-present on great ape conservation with some of my colleagues at Cabrillo College, so I’m facing it at least twice this semester.  This also necessitated putting together some resources (though Renee found more of them) – I’ve posted those here: Great Ape Conservation.

I keep hoping someday this will get easier, it will hurt less so I can do more, but the news keeps getting worse.  So I try to focus on the things I can do here, just simple stuff like changing the entire culture of consumerism that is driving the destruction.

Wish me luck!

Uniting Against “Citizens United”

Money is not speech

corporations are not people

January 21st is the second anniversary of the ridiculous “Citizens United v. FEC” ruling by a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court.  I highly recommend Annie Leonard’s Story of Citizens United v. FEC video:

It is time – as it is always time – to help the people of this country wake up to the fact that money is not speech and corporations are not people.  Events, activists and organizations across the nation are attempting to do just that:

  • Occupy San Francisco is working to shut down the financial district today “to draw attention to the choices that many of these banks, corporations, institutions, and the courts have made (and continue to make) that created (and maintain) the economic inequality that is devastating the lives of so many families in our community, and in our world. It does not have to be this way.”
  • Satirist Stephen Colbert shines a spotlight on the insanity with his Jon Stewart’s “Definitely Not Coordinating with Stephen Colbert SuperPAC“.
  • United for the People has listings of actions across the country to “…[focus] America’s attention on the dangerous influence of corporate power in our democracy and the urgency of taking all necessary measures to undo that influence, including amending the Constitution. “
  • Another listing of actions for Friday, January 20th: Occupy the Courts
  • Move to Amend is an organization specifically dedicated to creating a constitutional amendment that would undo the Citizens United decision and end the fiction of corporate personhood:

We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, and move to amend our Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.

Californias Higher-Education Disaster – The Chronicle of Higher Education

…budget cuts caused enrollment in California community colleges to decline by over 400,000 students. That’s more than the total number of undergraduates enrolled in the entire California State University system.

Californias Higher-Education Disaster – Brainstorm – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

One of the concerns I have about the way we think about higher education in this country is the question of who it serves.  Popular rhetoric suggests that colleges are there to serve students, and the more business-minded the college administration is, the more likely they are to frame college as a place that serves students as customers, and that emphasizes student outcomes (usually in terms of graduation rates and sometimes subsequent job placement).  As teachers, we’re expected to be motivated to promote student success, and be rewarded by our interactions with students (since we certainly can’t expect to be rewarded financially in keeping with our workload and level of expertise).

Honestly, however, it’s not the individual students that we are serving.  We are serving society.  We are serving the future.  The people who have to live in the world our students create have almost as much stake in educational outcomes as our students.  They may not get the direct benefit of the improved employment opportunities, but the world that we all live in is shaped by the number of educated people, and the quality and intent of that education.  What technologies will be developed, what policies will be made, what new businesses will be created… these things are largely the domain of people with post-secondary education.

So when we get a statistic like an enrollment drop of 400,000 in California, we have to be clear that we are narrowing the idea pool for the future.   It’s not just that we’re serving 400,000 fewer “customers,” we are changing the capacity of our state to innovate.  We are responding to current budget crises by reducing our intellectual resilience as a community.