The Thin Line Between Modernity/Post modernity and So-Called “Primitivism”

Upon reading about the abhorrent intentional infecting of Guatemalan mentally ill patients with STDs by the Unites States Government during 1946-48, I was reminded of the deceptive and forced sterilization of Puerto Rican women that resulted in the sterilization of 1/3 of all Puerto Rican women by 1965. I could not help but wonder how deceptive is the notion that with the enlightenment and modernity the western world entered a much more humane and “civilized” reality. In fact, when it comes to nation-state brutality perpetrated against humanity, we have created much more sophisticated, creative, subtle, and misrecognized ways to kill and dehumanize people. In a recent class discussion a student made an insightful observation when discussing the work of anthropologist Renato Rosaldo and his experience with the Ilongots tribe of the northern Luzon, Philippines. Rosaldo’s inability to understand how they could justify the beheading of members of other tribes when they experienced the loss of a loved one from their own tribe, was the focus of the discussion. Rosaldo discovered that this was how the Ilongots let out their anger! To us Westerners that sounds so far-fetched and savage! Well the student pointed out that this scenario is not so unlike what we have done after 9/11. We have taken out our anger against people who had nothing to do with the deaths or destruction of those buildings and our military has slaughtered thousands of innocent people. I wonder if many in our country, like the Ilongots, have been placing their rage that springs forth from grief and fear, on people from different tribes (i.e. those building a religious center). How far have we truly advanced from the “brutal past?”