Foucault and “brainwashing by the state”.

Foucault’s work builds upon the ideas of Louis Althusser (a French structural Marxist), who observed that states govern using force and an “ideological state apparatus,” or the institutions (education, law, and politics) by which the state promoted its version of the “truth”. Foucault also thought that power did not simply involve physical or economic coercion, but is exercised through discourse and knowledge, so that power relations pervaded in all the institutions of society. Institutions, bureaucracies, and individuals can all use claims of knowledge and the truth to dominate. In modern society, it takes the form of a command of the language of science, which is employed by powerful corporations, institutions, and the state to control those who don’t understand this language. When the state undertakes a policy that is could threaten the well-being of some segment of its population, it uses the language of science to justify that policy and to overcome the resistance of the citizen(s). Additionally, asylums, hospitals, prisons, and other total institutions control and coerce their residents through their “expert” ability to diagnose, “treat,” and “rehabilitate” those under their control, as well as to punish those who resist that bureaucratic control. [1] Who determines what the truth is? According to Moberg, it is white males who have typically controlled this power in Western Civilization by using the language of science to disempower minorities and women. Basically, it is power, wealth, and a privileged status, rather than “evidence,” that determines what is “true.” [2]

I can “hear” you asking though, “Ok, so what does that mean exactly?” So let me give you an example by using something that permeates United States politics right now and has done so since roughly 1973. That’s right, Roe v. Wade and the Supreme Court’s ruling making abortion legal in the U.S. Are you aware that when the first Europeans came over to the “new country” abortion was legal here? It was also legal when the Constitution was written and ratified in the 1770’s (it took awhile). It was also legal during the Civil war. Abortion became illegal in the United states around 1880. Now ask yourself why? The short and simple answer is NOT because it is murder and goes against God’s “laws” like most pro-lifers today will answer, but because of white males, more to the point; powerful white males in charge.

The long answer is, by 1880 most states had already banned it except for incases where the mother’s life was in danger. It was a back-lash to the growing suffrage movement and the use of birth control. in an effort to keep women in a traditional child rearing role. It was also a way to control midwives who performed these abortions by the white male medical profession who felt threatened by them. Lastly, it was seen as a preventative to being “outnumbered” by the immigrants coming in from Eastern and Southern Europe during this time. The declining birth rate among women of Western and Northern European descent was seen as “race suicide” and was not taken kindly by the U.S. government or the eugenics movement of the time. so they wanted white U.S. born women to continue to reproduce. Kind of flies in the face of today’s argument that it is un-Christian and/or murder right? However, during the 90 some odd years between the time abortion became illegal and it becoming legal, this is what the government convinced people to think.[3]

Would you be surprised to know that in the 1960’s the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, run by concerned pastors and rabbis, tried to help women in need find a safe place to receive an abortion? Does that sound like it goes against God’s word?[4]

Thanks to the women’s movement during the 1960’s 14 states reformed their abortion laws and 4 states repealed their restrictive laws between 1967 and 1973.[5]

The pro-life movement doesn’t tell you that though, my guess is most of them might not even know about any of that. I know I didn’t, but even with knowing this, I have to say, I’m still not sure I’m for abortion but that’s ok, I don’t have to be. Every woman has the right to make an informed decision about what she feels is right and the Constitution of the U.S. does not allow for laws to be passed that affect only a portion of the population, allegedly. But I suppose my “brainwashing” is going to kick in and say what about the dad’s rights? Oh, well, progress takes time, right?

Abortion/Pro-Choice | Biodork             abortion | Emerald               Ireland Sees Largest-Ever Pro-Life Rally, 60,000 Protest ...

[1][2] (Moberg, 2013 316-317)

[3][4][5] (History of Abortion in the U.S. 2016, website)

Moberg, Mark. 2013. Engaging Anthropological Theory. New York: Routledge.

Obos Abortion Contributors. “History of Abortion in the U.S.” ourbodiesourselves.org https://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/health-info/u-s-abortion-history/ (accessed May 6, 2018).



Tylor’s Misconception

Tylor proposed a very fascinating and very simple theory, that human religion can be tracked side by side with human advancement. That if we were to look at a culture that had religion in a specific form or function that we could extrapolate other information about how advanced or primitive that culture or society really is.  Of course, I think it is absolute horse shit, but for sanities sake and to challenge my own bias I think I will go a bit more in-depth and really try to give the theory a shot. The basic principle as quoted from Moberg is “their intellects move in a linear pattern from a belief in the soul to spirits to polytheism and eventually to monotheism.”

This theory would be accurate in the case that society was only one singular people who followed a system like this to the ‘T’ and who never influenced by anything external or internal to their society that would warrant any change at all. But I think through relatively common observations of any culture, even one’s own we can see that it is impossible for humanity to avoid diversity that would change this narrative over even a few generations. Social evolution such as noted by Darwin and Spencer was a progressive approach to adaptation through survival. Based on this theory we can add a proof to our list of reasons why Tylor was mistaken, no society is able to be measured by the means of simply analyzing their current religious state because the cultures will change that state intrinsically over time and will not stay at a complete state. On the other hand, we have seen through history that some religions stay the same over very large periods of time and some have not changed at their core since their inception. An example of this would be from my perspective Hindu faith, which translated from the oral tradition into a written form and has since been held in almost the same light for some time, serving and fulfilling the same or similar functions within the society.

Taylor’s view could only be right in a situation that was inherently inhuman. Humanity is too diverse and is too prone to change and adaptation for someone to be able to categorize with an overly simplistic method like this. I also want to end on a point that I felt very strongly about. If mankind is assigning traits to other beings like animals and plants and giving them attributes that are inherently human, then the humans are realizing their own consciousness and have a direct need to not be alone. They seek peers among the other living and wild things, but they also seek other conscious beings in realms that don’t exist within our tangible senses. Within many monotheistic religions, it is the sense that mankind cannot be the only being to have consciousness and that there must be a source. On either side of the coin, we see mankind exploring their collective consciousness to explain the world around them and to have a system that limits and categorizes one conclusion over another would be inadequate in any way shape or form.


Moberg, Mark. Engaging Anthropological Theory: a Social and Political History. Routledge, 2013


Durkheim, Uncategorized

Durkheim and the Religious Evolution of the Nuer

Emile Durkheim was renowned for his work on religion. Rather than taking a philosophical vantage he asserted that society does not worship God, but rather society worships itself. This meant the concept of God was something that was created by society and fit according to the needs of society. His original study looked at what religions were most popular in “simple” and “complex” studies. He found that “simple” societies preferred polytheistic religions while “complex” preferred more monotheistic religions. Durkheim thought with the change of society, so did their concept of God(s). What we could, or could not, explain ourselves, determined whether we worshipped a God or gods. With control of agriculture, explanations for weather, the advancement of medicine, etc., having multiple gods wasn’t necessary to attempt to control forces we could not explain.

This brings me to my main focus: the Nuer and their religious evolution. When Evans-Pritchard first released his ethnography of the south Sudanese group, religion was mainly a polytheistic one. There resided a God of the sky (Kuoth Nhial) as well as the lesser but still regarded spirits of the sky (such as Deng, the spirit of sickness). They have several religious practices and rituals such as cow or goat sacrifice. At this time, conflict resulted mainly in skirmishes with the Dinka. Medicine was considered crude and generally the Nuer were at the mercy of the seasons.

Modern day Nuer culture hasn’t changed greatly but their witnessing of modern conflict has. Aiming to break away from Sudan to form their own independent nation, South Sudan has been in a crisis. The turmoil of modern day warfare has torn the country apart and caused a refugee crisis. Another development we have seen within South Sudan is the rise of those actively practicing Christianity (mainly due to missionary contact and activism). While it is not the religious majority, Christianity has definitely been gaining head way within their culture.

According to Durkheim, this progression from a polytheistic religion to a monotheistic one is only natural as a country goes from “simplicity to complexity”. Gods are not the only explanations for death once medicine and war are introduced. The difference between famine and feast is not only controlled by gods but by missionary work that assists south Sudanese people. Previously the Nuer main conflict arose from cattle raids by rival tribes such as the Dinka and some governmental intrusion but now the country is in what one would call a civil war with modern day weapons. Between military occupancy and refugees fleeing the country for safety, the Nuer as well as all of Sudan/South-Sudan, are living in a very different environment than that of Evans-Pritchard day Nuer. This slow change from polytheism to monotheism works with Durkheim’s predictions that as society changes from “simple” to “complex” so will their ideas of God. While they are not fully Christian by any means, we are seeing a stark influx of conversions to Christianity and enough to see their presence within South-Sudan.