Freeloaders, Reciprocity, and Exchange

Not long ago an OAC member posted under the discussion thread something about "gift," Mauss, and altruism, and he gave an example about a stranger asking for a cigarette from another stranger, which, I thought, could be explained well using reciprocal altruism or altruistic exchange, physiology, and lung cancer. When the stranger gave a cigarette, a plus for his health was the exchange. They could even begin a long-term friendship that would involve reciprocal asking and giving of cigarettes. So, even in cigarette-bumming, there is no free gift. A giver has one-less cigarettes to smoke, and a receiver gets a stick for his smoking pleasure.

A "freeloader" who always shows up uninvited to join in the consumption of alcohol and fattening, unhealthy food, such as broiled pig and other meats swimming in oil, unknowingly participates in an exchange. Less fat consumed means less heart problem, and less alcohol, less liver problem. I call this kind of relationship an altruistic exchange, which becomes an altruistic reciprocity if done relationally long-term like the cases of moss (parasite) and tree (host) and shark and cleaner fish. The uninvited "freeloader" in my example above is no different to a howling monkey that alerts others upon seeing an intruder. It makes itself a target, so others will be alerted and saved. It sacrifices for others, unwittingly. The "freeloader" consumes part of the poison, so others will have lesser poison to consume.

It seems funny to me to see anthropologists avoiding facts, which are evolutionary, logical, and scientific, in their cultural studies/analyses. I suspect it is due to their paranoia of being understood and treated as naive or sounding amateurish. This post is somewhat my reaction to the "de-scientification" of anthropology so interpretive or symbolic analysis, which, to me, lacks rigor, evidence, and scientific objectivity, will be acceptable as anthropology. I wonder why something empirical, statistical/mathematical, evidence-based done by a biologist or an ecologist becomes a source of an anthropologist's intellectual paranoia.



Let's take the issue of "power," "dominance," and "slavery." Anthropologists are more at ease quoting Foucault than considering what Achenbach and Foitzik (2009) discovered and published in Evolution, an international scientific journal.

Foucault's circuitous, long-winding, vague idea on power, which makes me always wonder how he came up with it:

“Power must be understood in the first instance as the multiplicity of force relations immanent in the sphere in which they operate and which constitute their own organization: as the process which, through ceaseless struggle and confrontations, transforms, strengthens, or even reverses them; as the support which these force relations find in one another, thus forming a chain or a system, or on the contrary, the disjunctions and contradictions which isolate them from one another; and lastly, as the strategies in which they take effect, whose general design or institutional crystallization is embodied in the state apparatus, in the formulation of the law, in the various social hegemonies.”

Achenbach and Foitzik's discovery:

"First Evidence for Slave Rebellion: Enslaved Ant Workers Systematically Kill the Brood of Their Social Parasite Protomognathus Americanus"


I can produce several interpretations and applications out of Foucault's paragraph. What he wrote can even be applied by chefs in their cooking, prostitutes in their pole-dancing, and wrestlers in their fake wrestling. That's how generic Foucault's ideas are. They are open to varied interpretations if their interpreters have rich and wild imaginations. If that's science, the earth is triangular since I can draw a triangle within its circular shape. Interpretation is dangerous to our civilization. India's current Hindu-Muslim conflict stemmed from a strange, communal interpretation of a dream about the supposed birthplace of Ram. Bin Laden has a violent, terroristic interpretation of Qur'an. Obama has a disappointing interpretation of "change." The list goes on and on, and that's how interpretation blurs the truth.

With the ant discovery, I can only use it as a model to understand how Africans were kidnapped long ago and made slaves in America to do forced labor, and how they gradually revolted or started a movement until how they have monopolized liberal media and politics. I can then view "power," "dominance," and slavery in relation to economics, particularly labor. I can also include the issue of population or critical mass as a requirement for the reversal of hegemony. I can do all these because I have those revolting slave ants as my model. Why can't anthropologists include non-human animals in their socio-cultural studies/analyses, when in fact humans are also animals with eco-systems of their own?

Maybe we can understand why the social expectation among fathers is greater and why they are driven to provide, considering that even a male praying mantis sacrifices itself so a female praying mantis will have protein and other bio-nutrients needed for pregnancy and for their offspring. Like insects, humans are also governed by their behaviors. If that's reductionist/reductivist and behaviorist/behavioralist, so be it. At least, I do not claim the stars to be the eyes of God because of my pregnant imagination.

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