Little Green Men

So, I had my first Anthropology course this morning. No, I haven't started grad school quite yet, in case that announcement took you by surprise. I've just signed up to audit an Anthropology course at Princeton while I'm here, since there actually was one on offer that works with my internship schedule (well, theoretically, at least), and I've never actually taken an Anthro class before (I was signed up for two different ones at various points while at UPS, but neither of them ended up fitting into my schedule and I was forced to drop both—kinda ironic, really, since that seems to be the direction I appear to ultimately be taking with my academic career, and I think those were the only two classes I ever dropped. I wonder what I’d be doing now if I had taken one, or both… Hm…)

Anyway, I figured that taking an Anthropology course would be a good idea for several reasons: (1) I can see for sure whether Anthropology is something I want to devote my next 5-7 years of study on, (2) I can get a little more background into the study of Anthropology which might inform my decision of what specific aspects of it I want to focus on (which apparently I need to figure out BEFORE I apply), and (3) when I do apply, it will be one more way to show that I really am serious about this Anthropology thing, even if I did major in theatre and then spend this whole year interning in it as well…

So today was the first day of the course. The lectures are Monday mornings, 8:30 to 10:00 am, which means I start the week off nice and early, but it should mostly be doable, since 10:00 is when I’m usually scheduled to start work. Of course, today that turned out not to be the case. I mentioned, in my last post, that one of the many jobs I was scrambling to accomplish last week (and on into the weekend, as it turned out) involved coordinating an upcoming reading of Emily Mann’s adaptation of The Seagull, by Anton Chekhov (her version is called A Seagull in the Hamptons).

So, that reading was scheduled for today at 3:00, which meant it rehearsed from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm, which meant the actors arrived on the train at 10:30 am, which meant I had to pick up bagels in the morning and then arrive by 9:30 am to finish the last-minute preparations and set-up in time for everyone’s arrival. So I was trying to decide whether it was possible for me to make the first day of the Anthro class. Since it would be the first day, I both didn’t want to miss it, and didn’t know the professor/space/teaching environment well enough to know whether it would be appropriate/possible for me to duck out a bit early. I decided to at least pop into the classroom a little before 8:30 to check things out, and luckily there was a seat right in the back by the door, so I decided to stay.

There was, at first, no sign of the professor. Just a bunch of students milling in and chattering quietly, finding their seats. At precisely 8:30, the professor wanders in, and the classroom quiets. He gazes up at us for a moment, and then says, with quiet wonder, "Isn't the news extraordinary?" And then he pauses for a moment while we all wrack our brains to think about what might have been in the news today that would be pertinent to the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Shoot. Will I have to have a thorough working knowledge of current events for this class so I won’t look like a total idiot?

And then he goes on: "I mean, a year ago when we landed on Mars, that was exciting enough. And then discovering that not only was there life on Mars, but there was actually human life! To be sure, they were a little greenish, a little funny-looking, but essentially human. And they were very friendly to us, and we soon learned to communicate with them, and our delegation has been living with them in peace for a year now."

"And then today, so we hear, the Martians sat our people down and told them, very nicely, 'Look. We'll help you out, and provide you with all the food and supplies you need, but we want you to leave our planet. We want you to leave, and never come back.' They had learned enough about us, and studied our history of dealings with one another, and decided it was in their own best interests to shut their planet off to us. So they would make sure we had what we needed to make it back to Earth, but they never wanted to see our people again."

"So here's the question," he continued. "Do we have a right to go back? Do they have a right to forbid us to? You don't have to tell me what you actually believe, and nothing you say in here will be held against you at your confirmation hearings. But I want to hear some arguments on either side of the issue, and I want you to explain your assumptions and the principles you are basing your arguments on."

And then we spent the rest of the class period discussing this hypothetical situation and talking about how, well, maybe if the Martians possessed something that was necessary to the survival of our species we might have a right to return, even against their will, to collect it. Or maybe we might feel that we could put the planet, or some part of it, to a better use than they could, and so in utilitarian terms we would have the right to extract from the land the greatest good for the greatest number. Or maybe we felt that they weren't culturally developed enough to take care of themselves and their planet, or maybe they practiced some barbaric customs like slavery or human sacrifice, and we felt bound to step in and act as guardians of some sort. Or maybe there were sections of the planet that they didn't inhabit, and we would have a right to visit those portions. Or maybe the Martians who ordered us never to return didn't have the legal rights to speak for the entire planet, so we weren't bound to obey their orders...

It was all very fascinating, and I'm looking forward to seeing how these concepts, and the many complicated intricacies that the specific cases ended up playing themselves out into, manifest themselves in discussions about indigenous peoples here on Earth. But I loved that he started so very theatrically like that, and he never did admit that the Martian case was a hypothetical one--just kept talking like it was absolutely true. It was glorious. So, anyway, it should be a great class. He seems to have a tendency to throw in those quiet professor-jokes that only a few people actually pick up on enough to react to, which I invariably find hilarious. And it was neat to see so many people willing to toss their hands up and throw out an idea. That’s something kids at UPS sometimes had trouble with, and there were classes where I felt like I had to frequently speak up to avoid awkward, dead student-silence. But since I’m auditing this class, I’m actually not supposed to speak up, so it’s nice to see that there are plenty of other people willing to do so.

It should be a good class. The rest of the day went well, also—the reading went off pretty smoothly, all things considered, and it’ll be much easier to coordinate future readings here now that I’ve done one and know how it all goes. It was kind of a crazy process, because the thing wasn’t fully cast until late Saturday, and I had all sorts of follow-up stuff to do once each role was cast, so I ended up having a bunch of little tasks to work on over the weekend. But I was able to get things done with enough spare time to drive down to Baltimore for Saturday night/Sunday morning, which was lovely and restful and fun, so that was good. And the rest of this week should be pretty relaxed, once we get all the catch-up work done that piled up today while I was in the rehearsal room for the reading. At least, it should definitely be relaxed compared to last week. So, that’ll be good.

The weather’s getting cooler here—autumn is approaching. I’ve managed to get a few benches into my new bench journal. I’m planning to take a morning or an afternoon off this week to recoup a few of the extra hours I put in last week. All in all, things are going pretty gloriously well in my life at the moment. Hope all is well in yours. Much love.


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