Human Terrain Systems: Creators and Users, Open Source vs Private Databasing

    Kudos to Roberto Gonzalez and his article "A Phoenix Rising? The $60 million U.S. program to embed social scientists in combat brigades" in the May 1, 2008 issue of ZMAG. A very informative and well-written piece on efforts to map the Human Terrain.

    However, please do not take this as criticism, but I do not think it matters who would create such a database of the cultural terrain. We as a race have been engaged in such a behavior for pretty much our entire existence. A history of stereotyping, categorizing, demarcating, diversifying, and labeling that reaches far back beyond most any ideology that exists today. Governments and militaries, churches and communities, corporations and individuals…it is universally engaged in every day for one reason or another.

    Tax brackets, marketing focus groups, charitable donations "missionaries", domestic "terror" groups…you do a deed or think a thought…someone’s got the perfect label to fit you, judging your life and communicating your function and utility to other humans. We are each others resources…and that would be true of any cultural or economic standard and practice which we live by, whether it is imposed on us or we participate in it voluntarily.


    If a group of anthropologists were given $60 million dollars without government oversight or government direction, I don’t think the outcome would be that much different. I don’t think it matters if they created an open source database…and I don’t think the goals of anthropologists are that much different. Get to know the people around you…the people who have lived and died…who they were, what they believed in, what they ate for supper, what their aspirations in life are. Working for the military, for a university, or for themselves..that is what anthropologists do…categorize and label human culture for all to see.

    If we can all see it, and the output of the anthropologist’s work has some utility and purpose to it–then open source just gives it to us all to use to good or nefarious aims…we just end up with more people to blame…we’re still on that road to hell…enjoying the ride across the smooth squares of good intentions–whether the fare is paid by the government, private enterprise, or charitable foundations. The United States Government, the United Nations, The Pew Foundation, Amnesty International, Nabisco, Exxon…you name it…they’re all engaged in some form of human terrain mapping.

    We count each other more than we count on each other.


    These are my thoughts on the matter…there is no criticism intended of Roberto Gonzalez’s piece or any anthropologists efforts in their field. I just feel that the outcomes are equivalent in the long run, regardless of the whos, whys and what fors.





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