Year after year in the Power Lab, I had the remarkable opportunity to stand aside of whole social systems and observe their lives unfold from beginning to end. In each lab, participants were immersed in the Society of New Hope, a three-class social system with sharp differences between the classes in wealth and power, involving quality and access to housing, food, money, work opportunities, justice. Some participants were members of the Elite who owned or controlled the bulk of the society’s resources; others were the Immigrants who entered the society with little more than the clothes they were wearing; and others were Managers who earned their benefits by managing the Institutions of the Elite. These were not role plays; conditions were created, people were put into place, and then the action began.
Inside and Outside Stories. In each program two stories unfolded, the inside story and the outside one. The inside story was the story of people’s experiences: it was rich in emotions, confrontations, power plays, drama, beliefs, evaluations, and judgments of one another, good guys and bad guys with righteousness on all sides.
If the inside story was hot, the outside one was cool. If the predominant experience on the inside was emotion, on the outside it was interest/curiosity. Isn’t it interesting what’s developing here. On the inside, each story was felt to be specific to these particular people and their specific circumstance; from the outside, each story seemed to be a variation of a regularly recurring pattern – There it is again: Elite falling into territorial issues, Immigrants coalescing, Middles disconnected. I wonder how this will play out this time. On the outside, you did not experience being on one side or the other, for some people and against others. They were all interesting.
There is more to say about all of this, but I want to get to my main point.
If you are like me, you are experiencing difficult times. Endless war in the Mideast, millions of homeless, bombings with death and destruction in cities across the world, hundreds of thousands of fleeing immigrants – keep them out, let them in; the US is experiencing a bizarre presidential campaign where the leading contender is a bombastic ex-reality show host. It is a worldwide, explosive power lab. The stakes are high; innocent people are being maimed and murdered. What’s missing is the anthropologist, off to the side, observing, not judging, taking notes, as the bombs go off all around.
What story would the anthropologist see unfolding?