Anthropology Review: “The Goddess and the Computer”

Bali tries to upgrade traditional irrigation systems in “The Goddess and the Computer

By Crystal Hollis | Fall 2010 | ANTH 1150 World Cultures Through Film

In the film The Goddess and the Computer, traditional methods are not simple but are very complex systems for a reason. Bali has a complex irrigation system and the rules and regulations involved are comparable the bureaucratic Modern-type society. The Balinese is a peasant society co-existing as a sub group to modern society because of the pressure from globalization and the attractiveness of modern technology.  This is most likely the reason why the priests openly welcomed the computer and collaborated productively with the westerners and Indonesian government officials.

A Peasant-based society, in the lecture, has been defined as someone in control of land while attached by ties of tradition and sentiment. Bali depends on worshipping the water Goddess in order to have a successful harvest. However, Peasants are also characterized to be at the mercy of the state, where economic and political decisions are made. The government still has control over cultivation rights. They tried to reform rice farming to modern society’s standards but it was unsuccessful because of the pest problem that wasn’t there while the land was cultivated traditionally.

Bali’s society, religion, and irrigation system is very organized and geographically categorized. This fact is somewhat similar to a bureaucracy because of the division of labor among those working in the dam, temple, and subak locations along the river. Bureaucracy, according to the lecture, is defined as a formal organization with a hierarchy of authority, a clear division of labor, and emphasis on written rules, communications, and records. While rules are not written and that communications and records are not emphasized, the Balinese follow a hierarchy of authority with the priests at the top functioning as the medium between man and the water Goddess. However with the priest’s enthusiasm of the computer that the anthropologist introduced, it would be no surprise if later on that communications and records are highlighted.

The computer served as an effective tool to get modern society to communicate and cooperate with non-modern societies. If it wasn’t for the anthropologist’s computer model of the river and the patterns between the temples and subaks, the Indonesian Government would not fully comprehend the value of traditional Balinese farming methods. The Government officials still want control over the agricultural system but it wasn’t too much of a problem to the priests since they are willing to let the Government officials have the computer. The priests recognized that an advanced technology like the computer would require training and expertise and it seemed appropriate for them to give it to the government. While modern society used centuries of science and research to develop a systematic agricultural system, sometimes it is the case that the ancestors knew what they were doing and hence the reason why traditional methods have successfully been passed down generation to generation. The anthropologists in The Goddess and the Computer recognized the success of traditional farming in Bali and used modern society’s characteristic of solving problems with logic and reason to find compromise between traditional and modern methods.

As a society travel further along the Folk-Urban continuum, sometimes resorting to imperialism to dominate and control, more sub-societies are created as consequence. Not every society can keep up and not every community is big enough to jump the bandwagon. This was evident in the film Holy Ghost, where members of the community do not possess all of the qualities of the pre-modern society because they are strongly tied to their religious values rather than resorting to scientific reasoning. In contrast, the Balinese in The Goddess and the Computer are a peasant society co-existing with a modern society and slowly making efforts to progress ahead. Globalization is at work as Bali, one out of many other non-modern type societies, work to integrate to modern society. Technology is making life more tolerable and is somewhat attractive. I have seen this pattern in previous films like Nomads of the Rainforest and The Living Maya where non-modern societies are using modern tools and technology to make work more efficient or using modern medicine for assistance. As of now, there is no label for societies past the modern or information age but it would make one wonder if societies prior would still exist or be pressured to be merged into one globalized type.

Bali’s traditional system is already as complex as a bureaucracy. However the Balinese depend on worship in order to have a good cultivation. They recognize that the government is the authority because they seem capable of expertise of the computer. Bali is one out of many types of societies enduring influence from a globalized society because of expertise and the efficiency of advanced technology.  As a conclusion, the Balinese are classified as a peasant/agricultural type society but is making its way towards pre-modern and eventually modern at a rapid rate simply because of pressure from already existing modern societies.

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