Friday, March 8, 2013

Anthropologists Under Study

Cartoon by BALOO.


I just received my copy of Napoleon Chagnon's Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes -- the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists, and haven't started reading it yet. (I have a stack I'm working through.)  And I've already mentioned Gavin McInnes' review of it, which is a lot of fun, but now it's been reviewed by Kevin MacDonald, who is an evolutionary psychologist, which is a sort of anthropologist.  Probably better than an anthropologist, at least for reviewing a book of this sort, because Dr. MacDonald has been at the cutting edge of not only his academic discipline, but of the discipline of academics, if you get my drift.  He writes:



Yanaomamo club fight scars

Evolutionary anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon’s new book, Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes—The Yanomamö and the Anthropologists, is creating a considerable stir because it (gasp!) reiterates his findings that the behavior of the Yanomamö tribe of the Amazon basin was a good fit with an evolutionary model. In his review, Nick Romeo summarizes the central findings:

To a Darwinian anthropologist, it comes as no surprise that genetically related kin would form coalitions to wield power. And indeed, nearly all Yanomamö headmen have a greater number of male kin in their village than potential rivals do.  But earlier anthropological models often downplayed natural selection and rejected the idea that hierarchies might be innate features of human society. Where these models assumed that individuals of the same age and gender would have roughly equal status in a village, Chagnon documented extensive kin-based hierarchies.  He explained their presence in Darwinian terms: individuals who promote the survival of genetic kin are promoting the survival of their own genes. He also observed that power in Yanomamö villages was primarily defined by access to reproductive resources, not material ones. Powerful males had more wives and more offspring than less powerful males, and they were able to use their influence to provide close male relatives with wives. Power was both cause and effect of producing many genetically related kin in a village. A more disturbing finding was the correlation he noticed between violence and reproductive success: Yanomamö men who had killed other men were statistically more likely to have more offspring than those who had not.

Or, more colorfully, as Chagnon (who is nothing if not colorful) phrased in hisSkeptic interview with Frank Miele,

I was threatening the general attitude within anthropology that all native peoples are pacific and live an angelic kind of life, gliding through the jungle with lithe, scented bodies, being altruistic, sharing their food, and willing to cooperate with the stranger that comes in and wants to learn about them and their culture, and anxious to share their knowledge and life histories with that stranger.
Chagnon’s work quickly became a standard ethnological account among evolutionary anthropologists, but he was “effectively blacklisted” by the wider field. The second part of Chagnon’s book recounts his war with the anthropological establishment clinging to romantic views of the human past populated by peaceful gift givers living in harmony with nature. Based on the main combatants arrayed against Chagnon over the years (Marshall Sahlins [an early ideological opponent of sociobiology who recently resigned from the National Academy of Science to protest Chagnon's election to the NAS], Nancy Scheper-Hughes, the notorious Ashley Montagu [whose given name, as Chagnon notes in a footnote, is Israel Ehrenberg], Marvin Harris, and now yet another anti-evolutionary crusader, Jonathan Marks), the entire controversy might be a good addition to the material on the decline of Darwinism in anthropology (Chapter 2 of The Culture of Critique; Montagu is discussed on p. 26).

1 comment:

  1. Montagu was a leftist and an utter fraud, who changed his name to make it seem he was some sort of English gentleman instead of what he really was.

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