February 13, 2013

Darwinian anthropologists

The New York Times Magazine has a long article on the colorful author of The Fierce People:
How Napoleon Chagnon Became Our Most Controversial Anthropologist

I wrote about the role of personality in cultural anthropology last fall.

Perhaps anthropologists who become interested in Darwinian perspectives tend to be more masculine than those anthropologists who eschew Darwin in favor of Marx, Freud, Levi-Strauss, Gimbutas, or whomever? Besides Chagnon, I'd mention Robin Fox, Henry Harpending, and Carleton Coon. A delight in hunting might be a common denominator. (Darwin, himself, was an obsessive hunter when young, as was his cousin Galton.)

In general, the Darwinian tradition owes a lot to smart country boys, as I pointed out in a review of Edward O. Wilson's novel, Anthill. In contrast, Darwinism tends to strike urban intellectuals as suspicious, probably unnatural.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

"You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family."

So there, educrats!

Anonymous said...

"In contrast, Darwinism tends to strike urban intellectuals as suspicious, probably unnatural."

When it comes to humans.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps anthropologists who become interested in Darwinian perspectives tend to be more masculine than those anthropologists who eschew Darwin in favor of Marx, Freud, Levi-Strauss, Gimbutas, or whomever?


Gimbutas' theory of Indo-European origins is probably closer to the mark than Cochran and Harpending's ideas.

Frankly, using evolutionary theory to study human beings sounds great in theory, but how much has it really told us that we didn't already know from empirical evidence? It seems like most ideas that are dressed up in evolutionary jargon don't really have much going for them.

Anonymous said...

"Frankly, using evolutionary theory to study human beings sounds great in theory, but how much has it really told us that we didn't already know from empirical evidence?"
_______
Do you think that policy makers and "intellectuals" even read the research, empirical evidence? And, if they do, do they use it to guide them, say, the way farmers and ranchers and regular ole folk do?
______


"It seems like most ideas that are dressed up in evolutionary jargon don't really have much going for them."

Ummmm, can you give an example or two of "evolutionary jargon" that hasn't much going for it(them)?

Anonymous said...

276OT Steve, but did you see the SNL sketch that was pulled about Hagel's confirmation hearings?

The Israel Lobby (or as Hagel put it, the Jewish Lobby) was ridiculed so effectively that the ADL's Abe Foxman complained with his usual chutzpah.

Was the sketch pulled because it was too edgy or because it was too realistic to be funny?

Anonymous said...

"Nothing makes sense except in the light of evolution." (Dhobzhansky).

Nothing means nothing.

The fundamental weakness of the Left is their insistence on racial equivalence as a matter of dogma.

This is in fact a form of Creationism, which is exactly what they mock the traditional Right about.

They are vulnerable here, and their whole pack of cards can come tumbling down if they conceded HBD.

Which, sooner or later, they will have to.

You cannot credibly maintain evolution stops at the neck, which is in fact their position. This is why they are so shrill and vicious, since their defense is purely emotional.

Anon.

slumber_j said...

Only a few hours ago I watched an old clip of Hunter Thompson on Letterman, on YouTube. At one point Thompson says, "I used to like to kill. When I realized I was hunting in order to kill, I quit."

Anonymous said...


Frankly, using evolutionary theory to study human beings sounds great in theory, but how much has it really told us that we didn't already know from empirical evidence?


lol wut?

Pat Shuff said...

Over at Gene Expression--


But the repeated blows ups with Diamond gets to the reality that cultural anthropology has gone down an intellectual black hole, beyond the event horizon of comprehension, never to recover. It has embraced deconstruction, critique, complexity (or more accurately anti-reductionism) and relativism to such a great extent that whereas in many disciplines social dynamics and political power struggles are an unfortunate consequence of academic life, in cultural anthropology the fixation with power dynamics and structures has resulted in its own self-cannibalization, and overwhelming preoccupation with such issues. Everyone is vulnerable to the cannon blast of critique, and the only value left sacred are particular particular ends (social justice, defined by cultural anthropologists) and axioms (white males are oppressive patriarchs, though white male cultural anthropologists may have engaged in enough self interrogation to take upon themselves the mantle of fighting for the rights of the powerless [i.e., not white males]) which all can agree upon.

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2013/02/jared-diamond-at-the-anthropologists/

In sum, the field has become more political movement and social advocacy collective, than a scholarly enterprise. This is not true in all cases, but it is true in enough cases that there is an unfortunate dead rot at the heart of cultural anthropology as an academic domain of inquiry. The nastiness of academic anthropology is a function of its hyper-politicized nature.

Many cultural anthropologists need to move to staff positions at organizations like Survival International. They don’t belong in the academy. Those who remain should be scattered across other disciplines, such as economics, psychology, sociology, etc. The reason I post about cultural anthropology now and then isn’t that I want to argue or discuss with cultural anthropologists. Rather, I want to aid in spreading the message the discipline should be extirpated from the academy, just as Creationists have been extirpated from biology. They don’t belong at universities. Cultural anthropologists don’t know much about the world in any systematic sense, but they know what they believe about how the world should be organized. Let them do their organizing in their proper environment. Like exotic species without natural predators these political operators only cause mischief in academic halls.

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2013/02/against-the-cultural-anthropologists/

Informative and balanced NYT article for what little passing familiarity I bring to these decades of controversies.

Anonymous said...

Gimbutas: There was this powerful matriarchy (whose existence and absolute power is proven by some statues of naked chicks) but then these evil mens magically took over. Waa!


Cochran and Harpending: Maybe evolution wasn't magically stopped by a bearded guy in a purple robe after 6 million BC or 250000 BC or 8000 BC.


The mark: who's zooming who?

Paul Mendez said...

If naturalists from another planet ever studied the human species, they would note that violence is an innate natural behavior common to all human males. Young men do not need reasons like "strategic resources" or "reproductive competition" to fight. They just like to fight.

Anonymous said...

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/millman/steven-soderbergh-political-theorist/

Anonymous said...

"Frankly, using evolutionary theory to study human beings sounds great in theory, but how much has it really told us that we didn't already know from empirical evidence? It seems like most ideas that are dressed up in evolutionary jargon don't really have much going for them."

It tells us (or at least attempts to) WHY a behavior might exist. For example, we know from empirical evidence that boys like guns. Knowing why they might like them helps us realize that they will always like them, helping us make blank slaters shut up about their contrived theories of subtle expectations and cultural influences.

Anonymous said...

http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/chicago-bleeds-article-1.1259253

Anonymous said...

Bush is a great man?

http://youtu.be/EVn8ytEq-vU?t=25m45s

Reg C├Žsar said...

Looks like Gimbutas, if not exactly masculine, was a bit of a tomboy herself:


At her father's deathbed,
Gimbutas pledged that she would study to become a scholar: "All of a sudden I had to think what I
shall be, what I shall do with my life. I had been so reckless in sports—swimming for miles, skating, bicycle riding. I changed completely and began to read."
--Wikipedia

Henry Canaday said...

Neil Shubin, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, spoke at the Local Lefty Bookstore this week on his new book, which is about seeing the history of the universe, along with all your fish ancestors, in your own body. He handed out a model of that half-fish, half quadruped that he famously found a few years back. It was an extremely ugly ancestor, homelier than even my great-great-grandfather, the Hungarian grave-digger.

Shubin grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs and still seems like an overage suburban adolescent in his enthusiasm and joyous laughter. But he spends his summers in the Canadian arctic because that is where the fossils are, and research assistants can get a bit testy when they are cooped up in little tents for months at a time. Shubin says the secret to keeping everyone non-violent is to bring the right food and plenty of books.

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve, I thought you might like to know that your weblog is inaccessible on government computers at all the Army bases I've been stationed at over the years. You are hate speech/ pornography. Congratulations.
Now my name's probably on some list somewhere just for trying to read your stuff.

Wait why is that helicopter hovering over my house for the last half hour

Billy B S said...

Maybe Freud not in same category as Marx & Levi-Strauss. he was (in addition to being a flim-flam artist)a self-described Darwinian. Wonder how masculine was the great Freudian anthropologist Geza Roheim?

agnostic said...

Like popular music, evolutionary social science seems to have gotten going during the 1960s, continued upward during the '70s, reached a peak in the '80s, and has been gradually downhill since then.

So much of it from the past 20 years is titillating lurid voyeurism for undersexed nerds, like some mid-century crime comic or sex hygiene film aimed at schoolchildren. Do ovulating strippers earn more tips? -- our full investigative report, right after these messages.

The best single, original book in evolutionary social science is Homicide by Daly and Wilson, from 1988. Researchers weren't so sensationalist back then because they were dealing with real-world problems, which kept them from reaching that voyeuristic distance that we see today. The crime rate had been surging for decades and was near its peak by that time.

And it weaves together ethnographic data from primitive cultures across the world with here-and-now facts from the first world. It shows just how useful the approach can be in explaining patterns generally.

Plus the social science is just a lot better than what passes for "data" and "analysis" today -- i.e., poll the freshmen. Statistics on homicide, assault, rape, etc., couldn't be farther removed from ivory tower distortions.

The richness of the data allow so many specific hypotheses to be tested, and in the process a lot of popular bullshit gets thrown out. Like the tirelessly repeated claim that "you're more likely to be murdered by someone in your family than a stranger". Well, who's "family," kemo-sabe?

Anyway, for those who don't see much value in evolutionary psychology, you might go back and look through some of the older books, which aren't as full of "Gee, do ya think so?" moments.

Or articles, if you can get access. Buss and Gangestad wrote a cool short paper in '85 correlating the strength of preference for good-looking mates to local pathogen prevalence. More germ-ridden areas select for a greater preference for looks, probably as a signal of your genes being robust enough to withstand all the disease in the area.

Billy B S said...

Should Freud be grouped with Marx and Levi-Straus as a non-Darwinian, blank-slater? Although an occasional flim-flam artiste Freud was an avowed Darwinian. Wonder how masculine was the great Freudian anthropologist Geza Roheim?

Anonymous said...

Kevin MacDonald on The Boasian School of Anthropology and the Decline of Darwinism in the Social Sciences:

Several writers have commented on the “radical changes” that occurred in the goals and methods of the social sciences consequent to the entry of Jews to these fields (Liebman 1973, 213; see also Degler 1991; Hollinger 1996; Horowitz 1993, 75; Rothman & Lichter 1982). Degler (1991, 188ff) notes that the shift away from Darwinism as the fundamental paradigm of the social sciences resulted from an ideological shift rather than from the emergence of any new empirical data. He also notes that Jewish intellectuals have been instrumental in the decline of Darwinism and other biological perspectives in American social science since the 1930s (p. 200). The opposition of Jewish intellectuals to Darwinism has long been noticed (Lenz 1931, 674; see also comments of John Maynard Smith in Lewin [1992, 43]). 1 In sociology, the advent of Jewish intellectuals in the pre–World War II period resulted in “a level of politicization unknown to sociology’s founding fathers. It is not only that the names of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim replaced those of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer, but also that the sense of America as a consensual experience gave way to a sense of America as a series of conflicting definitions” (Horowitz 1993, 75). In the post–World War II period, sociology “became populated by Jews to such a degree that jokes abounded: one did not need the synagogue, the minyan [i.e., the minimum number of Jews required for a communal religious service] was to be found in sociology departments; or, one did not need a sociology of Jewish life, since the two had become synonymous” (Horowitz 1993, 77).