Monday, April 14, 2014

This article reviews a new book by anthropologist Napolean Chagnon. Chagnon's observations and conclusions regarding the primitive and isolated Yanomamo people were at odds with anthropological thought at the time.

Chagnon spent decades studying the Yanomamo first-hand. What he observed challenged conventional wisdom about human nature, suggesting that primitive man may have lived in a Hobbesian state of "all against all"-where the concerns of group and individual security were driving factors in how society developed, and where a sense of terror was widespread. His work undercut a longstanding politically correct view in anthropology, which held that Stone Age humans were noble savages and that civilization had corrupted humanity and led to increasing violence. Chagnon's reporting on the Yanomamo subsequently became unpopular and was heavily attacked within some academic circles. He endured accusations and investigations. Noble Savages is Chagnon's engrossing and at times hair-raising story of his work among the Yanomamo and the controversies his discoveries stirred up.

Moreover, the anthropologists of the day didn't much like having the conventional wisdom undercut.

By this point, a segment of the academic community had already been trying to discredit Chagnon for years. In the late 1970s, for instance, a panel Chagnon organized to discuss the role of new biological theories in the study of man's past was almost cancelled because of objections from cultural anthropologists. The panel proceeded, but protestors attacked the eminent Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson when he rose to speak, knocking him down and dousing him with cold water. Critics, meanwhile, charged Chagnon with faking his data and branded him a racist. He found it difficult to get back into Venezuela to continue his studies. His problems intensified as the field of anthropology changed and cultural anthropologists increasingly began to reject the scientific method that Chagnon pursued in favor of a postmodernist approach. Chagnon calls these new anthropologists believers, not scientists. They saw their field not as a path of inquiry but as a means of social change-one that condemned the industrialized, capitalist nations for exploiting natural resources and "peaceful" primitive peoples.

Question: If the field anthropology can be this completely politicized by Marxist believers, do we really think that climatology is somehow immune?


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