Darkness in El Dorado Controversy - Archived Document

Internet Source: Anthropology Report, February 25, 2013
Source URL (Archive.org): http://anthropologyreport.com/marshall-sahlins-national-academy-of-sciences-napoleon-chagnon/

Marshall Sahlins, National Academy of Sciences, Napoleon Chagnon

Marshall Sahlins resignation from National Academy of SciencesThis page tracks the Marshall Sahlins resignation from the National Academy of Sciences, as a complement to the page tracking anthropology-oriented reviews of Noble Savages by Napoleon Chagnon. See also Survival International’s collection of links, The Fierce People? The myth of the ‘Brutal Savage’.

The Inside Higher Ed reporting on the matter is already riddled with errors, in precisely the manner Alex Golub predicts: “What I always find so depressing about these periods of academic blood letting is how poorly the ‘scientists’ behave as they extol an ideal of dispassionate objectivity while simultaneously savaging anyone who suggests to them that they may not be living up to their own ego ideal.” Even the coverage at The American Conservative is better on at least some of the issues.

There are at least two saddening and maddening aspects to this. First is how cultural anthropology seems to only make the news when there’s this kind of dispute. The most recent reviews of Noble Savages are by cultural anthropologists doing really interesting and innovative work: Rachel Newcomb, author of Women of Fes: Ambiguities of Urban Life in Morocco, and John Colman Wood, author of The Names of Things (yes, that’s a fictional novel, but it concerns anthropology and the charge that anthropologists don’t write compelling books). Or look at the amazing selection of Anthropology Blogs 2013 for many examples of people crossing lines of biology and culture (see also my recent review of Testosterone Anthropology). But this kind of work rarely makes the news (Paul Stoller’s Feburary 26 piece on The Real News of Anthropology expresses similar sentiments).

The other aspect is that contrary to most portrayals of this as “anthropological warfare” (author Kenan Malik’s tweet), for the most part this is not really a dispute within anthropology. Rather it is an attempt speared by people outside anthropology to seize control of the story, research funding, and book sales about human nature and human behavior. The goal is to replace anthropology’s emphasis on patterns of learned behavior with a story rooted in genetics and biology. That’s something Marshall Sahlins tracks in The Western Illusion of Human Nature. And that’s why the debate still matters, as depressing as this probably will turn out to be.