Darkness in El Dorado Controversy - Archived Document

Internet Source: Email from author, February 27, 2013
Source URL: none

Statement by Lorna Salzman

Doug Hume at Nebraska State University has a web site: www.anthroniche.com, where you will find, under new additions, a slew of articles about Chagnon and his new book, Noble Savages.

Most of them are from the social scientists of course and predictably blast him as dishonest, hegemonic or insane. the release of his book has enabled all sorts of mental defectives to review Chagnon instead of the book, like the NY Times book review article, certainly at the bottom of the heap when it comes to avoiding the topic at hand and showing your post modernist pseudo feminist credentials).

One need not do scientific and statistical studies of primitive societies, as Chagnon did meticulously, in order to reach the conclusion that violence is innate in humans. as for his most controversial theory (that the Yanomamo violence was mainly, though not solely, over women and thus attributable to the urge for reproductive advantage). His statistics clearly showed that the more aggressive males sired more children. A closer reading of these attacks reveals these charges as ideologically motivated. big duh. The cultural determinists still buzz around like black flies. Evolution doesn't stand a chance when they rant.

On the contrary, what is revealed is the continuing rejection of science by the left and the social sciences (who still ignore evolution) and the often unpleasant truths it uncovers. In this case it is the not so new discovery that humans are violent.

Notably, in their attempts to discredit Chagnon, none of his attackers seem aware of the widespread violence that continues everywhere in the world, whether domestic, terrorist, ethnic, religious. sometimes it is, as the marxists insist, over resource scarcity or territory. Usually it is gender blind except in the case of campus dorm rape and domestic violence. but it's still violence.

The urge for reproductive advantage (more wives means more children and more of an individual male's genes in future generations) is pursued differently in different cultures (duh).Muslims cover up and sequester females, a pretty successful strategy to insure that all her children will be her husband's. in the animal kingdom, some males plug up the vagina of the female after inseminating her so the next guy's sperm/genes can't enter. In some primates and other animals, young low ranking males are denied access to females (which sometimes provokes violence). Look at the epidemic of rape in the armed forces and as part of conflicts in Africa.

The institution of marriage was a more civilized (mostly) way of achieving this end: provide security and food to a woman to insure her sexual fidelity and protection of your progeny. It works pretty well most of the time (but less so today because women earn their own living and have other support networks).

One could say: hey, Nap, here's a big duh. we already knew that men will go to any extreme to get sex. So nu? So some will kill other men? Especially when there aren't enough women around? Especially because pregnancy takes a long time to produce a child and every woman counts?

Just wait and see what happens in Japan and china where the sex ratio gap is growing. maybe we'll see polyandry....or rape....or murder. men are capable of anything, aren't they? (that last comment is a bit cynical; I just added it for effect).


Napoleon Chagnon went to live with the Yanomami ("The Fierce People") in Venezuela in the 1960s and 1970s. His book about themloosed the attack dogs of the social sciences establishment, which for many long years was dominated, regrettably, by the Nurture people who trembled in fear at the notion that humans might actually have some aspects of "Nature" in them, bestowed by evolution.

The Nature vs. Nurture controversy has never died out because the original rabid drooling spread to the post-modernists and cultural studies people, reinforced by the writings of some incomprehensible French philosophers who knew nothing about science whatsoever. (Check out Sokal's Hoax by Alan Sokal and his recent annotated release of this work).

These forces infiltrated and took over American social studies departments starting in the post war period, and they have expanded to include defense of and alignment with some of the most totalitarian repressive violent movements of our day;the left, having had love fests with Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot, their affections shifted to Castro, Chavez, Milosevic, Saddam Hussein and today Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamism. Their motto continues to be "The enemy of my enemy is my friend". Their fearsome leaders (Noam Chomsky in this country mainly) have provided fodder for an especially virulent brand of anti-Americanism that can easily overlook the execrations of vile tyrants and regimes and tar the USA as the worst violator of human rights in the world. This is a special kind of ideological blindness; it is not unique to this country but most of it originated here and continues to spread. As one can imagine, the Arab and Muslim worlds are delighted to have these allies in their enslavement of women, hatred of Jews and unending quest to restore the Muslim caliphate to the entire world by all means necessary.

But I digress somewhat. The relevance here is that the social sciences neglected - deliberately- to take evolution into account in the development of human societies and cultures. The reasons for this were various; the one most often postulated is their repugnance at the eugenics movements of the 1930s, followed by Nazism. The cornerstone of their dogma was set in concrete: Never suggest that there is any genetic influence on human behavior. Any such suggestion would, in their fevered imagination, lead to racism and worse. The inference, later codified in numerous and tiresome tomes and articles, was that every aspect of human life, behavior, culture, values - including and later more emphatically science - was "socially constructed". Nothing outside of the human brain or imagination had any impartial basis, meaningful existence or importance. With Identity Politics and Political Correctness now spread widely, Marx dominated and and allowed them to expand it to say that economic relations are the sole determinant of how humans and society will act. Economic determinism still rules the day in their textbooks. In the case of cultural anthropology it is"resource determinism", but that is in effect the same thing.

As I wrote in my book, Politics as if Evolution Mattered (iUniverse), one could argue that sociobiology (the scourge of post modernists) is what we got when the social sciences ignored evolution. That may seem a bit flip and superficial, but I believe there is more than a grain of truth in it. In any case, it took biologists to revive Darwin and evolution and to start regarding humans not as superior animals exempt from the laws of Nature but as an animal whose evolutionary history included millions of years as pre-human, as a primate, i.e. as an animal. The notion that at some point this primate suddenly became human and therefore no longer subject to evolution or the laws of Nature is still prevalent. I believe that this separation of humans - no longer appropriately studied as other animals are - from the natural world turned what remained of that world into a commodity and opened the door to exploitation, leading inexorably to our present ecological crisis.

Chagnon left the social constructionists behind; being a evolutionist and sociobiologist, he understood that humans could and should be studied using the same criteria (though with somewhat different methods obviously) one uses in science, with none of the romance and hyperbole and cultural relativism imbued in primitive societies by the social scientists. You can imagine the fury and furor that greeted his unvarnished research, published as Yanomami: The Fierce People. (a term which the Yanomami used to describe themselves). The social scientists had a field day and they still haven't given up. In 2010 the American Museum of Natural History's Margaret Mead Film Festival featured a film by a Brazilian filmmaker, Jose Padilha, about Chagnon and the Yanomami. (AMNH is a Nurture acolyte, thanks to people like Margaret Mead and Ian Tattersall, and also Ashley Montagu (birth name: Israel Ehrenberg).

Nothing inherently wrong with a film, is there? Well, there was. The film relied almost entirely on the scurrilous mendacious book by one Patrick Tierney (brother of former NY Times neo-con columnist John Tierney). Patrick was on the far left side of his brother, and decided to make his career on the remains of Chagnon. He invented baseless lies and charges, including blaming Chagnon and his associate James Neel for a measles epidemic in Venezuela (as the local people and others attested, the epidemic started before Chagnon arrived there and he helped launch a vaccination program to protect as many tribal members as possible). Aiding Tierney were local Catholic priests who happily lent themselves to the slander campaign.

Alice Dreger has written a long well-researched paper on this whole controversy. Eventually all the leading scientific associations in the US, including the American Anthropological Society, vindicated Chagnon. Before this happened, though, even the illustrious New Yorker magazine fell for Tierney's blather and printed articles blasting Chagnon based solely on what Tierney told them. I am not sure whether they ever retracted it or apologized.

Fast forward to today's NY Times Magazine (Feb. 17) and an excellent article on this controversy by Emily Eakin. If you don't have time to do more extensive research, her article will give you a quite complete and fair idea of what went on. But in the NYT Book Review, there is a review of the Chagnon book itself (Noble Savage) by some post modernist feminist at Columbia. It's a stupid review no matter whether you agree with her or not, and her main point seems to be that Chagnon wrote his new book just to get even with his critics. That's a way of NOT saying that he wrote the book to bring all of this out in the open and to let us know what's going on in academia at the expense of truth and scientific integrity.

In 2000 I met Chagnon when we were on a panel sponsored by the exMarxist now neo-con Institute of Ideas in London (if you google them you'll find some really interesting stuff about them). Also on the panel was Ullica Segerstralle (hope I got the spelling right), who is the author of a quite stupendous book called Defenders of the Faith on the subject of......SOCIOBIOLOGY. It's the definitive history of the discipline and covers everyone of note involved in it, its participants, defenders, detractors, enemies. Terrific book. She was great on the panel. So was Chagnon.

Then in 2010, when I learned that the Padilha film about Chagnon was going to be screened, I tracked Chagnon down, we chatted, and I said I had prepared a fact sheet to distribute at the film and would run it by him for accuracy. But he then got in touch with two other scientists, Alice Dreger and Raymond Hames, and they prepared their own fact sheet, which I then xeroxed and distributed. The woman in charge of the film screening at the AMNH was not amused and confronted me afterwards. Then there was a panel discussion that had not invited anyone who might defend Chagnon. Chagnon had given them the name of a woman and the museum people claimed that they had invited her and that she had declined. Shortly after that I and Chagnon learned that they had never invited her. However, eventually someone was added to the panel to give Chagnon's version.

These are some of the Science Wars going on. They are real wars and they have grave implications for scientific inquiry. Evolutionary biologist Michael Soule has written an excellent essay, The Social Siege of Nature, in Reinventing Nature, which was published following a conference on post modernism and science. Soule says the post modernists have done incalculable damage to the image of science held by the public, and that in so doing they have given ammunition to the climate change deniers and their allies. I have no doubt this is true. The social sciences give ammunition to the anti-Darwinians.

Lorna Salzman