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Life Among the Irredentists

Post #1679 • April 14, 2014, 2:52 PM

I certainly haven't suffered like Napoleon Chagnon but hoo boy does some of this sound familiar.

“Had I been discussing wild boars, yaks, ground squirrels, armadillos or bats, nobody . . . would have been surprised by my findings,” he writes. “But I was discussing Homo sapiens—who, according to many cultural anthropologists, stands apart from the laws of nature.” ...

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. ...

Readers can perhaps get a sense of the current state of the anthropology field by considering the most absurd claim against Chagnon: that he was a McCarthyite. The evidence for this was little more than Tierney’s observation that Chagnon grew up in the 1950s in a rural area of Michigan, where “anti-Communist feeling ran high, and where Senator Joseph McCarthy enjoyed strong support.” Critics also sniped at Chagnon for being, in Tierney’s description, “a free-market advocate.” Harvard evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker, a Chagnon defender, calls this kind of branding “an irredentist leftism that considers even moderate and liberal positions reactionary.”

In particular it reminds me of the time Ben Davis called a certain someone a clownish commentator from the conservative New Criterion magazine, who suggested that the problem with contemporary art was that the government art subsidies were too lavish. But not only that.

Hat tip to David Thompson.

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