Chagnon Enraged Cultural Anthropologists By Showing Tribal Violence

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Source of book image: http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/n/noble-savages/9780684855103_custom-4deac679a847f1d6e7d64424b01d0be54b54e3a7-s6-c10.jpg

(p. C) In the 1960s, cultural anthropologists led by Marvin Harris argued that conflict among prestate people was mostly over access to scarce protein. Dr. Chagnon disputed this, arguing that Yanomamo Indians’ chief motive for raiding and fighting–which they did a great deal–seemed to be to abduct, recover or avenge the abduction of women. He even claimed that Indian men who had killed people (“unokais”) had more wives and more children than men who had not killed, thus gaining a Darwinian advantage.

Such claims could not have been more calculated to enrage the presiding high priests of cultural anthropology, slaughtering as it did at least three sacred cows of the discipline: that uncontacted tribal people were peaceful, that Darwinism had nothing to say about human behavior and culture, and that material resources were the cause of conflict.
. . .
Meanwhile the science has been going Dr. Chagnon’s way. Recent studies have confirmed that mortality from violence is very common in small-scale societies today and in the past. Almost one-third of such people die in raids and fights, and the death rate is twice as high among men as among women. This is a far higher death rate than experienced even in countries worst hit by World War II. Thomas Hobbes’s “war of each against all” looks more accurate for humanity in a state of nature than Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “noble savage,” though anthropologists today prefer to see a continuum between these extremes.

For the full commentary, see:
MATT RIDLEY. “MIND & MATTER; Farewell to the Myth of the Noble Savage.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., January 26, 2013): C4.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date January 25, 2013.)
(Note: ellipsis added.)

The Chagnon book that Ridley is discussing:
Chagnon, Napoleon. Noble Savages: My Life among Two Dangerous Tribes — the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.

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