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 All Comments / On "Cultural Anthropology"
    Over at Ethnography.com a late response to my post Against the cultural anthropologists from someone named Michael Scroggins. He accuses me of being "The hyperbolic leader in this round of hippie bashing." That's a defensible proposition, but speaking of hyperbole, he says: First, the way cultural anthropologists use the term "genetic determinism" is similar to...
  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    there are almost no “genetic determinists” as such who adhere to the proposition that genes determine in some physics-like manner the specific manifestation of human nature.

    I agree with the general sentiment here, but I think there are a fair number of people who would agree that there are some psychological traits that will always emerge in all possible human cultures. I don’t know anyone who thinks that all or even most human psychological traits are like this though.

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  • A new word has entered the lexicon: To be “scrogged” means something akin to being savaged by a dead sheep. (With due credit to a certain Australian politician.)

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  • @Sandgroper
    Is it not manners to use the preferred spelling of someone's own name?

    rajiv is the more common variant. it happens :-) i didn’t take offense because it didn’t seem like it was made with offensive intent.

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  • @tonywaters
    Oops sorry, I typed too fast. But both Razib and I have pretty thick skins--and it even seems we see eye to eye about some things.

    Noted. But that notwithstanding, I would suggest that a little respect is in order.

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  • @Razib Khan
    i used a swear word, someone complained, and apparently it's against the new *discover* comment rules. unless i want to go independent again i'll have to follow the rules.

    No more thundering expletive-laden Wrath of Khan torpedoes? That’s going to take the fun out of it.

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  • @Razib Khan
    i have no problem with ethnographic detail. please see my post that your co-blogger referenced.

    Razib–you’ve given me some good things to think about. I need a few days though to formulate a response about the relationship between genetics and cultural anthropology/ethnography. I will get back to you in a week or two via ethnography.com.

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  • @Sandgroper
    Is it not manners to use the preferred spelling of someone's own name?

    Oops sorry, I typed too fast. But both Razib and I have pretty thick skins–and it even seems we see eye to eye about some things.

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    • Replies: @Sandgroper
    Noted. But that notwithstanding, I would suggest that a little respect is in order.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @tonywaters
    Rajiv,

    I think we could have a really interesting discussion about the nature of "facts" which is brought up in Sociology and Anthropology graduate seminars. But it is hard to fit it into columns which are seven words wide. Along the same lines, here is a comment that critiqued genetic research from an anthropological perspective in BMC Genetics recently.

    http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2156/11/18/comments


    Tony

    Is it not manners to use the preferred spelling of someone’s own name?

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    • Replies: @tonywaters
    Oops sorry, I typed too fast. But both Razib and I have pretty thick skins--and it even seems we see eye to eye about some things.
    , @Razib Khan
    rajiv is the more common variant. it happens :-) i didn't take offense because it didn't seem like it was made with offensive intent.
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  • @tonywaters
    Yes, and you were more precise and careful in how you used the data than were the authors of the article(s) we critiqued. Using Cambodian refugees for as a proxy for "Cambodians" is a real stretch, as you point out. As for using Bangkok residents as a proxy for "Thai," that is also problematic, as you note. Immigration from southern China to Thailand's cities has been going very quickly for 200 years, with 3-4 major spurts in the 20th century along.


    With approaches like that you might find yourself more welcome among the anthropologists (particularly those with a biological bent) than you think!

    i have no problem with ethnographic detail. please see my post that your co-blogger referenced.

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    • Replies: @tonywaters
    Razib--you've given me some good things to think about. I need a few days though to formulate a response about the relationship between genetics and cultural anthropology/ethnography. I will get back to you in a week or two via ethnography.com.
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  • @viewfromafield
    When you say that culture is part of an "extended phenotype" are you saying that what we call culture is the result of the genotype of an individual human being expressed through the biological processes of their bodies in relation to their environment? That's obvious enough I doubt anyone would argue with it, but I don't know how useful it is for describing complex historically situated social phenomena. I suspect that social institutions and culture are sufficiently complex that they can't be adequately explained in purely genetic terms. Not because culture is some mystical thing standing apart from human biology, but because large groups of people living in a community have a lot of moving parts and trying to account for so many different levels of organization at once (i.e. from the cellular to population/environment) in a way that doesn't vastly oversimplify either genetics or society is difficult.

    And then, there's always this argument http://xkcd.com/435/

    We might imagine a future where every scientific discipline can reach an integrated understanding of everything, but we're not there yet. And we can only get there by breaking things down into smaller chunks and studying them in their specificity. The blueprints for a building are broken down into structural drawings, HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems, etc. Putting every part of a building into one set of plans would be unreadable. That's only a problem if the individual drawings don't match up.

    I suspect that social institutions and culture are sufficiently complex that they can’t be adequately explained in purely genetic terms.

    in complex social phenomena genes inform, they do not explain. the same with cognitive neuroscience. and yet i hear little talk of ‘neuroscience determinists’!

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  • @viewfromafield
    No, I haven't, something to check out when I head to the library. So, is contemporary sociobiology just an extension of the findings of behavioral genetics into explaining social phenomena?


    As far as cultural determinism goes, you do find people making claims that could be taken as cultural determinism here and there in anthropology, but its not that common. Saying that something is culturally constructed isn't suggesting that's the only factor at play, that's just the factor anthropologists engage with. (e.g. motherhood is a cultural construction, but the biological basis of human reproduction is pretty well established).

    that’s just the factor anthropologists engage with. (e.g. motherhood is a cultural construction, but the biological basis of human reproduction is pretty well established)

    the vulgar form would simply state that the female as the primary care giver for young children in humans is a cultural/social construct (or perhaps an outcome of material conditions). i’m 100% sure that that’s wrong, mostly because humans are primates, not seahorses.

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  • @viewfromafield
    No, I haven't, something to check out when I head to the library. So, is contemporary sociobiology just an extension of the findings of behavioral genetics into explaining social phenomena?


    As far as cultural determinism goes, you do find people making claims that could be taken as cultural determinism here and there in anthropology, but its not that common. Saying that something is culturally constructed isn't suggesting that's the only factor at play, that's just the factor anthropologists engage with. (e.g. motherhood is a cultural construction, but the biological basis of human reproduction is pretty well established).

    So, is contemporary sociobiology just an extension of the findings of behavioral genetics into explaining social phenomena?

    no. sociobiology brackets a lot of different fields. behavior genetics is narrow, because it doesn’t take an evolutionary viewpoint. sociobiology does. it also looks to fields such ethology, behavioral ecology, etc. the reality is that e. o. wilson himself is not a classically genetically oriented person (see his recent dust ups in regards to inclusive fitness). this might seem ‘inside baseball,’ but it gets to the heart of confused misrepresentations.

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  • @Razib Khan
    So, I'm curious as to what the informed sociobiology view on the relationship between genes and behavior is.


    have you read a book on quantitative genetics or behavior genetics? the science is complex, but the premises are straightforward. no one who works in these fields is a 'genetic determinist.' in contrast, i would contend that some, if not all or most, of those in the humanities and social sciences who rage against genetic determinists ARE cultural determinists (in popular vulgar form one can see this in ascribe all life situations to enviro-structural factors).

    No, I haven’t, something to check out when I head to the library. So, is contemporary sociobiology just an extension of the findings of behavioral genetics into explaining social phenomena?

    As far as cultural determinism goes, you do find people making claims that could be taken as cultural determinism here and there in anthropology, but its not that common. Saying that something is culturally constructed isn’t suggesting that’s the only factor at play, that’s just the factor anthropologists engage with. (e.g. motherhood is a cultural construction, but the biological basis of human reproduction is pretty well established).

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    So, is contemporary sociobiology just an extension of the findings of behavioral genetics into explaining social phenomena?

    no. sociobiology brackets a lot of different fields. behavior genetics is narrow, because it doesn't take an evolutionary viewpoint. sociobiology does. it also looks to fields such ethology, behavioral ecology, etc. the reality is that e. o. wilson himself is not a classically genetically oriented person (see his recent dust ups in regards to inclusive fitness). this might seem 'inside baseball,' but it gets to the heart of confused misrepresentations.

    , @Razib Khan
    that's just the factor anthropologists engage with. (e.g. motherhood is a cultural construction, but the biological basis of human reproduction is pretty well established)

    the vulgar form would simply state that the female as the primary care giver for young children in humans is a cultural/social construct (or perhaps an outcome of material conditions). i'm 100% sure that that's wrong, mostly because humans are primates, not seahorses.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Razib Khan
    i've played with that data set:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2011/07/southeast-asian-migrations/

    Yes, and you were more precise and careful in how you used the data than were the authors of the article(s) we critiqued. Using Cambodian refugees for as a proxy for “Cambodians” is a real stretch, as you point out. As for using Bangkok residents as a proxy for “Thai,” that is also problematic, as you note. Immigration from southern China to Thailand’s cities has been going very quickly for 200 years, with 3-4 major spurts in the 20th century along.

    With approaches like that you might find yourself more welcome among the anthropologists (particularly those with a biological bent) than you think!

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    i have no problem with ethnographic detail. please see my post that your co-blogger referenced.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Karl Zimmerman
    I see two main issues with the argument of genes being mitigated by culture.

    1. Such beliefs in the social sciences usually rest upon humans being different in some ineffable way from other living beings. Said social scientists do not argue, for example, that animal "culture" plays just as much of a role mitigating behavior as human culture. Few argue that animals are unconscious automatons anymore, but they still act as if animal instinct is essentially inescapable, while human instinct only exists around basic drives like hunger and the avoidance of pain.

    2. Culture can be seen as an "extended phenotype" which is determined by gene interactions across a large population - sort of the same way that a beaver's dam is part of the extended phenotype of a beaver. In this sense, all culture is ultimately genetic, even if genes do not in any way code for differences between cultures.

    While I wouldn't go as far as Razib in calling the original argument creationist, I do think it's sophistry. The argument given is based upon rhetoric and logic, but not an understanding of actual empirical knowledge regarding genetics.

    When you say that culture is part of an “extended phenotype” are you saying that what we call culture is the result of the genotype of an individual human being expressed through the biological processes of their bodies in relation to their environment? That’s obvious enough I doubt anyone would argue with it, but I don’t know how useful it is for describing complex historically situated social phenomena. I suspect that social institutions and culture are sufficiently complex that they can’t be adequately explained in purely genetic terms. Not because culture is some mystical thing standing apart from human biology, but because large groups of people living in a community have a lot of moving parts and trying to account for so many different levels of organization at once (i.e. from the cellular to population/environment) in a way that doesn’t vastly oversimplify either genetics or society is difficult.

    And then, there’s always this argument http://xkcd.com/435/

    We might imagine a future where every scientific discipline can reach an integrated understanding of everything, but we’re not there yet. And we can only get there by breaking things down into smaller chunks and studying them in their specificity. The blueprints for a building are broken down into structural drawings, HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems, etc. Putting every part of a building into one set of plans would be unreadable. That’s only a problem if the individual drawings don’t match up.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    I suspect that social institutions and culture are sufficiently complex that they can't be adequately explained in purely genetic terms.


    in complex social phenomena genes inform, they do not explain. the same with cognitive neuroscience. and yet i hear little talk of 'neuroscience determinists'!

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Gus Andrews
    GENES are not mitigated by culture. EVOLUTION is mitigated by culture. Genes are made up of chemicals. Evolution is a process that happens over time. Culture is more able to influence the latter than the former.

    Calling culture "an extended phenotype" is just stupid (and I'd say calling a beaver's dam part of its phenotype is also pretty stupid. Did the beaver's genetics determine the amount of branching on a given tree, which probably has an influence on the shape of the dam? I didn't think so.) Culture, and the human behavior that makes it up, involves references to things that are not immediately observable in looking at an individual, including language, memory, and history... say it with me now.

    I see I did misinterpret your original point. I thought you were making the typical argument that cultural influences outweigh genetic influences, because of gene-environment interactions causing genes to be expressed or not in various circumstances.

    I’m not sure at all what you mean by evolution being mitigated by culture. Culture can and does shape evolution of course, The guiding force in evolution is often said to be “natural selection,” but artificial selection of domesticated plants and animals is also surely evolution, with the domesticants adapting (with help) to the human environment. The same could be equally true with humans. Certainly it’s been hypothesized that human brains grew so big in large part due to the need to deal with the increasing social complexity of human societies – that we needed mega brainpower in order to keep track of our social relationships with a few score people, and be able to anticipate their reactions to decisions.

    Genes and culture are interrelated even on a population level, with genetic changes altering culture, and culture in turn leading to genetic changes. Razib notes lactose tolerance, which both wouldn’t have developed without use of cattle, and massively increased the ability of cultures to depend upon dairy products once the mutations were widespread. Amylase production has also been boosted in farming populations, as it helps break down starches.

    As for the beaver example, I didn’t pull it out of thin air. It was something Richard Dawkins first discussed in one of his books. Beavers build dams instinctively to the point that if isolated indoors, they will build “invisible dams.” This dam-making instinct is clearly genetic, and thus can be considered to be part of the phenotype of a beaver in the same way that its flattened tail is. At the same time, he notes that when dam-making first developed, it must have been essentially a conscious choice by some random stem beaver. It helped the stem beaver to survive, and over time genes which caused dam building to be reinforced, and ultimately instinctual, were selected for.

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  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says: • Website
    @Razib Khan
    what do you even mean by 'mitigated by culture'? some of the strongest selective events in the human genome are first or second order products of culture (lactase persistence, malaria defense).

    Oh, absolutely. I’ve only read the most basic of pop science genetic books, but even then I was wholly aware of how culture has literally shaped, not “mitigated”, human evolution.

    Also, what are the basic resources I should be familiar with to be able to gain further understanding of this topic?

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  • @Gus Andrews
    You mean "redacted." Perhaps you should have paid more attention in your humanities classes.

    wow, you are quite the childish one to misconstrue a typo for lack of semantic knowledge :-) grow up or i’ll have to ban you (which is allowed by the New Order i think)

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  • @Razib Khan
    i used a swear word, someone complained, and apparently it's against the new *discover* comment rules. unless i want to go independent again i'll have to follow the rules.

    You mean “redacted.” Perhaps you should have paid more attention in your humanities classes.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    wow, you are quite the childish one to misconstrue a typo for lack of semantic knowledge :-) grow up or i'll have to ban you (which is allowed by the New Order i think)
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  • @Gus Andrews
    I'd say Scrogs was making an unwarranted rhetorical flourish himself by calling genes "mere" rhetorical topics; not sure if this is where he and I part ways. Sure, genes have clear, quantifiable, causal effects. In some cases. The trick is to not assume that a causal pattern that has been identified is an immortal truth set in stone; nor to explain away deviations from these causal patterns as meaningless noise. Science evolves and continues to explain aberrant events, or it isn't good science, right? And some part of the state of science as we understand it at a given time is an artifact of tenure systems, communication networks, funding, and popular opinion. The aim of well-meaning cultural studies of science is not, I hope, to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I personally would like to see it lead to better, more meaningful science (and I think the publication of one of Hugh Gusterson's anthropological analyses of Los Alamos in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is a good indication that it can. Then again, I may be biased -- I'm an anthropologist who grew up among engineers at Caltech).

    But all that is really more Latourian science and technology studies than Garfinkelian sociology. Garfinkel's approach to sociology attempts to do away with what he saw as the field's failing: the a priori assumptions that sociologists bring to their observations of human behavior, which then cloud and warp what they are able to observe. In daily behavior, humans do not make explicit reference to or draw on theories of behavior; the job of anyone studying human behavior is thus to determine, through observation and synthesis of these observations, what they DO draw on. Does what they draw on have some basis in biology and the natural environment? Of course! It also has bases in language, the built environment, and I think most importantly history (memory and the passage of time) -- none of which are topics which biology or chemistry are particularly good at describing on their own.

    Does what humans draw on in their behavior conform to scientific logic? Of course not, and this is why it's so frustrating to geneticists, as it eludes them and involves a lot of explaining things away as unimportant and magical and irrational and "noisy." Within specific situations, however, much behavior can be explained through additional analysis of what has transpired local to the situation, and what people are referring to. This is culture. And I'm still not convinced it can be reduced to proteins and chemicals, because some of the transactions in the behavior are linguistic and historical ("remember what your mother told you, don't cross the street without looking both ways").

    The trick is to not assume that a causal pattern that has been identified is an immortal truth set in stone;

    literally no one believes this.

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  • @Gus Andrews
    OK, could you please summarize for me what the assumptions of behavior genetics and population genetics are that are different from classical genetic determinism? I'm operating off the working definition that genetics makes the basic assumption that genes code for proteins. What do I not know about how genes code for history, or how they code for the complex systems of semantics or environment? Because in my comparison of animal behavior, cognition, psychology, anthropology, sociology, history, and linguistics (I have studied various flavors of each), my sense is that the methodological tools of anthropology, history, sociology, and linguistics are better at reckoning with complex and ongoing interactions between individuals than cognition and psychology are. The former two fields stake their claims on understandings of individual minds. And I don't yet see how genetics is making a claim for its ability to explain interpersonal behavior over time, given that the tools of genetics explain the development of proteins. What am I missing?

    And I don’t yet see how genetics is making a claim for its ability to explain interpersonal behavior over time, given that the tools of genetics explain the development of proteins.

    you’re confusing genetics as elucidated by crick’s central dogma as genetics qua genetics. as outlined in the initial post by scroggins’ genetics as a field predates the idea of the central dogma by 50 years. behavior and population genetics are both strongly statistical, and include within them the idea of environmental effects.

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  • @Gus Andrews
    GENES are not mitigated by culture. EVOLUTION is mitigated by culture. Genes are made up of chemicals. Evolution is a process that happens over time. Culture is more able to influence the latter than the former.

    Calling culture "an extended phenotype" is just stupid (and I'd say calling a beaver's dam part of its phenotype is also pretty stupid. Did the beaver's genetics determine the amount of branching on a given tree, which probably has an influence on the shape of the dam? I didn't think so.) Culture, and the human behavior that makes it up, involves references to things that are not immediately observable in looking at an individual, including language, memory, and history... say it with me now.

    what do you even mean by ‘mitigated by culture’? some of the strongest selective events in the human genome are first or second order products of culture (lactase persistence, malaria defense).

    Read More
    • Replies: @Anonymous
    Oh, absolutely. I've only read the most basic of pop science genetic books, but even then I was wholly aware of how culture has literally shaped, not "mitigated", human evolution.

    Also, what are the basic resources I should be familiar with to be able to gain further understanding of this topic?

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Gus Andrews
    redcated?

    i used a swear word, someone complained, and apparently it’s against the new *discover* comment rules. unless i want to go independent again i’ll have to follow the rules.

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    • Replies: @Gus Andrews
    You mean "redacted." Perhaps you should have paid more attention in your humanities classes.
    , @Sandgroper
    No more thundering expletive-laden Wrath of Khan torpedoes? That's going to take the fun out of it.
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  • @Karl Zimmerman
    I see two main issues with the argument of genes being mitigated by culture.

    1. Such beliefs in the social sciences usually rest upon humans being different in some ineffable way from other living beings. Said social scientists do not argue, for example, that animal "culture" plays just as much of a role mitigating behavior as human culture. Few argue that animals are unconscious automatons anymore, but they still act as if animal instinct is essentially inescapable, while human instinct only exists around basic drives like hunger and the avoidance of pain.

    2. Culture can be seen as an "extended phenotype" which is determined by gene interactions across a large population - sort of the same way that a beaver's dam is part of the extended phenotype of a beaver. In this sense, all culture is ultimately genetic, even if genes do not in any way code for differences between cultures.

    While I wouldn't go as far as Razib in calling the original argument creationist, I do think it's sophistry. The argument given is based upon rhetoric and logic, but not an understanding of actual empirical knowledge regarding genetics.

    GENES are not mitigated by culture. EVOLUTION is mitigated by culture. Genes are made up of chemicals. Evolution is a process that happens over time. Culture is more able to influence the latter than the former.

    Calling culture “an extended phenotype” is just stupid (and I’d say calling a beaver’s dam part of its phenotype is also pretty stupid. Did the beaver’s genetics determine the amount of branching on a given tree, which probably has an influence on the shape of the dam? I didn’t think so.) Culture, and the human behavior that makes it up, involves references to things that are not immediately observable in looking at an individual, including language, memory, and history… say it with me now.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    what do you even mean by 'mitigated by culture'? some of the strongest selective events in the human genome are first or second order products of culture (lactase persistence, malaria defense).
    , @Karl Zimmerman
    I see I did misinterpret your original point. I thought you were making the typical argument that cultural influences outweigh genetic influences, because of gene-environment interactions causing genes to be expressed or not in various circumstances.


    I'm not sure at all what you mean by evolution being mitigated by culture. Culture can and does shape evolution of course, The guiding force in evolution is often said to be "natural selection," but artificial selection of domesticated plants and animals is also surely evolution, with the domesticants adapting (with help) to the human environment. The same could be equally true with humans. Certainly it's been hypothesized that human brains grew so big in large part due to the need to deal with the increasing social complexity of human societies - that we needed mega brainpower in order to keep track of our social relationships with a few score people, and be able to anticipate their reactions to decisions.


    Genes and culture are interrelated even on a population level, with genetic changes altering culture, and culture in turn leading to genetic changes. Razib notes lactose tolerance, which both wouldn't have developed without use of cattle, and massively increased the ability of cultures to depend upon dairy products once the mutations were widespread. Amylase production has also been boosted in farming populations, as it helps break down starches.


    As for the beaver example, I didn't pull it out of thin air. It was something Richard Dawkins first discussed in one of his books. Beavers build dams instinctively to the point that if isolated indoors, they will build "invisible dams." This dam-making instinct is clearly genetic, and thus can be considered to be part of the phenotype of a beaver in the same way that its flattened tail is. At the same time, he notes that when dam-making first developed, it must have been essentially a conscious choice by some random stem beaver. It helped the stem beaver to survive, and over time genes which caused dam building to be reinforced, and ultimately instinctual, were selected for.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Razib Khan
    1) the only people who believe in 'genetic determinism' in the way you people characterize it are people in your own imaginations.


    2) frankly, what the fuck are you talking about? i don't care what you or scroggins believe about culture or society. he spent paragraph after paragraph talking about genes. whereof one speaks, one is enjoined to know of what one speaks of. i don't see that there.

    redcated?

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    i used a swear word, someone complained, and apparently it's against the new *discover* comment rules. unless i want to go independent again i'll have to follow the rules.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Dmitry Pruss
    Could you expound on how this empirical approach to sociology works? Does this empiricism mean that whatever factors affect the empirical outcomes (for example environments and interactions you mention) must be labelled "mere rhetorical topic" if the cause-and-effect isn't strictly one-to-one correspondence without any fuzziness (borrowing the words used by Scroggins with respect to genes)? Regardless of whether the underlying mechanisms of the casual relations are clear, and the effects, quantifiable?

    If it is true, then he should, in the same vein, dismiss his whole field of study as "empty thetoric".

    I’d say Scrogs was making an unwarranted rhetorical flourish himself by calling genes “mere” rhetorical topics; not sure if this is where he and I part ways. Sure, genes have clear, quantifiable, causal effects. In some cases. The trick is to not assume that a causal pattern that has been identified is an immortal truth set in stone; nor to explain away deviations from these causal patterns as meaningless noise. Science evolves and continues to explain aberrant events, or it isn’t good science, right? And some part of the state of science as we understand it at a given time is an artifact of tenure systems, communication networks, funding, and popular opinion. The aim of well-meaning cultural studies of science is not, I hope, to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I personally would like to see it lead to better, more meaningful science (and I think the publication of one of Hugh Gusterson’s anthropological analyses of Los Alamos in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is a good indication that it can. Then again, I may be biased — I’m an anthropologist who grew up among engineers at Caltech).

    But all that is really more Latourian science and technology studies than Garfinkelian sociology. Garfinkel’s approach to sociology attempts to do away with what he saw as the field’s failing: the a priori assumptions that sociologists bring to their observations of human behavior, which then cloud and warp what they are able to observe. In daily behavior, humans do not make explicit reference to or draw on theories of behavior; the job of anyone studying human behavior is thus to determine, through observation and synthesis of these observations, what they DO draw on. Does what they draw on have some basis in biology and the natural environment? Of course! It also has bases in language, the built environment, and I think most importantly history (memory and the passage of time) — none of which are topics which biology or chemistry are particularly good at describing on their own.

    Does what humans draw on in their behavior conform to scientific logic? Of course not, and this is why it’s so frustrating to geneticists, as it eludes them and involves a lot of explaining things away as unimportant and magical and irrational and “noisy.” Within specific situations, however, much behavior can be explained through additional analysis of what has transpired local to the situation, and what people are referring to. This is culture. And I’m still not convinced it can be reduced to proteins and chemicals, because some of the transactions in the behavior are linguistic and historical (“remember what your mother told you, don’t cross the street without looking both ways”).

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    The trick is to not assume that a causal pattern that has been identified is an immortal truth set in stone;


    literally no one believes this.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Robert Ford
    Michael's post indicates that he's totally unfamiliar with behavior genetics, pop. genetics and their implications and, if he were, he wouldn't have written that post. It is also worded in the exact same fashion an Intelligent Design advocate would use: vague, uninformed and incomplete. It's the classic "See? Science can't explain everything, so this backs [whatever I believe in.]" You guys don't like genetic reductionism to explain culture yet do an entirely one-sided job when trying to explain/analyze culture using your own "methods." We're not stupid, we can see what is taught in AN/SO courses and it doesn't jibe with current behavior genetics and actually *dismisses* it condescendingly. Next come the racism inferences (like you just did) and finally, you typically offer some left wing lesson for students that just happens to always downplay genes and direct blame on whites/imperialists, etc. I work directly with AN/SO majors so I know exactly what the deal is. Just because people don't say it to your face doesn't mean we don't know what your MO is.

    AN/SO people should be *embracing* genetics research in an *honest* way to augment their research. That's the only way to be legit at all! Where did culture arise from in the first place?

    OK, could you please summarize for me what the assumptions of behavior genetics and population genetics are that are different from classical genetic determinism? I’m operating off the working definition that genetics makes the basic assumption that genes code for proteins. What do I not know about how genes code for history, or how they code for the complex systems of semantics or environment? Because in my comparison of animal behavior, cognition, psychology, anthropology, sociology, history, and linguistics (I have studied various flavors of each), my sense is that the methodological tools of anthropology, history, sociology, and linguistics are better at reckoning with complex and ongoing interactions between individuals than cognition and psychology are. The former two fields stake their claims on understandings of individual minds. And I don’t yet see how genetics is making a claim for its ability to explain interpersonal behavior over time, given that the tools of genetics explain the development of proteins. What am I missing?

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    And I don't yet see how genetics is making a claim for its ability to explain interpersonal behavior over time, given that the tools of genetics explain the development of proteins.

    you're confusing genetics as elucidated by crick's central dogma as genetics qua genetics. as outlined in the initial post by scroggins' genetics as a field predates the idea of the central dogma by 50 years. behavior and population genetics are both strongly statistical, and include within them the idea of environmental effects.

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  • @tonywaters
    Polls show that universities voted for Obama, and I assume that that applies to Anthro, too. If that's "leftist" ok. But the correlation still does not explain how such voting patterns are relevant to understandings in genetics.


    I still don't get the creationist charge. And plenty of scientists I know have a good understanding of genetics. Have your read Jonathan Marks' book "What it Means to be 98% Chimpanzee?"

    A left creationist is someone who believes that heredity plays little if any role in human variation, particularly in non-visible variation (such as personality). To believe such a thing one must believe that humans evolved to a certain point and then the process of evolution stopped: an act of creation.

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  • @tonywaters
    Rajiv,

    I think we could have a really interesting discussion about the nature of "facts" which is brought up in Sociology and Anthropology graduate seminars. But it is hard to fit it into columns which are seven words wide. Along the same lines, here is a comment that critiqued genetic research from an anthropological perspective in BMC Genetics recently.

    http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2156/11/18/comments


    Tony

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    • Replies: @tonywaters
    Yes, and you were more precise and careful in how you used the data than were the authors of the article(s) we critiqued. Using Cambodian refugees for as a proxy for "Cambodians" is a real stretch, as you point out. As for using Bangkok residents as a proxy for "Thai," that is also problematic, as you note. Immigration from southern China to Thailand's cities has been going very quickly for 200 years, with 3-4 major spurts in the 20th century along.


    With approaches like that you might find yourself more welcome among the anthropologists (particularly those with a biological bent) than you think!

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Razib Khan
    i've read marks' stuff before. he starts with with similar empirical data, but comes to different conclusions. a lot of it has to do with ideological differences. but i agree that he understands the underlying material.

    now, back to the original post. some of the people who have ridiculed your original co-bloggers' post actually are much more sympathetic to the project(s) of cultural anthropology than i am. but when you have someone writing things like "a gene is more rhetorical topic than scientific fact," you're going to lose whatever sympathy you have. cultural anthropology would benefit from less silliness like this. just because something is an abstraction, which a mendelian gene is, does not mean that it is rhetoric.

    Rajiv,

    I think we could have a really interesting discussion about the nature of “facts” which is brought up in Sociology and Anthropology graduate seminars. But it is hard to fit it into columns which are seven words wide. Along the same lines, here is a comment that critiqued genetic research from an anthropological perspective in BMC Genetics recently.

    http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2156/11/18/comments

    Tony

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    i've played with that data set:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2011/07/southeast-asian-migrations/

    , @Sandgroper
    Is it not manners to use the preferred spelling of someone's own name?
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  • @Gus Andrews
    Look, I don't mean to go Godwin's Law here, but there's a very good reason, historically (and not just rhetorically), why genetic determinism is equated with fascism: Nazi scientists also believed that biology was destiny. It is worth not forgetting this, and remembering the implications that any "science" which assumes biological determinism can have for our understandings of culture and free will.

    And calling Scroggins a "creationist" is also just rhetorical trolling on your part, speaking of logical failures. (I should note that Scroggins and I are colleagues, and I'm pretty familiar with how he thinks.) Just because he does not buy into genetic determinism doesn't mean he dismisses science as a means of understanding the universe. We don't operate in a binary of science and religion. Scroggins's critique of genetic science here is that it has a very poor model for conceptualizing what "culture" is. Its model is not based on empirical observations of culture. In fact, it's a bit of a fallacy to lump Scroggins in with the cultural anthropologists you seem to be thinking of.

    Scroggins and many of our other colleagues colleagues work off of Harold Garfinkel, who was 1) a sociologist, not an anthropologist per se; 2) had a critique of mainstream sociology as defining its cultural terms apart from empirical observation of how individuals negotiate culture -- how they make sense of others' behavior -- on the ground (Garfinkel's critique resonates with scientists who look down on sociology as a "weak science"); and 3) understood culture as the accretion of human understanding generated by individuals as they navigate through their environments and interactions with others. God is not in this picture at all. This model actually attempts to be more empirical than most social research. You might familiarize yourself with it before you tar Scroggins with a creationist brush.

    Michael’s post indicates that he’s totally unfamiliar with behavior genetics, pop. genetics and their implications and, if he were, he wouldn’t have written that post. It is also worded in the exact same fashion an Intelligent Design advocate would use: vague, uninformed and incomplete. It’s the classic “See? Science can’t explain everything, so this backs [whatever I believe in.]” You guys don’t like genetic reductionism to explain culture yet do an entirely one-sided job when trying to explain/analyze culture using your own “methods.” We’re not stupid, we can see what is taught in AN/SO courses and it doesn’t jibe with current behavior genetics and actually *dismisses* it condescendingly. Next come the racism inferences (like you just did) and finally, you typically offer some left wing lesson for students that just happens to always downplay genes and direct blame on whites/imperialists, etc. I work directly with AN/SO majors so I know exactly what the deal is. Just because people don’t say it to your face doesn’t mean we don’t know what your MO is.

    AN/SO people should be *embracing* genetics research in an *honest* way to augment their research. That’s the only way to be legit at all! Where did culture arise from in the first place?

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    • Replies: @Gus Andrews
    OK, could you please summarize for me what the assumptions of behavior genetics and population genetics are that are different from classical genetic determinism? I'm operating off the working definition that genetics makes the basic assumption that genes code for proteins. What do I not know about how genes code for history, or how they code for the complex systems of semantics or environment? Because in my comparison of animal behavior, cognition, psychology, anthropology, sociology, history, and linguistics (I have studied various flavors of each), my sense is that the methodological tools of anthropology, history, sociology, and linguistics are better at reckoning with complex and ongoing interactions between individuals than cognition and psychology are. The former two fields stake their claims on understandings of individual minds. And I don't yet see how genetics is making a claim for its ability to explain interpersonal behavior over time, given that the tools of genetics explain the development of proteins. What am I missing?
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  • @tonywaters
    Good--then you will appreciate the book, though you probably will not agree with it 100%. But who can you agree with 100%?

    i’ve read marks’ stuff before. he starts with with similar empirical data, but comes to different conclusions. a lot of it has to do with ideological differences. but i agree that he understands the underlying material.

    now, back to the original post. some of the people who have ridiculed your original co-bloggers’ post actually are much more sympathetic to the project(s) of cultural anthropology than i am. but when you have someone writing things like “a gene is more rhetorical topic than scientific fact,” you’re going to lose whatever sympathy you have. cultural anthropology would benefit from less silliness like this. just because something is an abstraction, which a mendelian gene is, does not mean that it is rhetoric.

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    • Replies: @tonywaters
    Rajiv,

    I think we could have a really interesting discussion about the nature of "facts" which is brought up in Sociology and Anthropology graduate seminars. But it is hard to fit it into columns which are seven words wide. Along the same lines, here is a comment that critiqued genetic research from an anthropological perspective in BMC Genetics recently.

    http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2156/11/18/comments


    Tony

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Razib Khan
    tony, yes, but so do i. my bread & butter in the day time is doing genetics. i can even be found talking genetics around the silo.

    Good–then you will appreciate the book, though you probably will not agree with it 100%. But who can you agree with 100%?

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    i've read marks' stuff before. he starts with with similar empirical data, but comes to different conclusions. a lot of it has to do with ideological differences. but i agree that he understands the underlying material.

    now, back to the original post. some of the people who have ridiculed your original co-bloggers' post actually are much more sympathetic to the project(s) of cultural anthropology than i am. but when you have someone writing things like "a gene is more rhetorical topic than scientific fact," you're going to lose whatever sympathy you have. cultural anthropology would benefit from less silliness like this. just because something is an abstraction, which a mendelian gene is, does not mean that it is rhetoric.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @tonywaters
    His book is not as off-putting as his blog. And he knows his genetics.

    tony, yes, but so do i. my bread & butter in the day time is doing genetics. i can even be found talking genetics around the silo.

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    • Replies: @tonywaters
    Good--then you will appreciate the book, though you probably will not agree with it 100%. But who can you agree with 100%?
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  • @viewfromafield
    I definitely agree with you that genes matter, just as culture does, which is a much more nuanced an understanding than I've heard from non-scientists I've met who espoused sociobiology/evolutionary psychology. I've only come across what I would describe as vulgar sociobiology - that is, people drawing on popular understandings of genetics and evolution to make claims about genetic/evolutionary causes of behavior far beyond what I suspect anyone with a grounding in current research would make. So, I'm curious as to what the informed sociobiology view on the relationship between genes and behavior is.

    So, I’m curious as to what the informed sociobiology view on the relationship between genes and behavior is.

    have you read a book on quantitative genetics or behavior genetics? the science is complex, but the premises are straightforward. no one who works in these fields is a ‘genetic determinist.’ in contrast, i would contend that some, if not all or most, of those in the humanities and social sciences who rage against genetic determinists ARE cultural determinists (in popular vulgar form one can see this in ascribe all life situations to enviro-structural factors).

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    • Replies: @viewfromafield
    No, I haven't, something to check out when I head to the library. So, is contemporary sociobiology just an extension of the findings of behavioral genetics into explaining social phenomena?


    As far as cultural determinism goes, you do find people making claims that could be taken as cultural determinism here and there in anthropology, but its not that common. Saying that something is culturally constructed isn't suggesting that's the only factor at play, that's just the factor anthropologists engage with. (e.g. motherhood is a cultural construction, but the biological basis of human reproduction is pretty well established).

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  • @Razib Khan
    Have your read Jonathan Marks' book "What it Means to be 98% Chimpanzee?"


    i've read marks' blog. i wouldn't be surprised if he thinks a person of my beliefs should be imprisoned :-) IOW, i don't take marks seriously, nor do i take scientific pointers from him. i can process phylogenetic data well enough on my own, thank you very much.

    His book is not as off-putting as his blog. And he knows his genetics.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    tony, yes, but so do i. my bread & butter in the day time is doing genetics. i can even be found talking genetics around the silo.
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  • @tonywaters
    Polls show that universities voted for Obama, and I assume that that applies to Anthro, too. If that's "leftist" ok. But the correlation still does not explain how such voting patterns are relevant to understandings in genetics.


    I still don't get the creationist charge. And plenty of scientists I know have a good understanding of genetics. Have your read Jonathan Marks' book "What it Means to be 98% Chimpanzee?"

    Have your read Jonathan Marks’ book “What it Means to be 98% Chimpanzee?”

    i’ve read marks’ blog. i wouldn’t be surprised if he thinks a person of my beliefs should be imprisoned :-) IOW, i don’t take marks seriously, nor do i take scientific pointers from him. i can process phylogenetic data well enough on my own, thank you very much.

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    • Replies: @tonywaters
    His book is not as off-putting as his blog. And he knows his genetics.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @tonywaters
    Polls show that universities voted for Obama, and I assume that that applies to Anthro, too. If that's "leftist" ok. But the correlation still does not explain how such voting patterns are relevant to understandings in genetics.


    I still don't get the creationist charge. And plenty of scientists I know have a good understanding of genetics. Have your read Jonathan Marks' book "What it Means to be 98% Chimpanzee?"

    tony, anthro is even more left than most academic departments. you can dig into this data;

    http://www.thedivineconspiracy.org/Z5238L.pdf

    but the short of it is that dems outnumber repubs 20 to 1 in anthro. as for why ideology is relevant to genetics, i’m assuming you know about the lysenko affair?

    I still don’t get the creationist charge.

    see toto’s response above. i didn’t want to deconstruct the bizarro-world science at the heart of your co-blogger’s post, because i doubt it would mean much to him, and it would be redundant to most of my readers. but there are a class of social scientists who extract humanity from natural processes to such an extent that for all practical purposes humans become a specially created organism, operating by their own rules. the culture-uber alles tendency would be an expression of this. not only is culture not the sole determinative variable in human behavior, it is not limited to humans.

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  • @Razib Khan
    i assume he's a leftist because almost all anthropologists are on the left. is my stereotype false in this case? (i can name a few on one hand in anthropology who are not center left to left). as for the creationism charge, creationists don't even understand the science which they reject. similarly, with ppl like your friend.

    Polls show that universities voted for Obama, and I assume that that applies to Anthro, too. If that’s “leftist” ok. But the correlation still does not explain how such voting patterns are relevant to understandings in genetics.

    I still don’t get the creationist charge. And plenty of scientists I know have a good understanding of genetics. Have your read Jonathan Marks’ book “What it Means to be 98% Chimpanzee?”

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    tony, anthro is even more left than most academic departments. you can dig into this data;

    http://www.thedivineconspiracy.org/Z5238L.pdf

    but the short of it is that dems outnumber repubs 20 to 1 in anthro. as for why ideology is relevant to genetics, i'm assuming you know about the lysenko affair?

    I still don't get the creationist charge.

    see toto's response above. i didn't want to deconstruct the bizarro-world science at the heart of your co-blogger's post, because i doubt it would mean much to him, and it would be redundant to most of my readers. but there are a class of social scientists who extract humanity from natural processes to such an extent that for all practical purposes humans become a specially created organism, operating by their own rules. the culture-uber alles tendency would be an expression of this. not only is culture not the sole determinative variable in human behavior, it is not limited to humans.

    , @Razib Khan
    Have your read Jonathan Marks' book "What it Means to be 98% Chimpanzee?"


    i've read marks' blog. i wouldn't be surprised if he thinks a person of my beliefs should be imprisoned :-) IOW, i don't take marks seriously, nor do i take scientific pointers from him. i can process phylogenetic data well enough on my own, thank you very much.

    , @Zenn Diagram
    A left creationist is someone who believes that heredity plays little if any role in human variation, particularly in non-visible variation (such as personality). To believe such a thing one must believe that humans evolved to a certain point and then the process of evolution stopped: an act of creation.
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  • I definitely agree with you that genes matter, just as culture does, which is a much more nuanced an understanding than I’ve heard from non-scientists I’ve met who espoused sociobiology/evolutionary psychology. I’ve only come across what I would describe as vulgar sociobiology – that is, people drawing on popular understandings of genetics and evolution to make claims about genetic/evolutionary causes of behavior far beyond what I suspect anyone with a grounding in current research would make. So, I’m curious as to what the informed sociobiology view on the relationship between genes and behavior is.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    So, I'm curious as to what the informed sociobiology view on the relationship between genes and behavior is.


    have you read a book on quantitative genetics or behavior genetics? the science is complex, but the premises are straightforward. no one who works in these fields is a 'genetic determinist.' in contrast, i would contend that some, if not all or most, of those in the humanities and social sciences who rage against genetic determinists ARE cultural determinists (in popular vulgar form one can see this in ascribe all life situations to enviro-structural factors).

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  • @Gus Andrews
    It's not about evolution being impossible. It's about it being mitigated by culture.


    What do you mean by a "trait"? I don't hear you defining that term in any kind of empirically sound way.

    That’s not what he wrote.

    First, he strawmans sociobiologists as believing in a “one-to-one” correspondence between single physical genes and behavioral traits (note the conspicuous absence of citation).

    Then he suggests that, because this correspondence doesn’t exist, evolution (i.e. change in trait frequency caused by differential reproduction of trait bearers) is implausible on its face. That’s the non-sequitur.

    Again, you can say the exact same thing about evolution of physical traits, since the “one-to-one” correspondence also fails to hold for them.

    What do you mean by a “trait”?

    The same thing as everybody else – pretty much anything that can be measured. Would you mind spending a couple minutes googling elementary terms? I suggest starting with “heritability”.

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  • @Gus Andrews
    It's not about evolution being impossible. It's about it being mitigated by culture.


    What do you mean by a "trait"? I don't hear you defining that term in any kind of empirically sound way.

    I see two main issues with the argument of genes being mitigated by culture.

    1. Such beliefs in the social sciences usually rest upon humans being different in some ineffable way from other living beings. Said social scientists do not argue, for example, that animal “culture” plays just as much of a role mitigating behavior as human culture. Few argue that animals are unconscious automatons anymore, but they still act as if animal instinct is essentially inescapable, while human instinct only exists around basic drives like hunger and the avoidance of pain.

    2. Culture can be seen as an “extended phenotype” which is determined by gene interactions across a large population – sort of the same way that a beaver’s dam is part of the extended phenotype of a beaver. In this sense, all culture is ultimately genetic, even if genes do not in any way code for differences between cultures.

    While I wouldn’t go as far as Razib in calling the original argument creationist, I do think it’s sophistry. The argument given is based upon rhetoric and logic, but not an understanding of actual empirical knowledge regarding genetics.

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    • Replies: @Gus Andrews
    GENES are not mitigated by culture. EVOLUTION is mitigated by culture. Genes are made up of chemicals. Evolution is a process that happens over time. Culture is more able to influence the latter than the former.

    Calling culture "an extended phenotype" is just stupid (and I'd say calling a beaver's dam part of its phenotype is also pretty stupid. Did the beaver's genetics determine the amount of branching on a given tree, which probably has an influence on the shape of the dam? I didn't think so.) Culture, and the human behavior that makes it up, involves references to things that are not immediately observable in looking at an individual, including language, memory, and history... say it with me now.

    , @viewfromafield
    When you say that culture is part of an "extended phenotype" are you saying that what we call culture is the result of the genotype of an individual human being expressed through the biological processes of their bodies in relation to their environment? That's obvious enough I doubt anyone would argue with it, but I don't know how useful it is for describing complex historically situated social phenomena. I suspect that social institutions and culture are sufficiently complex that they can't be adequately explained in purely genetic terms. Not because culture is some mystical thing standing apart from human biology, but because large groups of people living in a community have a lot of moving parts and trying to account for so many different levels of organization at once (i.e. from the cellular to population/environment) in a way that doesn't vastly oversimplify either genetics or society is difficult.

    And then, there's always this argument http://xkcd.com/435/

    We might imagine a future where every scientific discipline can reach an integrated understanding of everything, but we're not there yet. And we can only get there by breaking things down into smaller chunks and studying them in their specificity. The blueprints for a building are broken down into structural drawings, HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems, etc. Putting every part of a building into one set of plans would be unreadable. That's only a problem if the individual drawings don't match up.

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  • @Gus Andrews
    Look, I don't mean to go Godwin's Law here, but there's a very good reason, historically (and not just rhetorically), why genetic determinism is equated with fascism: Nazi scientists also believed that biology was destiny. It is worth not forgetting this, and remembering the implications that any "science" which assumes biological determinism can have for our understandings of culture and free will.

    And calling Scroggins a "creationist" is also just rhetorical trolling on your part, speaking of logical failures. (I should note that Scroggins and I are colleagues, and I'm pretty familiar with how he thinks.) Just because he does not buy into genetic determinism doesn't mean he dismisses science as a means of understanding the universe. We don't operate in a binary of science and religion. Scroggins's critique of genetic science here is that it has a very poor model for conceptualizing what "culture" is. Its model is not based on empirical observations of culture. In fact, it's a bit of a fallacy to lump Scroggins in with the cultural anthropologists you seem to be thinking of.

    Scroggins and many of our other colleagues colleagues work off of Harold Garfinkel, who was 1) a sociologist, not an anthropologist per se; 2) had a critique of mainstream sociology as defining its cultural terms apart from empirical observation of how individuals negotiate culture -- how they make sense of others' behavior -- on the ground (Garfinkel's critique resonates with scientists who look down on sociology as a "weak science"); and 3) understood culture as the accretion of human understanding generated by individuals as they navigate through their environments and interactions with others. God is not in this picture at all. This model actually attempts to be more empirical than most social research. You might familiarize yourself with it before you tar Scroggins with a creationist brush.

    Could you expound on how this empirical approach to sociology works? Does this empiricism mean that whatever factors affect the empirical outcomes (for example environments and interactions you mention) must be labelled “mere rhetorical topic” if the cause-and-effect isn’t strictly one-to-one correspondence without any fuzziness (borrowing the words used by Scroggins with respect to genes)? Regardless of whether the underlying mechanisms of the casual relations are clear, and the effects, quantifiable?

    If it is true, then he should, in the same vein, dismiss his whole field of study as “empty thetoric”.

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    • Replies: @Gus Andrews
    I'd say Scrogs was making an unwarranted rhetorical flourish himself by calling genes "mere" rhetorical topics; not sure if this is where he and I part ways. Sure, genes have clear, quantifiable, causal effects. In some cases. The trick is to not assume that a causal pattern that has been identified is an immortal truth set in stone; nor to explain away deviations from these causal patterns as meaningless noise. Science evolves and continues to explain aberrant events, or it isn't good science, right? And some part of the state of science as we understand it at a given time is an artifact of tenure systems, communication networks, funding, and popular opinion. The aim of well-meaning cultural studies of science is not, I hope, to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I personally would like to see it lead to better, more meaningful science (and I think the publication of one of Hugh Gusterson's anthropological analyses of Los Alamos in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is a good indication that it can. Then again, I may be biased -- I'm an anthropologist who grew up among engineers at Caltech).

    But all that is really more Latourian science and technology studies than Garfinkelian sociology. Garfinkel's approach to sociology attempts to do away with what he saw as the field's failing: the a priori assumptions that sociologists bring to their observations of human behavior, which then cloud and warp what they are able to observe. In daily behavior, humans do not make explicit reference to or draw on theories of behavior; the job of anyone studying human behavior is thus to determine, through observation and synthesis of these observations, what they DO draw on. Does what they draw on have some basis in biology and the natural environment? Of course! It also has bases in language, the built environment, and I think most importantly history (memory and the passage of time) -- none of which are topics which biology or chemistry are particularly good at describing on their own.

    Does what humans draw on in their behavior conform to scientific logic? Of course not, and this is why it's so frustrating to geneticists, as it eludes them and involves a lot of explaining things away as unimportant and magical and irrational and "noisy." Within specific situations, however, much behavior can be explained through additional analysis of what has transpired local to the situation, and what people are referring to. This is culture. And I'm still not convinced it can be reduced to proteins and chemicals, because some of the transactions in the behavior are linguistic and historical ("remember what your mother told you, don't cross the street without looking both ways").

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  • @Gus Andrews
    Look, I don't mean to go Godwin's Law here, but there's a very good reason, historically (and not just rhetorically), why genetic determinism is equated with fascism: Nazi scientists also believed that biology was destiny. It is worth not forgetting this, and remembering the implications that any "science" which assumes biological determinism can have for our understandings of culture and free will.

    And calling Scroggins a "creationist" is also just rhetorical trolling on your part, speaking of logical failures. (I should note that Scroggins and I are colleagues, and I'm pretty familiar with how he thinks.) Just because he does not buy into genetic determinism doesn't mean he dismisses science as a means of understanding the universe. We don't operate in a binary of science and religion. Scroggins's critique of genetic science here is that it has a very poor model for conceptualizing what "culture" is. Its model is not based on empirical observations of culture. In fact, it's a bit of a fallacy to lump Scroggins in with the cultural anthropologists you seem to be thinking of.

    Scroggins and many of our other colleagues colleagues work off of Harold Garfinkel, who was 1) a sociologist, not an anthropologist per se; 2) had a critique of mainstream sociology as defining its cultural terms apart from empirical observation of how individuals negotiate culture -- how they make sense of others' behavior -- on the ground (Garfinkel's critique resonates with scientists who look down on sociology as a "weak science"); and 3) understood culture as the accretion of human understanding generated by individuals as they navigate through their environments and interactions with others. God is not in this picture at all. This model actually attempts to be more empirical than most social research. You might familiarize yourself with it before you tar Scroggins with a creationist brush.

    1) the only people who believe in ‘genetic determinism’ in the way you people characterize it are people in your own imaginations.

    2) frankly, what the fuck are you talking about? i don’t care what you or scroggins believe about culture or society. he spent paragraph after paragraph talking about genes. whereof one speaks, one is enjoined to know of what one speaks of. i don’t see that there.

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    • Replies: @Gus Andrews
    redcated?
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  • @tonywaters
    I see why you want to separate population genetics from evolutionary psych, but still don't see why those who disagree with you merit a political label like "leftist," or a theological one like "creationist." Correlation does not imply causation in this case.

    i assume he’s a leftist because almost all anthropologists are on the left. is my stereotype false in this case? (i can name a few on one hand in anthropology who are not center left to left). as for the creationism charge, creationists don’t even understand the science which they reject. similarly, with ppl like your friend.

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    • Replies: @tonywaters
    Polls show that universities voted for Obama, and I assume that that applies to Anthro, too. If that's "leftist" ok. But the correlation still does not explain how such voting patterns are relevant to understandings in genetics.


    I still don't get the creationist charge. And plenty of scientists I know have a good understanding of genetics. Have your read Jonathan Marks' book "What it Means to be 98% Chimpanzee?"

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  • @toto
    Actually what would justify the "creationist" label is that if you look carefully, MS' reasoning "proves" that evolution is general is impossible. There's nothing specific to human behavior in his argument - you could say the exact same thing about any trait in any complex animal.

    He seems to suggest that, since no single physical gene fully controls any given trait (which is generally true) , then differential transmission of genes cannot predictably alter trait distribution in the population. The most obvious problem is that, even though single physical genes cannot fully control traits, they can certainly influence them (in intensity or probability). That's why we can talk of (and measure) things like additive genetic variance.

    It’s not about evolution being impossible. It’s about it being mitigated by culture.

    What do you mean by a “trait”? I don’t hear you defining that term in any kind of empirically sound way.

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    • Replies: @Karl Zimmerman
    I see two main issues with the argument of genes being mitigated by culture.

    1. Such beliefs in the social sciences usually rest upon humans being different in some ineffable way from other living beings. Said social scientists do not argue, for example, that animal "culture" plays just as much of a role mitigating behavior as human culture. Few argue that animals are unconscious automatons anymore, but they still act as if animal instinct is essentially inescapable, while human instinct only exists around basic drives like hunger and the avoidance of pain.

    2. Culture can be seen as an "extended phenotype" which is determined by gene interactions across a large population - sort of the same way that a beaver's dam is part of the extended phenotype of a beaver. In this sense, all culture is ultimately genetic, even if genes do not in any way code for differences between cultures.

    While I wouldn't go as far as Razib in calling the original argument creationist, I do think it's sophistry. The argument given is based upon rhetoric and logic, but not an understanding of actual empirical knowledge regarding genetics.

    , @toto
    That's not what he wrote.

    First, he strawmans sociobiologists as believing in a "one-to-one" correspondence between single physical genes and behavioral traits (note the conspicuous absence of citation).

    Then he suggests that, because this correspondence doesn't exist, evolution (i.e. change in trait frequency caused by differential reproduction of trait bearers) is implausible on its face. That's the non-sequitur.

    Again, you can say the exact same thing about evolution of physical traits, since the "one-to-one" correspondence also fails to hold for them.

    What do you mean by a "trait"?

    The same thing as everybody else - pretty much anything that can be measured. Would you mind spending a couple minutes googling elementary terms? I suggest starting with "heritability".

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Razib Khan
    evolutionary psychology elicits sneers from the left (and more rarely, from the right) for ideological reasons. but, there are real scientific and methodological objections to the field, which pushes the paradigmatic envelope. this is not the case with population genetics. population genetics is a foundational part of modern evolutionary and conservation biology. it would be like dismissing calculus while praising mathematical physics.

    Look, I don’t mean to go Godwin’s Law here, but there’s a very good reason, historically (and not just rhetorically), why genetic determinism is equated with fascism: Nazi scientists also believed that biology was destiny. It is worth not forgetting this, and remembering the implications that any “science” which assumes biological determinism can have for our understandings of culture and free will.

    And calling Scroggins a “creationist” is also just rhetorical trolling on your part, speaking of logical failures. (I should note that Scroggins and I are colleagues, and I’m pretty familiar with how he thinks.) Just because he does not buy into genetic determinism doesn’t mean he dismisses science as a means of understanding the universe. We don’t operate in a binary of science and religion. Scroggins’s critique of genetic science here is that it has a very poor model for conceptualizing what “culture” is. Its model is not based on empirical observations of culture. In fact, it’s a bit of a fallacy to lump Scroggins in with the cultural anthropologists you seem to be thinking of.

    Scroggins and many of our other colleagues colleagues work off of Harold Garfinkel, who was 1) a sociologist, not an anthropologist per se; 2) had a critique of mainstream sociology as defining its cultural terms apart from empirical observation of how individuals negotiate culture — how they make sense of others’ behavior — on the ground (Garfinkel’s critique resonates with scientists who look down on sociology as a “weak science”); and 3) understood culture as the accretion of human understanding generated by individuals as they navigate through their environments and interactions with others. God is not in this picture at all. This model actually attempts to be more empirical than most social research. You might familiarize yourself with it before you tar Scroggins with a creationist brush.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    1) the only people who believe in 'genetic determinism' in the way you people characterize it are people in your own imaginations.


    2) frankly, what the fuck are you talking about? i don't care what you or scroggins believe about culture or society. he spent paragraph after paragraph talking about genes. whereof one speaks, one is enjoined to know of what one speaks of. i don't see that there.

    , @Dmitry Pruss
    Could you expound on how this empirical approach to sociology works? Does this empiricism mean that whatever factors affect the empirical outcomes (for example environments and interactions you mention) must be labelled "mere rhetorical topic" if the cause-and-effect isn't strictly one-to-one correspondence without any fuzziness (borrowing the words used by Scroggins with respect to genes)? Regardless of whether the underlying mechanisms of the casual relations are clear, and the effects, quantifiable?

    If it is true, then he should, in the same vein, dismiss his whole field of study as "empty thetoric".

    , @Robert Ford
    Michael's post indicates that he's totally unfamiliar with behavior genetics, pop. genetics and their implications and, if he were, he wouldn't have written that post. It is also worded in the exact same fashion an Intelligent Design advocate would use: vague, uninformed and incomplete. It's the classic "See? Science can't explain everything, so this backs [whatever I believe in.]" You guys don't like genetic reductionism to explain culture yet do an entirely one-sided job when trying to explain/analyze culture using your own "methods." We're not stupid, we can see what is taught in AN/SO courses and it doesn't jibe with current behavior genetics and actually *dismisses* it condescendingly. Next come the racism inferences (like you just did) and finally, you typically offer some left wing lesson for students that just happens to always downplay genes and direct blame on whites/imperialists, etc. I work directly with AN/SO majors so I know exactly what the deal is. Just because people don't say it to your face doesn't mean we don't know what your MO is.

    AN/SO people should be *embracing* genetics research in an *honest* way to augment their research. That's the only way to be legit at all! Where did culture arise from in the first place?

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @tonywaters
    What is "left" or "creationist" about bracketing Population Genetics with Socio-biology of Evolutionary Psych? I don't follow your reasoning in the last paragraph.

    Actually what would justify the “creationist” label is that if you look carefully, MS’ reasoning “proves” that evolution is general is impossible. There’s nothing specific to human behavior in his argument – you could say the exact same thing about any trait in any complex animal.

    He seems to suggest that, since no single physical gene fully controls any given trait (which is generally true) , then differential transmission of genes cannot predictably alter trait distribution in the population. The most obvious problem is that, even though single physical genes cannot fully control traits, they can certainly influence them (in intensity or probability). That’s why we can talk of (and measure) things like additive genetic variance.

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    • Replies: @Gus Andrews
    It's not about evolution being impossible. It's about it being mitigated by culture.


    What do you mean by a "trait"? I don't hear you defining that term in any kind of empirically sound way.

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  • It’s fun to watch people like this. They’re so ignorant of how far the bar has been raised that they think “analysis” like this actually qualifies as doing something. Michael should take 10 seconds to glance at the relevant Wikipedia page before writing something like this. Michael Scroggins: slated for an appearance in Zeitgeist 7!

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  • I thought Diamond had been accused of being an environmental determinist after GG&S. Maybe he’s a genes+environment determinist. Well, that’s not so bad…

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  • @Razib Khan
    evolutionary psychology elicits sneers from the left (and more rarely, from the right) for ideological reasons. but, there are real scientific and methodological objections to the field, which pushes the paradigmatic envelope. this is not the case with population genetics. population genetics is a foundational part of modern evolutionary and conservation biology. it would be like dismissing calculus while praising mathematical physics.

    I see why you want to separate population genetics from evolutionary psych, but still don’t see why those who disagree with you merit a political label like “leftist,” or a theological one like “creationist.” Correlation does not imply causation in this case.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    i assume he's a leftist because almost all anthropologists are on the left. is my stereotype false in this case? (i can name a few on one hand in anthropology who are not center left to left). as for the creationism charge, creationists don't even understand the science which they reject. similarly, with ppl like your friend.
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  • @tonywaters
    What is "left" or "creationist" about bracketing Population Genetics with Socio-biology of Evolutionary Psych? I don't follow your reasoning in the last paragraph.

    evolutionary psychology elicits sneers from the left (and more rarely, from the right) for ideological reasons. but, there are real scientific and methodological objections to the field, which pushes the paradigmatic envelope. this is not the case with population genetics. population genetics is a foundational part of modern evolutionary and conservation biology. it would be like dismissing calculus while praising mathematical physics.

    Read More
    • Replies: @tonywaters
    I see why you want to separate population genetics from evolutionary psych, but still don't see why those who disagree with you merit a political label like "leftist," or a theological one like "creationist." Correlation does not imply causation in this case.
    , @Gus Andrews
    Look, I don't mean to go Godwin's Law here, but there's a very good reason, historically (and not just rhetorically), why genetic determinism is equated with fascism: Nazi scientists also believed that biology was destiny. It is worth not forgetting this, and remembering the implications that any "science" which assumes biological determinism can have for our understandings of culture and free will.

    And calling Scroggins a "creationist" is also just rhetorical trolling on your part, speaking of logical failures. (I should note that Scroggins and I are colleagues, and I'm pretty familiar with how he thinks.) Just because he does not buy into genetic determinism doesn't mean he dismisses science as a means of understanding the universe. We don't operate in a binary of science and religion. Scroggins's critique of genetic science here is that it has a very poor model for conceptualizing what "culture" is. Its model is not based on empirical observations of culture. In fact, it's a bit of a fallacy to lump Scroggins in with the cultural anthropologists you seem to be thinking of.

    Scroggins and many of our other colleagues colleagues work off of Harold Garfinkel, who was 1) a sociologist, not an anthropologist per se; 2) had a critique of mainstream sociology as defining its cultural terms apart from empirical observation of how individuals negotiate culture -- how they make sense of others' behavior -- on the ground (Garfinkel's critique resonates with scientists who look down on sociology as a "weak science"); and 3) understood culture as the accretion of human understanding generated by individuals as they navigate through their environments and interactions with others. God is not in this picture at all. This model actually attempts to be more empirical than most social research. You might familiarize yourself with it before you tar Scroggins with a creationist brush.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • What is “left” or “creationist” about bracketing Population Genetics with Socio-biology of Evolutionary Psych? I don’t follow your reasoning in the last paragraph.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    evolutionary psychology elicits sneers from the left (and more rarely, from the right) for ideological reasons. but, there are real scientific and methodological objections to the field, which pushes the paradigmatic envelope. this is not the case with population genetics. population genetics is a foundational part of modern evolutionary and conservation biology. it would be like dismissing calculus while praising mathematical physics.
    , @toto
    Actually what would justify the "creationist" label is that if you look carefully, MS' reasoning "proves" that evolution is general is impossible. There's nothing specific to human behavior in his argument - you could say the exact same thing about any trait in any complex animal.

    He seems to suggest that, since no single physical gene fully controls any given trait (which is generally true) , then differential transmission of genes cannot predictably alter trait distribution in the population. The most obvious problem is that, even though single physical genes cannot fully control traits, they can certainly influence them (in intensity or probability). That's why we can talk of (and measure) things like additive genetic variance.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • Just pre-ordered a Kindle Edition of Napoleon Chagnon's new book Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes -- the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists. I didn't even know this was coming out next week, but The New York Times Magazine has a piece up, The Indiana Jones of Anthropology, which chronicles the controversial the life...
  • @Al West
    Chagnon produced one of most jarring introductory ethnographic monographs out there. It is well worth reading, especially at undergraduate level, and it complements the other literature on the Yanomami (Jacques Lizot, etc) nicely. It's a great shame that it has been wrapped up in this ridiculous farrago.

    Jane Hill, by the way, assuming I've got the right Jane Hill, has produced some excellent work on placing the Uto-Aztecan homeland. She espouses the view that proto-Uto-Aztecan was spoken by farmers or horticulturalists, rather than the nomadic foraging Chichimecs they were assumed to be. She has defended the view well, although it doesn't appear to be settled (IANA Uto-Aztecan specialist, although I'm reasonably familiar with the primary literature). Not a kook by any measure. That *is* a very troubling quote, however. Perhaps a better academic than an association president.

    Jacques Lizot — I’m fascinated with why Chagnon is the controversial researcher into the Yanomami, while so little attention is paid to Lizot. Yet, when I read about Lizot’s activities with the Yanomami, the name “Jerry Sandusky” leaps to mind.

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  • Note: An update on this post. I want to be clear that I think Jared Diamond is wrong on a lot of details, and many cultural anthropologists are rightly calling him out on that. But, they do a disservice to their message by politicizing their critique, and ascribing malevolence to all those who disagree with...
  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    On February 4 2013 Jared Diamond was interviewed on BBC TV about his new book ‘The World Until Yesterday’. He would not agree to a Survival International representative being there to debate his points.

    During the interview, he addressed my critique, claiming that Survival’s policies rest on ‘falsehoods’, and that the universal finding is that violence almost always decreases when there’s European contact of ‘traditional’ societies.

    Please visit http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/8980 to see more of Mr Diamond’s claims, and Survival’s response to them.

    For the original article ‘Why Jared Diamond is Wrong’ see: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/01/30/savaging-primitives-why-jared-diamond-s-the-world-until-yesterday-is-completely-wrong.html

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  • Just pre-ordered a Kindle Edition of Napoleon Chagnon's new book Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes -- the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists. I didn't even know this was coming out next week, but The New York Times Magazine has a piece up, The Indiana Jones of Anthropology, which chronicles the controversial the life...
  • Patrick Tierney was a bad card for cultural anthropologists to play against their Darwinian nemeses.

    Oddly, there has been much less sound and fury over Paul Shankman’s ‘The Trashing of Margaret Mead’. Derek Freeman has long been a key figure in the sociobiologist critique of anthropology, but Freeman’s case against Mead now appears to have been shoddy itself.

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  • Chagnon produced one of most jarring introductory ethnographic monographs out there. It is well worth reading, especially at undergraduate level, and it complements the other literature on the Yanomami (Jacques Lizot, etc) nicely. It’s a great shame that it has been wrapped up in this ridiculous farrago.

    Jane Hill, by the way, assuming I’ve got the right Jane Hill, has produced some excellent work on placing the Uto-Aztecan homeland. She espouses the view that proto-Uto-Aztecan was spoken by farmers or horticulturalists, rather than the nomadic foraging Chichimecs they were assumed to be. She has defended the view well, although it doesn’t appear to be settled (IANA Uto-Aztecan specialist, although I’m reasonably familiar with the primary literature). Not a kook by any measure. That *is* a very troubling quote, however. Perhaps a better academic than an association president.

    Read More
    • Replies: @stevesailer
    Jacques Lizot -- I'm fascinated with why Chagnon is the controversial researcher into the Yanomami, while so little attention is paid to Lizot. Yet, when I read about Lizot's activities with the Yanomami, the name "Jerry Sandusky" leaps to mind.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • I first became aware of him in “Secrets of the Tribe” which is a documentary about all of his arguments and conflicts over the years. I don’t remember it well but I also don’t remember it being a very good movie. I was more interested in his research and it was all about his social life.

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  • My post below on Jared Diamond and his cultural anthropological critics has attracted a fair amount of attention (e.g., see the Twitter re-tweets of the post). But first I'd like to admit that I think it was wrong in its specific thrust. Though I've seen Stephen Corry of Survival International referred to as an anthropologist,...
  • @Razib Khan
    "But that said, we're back to a better place - where we're more critical about our data, but are less likely to get involved in epistemological hand wringing about representation."

    that is not my impression. can you recommend a cultural anthropology textbook of recent vintage which accurately reflects the contemporary state of affairs?

    Carrol Delaney’s Investigating Culture is pretty good. And if you want to read a good recent ethnography, I’d recommend Karen Ho’s Liquidated, which is her study of Wall Street investment bankers – looking at how the rise of financialization in the 80s was spurred by a new model of the market, how investment banks socialize employees to think in terms of this model, and the kinds of decision making it promotes (i.e. prioritizing short term benefits over long term performance, being willing to engage in risky behavior because you’re encouraged to think of yourself as brilliant, etc.) Its also a good example of research on a politically charged topic – she basically explains why the financial crisis happened – that doesn’t have any particular political axe to grind.

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  • @Karl Zimmerman
    Yes, but in the end, the colonization of academia by the New Left was a chump move. It surrounded them with like minded peers, and kept them away from the actual working class who could potentially be persuaded.


    The effect on even those who go to college has likely been minimal as well. People accept political ideals of the professorial cadre only if they see themselves as future academics themselves. If they don't see their professors as elders they need to ingratiate, they see them as a hoop they need to jump through to reach their final goal.


    But it fit the paradigm of the day - that young minds were somehow uniquely impressionable, and that you could have more influence shaping a 18-year old into their adult self than if you worked with a 30-year old. Totally wrong, but understandable I guess.

    Karl,

    I think the effectiveness of the New Left’s effort to propagandize students is a separate issue from the fact that it deliberately chose to take over higher education to do so. Your joke falls flat because you obviously don’t need a conspiracy to explain it.

    But I also think you sell short the New Left’s other successes. Some of its members did in fact go into politics and NGOs. McGovern’s political coalition in 1972, for example, was the first foray of what would eventually be a successful takeover of the Democratic Party. Obama’s coalition today is remarkably similar to McGovern’s coalition of the early seventies.

    Why didn’t the New Left go into the labor movement? Probably because its early relationship with labor was always fraught with difficulty for the simple reason that many in the white working class were racists at the time. In some cases so were their unions. (Many labor unions and their blue collar members disassociated themselves from McGovern’s campaign in 1972.) The New Left identified more strongly with the Civil Rights movement, and later with the environmental movement, than with labor rights.

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  • @Justaguy
    A few things. I disagree that anthropology doesn't have a subject, only a method. We study human culture. That's a subject, albeit a very broad one. And, sure, there is definitely less of a focus on small scale societies. But, I don't see how you can say asking the same questions of large scale societies that you do of small scale ones is somehow a bad thing. Or even a different category of study - Wall Street investment bankers are in a very different cultural and institutional environment than the Kung!, are organized on a larger scale, have more technology, resources, etc.. But at the end of the day, its all people acting within social contexts. And I do my research among management of multimillion dollar companies, but I see the same sorts of thing you see in smale scale societies. Maybe we've erred by putting too much focus on the other extreem, but it is still a related set of inquiries.

    Yes, I agree that we need to look at kinship more, and that there is a lot of good kinship literature which is sadly neglected. My advisor made me read a lot of earlier kinship studies (kicking and screaming at first), and you can see that someone like James Watson looks at diaspora, globalization, the intersection of legal regimes with gender and ideas of tradition, etc. that became hot topics starting in the 80s, but he gets neglected because he doesn't use the same sexy theoretical lingo. And while there were problems with the literature overall, its a shame people don't look at it more. That said, I'd hate to go back to the day where 80% of anthropology was kinship.

    And I think we're heading back there. An anthropologist I know took the last graduate seminar taught by David Schneider. It was on kinship, and two people signed up. He took that as his cue to retire, saying he wanted to cut kinship down to size, but not get rid of it entirely. But there's starting to be a renewed interest in the subject, and when a kinship seminar was offered a few years ago (the first in a decade) it was packed.

    I'm less convinced that most anthropology is based on political commitments, or that research that is based on political commitments is inherently bad. Most of the grad students I know are not working on topics that they have a strong political stake in - I know I'm not. But research should be judged on its accuracy, not its motives.

    I use positivist to refer to research which is too ambitious in its conclusions and does not take the situated nature of ethnographic observation into account. I think the disagreement is largely one of literary style - you can't read Evans Prichard and not see an awareness of the colonial context in the Nuer, he just doesn't foreground it as much. And some Post Modernism went way to far in the other direction. But that said, we're back to a better place - where we're more critical about our data, but are less likely to get involved in epistemological hand wringing about representation.

    But, I don't know how you can say we're no longer interested in answering questions about humans. What else are we doing?

    “But that said, we’re back to a better place – where we’re more critical about our data, but are less likely to get involved in epistemological hand wringing about representation.”

    that is not my impression. can you recommend a cultural anthropology textbook of recent vintage which accurately reflects the contemporary state of affairs?

    Read More
    • Replies: @Justaguy
    Carrol Delaney's Investigating Culture is pretty good. And if you want to read a good recent ethnography, I'd recommend Karen Ho's Liquidated, which is her study of Wall Street investment bankers – looking at how the rise of financialization in the 80s was spurred by a new model of the market, how investment banks socialize employees to think in terms of this model, and the kinds of decision making it promotes (i.e. prioritizing short term benefits over long term performance, being willing to engage in risky behavior because you're encouraged to think of yourself as brilliant, etc.) Its also a good example of research on a politically charged topic – she basically explains why the financial crisis happened – that doesn't have any particular political axe to grind.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Al West
    I agree that the continental theory is used primarily by academics who produce 'bad anthropology', and I know a great many fantastic scholars in anthropology departments. The problem isn't necessarily with anthropology itself. But there are some very obvious problems with it. Unlike other disciplines, which focus on subjects (like the study of life or the earth or the physical properties of the universe), anthropology focuses on its method. If you study for a graduate degree in anthropology, you have to do fieldwork, very often in a society that has already been well-documented by other researchers.


    The idea of the method as central, as opposed to certain subject matter, is part of the problem. It means that the original focus of the discipline, on non-industrial, non-state, and/or non-literate societies (which is, by the way, still a valid academic concern, largely un-addressed by other disciplines), has been left by the wayside in order to focus on prescriptive assessments of modern-day life. Instead of finding out more about prehistory or the odd and interesting things people get up to, anthropology has actually become more present-focused and, frankly, ethnocentric, in attempting to tie all research to problems with neoliberalism or militarism or some other perceived conservative ideology. The original focus of anthropology is now a minority position. It is now possible to study for a graduate degree in anthropology and be in a minority in attempting to find out about lesser-known societies around the world (instead of researching cycling in Amsterdam in order to critique the highway system of LA, for instance).


    Take a look at the topic of kinship. Once, that was an important part of anthropology, because it was clear that kin relationships were much more important in structuring society in non-state situations than in state ones (usually). Later anthropologists seem to think that earlier research on kinship was blind to the idea that other principles are at work in structuring non-state societies, beyond allegiance on the basis of blood relationships, but in fact, by the 1950s, theories of kinship-based social structures had managed to avoid all of the pitfalls focused on by post-1980s anthropologists, and if you read articles on the topic by Darryl Forde, Clark Cunningham, or any number of other anthropologists from the pre-80s era, you'll see just how highly-developed and nuanced it was. Kinship-based social structural theory had developed to a high degree of precision, and it was really only found in one discipline: social/cultural anthropology.


    Today, you won't find any formal studies of kinship-based social structure on anthropology courses - certainly not as a principal component. Very often, lectures on the topic are optional, as they were at Oxford. It was, and is, possible to study for an entire degree in anthropology without learning even a little about kinship diagrams.


    That would be find if there were a good reason for it, or if it was all completely wrong. But actually, it wasn't wrong at all, and now the only people with a good understanding of pre-state social structure are the few anthropologists and archaeologists who keep the flame alive by studying it on their own and specialising in it. The purpose of the discipline has been lost, such that instead of focusing on these important, interesting topics that really open up the history, prehistory, and proclivities of humankind, anthropologists now spend their time on prescriptive studies that take their method, rather than any particular subject matter, as the centre.


    The lack of interest in finding answers to problems in human diversity, history, and prehistory has meant that the cognitive sciences - clearly the way forward in understanding human beings - are neglected or even seen as an enemy of anthropology. There is real enmity there in some quarters.


    Beware of using the word 'positivist'. It doesn't really mean anything. When anthropologists refer to the pre-postmodern era as 'positivistic', what they mean is that anthropologists before then actually tried to answer questions about humans, and actually believed that answers were possible. There was absolutely nothing necessary or worthwhile about the postmodern movement in anthropology, and it merely served to set real anthropological theory back a few decades (even into a still-continuing dark age).

    A few things. I disagree that anthropology doesn’t have a subject, only a method. We study human culture. That’s a subject, albeit a very broad one. And, sure, there is definitely less of a focus on small scale societies. But, I don’t see how you can say asking the same questions of large scale societies that you do of small scale ones is somehow a bad thing. Or even a different category of study – Wall Street investment bankers are in a very different cultural and institutional environment than the Kung!, are organized on a larger scale, have more technology, resources, etc.. But at the end of the day, its all people acting within social contexts. And I do my research among management of multimillion dollar companies, but I see the same sorts of thing you see in smale scale societies. Maybe we’ve erred by putting too much focus on the other extreem, but it is still a related set of inquiries.

    Yes, I agree that we need to look at kinship more, and that there is a lot of good kinship literature which is sadly neglected. My advisor made me read a lot of earlier kinship studies (kicking and screaming at first), and you can see that someone like James Watson looks at diaspora, globalization, the intersection of legal regimes with gender and ideas of tradition, etc. that became hot topics starting in the 80s, but he gets neglected because he doesn’t use the same sexy theoretical lingo. And while there were problems with the literature overall, its a shame people don’t look at it more. That said, I’d hate to go back to the day where 80% of anthropology was kinship.

    And I think we’re heading back there. An anthropologist I know took the last graduate seminar taught by David Schneider. It was on kinship, and two people signed up. He took that as his cue to retire, saying he wanted to cut kinship down to size, but not get rid of it entirely. But there’s starting to be a renewed interest in the subject, and when a kinship seminar was offered a few years ago (the first in a decade) it was packed.

    I’m less convinced that most anthropology is based on political commitments, or that research that is based on political commitments is inherently bad. Most of the grad students I know are not working on topics that they have a strong political stake in – I know I’m not. But research should be judged on its accuracy, not its motives.

    I use positivist to refer to research which is too ambitious in its conclusions and does not take the situated nature of ethnographic observation into account. I think the disagreement is largely one of literary style – you can’t read Evans Prichard and not see an awareness of the colonial context in the Nuer, he just doesn’t foreground it as much. And some Post Modernism went way to far in the other direction. But that said, we’re back to a better place – where we’re more critical about our data, but are less likely to get involved in epistemological hand wringing about representation.

    But, I don’t know how you can say we’re no longer interested in answering questions about humans. What else are we doing?

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    "But that said, we're back to a better place - where we're more critical about our data, but are less likely to get involved in epistemological hand wringing about representation."

    that is not my impression. can you recommend a cultural anthropology textbook of recent vintage which accurately reflects the contemporary state of affairs?

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Pincher Martin
    Why posit a conspiracy? Read the Port Huron Statement It was always the New Left's goal to take over the university and use education to change social attitudes.

    Yes, but in the end, the colonization of academia by the New Left was a chump move. It surrounded them with like minded peers, and kept them away from the actual working class who could potentially be persuaded.

    The effect on even those who go to college has likely been minimal as well. People accept political ideals of the professorial cadre only if they see themselves as future academics themselves. If they don’t see their professors as elders they need to ingratiate, they see them as a hoop they need to jump through to reach their final goal.

    But it fit the paradigm of the day – that young minds were somehow uniquely impressionable, and that you could have more influence shaping a 18-year old into their adult self than if you worked with a 30-year old. Totally wrong, but understandable I guess.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Pincher Martin
    Karl,


    I think the effectiveness of the New Left's effort to propagandize students is a separate issue from the fact that it deliberately chose to take over higher education to do so. Your joke falls flat because you obviously don't need a conspiracy to explain it.

    But I also think you sell short the New Left's other successes. Some of its members did in fact go into politics and NGOs. McGovern's political coalition in 1972, for example, was the first foray of what would eventually be a successful takeover of the Democratic Party. Obama's coalition today is remarkably similar to McGovern's coalition of the early seventies.

    Why didn't the New Left go into the labor movement? Probably because its early relationship with labor was always fraught with difficulty for the simple reason that many in the white working class were racists at the time. In some cases so were their unions. (Many labor unions and their blue collar members disassociated themselves from McGovern's campaign in 1972.) The New Left identified more strongly with the Civil Rights movement, and later with the environmental movement, than with labor rights.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Razib Khan
    as you noted above your disagreement above isn't too fruitful, because your interlocutor doesn't take you seriously a priori. my point in the post wasn't to make an argument, and as i made clear to some long time readers *I DON'T GIVE A SHIT AT ALL IF THEY AREN'T PERSUADED* if they don't know what i'm talking about, they don't. at the end of the day, they read me, i don't read them. those who recognize the validity of my critique recognize it, and i am simply clarifying and amplifying. ultimately this isn't a genteel intellectual discussion. it's a culture war, and i want 'my side' to understand who and what they're up against.


    if modern american cultural anthropology was more methodologically plural this wouldn't be an issue. but for various reasons of the way academic politics works that's just not a viable stable long term situation. kind of like how 'heterodox economics' has a very hard time in american economics departments, as everyone needs to speak in the same currency, so they go mainstream.

    I remember a funny story one of my professors told me when I was getting my graduate degree. She was asked to review a dissertation. Someone else on the committee, in complete seriousness, said “I’m outside the field, and I understand every single word, so this must be bad.”

    Obviously my professor, despite being on the left, clearly understood the sickness in the heart of much of Academia.

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  • @Charles Nydorf
    This isn't a simple left-right issue. The early deconstructionists were allied to fascism; Paul DeMan is a noted example. L. L. Cavalli-Sforza was a leftist.

    But left-right isn’t a simple issue, especially regarding fascism. I was thinking of Mussolini’s “Corporatism” and just found this: http://www.alternativeright.com/main/blogs/untimely-observations/when-fascism-was-on-the-left/

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  • I agree that the continental theory is used primarily by academics who produce ‘bad anthropology’, and I know a great many fantastic scholars in anthropology departments. The problem isn’t necessarily with anthropology itself. But there are some very obvious problems with it. Unlike other disciplines, which focus on subjects (like the study of life or the earth or the physical properties of the universe), anthropology focuses on its method. If you study for a graduate degree in anthropology, you have to do fieldwork, very often in a society that has already been well-documented by other researchers.

    The idea of the method as central, as opposed to certain subject matter, is part of the problem. It means that the original focus of the discipline, on non-industrial, non-state, and/or non-literate societies (which is, by the way, still a valid academic concern, largely un-addressed by other disciplines), has been left by the wayside in order to focus on prescriptive assessments of modern-day life. Instead of finding out more about prehistory or the odd and interesting things people get up to, anthropology has actually become more present-focused and, frankly, ethnocentric, in attempting to tie all research to problems with neoliberalism or militarism or some other perceived conservative ideology. The original focus of anthropology is now a minority position. It is now possible to study for a graduate degree in anthropology and be in a minority in attempting to find out about lesser-known societies around the world (instead of researching cycling in Amsterdam in order to critique the highway system of LA, for instance).

    Take a look at the topic of kinship. Once, that was an important part of anthropology, because it was clear that kin relationships were much more important in structuring society in non-state situations than in state ones (usually). Later anthropologists seem to think that earlier research on kinship was blind to the idea that other principles are at work in structuring non-state societies, beyond allegiance on the basis of blood relationships, but in fact, by the 1950s, theories of kinship-based social structures had managed to avoid all of the pitfalls focused on by post-1980s anthropologists, and if you read articles on the topic by Darryl Forde, Clark Cunningham, or any number of other anthropologists from the pre-80s era, you’ll see just how highly-developed and nuanced it was. Kinship-based social structural theory had developed to a high degree of precision, and it was really only found in one discipline: social/cultural anthropology.

    Today, you won’t find any formal studies of kinship-based social structure on anthropology courses – certainly not as a principal component. Very often, lectures on the topic are optional, as they were at Oxford. It was, and is, possible to study for an entire degree in anthropology without learning even a little about kinship diagrams.

    That would be find if there were a good reason for it, or if it was all completely wrong. But actually, it wasn’t wrong at all, and now the only people with a good understanding of pre-state social structure are the few anthropologists and archaeologists who keep the flame alive by studying it on their own and specialising in it. The purpose of the discipline has been lost, such that instead of focusing on these important, interesting topics that really open up the history, prehistory, and proclivities of humankind, anthropologists now spend their time on prescriptive studies that take their method, rather than any particular subject matter, as the centre.

    The lack of interest in finding answers to problems in human diversity, history, and prehistory has meant that the cognitive sciences – clearly the way forward in understanding human beings – are neglected or even seen as an enemy of anthropology. There is real enmity there in some quarters.

    Beware of using the word ‘positivist’. It doesn’t really mean anything. When anthropologists refer to the pre-postmodern era as ‘positivistic’, what they mean is that anthropologists before then actually tried to answer questions about humans, and actually believed that answers were possible. There was absolutely nothing necessary or worthwhile about the postmodern movement in anthropology, and it merely served to set real anthropological theory back a few decades (even into a still-continuing dark age).

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    • Replies: @Justaguy
    A few things. I disagree that anthropology doesn't have a subject, only a method. We study human culture. That's a subject, albeit a very broad one. And, sure, there is definitely less of a focus on small scale societies. But, I don't see how you can say asking the same questions of large scale societies that you do of small scale ones is somehow a bad thing. Or even a different category of study - Wall Street investment bankers are in a very different cultural and institutional environment than the Kung!, are organized on a larger scale, have more technology, resources, etc.. But at the end of the day, its all people acting within social contexts. And I do my research among management of multimillion dollar companies, but I see the same sorts of thing you see in smale scale societies. Maybe we've erred by putting too much focus on the other extreem, but it is still a related set of inquiries.

    Yes, I agree that we need to look at kinship more, and that there is a lot of good kinship literature which is sadly neglected. My advisor made me read a lot of earlier kinship studies (kicking and screaming at first), and you can see that someone like James Watson looks at diaspora, globalization, the intersection of legal regimes with gender and ideas of tradition, etc. that became hot topics starting in the 80s, but he gets neglected because he doesn't use the same sexy theoretical lingo. And while there were problems with the literature overall, its a shame people don't look at it more. That said, I'd hate to go back to the day where 80% of anthropology was kinship.

    And I think we're heading back there. An anthropologist I know took the last graduate seminar taught by David Schneider. It was on kinship, and two people signed up. He took that as his cue to retire, saying he wanted to cut kinship down to size, but not get rid of it entirely. But there's starting to be a renewed interest in the subject, and when a kinship seminar was offered a few years ago (the first in a decade) it was packed.

    I'm less convinced that most anthropology is based on political commitments, or that research that is based on political commitments is inherently bad. Most of the grad students I know are not working on topics that they have a strong political stake in - I know I'm not. But research should be judged on its accuracy, not its motives.

    I use positivist to refer to research which is too ambitious in its conclusions and does not take the situated nature of ethnographic observation into account. I think the disagreement is largely one of literary style - you can't read Evans Prichard and not see an awareness of the colonial context in the Nuer, he just doesn't foreground it as much. And some Post Modernism went way to far in the other direction. But that said, we're back to a better place - where we're more critical about our data, but are less likely to get involved in epistemological hand wringing about representation.

    But, I don't know how you can say we're no longer interested in answering questions about humans. What else are we doing?

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  • @Justaguy
    Oh, but to more directly respond to the don't waste your time arguing with people on the internet who have already decided everything you could possibly say is wrong point. Sure, that is a waste of time. But I was actually hoping you would respond with a substantive critique of anthropology which would challenge me to reassess what I'm doing. I don't know anything of your background, and assumed that being on the discovery
    website means you have some significant background in genetics, and know what you're talking about in at least that field of research. You claim to be interested in culture from that perspective, and I'm genuinely interested in what that would look like, and how that could change the way I do my work.

    I'm open to the prospect that there are better ways to study the subjects I research, that I'm prey to unexamined biases which influence my work, or that there are glaring mistakes in what I do which my colleagues miss because they make the same mistakes. Which is to say that I know I am human – you can't study the naturalization of arbitrary ideologies among other social groups without suspecting your own community does the same thing. There's no way to know you're not suffering from groupthink, but the best you can do is to seek out substantive critiques from people who disagree with you and honestly consider them.

    So, when I was asking for concrete examples of anthropology's politicization which weren't standard practice in other sciences, suggestions of how anthropological research methods could be improved, or criticism based on specific points and not vague generalizations, I wasn't picking a fight, I was hoping for a substantive response that would challenge me to reexamine my assumptions. And so when I say you don't know what you're talking about, its in a tone of disappointment, not self-righteousness. Good critics keep you honest. Silly people talking nonsense on the internet, on the other hand, aren't very interesting...

    Anyway, I wish you the best of luck in your culture war.

    s, suggestions of how anthropological research methods could be improved,

    i already made that clear by implication, but:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2006/01/nature-culture-the-revival-of-the-naturalistic-paradigm/#.URdHNj7zsUQ

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  • @Razib Khan
    as you noted above your disagreement above isn't too fruitful, because your interlocutor doesn't take you seriously a priori. my point in the post wasn't to make an argument, and as i made clear to some long time readers *I DON'T GIVE A SHIT AT ALL IF THEY AREN'T PERSUADED* if they don't know what i'm talking about, they don't. at the end of the day, they read me, i don't read them. those who recognize the validity of my critique recognize it, and i am simply clarifying and amplifying. ultimately this isn't a genteel intellectual discussion. it's a culture war, and i want 'my side' to understand who and what they're up against.


    if modern american cultural anthropology was more methodologically plural this wouldn't be an issue. but for various reasons of the way academic politics works that's just not a viable stable long term situation. kind of like how 'heterodox economics' has a very hard time in american economics departments, as everyone needs to speak in the same currency, so they go mainstream.

    Oh, but to more directly respond to the don’t waste your time arguing with people on the internet who have already decided everything you could possibly say is wrong point. Sure, that is a waste of time. But I was actually hoping you would respond with a substantive critique of anthropology which would challenge me to reassess what I’m doing. I don’t know anything of your background, and assumed that being on the discovery
    website means you have some significant background in genetics, and know what you’re talking about in at least that field of research. You claim to be interested in culture from that perspective, and I’m genuinely interested in what that would look like, and how that could change the way I do my work.

    I’m open to the prospect that there are better ways to study the subjects I research, that I’m prey to unexamined biases which influence my work, or that there are glaring mistakes in what I do which my colleagues miss because they make the same mistakes. Which is to say that I know I am human – you can’t study the naturalization of arbitrary ideologies among other social groups without suspecting your own community does the same thing. There’s no way to know you’re not suffering from groupthink, but the best you can do is to seek out substantive critiques from people who disagree with you and honestly consider them.

    So, when I was asking for concrete examples of anthropology’s politicization which weren’t standard practice in other sciences, suggestions of how anthropological research methods could be improved, or criticism based on specific points and not vague generalizations, I wasn’t picking a fight, I was hoping for a substantive response that would challenge me to reexamine my assumptions. And so when I say you don’t know what you’re talking about, its in a tone of disappointment, not self-righteousness. Good critics keep you honest. Silly people talking nonsense on the internet, on the other hand, aren’t very interesting…

    Anyway, I wish you the best of luck in your culture war.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    s, suggestions of how anthropological research methods could be improved,

    i already made that clear by implication, but:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2006/01/nature-culture-the-revival-of-the-naturalistic-paradigm/#.URdHNj7zsUQ

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  • @Robert Ford
    You see, that's the problem. The burden of proof is not on me to prove your bullshit wrong. Do you honestly think it's an accident that people make fun of anthropology and not physics? I'm thinking they might be on to something;)

    for all the “great leaps” that physics has made in the past 100 years – it’s easy to make fun of physicists.

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  • oh, and of course there are some cultural anthropologists who are also great story tellers… geertz for example. but that is all they should do. tell stories. stories that make you feel as if you were there.

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  • anthropologists tell good stories – mark twain, charles dickens and fyodor doesteovsky were cultural anthropolgists for example.

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  • @Razib Khan
    as you noted above your disagreement above isn't too fruitful, because your interlocutor doesn't take you seriously a priori. my point in the post wasn't to make an argument, and as i made clear to some long time readers *I DON'T GIVE A SHIT AT ALL IF THEY AREN'T PERSUADED* if they don't know what i'm talking about, they don't. at the end of the day, they read me, i don't read them. those who recognize the validity of my critique recognize it, and i am simply clarifying and amplifying. ultimately this isn't a genteel intellectual discussion. it's a culture war, and i want 'my side' to understand who and what they're up against.


    if modern american cultural anthropology was more methodologically plural this wouldn't be an issue. but for various reasons of the way academic politics works that's just not a viable stable long term situation. kind of like how 'heterodox economics' has a very hard time in american economics departments, as everyone needs to speak in the same currency, so they go mainstream.

    That’s probably the most passionate and principled defense of having no idea what you’re talking about I’ve heard in a while.

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  • @Justaguy
    Also, just to be clarify what I mean when I say that anthropology isn't necessarily liberal. I consider myself to be a Liberal in the classical meaning of the world. I believe that we are all possessed of an inherent human dignity, and that the best political systems are those which respect this dignity by ensuring the protection of fundamental rights, such as freedom of speech, conscience, the right to meaningfully participate in one's own governance, etc..

    Universal rights, human dignity, and related concepts are completely meaningless in anthropological terms. We can study them as cultural phenomena, but there is no abiding human nature outside of what a biologist or geneticist could describe. And there are plenty of critiques of the role that ideals of universalism have played in rationalizing colonialism.

    So, I find a lot of the foundational anthropological understandings of human nature, and of the Western Liberal tradition deeply antithetical to my political views.

    as you noted above your disagreement above isn’t too fruitful, because your interlocutor doesn’t take you seriously a priori. my point in the post wasn’t to make an argument, and as i made clear to some long time readers *I DON’T GIVE A SHIT AT ALL IF THEY AREN’T PERSUADED* if they don’t know what i’m talking about, they don’t. at the end of the day, they read me, i don’t read them. those who recognize the validity of my critique recognize it, and i am simply clarifying and amplifying. ultimately this isn’t a genteel intellectual discussion. it’s a culture war, and i want ‘my side’ to understand who and what they’re up against.

    if modern american cultural anthropology was more methodologically plural this wouldn’t be an issue. but for various reasons of the way academic politics works that’s just not a viable stable long term situation. kind of like how ‘heterodox economics’ has a very hard time in american economics departments, as everyone needs to speak in the same currency, so they go mainstream.

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    • Replies: @Justaguy
    That's probably the most passionate and principled defense of having no idea what you're talking about I've heard in a while.
    , @Justaguy
    Oh, but to more directly respond to the don't waste your time arguing with people on the internet who have already decided everything you could possibly say is wrong point. Sure, that is a waste of time. But I was actually hoping you would respond with a substantive critique of anthropology which would challenge me to reassess what I'm doing. I don't know anything of your background, and assumed that being on the discovery
    website means you have some significant background in genetics, and know what you're talking about in at least that field of research. You claim to be interested in culture from that perspective, and I'm genuinely interested in what that would look like, and how that could change the way I do my work.

    I'm open to the prospect that there are better ways to study the subjects I research, that I'm prey to unexamined biases which influence my work, or that there are glaring mistakes in what I do which my colleagues miss because they make the same mistakes. Which is to say that I know I am human – you can't study the naturalization of arbitrary ideologies among other social groups without suspecting your own community does the same thing. There's no way to know you're not suffering from groupthink, but the best you can do is to seek out substantive critiques from people who disagree with you and honestly consider them.

    So, when I was asking for concrete examples of anthropology's politicization which weren't standard practice in other sciences, suggestions of how anthropological research methods could be improved, or criticism based on specific points and not vague generalizations, I wasn't picking a fight, I was hoping for a substantive response that would challenge me to reexamine my assumptions. And so when I say you don't know what you're talking about, its in a tone of disappointment, not self-righteousness. Good critics keep you honest. Silly people talking nonsense on the internet, on the other hand, aren't very interesting...

    Anyway, I wish you the best of luck in your culture war.

    , @Karl Zimmerman
    I remember a funny story one of my professors told me when I was getting my graduate degree. She was asked to review a dissertation. Someone else on the committee, in complete seriousness, said "I'm outside the field, and I understand every single word, so this must be bad."


    Obviously my professor, despite being on the left, clearly understood the sickness in the heart of much of Academia.

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  • @Justaguy
    I don't think that's how arguments work. That is, if you want to present evidence to support your assertions, I could then go and discuss that evidence. Instead you just make generalizations without providing evidence. And the fact that this is a comment on a blog post critiquing anthropology for being insufficiently empirical just makes the explicit pride you take in your ignorance of the subject you're discussing even more absurd.

    And you don't address anything I say. So, I take Salifist Islam to meet any definition of conservative you might want to come up with. And I gave you the name of a book by a prominent feminist anthropologist who writes about a Salifist movement among Egyptian women and uses it to critique feminism and secular liberalism.

    How does that fit into your stereotype of anthropologists?

    The problem is that I can predict that it *would* fit the stereotype without even reading it.

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  • @Robert Ford
    You see, that's the problem. The burden of proof is not on me to prove your bullshit wrong. Do you honestly think it's an accident that people make fun of anthropology and not physics? I'm thinking they might be on to something;)

    I don’t think that’s how arguments work. That is, if you want to present evidence to support your assertions, I could then go and discuss that evidence. Instead you just make generalizations without providing evidence. And the fact that this is a comment on a blog post critiquing anthropology for being insufficiently empirical just makes the explicit pride you take in your ignorance of the subject you’re discussing even more absurd.

    And you don’t address anything I say. So, I take Salifist Islam to meet any definition of conservative you might want to come up with. And I gave you the name of a book by a prominent feminist anthropologist who writes about a Salifist movement among Egyptian women and uses it to critique feminism and secular liberalism.

    How does that fit into your stereotype of anthropologists?

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    • Replies: @Robert Ford
    The problem is that I can predict that it *would* fit the stereotype without even reading it.
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  • @Justaguy
    And since you do not actually cite any evidence, and explicitly say you feel justified in making sweeping generalizations about a topic you are unfamiliar with, I will stop taking you seriously.

    You see, that’s the problem. The burden of proof is not on me to prove your bullshit wrong. Do you honestly think it’s an accident that people make fun of anthropology and not physics? I’m thinking they might be on to something;)

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    • Replies: @Justaguy
    I don't think that's how arguments work. That is, if you want to present evidence to support your assertions, I could then go and discuss that evidence. Instead you just make generalizations without providing evidence. And the fact that this is a comment on a blog post critiquing anthropology for being insufficiently empirical just makes the explicit pride you take in your ignorance of the subject you're discussing even more absurd.

    And you don't address anything I say. So, I take Salifist Islam to meet any definition of conservative you might want to come up with. And I gave you the name of a book by a prominent feminist anthropologist who writes about a Salifist movement among Egyptian women and uses it to critique feminism and secular liberalism.

    How does that fit into your stereotype of anthropologists?

    , @Erik Bosma
    for all the "great leaps" that physics has made in the past 100 years - it's easy to make fun of physicists.
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  • @Robert Ford
    So you're actually claiming that Anthropology is not biased in favor of the political left? I'm sorry I just can't take you seriously

    And since you do not actually cite any evidence, and explicitly say you feel justified in making sweeping generalizations about a topic you are unfamiliar with, I will stop taking you seriously.

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    • Replies: @Robert Ford
    You see, that's the problem. The burden of proof is not on me to prove your bullshit wrong. Do you honestly think it's an accident that people make fun of anthropology and not physics? I'm thinking they might be on to something;)
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  • @Robert Ford
    The trend is one that happens to perfectly and consistently agree with a liberal outlook. I know you're very aware of the thrust of what im getting at. Its kinda how Antonin Scalia is an "objective" judge yet votes conservative every time. You could point to some "conservative" anthro articles to prove me wrong;)

    Also, just to be clarify what I mean when I say that anthropology isn’t necessarily liberal. I consider myself to be a Liberal in the classical meaning of the world. I believe that we are all possessed of an inherent human dignity, and that the best political systems are those which respect this dignity by ensuring the protection of fundamental rights, such as freedom of speech, conscience, the right to meaningfully participate in one’s own governance, etc..

    Universal rights, human dignity, and related concepts are completely meaningless in anthropological terms. We can study them as cultural phenomena, but there is no abiding human nature outside of what a biologist or geneticist could describe. And there are plenty of critiques of the role that ideals of universalism have played in rationalizing colonialism.

    So, I find a lot of the foundational anthropological understandings of human nature, and of the Western Liberal tradition deeply antithetical to my political views.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    as you noted above your disagreement above isn't too fruitful, because your interlocutor doesn't take you seriously a priori. my point in the post wasn't to make an argument, and as i made clear to some long time readers *I DON'T GIVE A SHIT AT ALL IF THEY AREN'T PERSUADED* if they don't know what i'm talking about, they don't. at the end of the day, they read me, i don't read them. those who recognize the validity of my critique recognize it, and i am simply clarifying and amplifying. ultimately this isn't a genteel intellectual discussion. it's a culture war, and i want 'my side' to understand who and what they're up against.


    if modern american cultural anthropology was more methodologically plural this wouldn't be an issue. but for various reasons of the way academic politics works that's just not a viable stable long term situation. kind of like how 'heterodox economics' has a very hard time in american economics departments, as everyone needs to speak in the same currency, so they go mainstream.

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  • @Justaguy
    What do you mean by "liberal" or "conservative"? Sure, anthropology questions the underlying reality of a lot of social institutions, such as the market, race, gender, and the state. I don't think of that as particularly liberal, but we might have different definitions of the word.

    If you are very politically invested in the idea the Chinese nation is 5,000 years old, you will likely take an examination of its relatively recent historical construction as political. If you believe that your own culture's ideals of kinship, gender and sexuality are not arbitrary, but are fundamentally rooted in the nature of the universe as a whole, research which points to its arbitrariness might seem unduly political to you. But the relevant question isn't if its contrary to your political beliefs, it is if it is accurate. (And to be clear, by saying that gender is arbitrary, I'm not saying that it isn't rooted in an underlying biology, but that this underlying biology is expressed differently in different cultural contexts)

    But, read Saba Mahmood's Politics of Piety. Mahmood is a feminist who studied a woman's pietistic movement in Egypt, in which women were turning towards a conservative brand of Islamic practice which she found antithetical to her feminist ideals. In her research she describes how the woman she studied empowered themselves by integrating themselves into social institutions which, to put it mildly, are not feminist.

    Or, how about Pun Ngai's Made in China? Pun looks at female factory workers in Shenzhen. As a Marxist, she expected to find exploitation and resistance. Instead, she discovered that the workers found factory work empowering within their families, and transformative in a good way.

    Or Susan Harding's Book of Jerry Falwell, based on her fieldwork among Falwell's followers. She is not sympathetic to their politics at all, and is not a Christian. But, she gives a very good description of how their religious practices are compelling, and how they effectively bring one into a direct experience of the presence of God in one's own life.

    Those aren't conservative works - I have no idea liberal or conservative research would look like. But they're instances of people doing research which in no way supports their own political commitments.

    And again, the measure of research into different cultures should not be its suitability to any one political perspective, but the extent to which it is accurate. If you want to discuss the ways in which to best do empirical research into different cultures, that can be productive. But simply dismissing research because you don't like what you perceive to be its political implications is in no way "pro-science".

    So you’re actually claiming that Anthropology is not biased in favor of the political left? I’m sorry I just can’t take you seriously

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    • Replies: @Justaguy
    And since you do not actually cite any evidence, and explicitly say you feel justified in making sweeping generalizations about a topic you are unfamiliar with, I will stop taking you seriously.
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  • @Justaguy
    So, in what ways is contemporary anthropology postmodern?

    That term cannot be satisfactorily defined, but anthropologists today are not scientifically-minded, don’t attempt to connect their research to broader scientific questions, and journals and discussions are dominated by politicised research – research that a) has amorphous, un-falsifiable, untestable ‘theory’ drawn from continental philosophy and b) is directed at prescriptive, rather than descriptive, ends. The term for that in the eighties was ‘postmodernism’. Today it’s ‘anthropology’. The obtuse language is less prominent than it was, I’ll grant – but the topics are just as stupid.

    I’m disappointed in the discipline more than anything. I don’t have an animus against it, and I don’t want it to disappear. But as it stands, social anthropology is mostly dreck, and good work on the real meat and potatoes of anthropology – non-industrial human societies – is now in a minority in anthropology departments, replaced by stuff that is, at best, shitty sociology.

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  • @Robert Ford
    The trend is one that happens to perfectly and consistently agree with a liberal outlook. I know you're very aware of the thrust of what im getting at. Its kinda how Antonin Scalia is an "objective" judge yet votes conservative every time. You could point to some "conservative" anthro articles to prove me wrong;)

    What do you mean by “liberal” or “conservative”? Sure, anthropology questions the underlying reality of a lot of social institutions, such as the market, race, gender, and the state. I don’t think of that as particularly liberal, but we might have different definitions of the word.

    If you are very politically invested in the idea the Chinese nation is 5,000 years old, you will likely take an examination of its relatively recent historical construction as political. If you believe that your own culture’s ideals of kinship, gender and sexuality are not arbitrary, but are fundamentally rooted in the nature of the universe as a whole, research which points to its arbitrariness might seem unduly political to you. But the relevant question isn’t if its contrary to your political beliefs, it is if it is accurate. (And to be clear, by saying that gender is arbitrary, I’m not saying that it isn’t rooted in an underlying biology, but that this underlying biology is expressed differently in different cultural contexts)

    But, read Saba Mahmood’s Politics of Piety. Mahmood is a feminist who studied a woman’s pietistic movement in Egypt, in which women were turning towards a conservative brand of Islamic practice which she found antithetical to her feminist ideals. In her research she describes how the woman she studied empowered themselves by integrating themselves into social institutions which, to put it mildly, are not feminist.

    Or, how about Pun Ngai’s Made in China? Pun looks at female factory workers in Shenzhen. As a Marxist, she expected to find exploitation and resistance. Instead, she discovered that the workers found factory work empowering within their families, and transformative in a good way.

    Or Susan Harding’s Book of Jerry Falwell, based on her fieldwork among Falwell’s followers. She is not sympathetic to their politics at all, and is not a Christian. But, she gives a very good description of how their religious practices are compelling, and how they effectively bring one into a direct experience of the presence of God in one’s own life.

    Those aren’t conservative works – I have no idea liberal or conservative research would look like. But they’re instances of people doing research which in no way supports their own political commitments.

    And again, the measure of research into different cultures should not be its suitability to any one political perspective, but the extent to which it is accurate. If you want to discuss the ways in which to best do empirical research into different cultures, that can be productive. But simply dismissing research because you don’t like what you perceive to be its political implications is in no way “pro-science”.

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    • Replies: @Robert Ford
    So you're actually claiming that Anthropology is not biased in favor of the political left? I'm sorry I just can't take you seriously
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  • @Justaguy
    If you're going to take a stand for empiricism, it would be nice to make a argument based on evidence and not simply throw around vague generalizations unmoored to any specific facts. Otherwise, how would you even know that anthropologists are wrong? I'm not suggesting you should spend your time reading about things that don't interest you, I'm suggesting you should avoid making conclusions based on assumptions about areas you're unfamiliar with.


    Also, I don't research anything related to any political issues I can think of. And, you're right, if anthropologists reached the same inferences every time they wrote a paper it would be fairly pointless. Which is why we try to avoid doing that. But, if you accept that trends do exist, examining those trends sounds like something a scientist would do. Does the fact that climate scientists describe similar trends mean their research is invalid? Or that the trends they describe are real?

    The trend is one that happens to perfectly and consistently agree with a liberal outlook. I know you’re very aware of the thrust of what im getting at. Its kinda how Antonin Scalia is an “objective” judge yet votes conservative every time. You could point to some “conservative” anthro articles to prove me wrong;)

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    • Replies: @Justaguy
    What do you mean by "liberal" or "conservative"? Sure, anthropology questions the underlying reality of a lot of social institutions, such as the market, race, gender, and the state. I don't think of that as particularly liberal, but we might have different definitions of the word.

    If you are very politically invested in the idea the Chinese nation is 5,000 years old, you will likely take an examination of its relatively recent historical construction as political. If you believe that your own culture's ideals of kinship, gender and sexuality are not arbitrary, but are fundamentally rooted in the nature of the universe as a whole, research which points to its arbitrariness might seem unduly political to you. But the relevant question isn't if its contrary to your political beliefs, it is if it is accurate. (And to be clear, by saying that gender is arbitrary, I'm not saying that it isn't rooted in an underlying biology, but that this underlying biology is expressed differently in different cultural contexts)

    But, read Saba Mahmood's Politics of Piety. Mahmood is a feminist who studied a woman's pietistic movement in Egypt, in which women were turning towards a conservative brand of Islamic practice which she found antithetical to her feminist ideals. In her research she describes how the woman she studied empowered themselves by integrating themselves into social institutions which, to put it mildly, are not feminist.

    Or, how about Pun Ngai's Made in China? Pun looks at female factory workers in Shenzhen. As a Marxist, she expected to find exploitation and resistance. Instead, she discovered that the workers found factory work empowering within their families, and transformative in a good way.

    Or Susan Harding's Book of Jerry Falwell, based on her fieldwork among Falwell's followers. She is not sympathetic to their politics at all, and is not a Christian. But, she gives a very good description of how their religious practices are compelling, and how they effectively bring one into a direct experience of the presence of God in one's own life.

    Those aren't conservative works - I have no idea liberal or conservative research would look like. But they're instances of people doing research which in no way supports their own political commitments.

    And again, the measure of research into different cultures should not be its suitability to any one political perspective, but the extent to which it is accurate. If you want to discuss the ways in which to best do empirical research into different cultures, that can be productive. But simply dismissing research because you don't like what you perceive to be its political implications is in no way "pro-science".

    , @Justaguy
    Also, just to be clarify what I mean when I say that anthropology isn't necessarily liberal. I consider myself to be a Liberal in the classical meaning of the world. I believe that we are all possessed of an inherent human dignity, and that the best political systems are those which respect this dignity by ensuring the protection of fundamental rights, such as freedom of speech, conscience, the right to meaningfully participate in one's own governance, etc..

    Universal rights, human dignity, and related concepts are completely meaningless in anthropological terms. We can study them as cultural phenomena, but there is no abiding human nature outside of what a biologist or geneticist could describe. And there are plenty of critiques of the role that ideals of universalism have played in rationalizing colonialism.

    So, I find a lot of the foundational anthropological understandings of human nature, and of the Western Liberal tradition deeply antithetical to my political views.

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  • @Al West
    I was once a graduate student in social anthropology (as we call it here in the UK) and I had the same problem Razib does with the discipline. Razib is discussing what is happening now. Just because it is no longer called 'postmodernism' by its adherents, that doesn't mean that it isn't fundamentally the same or similar to what it was in the 80s. Unfortunately, Razib is absolutely on the money; students of anthropology come away with almost no useful skills at all. It is notable that anthropology graduates are the least employable graduates in existence - not because of prejudice, but because of their total lack of skills (they don't even learn how to think, because critical thinking isn't part of the curriculum).

    So, in what ways is contemporary anthropology postmodern?

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    • Replies: @Al West
    That term cannot be satisfactorily defined, but anthropologists today are not scientifically-minded, don't attempt to connect their research to broader scientific questions, and journals and discussions are dominated by politicised research - research that a) has amorphous, un-falsifiable, untestable 'theory' drawn from continental philosophy and b) is directed at prescriptive, rather than descriptive, ends. The term for that in the eighties was 'postmodernism'. Today it's 'anthropology'. The obtuse language is less prominent than it was, I'll grant - but the topics are just as stupid.

    I'm disappointed in the discipline more than anything. I don't have an animus against it, and I don't want it to disappear. But as it stands, social anthropology is mostly dreck, and good work on the real meat and potatoes of anthropology - non-industrial human societies - is now in a minority in anthropology departments, replaced by stuff that is, at best, shitty sociology.

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  • @Robert Ford
    There's no way to give a critique that will be acceptable on Cultural Anthro's terms because that would be like a World of Warcraft expert saying "You think WoW is stupid? Well, what's your opinion on Orc Theory??" We're not going to lower ourselves to your standards. It's not that we can't understand it it's that we wouldn't want to make ourselves dumber by learning it in the first place. It's not like it's an accident that virtually all of your "research" lends itself to a liberal world view. What is the point of doing what you're doing if you're going to make the same inferences every time you write a paper?

    If you’re going to take a stand for empiricism, it would be nice to make a argument based on evidence and not simply throw around vague generalizations unmoored to any specific facts. Otherwise, how would you even know that anthropologists are wrong? I’m not suggesting you should spend your time reading about things that don’t interest you, I’m suggesting you should avoid making conclusions based on assumptions about areas you’re unfamiliar with.

    Also, I don’t research anything related to any political issues I can think of. And, you’re right, if anthropologists reached the same inferences every time they wrote a paper it would be fairly pointless. Which is why we try to avoid doing that. But, if you accept that trends do exist, examining those trends sounds like something a scientist would do. Does the fact that climate scientists describe similar trends mean their research is invalid? Or that the trends they describe are real?

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    • Replies: @Robert Ford
    The trend is one that happens to perfectly and consistently agree with a liberal outlook. I know you're very aware of the thrust of what im getting at. Its kinda how Antonin Scalia is an "objective" judge yet votes conservative every time. You could point to some "conservative" anthro articles to prove me wrong;)
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  • @Justaguy
    As a grad student in cultural anthropology I see nothing in anything you've written so far to suggest you have any familiarity with current research in the field whatsoever. Indeed, you seem to take your inability to understand anthropological writings to mean they're worthless. I was unaware that ease of comprehension by nonspecialists was the standard by which research should be judged. And here I took my confusion when listening to neuroscientists discuss their research to mean I don't understand neuroscience, when clearly it means neuroscience is worthless.

    And your critique that anthropologists speak clearly when addressing the public but use more difficult language when addressing each other could be applied to any field. Do climate scientists talk the same when talking to policy makers as they do when talking to each other? Are they similarly out of place in using their research to inform public discussions?

    As someone doing research in China I find the suggestion that anthropologists don't criticize the Chinese state bizarre. And while I'm very interested in the Qing power structure - something I've learned about from anthropologists - you are correct that most anthropologists don't discuss it. This is not because of a romanticized view of Chinese civilization which blinds them to the devastating effects of Zeng Guofeng's scorched earth campaign against the Taiping Rebellion. Its usually because more people are doing research in areas which were colonized by Europe than were colonized by the Qing.

    And I could go on for pages pointing out how profoundly superficial and unserious your critique is. Which is my real problem with your attacks. I'm very open to critiques of anthropology which are based on actually understanding what it is we do. Outsiders can often see things which people within a discipline are blind to and can provide very productive feedback. But just rehashing stereotypes from the 80s about how we're descending into post modern obscurity is worse than useless. But if nothing else, I'd appreciate it if you mocked what it is we're doing now, not what anthropologists were doing 20-30 years ago.

    There’s no way to give a critique that will be acceptable on Cultural Anthro’s terms because that would be like a World of Warcraft expert saying “You think WoW is stupid? Well, what’s your opinion on Orc Theory??” We’re not going to lower ourselves to your standards. It’s not that we can’t understand it it’s that we wouldn’t want to make ourselves dumber by learning it in the first place. It’s not like it’s an accident that virtually all of your “research” lends itself to a liberal world view. What is the point of doing what you’re doing if you’re going to make the same inferences every time you write a paper?

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    • Replies: @Justaguy
    If you're going to take a stand for empiricism, it would be nice to make a argument based on evidence and not simply throw around vague generalizations unmoored to any specific facts. Otherwise, how would you even know that anthropologists are wrong? I'm not suggesting you should spend your time reading about things that don't interest you, I'm suggesting you should avoid making conclusions based on assumptions about areas you're unfamiliar with.


    Also, I don't research anything related to any political issues I can think of. And, you're right, if anthropologists reached the same inferences every time they wrote a paper it would be fairly pointless. Which is why we try to avoid doing that. But, if you accept that trends do exist, examining those trends sounds like something a scientist would do. Does the fact that climate scientists describe similar trends mean their research is invalid? Or that the trends they describe are real?

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Karl Zimmerman
    I've jokingly suggested there was a grand conspiracy to snap up the New Left into the academy in the 1970s, as otherwise so many of them might have gone on to do productive things with their leftist inclination, like go into politics, NGOs, or the labor movement. Academia provided a cushy place for many of them to work infrequently, be surrounded by like-minded people, and not do anything of importance to the wider world.

    Why posit a conspiracy? Read the Port Huron Statement It was always the New Left’s goal to take over the university and use education to change social attitudes.

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    • Replies: @Karl Zimmerman
    Yes, but in the end, the colonization of academia by the New Left was a chump move. It surrounded them with like minded peers, and kept them away from the actual working class who could potentially be persuaded.


    The effect on even those who go to college has likely been minimal as well. People accept political ideals of the professorial cadre only if they see themselves as future academics themselves. If they don't see their professors as elders they need to ingratiate, they see them as a hoop they need to jump through to reach their final goal.


    But it fit the paradigm of the day - that young minds were somehow uniquely impressionable, and that you could have more influence shaping a 18-year old into their adult self than if you worked with a 30-year old. Totally wrong, but understandable I guess.

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  • @Justaguy
    As a grad student in cultural anthropology I see nothing in anything you've written so far to suggest you have any familiarity with current research in the field whatsoever. Indeed, you seem to take your inability to understand anthropological writings to mean they're worthless. I was unaware that ease of comprehension by nonspecialists was the standard by which research should be judged. And here I took my confusion when listening to neuroscientists discuss their research to mean I don't understand neuroscience, when clearly it means neuroscience is worthless.

    And your critique that anthropologists speak clearly when addressing the public but use more difficult language when addressing each other could be applied to any field. Do climate scientists talk the same when talking to policy makers as they do when talking to each other? Are they similarly out of place in using their research to inform public discussions?

    As someone doing research in China I find the suggestion that anthropologists don't criticize the Chinese state bizarre. And while I'm very interested in the Qing power structure - something I've learned about from anthropologists - you are correct that most anthropologists don't discuss it. This is not because of a romanticized view of Chinese civilization which blinds them to the devastating effects of Zeng Guofeng's scorched earth campaign against the Taiping Rebellion. Its usually because more people are doing research in areas which were colonized by Europe than were colonized by the Qing.

    And I could go on for pages pointing out how profoundly superficial and unserious your critique is. Which is my real problem with your attacks. I'm very open to critiques of anthropology which are based on actually understanding what it is we do. Outsiders can often see things which people within a discipline are blind to and can provide very productive feedback. But just rehashing stereotypes from the 80s about how we're descending into post modern obscurity is worse than useless. But if nothing else, I'd appreciate it if you mocked what it is we're doing now, not what anthropologists were doing 20-30 years ago.

    I was once a graduate student in social anthropology (as we call it here in the UK) and I had the same problem Razib does with the discipline. Razib is discussing what is happening now. Just because it is no longer called ‘postmodernism’ by its adherents, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t fundamentally the same or similar to what it was in the 80s. Unfortunately, Razib is absolutely on the money; students of anthropology come away with almost no useful skills at all. It is notable that anthropology graduates are the least employable graduates in existence – not because of prejudice, but because of their total lack of skills (they don’t even learn how to think, because critical thinking isn’t part of the curriculum).

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    • Replies: @Justaguy
    So, in what ways is contemporary anthropology postmodern?
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • As a grad student in cultural anthropology I see nothing in anything you’ve written so far to suggest you have any familiarity with current research in the field whatsoever. Indeed, you seem to take your inability to understand anthropological writings to mean they’re worthless. I was unaware that ease of comprehension by nonspecialists was the standard by which research should be judged. And here I took my confusion when listening to neuroscientists discuss their research to mean I don’t understand neuroscience, when clearly it means neuroscience is worthless.

    And your critique that anthropologists speak clearly when addressing the public but use more difficult language when addressing each other could be applied to any field. Do climate scientists talk the same when talking to policy makers as they do when talking to each other? Are they similarly out of place in using their research to inform public discussions?

    As someone doing research in China I find the suggestion that anthropologists don’t criticize the Chinese state bizarre. And while I’m very interested in the Qing power structure – something I’ve learned about from anthropologists – you are correct that most anthropologists don’t discuss it. This is not because of a romanticized view of Chinese civilization which blinds them to the devastating effects of Zeng Guofeng’s scorched earth campaign against the Taiping Rebellion. Its usually because more people are doing research in areas which were colonized by Europe than were colonized by the Qing.

    And I could go on for pages pointing out how profoundly superficial and unserious your critique is. Which is my real problem with your attacks. I’m very open to critiques of anthropology which are based on actually understanding what it is we do. Outsiders can often see things which people within a discipline are blind to and can provide very productive feedback. But just rehashing stereotypes from the 80s about how we’re descending into post modern obscurity is worse than useless. But if nothing else, I’d appreciate it if you mocked what it is we’re doing now, not what anthropologists were doing 20-30 years ago.

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    • Replies: @Al West
    I was once a graduate student in social anthropology (as we call it here in the UK) and I had the same problem Razib does with the discipline. Razib is discussing what is happening now. Just because it is no longer called 'postmodernism' by its adherents, that doesn't mean that it isn't fundamentally the same or similar to what it was in the 80s. Unfortunately, Razib is absolutely on the money; students of anthropology come away with almost no useful skills at all. It is notable that anthropology graduates are the least employable graduates in existence - not because of prejudice, but because of their total lack of skills (they don't even learn how to think, because critical thinking isn't part of the curriculum).
    , @Robert Ford
    There's no way to give a critique that will be acceptable on Cultural Anthro's terms because that would be like a World of Warcraft expert saying "You think WoW is stupid? Well, what's your opinion on Orc Theory??" We're not going to lower ourselves to your standards. It's not that we can't understand it it's that we wouldn't want to make ourselves dumber by learning it in the first place. It's not like it's an accident that virtually all of your "research" lends itself to a liberal world view. What is the point of doing what you're doing if you're going to make the same inferences every time you write a paper?
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  • You use the fact that cultural anthropology writings can be difficult to read to discredit it as a field. Do you think that the ease with which a non-specialist can understand the literature of a field should be the standard by which it should be judged? How would particle physics fare by that standard?

    I’m a cultural anthropologist, who has taught undergrad courses and find most freshman who are paying attention can easily understand Geertz, Evans-Prichard and other central works. And while some work is, indeed, difficult, you find that in any specialized field.

    Personally, when I don’t understand what my neuroscience, math, or molecular biology friends say about their research I take that to mean that my understanding of their fields is insufficient. Perhaps I should just conclude they’re talking nonsense.

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  • Fire leftist anthropologists and use their freed-up salaries to hire leftist economists.

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  • Note: An update on this post. I want to be clear that I think Jared Diamond is wrong on a lot of details, and many cultural anthropologists are rightly calling him out on that. But, they do a disservice to their message by politicizing their critique, and ascribing malevolence to all those who disagree with...
  • @misdreavus
    Don't you mean sati?

    Yes, yes I did.
    >blush<

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  • My post below on Jared Diamond and his cultural anthropological critics has attracted a fair amount of attention (e.g., see the Twitter re-tweets of the post). But first I'd like to admit that I think it was wrong in its specific thrust. Though I've seen Stephen Corry of Survival International referred to as an anthropologist,...
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  • I came across this Atlanta Journal and Constitution article about a man who murdered three white women and then explained in court that he was motivated by what he had learned studying cultural anthropology. Teaching unbalanced young people like this shooter that white people and western culture are uniquely evil can have disastrous real world consequences:

    During his testimony Wednesday, Thandiwe suggested that
    his reason for even purchasing the gun he used in the shootings was to
    enforce beliefs he’d developed about white people during his later years
    as an anthropology major at the University of West Georgia.

    “I was trying to prove a point that Europeans had colonized the world, and
    as a result of that, we see a lot of evil today,” he said. “In terms of
    slavery, it was something that needed to be answered for. I was trying
    to spread the message of making white people mend.”

    He said the night before the shooting, he attended a so-called “Peace Party” intended to address his concerns about helping the black community find equal footing, but two white people were there.

    “I was upset,” Thandiwe said. “I was still upset Friday. I took the gun to work because I was still upset from Thursday night.”

    http://www.ajc.com/news/news/crime-law/t&#8230;.as-blank/nWBB2/

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  • Note: An update on this post. I want to be clear that I think Jared Diamond is wrong on a lot of details, and many cultural anthropologists are rightly calling him out on that. But, they do a disservice to their message by politicizing their critique, and ascribing malevolence to all those who disagree with...
  • @A Canned Ham
    What stuck me most in Mazower's "argument" (and I use the term very loosely) is his statement that if allowed to go unchallenged, Diamond's viewpoint would damage "the movement for tribal people’s rights".

    This may be true, but it's irrelevant when considering whether's Diamond's position is logically sustainable or historically accurate. Claiming that something is factually wrong because it hurts your agenda isn't good science, and it isn't even good anthropology.

    If he wants to be taken seriously, he should consider offering up actual evidence of where Diamond's work is flawed.

    If you read the linked piece, he did make the points. The sentence you highlight is his rationale for *why it matters*.

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  • My post below on Jared Diamond and his cultural anthropological critics has attracted a fair amount of attention (e.g., see the Twitter re-tweets of the post). But first I'd like to admit that I think it was wrong in its specific thrust. Though I've seen Stephen Corry of Survival International referred to as an anthropologist,...
  • @Karl Zimmerman
    This fits my own (more limited) experience with the cultural left in academia in general. The academic cultural left is more properly understood as engaging in a form of political religion than anything outwardly political.

    Politics is, after all, the use of discourse to influence the opinion of others to more closely mirror your own. I see no real desire on the academic left to do this. Indeed, if you're in discourse with someone who disagrees with you in a manner you deem racist/sexist/homophobic (or whatever) it's almost universally considered better to call them out in an insulting manner which causes them to be less open to persuasion. It's also considered a-ok to say "your speech is out of line." Anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of how politics and human nature work should understand this is counterproductive.

    But they don't care. Their peers are not those in traditional societies - they are their subject. Their peers aren't even the general public Their peers are other academics with very similar publicly-stated stances. Accusing others of being morally incorrect both helps you gain recognition as part of the group, as well as potentially gain status over your competitors.


    This is different from how the real left works. Does anyone think that trade unions would be able to organize if they purposefully insulted anyone who initially disagreed with union premises? Some people are polarized and beyond debate, but engaging with some people in the "mushy middle" who may say things you disagree with is a central part of any organizing activity.

    Yep, classic persuasion theory, beloved of politicians – demonise the opposition and aim to convert the waverers in the middle in the target group.

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  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @Razib Khan
    why should i include evidence? if i inveigh against creationism you wouldn't ask for such, you'd understand it's a waste of time. you can tell by the comments that some people agree with me, and some don't. and you know from reading me that i'm interested in a lot of the notional topic of cultural anthropology. this isn't important enough that i want to rehash all my experiences and the weird stuff i've read/heard about/encountered. those who have gone where i have gone and encountered what i've encountered know, and that's sufficient.

    “Mind you, I have no idea what cultural anthropology is in terms of its
    systematic definition within a scholarly context. Rather, I know what
    cultural anthropologists do.” If you don’t know/don’t care to know what defines systematic/methodological rigor within cultural anthropology, then it’s impossible for you to know what good cultural anthropologists do. No one expects undergrads in any field to be experts. Contemporary undergraduate cultural anthropology training offers an increasingly important theoretical/methodological foundation for interpreting/coping with complex phenomena beyond rigid binaries: black/white, conservative/liberal, science/art. Indeed, many good cultural anthropologists reject classifying their work as scientific because their results from their own systematic studies of science and scientific expertise recognize that science too is an art, that is to say, a very social thing.

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  • A fantastic read. The take away for me is really just a feeling of disappointment as Anthropology is such a fascinating topic, that can also be understood by “normal” IQ people like me, when done right but was ruined by hippies with an agenda. What a waste.

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  • @Karl Zimmerman
    This fits my own (more limited) experience with the cultural left in academia in general. The academic cultural left is more properly understood as engaging in a form of political religion than anything outwardly political.

    Politics is, after all, the use of discourse to influence the opinion of others to more closely mirror your own. I see no real desire on the academic left to do this. Indeed, if you're in discourse with someone who disagrees with you in a manner you deem racist/sexist/homophobic (or whatever) it's almost universally considered better to call them out in an insulting manner which causes them to be less open to persuasion. It's also considered a-ok to say "your speech is out of line." Anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of how politics and human nature work should understand this is counterproductive.

    But they don't care. Their peers are not those in traditional societies - they are their subject. Their peers aren't even the general public Their peers are other academics with very similar publicly-stated stances. Accusing others of being morally incorrect both helps you gain recognition as part of the group, as well as potentially gain status over your competitors.


    This is different from how the real left works. Does anyone think that trade unions would be able to organize if they purposefully insulted anyone who initially disagreed with union premises? Some people are polarized and beyond debate, but engaging with some people in the "mushy middle" who may say things you disagree with is a central part of any organizing activity.

    Though, there is the version that is overtly political as well. I work at a liberal arts school that is literally a propaganda piece for the left. It couldn’t be *more* political. They have tens of millions of dollars earmarked to recruit people to engage in “Social Justice.” And they teach The Narrative for a reason: that these indoctrinated values lead to a money/power gain for them, minorities and their philosophy of relativism. It is basically a factory for creating left wing drones that are programmed to convert others and make their mark on the world – complete with Social Justice and Diversity training seminars, political advocacy, a massive effort to recruit minorities (blacks), etc. Their goal is to reshape the world in their vision. This isn’t my interpretation of them – it’s their stated mission. They are convinced it will make the world better and more “fair.”

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  • Note: An update on this post. I want to be clear that I think Jared Diamond is wrong on a lot of details, and many cultural anthropologists are rightly calling him out on that. But, they do a disservice to their message by politicizing their critique, and ascribing malevolence to all those who disagree with...
  • @Charles Nydorf
    I come to Diamond as a historical linguist who sometimes uses patterns of geographical variation to test historical inferences. The "express train to Polynesia" showed Diamond as having a poor grasp of this methodology.

    You can’t take a train to Polynesia – it’s an archipelago.

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  • My post below on Jared Diamond and his cultural anthropological critics has attracted a fair amount of attention (e.g., see the Twitter re-tweets of the post). But first I'd like to admit that I think it was wrong in its specific thrust. Though I've seen Stephen Corry of Survival International referred to as an anthropologist,...
  • An Anthropologist Responds: The Yanomami Ax Fight: Science, Violence, Empirical Data, and the Facts. This piece has some very good arguments and mentions Razib twice.

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