Theory as Filter

This essay from Darwin Catholic coincides with what I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

To sum up: Napoleon Chagnon, an anthropologist with decades of experience with the Yanomami, had the nerve to observe that (looking for the PC way to say stone-age primitives) indigenous peoples with simple tribal lifestyles tend very much toward killing each other at the drop of a hat. Further, the more readily and successfully a man in such cultures resort to murder and mayhem, the more offspring he’s likely to produce. So, it’s not an accident that violence reigns supreme – it works.

In this one respect, modern Western cultures  are in fact much less inclined to violence. In other words, civilized people are less violent in their day-to-day lives than spear-chucking, hut-dwelling peoples living a precarious, terrifying hand-to-mouth existence. (Therefore, Christian missionaries would be doing them a big favor by converting them to Catholicism and introducing them to agriculture and trade. But I jump ahead to the real point of all this. So sorry.)

So, of course, the howling banshees of Academia and their unholy Activist spawn start gnashing their teeth in fury and attempt to destroy Dr. Chagnon – how dare he say that indigenous tribal peoples are more violent than Westerners! This is a ‘dangerous’ outrage that will lead to exploitation!  Tribes could be forced into reservations “for their own good”! Unimaginably worse, it will lead to Christian missionaries destroying their beautiful lifestyle of thuggish slaughter, assault and rape!

A theory can be an attempt to understand a set of facts, or it can act as a filter on what facts are permitted to exist. While there’s likely to be some overlap in the sense that one tends to find what one is looking for, and therefore not see what one is not looking for, that seems to me fundamentally different than the simple dismissal of facts brought to one’s attention by those who do not use the theory as a filter. Thus, an honest, hardworking physicist might miss evidence of physics that fail to comply with the Standard Model, because he might not be looking for it.* An anthropologist who insist a priori that all cultures are of equal value and therefore refuses to consider evidence that they are not – that’s not just a failure of science, but a moral failure, too. It’s called lying.

As in so many bad things, Marx is the all-time grand champion of this approach. Human nature suggests difficulties in achieving your worker’s paradise? There’s no such thing as human nature. A resolution to the worker/capitalist conflict that doesn’t require slaughter of all the capitalists and their stooges? Can’t happen. Decent, charitable acts by rich people? Can’t happen. Evil behavior by workers? Not possible.

What’s really hilarious is that the counterargument – no, the Yanomami are not more violent and nasty than us – which Darwin Catholic seems to imply in the title of the post is relativism, is anything but. The relativistic argument would be: What’s your hang-up with violence, anyway? So they kill each other brutally and frequently – calling that ‘worse’ is just your Western Christian biases showing. No, the underlying position is not relativistic at all – primitive, non-Christian cultures are *better* than ours. The counterargument accepts the idea that killing people is generally a bad idea, and so, because the Yanomami are better than us, they *can’t* kill each other much more frequently than we do. Relativism would simply dismiss any claim that killing each other is somehow bad.

But, since logic and consistency are not a characteristics of such modern thinking, we can expect *both* claims to be made at the same time depending on circumstances with no hint of awareness of the inherent hypocrisy – there is both no basis upon which to judge one culture better than another AND primitive non-Christian cultures are better than our, too! Waaay better!

Finally, this story is yet another example about how misplaced are the worries that creationists threaten science. The real threat to science is in the tenured professors over in the Anthropology building, and their philosophical sisters and brothers over in the Sociology, Women’s Studies, Comparative Lit and Philosophy buildings, espousing whatever bastard grandchild of Hegel’s views that holds the key to their academic advancement. They are right there in the camp, poisoning minds, belittling science while at the same time calling what they do “a politically committed and morally engaged anthropology” as if science is involved at all – now, that’s a threat. These folks might get to vote on your tenure, or on funding expansion of your facilities, or on giving a green light to your next project – and so, like a worker with an abusive boss, we kick the dog of creationism.

*although that’s a poor example, because there’s probably a Nobel Prize in finding something that contradicts the Standard Model – eyes would be sharp for such a thing.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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