Re: Athropology abused

Guru George (
Mon, 22 Dec 1997 00:12:29 +0100

On Sun, 21 Dec 1997 08:51:48 -0500 (EST)
Twink <> wrote:


>The problem I see here -- and I'm not about to becom a scholar of the
>subject -- is that too many people seem bent on reading into Mead's
>(and other's) work(s) to support a political agenda.

The most interesting thing in the recent book I read about it was that
it explained her pseudo-science as a response to the pseudo-science
that came before it.

Her book was seen by herself and her critics as part of the "nature vs.
nurture" debate (in its original form - it was this historical period
which gave the debate its popular name) which was a struggle between the
ridiculous movement of eugenicism, stemming mainly from the work of
Galton, and the anthropological school of thought of people like Franz
Boas (Mead's tutor), who held to the other extreme of environment being

She stated quite clearly that her intention was to give a boost to the
"nurture" side of the controversy, and specifically to her master,
Boas's representation of that side of the debate. And she did - so much
so that the pendulum swung completely the other way, and from the 30s on,
"nurture" was seen as all important, and culture was understood to have
little or no genetic roots at all. This was a hugely important book.

Curiously, *before* this dumb pseudo-controversy, the general opinion
was pretty much as it is today - both nature and nurture contribute
something to the formation of culture and character. Somehow the "nature"
side got out of hand, and people one would nowadays loosely call "fascist"
got a hold of the wrong end of the stick (which kind of gives some
support to those who say that even if there's some truth in, say, claims
that black Afro-Americans have a lower IQ than white Americans, you
shouldn't broadcast that truth, because it only encourages wankers to use
those claims to support their crackpot political ideas).

In it's time, therefore, Mead's book served a useful purpose in
(apparently) offering very strong, almost overwhelmingly convincing
evidence on the other side.

But all the same, when you look beneath the surface, the degree of
wishful thinking and gullibility Mead displayed is quite sad, and there
can be little doubt (in my opinion, based on this book I read) that most
of her Samoan work has to be ditched.

Another point that's of interest here is that Samoan anthropologists
have been pissed off for years about the wacky ideas people have gotten
about Samoan culture from reading Mead. It is extremely ironic that
leftist intellectuals have in fact "colonised" Samoan culture for their
own, "Western" ends.

Guru George