Napoleon Chagnon Kicked my Dog

March 6, 2013

I should have known something bad was going to happen the day that I heard that those saintly folks of the Westboro Baptist Church–accompanied by ardent anti-evolutionist Gary Busey–were coming to town to protest his hiring. But, undeterred by the righteous gospel, the university went ahead and brought on board the “most controversial anthropologist” in the history of gross hyperbole. The last laugh appears to have been had by the protestors, however, as God unleashed a violent Thundersnow onto Columbia and the greater Midwest to show his great displeasure.

So, it should have come as no surprise when my neighbor told me she saw a bearded man attempt to kick my dog. I just knew: It must’ve been Napoleon Chagnon–The Fierce Anthropologist. I’ve heard so many stories about him being a chauvinist, a sexist, a hateful alienating angry person…it just had to be him. Plus, my neighbor said he had a beard.

All this is my way of introducing the following…

Napoleon Chagnon Kicked My Dog and Other Baseless Allegations Made on Blogs

Gary Busey and the Westboro Baptist Church Protest the hiring of Napoleon Chagnon at the University of Missouri.

Westboro Baptist Church protest the hiring of Napoleon Chagnon at the University of Missouri.

Much hubbub has been made in the past week or so regarding Marshall Sahlins’ resignation from the National Academy of Sciences. Sahlins’ resigned last week after a 10-month mental-health holiday made necessary by Chagnon’s election to the academy last May. When questioned about why he chose to resign almost a year after Chagnon’s election into the academy, Sahlins stated that “The current Foucauldian-Gramscian-Nietzschean obsession with power is the latest incarnation of anthropology’s incurable functionalism.” Unfortunately, Google Translate doesn’t have a “gibberish” option, so I can only assume that this roughly translates to “I was attempting to torpedo Chagnon’s book release and to capitalize on its publicity so as to make myself appear relevant to today’s students of anthropology.”

Ostensibly Sahlins resigned because of Chagnon’s election into the academy, and for the lesser reason of apparent academy involvement with the military, which as near as I can figure is something that Sahlins has only recently become concerned with. Sahlins’ resignation has been hailed as “an heroic stand against the subversion of science to those claiming an innate nature of human violence” in a number of blogs and editorials. Most of these have been penned by former Sahlins students or by those with some intellectual pedigree including Sahlins. Alex Golub (whose research interests include “World of Warcraft” [Really?! And this guy is disagreeing about violence in humans??]) has this to say. David Price posted this. David Graeber commented that “Chagnon’s defenders operate almost entirely by diversion…they never seriously engage with the core objections to what Chagnon did, which is to villify a group of human beings so that enormous violence could be unleashed on them.” Jason Antrosio has even gone so far as to say that all this brouhaha is “an attempt speared by people outside anthropology to seize control of the story, research funding, and book sales about human nature and human behavior.” So…I should be expecting two Ph.D.s?

Jonathan Marks takes the cake in calling Chagnon “incompetent” because “His methods for collecting, analyzing and interpreting his data are outside the range of acceptable anthropological practices.” Well, perhaps they would be considered so today, but keep in mind that Chagnon did his work in the mid-1960s. Also is it really fair for someone whose dissertation work was on DNA sequencing of (25!) chimpanzees to criticize the data collection, analysis, and interpretations of someone whose work involved living in a jungle and trying to document human behavior for 17 mos.?  I guess the methods of data collection, analysis, and interpretation in DNA studies haven’t changed since 1984, so Marks’ own dissertation work is beyond reproach.

Simply linking to Sahlins’ (2000) book review of Patrick Tierney’s Darkness in El Dorado is not really an academic way of making a point–Yet, each and everyone of these guys does it. I mean, for God’s sake, it was published 13 years ago. I realize y’all have been busy playing WoW, researching how the CIA is infiltrating college campuses, and organizing political protests (seriously, Graeber, I’m with you there, really I am), but A LOT has happened in that 13 years regarding all of the (baseless) allegations that Sahlins parroted in his review. Moreover: it’s the Washington Post — not exactly a bastion of academic research. There are no citations, no evidence to support claims…the only real reason I can see to link to it is to establish that Godwin’s Law is applicable to non-internet media (kudos to the Washington Post for allowing Sahlins to go from zero to Hitler in under 2000 words). Barbara King’s review on NPR was less shrill, but doing nothing but rounding up selected quotes from on-line sources? Oh, and referring to that same Washington Post book review as “an essay”? That just seems lazy.

The problem I have here is that the majority of what’s being perpetuated is being said by the same handful of Sahlins acolytes (Golub, Graeber, Price, Antrosio, and Marks). These guys are (ostensibly) professional anthropologists carrying out what can only be called hatchet-job agendas in unmoderated venues that they created, and then sharing each others comments to make it appear as if there is some large controversy. Where’s the professional responsibility here? What’s worse, is that media venues (such as NPR) are picking this vomit up, and repeating it verbatim. And perhaps the most damnable offense is that not one of these authors actually supports their allegations with citations, facts, data, etc., while in the same breath they have the audacity to allege that none of Chagnon’s conclusions are supported by facts, data, etc. Can you come up with nothing better than slander, innuendo, and name calling? Is this what passes for academic discourse at the University of Chicago? I’m fairly certain that Chagnon himself has addressed this “his work has been used to hurt people” comment here, here, and I’m pretty sure that “the National Academy of Sciences, the American Society of Human Genetics, the International Genetic Epidemiology Society and the Society for Visual Anthropology all investigated charges…and found the allegations they examined to be without merit.” Give it up guys, hating on Chagnon has gone the way of a decent hockey team in St. Louis, Ace of Base, grunge, and tickle me Elmo.

Look, even though my degrees are in anthropology, I’m really an archaeologist. So, maybe I don’t get it. I did a little web-searching, and the closest thing that I came up with for a (presumably) verifiable claim was a 2010 talk by Leslie Sponsel at the AAA meeting that reiterated this “it is primarily about the harm done to the Yanomami” claim. The only cited example was that “Survival International of London states that the persistent characterization of the Yanomami as ‘the fierce people’ led the British government to refuse a funding request to support an educational program…[and led] Edmund Leach to refuse to support a campaign on behalf of land and resource rights.” Call me thick, but this sounds like sour grapes. Maybe your gripes are better directed at correcting the misunderstandings of those folks. Well, Leach is dead…so maybe just stomp on his grave a little and you’ll feel better.  (In the interest of fairness, Sponsel also reiterates a 2002 AAA Media Advisory, that itself relays a statement by the AAA Task Force, that Chagnon made visits without quarantine procedures, and that the use of the term “fierce” conveyed a “false image that was damaging.” However, the AAA rescinded that task force’s report report as “so flawed in its procedures [and] in the quality of the evidence it gathered” that it was embarrassing.)

I’m not sure how to draw this to a close, except to propose the following: Both Sahlins and Chagnon have made significant and lasting contributions to the field of anthropology. Both men had different outlooks on their personal lives, and different perspectives on how to conduct anthropology. But, whatever happened to decorum, polite disagreements, and generally maintaining professional demeanor? Is this what we’ve come to as a discipline? Is it no longer about civil discourse, but instead the one who shouts loudest, longest, and harshest is “right”? Maybe that’s how things are at other universities, but not here at MU.

Full disclosure: I met Napoleon Chagnon briefly in 1999 when he visited my undergraduate institution (Luther College) for a lecture and pheasant hunting. I’ve neither spoken to him nor read anything he’s written since…but I’m probably going to buy his new book just to help bump it up on Amazon.com.

No dogs were harmed in the typing of this blog.
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15 Responses to “Napoleon Chagnon Kicked my Dog”

  1. Napoleon A. Chagnon said

    A very funny and remarkably accurate piece of work! I loved it!

    Napoleon A. Chagnon
    Anthropology Department
    University of Missouri
    Columbia, MO 65211

  2. Jake said

    I found this through Alice Dreger’s Twitter, and I have a few comments.
    1. It is shameful that you subtly equate Marshall Sahlins with Westboro Baptist Church, possibly the most hateful public group in the US. Also, to criticize Sahlins for breaking “Godwin’s Law” after your Westboro Baptist segue is hypocritical and poor rhetoric.
    2. Are you not aware of Foucault, Gramsci, or Nietzsche, or why they are important and related? Have you read a challenging political book, or taken any humanities classes, ever? Also you accuse Sahlins’ of capitalizing, which is a nice bit of irony (he doesn’t really like capitalism).
    3. It only takes like 5 sentences of Sahlins’ Wikipedia page to get to the part about protesting the Vietnam War. He organized some of the first “teach-ins” where “they canceled classes and held public lectures on the Vietnam War to protest the government’s escalation of the conflict” (Gonzalez 2004: 34). That was 1965, so his interest in anti-war politics goes back a bit further than you imagined!
    4. Your criticism of Jonathan Marks reveals you haven’t looked much at his work. He doesn’t post on his blog much, but it is definitely worth looking at if you have some time.
    5. You complain about UC tribalism, and how one little community around Sahlins is engaged in a “hatchet job” on Chagnon. From John Horgan: “I was still working on my review of Darkness when I received emails from five prominent scholars: Richard Dawkins, Edward Wilson, Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett and Marc Hauser. Although each wrote separately, the emails were obviously coordinated” (SCI AM Feb 18, 2013). Your tribalism argument isn’t wrong, but its not especially morally provocative either. Most academics have some allies and friends.
    6. The first volume of HAU, an anthropology journal with UC hands all over it, gave 20 pages to Leach’s previously unpublished Frazer Lecture from 1982. Additionally, Graeber’s first published scholarship was on the exhumation of corpses in rural Madagascar, so your grave stomping metaphor makes for nice unintended satire.

    I’m from KC and have been affected by Westboro Baptist on a personal level (they’ve protested my synagogue a few times). At a minimum I think it would be decent for you to remove references to them, as I can’t imagine they don’t elicit a similar emotional reaction in others as well. It would also make the rest of your post more “objective”, though in my view it is flawed beyond repair.

    Good luck with school and all.

    • Dear Jake:

      Many thanks for your insightful and critical comments. I try my best to address your comments below, and I apologize for the length of time required to respond to them. If I do not adequately address your concerns, please feel free to comment further. It is my fullest intent to emphasize that reasoned and intellectual debate concerning this matter is lacking, whilst emotional off-the-cuff comments are abounding. My best responses to your comments are as follows:

      > 1. It is shameful that you subtly equate Marshall Sahlins with Westboro Baptist Church, possibly the most hateful public group in the US. Also, to criticize Sahlins for breaking “Godwin’s Law” after your Westboro Baptist segue is hypocritical and poor rhetoric.


      It was never my intention or execution to equate Dr. Sahlins with the Westboro Baptist Church. My intention was to equate the current cacophony in blogs, tweets, and other on-line media, perpetuated by a small group of individuals who happen to have intellectual ties with Dr. Sahlins with the members of the Westboro Baptist Church. Dr. Sahlins himself made a single relatively muted (and principled) statement, and he has been relatively quiet since, thereby maintaining a modicum of decorum.
      I disagree that this is “hypocritical” in any sense of the word. Rather, I view it as satire. I neither call any of these individuals foul names, nor use profanity. I have attempted to lampoon their actions, and I have no desire to besmirch their reputations as academics. My primary concern is that they use unmoderated forums of their own creation to spread gossip and innuendo, while at the same time criticizing a fellow academician for his lack of data, statistics, and facts.
      I disagree with you regarding my citation of Godwin’s Law. In less than 2000 words, Dr. Sahlins makes a direct comparison of Dr. Chagnon’s methods of keeping track of individuals to those of Nazis attempting to catalog people practicing Judaism so as to extirpate them. The book review containing this comment was was published 13 years ago. Dr. Sahlins is the individual that made the Chagnon-Holocaust connection, and therefore your comment regarding “poor rhetoric” (rhetoric being defined as the art of attempting to inform, persuade, or motivate an audience) may be better leveled at him. I stand by my citation of Godwin’s Law as a historical fact. That is, Sahlins was the first to compare his rival to Hitler. All I have done here is say that “Ah ha! Godwin’s Law is in effect!”.

      2. Are you not aware of Foucault, Gramsci, or Nietzsche, or why they are important and related? Have you read a challenging political book, or taken any humanities classes, ever? Also you accuse Sahlins’ of capitalizing, which is a nice bit of irony (he doesn’t really like capitalism).


      Yes, I am well aware of Foucault, Gramsci, and Nietzche and why (some people feel that) they are important to current anthropological discourse. Thank you for asking. I am not sure how this question is relevant, as my quote from Sahlins was (at least in my estimation) intended as humorous. However, if you would like to engage in a discourse regarding these individuals, I am more than capable.
      Thank you for recognizing the high irony in my reference to Sahlins “capitalizing” on something. One would think that having recognized the latter, one would have recognized the former.

      3. It only takes like 5 sentences of Sahlins’ Wikipedia page to get to the part about protesting the Vietnam War. He organized some of the first “teach-ins” where “they canceled classes and held public lectures on the Vietnam War to protest the government’s escalation of the conflict” (Gonzalez 2004: 34). That was 1965, so his interest in anti-war politics goes back a bit further than you imagined!


      See the above. Sir, this is called irony. Not irony in the Alanis Morissette sense, but in the Oscar Wilde sense – saying exactly the opposite of what you mean. My point here is that so much of what is being said happens to center on Sahlins’ disagreements with Chagnon’s anthropology, when in fact, both this and the NAS’s complicity in military affairs were cited as reasons for his resignation. To focus solely on the Sahlins/Chagnon disagreement is to do a disservice to Sahlins legacy as someone that I, frankly, admire as a pacifist and as a principled anthropologist.

      4. Your criticism of Jonathan Marks reveals you haven’t looked much at his work. He doesn’t post on his blog much, but it is definitely worth looking at if you have some time.


      Your statement that I criticized Jonathan Marks reveals that you completely failed to read and/or understand my post. I am not criticizing Marks for his blog, his frequency of posts, or anything of the sort. I have a great respect for his work. My point was only that Marks’ criticism was that Chagnon’s “methods for collecting, analyzing and interpreting his data are outside the range of acceptable practice”. My point here was that Chagnon conducted his data collection in the mid 1960s, and that “acceptable practice” has changed dramatically since then. Are the methods that Dr. Marks used in the mid 1980s to analyze the DNA of 25 chimpanzees the same that would be used today? No, they are not.

      5. You complain about UC tribalism, and how one little community around Sahlins is engaged in a “hatchet job” on Chagnon. From John Horgan: “I was still working on my review of Darkness when I received emails from five prominent scholars: Richard Dawkins, Edward Wilson, Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett and Marc Hauser. Although each wrote separately, the emails were obviously coordinated” (SCI AM Feb 18, 2013). Your tribalism argument isn’t wrong, but its not especially morally provocative either. Most academics have some allies and friends.


      I am well aware of Horgan’s quote, and I would add the final component of his quote: “All had learned …that I was reviewing Darkness for the Times. Warning that a positive review might ruin my career, the group urged me either to denounce Darkness or to withdraw as a reviewer”. I would argue that history has essentially settled on the side of Dawkins, Wilson, Pinks, Dennett, and Hauser, in that every academic institution that has examined “Darkness in El Dorado” has found the allegations to be baseless and unfounded. More to the point, yes, academic tribalism exists, but your point is moot. Dawkins et al. communicated privately with a book reviewer and communicated their advice (albeit coordinated). They did not publicly take to the streets and begin slandering other people such that their allegations were regurgitated by major media outlets.

      6. The first volume of HAU, an anthropology journal with UC hands all over it, gave 20 pages to Leach’s previously unpublished Frazer Lecture from 1982. Additionally, Graeber’s first published scholarship was on the exhumation of corpses in rural Madagascar, so your grave stomping metaphor makes for nice unintended satire.

      Thank you. I am very happy that at least one aspect of my blog post was recognized as satire, and that you caught the reference. I was actually concerned that some people would not see it.

      7. I’m from KC and have been affected by Westboro Baptist on a personal level (they’ve protested my synagogue a few times). At a minimum I think it would be decent for you to remove references to them, as I can’t imagine they don’t elicit a similar emotional reaction in others as well. It would also make the rest of your post more “objective”, though in my view it is flawed beyond repair.

      Your claim of personal relevance the idiots from Westboro is touching. They also protested in Columbia and several other cities in which I’ve lived. I have many close friends who have served (and some who have died) in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Kosovo. I also have many homosexual friends who are daily discriminated against. That certainly does not make me an expert. And, though I feel share your feelings against the idiots from Westboro, I am using them as a foil for the behavior of people who have every reason to know that they should be behaving better. Please realize that my posting is meant only to vilify the Westboro moronica and the way in which they spread a doctrine of hate, innuendo, and subjective judgment. Similarly, there are individuals in the discipline of anthropology who are shouting loudly, protesting, and using foul language to attack someone with whom they disagree. My point in including the Westboro group was intended entirely as satire and hyperbole – the same as referring to Chagnon as “the most controversial anthropologist” and as “a complete fucking idiot.”

      • I’m glad to have read this response because now I get a sense of what you have intended with this piece, but I seriously doubt that the people who you ‘lampooned’ will get the joke. If you throw in some less politically toxic references, like ones that are actually funny because they are absurd and not because they upset people (e.g. WBC) then it’ll be clearer. For what it’s worth, my first response was “oh god, now everyone is going to see how snarky we are in private”. It’s hard to infer your intentions but with this explanation I admire how you crafted it.

      • Kate:

        I would say that my post is infinitely less “politically toxic” than what I reference. Examples: Calling a colleague “incompetent”, saying that whomever agrees with him is “a fucking idiot”, and reiterating claims from almost 15 years ago that have long since been proven completely unsubstantiated. All I did here was link to, and describe what other folks were saying. If what I made public was perceived as “toxic”, the onus is on them, not me. I am unclear how any of my opinion was “toxic”. If it was, I apologize, and will attempt to correct it.

        And, for what it’s worth — more non-anthropologists (i.e., “everyone”) heard the NPR, BBC, Washington Post, and NY Times coverage than this silly blog. And, that was my point — lots of journalists for those organizations simply found the same few individuals who have been repeating unsubstantiated claims from 13 years ago on their blogs, and those journalists quote them as factual evidence. Example, King’s post on NPR referred to Jonathan Marks’ allegation that Chagnon is “incompetent” without any inquiry or critical thought, and stated that “The Sahlins essay [non-refereed book review] from 2000 shows how key parts of Chagnon’s argument have been ‘dismembered’ scientifically.” In actuality, Sahlins’ newspaper article regurgitated the allegations made by Tierney in his book, and that book has been disavowed by virtually everyone in academia. That people with academic credentials could make allegations, and that widely disseminated news outlets would accept and publish them uncritically is lunacy, and is a detriment to our field of study. As I pointed out in Barbara’s earlier comment, at least a fair review of Chagnon’s findings being “discredited” (which, I am fairly certain has never actually happened) while not mentioning that Silks’ 1980 peer-reviewed research article in American Anthropologist that “dismembered” Sahlins’ theoretical perspective is intellectually reprehensible.

      • Re: your reply (it won’t let me counter-reply) – I agree with your specific criticisms, I think there is always work to be done in crafting that image in the public.

        I suppose I did not clarify that I think my discomfort is actually productive. I was more commenting on your editorial choices and what I think are good intentions, and that we who are reading rather than writing this might miss that because the first thing we see is a lightning rod example.

      • Kate:

        Agreed entirely. The point of turning this on its head in a satire is to show how the damage has already been done by other individuals. We (myself included!) have been asleep at the wheel. I had no intention of this post ever getting this much attention. I am not a professional blogger nor do I even write that much on this stupid blog. But other “professionals” do, and nobody calls them out on it. Yet, the world is changing. Journalists and the public use the Web much faster than those with a moderating voice can respond.

        -M

  3. docreedy said

    That was the most erudite laugh I’ve had in a while. From an ardent believer of we’d-like-to-be-part-of-a-more-civil-anthropology, thanks!

    • Thanks! That’s exactly what it was intended to be. I am very glad that both you and Dr. Chagnon (no connection implied, whoever you are) found some humor in it.

  4. If you’re going to call for civil discourse and polite, professional disagreement while also writing, referring to anthropological views you take issue with, “What’s worse, is that media venues (such as NPR) are picking this vomit up, and repeating it verbatim”– where’s the credibility?

    By the way, my NPR piece was a blog post, and not a book review.

    • Barbara:

      You are correct, and I admit my mistake in referring to your piece as book review. Admittedly Dr. Chagnon did not respond to your request for a comment. That’s his fault, and I’m okay with that. I liked your post, it was the least shrill and accusatorial of anything out at the time. Perhaps I was premature and unduly critical. But, when you said that “As anthropologist Marshall Sahlins explained in an essay from 2000, Chagnon’s conclusions on homicide and reproductive success among the Ya̧nomamö attempt to ‘support the theory that violence has been progressively inscribed in our genes’ ” you were essentially repeating a Washington Post book review from 13 years ago that has long since been refuted. You repeated Jonathan Marks’ allegation that Chagnon is “incompetent” without any inquiry or critical thought, and you stated that “The Sahlins essay from 2000 shows how key parts of Chagnon’s argument have been ‘dismembered’ scientifically.”. This is not the case, as I attempted to show–admittedly satirically. Sahlins’ book review simply reiterates the allegations in Tierney’s book–a book that has basically been disavowed by anyone with a dog in this fight (if you’re not convinced, show me something he’s published since then). You can’t cite that book review, ignore everything that came afterward, and say that Chagnon’s work has been “dismembered.” Shall I refer to how a lowly graduate student named Joan Silk “dismembered” Marshall Sahlins in 1980, in what is probably the best-quality cultural anthropological journal of the times? At least Silk’s work had references and data to support it.

  5. What I don’t get is how you think it’s productive to tear everyone down just to conclude that both sides contribute something productive to anthropology. Unless your point is to contradict yourself or be known as ‘that clever guy who said those true things’. It’s pretty unsettling to me to see the things people say with their close friends, within our discipline, aired out in public. Perhaps for that reason alone this is a worthwhile piece of writing.

    But I still don’t think trolling people who are trying to have a legitimate debate about how our internal politics get translated to the public is positive. As a fellow archaeologist I am sure that you are aware of the political labor archaeology has (always) been used for. Maybe critics of Chagnon are not articulating their concerns clearly, or why they think they’re important – I would agree with that. But the most recent debate is a response to Chagnon’s reflections on his experiences with the ‘violent tribe’ of anthropology, right? When much of the public still believes that anthropologists study ‘uncivilized tribes’, it is worthwhile to reflect on our complicity in creating and re-creating that image.

    • Dear Kate:

      My point is not most definitely not to “tear everyone down.” My point is to demonstrate clearly and with direct citation how other individuals are tearing someone else down. I apologize if I my satire, irony, and humor did not make this clear.

      I am bewildered by your accusation of “trolling.” This post was relatively late in the game, and only came after people who have tenure-track positions made statements about Dr. Chagnon such as “only a fucking idiot would believe that.” I would point out that my own post was intended as satire and avoided any name calling or f-bombs. This is clearly not a debate in “response to Chagnon’s reflections on his experiences,” because none of the individuals I quote in my post have actually quoted or even reviewed Chagnon’s newest book. Rather, they are reiterating claims from 14 years ago– claims that have long since been proven baseless, and that the AAA has rejected.

      I COMPLETELY agree with your statement that:
      “When much of the public still believes that anthropologists study ‘uncivilized tribes’, it is worthwhile to reflect on our complicity in creating and re-creating that image.”

      But, Chagnon’s book with the subtitle “The Fierce People” was published in 1968. Have you searched WorldCat for other anthropology books published in the same year, in the same series, or even later than that? Are you aware that his dissertation was titled “Yanomamo Warfare, Social Organization, and Marriage Alliances”?

      Yes, what you point out is a problem — but it is lunacy to hold Chagnon responsible for this problem. Have your actually heard Chagnon speak about his research? I did, once…15 years ago. He had absolutely nothing but respect, admiration, and courtesy of these people. This “creating and re-creating this image” issue is a red herring. You should not, and cannot blame one individual for “the public still [believing] that anthropologists study ‘uncivilized tribes’ “. Is this Dr. Chagnon’s fault? Is it his publisher’s fault for choosing that title? I would say it is all of our faults for not conveying clearly and concisely what it is that we do. But, of course blaming the “other” has always been easier than accepting our own faults (with apologies to Dr. Said).

      • As is typical of me, I am generally thinking on a broader scale than the people I’m conversing with. I certainly did not mean to intimate that Chagnon is ‘responsible’ for the participation dilemma in anthropology, but I think the debate over his specific work certainly motivated people to really engage with it. That’s valuable. I don’t even begin to claim that I understand his intentions or what ‘really happened’.

        I think people on BOTH SIDES are using a harsh tone sometimes. Calling people idiots and using swear words is not always more upsetting than using specific, academic jargon or ironic references. Heated argument betrays that everyone cares deeply about what is at stake. But naming names might just serve to fuel the flames instead of switching to a conversation about why really care, what is at stake, and whether we can agree on what anthropology is really supposed to be about.

        I am unwilling to take a side because, just as you say, both of these people are major figures that have shaped the discipline I have devoted my life to. Like my grandma, who did and said some pretty awful things to other people, they’ve done nothing to me. So instead, I watch these debates as a beginning scholar trying to understand where I am willing to place myself within the discipline. It sounds like you are doing the same labor, but your clever references to the literature are just a little harder to catch than my less-than-elegant comments on your blog!

      • Kate:

        I understand that you “did not mean to intimate that Chagnon is ‘responsible’ for the participation dilemma in anthropology”, but other folks have (e.g., see the 2010 quote from Leslie Sponsel in my original post). And therein lies the problem. This individual is being held up as a straw man for all that was wrong with anthropology in the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s. Perhaps I’m from an old-school conservative family, but I believe it’s important to venerate your ancestors rather than to vilify them. Just like your “grandma, who did and said some pretty awful things”, I still love, respect, and admire my own grandmother who once asked me “You’re not taking that colored girl to the dance tonight, are you?”.

        All I’m saying here is that the debate about anthropology has turned in to name-calling and innuendo, and there is little to no mutual respect for our ancestors. I didn’t agree with Lewis Binford on a lot of things, but when he came to look at my poster in 2008 at the SAA meetings, I didn’t say he was “incompetent” or “a fucking idiot”. I was polite. When asked about certain things, I told him I didn’t agree with him, and I showed him the data I had to support my position.

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