Re: Tribes

Robert Snower (rs222@WORLDNET.ATT.NET)
Sun, 18 Aug 1996 20:20:27 +0000

At 07:07 AM 8/18/96 +0000, Mike Salovesh wrote:

>Shapiro seems to assume at least the following, none of which amounts to
>a testable statement:
> 1. Shapiro assumes that at some time in the past of H. sapiens,
>only women knew for certain that they had an undisputed biological
>connection to their offspring.

This is a most trivial point in Shapiro's theory. His theory doesn't
really care, or depend, on the question of paternity identity. It is trying
to establish the extension of biologial kinship to other individuals,
whether that biological kinship happens to be via the mother, or the father.

> 2. Shapiro assumes that the nurturing of offspring is done only
>by females.

Again, not substantive to the theory.

> 3. Shapiro assumes the absolute universality of "totemic"
>symbolism in all groups of early H. sap. Good God, we don't even have
>any reasonable evidence that ANY early H. sap did the kind of thinking or
>symbolizing that writers like Frazier would have called "totemism".

I am surprised to hear this. (The second sentence, I mean.) I have read
much I found quite convincing, and Shapiro includes very convincing (to me)
evidence. Not just Frazer, but many many have called it "totemism" and
don't challenge its prevalence.
>Aww, nuts, that's enough. On these points alone, the quotations from
>Shapiro clearly show his incompetence to say anything about the origins of
>any form of early human social organization.
>But Thomas Kavanagh's reference to those who originated what he calls
>"19th century unilineal cultural evolutionism/Freudian evolution" as
>"classic -- AND DISCREDITED -- nineteenth century writers" (my emphasis)
>is another kettle of fish.
>To say that Morgan, Lubbock, Tylor, Maine, and Frazier are discredited is
>to adopt a series of attitudes dating back to around the turn of this
>century. Don't depend too closely on Boas, Kroeber, and their descendants
>for this discrediting. For example, Kroeber, in his both brilliant and
>stupid JRAI article on classificatory systems of relationship, obviously
>thought he had devastated Morgan. Far from it: he revealed to anyone who
>cared to read both Morgan and Kroeber that Kroeber never read Morgan. He
>completely misunderstood what Morgan meant by "classificatory system"
>and proceeeded to demonstrate that his warped misapprehension was pretty
>bad thinking. Morgan would have agreed, for far different reasons. But
>he never laid a glove on what Morgan actually said.
>The writers appearing on Kavanagh's list of 19th century evolutionists, in
>the main, were lots more empirically oriented than Boas's legend about
>them would have it.
>Tell me that the basic theoretical framework largely shared among "Morgan,
>Lubbock, Tylor, Maine, or Frazier" and other 19th century evolutionists
>has been discredited and I'll go along. But to say that the work of these
>authors "had no basis in empirical ethnography" just ain't so.
>Those Dead White European Men had their shortcomings, sure. But given
>the setting of their times and places, they did pretty creditable work.
>They haven't been discredited at all!

"Discredited" is strictly an emotional binge, not criticism, unless it is
backed up by careful specification. We don't say Harvey "discredited"
Hippocrates, or Einstein "discredited" Newton, or Darwin "discredited"

>The real trouble with Mark Shapiro, at least in those portions quoted
>here by R. Snower, is that he shows no concern for empirical ethnography
>at all. He's writing "just so" stories, and deserves no more credence
>than Rudyard Kipling's Just-So Stories explaining why the elephant has a
>trunk. Dressing up those stories in the trappings of sociobiology adds
>nothing that is any more trustworthy than Kipling. What Snower quoted to
>us is also pretty bad sociobiology. But I'll let sociobiologists worry
>about correcting that -- I think their whole approach is wrong, for
>purely anthropological reasons.

He gives lots of evidence--ethnographic, but more archaeological: statuary,
tablets, tombs, that reveal the content of ancient rites, ancient texts
concerned with myths, ceremonial behavior, the origins of drama. As for the
sociobiological part, he is the ONLY writer to make a serious effort to
apply sociobiology to anthropology, besides Wilson himself, and I leave it
to others to compare Shapiro's work to the last chapter of Wilson's work.
Granted, he does not cite the Peace Corps type of anthropology prevalent
today. But remember, he is interested in discovering the nature of
pre-historic culture, not in alleviating contemporary angst. Contemporary
cultures are subject to the distortions of time, internally, and from
external influence, making them poor empirical tests of the past. If you
want to know about Athenian democracy, it doesn't do much good to stand on
the street corners of present day Athens.

Perhaps that is why so little theory comes out of present day ethnography.
It couldn't if it wanted to. But we know it is the other way around, don't
we? The emphasis is on the contemporary because the interest is in the
subjective, not the objective. Theory is bad.

Best wishes. R. Snower