Sociobio' - Humanistic vs. Scientific

Bjorn Conrad Fry (bear@USNET.US.NET)
Sat, 17 Dec 1994 22:46:15 -0500

Another perspective:

Sociobiology is not something that should be dismissed out of hand. Taking
an "absolutist" position with regard to it, one way or the other, would not
be wise either. I can see what Adam Smith and others were perceiving when
they referred to the instinct, passion and drive that makes man build an
economy, a society, and better way of life. Anyone who has ever experienced
the innate differences in human drive and passion, even among siblings,
may, quite likely, see the truth in those words. And, this is putting such
notions as innate intelligence differentials totally aside. I would venture
to suggest that still more sociobiological examinations vis-a-vis "the fire
in ones belly" should be encouraged. As Robert Nisbet points out in his
writings on Sociobiology, Tylor saw the sociobiological as being something
that logically should be examined only after a sufficiently thorough
cultural investigation and understanding had been realized. This seems to
me to be a highly sensible approach. In essence, Tylor realized that, what
we call Sociobiology today, required a mastery of both the cultural and the
biological. The problem is however, that too many sociobiologists have come
to define their discipline from an excessively biological perspective. The
cultural, as Tylor saw it, is the sum total of the ideas, norms, values,
processes, artifacts, and symbols inherited by individuals socially,
through one or another form of postnatal training, education, and
socialization. The biologist or even the sociobiologist as if studying the
behavioral patterns of a particular bird or insect, tends to place only
superficial significance to most things cultural by moving so exclusively
in a heuristic world. Culture is seen more as relating to "... language,
dress, ornament, or technology, not ideas and values which drive human
beings to heights or depths of behavior unknown to subhuman species" as
Nisbet puts it. Edward O. Wilson made it clear that the seductive successes
of modern biology as opposed to the relative stagnation in the social
sciences, during the same period, has made an "Anschluss" of sorts between
the two cultures that much more attractive. I would tend to agree with
this. The only _slight_ problem I see though, is that the two cultures have
attracted "scholarly" devotees of such divergent character or psychological
makeup, who have long since found their academic comfort zones, that any
move towards convergence or rapprochement, that might upset their feel good
tenured niches, might very well end up turning in the wind. Of course, the
absolutist and the relativist simply have to agree, and do so without
upsetting the apple cart. ;-) This is what I mean by irresponsible

When I see Cultural Anthropology, as a whole, being split similarly,
I can only try to communicate how I see it. Anthropology is one field where
the great human disciplines must come together. Anthropologists who lean
excessively either towards the humanistic or the scientific, run the risk
of simply talking past each other and potentially even past the very
answers they seek. The individuals I have come to know, who have been best
able to master something even approaching the type of balance desirable,
have tended to be Europeans. I wonder if, with respect to this, there is
some sort of penalty associated with growing up in, and or being educated
in, a heterogeneous society, as opposed to a relatively homogeneous one
where there are no defacto taboos against certain categories of
conclusions. It might be that culturally heterogeneous environments render
all too obvious the socially explosive consequences of certain types of
findings, regardless. It might be much easier for someone from a relatively
homogeneous culture to remain objective in such matters because of the
relative lack of potentially negative repercussions that certain
unflattering discoveries, findings or theories might bring. Just some

Let it be said, once again, that most of what is wrong, and of
what is most perfectable in this world, is located between our
own ears. If we don't first start living our own lives to the
fullest, as individuals, in just fashion, and as empowered exam-
ples, instead of languishing in the addictive maelstrom of blame,
dependency, and its powerlessness, there is little hope for us.

Bjorn Conrad Fry - American
Bethesda, Maryland