Re: Ecological Functionalism (was Different patriarchy Model)

Gerold Firl (
8 Dec 1994 13:02:00 -0800

In article <3c47q2$7f4@status> (Daniel Rosenblatt) writes:

>If you want to accept ecological functionalist explanations for human
>social institutions, fell free to do so but please don't suggest that
>those of us who don't are ignorant or blinded.

Why not? Some of you are ignorant or blinded. I'm not saying that everyone
who rejects the functional/material approach is necessarily a fruitcake,
but obviously some are. Religious fundamentalists, for example. They
actually believe that their revealed Truth was handed-down from on-high, by
supernatural beings. Eisler is not so far out of touch as this; she merely
misinterprates, viewing history as a subset of "gender studies". I'm
willing to entertain the possibility that you are neither ignorant, nor
blinded; for all I know you might have a keen insight into the origin and
evolution of culture.

>A basic problem with
>Harris' approach (with *any* functionalist account) is that it explains
>institutions without regard for any of their particular features.

Actually, Harris makes extensive use of the "particular features" when
analysing particular cultures. How else can they be understood?

>is not an attempt to support Eisner, with whom I am unfamiliar, nor do I
>want to get into the specific's of Harris' argument as outline above,
>although it seems pretty full of holes.

Somehow I find your argument less than convincing. Perhaps you might
consider citing a particular feature or two.

>What I would like to point out
>is that the mode of explanation Harris adopts renders most of what is
>under investigation as epiphenomenal: what is the logic of the ritual
>system, how does war fit in. Why do people fight (from their point of

It is certainly important to understand the perspective of the
participants, but many times a clearer view is seen from outside.
Maimonides, court physician to saladin, was the first to propose the
naturalistic explanation for the jewish ban on pork based on the health
risk of undercooked meat; such an approach is preferable to the Word of God
belief system, but Harris argues that still more fundamental explanations
exist. According to harris, pork is placed under religious ban in the
mideast because pigs are an unsuitable energy-conversion system in the
middle-eastern ecology. Pigs need lots of water, and are very efficient
foragers in wooded environments where they can root and feed on fruit and
nuts. In the arid middle east they must be fed on human food and must be
given large amounts of precious water. It could be done, but at the cost of
efficiency losses which would put a culture at risk in relation to
neighboring cultures.

If you ask a jew, or a muslim, why they don't eat pork, they might say
"because god commanded it so", or "because pigs are dirty", or "because
pigs carry disease". All of these things are true. But cultures exist in a
social ecology with other cultures, constantly expanding and contracting,
competing and cooperating, teaching and learning, all in relation to
surrounding cultures. A slight improvement in resource conversion
efficiency can translate into a huge competitive advantage, in cultural
evolution just as in biological evolution. In the moist, temperate climates
of europe and china (and new guineau) pigs are a good investment. In
palestine they are not. Cultures adapt to these realities, without
necessarily being conscious of why. Some things are epiphenomenal, others
are vital. Getting enough to eat is vital. Nuances of mystical dogma either
ensure that believers get enough to eat, or they are replaced with beliefs
that do.

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf