Re: Suppression of Sociobiology

Gerold Firl (
10 Dec 1996 20:31:14 GMT

In article <>, Ryan Brown 942-7905 <> writes:

|> On Sun, 8 Dec 1996, Phil Nicholls wrote:

|> > The fact is
|> > that anthropology is always somewhat heretical -- at least a part of
|> > it is. It seems to try to re-invent itself every 20 years or so.
|> >
|> > Sociobiology was not suppressed. There were those who tried but it
|> > was the exception rather than the rule. There is even a journal now
|> > -- Ethology and Sociobiology.

|> Hmmm. I find this argument pretty unconvincing. My experience in the
|> acaemy these days indicates a SERIOUS split between sociocultural
|> anthropologists
|> and anthropologists in evolutionary studies. Not only this, but many MANY
|> people outside the academy still remember the major backlash against
|> sociobiology, and biology and genetics are a VERY sensitive issue when
|> they leave the realm of the non-human. Seems that the insant I start
|> talking about biological bases for human behavior, eugenics enters the
|> discourse.

Right. There's nothing wrong with differences of opinion, method, and
emphasis between disciplines such as physical and cultural anthropology.
It's to be expected, and can provide some healthy tension.
Unfortunately, anthropology has gone way beyond; how is it that a
science which had a proud tradition of heresy in the early 20th
century could launch an inquisition a few decades later?

Rather than engaging in an open debate regarding the relative
influence of biology and culture on human behavior, many
anthropologists have preferred to stifle such discussion. If we treat
the anthropological subculture as an object of study, what factors
might have led such a community, who we normally think of as uniquely
open-minded, to adopt such a close-minded stance?

|> > The fact is that sociobiological models
|> > can very easily turn ugly and have. We need the opposition to keep
|> > them from those excesses. Biology is not destiny, it is just
|> > biology.

Phil, can you elaborate on this? I'm wondering just what you have in
mind here. The eugenics movement does not appear to be a viable threat
anymore - WWII put the quietus to that - is there any more recent
"sociobiological model" you can cite? The constant harkening to
turn-of-the-century (and yes, I mean 19th century) social darwinism as
support for the anti-sociobiology crusade is puzzling to me. Does
anybody seriously believe that such archaic ethnocentrism might stage
a comeback in the west? It should be quite clear from an analysis of
contemporary culture that such fears are unfounded.

I believe it was in the 30's that sigmund freud voiced the hope that
someday the art of psychology would become a subdiscipline of the
science of biology. I find his lack of territoriality to be
refreshingly scientific. Anthropology does not seem to have achieved
that level of objectivity.

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