Re: Harris

Richard Spear (
Wed, 10 May 1995 20:31:17 PST

Harris is hardly a Marxist. Marxists acknowledge praxis ... directed human
action that is motivated by things (ideas) outside of environmental pressures
or mere billiard ball reactions. Harris is a Functionalist. This is perhaps
the fatal flaw. Functionalists operate from an unassailable position ... if
something exists there is a material reason for it and it must (in some way)
have been selected for and it is therefore useful. The problem here is obvious
... they do not address the question of "why *this* thing and not some other
thing?" and argue tautologically.

Marxists recognize that human action is motivated by human *perceptions* that
may have very little to do with material reality - hence false consciousness,
for example. There are serious problems with Harris' explanation of Aztec
sacrifice (there was no protein shortage in the Valley of Mexico) and his
sacred cow stuff was challenged by many anthropologists.

I *like* reading Harris ... and I like his straightforward cultural
materialist approach. It is not the whole truth, however, and it is often not
even a little bit of what is going on. His analysis of Yanomamo warfare and
the explanation that it is population control by reducing the female
population is glib and attractive, but that too has been strongly challenged
by other anthropologists.

Harris' *real* appeal to Western culture is its rationalization of the status
quo ... whether he supports that position or not.

Regards, Richard