Re: Anthropology and Religion

Scott Sellers (
Mon, 16 Oct 1995 20:53:34 GMT (Gerold Firl) wrote:

>In article <45hko5$> (Scott Sellers) writes:

>>Sociobiology doesn't merely state that human beings have instincts. It
>>attempts to explain social structure based on said instincts.

>Well, _explain_ is a little too sweeping; sociobiology doesn't *explain*
>human social structure, it merely clarifies the biological influence and
>evolutionary background of those structures. Our instincts influence our
>social structure; simple, obvious, and undeniable, unless you have wrap-
>around ideological blinders.

I don't. The question is, how do you seperate the instinctive from the
rest? I don't think it is possible.

>>I find this
>>reductionist in the extreme, in that it reduces human history, human
>>agency, and _human_ struggle to struggle for biological survival.

>Many people do not have to "struggle" to survive these days, because of the
>success of our culture, but for most of human history that wasn't true. Our
>evolutionary past does not include grocery stores; we had to earn our daily
>bread the old-fashioned way: like hunting it down and killing it. Or
>digging it out of the earth with a pointed stick. All the while avoiding
>other predators, including human ones.

>The struggle for biological survival is *precisely* what formed our *human*

The struggle for biological survival was won roughly 2-3 million years ago,
with the development of transmitted, self-reproducing culture. You know --
the pointed sticks (the use of which, by the way, enabled a !Kung adult to
subsist nicely in a marginal environment on roughly 15 hours of labor per
week, until very recent times.) Since then things have become entirely too
complicated to simply chalk anything up to some biologically determined
*human* nature. Including human predation.

>>Love as enhancing survival probabilities? Wow. Now I can finally
>>understand _Romeo and Juliet_. Not.

>Are you suggesting that love is somehow different from our other emotions,
>and did *not* evolve as a result of the selective advantage it conferred to
>those who experienced it? That would be an amazing claim. Or are you
>suggesting that sociobiology can cast no ilumination on the conflict
>between the interests of individuals and their kin-groups, particularly
>where reproduction is concerned? Such a conflict lies precisely on the
>borderline of biology and culture, that blurry and fascinating boundary,
>and sociobiology, together with anthropology, is the best way to understand
>the nature of that conflict.

I don't deny the evolutionary background of humans, including the
biological underpinnings of emotions. However, I do think that love, for
example, is largely culturally defined. So are the human actions which
surround it. Biological selection is really beside the point. Of course,
Romeo and Juliette want to have sex. Isn't that a given? But in the end,
you don't find either R or J spawning too many offspring. Suicide will do

Regarding the behavior of the Montagues and the Capulets, I'd look to
specific historical and cultural factors if I wanted to ascribe *meaning*
to it. I think extending a sort of *biological organism* status to kinship
structures is stretching it. Not to deny that they struggle to survive.
But, in my opinion, the arena in which they struggle is cultural and
political. Biology, while definitely a factor, is not central to social

>You seem to feel that a scientific understanding of the relationship
>between biology and culture is somehow _demeaning_ to your dignity as a
>human being; I say that your view is very similar to the judeo-christian
>attempt to deny our animal heritage, to "elevate" man "above" the animal
>world. Such a view is not only contrary to fact, but entirely unnecessary
>to the construction of an ethical society.

No. I say that any specific link made between biology and culture is
tenuous at best, and even if valid, offers little in the way of explanatory
value. I consider culture a major adaptation which essentially removes
humankind from a simple _struggle to survive_ in the biological sense, into
the realm of economic, political, and social struggle. I think attempts to
reduce these post-cultural struggles to "bio-logic" is at best grotesque
simplification, and most likely motivated from within political struggle.

>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

It's nice to see that you've progressed from attacking a word (brute) to
going after sentences (see my text you quote above). Next time, how about
giving me a whole paragraph here and there?

Scott Sellers