Re: culture as gene-flow regulator: the arunta

Gerold Firl (
1 Oct 1996 00:04:26 GMT

In article <>, (Len Piotrowski) writes:

|> >[Right on time, Firl - tedium transmogrifies itself into Firlism]

Right on time, indeed. I notice that you immediately fire-off a reply
any time I post on this subject. Usually within a couple of hours.

If you want to adopt the pose of bored superiority, you should
probably wait a little longer to reply. Your eagerness is a little too

|> In article <52hb3l$> (Gerold Firl) writes:

|> > And on what basis does this writer conclude that
|> >the original field workers were wrong?

|> Subsequent ethnographic work.

I'm willing to entertain the notion that the reports of spencer and
gillen are unreliable. I have a hard time believing that service was
gulled by a couple of con men, but if you can produce the evidence,
I'd like to see it. Who were these subsequent ethnographers? When and
where did they publish?

|> >Levi-Strauss has never been to
|> >australia; in fact, he was an office anthropologist. I would need some
|> >pretty good reasons to take the conclusions of an acedemician in a
|> >comfortable french drawing room over those of the field workers.

|> Well, let me see, between the two of us, only one of us has actually read
|> Spencer and Gillen's original work. If you won't regard Levi-Strauss' reading
|> of Spencer and Gillen, you won't regard anyone else's either.

I have never claimed to have read spencer and gillen. Service cites
them, along with a couple dozen other sources, as the basis for his
profile, noting that they were the first to document arunta customs,
and the fact that the arunta had not yet been heavily impacted by
european immigrants at the time.

I suggest you
|> read it for yourself and contemplate the "oddities" they report existing in
|> the inhospitable regions of the central Australian desert: razor grass that
|> sliced to ribbons their heavy leather booths, but had no impact on the bare
|> feet of the aborigine; aborigines rolling into their camp fires at night and
|> completely burning off fingers and toes with no noticeable effect on their
|> health the following day; aboriginal hunters capable of tracking down honey
|> bees across miles of open desert, and smelling the arrival of thunder storms
|> days in advance; fantastic scenes of blood letting; aborigines stoically
|> taking spears thrusts clean through their thighs in retribution for crossing
|> the local range of a neighboring group, and the miraculous healing process
|> that followed; the many incredible and fantastic animals and plants that
|> amazed them on their "travels." Sounds more like the kind of fantastic stories
|> designed more to sell books back on the continent than objective and
|> scientific scholarship, enough so to cause pause in any evaluation of absolute
|> veracity. But perhaps you have an independent and absolute source to the truth
|> that the rest of us don't have, Firl.

That sounds pretty bogus, all right. Are you then suggesting that
service was hoodwinked by some penny-dreadful travelers tale?

|> >According to Service, paternity was not an issue; conception resulted
|> >from the entry of the local totem spirit into a womans body. Are you
|> >sure you're thinking of the right aborigines?

|> Even if told to one of these original writers, it is Levi-Strauss' opinion
|> based on other ethnographers, that this wasn't literally true, that aborigines
|> knew full well their own paternity.

That may well be; ideologies which purport to decouple conception from
paternity may well be cases of willful self-delusion, serving a
purpose whose meaning lies beyond the facts of biology.

But you know all about that, right?

|> > And saying that the
|> >arunta were too ethically formalized and morally proscribed to engage
|> >in anything so crass and vulgar as licentious sex sounds more like the
|> >delicate sensibility of the salon than the observations of the field.

|> Hogwash! It's a fact of their cultural system.

Can you provide a citation to support this claim? "Facts" are not
always factual, as you well know.

|> >|> >You had also challenged the data which I had used to develop the
|> >|> >hypothesis, claiming that the description of arunta society presented
|> >|> >by elman service is erroneous.

|> >|> Scientific misconduct under the above rules.

|> >How?

|> "...introducing ad hoc, content-decreasing modifications in one's theories
|> in order to protect them against refutation ..."

The hypothesis has not been changed at all; neither have the
predictions proposed as a means of falsification. I don't think you
understood the hypothesis the first time around, and it's not clear
that you do even now.

|> >|> > What this means is
|> >|> >that semen either dribbles down the groove cut along the underside of
|> >|> >the shaft (incidentally, resulting in more of a flatiron than a cylindar)
|> >|> >in the case of male-superior positions, or else running onto the ground
|> >|> >in the case of female superior positions.

|> >|> Hogwash! You've been challenged on this before. There is no evidence the
|> >|> urethra is cut!

|> >No evidence except the accounts of people who have seen it.

|> Not you, for instance, and not any one you've read, and you discount anyone
|> else who's seen and written about it, or anyone else who's read a different
|> account of it, so just who are you relying on? The Word of God?

The one detailed description of subincision which I have read did
indeed describe a situation where the urethra was cut completely
through, starting at the base of the penis, and was not allowed to heal
shut. Unfortunately, I can't recall where I read it, except that I was
in the UCSD library at the time, doing research in my undergrad days.
Service is not so graphic, writing that the penis was slit with a
stone knife "to the urethra". (Note:" the cut is from the underside,
of course, where the urethra is close to the skin. The cut need only
be about 1/2" or 10 mm deep.)

question: is subincision done when the penis is erect or flaccid?

Why do you believe that the urethra isn't cut? Are you basing this on
some kind of data, or are we dealing with lenny's intuition here?

|> >One doesn't
|> >need a holistic, post-processualist grasp of the Other to tell that the
|> >urethra has been cut;

|> Hogwash!

|> >every time a guy takes a pee it's quite obvious.
|> >Urine emerges at the base of the penis. Kind of obvious.

|> Have you done the experiment?

I'm basing this on the ethnographic record. On what do you base your
objection? Levi-Strauss, or your own penetrating insight into the
mysteries of the (insert dramatic/spooky theme, to taste) Other?

|> >|> >In the case of male-superior
|> >|> >positions, semen can still enter the vagina; that's why subincision can
|> >|> >function as a birth-control system.

|> >|> How, by "dribbling?"

|> >Is this really so difficult to understand?

|> No, it's just bizarre to say the least, and incredible.

Bizarre and incredible? Bizarre is fairly normal, where humans are
concerned, and while it is an extreme custom, on the human continuum,
it seems very credible to me. Again, I ask you, why the denial?

|> >The subincised penis, when
|> >erect, forms into a wide flatiron.

|> A while ago you claimed the subincised penis was incapable of erection.
|> Oh, shame on you ...

Your misrepresentation of my position is offensive and unethical. If
it results from your inability to comprehend, you have my pity; if
deliberate, my contempt. Your grasp of english seems facile enough
when you're insulting people; how is it that you can't understand the
meaning of others?

I have never said that the subuncised penis was incapible of erection.

|> >If the man is on top, when he
|> >ejaculates the semen can run down the underside of the penis and enter
|> >the vagina.

|> But just a few posts ago you claimed the subincised penis was incapable of
|> ejaculation.
|> Oh, shame on you ...

Read, lenny, and try to understand. This really isn't that difficult.
I said that it was impossible for the subincised penis to ejaculate
*inside the vagina* (emphasis added for the comprehension impaired).
The reason for that, as I've explained to you already, is that the
cut in the urethra at the base of the penis is where semen leaves
the mans body.

|> Now we've entertained a new stage in Firl's copulatory model - semen
|> ejaculated from the penis some how (miraculously) returns to the penis and
|> runs down the underside to enter the vagina which is conveniently in contact
|> with the base of the penis, and it such a profound Newtonian position as to
|> act as a gravity trap for the semen dribble. Fantastic!

Fantastic indeed, lenny. You're amazing. The only real question should
be one of fact: was the urethra prevented from healing after
subincision, so that semen was ejaculated from the base of the penis
throughout the rest of a mans life? If so, then the biophysics of
impregnation/contraception depending on coital position is obvious to
just about anybody. You'll believe what you want to believe; that's ok
by me.

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