Re: culture as gene-flow regulator: the arunta

Gerold Firl (
27 Sep 1996 19:49:09 GMT

In article <>, (Len Piotrowski) writes:

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

|> >In article <>, (Len Piotrowski) writes:

|> >|> In article <52c1hs$> (Gerold Firl) writes:

|> >|> >Service lists the sources he used to compile his ethnographic survey; I
|> >|> >got the impression that spencer and gillen were the primaries. You seem
|> >|> >to be claiming that service is wrong when he says that "sexual licence"
|> >|> >was "encouraged" at the large gatherings of the arunta; on what basis
|> >|> >do you make this claim?

|> >|> I answered this in a previous post. Perhaps you've forgotten?

|> >Not a chance. If I had ever seen a post from you documenting why your
|> >word should be taken in preference to standard anthropological
|> >references, I wouldn't forget it.
|> >As I mentioned earlier, my newsreader dropped some posts while I was
|> >out of the office, so maybe I missed the post in question.

|> How unfortunate! Let me re-post an earlier response for your sake, Firl:
|> "Claims by the original ethnographic authors such as "sexual licence," and
|> unknown paternity have been challenged by later scholars, such as
|> Levi-Strauss. The highly formalized, proscribed moral and ethical behavior of
|> aborigines towards one another belie any such free, and easy relationship
|> amongst persons not belonging to the local group."

Very interesting; where does this quote come from? does it refer to the
original research of spencer and gillen? What about the german reports
from the same period? And on what basis does this writer conclude that
the original field workers were wrong? 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.

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? 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.
It seems clear that your conclusions are determined by ideology rather
than observation.

|> >|> >You say that promiscuous sexual activity "has
|> >|> >never been documented" for the arunta "or any other aboriginal group",
|> >|> >and yet spencer and gillen traveled among the arunta in the 19th
|> >|> >century, and according to them that is exactly what happened.

|> >|> Prove it!

|> >Wonderful - lenny, you're a peach. What a great example of the warm and
|> >fuzzy world of subjective postmodernism, or post-rationalism, whatever
|> >you want to call it. If facts disagree with your dogma, no problem. If
|> >wishes were horses, postmodernists would ride.

|> I'm waiting for your "facts" Firl.

As far as I know, I have presented the facts, inasmuch as they are
known. A few ethnographers traveled among the arunta in the late
1800's and early 1900's, before western disease, missionaries, and land
grabbing destroyed the aboriginal way of life, and they recorded their
observations and analysis. According to service, the arunta are a well
documented culture, observed while still largely unaffected by outside
influence, and still reflecting traditional australian lifeways. You
claim that these facts are not really facts, but I still haven't seen
any evidence or logical argument to support your contention. You say
that the arunta were too "ethical" to permit sexual license at any
ritual gatherings, but you have already demonstrated your capacity to
engage in wooley-headed romantization about the noble savage; you also
claimed that jealousy was unknown to them!

You're really not interested in facts, lenny. You're desperately
searching for "meaning", a term which you use constantly but appear to
completely misunderstand. If you had a little bit of a grip on reality,
meaning wouldn't seem so elusive. Any fact which seems to threaten your
prejudice is immediately forgotten or dismissed; until you open your
mind sufficiently to accept all the facts, even the ones which make you
uncomfortable, "meaning" will continue to elude you.

|> Let me quote you something from this months issue of "American Scientist:"
|> "According to falsificationists, we test a hypothesis by deducing from it a
|> testable prediction. If this prediction turns out to be false, the hypothesis
|> from which it is deduced is said to be falsified and must be rejected."
|> "Conduct, Misconduct and the Structure of Science," by J. Woodward and David
|> Goodstein, page 482.
|> Here's another interesting passage:
|> "... bad scientific behavior consists in refusing to announce in advance what
|> sorts of evidence would lead one to give up an hypothesis, in ignoring or
|> discarding evidence contrary to one's hypothesis or in introducing ad hoc,
|> content-decreasing modifications in one's theories in order to protect them
|> against refutation. Good scientific method consists in putting forward highly
|> falsifiable hypotheses, specifying in advance what sorts of evidence would
|> falsify these hypotheses, testing the hypotheses at exactly those points at
|> which they seem most likely to break down and then giving them up should such
|> evidence be observed. "
|> ibid, page 483.
|> How do you think your "prediction" fairs against these rules of conduct?

I predicted that male-superior positions would be more common during
ritual gatherings, while female-superior positions would be more common
between husband and wife. That would be consistant with subincision as
part of a gene-flow acceleration strategy. If that prediction were
proven false, then the hypothesis would be refuted. How is it that you
didn't understand that the first time around?

|> >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.


|> >|> >The reason that the early sources such as
|> >|> >spencer and gillen are so valuable is because they saw the arunta while
|> >|> >the aboriginal lifestyle was still fairly pristine.

|> >|> Contradicted by ethongraphic fact!

|> >Tell me more. Which facts? Gathered when? Published where?

|> If you haven't read it yet, take it up in Deja News.

sure. Tell ya what, lenny. Get a collander from your pal brunner, and
sift through the sandbox at your local playground. I'll search through
your old postings on deja news, and we'll see who comes out ahead.
There's a good chance you might come up with some loose change, and
there's bound to be cats in your neighborhood, so you're way out in
front on this one.

|> >|> >And if you're talking about pre-contact
|> >|> >arunta culture, you'd better have some solid reasons for dismissing the
|> >|> >testimony of the eyewitness observers.

|> >|> They simply couldn't comprehend what they perceived in the Other except in
|> >|> terms of the familiar.

|> >What was it that they couldn't comprehend? And how would you interpret
|> >it, given your insight?

|> ... the meaning behind Spencer and Gillen's observations.

"The meaning"? The meaning "behind" their observations? Given your
insight, that's your interpretation? Heavy stuff.

|> > 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. One doesn't
need a holistic, post-processualist grasp of the Other to tell that the
urethra has been cut; every time a guy takes a pee it's quite obvious.
Urine emerges at the base of the penis. Kind of obvious.

|> >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? The subincised penis, when
erect, forms into a wide flatiron. If the man is on top, when he
ejaculates the semen can run down the underside of the penis and enter
the vagina. when the woman is on top, however, the semen will run down
onto the ground; is that clear enough for you?

|> >You have also objected to the statement that "sexual license" was
|> >encouraged at the large ritual gatherings. Can you explain how spencer
|> >and gillen were unable to comprehend "the Other" in this case?

|> If Spencer and Gillen were to have observed couplings in these situations, how
|> do they know it represented "sexual license" versus some other proscribed
|> aboriginal social relationship? No other ethnographer verifies this conclusion!

None? How do you know? Have you read the german reports from the same
era? Service provides the reference in his bibliography.

|> >Are you suggesting that what they took to
|> >be promiscuous sex was actually something else?

|> I don't know what they observed to cause them to come to this conclusion.
|> Neither does anyone else.

What makes you think that you can speak for "anyone" else? *you* don't
know, lenny, but you aren't anyone else.

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