Re: culture as gene-flow regulator: the arunta

Len Piotrowski (
Fri, 27 Sep 1996 21:43:03 GMT

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

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


>|> 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?

You've deleted the citation, so go get it from the bit bucket!

>does it refer to the
>original research of spencer and gillen?

Of course! Have you read it?

>What about the german reports
>from the same period?

I was not referring to them. Perhaps Levi-Strauss did. Ask him.

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

Subsequent ethnographic work.

>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 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.

>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.

> 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.

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

Hogwash! I may not have directly observed their culture, but neither have you.
At least I've read the source your referring to in the original!

>|> >|> >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

You've presented a line from _Profiles_ unconfirmed in any other report. I
presented doubt in it's veracity. Dig up some verification!

> 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!

Hogwash! You haven't even read these traveling "ethnographers," yet you claim
that anyone who has are full of "wooley-headed romantization[s] about the
noble savage" if they deny your pig-headed retention of an unverified incident
from over a hundred years ago. Your shoddy attempt to discredit my words, and
label me with supposedly derogatory epithets is another example of scientific
misconduct and weighs heavily on your own credibility.

>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.

Obviously you misunderstand the difference and significance of "fact" and
"meaning," and never grasped my attempt to explain "meaning" to you back in
your Zoological Garden of the Phylogeny of Eyes thread. This is another
candidate for your search on Deja News.

>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.

That's truly entertaining! Bishop Firl telling the Gnostic anthropologists
they're all heretics and unbelievers 'cause they've closed their minds to the
one true meaning.

>|> 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.

So, go check it out and let us know. Otherwise, you're wasting our time.

>That would be consistant with subincision as
>part of a gene-flow acceleration strategy.

Only in your mind.

>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?

I understood it completely! How is it your changing your hypothesis from: low
population -> social strategies to increase gene flow? This is another example
of scientific misconduct by the above criteria.

Subincision is not a social strategy, superior/inferior copulatory positions
are not social strategies, imaginative dribble mechanisms for fertilization
are not social strategies. Undocumented sexual practices between unverified
locales and couples is pure fantasy, not scientific prediction. Test your
fantasy all you want, Firl. Do us a favor and don't bother us with the details.

>|> >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.


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

>|> >|> >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.

Devastating retort from the _Profiles_ guy.

>|> >|> >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.

Obviously you have no clue about the conduct of ethnographic research.
Probably because you haven't read it in _Profiles_.

>|> > 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?

>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.

Have you done the experiment?

>|> >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.

>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 ...

>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
Oh, shame on you ...

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!

It's a wonder there are any aborigines at all!

>when the woman is on top, however, the semen will run down
>onto the ground; is that clear enough for you?

Clear to me that your going into a demented frenzy of fantastic ethnography in
an attempt to salvage your bankrupt reputation and "predictions."

>|> >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.

I've at least read Spencer and Gillen. And I've read a number of other
authors on the subject, including original ethnographers, other than Service.
That, I think, should give me some edge in the discussion, don't you think?

>|> >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.

This kind of blows away your whining snipe about the difficulty in
understanding the ethnographic Other. I don't think anthropology makes any
claims to absolutely knowing the other, or for that matter neither does
science make such absolutist claims. Neither do I. It's enough for me to note
your errors in fact, deliberation, and methodology to raise questions about
your proposed "prediction" and the processes you employ in defending it. I
speak only for myself, let everyone else judge for themselves as well.



"If you can't remember what mnemonic means, you've got a problem."
- perlstyle