Re: Gerold Firl and ethnographic data

Gerold Firl (
27 Sep 1996 20:25:50 GMT

In article <52h7j5$>, (Daniel Maltz) writes:

|> Since neither Gerold nor Bryant seem to understand my point about
|> the inadequacy of Elman Service's _Profiles in Ethnology_ as an
|> authoritative source, I will make one attempt to explain myself.
|> _Profiles in Ethnology_ is not a scholarly work. It was never
|> meant to be. It is a collection of short ethnographic sketches
|> published in 1963. It was meant to be used to provide some
|> minimal ethnographic data for students in an introductory level
|> course in cultural anthropology.

OK, it's not "scholarly". Is it inaccurate? Does it make claims
about basic social structures and customs which are flat-out wrong?

|> For several years now, Gerold Firl has been posting a variety of
|> theoretical arguments, supposedly rooted in ethnographic data.
|> No matter what the argument, no matter what the theoretical
|> orientation of those who read his arguments, trained
|> anthropologists have challenged most if not all of his arguments
|> on the inadequacy of his data, his lack of understanding of basic
|> ethnographic material, and his misunderstanding of basic
|> anthropological concepts. The most he ever seems to cite as
|> backup is Service's same elementary text from 1963. This is not
|> enough.

Daniel, I have no doubt that you've read more anthro texts than I
have. I would hope that I could learn something from you. If service
has some facts wrong in his ethnographic profiles, I'd like hear about

I think you should be challenging either the facts which I use
as my basic premise, or else my conclusions based on those premises,
rather than complaining that I'm not doing a sufficiently extensive
library search. I take some basic information about a culture, and
look for connections between them. _Profiles in ethnology_ is the
perfect book for that purpose.

|> I did get myself involved in one extended debate with Mr. Firl,
|> about a year ago. It did not concern aboriginal Australians, as
|> he seems to remember, but rather basic kinship theory and the
|> differences between matrilineal and patrilineal kinship.

Actually, it was during that discussion that I first formulated the
gene-flow theory of low-density adaptation.

|> trying to debate with him, I soon discovered that his knowledge
|> of the ethnographic literature was rudimentary at best.

And nonexistant at worst.

I also
|> discovered that he didn't understand basic terms. When I
|> realized that he considered urban Afro-American kinship to be an
|> example of matrilineality and would not be persuaded otherwise, I
|> gave up the debate as futile.

But I really appreciated your forebearance in the interim. You're not
as rude as lenny.

|> At that time I suggested that if he wished to engage in sensible
|> debate on anthropological topics, he should enroll in some
|> introductory anthropology courses and do a little bit of basic
|> reading. My opinion has not changed. People without a minimal
|> background in the field of anthropology should not be trying to
|> construct major ethnographic arguments and wasting everyone
|> else's time.

I suppose not, but I don't see this as a waste of _everyone_ elses
time. To someone as knowledgable as you, it's a waste of time. But
some people are not so knowledgable. I find the idea of a cultural
adaptation which compensates for the effect of low population
densities on genetic diffusion rates to be very interesting. The same
challenge facing the arunta, who were isolated by inhospitable distance
from the australian population centers, is writ large for the entire
population of the continent; the australian aborigines still show many
archaic physical features, reflecting their isolation from the african
and eurasian population centers.

And daniel, if you open your volume of _profiles_ to the chapter on
the nuer, you'll see a sociobiological example of how culture actually
influences biology. Exogamy rules among the nuer clans creates the
possibility of supporting higher levels of heterozygosity than would
ever be possible among the central australians; all those recessive
genes which would be deleterious if homozygous can be carried by a
large enough population with suitible rules of exogamy. Culture
actually *creates* enhanced genetic variability. Pretty cool, eh? A
lot of muzzy-headed cultural anthro types fear that sociobiology will
put them out of a job, by reducing culture to biology; it's a two way
street. Sociobiology stresses the mutual interaction of society and
biology. The pretence that sociobiology is some kind of fascist
political wolf-in-a-sheeps-labcoat is just occupational

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