Re: seeking refs on comparative work

Arthur L. Baron (abaron@STU.ATHABASCAU.CA)
Thu, 1 Aug 1996 10:56:45 MDT

R. Snower writes:
> Now you are talking evolution. Evolution
> means higher and lower, hierarchy, and that means dominance, racism, and
> imperialism.

Do you mean food chain hierarchy?

> Since evolution presupposes competition, you have got to
> embrace collectivism, and you have got to condemn the culture whose soul is
> competition, namely Western culture, or you are necessarily an evil man who
> endorses dominance, racism, and imperialism.
> Cultural relativism deletes the time dimension. It taboos the great
> anthropologists--Frazer, Jane Harrison, Jessie Weston, Cornford, Shapiro,
> others--as evolutionists. It puts sociobiology in the closet, and even
> intellectual journals rail against Darwin, in this day and age. It condemns
> objectivity, extols subjectivity, turns empirical observation into wishful
> thinking, and talks about the Sociology of Science. It condemns the free
> market, and sometimes, the democracy of self-interest.
> Now this might be all well and good, it might be argued, because it is being
> done in a good cause: to eliminate dominance, racism, sexism, and
> imperialism. But this is a delusion. There is a catch-22. Cultural
> relativism is making a huge error. Its condemnation of competition at the
> individual level in favor of ethnic collectivism creates a very dangerous
> situation. It automatically lifts the competition to the group
> level--ethnicism, I call it. And this is what really equates to racism,
> sexism, and imperialism, i.e., the wrong kinds of competition.
> Best wishes. R. Snower

I agree that relativism has some failings but it does provide the benefit of
the doubt, or a type II error (release a guilty person, which is better than
convicting an innocent person - type I error). Relativism could be one reason
why anthropologists are seldom asked to establish or participate in a "choose a
side" foreign policy. Is this what refexivity is supposed to address? (I'm a
pomo novice)

Does science choose the simpler theory when two competing theories try to
explain the same phenomenon? Is natural selection still the simplest theory
explaining evolution and adaptive processes? Competition is good for products
in the market place, not for people. Competition between and among people
tends to create casualties - war, ethnic cleansing, etc. Competition among
people is dehumanizing, creating social classes of the haves and the have nots
(the subhuman population) - it's only another way of rationalizing or
justifying an action.

I really think the analogy of natural selection and evolution gets muddled with
political aggression. Yes complex societies need different political systems
from band leaders and chiefdoms - each has its own set of problems and
prejudices, none are perfect by any definition. Western politics has more
weapons at its disposal to go about dominating those least able to defend
themselves. I can't equate political choice with the terms used to explain
natural selection and evolution, namely, heirarchy, dominance, and competition.

Or am I misinterpreting your recent posts?

arthur baron