Re: "Quantitative" analysis

Danny Yee (danny@STAFF.CS.SU.OZ.AU)
Thu, 2 Mar 1995 22:41:24 +1000

I wrote (in the context of a Polynesian example):
> > So where are the "natives living in harmony with the environment"?

Robert Johnson replied:
> For the progress of your education in anthropology, I would
> suggest you read David Hyndman's article
> "Conservation through Self-Determination:
> Promoting the Interdependence of Cultural
> and Biological Diversity"
> which appeared in Human Organization, Vol. 53, No. 3, 1994

Thanks for the suggestion; since some of your *sources* seem quite decent,
I may actually go and look this up.

> This should expand the limited and simplistic approaches to this
> question among many in anthropology.

Yes, "limited and simplistic" is a very good description. You know
what the answers are ("indigenous" is "good" is "harmony" is "natural;
"modern" is "bad" is "racist" is "exploitative"), so you don't need to
bother doing any thinking...

You didn't even try to counter my example: what, exactly, to you think
is wrong with Kirch's analysis of the eco-archaeology of Polynesia?
Jon Norder suggests you will argue that the Polynesians had chiefdoms
and intensive agriculture and are therefore baddies rather than
goodies, but if they didn't develop intensive agricultural systems until
after they'd modified the environment to make this possible, that makes
this a little difficult...

> > Sure, modern industrial societies can change the environment far more, <
> > but the difference is purely quantitative... <

> Quantitative in terms of the physical and cultural genocide of
> indigenous peoples.

> Quantitative in the terms of the money to be made on the lands
> and knowledge of indigenous peoples.

> Quantitative in the methodological approach in anthropology's
> move from the colonial to the outright genocide of the
> "neo-colonial."

> Quantitative in terms of the ignorance and opportunism required
> to accomplish without conscience the destruction of indigenous
> peoples in the way of their "development."

> Quantitative in the lengths taken to mask racism and hypocrisy.

I'm not sure what this bizarre litany is supposed to mean.

If you think there is some rigid dividing line separating "modern"
societies from "primitive" societies, then where exactly do you think
it should be drawn? In particular:

* Were the ethnic groups genocided by the Assyrians *really* genocided?
Or wasn't genocide possible then?

* Can the hypothesis that Paleolithic megafauna extinctions were due to
the hunting activities of H sapiens be ruled out a priori on the
grounds that '"primitive" people don't do things like that'?

* And all those stories about the Incas practising human sacrifice are
clearly false, right?

Danny Yee.

P.S. In case anyone gets the wrong idea from the above, I'm in favour
of self-determination for the indigenous peoples of America (or of
Australia or anywhere else, for that matter). I don't think trying
to sanctify them will help achieve that, however.