Re: Coon and the Middle East

Ralph L Holloway (rlh2@COLUMBIA.EDU)
Wed, 29 Nov 1995 18:02:15 -0500

On Wed, 29 Nov 1995, karl h schwerin wrote:

> While Ralph was a protege of Washburn at Berkeley, I was a T.A. for Joe
> Birdsell at UCLA. Birdsell was equally critical about Coon's book, but
> principally, as I recall, because its thesis had been taken up by a newly
> initiated eugenics journal which used it to support *their* racist
> views. (If I recall correctly after 30 years, it was "The Mankind
> Quarterly"). So it wasn't so much that Coon was being a racist himself,
> as that his *arguments* were being exploited to that end.

I'm glad Karl has come into this as his experiences with Joe Birdsell's
views are very interesting and I think important. That Coon's ideas were
exploited by some related to "Mankind Quarterly" is hardly rare. If I
find that there is sexual dimorphism in the relative size of the corpus
callosum in the human species, and that the dimorphism varies in
different "ethnic" groups, does this immediately make me out to be a
sexist and a racist? Absolutely, in some quarters it is perceived that
way. And those perceptions have certainly had a chilling effect on my
research during the past decade.

> What is particularly ironic about Birdsell's distress is that he had earlier
> co-authored with Coon and Stanley Garn what was at the time considered to
> be the definitive study on "race." (Carleton S. Coon; Stanely M. Garn U
> Joseph B. Birdsell. 1950. Races...A study of the problems of race
> formation in man. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas). It is actually a

I have always admired this effort, and never have understood the re
really understood the hostile reaction to it. Those populations were
never carved in stone, and the authors as I recall were pretty forthright
about this being one way of arranging the variation. It was never "set in
stone" as I recall.

> Along another line, he earlier tried (1948. A reader in general anthropology.
> New York: Henry Holt) to develop a classificatory system for human
> societies using a quantitative measure of complexity in which he examines
> a whole range of phenomena (Appendix. 1948:563-614), including
> symbols, energy, the division of labor, learning and teaching, mating,
> sharing, leading and deciding, trading; rules, regulations,
> ethics, standards; institutions etc. He concludes, however,
> with four basic criteria for judging levels of complexity (1948:612):
> "(a) The specialization of individuals, (b) Amount of consumer
> goods obtained by trade, (c) Number of institutions to which an
> individual may belong, (d) Complexity of institutions."

Didn't he write a book with Eliott Chapple on this matter, which I hazily
recall as a graduate student? Could some of the cultura; anthropologists
enlighten us on this?

Once again, I ask, what was "racist" about his Middle East book?
Ralph Holloway