Razib Khan on Cultural Anthropologists

by Robert VerBruggen

He rips into them and weighs in on on their criticisms of Jared Diamond (whose The World until Yesterday I reviewed in a recent NR):


It’s happening again, another issue of Jared Diamond vs. the anthropologists. Part of this is surely personal. Diamond has been trading in glib and gloss for years, and profitably so, in both financial and fame terms. There is also a deep scholarly divide. Diamond’s way of viewing historical development is reminiscent of, if not equivalent to, materialism. That is, external material forces (geography) and broad macro-historical dynamics (the transition across modes of production) loom large in his thinking. In contrast, many cultural anthropologists disagree with this paradigm, and see it is outmoded, old fashioned, and false. Not that I can decrypt what they believe, because clarity is not something that seems to be valued by cultural anthropologists in most domains.

I say most, because there is one area where many of them are quite clear: they are the beacons of toleration and justice. And they get to define what toleration and justice is. For all cultural anthropology’s epistemological muddle, its political priors are crisp and distinct, and strangely insulated from the critique and deconstruction so valued by the discipline in all matters.

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