Anthropology is another once serious scholarly discipline that has fallen largely under the sway of militants who want to use it to advance their political goals. In this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call, emeritus anthropology professor Glynn Custred shares his thoughts on the way his field has been subverted.
Professor Custred notes that the largest of the four sub-fields in anthropology, sociocultural anthropology “has been redefined from a science to an instrument of political ideology.” The American Anthropological Association has dropped the word “science” from its mission statement and is now dominated by task forces that are dedicated to trendy issues like climate change, violence, and race. Rather than objectively studying the past, the militant anthropologists see their role as making amends for the “crimes” of both Western civilization and earlier anthropologists.
Woe betide any anthropologist who dares to call the “Noble Savage” myth into question. It’s part of the belief system of the anthropological activists that primitive man lived in peace and harmony with nature, and it was bad old Europeans who destroyed their lovely way of life. One prominent anthropologist whose research collided with that myth is Napoleon Chagnon, who found lots of violence among primitive people in the Amazon basin — violence that couldn’t possibly be explained by contact with the West because they hadn’t had any. For his heresies, Chagnon has over many years been subjected to vicious attacks by fellow anthropologists. Custred says that the nasty treatment of Chagnon is “one of the most spectacular incidents in the decline of anthropology as a profession.”
Not all is lost, though. Three of the sub-fields have remained evidence-based and Custred thinks that the politicized faction in sociocultural anthropology may “run out of steam” as it “retreats into its own, ever-narrower sphere of self-interest and inanity, ignoring the basic questions that called the science into existence in the first place.”