Darkness’s Descent: advancing public understanding of humankind

Darkness’s Descent on the American Anthropological Association: A Cautionary Tale” provides a sobering account of the behavior of humans within a web of social relations, ideological commitments, and material interests.  The humans in this account don’t exactly show a propensity to kill each other.  But these humans are every bit as fierce as the Yanomamö hunter-gathers documented in Napoleon Chagnon’s pioneering anthropological work.  Their literary relations are violent and deceitful. Their reasoning seems personal-instrumental and shows little respect for truth-seeking.  Despite years of expensive educational courses and being professionally designated as educators, journalists, and writers, these humans show little ability to reason together joyfully and constructively. Most worrisome of all: these humans, genetically, are just like you and me.

Don’t abandon hope.  Alice Dreger, who has done much, surely unpleasant, work analyzing and documenting the facts, has stated:

I understand that those who were involved in this controversy may have had good intentions. Many sought justice. But justice that is meted out according to politics and not according to facts is the justice of the Middle Ages. If justice is not based on the facts, if principles of justice are not applied universally, there is no real justice. Forms of “scholarship” that deny evidence, that deny truth, that deny the importance of facts—even if performed in the name of good—are dangerous not only to science and to ethics, but to democracy. And so they are dangerous ultimately to humankind.

Dreger urges the American Anthropological Association to apologize to Napoleon Chagnon and James Neel (now deceased) and their families.  A formal apology, it seems to me, would be appropriate.

I apologize to Napoleon Chagnon and James Neel for the pain and suffering my fellow human beings have unjustly inflicted on them and their families. While I am not aware of ever having behaved similarly, I may be mistaken. I apologize to everyone for every instance in which, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do, I have not sought the truth —  the truth, not just the Higher Truth, but the lower truth, too. May the words of my blog and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in truth’s sight.

* * * * *

Sources:  Douglas Hume’s excellent documentary archive for the Yanomamö anthropological intellectual fiasco