Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The influence of anthropologist Marvin Harris on Pinkerite



The most important influence on Pinkerite's view of human culture, society, race etc. is Marvin Harris and his "research strategy" called cultural materialism.

I had a web site,  cultural-materialism.org  which can still be seen via the Wayback Machine. But I didn't update it often enough.

On the site were clips from an interview that Harris gave to Charlie Rose in the late 1980s and to Hazel Henderson in the 1990s.

About these clips of  Marvin Harris interviews...
  1. The interview with Charlie Rose was recorded by a friend on VHS tape in the late 1980s.
  2. The interview with Hazel Henderson was recorded in the mid-1990s and sold on VHS tape.
  3. Another friend transferred both from VHS tapes to digital in the early 2000s.
  4. I edited and posted the clips to the cultural-materialism web site in the mid-2000s.
  5. They were then grabbed by the person associated with this languagevirus YouTube channel in the late 2000s, who, when contacted, asked permission from me to post, which I granted.
  6. I stopped posting to cultural-materialism.org and let the domain name lapse and took the web site down and lost the original digital video files.
  7. And now here they are back again to me. 
All the Harris videos are posted on this Pinkerite page.

Presumably because of his age and gender, Harris was spared the Crusty Paw of Charlie Rose.

Strangely enough, Steven Pinker claimed to like Marvin Harris, although he thought Harris thought too much about sustenance.

Since Marvin Harris is dead and his only heir, as far as I know, is a daughter named Susan who has no interest in anthropology, I don't mind sharing these online PDFs of his books:
Unfortunately some of Pinkerite's comrades in arms against the IDW and race science on Twitter have negative attitudes towards science, in one case even favoring the anti-science views of Paul Feyerabend.

In his "Cultural Materialism, the Struggle for a Science of Culture" published in 1979, Harris had plenty to say about the obscurantism and "anarchy" promoted by Feyerabend:
Science is a unique and precious contribution of Western civilization. This is not to deny that many other civilizations have contributed to scientific knowledge by inventing weights and measures, classifying plants and animals, recording astronomical observations, developing mathematical theorems, voyaging to distant lands, experimenting with chemical and physical processes. But it was in western Europe that the distinctive rules of the scientific method were first codified, given conscious expression, and systematically applied to the entire range of inorganic, organic, and cultural phenomena. 
It is both foolish and dangerous for intellectuals in any society to minimize the significance of this achievement. We must recognize that there are many ways of knowing, but we must also recognize that it is not mere ethnocentric puffery to assert that science is a way of knowing that has a uniquely transcendent value for all human beings. In the entire course of prehistory and history only one way of knowing has encouraged its own practitioners to doubt their own premises and to systematically expose their own conclusions to the hostile scrutiny of nonbelievers. Granted that discrepancies between science as an ideal and science as it is practiced substantially reduce the difference between science, religion, and other modes of looking for the truth. But it is precisely as an ideal that the uniqueness of science deserves to be defended. No other way of knowing is based on a set of rules explicitly designed to transcend the prior belief systems of mutually antagonistic tribes, nations, classes, and ethnic and religious communities in order to arrive at knowledge that is equally probable for any rational human mind. 
Those who doubt that science can do this must be able to show how some other tolerant and ecumenical alternative can do it better. Unless they can show how some other universalistic system of knowing leads to more acceptable criteria of truth, their attempts to subvert the universal credibility of science in the name of cultural relativism, however well-intentioned, is an intellectual crime against humanity. It is a crime against humanity because the real alternative to science is not anarchy, but ideology, not peaceful artists, philosophers, and anthropologists, but aggressive fanatics and messiahs eager to annihilate each other and the whole world if need be in order to prove their point."
And specifically about Feyerabend:
As long as Feyerabend deals with mountains on the moon or quantum mechanics, his views cannot inflict too much damage. But there are other domains of knowledge in which epistemological relativism poses a grave threat to our survival. Medicine is one such domain, and there are many others in the social sciences. One cannot remain indifferent to whether cancer is caused by witchcraft or some defect in cellular chemistry. Nor can one let unbridled imaginations determine the causes of poverty, or establish the existence or nonexistence of a ruling class in the United States. It cannot be a matter of taste whether you believe or do not believe that pollution is a menace, that the underdeveloped countries are getting poorer, that the multinationals are promoting a nuclear arms race, that war is instinctual, that women and blacks are inferior, or that the green revolution is a hoax. Let Feyerabend stand before the ovens of Dachau or the ditch at Mylai and say that our scientific understanding of sociocultural systems is ultimately nothing but an "aesthetic judgement."

Feyerabend can be found comparing the Malleus Maleficarum favorably to science textbooks in his essay in defense of astrology called "The Strange Case of Astrology" That's how obscurantist he was.

It's breath-taking that Feyerabend could claim that science and reason were the causes of the Holocaust while preferring a book that advocates genocide on the basis of witchcraft to science textbooks.