[Marxism] Marshall Sahlins resignation

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Feb 25 07:40:49 MST 2013

Inside Higher Ed

Submitted by Serena Golden on February 25, 2013 - 3:00am

The eminent University of Chicago anthropologist Marshall Sahlins 
resigned from the National Academy of Sciences on Friday, citing his 
objections to its military partnerships and to its electing as a member 
[1] Napoleon Chagnon, a long-controversial anthropologist who is back in 
the news thanks to the publication of his new book, Noble Savages [2].

Membership in the NAS is considered highly prestigious, and public 
resignations are rare. In an e-mail to a number of his colleagues, which 
was forwarded to Inside Higher Ed, Sahlins wrote, "I have submitted my 
resignation to the National Academy of Sciences (US) because of my 
objections to the election of Chagnon... and to the military research 
projects of the Academy."

Sahlins confirmed his resignation and the reasons behind it in an e-mail 
to Inside Higher Ed.

"By the evidence of his own writings as well as the testimony of others, 
including Amazonian peoples and professional scholars of the region, 
Chagnon has done serious harm to the indigenous communities among whom 
he did research," Sahlins said. By way of example, he cited his own 
Washington Post review [3] of the 2000 book Darkness in El Dorado, the 
source of many of the accusations against Chagnon that are still [4] 
hotly disputed [5] among anthropologists.

"At the same time," Sahlins added, "[Chagnon's] 'scientific' claims 
about human evolution and the genetic selection for male violence ... 
have proven to be shallow and baseless, much to the discredit of the 
anthropological discipline. At best, his election to the NAS was a large 
moral and intellectual blunder on the part of members of the Academy."

Sahlins further noted his objection to several recently announced 
collaborations [6] between [7] the NAS and the U.S. military. One of the 
projects involves "measuring human capabilities" and "the combination of 
individual capabilities to create collective capacity to perform"; 
another seeks to study "the social and organizational factors that 
present external influences on the behavior of individuals operating 
within the context of military environments." Both have the stated goal 
of utilizing social science research "to inform U.S. military personnel 
policies and practices."

Because of "the toll that military has taken on the blood, treasure, and 
happiness of American people, and the suffering it has imposed on other 
peoples," Sahlins said, "the NAS, if it involves itself at all in 
related research, should be studying how to promote peace, not how to 
make war."

Sahlins' resignation highlights two serious and ongoing debates within 
anthropology: one, the appropriate relationship [8] -- if any -- between 
anthropologists and the military [9] (Sahlins has previously expressed 
[10] his opposition [11] to any such involvement); two, the role of hard 
science [12] within the discipline.

Sahlins' research has focused on the impact of culture on human 
behavior, while Chagnon has tended to look for biological underpinnings. 
In recent years, anthropologists who consider themselves scientists have 
complained about being marginalized by, as one put it, "fluff-head 
cultural anthropological types who think science is just another way of 
knowing [13]."

Asked to offer his opinion on Sahlins' move, Chagnon wrote in an e-mail, 
"I am surprised that Sahlins resigned from the NAS to protest my 
election last year to the NAS. One possible interpretation is that he is 
displeased with the gradual swing back to to the academic principle that 
scientists should tell the truth in their publications...."

Chagnon continued, "Sahlins was elected to the NAS in 1991, but he had 
published his Use and Abuse of Biology in 1976, which should have made 
clear to the members of the NAS how antiscientific Sahlins was."

When contacted by e-mail for comment on Sahlins' resignation, Raymond 
Hames, professor of anthropology at the University of Nebraska at 
Lincoln and a Chagnon supporter, also mentioned The Use and Abuse of 
Biology, saying that in his opinion the book "clearly demonstrated 
[Sahlins] had an elementary-school knowledge of evolutionary biology."

"I am not surprised he resigned," Hames added.

"Chagnon's defenders operate almost entirely by diversion," countered 
David Graeber, reader in social anthropology at Goldsmiths, University 
of London. "[T]hey never seriously engage with the core objections to 
what Chagnon did, which is to vilify a group of human beings so that 
enormous violence could be unleashed on them.

"Marshall Sahlins is a man of genuine principle," Graeber continued. 
"He's never had a lot of patience for shirtless macho Americans who 
descend into jungles, declaring their inhabitants to be violent savages, 
and then use that as an excuse to start behaving like violent savages 
themselves -- except with command over infinitely greater technological 
Source URL: 

[3] http://anthroniche.com/darkness_documents/0246.htm
[4] http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/12/03/eldorado
[8] http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/12/04/hts
[9] http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2009/09/21/vine
[10] http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/11/30/anthro
[12] http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/11/30/anthroscience

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