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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Culture Vs. Civilization and Multiculturalism Vs. Evolutionism

The Old Stove in Potbelly, Rockville, MD

It sounds fallacious, but that's the way it is: when it comes to anthropology, evolutionism is opposed by multiculturalism! Well, actually multiculturalism is built on the opposition to some developments that emerged from evolutionism. These developments stay under the umbrella of the so-called Social Darwinism (which has a point, of course, only it is not the absolute truth).

The pioneers of anthropology were building on evolutionist principles (even before Darwin, as they were following Spencer). Lewis Henry Morgan in Ancient Society (1877): the latest investigations respecting the early condition of the human race, are tending to the conclusion that mankind commenced their career at the bottom of the scale and worked their way up from savagery to civilization through the slow accumulations of experimental knowledge. Edward B. Tylor in Anthropology (1881): on the whole it appears that wherever there are found elaborate arts, abstruse knowledge, complex institutions, these are results of gradual development from an earlier, simpler, and ruder state of life; no stage of civilization comes into existence spontaneously, but grows or is developed out of the stage before it; this is the great principle which every scholar must lay firm hold of, if he intends to understand either the world he lives in or the history of the past. Engels in Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State (1881) uses extensively the results of Morgan.

In the first decade of the twentieth century the evolutionist approach in anthropology took a strong racist flavor, linking racial types to particular stages in culture development. Ellsworth Huntington in Civilization and Climate (1915): the races of the earth are like trees; each according to its kind brings forth the fruit known as civilization ... no one expects pears on cherry branches, and it is useless to look for Slavic civilization among the Chinese ... the nature of a people's culture, like the flavor of a fruit, depends primarily upon racial inheritance which can be changed only by the slow processes of biological variation and selection.

Franz Boas was the first anthropologist who took a strong stance against racism, and successfully turned the anthropology towards multiculturalism. His The Mind of the Primitive Man (1911) rejected both racism and evolutionism, emphasizing their unavoidable linkage. Says he in the preface of the 1938 edition of this book, there is no fundamental difference in the ways of thinking of primitive and civilized man; a close connection between race and personality has never been established. According to Kroeber, tirelessly Boas pulled down the various schemes of origins and evolutionistic stages, of quasi-spontaneous generatings out of the nature of the mind of man; he pulled down racism as an explanation of cultural differences; he denied environmental determinism; unitary as well as Kulturkreis determinism by diffusion--in short, all simplistic determinations.

I took this information from Edward Jayne's The Anthropologist's Fallacy, which, ironically, is extremely critical when it comes to multiculturalism.

All these recent posts should be for me just a starting point, some indications where to begin from, what to read first, if time wouldn't be my greatest enemy.

Morgan (who is the only American to be cited by such diverse scholars as Marx, Darwin, and Freud - however not by Moses and Einstein) is best known for his work on kinship and social structure, his theories of social evolution, and his ethnography of the Iroquois. Interested in what holds societies together, he proposed the concept that the earliest human domestic institution was the matrilineal clan, not the patriarchal family; the idea was accepted by most pre-historians and anthropologists throughout the late nineteenth century.

Tyler is considered the founding father of social anthropology. His works are based on the evolutionist theories of Charles Lyell (who was also influential on Darwin). Tyler believed animism was the first phase in the development of religions. How would a multiculturalist react to this? Just kidding.

Huntington is known for his studies on climatic determinism, economic growth and economic geography. He made expeditions to Central Asia, also to Palestine, to determine step by step the process by which geologic structure, topographic form, and the present and past nature of the climate have shaped man's progress, molded his history; and thus played an incalculable part in the development of a system of thought which could scarcely have arisen under any other physical circumstances.

Boas was a German-American anthropologist and a pioneer of modern anthropology who has been called the Father of American Anthropology and the Father of Modern Anthropology. Like many such pioneers, he trained in other disciplines; he received his doctorate in physics, and did post-doctoral work in geography. He applied the scientific method to the study of human cultures and societies; previously this discipline was based on the formulation of grand theories around anecdotal knowledge. Was he an anti-evolutionist? Well, he distinguished between physical science, which seeks to discover the laws governing phenomena, and historical science, which seeks a thorough understanding of phenomena on their own terms. Boas argued that geography and anthropology are and must be historical in this sense. Was he against Darwin? No, only against Morgan, Tylor and Huntington. As for Darwin, he was okay for Boas, provided Darwinists remained confined to the physical fields of science.

(A Life in Books)



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