What's the Big Idea?
We've been discussing the unfair, intellectually dishonest, and ideologically motivated savaging of Chagnon's work. What about honest and disinterested criticism? When the most vocal critics are such depraved bullies, it's easy to instinctively support the victim, but sometimes, as in the war between Iran and Iraq, one wishes both sides could lose.
President Bush's critics, for example, were so detached from reality, that many conservatives defended him despite the fact that he was never a conservative (i.e., he had some more or less conservative positions, but was never part of the movement).
According to Isaiah Berlin, every important thinker is ultimately motivated by One Big Thing. If you can find the Big Thing, then you have discovered the key that unlocks their work. I certainly wouldn't call Chagnon an important thinker (few thinkers are), but he is clearly organized around a Big Thing, that thing being sociobiology or evolutionary psychology.
These are synonymous terms for (what should be) the uncontroversial idea that human beings are (at least in part) products of their evolutionary environment. The idea was quite controversial when he began using it, but why?
Again, his critics were not religious fundamentalists, but secular crypto-Marxists. As Chagnon puts it, he was considered "a heretic, a misanthrope, and the object of condemnation by politically correct colleagues, especially those who identify themselves as 'activists' on behalf of native peoples because I describe the Yanomamö as I found them."
One problem, I think, is that the idea of genetic determinism has obviously been misused in the past (always by progressives, mind you) to justify evils such as racism. Therefore, better to close off that avenue of thought entirely. Think of academia as a ski resort with groomed slopes. Venture off them at your own peril.
Charles Murray, for example, got a taste of this with his book The Bell Curve. If I remember correctly, it shows that different ethnic groups have different collective IQs. I suppose it's acceptable to point out that Asian Americans or Ashkenazi Jews are a standard deviation (15 points) above the average (100). However, as in Lake Woebegone, everyone must be above average. If some groups are below average, then we had better be quiet about it.
This is another fine example of the vociferously anti-science attitude of the left. I mean, as Thomas Sowell has often said, it should be a banality to point out that some groups are better at certain things than other groups. For this very reason, it is not at all historically uncommon for certain ethnic groups to dominate certain trades or activities.
I'm sure it is unacceptable to say this, but I don't think the dominance of blacks in the NBA can be attributed to physical factors only, e.g., height. Rather, I suspect a certain form of intelligence must required, similar in a way to the form of intelligence needed to be a (perhaps not coincidentally) jazz master. This intelligence combines spontaneous pattern recognition within a complex flow of information.
When I played basketball as a kid, I had no problem playing one on one, or making baskets. Still have no problem. However, when I attempted to play organized basketball in high school, I immediately found myself overwhelmed by the amount and intensity of information. Everything was happening all at once -- very much unlike, say, baseball. If one attempts to impose linearity on the chaos of basketball, one is immediately overwhelmed. So, I'm not cut out for basketball. Does that make me a racist?
Anyway, back to Chagnon. The general Raccoon position is that man has both horizontality and verticality, and that genes are necessary but insufficient to account for the ladder. I mean, it's just a banal scientific fact that human beings are genetically distinct from all other species. However, irrespective of how genetically "close" we are to any other species, we are vertically quite distant. On the vertical scale, all other species are number two or lower. Much lower.
So, it seems to me that Chagnon's critics are basically criticizing him for taking Darwinism seriously. However, what is odd is that his adversaries have no theory at all as to what makes us human. That is to say, they want to pretend that there is a purely vertical ideological world, untethered to bodies and genes. It is as if they are pure idealists, even though, at the same time, they are pure materialists. Thus, their One Big Idea is One Big Contradiction.
Speaking of which, Isaiah Berlin says that the One Big Reason leftism doesn't work is that there can never be One Big Scheme that applies to everyone. That is to say, we are all different, for which reason the only just political system must maximize liberty.
Or in other words, leftism too is One Big Contradiction, in that it pretends it is possible to reconcile two opposing values, i.e., liberty and egalitarianism. You can't do that, for the same reason it would be tyrannical to impose racial quotas whereby, say, no NBA team could have more than 15% blacks, or 2% of rodeo clowns must be Jews.