Noble Savages by Napoleon Chagnon

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As I have stated repeatedly on this website: I am an anthropologist by training. Not only am I an anthropologist, but I am also something of a “shitlord”, as the kids say nowadays. These two traits are corroborated in more than a few esteemed members of this field, as other articles on this site have stated, and SHOULD be corroborated in all anthropologists-in fact, I will go as far as to say that anthropology, a subject that deals with the deepest of modern taboos (namely: the biological realities of the human species and different populations and clades therein) should be the “shitlordiest” of all academic disciplines.

The fact that it is, ironically, responsible for a lot of the talking points of progressivism is reflective of something else I have discussed: the anthropology schism. This schism lies between my faction, the biological/physical/evolutionary anthropologists (the terms are for the most part interchangeable), and the cultural anthropologists.  To put it very simply: biological anthropologists study the biology, both macro (bones, dentition, musculature, behavior, etc.) and micro (genes, hormones), of all peoples in the world and extinct hominids (aka: the hirsute ancestors of you and me) and sometimes connect these findings to cultural behavior, while cultural anthropologists study (as one might assume) the culture of these same peoples, largely without any input from biology.

This may not seem very divisive, but since the split occurred, the two subfields of the discipline have nursed a growing resentment of each other, and have largely ignored input from one another. As a young student at Rutgers University, making stone knives and calculating the biomechanical efficiency of persistence hunting, I would wonder why this schism runs so deep, and whether it could or could not be repaired: after reading Napoleon Chagnon’s Noble Savages: My Life Amongst Two Dangerous Tribes-The Yanomamo and the Anthropologists, I feel that a serviceable answer to both questions could be given (At least from 1970 onward). To put it bluntly, the task of solving these problems, will not be easy, if possible at all.

I don’t mean to imply that this book would only be of interest to anthropologists: in analyzing highly masculine, violent, honor-obsessed tribes, Chagnon’s anthropological findings are relevant to anybody who seeks to understand the universal nature of masculinity “in the raw” (and in my opinion, corroborates much of Jack Donovan’s paradigm of masculinity). More important to all facets of the alt-right (ie: not just those writing specifically about masculinity), much of this work is spent discussing the furious backlash Chagnon and his work received from what were essentially proto-Social Justice Warriors, the way said people think and operate, and how he survived with his career intact (Chagnon is a cultural anthropologist, so a fair amount of the book deals with him describing “the wool being pulled from his eyes”, so to speak).

This book is neatly (though informally) divided into two parts: the first half deals with his studies amongst the Amazonian tribes, and the second deals with his publication of his findings back in the USA, and the immediate curbstomping the anthropological community gave him for it.

As this is meant to be for a casual intellectual reader, rather than being a textbook for anthropology students, Chagnon’s four main theories on human nature (based on his finding) are outlined within the first 20 pages of the book. They are as follows:

1) Violence and Terror are Ubiquitous. Continuing the trend of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s theories getting their shit slapped whenever objectively analyzed, these tribes live in a state of continuous raiding and low-level violence, punctuated by occasional large battles, and there is every reason to assume that prehistoric tribes lived in a similar state.

2) Maximizing SECURITY, rather than resources, is the driving force behind more complex socialization. While, deep down, men dream of violence and bloodshed, it quickly becomes a negative when your wife (or wives) and children are threatened. Thus, the formation of more complex states results in men abandoning (to  varying extents) their violent honor-cultures and submitting to authority, in exchange for the state doing their fighting for them. While this has not exactly happened amongst the tribes of the Amazon, Chagnon refers to multiple cases of headmen ruling over larger populations than normal, and asserting their authority to a greater extent than usual, theorizing that this may be a reasonable facsimile of the “first step” of the formation of states that occurred millennia ago.

3) Kinship selection is the predominant factor in forming larger social groups. In other words, people will be predominantly be concerned with those that share some degree of genetic relation, due to this being a form of reproductive success (namely: you share genes with your relatives, so if they have children, a percentage of your genes are being passed on to the next generation). By extension this is what the concept of a “nation” is (a group of people that are interrelated to each other, and in modern times can be identified as such through either genetic or morphological analysis-this is of variable effectiveness depending on the population). The implication is that this concern for one’s “extended family” is why people tend to “stick to their own”, and why multiculturalism is, at best, a tremendous uphill battle. There is also an implication that this third tenet is intertwined to the second tenet: a group of men bonded to each other through blood and a culture of honor? That’s a military unit, and that will indeed maximize security.

4) As populations increase, the power of leaders also increases. The smallest unit of human society is essentially an extended family, for obvious reasons there won’t be much in the way of strong authority. When a leader has less of a concern for hurting his own family, he asserts more authority. Some of the headmen are brutal and cruel, and some are more content to play politics and avoid violence. The relevance to us in the manosphere is not explicitly stated, but implied via anecdotal evidence: the behavior of a Yanomamo leader (ie: the leader of a pre-literate, semi-agricultural tribe) shares many similarities to the behaviors that are seen in many “alpha males” of politics, business, and sexuality.

The next ~300 pages of the book present an abundance of evidence that supports those four theories, as well as evidence for additional theories, such as his idea that conflict over females has been the greatest instigator of bloodshed throughout most of human history, rather than material resources (this ties into the four theories discussed above, ie: greater social complexity means more monogamy, incest taboos, and regulation of sex specifically to prevent conflict), as well as presenting a fascinating look at the people he is studying.

It is clear that he greatly respects the tribe: he speaks of the depredations they have suffered from the Brazilian and Venezuelan governments, he refers to their “ingenious climbing devices” (page 345), praises the construction of their village palisades (page 305), and, of course, spent 30 intermittent years amongst them, learning their language and multiple dialects therein. At the same time, however, he does not sugarcoat them or present them as “noble savages” in any way, nor does he espouse the typical hippy-dippy cultural anthropologist fantasy of “everybody in the world can become nice liberal white people” (my words, not his).

In fact, based on the presented data, one might surmise that the average SWPL would run screaming out of the Amazonas province after spending a few hours with this tribe, due to the tribe’s culture being so antithetical to “good think” in 2016: to cite one example, Chagnon describes their fear of cuckoldry prompting them to aggress against both men (“Again, the most common cause of fights between men was women, approximately 40%”, page 220) and women (there are several accounts of jealous husbands abusing their wives over suspicions of infidelity-p.229 has one where the man beats the woman into unconscious with a blunt object, and p. 231 describes a husband setting his wife’s vulva ablaze with a torch).

Chagnon also describes the multifaceted layers of masculine honor, ranging from the ever-present desire to appear waiteri (strong, tough, etc.), to the multiple types of dueling and combat they use to settle disputes: these range from wrestling to formal, high casualty battles, with several types of one-on-one combat in between, gradually becoming more life-threatening. On occasion they’ll utilize subterfuge just as good as any Machiavellian to ambush and massacre another clan, although all clans and tribes consider this rather dishonorable.

The entirety of chapter 9 deals with masculine violence among the tribe, and the reason for this is evident in the next chapter: it is not to sensationalize, but rather to explain that there is a direct correlation between success in battle and success in reproduction: killers of men (called unokai in the Yanomamo language) have, on average, more wives and children than those that have not. Or, to put it in terms for those in the ‘sphere: Those men who showcase Jack Donovan’s Tactical Virtues in real life contexts, get more women. This same chapter also argues, pretty succinctly in my opinion, that patriarchy is found in the vast majority of cultures, and why this is:

“I believe that patrilineal descent is much more common than matrilineal descent BECAUSE warfare is so common in human history. I believe the Yanomamo model was frequently found in human history and was probably common in the Paleolithic era (p. 315)…Patrilineage is more common because, biologically, a man with 10 wives can have a lot more kids than a woman with 10 husbands.” (p.316). If you create a system of kinship based on manhood, what you will end up having is a group of men that are bonded together and interdependent. And that relates to the third theory above.

While I highly doubt Chagnon is familiar with “the red pill” at all, his theories, at the very least, are in line with some of what the alt-right discusses. And yet, the scientific first half of the book is not of the most interest to our purpose. That would be the second half, where he  details the periods where he would attempt to publicize his data and the controversy that arose, over a period of more than 30 years. And this too, is outlined early in the book: “For many anthropologists who cling to Rousseau’s view of mankind rather than Hobbes’, I am a heretic, a misanthrope, and the object of condemnation by politically correct colleagues, especially those who identify themselves as ‘activists’ for native peoples, because I described the Yanomamo as I found them. (page 9)

Many of the tactics of these proto-SJWs are instantly recognizable to those who have tangled with their ideological descendants today-indeed, one can imagine Chagnon collaborating with Vox Day on SJWs Always Lie, for the tactics each author explains are almost identical:

1) They would isolate, lie, and exaggerate about their target (“Did you know there is a certain anthropologist, who studies Amazon Indians, who claims that they have genes for warfare and infanticide?”, page 390)

2) They sought out the most extreme facets of an intellectual movement to use as a strawman (“Predictably, cultural anthropologists resisted these trends [studies of primates revealing possibly the evolution of social behavior], often by denigrating the academics  or by criticizing the most sensational and amateurish work”, P. 208),

3) They cherry pick data that supports their position (“For example, many undergraduate cultural anthro textbooks go to considerable lengths to emphasize the non-biological aspect of kinship: ‘In some african tribes, mothers and fathers are referred to in the same term by the child” (p.381)

And 4) it’s all backed up by a fanatical, quasi-religious faith in their beliefs “Anthropologists who collect data often find themselves in a peculiar position of being censured because their data offends some ‘researcher’ who believes in ‘noble savages’. This concept is inconsistent with facts: The noble savage is a construct of faith: anthropology has become a religion, in which the ‘truth’ is about faith, not facts” (p. 232)

While I state their behavior was recognizable compared to their modern progeny, that does not refrain from it being simultaneously hysterically funny and morally abhorrent: On the funny side, Chagnon describes the consortium of the American Anthropology Association attempting to pass a motion banning a discussion of E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology, a syncretic work that blends many fields together in an attempt to illustrate how evolutionary theory can be applied to humans (particularly how we evolved to have the capacity for social behavior). He asks “How the hell can there be such opposition to an application of Darwin’s theory, from a group of academics, in 1976?!” (p. 369)

On the repugnant side, that same consortium had an incident where the aforementioned E.O. Wilson, on crutches due to an accident, is assaulted by “The International Committee Against Racism”, who proceed to dump multiple pitchers of ice water on his head while screaming that he is an evil-eugenicist-Nazi-racist, all the while the moderator of the discussion screams that he is a Marxist as well in an attempt to stop them (it didn’t work).

There are many more embarrassing displays of cultural anthropology hysteria, but, most importantly, Chagnon comes pretty close to answering the big question: Why? Why has anthropology become an arm of progressivism?

His answer: many anthropologists today are unrepentant Marxists. They draw from Marxist theory, which explains cultural anthropology’s fixation with material resources and conflict over said resources (it also explains the attempts to connect Chagnon to Joseph McCarthy, p. 432). As Marxism has shifted away from economics and into the realms of racial/ethnic ressentiment, so has cultural anthropology changed. And biological anthropologists and sociobiologists that were not attuned to Marxist theory have gone to different departments (as happened at Stanford and UC Berkeley).

In addition to this, many cultural anthropologists have taken an interest in post-modernist theory: this states that truth and facts are subjective ideological constructs, inventions of a subjective observer. Science, and the scientific method, are thus disdained. The post-modernists began to influence the social sciences in the 1960s, stating that the scientific view of empiricism was “exploitative” and presumably designed to keep the progressive stack in its stacked position.

To be fair, some of reluctance towards biology is understandable: the first anthropologists to study tribal peoples were studying American Indians, all of whom were defeated militarily and ravaged by epidemic diseases, as well as cultural assimilation. So Chagnon’s theories don’t really apply on the rez, as those populations were not truly “in nature”. External cultural factors explicitly caused their dire situation to be the case. But the main issue is, according to the writer, an open hostility to the thought of applying biology to the human species in any context.

And Chagnon is not the only writer to say this, one of my professors at Rutgers, Robert Trivers, says something very similar in his book The Folly of Fools (namely, Trivers’ theory is that there is so much time and money invested into academia, that to overhaul the field of cultural anthropology would make it something of a laughingstock, and thus put many professors out of a job).

As the book continues towards its end, Chagnon describes more of the accusations made towards him (he is accused of handing out shotguns and machetes to the tribes to provoke them into fighting and deliberately spreading measles to them, among other things), and some of the rationale for these baseless accusations:

“Thirty years ago, the difference between technical disagreement and moral warfare began to dissolve. A whole generation of students and teachers are convinced that everything, including science, is political because knowledge itself is a social, ie political, phenomenon. And politics are just too important to be nice or fair-Nancy Hughes [of UC Berkeley] wants ‘ a militant anthropology, a new cadre of barefoot anthropologists” that must become alarmists and shock troopers, the producers of morally demanding texts and images that sink through the layers of acceptance…and bad faith that allow the deaths to continue…”.

In other words, “We can lie, slander, and ruin careers, it’s for the right cause!” Sound familiar?

The book ends happily, with Chagnon’s findings being vindicated (After suffering a stress induced cardiac episode), and a few glimmers of hope from other cultural anthropologists: says a young University of Michigan graduate student-“…if there is any ‘Darkness in El Dorado’ [the title of a book slandering Chagnon, released in 1999], it did not come from one sociobiologist, a doctor, and a filmmaker. It came from hundreds of years of brutality and neglect. Devastation can only stop when human rights violations are responded to effectively WITH THE HELP OF SCIENTISTS” (p. 471).

Beyond all of the science and social justice warrior baiting, the story would be an interesting read even to one who is not interested in either anthropology or the ongoing culture war. There are fascinating stories of tapir and caiman hunting, tribal warfare, shamanistic practices, wilderness survival, and nautical misadventures. It is not a perfect book: its biggest problem being that it fills in many of the gaps answering the question I have always had about anthropology (“Why did it shift to the left?”), and names many names that have worked to “progress” the field to its current atrocious state, but that elusive “ground zero”, the first anthropologist to concretely start the shift (and how this mysterious person came up with the idea of mixing Marxism with anthropology), is never named. In addition to this, some of Chagnon’s prose is clunky (he tends to repeat himself a lot), and my copy of the book had a few misprints (a couple of pages were repeated twice).

These are minor issues, and did not take away from my enjoyment of the book…at least not for more than 5 minutes per each mistake. If you are interested in masculinity, other cultures, or getting some advice in fighting social justice warriors, pick up this book. And you can do so right here

 

  • Jacksonator

    Just came across your blog, and then this post; what a delight. Thanks for the interesting twist.

    • LarsenHalleck

      You’re very welcome, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the blog.

    • No problem, and thank you for visiting.