The election last September to the National Academy of Sciences of Napoleon Chagnon, a controversial ‘sociobiologist’ in the field of anthropology, along with the recent release of his memoir Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes – the Yanomamö and the Anthropologists, has reopened controversy around his famous work with the Yanomami Indians in the rain-forests of Venezuela beginning in the 1960s.
Chagnon’s work, documented in the 1968 Yanomamö: The Fierce People, concluded that the Yanomami Indians represented humanity in a primitive state characterized by “chronic warfare.” The implications were even more slippery: humans are naturally violent; advances in civilization temper such violence for the betterment of all.
Others in the anthropology field later accused Chagnon of fabricating and purposefully exacerbating the violence he was documenting, as well as contributing to a measles epidemic which ravaged the indigenous group. Anthropologists and native leaders in Venezuela note how Chagnon ignored the violence and disease wrought on native groups like the Yanomami by outside modern interests. Chagnon waves these and other criticisms away, claiming he was simply collecting scientific data.
More recently the election of Chagnon to the US’ most prestigious scientific body was one cause for the resignation of another member and expert in the field of anthropology, Marshall Sahlins, author of The Western Illusion of Human Nature.
In a statement explaining his resignation, Sahlins also cited the growing focus of the NAS on military applications. As Max Forte of Zero Anthropology has noted, modern anthropological expertise is already being utilized by the US military in counter-insurgency efforts in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, et al. As was reported on Anti-Imperialism.com, Yale University was recently subject to criticism after the discovery that its psychiatry department is using Third World immigrants to train US Special Forces in interrogation techniques.
Under a society divided into classes that maintain different relationships to production and distribution of social wealth, science will naturally serve one or a few ruling classes over others and will often be studied and applied specifically to perpetuate such class rule. Under imperialism, especially in its latter stages, science loses all trappings and appearances of being ‘purely science’ and more openly serves to perpetuate imperialist rule.
The election of Napoleon Chagnon to the US National Academy of Sciences is part of a rightward shift within the US. Increasingly desperate the retain it hegemonic position and to roll back the few gains achieved by the Third World masses during the second half of the 20th century, US imperialism is not simply utilizing advanced technology and scientific applications to wage wars of aggression in Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, et al. US imperialism is also increasingly relying on ‘scientific’ justifications, à la Chagnon, Jared Diamond, and others, for its expanded aggression and exploitation.
Petty-bourgeois liberals, especially those in the US who espouse science as something that exists free from class influence, typically describe the US rightward shift as one inspired by religion and bigotry. This is incorrect. The rightward shift in the US is an oppressor class union, religious and secular, against oppressed and exploited peoples around the world.
Imperialism is increasingly moribund. The masses have the future on their side. Whereas the US is increasingly investing in scientific ways of maintaining its rule, the world’s masses are gearing up for fevered class struggle for a new world. The US’ dusty yet imminent movement towards openly terroristic class domination can best be met by the collective will of the proletariat and other popular oppressed classes coalesced into people’s war and the struggle for socialism and communism. Only after being freed from the chains of imperialist class interests can scientific inquiry ‘purely’ understand the world and advance humanity as a whole.