As most of you know, former television personality Scott F. Wolter will be delivering a lecture at the Masonic Lodge her in Albany. Unfortunately, due to preexisting commitments this evening, I won’t be able to attend. More’s the pity, but the thought of paying to sit through the same material I’ve read on the internet and watched on TV doesn’t strike me as a lot of fun either.
Today, though, I’d like to talk about a strange article that a rightwing writer posted to The Liberty Conservative in which the author alleges that the entire field of anthropology is a detriment to humanity. The writer, Larsen Halleck, earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Rutgers University and therefore has enough knowledge to be dangerous. (I, too, have a bachelor’s in anthropology, and I’m sure you will agree that I am also dangerous.) The long and short of his argument is that he believes that anthropology is in thrall to “leftists” and that the truth about humanity is “being swept under the rug in order to promote an ideological agenda.”
Halleck is part of the “red pill” / “men’s rights” corner of the alt-right, and the alt-right shares with fringe history not just a disdain for mainstream scholarship but also a sense that human intellectual progress somehow stopped dead around the outbreak of the First World War and most scholarship afterward is merely an ideologically driven effort to undo the Victorian world.
The trouble, as I mentioned, is that Halleck knows enough to be dangerous, by which I mean that he has absorbed the lessons taught in most anthropology programs about the history of the discipline but lacks the further interest to discover that the past is not merely prologue. History did not stop in 1914, and the discipline of anthropology has grown much since then. You wouldn’t know from Halleck’s discussion, which imagines that the events of c. 1900-1940 are the defining program for understanding anthropology.
But Halleck traces the problem back to before there even was such a discipline as anthropology. He discusses Jean Jacques Rousseau and his noble savage, an idea that once dominated very early understandings of human development back when science was still called natural philosophy. But he argues that modern “leftist” anthropologists insist on imagining non-white peoples as noble savages. “When you see leftists downplaying the unpleasantness of non-white cultures and over-exaggerating those same unpleasantries in white cultures, or speaking of ‘people of color’ as if they’re unspoiled simpletons without agency, it’s hard to see this as anything other than repurposed ‘noble savagery’.” This is a tough sentence to deal with because it contains a grain of truth in it. Some writers certainly have been influenced by prevailing ideologies, but by no means all. It is also true that there are anthropologists who have served as advocates for native peoples. There was a controversy, for example, a couple of decades ago over whether archaeologists and anthropologists were right to conclude that there was cannibalism among the ancestral Puebloan peoples because of the objections of some modern descendant groups, who were offended by the claims. Because of the practical need to secure cooperation from the peoples they study, there is always the risk that those studying them will minimize the characteristics Westerners consider objectionable. The issue of bias is the subject of much discussion in anthropological literature and it is literally something that anthropology programs teach their students about. To suggest that a specific researcher or a specific ethnography represents the general consensus of the entire field is commit a logical fallacy.
And there, I think, is where Halleck makes his fatal error. He doesn’t consider the fact that modern anthropology has had to deal with the fact that the discipline’s origins come out of the Western imperialist and colonialist experience, with the inherent racism that was part of it. The Victorians were enmeshed in that matrix, and those who reacted against it—people like Boas and Mead, whom he identifies as liars who fabricated data to make political points—did so in an opposite extreme. But their errors and ideas were those of a century ago, and time and scholarship have moved on. While no one would ever claim that any discipline has reached its platonic ideal, scholars today recognize and understand the ideologies that motivated past practitioners and have, in theory, taken steps to correct against this. But in the popular imagination, which lags a century behind scholarship, we are still in the reaction against the Victorians, and Halleck sees this as leftists undercutting the glorious rightness of the imperial era. He seems not to care that his own view is even more ideologically biased than those he criticizes:
Whenever you see some rich white liberal crying about invisible knapsacks, or see some hairy, barrel-chested man in drag barge into a lady’s bathroom…even though I doubt they wanted this, that is Mead and Boas’s legacy. When you see people crying about how science and objectivity are “white supremacist” and that black magic should be considered equally valid, that’s the legacy of cultural relativism.
He concludes from this that anthropology has made the world worse, but his argument is actually that knowledge itself is the problem because understanding other peoples and other cultures gives those of opposing views ammunition to argue that conservative ideology is neither universal nor self-evident. It will not surprise you that Halleck has started a YouTube show to refute cultural anthropology and to argue that human behavior is biologically determined. It is hard not to see that as an ideological argument in favor of the proposition that straight white men are inherently, naturally, and genetically superior. That Halleck would view this as an objective truth rather than an ideological preference is probably all that we need to know about his argument.
5/19/2017 10:27:47 am
Straight men ARE inherently, naturally, genetically superior. That's natural selection. Not sure about straight white men though. On the other hand look at the sickle cell gene and resistance to malaria.
The original Jim
5/19/2017 01:15:39 pm
I can't tell whether you're trolling, trying too hard to be ironic, or have a laughably naive understanding of natural selection.
5/19/2017 01:49:06 pm
You might want to include 'all of the above' among your possibilities, Sir....
5/19/2017 07:35:28 pm
Yeah, I don't know what's got into Americanegro lately, but he's become obnoxious and not worth responding to.
5/20/2017 12:39:23 pm
What do you thing genes are for, genius?
5/23/2017 11:05:46 pm
I think AN is having fun with bitter sarcasm. I need to review something I have been writing-- two-edged sword and all that..
5/19/2017 10:33:42 am
The degree of sexual panic and perverse obsession revealed by the ritual chant of 'see some hairy, barrel-chested man in drag barge into a lady’s bathroom' is sufficient to discredit this wretched creature's judgement on any and all subjects....
5/19/2017 10:45:09 am
Oh, I don't know... if Chagnon was one of his favorites, he can't be all bad.
5/19/2017 11:09:58 am
Chanting 'see some hairy, barrel-chested man in drag barge into a lady’s bathroom' puts a man in a hole he can't climb out of, or be lifted out of by passers-by. It indicates something fundamentally flawed in mental processes. Even if a person so afflicted produces what seems on the surface a correct view, it will have been arrived at for the wrong reasons and through a faulty process
5/19/2017 11:25:24 am
5/19/2017 12:49:34 pm
In Latin it would be argumentum ad hominem. In English, of the well poisoning variety.
5/19/2017 01:42:36 pm
5/19/2017 02:04:45 pm
Forgive me, but I do not wish to debate the obvious with you Mr. Un-Cloaked. If you can't recognize the illogic in your words, the reactionary nature of your urges and unfettered ability to project your prejudices and prejudgment upon others, I won't bother to rub your nose in them. Americanegro on the other hand, I'm most certain will oblige and I leave you to the castigation which will ensue accordingly.
5/19/2017 02:55:47 pm
Thank you for that bit of a laugh, Mr. Scales. I appreciate it when a fellow goes out of his way to bring a smile to my face.
5/20/2017 10:09:30 am
I know. The redundancy. Purely unintentional however.
5/19/2017 10:43:49 am
I'm not surprised that he's arguing that knowledge is the problem. All extremists loathe it, because it is the antidote to dogma and blind faith.
5/19/2017 11:13:03 am
Oh, and the idea of Scott Wolter lecturing at a Masonic Hall is a complete joke. Who arranged that? What could he possibly have to say that is of any relevance? His fringe beliefs and the way he has portrayed the organization are an utter disgrace.
5/19/2017 12:37:24 pm
That idiot Wolter applied his KRS numbers scheme matching it to a literal misreading of the York Rite ritual... and then presented it to a group of Masons. What, like they hadn't already read the ritual or had it available to check his data? Like they couldn't easily see how he picked, chose and even invented numbers that were not in sequence in the ritual as he set forth? He's since backed off it somewhat, only sticking to the two numbers that actually (and coincidentally) can be found together with both sources; 8 and 22.
5/20/2017 03:42:05 am
Wolter is a college football player who majored in geology. He is not a smart man. And he was the only person around when his father was killed and did not prevent it. If you think he's a murderer, that's your right, but he got a coffee cup honorary master's degree which was on his resume until he got caught because he's a liar.
5/20/2017 04:42:25 pm
5/20/2017 09:15:19 pm
Tony S, I spoke to the Masters of both lodges that meet there and both were amused but not fully buying his shtick. I got the feeling this was a York Rite driven event.
5/20/2017 09:23:43 pm
Oh, and I gave both men Jason's name and told them he would be a good speaker for more than just deflating the entirety of Scott's lecture.
5/22/2017 11:36:46 am
*eyes the US president*
5/19/2017 01:50:08 pm
How fascinating! Halleck thinks history stopped during the Victorian era and Scott Wolter thinks it happened while he was learning history in high school.
5/19/2017 06:48:30 pm
The whole "Noble Savage" idea is interesting in that the notion is to a large extent an academic "Urban Legend". The notion that a wide spread belief in the notion of "Noble Savages" has been used has a way of beating up, academically speaking, certain ideas and people. Basically the purpose of the "Noble Savage" trope is too claim that the alleged believer in the "Noble Savage" trope is hopelessly naïve and foolish and his / her writings etc., on group X can't be taken seriously. Too this is usually added the argument that group X is indeed horrible and disgusting, unless you are self blinded by the "Noble Savage" trope. (See Ellingson, Ter, The Myth of the Noble Savage, University of California Press, Berkeley CA, 2001.)
5/20/2017 08:27:06 am
I'm less worried about Mead than Gadjusek and McGinnies, because travel to the South Seas (and Costa Rica) seems to be a hallmark of molesters. If you think I don't spot that stuff on your LinkedIn, be advised that I do, and why don't you just have a seat over there? We're going to be here for a while.
5/20/2017 01:11:51 pm
5/20/2017 09:18:03 pm
I knew the night was going to be an eye roll when Scott broke NY protocol and flashed signs during a dinner blessing. It was a public event, he shouldn't have. But he embellished with his M hands. Oy vey.
5/21/2017 09:33:40 am
You know, wouldn't it be great if Wolter could be enticed to give a lecture, but you load the crowd with actual geologists, historians and linguists who would pick him apart... televised, of course.
5/21/2017 02:15:44 pm
Well intelligent monetary policy did end in 1914
5/22/2017 11:50:04 am
...I'm sorry, but if you consider monetary police of 1914 to be intelligent, I can't take you seriously. Monetary policy of 1914 led directly to the worst economic depression in modern times, and possibly ever. It was short-sighted and benefited a handful of people to the detriment of the vast majority of society. Which accurately describes current monetary policy, so obviously it didn't end in 1914, anyway.
5/24/2017 10:13:05 am
More than happy to take this offline. My suggestion is u are confusing fiscal policy with monetary policy and for that matter don't understand how human actions work. Human conditions have immeasurably improved with economic liberty. This includes sound money, free markets, limited govt and peace. Again my point was we replaced the gold standard with floating rates which monetarists thought would provide the stability of gold while allowing govts to run deficits for domestic vote buying. However nations like China peg which causes massive distortions of labor and capital causing instability and conflicts. And u can't argue WWI was a disaster and created most if not all the problems the world faces today. Again I'd love to here ur views but let's take off line. If u want my email address I'll provide it.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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