Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 28, 2010

Rebutting Jared Diamond’s Savage Portrait

Filed under: Jared Diamond — louisproyect @ 3:06 pm

The Pig in a Garden Series
April 28, 2010   05:59 am EST
Rebutting Jared Diamond’s Savage Portrait:
What tribal societies can tell us about justice and liberty
by Paul Sillitoe & Mako John Kuwimb

Handa Moses Akol (white beard & shirt with necktie in the middle) marching a “holy march” with Ps. Henep Soap Lungil (with white shirt, left front) – two former enemies walking together united in the “holy march” leading their Christian flock at Punim near Nipa. As far as the eye could see, Christians are marching behind the banner. (Photo: MJ Kuwimb)
The Pig in a Garden: Jared Diamond and The New Yorker Series

Art Science Research Laboratory’s StinkyJournalism.org is publishing a series of essays on the controversy surrounding Jared Diamond’s New Yorker article, “Annals of Anthropology: Vengeance is Ours.” The essay series titled, The Pig in a Garden: Jared Diamond and The New Yorker, is written by ethics scholars in the fields of anthropology and communications, as well as journalists, environmental scientists, archaeologists, anthropologists and linguists, et al. Paul Sillitoe & Mako John Kuwimb’s essay is tenth in the series.

*        *         *        * *           *          *          *         *

Introduction to the revenge ethic

How do tribal communities in developing countries without functioning police, judges, law courts and prisons ensure social stability?  This question is of perennial interest to anyone familiar with tribal societies.  It is difficult for those of us familiar with such state institutions of law enforcement to imagine how people in tribal environments create order, particularly in dense populations like that of the New Guinea Highlands which also prizes individual political autonomy.  The popular image – traceable to Renaissance times, when Europeans first encountered tribal peoples – is of savages condemned to disorderly, even anarchic lives of constant violence and frequent bloodletting.  A recent example of this image is portrayed and promulgated by Jared Diamond in “Vengeance Is Ours: What can tribal societies tell us about our need to get even?” published in the The New Yorker, April 21, 2008.

We seek to refute this portrayal in general and Diamond’s article in particular, which we believe amounts to nothing less than a betrayal. We were prompted to do this by the defamation of friends and relatives in the Was Valley of the Southern Highlands Province (SHP) of Papua New Guinea (PNG) who have, in Diamond’s article, been cast in such a caricature of tribal life as inveterate murderers, plunderers and rapists living in virtual chaos.

It is astonishing that media outlets still grant space to such a view of tribal life after a century of anthropological research has debunked it.  Stateless or acephalous (headless – i.e. without authoritative officeholders) polities have long attracted attention and we have accounts of fascinating arrangements that substitute for central government.  The Highlands of New Guinea have featured prominently in furthering our understanding of such tribal constitutions.  So here we go, yet again, to rebut the savage misrepresentation.

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  1. There are quite a wide variety of tribal societies, as a perfunctory reading of pre-Colombian North American history makes obvious.

    Comment by purple — April 29, 2010 @ 7:46 am

  2. […] Choose to Fail or Succeed and The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal. A controversy about Jared Diamond’s sourcing a New Yorker essay is generating criticism, […]

    Pingback by Lawsuit A Reminder of Jared Diamond Criticisms | People Of Color Organize! — April 29, 2010 @ 5:51 pm

  3. I work for a fairly conservative environmental nonprofit. A few years ago our grant writer — a rich girl of the Nature Conservancy type — applied for an environmental award of $10K from Chevron. To her delight and the rest of the staff’s half-chagrin — we won.

    Since we’re not in the habit of turning down money, the whole staff went to receive the money at an award presentation at Chevron’s HQ. (Until the late 90’s Chevron had been headquartered in San Francisco. By this time, they had decamped to what I’d call a “soft military” or maybe “hard gated-community” compound in the SF suburb of San Ramon).

    After the guards checked under my Ford Escort with what looked like a giant dental mirror, I found myself at a scrumptious feast — sushi bar, chocolate fountain, omelette station, the whole bit.

    Anyhow, the featured speaker was none other than Jared Diamond who proceeded to gush about Chevron’s operations in New Guinea.

    We all felt sick about greenwashing Chevron for a measly $10K and the next day our staff didn’t much want to talk about it, except the rich girl, who couldn’t stop talking about it. Later she took a job with The Nature Conservancy.

    I did manage to walk away with pockets full of sushi.

    Comment by Rojo — April 29, 2010 @ 10:29 pm

  4. it really is dumbfounding to see a man as smart as proyect think diamond is a servant to corporations and ignoramus of natives. it’s so defeating as a young person to see incredibly smart people be at swordspoints when they probably share more in common than not. cockburn comes to mind.

    Comment by pat — June 1, 2011 @ 6:27 am

  5. the links to the sillitoe & kuwimb at stinkyjournalism.com are old and non-functional. new links at http://www.imediaethics.org/index.php?option=com_news&task=detail&id=170

    Comment by much younger than louis proyect — December 13, 2011 @ 8:23 pm

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