Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 17, 2012

Busted by the sociobiologists, and busting back

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 10:10 pm

Irven DeVore

For Irven DeVore, this picture explains Hugh Hefner’s deal with 21 year old women

Four days ago I got this comment on my blog from one Claire DeVore beneath an article on Napoleon Chagnon:

I am curious about your photo copyright. My agency represents Doctor Chagnon I have no record of your requesting use of the final image. Please contact me at cdevore@anthrophoto.com

I had used a photo of Chagnon that turned up in a Google image search, just as would most bloggers. Furthermore, the photo was not retrieved from www.anthophoto.com but from the Boise State College website, without any attribution to Ms. DeVore’s company there. In any case, I did not care that much about using that particular photo so I replaced it with another and then followed up with a message to her.

I already replaced it, assuming that the photo in question was used in the article you commented on. Btw, I got it from the Boise State website, not yours. There was no copyright notice there, as far as I know. I should add that I am very respectful of intellectual property. After all, what would our wonderful world of capitalism be without it?

Apparently the crack got under skin since she followed up with this:

Capitalism?  Hardly.  My website doesn’t make a profit.  I keep it running to protect the rights of the indigenous peoples we worked with.  I lived with the !Kung San when I was seven years old.  “Profits” are sent back to the Kalahari People’s Fund for many of those images.

As to Nap’s photo I try to keep a tight hold on those for obvious reasons, after the Tierney attack.

Thank-you for removing it.


Claire DeVore

This bit about living with the !Kung San and the reference to “Nap” intrigued me. Who were these people? A trip to the website turned up three names in what is apparently a family-run operation:

Nancy DeVore – Image Procurement, Billing, Professional Services
(617) 868-4784, ndevore@anthrophoto.com

Dr. Irven DeVore – Professional Services
(617) 868-4784, idevore@anthrophoto.com

Claire DeVore – Image Procurement, Pricing, Billing, Research
(617) 484-6490, cdevore@anthrophoto.com

From what I can gather, Nancy is the wife of Dr. Irven DeVore, a Harvard professor emeritus, and Claire is their daughter. Acting on a hunch, I googled “Irven DeVore” and “Napoleon Chagnon” and turned this up:

Chagnon, who retired this year as a professor of anthropology at the University of California in Santa Barbara, still retains his eminence in the field. Irven DeVore, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard, says, “Chag was both first and thorough. First in the sense that very, very few anthropological studies have been carried out by an anthropologist who was first on the scene. Thorough in the sense that Chag has visited at least seventy-five Yanomami villages on both sides of the Venezuela and Brazil borders. I cannot think of a comparably thorough survey among any cultural group by any anthropologist. Chag gathered very detailed and documented data on the villages–so much so that another investigator could study the same population and come to a different conclusion. Chagnon’s study was ‘scientific’ in the best sense of the word.”

This is from Patrick Tierney’s November 6, 2000 New Yorker article on Napolen Chagnon that would get a full-blown treatment in  “Darkness in El Dorado”. This book triggered a huge debate that divided anthropology between Chagnon supporters and those who agreed with Tierney, even with qualifications.

I wrote a series of articles on Chagnon, including the one that had the photo Ms. DeVore wanted removed. I think her problem (and more likely that of Chagnon and Professor DeVore) was more with the text than the picture, as the first few paragraphs would indicate:

When I first got word of the Jared Diamond/New Yorker magazine scandal, I could not help but think of Napoleon Chagnon and the Yanomami. Just around the time that the Marxism list was launched, a big fight broke out among anthropologists over Chagnon’s fieldwork with the Amazon rainforest Indians provoked by the publication of Patrick Tierney’s “Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon”. Sides were drawn in the profession between those pro and con Chagnon, who at least unlike Jared Diamond had professional qualifications in the field. In doing some preliminary research on the Chagnon-Tierney dispute, I have learned that some experts in the field without any apparent axe to grind have faulted his research.

I plan to revisit the controversy in light of what I have learned about evolutionary psychology, particularly through my reading of Jared Diamond’s “The Third Chimpanzee” but want to start off by posting some excerpts from the fifth edition of Chagnon’s “Yanomamo”, a book that was titled “Yanomamo: the fierce people” in its initial publication in 1977. Given all the controversy his research has generated, it is understandable why he would have dropped the term “fierce people”, especially since the global perception that they are facing extinction. It would be like writing a book in 1940 titled “The Aggressive Jew”.

Now that my curiosity was piqued, I wanted to see what this guy Irven DeVore was about. I couldn’t imagine that he was as bad as Chagnon (who could be?) but wanted to see where he stood in the oft-compromised world of anthropology.

On May 11, 1993 the Washington Post had a survey article on new glossy magazines devoted to making scientific issues understandable to the unwashed masses. One of them was Omni that was launched by Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione. In an issue devoted to “Sex and Violence among the Primates”, there was an expert the magazine interviewed who assured its readers that sex and violence against women is in our genes. Just look at the mating habits in monkeys, “particularly certain species wherein the female gives sex exclusively to one male in exchange for protection from other males” in a manner “eerily similar to certain human relationships.”

That expert was Irven DeVore. No wonder why he would take the side of a total dick like Napoleon Chagnon.

DeVore’s views on male domination were spelled out in a series of articles on the baboon, whose aggressive behavior among males and male domination over females supposedly is the key to human society.

This typically biological determinist approach was dismantled in an Autumn 1991 issue of “Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society”, published by the U. of Chicago. Titled “Baboons with Briefcases: Feminism, Functionalism, and Sociobiology in the Evolution of Primate Gender” and written by Susan Sperling, it takes on the male domination is in our primate genes theories almost always written by males.

Early sociobiological views of the evolution of human gendered behaviors incorporated primatological data and viewed males and females as having differential reproductive strategies. Because of the presumably greater “investment” of female primates in infant rearing, female behaviors were viewed as selected because they advanced a female’s chances of gaining male protection during vulnerable periods for herself and her offspring (offspring are seen as fleshy packets of shared genes). Females frequently were pictured as conservative, coy, and passive. By contrast, it behooved males to inseminate as many females as possible, thus forwarding their attempted genetic monopoly of the future. [E.O.] Wilson wrote: “It pays males to be aggressive, hasty, fickle and undiscriminating. In theory it is more profitable for females to be coy, to hold back until they can identify the male with the best genes. Human beings obey this biological principle faithfully.” DeVore and other sociobiologists have maintained that the sexual and romantic interest of middle-aged men in younger women and their presumed lack of interest in their female age cohort stem from selective pressures on male primates to inseminate as many fertile females as possible [emphasis added].

No wonder Bob Guccione would want to interview Irven DeVore on women. One can just as easily imagine him as a frequent guest at the Playboy mansion especially in light of “the sexual and romantic interest of middle-aged men in younger women and their presumed lack of interest in their female age cohort stem from selective pressures on male primates to inseminate as many fertile females as possible.”

Dr. DeVore puts himself forward as an expert on everything primate and human. When feminist students at Harvard demanded a Women’s Studies program, he opposed them—stating that the class he taught on social relationships should be sufficient. I doubt that they were assuaged in light of his observations in an April 1986 issue of Science magazine:

Soap operas have a huge following among college students, and the female-female competition is blatant. The women on these shows use every single feminine wile. On the internationally popular soap Dynasty, for example, a divorcee sees her ex-husband’s new wife riding a horse nearby. She knows the woman to be newly pregnant, so she shoots off a gun, which spooks the horse, which throws the young wife, and makes her miscarry. The divorcee’s own children are living with their father and this woman; the divorcee doesn’t want this new young thing to bring rival heirs into the world to compete with her children.

Whole industries turning out everything from lipstick to perfume to designer jeans are based on the existence of female competition. The business of courting and mating is after all, a negotiation process, in which each member of the pair is negotiating with those of the opposite sex to get the best deal possible, and to beat out the competition from one’s own sex…. I get women in my class saying I’m stereotyping women, and I say sure, I’m stereotyping the ones who make lipstick a multibillion dollar industry. It’s quite a few women. Basically, I appeal to students to look inside themselves: what are life’s little dilemmas? When your roommate brings home a guy to whom you’re extremely attracted, does it set up any sort of conflict in your mind?

To my readers with kids in high school: don’t waste your money sending them to Harvard. They’d be better off at a good state college, especially one that does not have imbecile sociobiology professors eager to shove sexist theories down their throats.


  1. Proyect: would you say there is anything at all like “human nature”?

    Comment by Pandora — November 17, 2012 @ 11:25 pm

  2. No.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 17, 2012 @ 11:30 pm

  3. Human nature retains approximately the same permanency as human morals.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 17, 2012 @ 11:39 pm

  4. Pandora,

    Marx also ditched the Feuerbachian blabla about “species-being”:

    “But the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual.

    In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations. ”


    Comment by negative potential — November 18, 2012 @ 1:43 pm

  5. Copyright in the US is meant to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts”. Copyright is not meant to stifle dissent. The 1976 copyright law protects fair use, including “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research”. It’s in our rights to only cite sources and credit photos not to request permission. Unfortunately, it’s common to receive cease and desist orders like these. Humorous that she admits she’s trying to “keep a tight hold on those for obvious reasons, after the Tierney attack.” How sad.

    Comment by aaron — November 18, 2012 @ 3:50 pm

  6. Actually, Marx retained a theory of human nature, all the way through Capital Vol III:
    Now one doesn’t have to believe in, or disbelieve in, human nature, due to what Marx thought about the issue, but Marx did in fact utilize such a concept.
    Essence is dialectical, and socio-historical, and human nature is part of the process in which ones essence is resolved.

    Comment by CB — November 18, 2012 @ 5:47 pm

  7. P.S. Sorry that my first comment on your blog is contentious Louis. I’ve been reading you for a year now, so I guess my lack of comments over a year speaks to how often I agree with you 🙂

    Comment by CB — November 18, 2012 @ 5:56 pm

  8. I’ll read that at some point, thank you Negative. Perhaps we are confusing one another? I’m not implying I believe we are these rigid beings but rather that there do seem to be some pretty powerful and fixed “universals.” For example, humans group together. We have civilizations. We live close to one another. And when we isolate ourselves from one another depression is not far behind. The social animal and all that.

    Comment by Pandora — November 18, 2012 @ 5:59 pm

  9. Pandora, the problem with that view is that it’s not distinctly human. In order for us to begin to talk about human nature, we have to qualify what is unique to humans alone, otherwise it’s animal nature, or mammal nature, or something of that sort. Sadness, grouping together, etc, are too prominent in the animal kingdom to be dubbed human nature, without also being perceived as myopically anthropocentric.

    Comment by CB — November 18, 2012 @ 6:05 pm

  10. Sure, but I was hardly arguing against what you just wrote. “Human nature” just happens to shorthand for it. If other animals exhibit it then so be it and so much for the better perhaps since it suggests continuity with our fellows.

    Comment by Pandora — November 18, 2012 @ 7:06 pm

  11. Anyome else annoyed at the the passive aggressive ‘best’ or ‘cheers’ bandied about
    at the end of angry but repressed psuedo intellectual rebuttals ? It seems to be all the rage in those circles now.

    Comment by purple — November 19, 2012 @ 7:23 am

  12. Its Boise State University, not college.

    Good essay.

    Comment by don — November 19, 2012 @ 6:26 pm

  13. State schools can underrated. Here, in California, a lot of good sociologists and ethnic studies professors found work in the CSU system, while the hiring of such people has been highly contentious within the UC.

    Comment by Richard Estes — November 19, 2012 @ 9:24 pm

  14. elements of what might constitute human nature most certainly do not need to be unique to the species. there is not one thing that is human nature; those two words encompass a huge indra’s net of behaviors.

    humans are the closest species to blank slates in nature, but are not blank slates. the blank slate is an ideal form quite far from a materialist analysis. would an anthropologist from saturn think humans are blank slates? as has been suggested above, we can safely hypothesize: humans are social beings, based on a few thousand years of data. that’s a start toward human nature.

    that humans can alter their environment so significantly, and thereby alter themselves, this continuing in a permanent dialectic, makes it very difficult to determine or define human nature. we are very far from knowing enough to assert much,despite the speculations of some ‘scientists’ who substitute their personal prejudices for findings. we may never have a complete picture.

    so despite the fact that humans as a species group socially, the fact that these societies look so very different is testament to their huge range of adaptable behaviors. [in fact the anthropologist from saturn would see these differences as far more significant than male/female behavioral differences, i believe.]

    Comment by jp — November 20, 2012 @ 3:27 am

  15. p.s. marx writes [quoted by d’amato per above comment] that humans ‘begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence–their food, shelter and clothing’ which is the old definition of humans as the tool-making animal. that started to break down as an absolute, as something that separates humans from other species, with jane goodall and her chimp work but it does not mean that tool making is not a human essential quality.

    Comment by jp — November 20, 2012 @ 6:05 pm

  16. Actually, while evolutionary psychologists and sociologists have this annoying habit of describing animals of all types as having ‘strategies’ to increase their number of descendants, it is nevertheless fairly obvious that, over many thousands of generations of natural selection, there will be genetic influences on mating behavior that favor those behaviors that lead to more direct and indirect offspring. In particular, it would be very surprising if human males had not evolved to be most sexually attracted to females who give the appearance of reproductive potential. Youthful appearance certainly is a big part of that, and, e.g., red lips were a sign of health for millions of years of human and proto-human existence, so that simulation of such with lipstick continues to stimulate sexual desire.

    And why are the women on display at the Playboy mansion and in similar contexts mostly young, especially considering that more mature, experienced women are likely to be better lovers? Is there an explanation for the general (not universal, of course!) male sexual preference for younger women other than one based on natural selection favoring such preferences?

    Comment by Red Snapper — December 6, 2012 @ 6:26 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: