Nicholas Wade Reviews Napoleon Chagnon`s Autobiography
February 19, 2013, 02:31 AM
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Nicolas Poussin, "Rape of the Sabine Women," 1637, Louvre: A depiction of the legendary 750 BC abduction of neighboring women

Nicolas Poussin, "Rape of the Sabine Women," 1637, Louvre: A depiction of the legendary 750 BC abduction of neighboring women by an early Roman raiding party

In the New York Times, science correspondent Nicholas Wade reviews anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon`s autobiography Noble Savages:
Trained as an engineer before taking up anthropology, Dr. Chagnon was interested in the mechanics of how the Yanomamö worked. He perceived that kinship was the glue that held societies together, so he started to construct an elaborate genealogy of the Yanomamö (often spelled Yanomani.) ;

The genealogy took many years, in part because of the Yanomamö taboo on mentioning the names of the dead. When completed, it held the key to unlocking many important features of Yanomamö society. One of Dr. Chagnon’s discoveries was that warriors who had killed a man in battle sired three times more children than men who had not killed. ;

His report, published in Science in 1988, set off a storm among anthropologists who believed that peace, not war, was the natural state of human existence. Dr. Chagnon’s descriptions of Yanomamö warfare had been bad enough; now he seemed to be saying that aggression was rewarded and could be inherited. ;

A repeated theme in his book is the clash between his empirical findings and the ideology of his fellow anthropologists. The general bias in anthropological theory draws heavily from Marxism, Dr. Chagnon writes. His colleagues insisted that the Yanomamö were fighting over material possessions, whereas Dr. Chagnon believed the fights were about something much more basic — access to nubile young women.

The distinction between competing over material possessions and competing over women seems pretty blurry. In general, the more productive cultures are ones that channel male agression over reproduction into economic rather than physical competition.

As an example of this, I was in Glendale on Saturday night and walked past hundreds of young Spanish-speaking people lined up to get into Giggles night club. They looked like they were intending to engage in a lot of conspicuous consumption that, judging by the tightness and tackiness of their clubbing costumes, they couldn`t really afford.

In his view, evolution and sociobiology, not Marxist theory, held the best promise of understanding human societies. In this light, he writes, it made perfect sense that the struggle among the Yanomamö, and probably among all human societies at such a stage in their history, was for reproductive advantage. ;

Men form coalitions to gain access to women. Because some men will be able to have many wives, others must share a wife or go without, creating a great scarcity of women. This is why Yanomamö villages constantly raid one another.

The raiding over women creates a more complex problem, that of maintaining the social cohesion required to support warfare. A major cause of a village’s splitting up is fights over women. But a smaller village is less able to defend itself against larger neighbors. The most efficient strategy to keep a village both large and cohesive through kinship bonds is for two male lineage groups to exchange cousins in marriage. Dr. Chagnon found that this is indeed the general system practiced by the Yanomamö.

And, I suspected, walking down the street, that some of the more disorderly patrons of Giggles tended, as the night wore on, to turn from competing for women via buying $285 bottle service to more direct means. When I got home, looking up Giggles on Google, I found this news story:
Chunk of man`s eyebrow bitten off outside Giggles night club in Glendale ;

October 01, 2012 ;

A 38-year-old North Hollywood man lost a chunk of his eyebrow early Sunday during a fight outside of Giggles Nightclub in Glendale, police said. ;

Officers found the man, whose name wasn’t released, about 2 a.m. in the alley behind the night club in the 200 block of Brand Boulevard after receiving a call about a brawl involving 20 men, according to Glendale police reports. Police didn’t find the man’s attacker. ;

The man told police another man bit his eyebrow, causing an inch-wide gash. ;

Blood was dripping from the man’s face as he stood alongside another eight men who weren’t involved in the fight, police said. ;

He told officers he and his friends were leaving the nightclub and were walking in the alley where there was a group of men fighting. ;

The man was watching the fight when another male suddenly approached him from the left and bit his eyebrow, police said. ;

He described the man as Latino, 5 foot 5 inches tall, about 200 pounds with an athletic build and short hair. The man was wearing blue jeans only.

Sadly, no Poussin is likely to immortalize this post-Giggles encounter in art worthy of the Louvre. I think Poussin could have done a lot with "5 foot 5 inches tall, about 200 pounds with an athletic build ... wearing blue jeans only."