A Review of “Noble Savages” by Napoleon Chagnon


For those that aren’t aware: I am an anthropologist by training. And as you are all well aware, I am something of a “shitlord”. These two traits are corroborated in more than a few esteemed members of this field of anthropology, and should be corroborated in all anthropologists-in fact, I will go as far as to say that anthropology, a subject that deals with the deepest of modern taboos (namely: the biological realities of the human species and different populations and clades therein) should be the “shitlordiest” of all academic disciplines.

Unfortunately, and ironically, it is, in fact, responsible for a lot of the talking points of progressivism. This is due to what I have dubbed the anthropology schism. This schism lies between my faction, the biological/physical/evolutionary anthropologists (the terms are for the most part interchangeable), and the cultural anthropologists.  To put it very simply: biological anthropologists study the biology, both macro (bones, dentition, musculature, behavior, etc.) and micro (genes, hormones), of all peoples in the world and extinct hominids (aka: the hirsute ancestors of you and me) and sometimes connect these findings to cultural behavior, while cultural anthropologists study (as one might assume) the culture of these same peoples, largely without any input from biology.

This may not seem very divisive, but since the split occurred, the two subfields of the discipline have nursed a growing resentment of each other, and have largely ignored input from one another. As a young student at Rutgers University, making stone knives and calculating the biomechanical efficiency of persistence hunting, I would wonder why this schism runs so deep, and whether it could or could not be repaired: after reading Napoleon Chagnon’s Noble Savages: My Life Amongst Two Dangerous Tribes-The Yanomamo and the Anthropologists, I feel that a serviceable answer to both questions could be given. To put it bluntly, the only way this schism can be overcome is with a massive overhaul of academia itself.

I don’t mean to imply this book would be of interest ONLY to anthropologists, far from it. For those of us who lean politically rightward and have criticized universities for being biased in the opposite direction, this book will be directly relevant-for in his work, Napoleon Chagnon aroused the ire of the intellectual forebears of today’s Social Justice Warriors and showed how such odious people can be defeated.

This book is neatly (though informally) divided into two parts: the first half deals with his studies amongst the Amazonian tribes, and the second deals with his publication of his findings back in the USA, and the fallout therein.

Within the first 10 pages, Chagnon presents four main theses, all of which we have seen are massively triggering to the progressive mind-

  • Violence is ubiquitous in primitive society
  • The desire to maximize security (ie: form large, effective fighting forces) is the biggest driving force behind increasing socialization
  • Kinship selection is the predominant factor for increased socialization: in times of danger, you look to your family, your tribe, your culture—there are no atomized “blank slate” individuals in the jungle.
  • As population increases, so too does the power of leaders: despotism is the natural state of man, with only a few legitimate democracies.

The next ~300 pages of the book present an abundance of evidence that supports those four theories, as well as evidence for additional theories, such as his idea that conflict over females has been the greatest instigator of bloodshed throughout most of human history, rather than material resources (this ties into the four theories discussed above, ie: greater social complexity means more monogamy, incest taboos, and regulation of sex specifically to prevent conflict), as well as presenting a fascinating look at the people he is studying.

It is clear that he greatly respects the tribe: he speaks of the depredations they have suffered from the Brazilian and Venezuelan governments, he refers to their “ingenious climbing devices” (page 345), praises the construction of their village palisades (page 305), and, of course, spent 30 intermittent years amongst them, learning their language and multiple dialects therein. At the same time, however, he does not sugarcoat them or present them as “noble savages” in any way, nor does he espouse the typical hippy-dippy cultural anthropologist fantasy of “everybody in the world can become nice liberal white people”

But with all that being said, his concern for their welfare was entirely ignored, for when he came home to present his finds, and thoroughly debunked the ideals of the “noble savage”, he was essentially made a pariah in the world of anthropology.

The tactics of these proto-SJWs are instantly recognizable to those who have tangled with their ideological descendants today-

1) They would isolate, lie, and exaggerate about their target (“Did you know there is a certain anthropologist, who studies Amazon Indians, who claims that they have genes for warfare and infanticide?”, page 390)

2) They sought out the most extreme facets of an intellectual movement to use as a strawman (“Predictably, cultural anthropologists resisted these trends [studies of primates revealing possibly the evolution of social behavior], often by denigrating the academics  or by criticizing the most sensational and amateurish work”, P. 208),

3) They cherry pick data that supports their position (“For example, many undergraduate cultural anthro textbooks go to considerable lengths to emphasize the non-biological aspect of kinship: ‘In some african tribes, mothers and fathers are referred to in the same term by the child” (p.381)

And 4) it’s all backed up by a fanatical, quasi-religious faith in their beliefs “Anthropologists who collect data often find themselves in a peculiar position of being censured because their data offends some ‘researcher’ who believes in ‘noble savages’. This concept is inconsistent with facts: The noble savage is a construct of faith: anthropology has become a religion, in which the ‘truth’ is about faith, not facts” (p. 232)

It is here that I find the one major flaw of the book: Chagnon doesn’t really explain why this massive cultural shift occurred, and only gives a half-hearted attempt to try. His theory is that many anthropologists today are unrepentant Marxists, drawing from Marxist theory and thus being fixated on material resources and conflict over said resources (which also may explain the attempts to connect Chagnon to Joseph McCarthy, p. 432). As Marxism has shifted away from economics and into the realms of racial/ethnic ressentiment, so has cultural anthropology changed. And biological anthropologists and sociobiologists that were not attuned to Marxist theory have gone to different departments (as happened at Stanford and UC Berkeley). But, again, he doesn’t explain WHY this sudden influx of Marxists occurred.

Eventually, Chagnon was vindicated, and he was tepidly welcomed back into the fold. Simply put, he stuck to his guns. He knew that his data was right, and he refused to submit to the left, knowing that even if he did his career would still be ruined. He continued to publish books and articles and sought people who would give him a fair shake and corroborate his findings. And after decades of bitter fighting, peer-reviewed surveys and tribal testimony proved him right.

And knowing that “The Cathedral” CAN be defeated just might be the best lesson one can take from this book. Despite the one glaring flaw, as well as some clunky prose here and there, I highly recommend it, and it can be purchased here.

Larsen Halleck is best known as the fitness and nutrition writer for Return of Kings, but also writes at his own website The Barbaric Gentleman, and also makes Youtube videos

You can follow him at his aforementioned website and Youtube channels, as well as on Twitter, and on Gab

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