Napoleon Chagnon's biography


Twelve years ago, I reviewed Darkness in El Dorado. I also attended a conference of American anthropologists in San Francisco at which the author defended his attack on renowned anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon.

Recently, Chagnon published his autobiography.

Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes -- the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists.

It confirms my rejection of his critics, describing how, in the nineteen-sixties, political correctness interfered with an attempt to treat anthropology as a science. In a nutshell, Chagnon described how a tribe in the Amazon, almost untouched by civilization, was prone to endemic warfare, chiefly as a means of obtaining women by force.

That's only one tribe - the Yanomamö. It doesn't refute the idea of the 'noble savage'. But the difficulty Chagnon experienced defending his findings does show something about the establishment, in at least one academic area - it tries to idealize non-Western cultures. Strange, for a culture rooted in white supremacy.

Here is a good example of an attempt to undermine Chagnon from a leftist perspective:

Finding its flaws I'll leave as an exercise...

Jay Knott, August 2013