Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Keeping up with The Times
While it is true that they occasionally say things that seem to make sense to us, as far as StraightMan and I are concerned, David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, John Tierney, and Nicholas Wade are the Gray Lady's own Evil League of Evil.
As anthropologists, we reserve our particular ire for Wade.
Recently, Wade discovered culture, which he describes as an "evolutionary force" that has been in effect for the last 20,000 years or so.
Today, Wade reported on a study of the possible consequences of cousin marriage in the Darwin family.
The topic of cousin marriage is one that I happen to teach in ANTH 100. For example, I screen the ethnographic film "Masai Women" (a "classic" documentary that helps students connect the practice of polygyny with ideas and practices about women and property) and also assign chestnuts like Melvyn Goldstein's "When Brothers Share a Wife" (an article about fraternal polyandry in Tibet that appears in a number of textbooks).
This is all done in the service of impressing upon students the idea that there is no universal definition of marriage. It can involve more than two individuals who need not be different sexes / genders and it is not assumed that first comes love.
I also like to talk about marriage in ANTH 100 to illustrate the point that it can be difficult to cultivate a stance of cultural relativism about activities, behaviors, and attitudes that "we" consider fundamental experiences of everyday life.
Given that cousin marriages, cross-culturally and historically in American and European societies, have been preferred, I make rather a strong case for how and why such marriages ought not be seen as "unnatural." I always anticipate that at least one student will ask the inbreeding question. So, I plan to read the study that Wade cites more carefully. It sounds like an interesting approach, but I feel a bit doubtful about whether or not this particular analysis is all that robust.