Archive for August, 2008


Crossing the campus with Clem Meighan was somewhat daunting because it was hard to keep up with his long gimpy-legged stride.  The gimpiness came from an old South Pacific war wound he never talked about.  I had come to assume (wrongly, it turns out) that he had walked into a field of land mines.  I guess I had assumed that because Clem had that kind of insouciance, a way of walking into things because of his own convictions and not out of some need to please others.  His contributions at faculty meetings demonstrated this quality; he said what he had on his mind in terms of some enduring values and not what was deemed politically correct. “There is no such thing as a free lunch,” he would say when the dean had offered us an enticing f.t.e. attached to some politically expedient, equal-opportunity appointment.  We knew he was right even as we voted, as he had anticipated we would, to accept the opportunity.

         Clem walked directly into the issue of the politically correct toward the end of his career when he took up the cudgels to fight off the effects of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), starting with an editorial in the Quarterly Publication of the Curators’ Committee and an article, Archaeology: Science or Sacrilege? two years later (Meighan 1982, 1984).  Nearly a quarter of the subsequent titles in his bibliography is directed at this issue.  In these articles he makes his stance quite clear:  That NAGPRA is associated with the whole business of politically correct (PC) language.  That application of the law will be devastating to archeological research.  That the politicians who are advocating applying the law have little interest in the law itself. That the Native Americans are not of one voice in these matters but are largely indifferent to it.  That the issue is being used by their political leaders to further an anti-White attitude and not because they care about the bones or artifacts.

This article was originally published in “Onward And Upward!: Papers in Honor of Clement W. Meighan” edited by by Keith L. Johnson; Stansbury Publishing, 2005



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One of the more dismaying aspects of growing old is to find old ideas reappearing in new clothes–like the tricycle you had long ago got rid of showing up at a garage sale, badly repainted. Consider for example the currently popular cliche: “subtext.” It
 is what we used to call “subliminal message.” The difference is that one took its meaning from then popular Freudian psychiatry while the other is borrowed from literary criticism. Since there is more intellectual meat in psychiatry than in litcrit, I prefer the older term, though it carries its own subliminal message; namely, that it is subliminal because psychological processes make us want to keep it from being overt. But this is a minor matter; one of words, not theories.

I want to discuss the habit of recycling ideas because I think it displays a serious flaw in anthropological teaching, in anthropological research and in anthropological thinking. It is not the way to achieve scientific progress. The ideal of scientific investigation is to establish a dialogue between theory and empirical research: theoretical formulations leading to research programs; the research testing a hypothesis and, if found inadequate (as is usually the case), altering it to fit the new data; which in turn is to be tested. This is the way the “hard” sciences work and in this we should try to emulate them.

This paper in its original form was presented at a session of the Senior Anthropologists’ Association at the Annual Meeting of the AAA in 1990.


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It is enigmatic to be celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the best-selling, The Selfish Gene since it is not just bad popular science but plain bad science. Though written by an Oxford University graduate and don, it is outmoded genetics, false evolutionary theory, poor social theory, vapid anthropology and, bad moral philosophy.

         “The selfish gene” is a catchy anthropomorphic metaphor for a basic truth about evolution; namely that survival gives priority to genetic continuity over the welfare of whatever beings produced those genes. Metaphors are useful in explaining obscure processes but they are loaded with booby traps. Used as a title, as Dawkins has done, they turn into slogans – those enemies of thought.


         (Full disclosure note: I share Dawkins’ publisher, Oxford University Press, for my book ”The Bridge to Humanity; How Affect Hunger Trumps the Selfish Gene.” I return to it later.)

 Originally published in Science and Theology news, June 2006 (more…)

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