The Ethics of Anthropology: The Yanomami

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Among tribal warriors along the Amazon River in the high heartland of South America, the anthropologist’s question thirty years ago was: what’s the root reason for fierceness in human societies? Is it nature, or nurture? Genetic programming, or acquired culture? The related question this fall is: what’s the root of fierceness among anthropologists? Napoleon Chagnon was the American scientist who made the Yanomami people of Brazil and Venezuela famous in books and movies as “The Fierce People.” Head-hunting warfare among the Yanomami men, Chagnon decided, was a lively replay of nature’s primeval battle for survival.

But now it’s Napoleon Chagnon who’s getting torn apart in virtually Hitlerian terms by rival scholars who say: no, it’s culture that makes killers, and it was Chagnon with his imported viruses and machetes that nearly ruined the Yanomami. Patrick Tierney’s “Darkness in El Dorado” is this hour, on The Connection.
(Hosted by Christopher Lydon)


Patrick Tierney author of “Darkness in El Dorado”