Wednesday, July 25, 2007

69. Yet Even More and More On You Know What

We are now, I think, better prepared to deal with what I've called Alan Barnard's "epiphany," as expressed in the concluding section of his essay, "Kalahari revisionism, Vienna and the ‘indigenous peoples’ debate" (see post 66):

Recent interdisciplinary work among Darwinian anthropologists, evolutionary psychologists, archaeologists, linguists and geneticists hints that there really was an Urrasse, and there really was an Urkultur . . . Both are represented in the ‘anatomically modern’ Homo sapiens population that gave rise to the ‘Out of Africa’ migration about 80,000 years ago. This migration spread early symbolic culture; let us call it Urkultur. However, the relation between this Urkultur and the cultures of today’s so-called ‘indigenous peoples’ is no greater than that between this Urkultur and the cultures of all peoples.

What's especially surprising is Barnard's use of the term "really." He uses it twice. This is a word rarely found in the anthropological literature, except as a rhetorical device ("does he really expect us to believe . . . "). Also surprising is his sudden and totally unexpected resurrection of the universally denigrated terms Urrasse and Urkultur, the latter having been dismissed by him earlier in the same essay as "a legitimate, if problematic, anthropological concept [whose] usefulness in anthropological theory has long since passed." Clearly Barnard has taken himself by surprise and seems not at all sure of what to make of such a completely unexpected turn of events. For once, it would seem, a typically postmodern ideological dispute has been trumped by, of all things: evidence. Remember that?

"The evidence" was supposedly what the Great Kalahari Debate hinged on from the start. All sorts of evidence was presented -- but it was archaeological evidence and, as is well known, archaeological evidence is so sparse, so shaky (think of all the disputes, re-assessments, hoaxes), so difficult to understand, that almost any interpretation is possible. Though the archaeological evidence was, not surprisingly, deemed "insufficient" (see post 66), that really didn't seem to matter. It certainly didn't prevent the "revisionists" from persisting with their attack, on the same ideological grounds that had no doubt prompted it in the first place.

Now, suddenly, evidence of a completely different sort presents itself, extensive evidence, hard evidence -- above all, scientific evidence, straight from, of all places, the biology lab. And what this evidence, reinforced and enriched by archaeology, ethnology, linguistics, etc., tells us is that there really might have been an Urrasse after all. And if there was an Urrasse, then that Urrasse would have to have had some sort of Kultur -- which would have made it an Urkultur. Really.

It's time now to examine the last sentence quoted above, Barnard's attempted "out": "However, the relation between this Urkultur and the cultures of today’s so-called ‘indigenous peoples’ is no greater than that between this Urkultur and the cultures of all peoples." He is wrong. I've seen similar arguments regarding the genetic evidence that go something like this: if we are all descended from the same "founding" group, then I am no farther removed from that group genetically then the members of some "indigenous" tribe, in Africa, New Guinea or wherever. Very ironically, there is a difference between "you" and some such tribal group -- as for example: the "indigenous" inhabitants of the subject of our "Great Debate," the Bushmen of the Kalahari. They have a pedigree. "You" don't.

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