by Denyse O'Leary
Margaret Mead's book, Coming of Age in Samoa, promoted the idea that promiscuity is natural and normal - fronted in typical publically funded sex ed courses today. Of course it wasn't true and couldn't have been true, but it was just what the age of advertising - using sex as its main selling feature - needed to hear. As Ben Wiker explains,
Mead's battle cry, then, is that we need to march forward and create a new era, "when no one group claims ethical sanction for its customs, and each group welcomes to its midst only those who are temporarily fitted for membership."Now, a huge controversy has raged for decades about Mead's findings, which simply do not fit the known history of Samoan social life.
Then, Mead beams, "we shall have realised the high point of individual choice and universal toleration which a heterogenous culture and a heterogeneous culture alone can attain."(P. 189)
But Samoan social life did not really matter anyway. What mattered was assembling evidence, real or imagined, for the benefits of promiscuity for teenagers. Wiker notes that anthropology was the perfect discipline for Mead to infest:
According to Orans, himself a practicing anthropologist, "From its inception, its practice has often been profoundly unscientific and positively cavalier in its willingness to accept generalizations without empirical substantiation." Anthropology was thus the perfect scientific cover for cultural analysis that was no more scientific than the state of nature imagined by Hobbes and Rousseau. (p. 191)And, as with Freud, every pundit somehow "knows" that Mead's pseudo-science was true. But, as Wiker cautions,
Bad books screw up the world only if they are consumed eagerly by those who are hungry to hear their messages.Well, in the twentieth century, hundreds of millions of people were hungry for her messages - and many saw how they might make money off them.
Next: Ten Worst Books 10: Alfred Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948)
Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary (www.designorchance.com) is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).
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