Notes Toward a Human Nature for the Third Millennium
Every society needs to come to an understanding of what makes humans tick. For millennia, religion was the primary frame societies had for finding the answers. Theology assigned an outside influence on all behaviors; evil was the work of the devil or the consequences of sin, good was the result of purity and piety. During The Enlightenment, this quest left the hands of religious institutions and gradually turned to scientific enquiry, leaving to the field of anthropology this particular quest. Early seekers turned first to biology, ideas of inheritance, and soon to the new genetics. These led to such ideas as “criminal types,” Kretschmer’s body types and, above all, race. These ideas faded within the field because they did not stand close scrutiny, and anthropologists turned to culture, the customs, and mores handed down by oral tradition. But how to explain culture? The cultural anthropologists tried to account for humanity’s quirks through Freud, Durkheim, and evolutionary ecology with interesting findings but had little success at seeing the whole. Anthropologists were sure that biology was not the answer and some thought it not even relevant. The generation that came out of the dissidence of the Viet Nam war simply walked away from the issue as if it was of no importance, declaring that no scientific paradigm would work. They settled for saying that it was the nature of man to have culture—an empty phrase.
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