Cultural anthropology and the cult of obscurantism

By Razib Khan | January 16, 2013 11:49 pm

My attitude toward most cultural anthropologists is similar to Jerry Coyne’s sentiment toward theologians. So I’m going to share two examples of why I have these feelings, without commenting.

First, here’s a transcript of This American Life’s Doppelgänger:

Eventually I found my way to this guy who I was really excited about, someone who I thought might have my answer. He was– get this– an anthropologist who lived and worked in China for 40 years where he studied food, and specifically, meat. When I talked to him, though, he made two points.

Point one, my question about this happening in Asia was racist. Even just asking the question was racist because it plays on ignorant stereotypes about other cultures eating things that we perceive as weird.

Point two was that Ron Meek– my guy from the pig plant– Ron was pulling my leg. And he was getting away with it because I was a dumbass. He told me more than once that I should, quote, “find something worthwhile to do with myself.”

When we ended our conversation, he told me that he was refusing to even dignify what I was doing by appearing on the radio or by letting me use his name.

OK. So to respond to his points one by one, first, am I racist against Asians? Well, I’m half Chinese. My mom’s Chinese. Like anyone, I’ve had the occasional issue with my mother. But this has not been one of them.

We grew up eating chicken feet and fish eyes. And I think it’s possible to raise the question of who eats what without being racist.

His second point, though, that Ron Meek was pulling my leg– I mean, the guy was still an expert on meat in China. So I called Ron back.

On cultural anthropologists and Jared Diamond:


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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