Delusion in El Dorado

Delusion in El Dorado

Delusion in El Dorado

Recent posts from our readers forum.
Nov. 1 2000 11:00 PM

Delusion in El Dorado

Subject: Gallery Watching—A Layman's Guide
Re:
"The Book Club: John Armstrong's Move Closer"
From:
John Armstrong
Date:
October 25  9:40 a.m. PT

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One issue I was trying to get away from in my book is the "dichotomy" between visual experience and historical knowledge of art. I take it for granted that it is very important to have some historical awareness. This is the current orthodoxy—and I'm not in opposition to it. However, orthodoxies have a way of making us lose sight of other things. In this book I'm trying to redress the balance—not suggest that historical knowledge is irrelevant, but that other things are relevant too.

A second criticism suggests that my approach—which concentrates on the response of individual spectators—rejects a more normative account, which recognizes that some works are far superior to others. But there isn't a conflict. In fact I'm very sympathetic to the idea that some works are better artistically than others. My project in Move Closer is to address the issue of how we come to recognize the merits of a work. If we are to appreciate the great works, their merits have to come alive in our own experience—I have to see and experience the profundity of Michelangelo or the sweetness of Boucher, if I am to grasp the excellence of these works.

There are many different kinds of art, and you don't need to be interested in all of it. The point is to try to recognize which works have most to say to you. And it's not always going to be obvious. That is why an encounter with a work of art can be both a discovery of it and a discovery of something in yourself. A work by an obscure artist throws you back on your own resources. You have to ask yourself: Do I like this, why do I like it, what are its weaknesses? An obviously flawed work is more like a human being—whose faults are often bound up with his appealing qualities.

[To read an unedited version, or to reply, click here and scroll to the bottom.]

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Subject: At Least NPR Wasn't Duped

Re:
" Hey, Wait a Minute: Jungle Fever—Was The New Yorker Duped?"

From:
Ed Kulash

Date:
October 25  10:34 a.m. PT

John Tooby writes:

A story in Britain's Guardian—"Scientist 'killed Amazon indians to test race theory' "—was followed by [similarly false] accounts in Time and the New York Times, on NPR's All Things Considered, and so on.

Just for the record, I would like to point out that although Tooby is correct that National Public Radio did run a story on Patrick Tierney's Darkness in El Dorado, they should not be lumped in the same category as the others. The NPR feature carefully outlined the premise of the Tierney book and explained the basis of those premises in some detail. However, immediately after they finished summarizing the book, they immediately rebutted the main points of the book with criticism by experts and recorded interviews. The report concluded that at very best, Tierney is simply mistaken, but in all likelihood had foisted a hoax. This story was typical of NPR's overall quality reporting.

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[To reply, click here.]

Subject: Notes and Comment on The New Yorker

Re:
" The New Yorker Replies"

From:
Ian Pitchford,

Editor, Evolutionary Psychology Online

Date:
October 29  12:24 p.m. PT

Anastasia Salinger writes in "The Fray":

The great thing about The NewYorker's self-defense is that it ends up arguing that the Tierney article said nothing at all. The New Yorker, they assure us, devoted pages and pages to an article that said an anthropologist, decades ago, didn't commit genocide, didn't use a dangerous vaccine, didn't believe in eugenics in any bad sense of the word (though I'm still not sure what the other sense is that the New Yorker alludes to), and so on. Of course, if the editors believed a single word of their defense, they would never have run Tierney's piece in the first place.

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I second that. And I hope The New Yorker will also report its opinion on the relatively innocuous nature of Tierney's speculations to his publishers, W.W. Norton, who are still describing Darkness in El Dorado in the following terms: "An explosive account of how ruthless journalists, self-serving anthropologists, and obsessed scientists placed one of the Amazon basin's oldest tribes on the cusp of extinction."

In this short response to Tooby's article the editors of The New Yorker effectively become collaborators in the Darkness project, first by implying that the use of the Edmonston B vaccine was questionable, despite unequivocal scientific testimony to the contrary, secondly by suggesting that Neel's views on broader genetic issues are somehow relevant to the vaccination programme and perhaps indicative of a disposition to engage in wrong-doing, and thirdly by implying that the work of Chagnon was somehow of greater consequence than far more significant disruptive forces operating in the territory of the Yanomamö such as missionaries, gold miners, and Venezuelan government officials. Did "ruthless journalists, self-serving anthropologists, and obsessed scientists place one of the Amazon basin's oldest tribes on the cusp of extinction" or are ruthless journalists and self-serving media tycoons currently pursuing their own interests irrespective of the consequences?

[To read an unedited version, or to reply, click here.]

Subject: What's Scarier than a Dead Politician?

Re:
" Hey, Wait a Minute: Dead President-Elect"

From:
Mutatis Mutandis

Date:
October 20  2:36 p.m. PT

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Well, of course this is a serious issue, but is it a real one? Let's start with the assumption that Americans vote for a person and not a party: Raise hands everyone who would vote for George W. Bush if he were (one of) the Reform Party candidate(s)!

Be fair: Most candidates need the support of their party. The entire primary system is designed to select candidates who enjoy the support of their party. Therefore it is not that unreasonable that the vice president-elect should take the place of the president-elect. If it is law after the election, then it should be acceptable before it.

And the effect of this problem on the credibility of U.S. elections is minimal, compared with the damage done by many other factors: the fact that so many citizens don't vote, the fact that money is almost the decisive factor, the fact that not all Americans have an equal say in the primary process, the fact that the two big parties use their clout to exclude other candidates from the debates, and so on. These issues of real importance should be dealt with first. Hypothetical problems can wait.

[To reply, click here.]