Another post from a Savage Minds contributor, Tak, on a different blog, talking about the Diamond controversy. Other Savage Minds types have denounced Diamond as “no nothing anti-racist” and “quasi-racist” (they seem to be overlapping categories); Tak says that he’s just plain racist. The basis for this accusation? First: Diamond says in an article that the Japanese are the most distinctive major country in terms of their culture and environment. But Japanese imperialists too say that the Japanese are distinctive in terms of their culture and environment. In Tak’s own words, “Stop right there, mister, because to those who know Japan’s modern history, he has just reproduced the rhetoric of Japanese imperialism!” In addition, there are “frightening parallels” between Diamond’s belief that physical environment is an important causal variable, and the work of a racist Japanese author, who, according to “some Japanese critics” believed that environmental factors were responsible for Japanese racial superiority. Quod erat demonstrandum. Or something. Second, Diamond “perpetuates racism by associating a group of people with specific traits,” (i.e. cultivating rice!) and holds to the bizarre thesis that “rice cultivation gives a military advantage over hunter & gatherer people.”
This is beyond sloppy. You don’t fling around accusations of racism in public forums without serious evidence. Tak doesn’t have serious evidence, or, as far as I can see, any evidence whatsoever. Instead he has a selection of egregious misreadings and slurs-by-association (you can judge for yourself whether Tak’s piece is a fair summation of Diamond’s article; the latter is a short, easy read). I simply don’t understand what is going on here with Tak and with the other Savage Minds who have contributed to this debate. It’s fine and good to challenge Diamond’s evidence and arguments with other evidence and counter arguments. That’s what academic debate should be about. It’s also fine to challenge particular styles of thinking if they’re unable to come to grips with certain kinds of phenomena. But if you want to claim that certain kinds of reasoning are inherently racist and repugnant to right thinking people, which is what seems to be going on here, you had better have strong evidence to back up your accusations. So far, all I’ve seen a lot of vaguely worded innuendo. There’s some underlying deformation of thinking here, and I’m not sure what’s driving it.
Update: Kerim at Savage Minds offers a possible explanation.
If we anthropologists seem a little to ready to throw around the term “racist” it is not because we are “jealous” of other disciplines … it is because we are all too aware of our own history as a discipline. Anthropologists were the foot-soldiers of colonialism, promoting theories of racial superiority to justify colonial expansion. As a result, we are sensitive to the ways in which specific interests can be served in the name of “objective” science.
This seems to me to be at least part of the story – anthropology’s complex historical relationship with imperialism is indeed one of the mainsprings of the discipline’s identity. But while it helps explain, it doesn’t give license to Ozma and Tak to fling about poorly sourced accusations of racism like confetti (Diamond very clearly is not promoting any sort of theory of racial superiority, or anything like it).
Update 2: See this post by Tim Burke, which does a nice – and careful – job of criticizing Diamond.