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By Richard F. Staar


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Sample text

Beliefs about the malleability or otherwise of human nature tend to vary along the left—right continuum. Yet they are beliefs about a matter of fact and should be open to revision in the light of the evidence. That evidence can come from history, anthropology, ethology and evolutionary theory. But it is not easy to look at the evidence without ideological blinkers. The Australian anthropologist Derek Freeman discovered this in 1983 when he published Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth.

Then, when the plans don't work, they blame traitors within their ranks, or sinister agents of outside forces, for the failure. Instead, those seeking to reshape society must understand the tendencies inherent in human beings, and modify their abstract ideals in order to suit them. There are different ways of working with the tendencies inherent in human nature. The market economy is based on the idea that human beings can be relied upon to work hard and show initiative only if by doing so they will further their own economic interests.

In Coming of Age in Samoa, Mead had argued, on the basis of her observations of Samoan society, 'that adolescence is not necessarily a time of stress and strain, but that cultural conditions make it so . '. This conclusion was consistent with the ideas of her teacher, Franz Boas, that our social environment shapes our lives more than any biological factors. Freeman compiled a convincing case that Mead had misunderstood Samoan customs, which did not allow the kind of easy-going adolescent sexuality that Mead described.

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