Opponents of the academic Left are mad, of course

The modern-day American Left does not of course have access to Stalin's psychiatric prisons as a means of dealing with dissenters but accusations of insanity do nearly as well. Never mind the fact that calling your opponent insane is completely "ad hominem" and, as such, an argument of no scholarly merit whatever. The article below deals with the Australian anthropologist (Derek Freeman) who conclusively demolished Margaret Mead's lies about the sexual permissiveness of primitive societies -- Lies which were for a long time immensely influential and eagerly seized on by Leftists.

The article summarizes a thesis put forward by Hiram Caton and if "ad hominem" arguments are of interest, I might note that in my own conversations with Prof. Caton, when he was Head of the "School of Applied Ethics" at Griffith University in Queensland, I found him to have some very odd views of his own (he thinks AIDS is a myth, for instance). He may even be right in his views but I would certainly not accept any of his judgments willy nilly. Those who live in glass houses .....

Just how far should scholars go in debunking intellectual opponents? Is persistence, to the point of ignoring one's own pursuits, a sign of mental instability? The case of Derek Freeman, the contentious Australian anthropologist who died in 2001 at the age of 84, raises both questions. For decades he relentlessly dissected and attacked the work of the noted anthropologist Margaret Mead, who died in 1978. Freeman sought to persuade his colleagues that Mead's pathbreaking work on Samoa was fundamentally misbegotten. In particular he criticized her first book, the one that made her reputation: Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilisation (1928). In it, Mead depicted casual sex among Samoan teenage girls to argue that adolescence is not a stressful time in all cultures....

Freeman was convinced that Mead had been duped into believing that Samoa was a sexual Shangri-La. He laid out his argument in two books: Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth (Harvard University Press, 1983) and The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead: A Historical Analysis of Her Samoan Research (Westview Press, 1999). Freeman also participated in the making of a 1988 documentary, "Margaret Mead and Samoa", which included an interview with one of Mead's original informants, Fa'apua'a, who said, in the film's dramatic final moments, that indeed, she and her friends had fooled Mead....

Hiram Caton believes he has found compelling evidence to explain what drove Freeman. The recently retired professor of history and politics at Griffith University, in Australia, specializes in political psychology, with a particular interest in cult leaders and followers. He worked closely with Freeman from 1983 to 1993 and stayed in touch with him until his death. In "The Exalted Self: Derek Freeman's Quest for the Perfect Identity," published last year in the Canadian journal Identity, he argues that the anthropologist, who had a reputation for eccentric and antagonistic behavior, had a clinically diagnosable narcissistic-personality disorder. Freeman's urgency stemmed as much from that disorder as from his critique of Mead and cultural anthropology, Mr. Caton believes.

Not surprisingly, this starkly psychoanalytic view discomfits some scholars. Peter Hempenstall, a professor of history at the University of Canterbury, in New Zealand, is preparing a biography of Freeman with Donald F. Tuzin, a professor of anthropology at the University of California at San Diego. While he finds some of Mr. Caton's ideas "suggestive," Mr. Hempenstall says, the "presentation of Derek Freeman's personality as the result of a clearly established clinical pathology is too extreme and unconvincing."

The question of Derek Freeman's mental health and its role in his scholarly work is not new to close observers of the battle over Margaret Mead and her legacy. As Mr. Caton notes, Freeman was "shadowed by a reputation that he was a 'difficult man' who suffered from a mysterious psychological disorder." "Until his last breath," Mr. Caton says, "he denied imputations of a disorder, styled them 'defamatory,' and unequivocally affirmed his complete mental health and self-control."....

Mr. Caton says he became keenly aware of what he calls Freeman's "unusual psychology" during their extended collaboration. They conferred closely in a campaign to get social scientists to consider biological perspectives in their scholarship. During that time, Caton writes, Freeman gave him access to a large amount of his current personal correspondence and agreed to extensive interviews on his beliefs. That led Mr. Caton to ponder the complexities of the anthropologist's personality.

For instance, despite the obvious intensity of the two breakdowns, the correspondence unearthed by Mr. Caton reveals that Freeman did not suffer from long-term mental illness. No psychiatrist would suggest that Freeman was, say, schizophrenic. Rather, Mr. Caton argues, the documents suggest that Freeman's attacks on his opponents — whether real or perceived — stemmed from a narcissistic personality disorder. People with a narcissistic-personality disorder are generally arrogant, exploitative, and unempathetic, while exhibiting a grandiose sense of self-importance, observes Mr. Caton. They are preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success or brilliance, and they believe that they are "special" and can be understood only by other special people.....

Other anthropologists differ on whether Mr. Caton's use of the play and other evidence to argue that Mr. Freeman had a personality disorder is helpful, or even responsible. Paul Shankman, a Samoa specialist and professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, says the strength of Mr. Caton's analysis is his ingenuity in using such clues as Freeman's response to Mr. Williamson's play. That makes clear the dimensions of Freeman as "a deeply troubled individual," Mr. Shankman says. Moreover, he says, Mr. Caton "suggests how Freeman's psychological problems — with sex, aggression, dominance, and conflict — came to be personified in Margaret Mead."

Mr. Tuzin, of San Diego, is in the opposite camp. Mr. Caton's article, he says, "must be added to the long list of works that approach Derek Freeman ad hominem — this one with a vengeance — and prefer to dwell on his style and personality instead of the quality of his arguments."

Another former colleague of Freeman's, Michael W. Young, finds the article, and a similar one that Mr. Caton will soon publish, "compellingly argued" and "very persuasive." Both works "confirmed in a scientific manner what I knew about him intuitively," says the professor of anthropology at Australian National University, who knew Freeman and who in 2004 published a highly regarded first volume of a biography of Bronislaw Malinowski, the social-anthropology pioneer and South Pacific expert, titled Malinowski: Odyssey of an Anthropologist, 1884-1920 (Yale University Press).

And yet, Mr. Young says, "there is something about Caton's relentless dissection that is reminiscent of Freeman's own ruthless attempts to 'expose' others and demolish them. I sense an almost scary determination to lay the man bare. The overall effect, of course, is to diminish Freeman in some way — as all psychological biography tends to do — so it comes as something of a surprise when right at the end of his second paper Caton says something to the effect that he was an immensely talented man."

More here

Comments? Email John Ray


Prof. Caton has made a belated reply to the above here

1 comment:

  1. Meeting Hiram Caton was a landmark in my life. Theochars http://www.ivorcatt.co.uk/x1cp.pdf , who was suppressed, brought me two of Caton's articles. We three lunched together with Hillman, also suppressed. http://www.ivorcatt.co.uk/x84d.html
    I was about to jump on the Louis Pascal bandwaggon by writing a book https://www.bmartin.cc/dissent/documents/AIDS/Pascal91.html when Caton pointed out that HIV did not exist. That ruined the intended high point of my book on suppression, and it was never written. It should have been like http://www.ivorcatt.co.uk/x488.pdf Ivor Catt


All comments containing Chinese characters will not be published as I do not understand them