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Cows, pigs, wars & witches : the riddles of…
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Cows, pigs, wars & witches : the riddles of culture (original 1974; udgave 1974)

af Marvin Harris

MedlemmerAnmeldelserPopularitetGennemsnitlig vurderingOmtaler
1,0321614,895 (3.79)10
One of America's leading anthropolgists offers solutions to the perplexing question of why people behave the way they do. Why do Hindus worship cows? Why do Jews and Moslems refuse to eat pork? Why did so many people in post-medieval Europe believe in witches? Marvin Harris answers these and other perplexing questions about human behavior, showing that no matter how bizarre a people's behavior may seem, it always stems from identifiable and intelligble sources.… (mere)
Medlem:Mixele
Titel:Cows, pigs, wars & witches : the riddles of culture
Forfattere:Marvin Harris
Info:New York : Random House, ©1974.
Samlinger:Dit bibliotek
Vurdering:
Nøgleord:Ingen

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Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture af Marvin Harris (1974)

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Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches is an informative, unconventional, and at times hilarious approach to exposing the forces at work in human culture that produce some of its most surprising extremes of social pathology, and even exposes the oft-ignored foundational assumptions of some of western culture's most sacred cows (so to speak) along the way. It addresses:

* literal sacred cows

* swine both sacred and profane

* primitive chauvinism; the formation of warrior cultures

* the path of development from individualist reciprocal cultures through collectivist charity-prestige cultures all the way to modern cultures of redistributive and hierarchical authoritarian oppression

* the whitewashing of military messianism to produce the contemporary morality of peace

* the rise of witchcraft hysteria

The path the book's explanations follow ultimately culminates in a scathing analysis of postmodernism and moral relativism that reveals many aspects of the late twentieth century's popular "counterculture" that serve to keep potentially revolutionary social forces docile and ineffective at enacting much change. The author's particular loathing for the hypocritical inconsistencies of counter-culture thought leaders of his time, which tended to particularly attack the scientific underpinnings of his own field (anthropology), added some spice and enjoyably pointed remarks to the text.

It's an excellent read, and an easy read as well, and I recommend it for people trying to understand politics, economics, and culture in a fundamental manner.

For me, the most interesting take-away from the book was the picture the author painted of how environmental pressures have contributed to the evolution of oppressive, redistributive authoritarian hierarchies, via a few intermediate cultural stages, from early individualist reciprocal cultures. This evolution is clearly not a necessary state of affairs, but in many ways it is a natural state of affairs that -- if you ignore matters of ethical concern for the rights of individuals -- can be quite effective at achieving certain ends of sustainable society.

It becomes obvious to a thoughtful reader working through this book that there are environmental pressures that must be addressed for a culture to achieve stable survival, and overly simplistic, top-down organization of society will only be bent by necessity to those ends, skewing the organizational efforts from their intended goals along the way. The lesson from this, it seems, is that putting too much faith in large-scale authoritarian hierarchies (as opposed to practical self-organizing hierarchies on a smaller scale) is bound to lead to disappointment.
( )
  apotheon | Dec 14, 2020 |
What an entertaining book. While I don't agree with all of [a:Marvin Harris|34140|Marvin Harris|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1261023347p2/34140.jpg]' conclusions, I can say that the scientific way that he approaches problems typically viewed only in a just-so light was both informative and fascinating. His precise evaluation of each question was both thorough and scientific and offers much to anyone fascinated in anthropological (or even political) theory.

While the author is very much the product of the time in which the book was written (the 1970's) the methods that mark his conclusions are a very good introduction to a new way of thinking, and one not often enough used by many laypeople. ( )
  Lepophagus | Jun 14, 2018 |
interesting stories ( )
  jmilloy | Nov 8, 2017 |
I did not like this book. It never occurred to me to question why Hindus would rather starve than eat a sacred cow.

This book seemed to me to be an old white guys anthropological "opinion," giving Western explanations for cultural practices. ( )
  keneumey | Jun 4, 2014 |
Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches has often been cited in discussions about why religious customs are the way they are. I've seen it mentioned all over the web in the last ten years or so, but it was difficult to get a copy. I eventually resorted to an interlibrary loan since neither my local system nor the local universities have copies.

While Harris writes a persuasive argument for his theories of cultural materialism, much of what he discusses, uses as examples, or provides as reference/sources is fairly dated. In this case, I can understand why my local libraries don't carry a copy, and why it has gone out of print. But I still find Harris's arguments compelling and, if not entirely persuasive at times due to more recent research, thought-provoking.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that prior to reading the book, I was already heavily inclined towards cultural materialism. When I was a child in Catholic school (from kindergarten all the way through high school), most other religions and folkloric practices were taught with a heavily cultural materialistic bent - in fact, it was because of this slant to my education of other cultures that I ultimately rejected Catholicism and religion entirely. So, you can see, I was ready to accept Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches without much trouble.

The book is divided into four main sections, each intending to explain how the topic (as noted in the title) is held sacred, or otherwise what they mean to a specific culture. Of course, for cows, Harris speaks of India. Pigs apply to Middle Eastern religions as well as Papua New Guineans. When discussing wars, Harris mentions several cultures but primarily focuses on the Yanomamo, relying on the work of Chagnon, and also the messiahs of the Jews in the Middle East. And for witches, he discusses the witches of the Middle Ages and Puritan England, and also...it got a bit fuzzy for me, something about the counter culture of the 1960s and 1970s and shamans.

The dated feeling of the book is probably obvious from what I listed above - not just in the counter-culture section at the end, but also in the way Harris treats Chagnon's research, and the evidence presented regarding the historical figure of Jesus Christ (he seems to accept Josephus as a reliable source, though I've only heard his name in contexts that suggest, or outright state, that Josephus is no more reliable than others writing after the fact, which is to say not very reliable at all).

Because Harris's arguments building upon each other beginning with the cows and leading up to the counter-culture...whatever that was, to doubt or disagree with him at one point makes it harder to follow him further. He also relies a little too much on purely materialistic explanations, whereas I tend to believe that whim and art can be seeds of larger patterns (this is one of my arguments against Jared Diamond's Gun, Germs, and Steel as well), though practical concerns are probably the majority factors of most of the "strange" cultural markers.

This was worth my time reading, and it was very interesting, but on the whole, it is from 1974 and I read it in 2012. While I took a lot out of it, it was often just too dated to be relevant anymore - and I went into the book wanting to be persuaded to Harris's way. ( )
  keristars | Apr 1, 2013 |
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This book is about the causes of apparently irrational and inexplicable lifestyles.
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One of America's leading anthropolgists offers solutions to the perplexing question of why people behave the way they do. Why do Hindus worship cows? Why do Jews and Moslems refuse to eat pork? Why did so many people in post-medieval Europe believe in witches? Marvin Harris answers these and other perplexing questions about human behavior, showing that no matter how bizarre a people's behavior may seem, it always stems from identifiable and intelligble sources.

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