Merchants of Death Series — Margaret Mead

In the course of teaching philosophy to my students I try to lay out the development of the world they live in by showing them the ideas that shaped it, much as I have done in this series. Juxtaposed with true philosophy (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas), they see that the world they live in does not strive for truth “as it is” but rather imposes an ideology that all are forced to follow; what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI called “the dictatorship of relativism.”

As we have seen, much of our Western political, social and economic worldview comes from the Enlightenment period that was founded, not in biblical or classical wisdom, but rather the subjective assumptions of people like Hobbes, Rousseau, Darwin, Marx and Freud who “created” their idea of “natural man” from their own subjective ideas. In short, our Western world is a house of cards built upon the sand of someone’s imagination, not on truth.

What changed in the twentieth century is that the ruminations of philosophers and writers from the past now became “discoveries” about ourselves presented by scientists backed with observations and statistics. What I hope to briefly show here, and what I stress to my students, is that this so-called “science” is often anything but.

Now, this may come as a shock to people who place a great amount of faith in science and the peer-reviewed process by which research and findings are vetted and corrected. However, there is increasing evidence that much of that faith is misplaced. Just published in the May 2016 First Things magazine is an article entitled “Scientific Regress,” written by William A. Wilson. In it he writes:

“The problem with ­science is that so much of it simply isn’t. Last summer, the Open Science Collaboration announced that it had tried to replicate one hundred published psychology experiments sampled from three of the most prestigious journals in the field. Scientific claims rest on the idea that experiments repeated under nearly identical conditions ought to yield approximately the same results, but until very recently, very few had bothered to check in a systematic way whether this was actually the case. The OSC was the biggest attempt yet to check a field’s results, and the most shocking. In many cases, they had used original experimental materials, and sometimes even performed the experiments under the guidance of the original researchers. Of the studies that had originally reported positive results, an astonishing sixty-five percent failed to show statistical significance on replication, and many of the remainder showed greatly reduced effect sizes.”[i]

It isn’t just psychology that has this problem:

“There’s an ­unspoken rule in the pharmaceutical industry that half of all academic biomedical research will ultimately prove false, and in 2011 a group of researchers at Bayer decided to test it. Looking at sixty-seven recent drug discovery projects based on preclinical cancer biology research, they found that in more than seventy-five percent of cases the published data did not match up with their in-house attempts to replicate. These were not studies published in fly-by-night oncology journals, but blockbuster research featured in ScienceNatureCell, and the like. The Bayer researchers were drowning in bad studies, and it was to this, in part, that they attributed the mysteriously declining yields of drug pipelines. Perhaps so many of these new drugs fail to have an effect because the basic research on which their development was based isn’t valid.”[ii]

Dr. Margaret Mead No Known Copyright Restrictions

Dr. Margaret Mead
No Known Copyright Restrictions

Williams goes on and I strongly suggest that you read his article. My point here is not to bash science but rather to point out that young people have been born into a world steeped in moral confusion, are required to cope with the emotional, psychological and medical fallout that results from that confusion, all the while being fed the lie that all this is somehow based on “science.”

Margaret Mead

In his treatment of Margaret Mead (1901 – 1928), the philosopher Benjamin Wiker describes why her book could be classified as one of the 10 Books That Screwed Up The World.[iii] As usual I present some of the evidence that he includes in his book.

In short, Wiker argues that Mead fabricated her research in order to justify her own ideology. Unfortunately, she was successful for we are now living it.

Margaret Mead published The Coming of Age in Samoa in 1928. In it she claimed that the adolescents of Samoa, unlike their western counterparts, were completely stress free from the problems of sexual maturing:

“With the exception of a few cases … adolescence represented no period of crisis of stress, but was instead an orderly developing of a set of slowly maturing interests and activities. The girls’ minds were perplexed by no conflicts, troubled by no philosophical queries, beset by no remote ambitions. To live as a girl with many lovers as long as possible and then to marry in one’s own village, near one’s own relatives and to have many children, these were uniform and satisfying ambitions.”[iv]

Mead also tells us that sexual expression also begins at a much younger age, with children of six and seven already engaged in masturbation which later gives way to both heterosexual and homosexual activity:

“These casual homosexual relations between girls never assumed any long-term importance. On the part of growing girls or women who were working together they were regarded as a pleasant and natural diversion, just tinged with the salacious. Where heterosexual relationships were so casual, so shallowly channeled, there was no pattern into which homosexual relationships could fall.”[v]

Mead presented an idyllic sexual paradise where young people were sexually active from a young age, unencumbered by Western restrictions and taboos. She presented a society where there were loose family and matrimonial ties so that whenever someone felt the need to leave it meant no more than moving into another hut:

“If … a wife really tires of her husband, or a husband of his wife, divorce is a simple and informal matter, the non-resident simply going home to his or her family, and the relationship is said to have ‘passed away.’ It is a very brittle monogamy, often trespassed and more often broken entirely. But many adulteries occur…which hardly threaten the continuity of established relationships. The claim that a woman has on her family’s land renders her as independent as her husband, so there are no marriages of any duration in which either person is actively unhappy. A tiny flare-up and a woman goes home to her people; if her husband does not care to conciliate her, each seeks another mate.”[vi]

Wiker goes on but I’m sure the pattern is clear. Our society today is a mirror of Margaret Mead’s “research.” Yet was it really research?

Dr. Wiker presents two authorities who question Mead’s “research.” Five years after Mead’s death Derek Freeman, an anthropologist himself, accused her of entirely misrepresenting the Samoans. “The main conclusions of Coming of Age in Samoa are, in reality, the figments of an anthropological myth which is deeply at variance with the facts of Samoan ethnography and history.”[vii]

Another anthropologist, Martin Orans, claims that Freeman is giving Mead too much credit by claiming she was wrong; “her methods were so shoddy that her conclusions were not even substantiated well enough to be wrong.”

Orans’ book, Not Even Wrong: Margaret Mead, Derek Freeman, and the Samoans, shows how Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa is riddled with “extensive methodological faults” and is lacking in “supportive data for her argument.”[viii] Orans asks:

“How could anthopologists and other eminent scholars have largely ignored such blatant defects? How could generations of university professors have included CA (Coming of Age in Samoa) as required reading for students? How could such flawed work have served as a stepping-stone to fame?”[ix]

Orans answers his own question by giving two reasons: ideology and lack of discipline. Firstly, “we wanted Mead’s findings to be correct. We believed that a more permissive sexual code would be of benefit to us all.”[x]

The groundwork laid down by the Enlightenment philosophers that sought to divorce Western civilization from classical philosophy and Christian morality provided fertile soil for those who sought to impose the importance of culture over the rigidity of biology. As Wiker writes, “The message that with sexual permissiveness and social re-engineering we could have a lot more fun and completely eliminate society’s problems as well had a ready audience in the early twentieth century (and still does today.)[xi]

The second reason is rooted in the (lack of) discipline of cultural anthropology. Orans, a practicing anthropologist himself, states that “From its inception, its practice has often been profoundly unscientific and positively cavalier in its willingness to accept generalizations without empirical substantiation.”[xii] Anthropology was thus the perfect scientific cover for cultural analysis that was no more scientific than the state of nature imagined by Hobbes and Rousseau.

Dr Wiker concludes:

“The desire that something be true, rather than the desire for truth itself, may well be the root of all evil. It is certainly the origin of all ideology, and ideology was the source of much of the evil in the past century. …

“Mead provides a classic example of the power of ideology in creating and perpetrating pseudo-science. As Orans makes clear, the desire to create a sexual revolution made all too many highly intelligent scientists (who should have known better) accept and exalt mead’s work even though, by the accepted canons of science, it had more holes than cloth in the fabric of the argument. But they wanted it to be true. ‘Had the book been similarly unscientific but with an opposite ideology,’ remarks Orans candidly, ‘we no doubt would have ripped it apart for its scientific failings.’”[xiii]

Ideas Have Consequences

It does not require a huge leap of logic to see the consequences that resulted from Margaret Mead’s publication … I don’t want to give it the dignity of calling it “research” … nor does it require any advanced academic degree to see that the consequences are not good ones. The promiscuity and “brittle monogamy” that Mead fabricated as being part and parcel of Samoan culture are now part and parcel of ours.

It is notable that when my senior students study the writings of philosophers such as Hobbes and Rousseau they take their anthropological assumptions in stride and often dismiss it as “well, its just their opinion.” They say this even knowing the logical consequences that these ‘opinions’ had further down the road. In other words, they don’t take it personally. Not so with Mead. When they discover that most of her “research” was actually poorly done and ideologically presented they are offended, often angry. A philosopher is entitled to his opinion, they tell me, but a scientist isn’t supposed to mess with the “facts.” They take it personally, as if they were lied to, which of course, they were.

Mead and others used the veneer of science to sell us a false promise. Perhaps William A. Wilson, with his article in First Things, is the vanguard of a new awareness that much of what is “scientifically” proposed as the basis for social re-engineering really amounts to ideology and nothing else.



[ii][ii] ibid

[iii] Benjamin Wiker, 10 Books That Screwed Up The World: And 5 Others That Didn’t Help, Regnery Publishing, Inc., Chapter 13

[iv] Margaret Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Culture, (American Museum of Natural History Special Members edition, 1928, 1973), Chapter 10,  84

[v] Ibid, 82

[vi] Ibid, Chapter Seven, 60 – (it should be noted that Mead went to Samoa a married woman but left her husband for someone she met on the return voyage. She eventually went through 3 marriages all the while having a lesbian lover, Ruth Benedict.)

[vii] Derek Freeman, Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthopological Myth (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), 109

[viii] Martin Orans, Not Even Wrong: Margaret Mead, Derek Freeman, and the Samoans, (Novato, CA; Chandler and Sharp Publishers, Inc, 1996), 123-24

[ix] Ibid, 124

[x] Ibid, 125

[xi] Wiker, 191

[xii] Orans, 125

[xiii] Wiker, 191-192

Note: Dennis Buonafede’s Ideas Have Consequences is a regular feature of Integrated Catholic Life™ and usually appears every other Wednesday.

Print this entry