PIG HATE Why did the human societies in the Levant and Middle-East interdict the pig? The major regional religions specifically prohibited it; Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Why? The pig is tasty and the singularly best land animal in existence for converting carbohydrates into meat protein, and was still being consumed up until around 2,500 B.C.E. when behaviours began to change. Why? These religions were never very successful in China. Why? The answers are in this book.
COW LOVE The human societies in India didn't interdict the cow but elevated it to a scared object. Why? What made the cow different from the pig? Cow love did not spread to the surrounding societies. Why?
WAR Why war? Are there different kinds of war? Is war performed for different reasons depending on the level of social development? A relevant topic to all epochs of human history following our movement away from hunter-gatherer societies.
WITCHES Were did the witch craze come from and why? Was there a social function performed by frightening society with the fear of witchcraft? Is there a modern equivalent to witches? Terrorism? Are our 'saviours' the same as so many centuries ago? More importantly is the logic of their motivation and result the same?
Marvin Harris was the main author of Cultural Materialism. CM is an anthropological research strategy for understanding human cultures and why they behave, think, say and believe the things they do. If you have ever wondered how and why cultures take on different values and beliefs, this is guaranteed to be an enlightening book. Prepare to have all you thought you knew, turned upside down and inside out.
This book is one of my absolute favorites! I was introduced to it as an undergraduate anthropology student, and I've kept the same copy (now well-worn and stained) throughout graduate school and after. This book is a refreshing change from the dry, jargon-filled tomes normally produced by anthropologists. Harris delves into some of the most perplexing aspects of human cultures and takes the reassuring position that somewhere, somehow a logical explanation exists for everything. I don't necessarily agree with all of his conclusions, but I find him thought-provoking and intriguing. I appreciate as well his humor, insight, and humanity.
I found this book to be an excellent work in cultural anthropology, as well as a great read for general intrest. It brought to light many possible reasons behind why people believe things that seem outrageous to others. It was well-written, scholarly, but not so much so that the average person(like me) was boggled down in technical terms. A must-read for anyone interested in why people behave the way they do.
If human beings are all members of a single species with a common origin, how is it that the cultures and customs of different societies are so very different? This is the central riddle of anthropology. Unfortunately, many attempts to answer this question are unsatisfying. Why do Jews and Muslims not eat pork? Because pork is considered haram or non-kosher - forbidden. Why? Because the Abrahamic religions of Semitic cultures hold that pork is ritually unclean. Yes, but WHY? Many attempts to make sense of culture seem circular - like attempting to explain opium's power to put people to sleep by appealing to its dormative properties.
This at least seems to be the view of Marvin Harris, who in this classic of popular anthropology seeks to demonstrate that it is possible to find real explanations for seemingly a-rational cultural quirks. According to Harris, the mystifications of culture should not be taken at face value. Rather, we should focus on the practical circumstances in which peoples live and seek to understand how the rules and rituals provided by culture help people survive in their physical environments. Customs and taboos which seem absurd to those living in modern industrial societies often make perfect sense as solutions to the challenge of putting food in hungry mouths. So for example, the `sacred-cow complex' in much of India protects an animal which lives on otherwise marginal scraps of land and provides vital dairy products (containing essential fats and proteins) to a frequently malnourished population. The book moves at a breezy pace, moving from topic to topic and demonstrating the relationship between food taboos, human conflict, messianic political movements, mysticism, political oppression and witch-panics.
The core message of the book it is that perfectly rational attempts by cultures to survive and attain sustenance from the natural environment have repeatedly been coopted by elites for their own gain throughout history. Only by dethroning myth and mystification through rational inquiry can the long-term survival of modern civilisation be ensured. The only problem is that some of the explanations Harris offers for certain cultural quirks are rather strained and tend to the kind of `just so stories' that evolutionary psychologists have been accused of. Nonetheless, the huge scope, pithy style and uncompromising rationalism make `Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches' a brilliant and thought provoking read.
Overall, I really liked reading "Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches". It is very interesting and illustrative, it really made me think about how the world works, why people do the things they do. Specially liked the part on Cows and Pigs (first 2 blocks). However I had some trouble reading it, because I found it was written in a difficult (complex) way.