First Writing Assignment
Diamond, Jared The Third Chimpanzee
Prologue, Chapters 1 and 2, and Epilogue
Myths and storytelling are an integral part of the human experience. Remember that anthropologists use the term “myth” in a way that is different from common usage. When an anthropologist refers to a specific story as a “myth,” s/he does not mean that it is false. Anthropologists define myths as stories that have significant social meanings and often prescribe codes of correct, ethical behavior and/or prohibit incorrect, unethical acts. In other words, myths may or may not be “factual,” but they are always “true.” Truth and fact are two different concepts. The sentence “thou shalt not steal” is a truth because it prescribes a specific rule to live by, but it is not a “fact” because some people do steal. The sentence “theft and property crime declined by 7.2% over the past 30 years” is a “fact,” but not a “truth,” because it describes the way things are, but doesn’t offer any advice concerning what we should do about it.
Science is often considered to be an “objective” exercise, and to a large extent this is correct. However, the information discovered by scientists can have “mythical” implications, just as much as any other information. Jared Diamond discusses many facts in The Third Chimpanzee, but he does not stop with simple description. Instead, he uses these facts to try to arrive at a number of ethical truths concerning how we should act.
For your paper, read Diamond’s Prologue, Part One (Chapters 1 and 2), and Epilogue (Nothing Learned, and Everything Forgotten?) and look for the following themes:
1) Taxonomy: Classification is never “value free.” The way we organize our experiences into conceptual categories is influenced by the way we think the world should be. In turn, our classification systems influence the way we think things “really are.” What is Diamond’s opinion of the way humans, common chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), and bonobos (“pygmy chimps,” Pan paniscus) are classified? How should they be classified, according to Diamond? Is Diamond’s argument convincing? Why or why not?
2) Ethics: The way we treat others is, in part, influenced by how well we know them (or how well we think we know them). If chimpanzees were re-classified as members of our genus, would we treat them the same way as we do now (e.g. putting them in zoos, performing medical experiments on them, and destroying their habitat by deforestation)? If not, why not?
3) Speculation: A few million years ago, there were several species of large-brained, human-like creatures on earth, and as recently as 29,000 years ago, there were two (humans and neandertals). Today, there is only a single species of large-brained, bipedal hominid left on the planet. In your opinion, and based on your readings in Diamond and Kottak, and on lectures, what might modern life be like if there were two species of intelligent, culture-using hominids alive today? Would we get along, or would we fight? Would we cooperate or compete? Would we welcome them into our society, or would we shun them? Why do you think this would be the case, and do you feel that this should be the case, or would you oppose the general trends? Why or why not?
(These three topics can be the basis for three “body paragraphs” in a five paragraph essay.)
Your writing must meet college-level standards, and your paper should be a minimum of 5 to 7 pages.
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