Welcomed Agustin Fuentes to Hartwick College Anthropology for a public lecture building on his 2012 book, Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You: Busting Myths about Human Nature. Agustin Fuentes delivers an exciting and engaging lecture, encapsulating and defending the essential lessons of an Introduction to Anthropology. There are many ways to successfully be human.
Agustin Fuentes is writing those big question, popularly accessible books. For those looking for an alternative to Jared Diamond, Fuentes is a strong choice.
Agustin Fuentes Defense of Introduction to Anthropology
The Fuentes lecture is basically a condensed greatest hits from his book. It is well worth the experience. Students who had read the book praised the lively style and found it especially convincing. Fuentes constantly engages the audience, seamlessly blending pop culture references with the latest scientific study. He tacks between the deepest philosophical concerns of Western thought and anthropological study.
In the end, Fuentes conveys what I most want to tackle in a semester-long Introduction to Anthropology 101 course, but all in 45 minutes! We chatted a bit about this afterward, lamenting how professors often seem to avoid teaching Introduction to Anthropology. Fuentes, like Sidney Mintz, considers teaching Anthropology 101 to be a “moral responsibility.” We agreed that perhaps part of the problem is the idea that Anthropology 101 is an “introduction,” or a building block course. Really for most students Anthropology 101 is our one chance to convey essential anthropological understandings about human beings.
It reminded me very much of a comment from anthropologist Richard Shweder:
It would be comforting to believe that the true message of Anthropology 101 is still something we care to defend and to teach:
Many of the things we take for granted as natural, divinely given, logically necessary, or practically indispensable for life in an orderly, safe and decent society are neither natural, divinely given, logically necessary, nor practically indispensable for such life. They are products of a local history, ways of seeing and being in the world that may lend meaning and value to our own form of life but not the only ways to lead a meaningful and valuable life. (Richard Shweder comment on “Cultural Relativism 2.0” by Michael F. Brown)
Indeed, that is the key message from Agustin Fuentes: There is not just one way of being human, not one human nature, but many successful ways of being human, the naturenurtural.
Fuentes and the Big Three Myths: Race, Aggression, Sex
Professor Agustín Fuentes addresses myths that we are divided into biological races, that we are naturally aggressive and warlike, and that men and women are radically different in their neurological wiring, desires and behavior. Presenting scientific evidence from diverse fields including anthropology, biology, and psychology, Fuentes dismantles persistent fallacies about the validity of biological races, innateness of aggression and violence, nature of monogamy and differences between sexes.
I use Agustín Fuentes for the section on Human Biologies and the Biocultural Naturenurtural. Fuentes is a one-two punch with Jonathan Marks for biological anthropology.
For a 2013 review, see Dick Powis at Anthropology Attacks! Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies: A Review.