Samefacting Franz Boas – A Review of Charles King’s “Gods of the Upper Air”

Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century
Charles King
Doubleday, 2019

The description of Charles King at Amazon:

CHARLES KING is the author of seven books, including Midnight at the Pera Palace and Odessa, winner of a National Jewish Book Award. His essays and articles have appeared in the The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, and The New Republic. He is a professor of international affairs and government at Georgetown University.

We all know the scenario. We see a great cultural shift occurring before our eyes and seek to ascribe a reason. It’s only natural; man is a pattern seeking creature after all. Suppose we see this shift as a net negative and can’t help but notice how a disproportionate number of Jews are behind it. Well, then the Jews and their defenders will most likely respond in two ways: they will downplay the negative (or the Jewish role in it), and they will label their accuser an anti-Semite. On the other hand, if you describe the exact same cultural shift, but as a positive thing—and can’t help but notice all the Jews behind it—well, then you’re all right. The takeaway here is that telling the truth (or not) is less important than whether or not one offends Jews.

I call this phenomenon “samefacting,” and it occurred to me while reading Charles King’s 2019 book Gods of the Upper Air. While the dust jacket summary describes it as a “history of the birth of cultural anthropology,” and while it does emphasize the lives of many of its early gentile adherents (for example, Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, Ella Deloria, and Zora Neale Hurston), the book focuses most closely on Franz Boas, the German Jew who founded cultural anthropology as an academic discipline at Columbia University in the 1890s—and who planted the insidious seed of cultural relativism in the Western mind.

Because Kevin MacDonald dedicated a chapter in The Culture of Critique to Franz Boas and Boasian anthropology, readers of The Occidental Observer will want to know how much samefacting is going on between MacDonald and King. Answer: quite a bit.

For example, in chapter two of The Culture of Critique, MacDonald writes:

An important technique of the Boasian school was to cast doubt on general theories of human evolution, such as those implying developmental sequences, by emphasizing the vast diversity and chaotic minutiae of human behavior, as well as the relativism of standards of cultural evaluation. The Boasians argued that general theories of cultural evolution must await a detailed cataloguing of cultural diversity . . .

Just so, claims King:

Without homogenous, easily identifiable “races,” the entire edifice of racial hierarchy crumbled. “The difference between different types of man are, on the whole, small as compared to the range of variation in each type,” Boas concluded. Not only was there no bright line dividing one race from another, but the immense variation within racial categories called into question the utility of the concept itself.

These are same facts, after all. MacDonald and King agree on quite a bit about Franz Boas and his immense contributions to the field of Anthropology. They both recount Boas’ dissent from the prevailing belief that cultures evolve from savagery to barbarism to civilization—with, of course, Nordic Caucasians representing the apotheosis of this process. They both touch on Boas’ abrasive character, his authoritarian control over his students, his irrepressible vigor, and his overtly political and ideological objectives. King states that Boas “wore his political views on his sleeve,” while MacDonald states that Boas and his students were “intensely concerned with pushing an ideological agenda within the American anthropological profession.” They also agree on the cultish nature of the Boasian circle, with MacDonald noting its “high level of ingroup identification, exclusionary policies, and cohesiveness in pursuit of common interests.” For his part, King describes how Boas recruited new anthropologists “with a zeal approaching that of a nascent religion,” and how he excluded certain individuals from his circles, for example Ralph Linton, if they displeased him.

When Ralph Linton, a recently demobilized war veteran, showed up for his doctoral studies dressed in his military uniform, Boas berated him so strongly that Linton soon transferred to a rival program at Harvard. He would later complain that the “Jewish Ring” at Columbia had conspired to keep him down.

In Culture of Critique MacDonald essentially adopts Linton’s perspective in that it is no coincidence that so many of the Boasians were Jews. MacDonald also explicitly states what Linton in the quote above kept implicit—that Boasian behavior accorded with well-known stereotypes of Jews being clannish, stubborn, pushy, and subversive. Oddly, King never disagrees with this. He makes no secret that many of Boas’ students were Jews—in particular, Edward Sapir, Alexander Goldenweiser, Paul Radin, and Melville Herskovits. He portrays Boas at least as being pushy and stubborn. Of Boas’ time at the American Museum of Natural History in the 1890s, King writes

[Boas] had a habit of making himself more respected than liked. His time at the museum had produced new research and exhibitions but also disappointments, professional disagreements, and hurt feelings among his colleagues, who found him confident to a fault, officious, and given to pique.

Further, King describes on many pages how existentially subversive Boas was to the humanities throughout his career. He offers extensive and impeccable evidence of how Boas and his ideological progeny ultimately usurped the race-realists, the Darwinians and the eugenicists who dominated the social sciences at the time. This should come as no surprise, given the subtitle of the book: “How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century.”

As with other examples of samefacting, the primary difference is a qualitative one. King praises Boas and trumpets Boasian cultural relativism as a “user’s manual for life” meant to “enliven our moral sensibility.” Meanwhile, MacDonald criticizes Boas and condemns Boasian cultural relativism as scientifically unsound, ethically hypocritical, and ultimately destructive to white majorities since it is the lynchpin for arguments supporting mass immigration.

The question should be whether MacDonald or King is objectively correct—not whether either man likes or dislikes Jews. And a closer analysis of Gods of the Upper Air reveals that Charles King has a lot of work to do to catch up to Kevin MacDonald when it comes to the truth.

As would be expected, King’s book offers much biographical data on Boas. King is a first-rate writer, so if the reader can get past his left-wing biases (which, to be fair, he doesn’t beat anyone over the head with) then Gods of the Upper Air is an engrossing read. King dutifully covers Boas’ upbringing in Germany, his time as a young researcher in the Arctic among the Eskimos, his time as a family man and itinerant scholar in the United States, as well as his triumph at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. King presents the intellectual zeitgeist of the day with a tolerably low level of slant, accurately recapitulating the arguments of race-realists like Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard and of eugenicists such as Henry Goddard and Charles Davenport. It’s as if he’s confident that such reactionary takes on the human condition will refute themselves. He’s evenhanded enough to humanize his villains. For example, he reminds the reader that Grant was a passionate conservationist who singlehandedly prevented the American bison from going extinct. King also does a splendid job in depicting America at the turn of the last century, a time now gone from living memory.

When setting the stage for the 1893 Chicago Exposition, King offers up this delightful little passage:

The Midway Plaisance featured exhibits on the peculiar ways of the world’s peoples, from a Bedouin encampment to a Viennese café, most of them thin disguises for hawkers of merchandize and cheap entertainment. An entire building was devoted solely to the lives and progress of women, while others highlighted advances in agriculture, electrification, and the plastic arts. A new fastener called a zipper made its debut over the six months of the fair’s operation, as did a chewable gum labeled Juicy Fruit, a tall circular ride presented by a Mr. Ferris, a prize-winning beer offered by the Pabst family, and a breakfast dish with the rather confusing name Cream of Wheat.

The flaws of Gods of the Upper Air become manifest as much for what King doesn’t write as for what he does. Boasian cheerleading aside, King basically commits the same sin Stephen Jay Gould committed in his infamous 1981 work The Mismeasure of Man: he’s content to refute race realism as it was a century ago but not how it is today, or even as it was fifty years ago. Further, he cherry picks some of the more egregious mistakes made by race-realist pioneers with their calipers and head measurements and outlandish classification schemes (for example, “Dolichocephalic Nordics” and “Brachycephalic Alpines”). With the confidence of momentum, King then feels he can safely claim that “[h]ow we define intelligence is the result of a social process, not a biological one.” Never once does he mention the research of Arthur Jensen or J. Phillipe Rushton or the mountain of data proving race-realism to be correct—just as he keeps mum about Kevin MacDonald. To mention any of this would require more refutation than Charles King is prepared (or could ever be prepared) to do. So, he chooses to ignore counter-argument and pretend that he and Franz Boas are comfortably on the right side of history—which they are not, because they are wrong.

King is also blind to the central Boasian contradiction (some would say double standard) which requires unreasonably vigorous standards when proving human differences and almost no standards at all when attesting to human sameness. Numerous times, King describes how Boas demanded that his students never jump to conclusions before assessing evidence. At the same time, however, King happily repeats such glib and unproven egalitarian mantras from Boas such as “Cultures are many; man is one.”

It’s about as cowardly as it is dishonest.

Another dishonorable aspect of Gods of the Upper Air is King’s kid-glove treatment of Boas’ star pupil Margaret Mead. King is not so ham-fisted as to portray her as some genius-level forward-thinking visionary, but his sympathetic take on her does come close at times. On page one of the book he describes this interesting and mysterious young woman as having “left behind a husband in New York, a boyfriend in Chicago, and had spent the transcontinental train ride in the arms of a woman.” These are good things, apparently. Mead, who never seemed to take to sexual discipline, learned the term “polygamy” in anthropology class one day, and then dedicated her life to making the Western world less sexually repressive, possibly so she could engage in the practice herself. And she did this by holding up sexually permissive Third World societies as examples. This amounted to solving the “sex problem,” as she called it—even if the societies she fetishized were in reality not as sexually permissive as she claimed. If this sounds sordid, that’s because it was. King doesn’t help matters by delving into the petty social sniping that Mead and her circle constantly engaged in. Sapir, for example, had been Mead’s lover for a time, and never seemed to overcome being spurned by her. He would constantly dismiss her work to their colleagues, and at one point suggested she be fully institutionalized. In 1933, Mead even formed a triangle between her husband Reo Fortune and her lover Gregory Bateson (both anthropologists) while all three were on site in Melanesia. She and Fortune would argue bitterly, even violently. Alcohol, for Fortune at least, was a major component.

Say what you want about Franz Boas, but according to King he was the paragon of class compared to this.

Mead was disciplined enough to work in the field and write about it. She was smart, serious, and prolific. She deserves credit for that. But, given the historical record, King simply cannot get around the woman’s perverse fixation on sex:

Mead, too, wanted to know about people’s lives: how they thought about childhood and aging, what it meant to be an adult, what they thought of as sexual pleasure, whom they loved, when they felt the sting of public humiliation or the gnawing sickness of private shame.

What he does get around to—somewhat—is Mead’s shoddy scholarship. When doing research for her first book Coming of Age in Samoa in 1925, Mead decided to leave the village of Pago Pago on the island of Tutuila because it had been “corrupted” by the influence of Christian missionaries and the American military. She traveled to the more remote island of Ta’u to continue her research. There she occupied a room in the home of an American family. This is how King describes the experience:

She had worried that this might not constitute real fieldwork. As she wrote to Boas, she was torn between the desire to live like a native and the need to have enough quiet time to write notes and reflect on her experiences, something that would have been difficult in an open-sided, communal Samoan house.

She might have been doing anthropology from the veranda—her room consisted of half of the Holts’ back porch, screened off by a thin bamboo barrier—but she was never short of informants. Children and teenagers flocked to her for conversation and impromptu dance parties, arriving as early as five in the morning and staying until midnight.

Later, after a flash of insight which suggested that primitive societies are not as ritualistic as previously believed, she began to question children and teens about sexual practices, including their own. She then claimed to have learned that sex in Samoa was no big deal compared to how it was in the United States. Samoan kids did not seem to suffer the same growing pains as adolescents did where Mead was from. Thus, Mead came to her grand conclusion about the struggles of youth: “The stress is in the civilization, not in the physical changes through which our children pass.” Thusly, nurture surpasses nature.

Now, I am by no means an expert in the history of anthropology, but having read this I knew something was amiss. Yes, King admits that Coming of Age in Samoa “was full of bravado and overstatement, loose argument, and occasionally purple writing—very much like every other work of anthropology written at the time.” He quibbles about Mead’s small sample size and mentions how many Samoans themselves were displeased with Mead’s portrayal of them. But wasn’t there more? I remembered reading that Mead had done some shady things while in Samoa. Sure enough, three volumes in my library (including The Culture of Critique) recounted some of Mead’s less than scholarly practices.

Steven Goldberg in his 1993 work Why Men Rule (the original edition of which, in the 1970s, Margaret Mead herself reviewed), provides an example of how Mead’s conclusions do not follow from her data. Further, Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson recall in their 1996 work Demonic Males how Mead left Pago Pago not because it “had little left to offer,” as King puts it, but because of (as Mead herself describes in a letter to Boas) the “nervewracking conditions of living with half a dozen people in a house without walls, always sitting on the floor and sleeping in the constant expectation of having a pig or chicken thrust itself upon one’s notice.” Mead had spent ten days in a Samoan household in Pago Pago and decided that that was enough.

King is dishonest for not mentioning this. He is dishonest for not mentioning how police reports from Samoa from the time of Mead’s visit contradict many of her rosy conclusions on sexual violence. He is dishonest also for not mentioning how Mead rarely included primitive war-making or violence (sexual or otherwise) in her analyses. (MacDonald bangs this point home nicely in Culture of Critique.) Finally, King is quite sneaky when he downplays Derek Freeman’s withering criticisms of Mead in a footnote on page 368 rather than in the body of his text.

As for samefacting Franz Boas along the MacDonald-King divide, I found one exception. In Culture of Critique, MacDonald writes that Boas “was deeply alienated from and hostile towards gentile culture, particularly the cultural ideal of the Prussian aristocracy.” As usual, he lists his sources right there on the page (George W. Stocking’s Race, Evolution, and Culture from 1968 and Carl Deglers’ In Search of Human Nature from 1991). Yet, in the early 1880s, when a young Boas had just left Germany on a ship bound for the Arctic where he would do his first anthropological research, he wrote in his diary, “Farewell, my dear homeland! Dear homeland, adieu!” This may not mean much, but I did find it surprising. Perhaps Boas became more alienated as he grew older. King certainly doesn’t report any general animosity from Boas towards gentile culture—but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any. In Gods of the Upper Air, Boas reserved most of his ire for anyone supporting biological determinism, or who annoyed him personally.

Either way, however, this does lead us to the only episode in Gods of the Upper Air in which Franz Boas is portrayed sympathetically. During the years before America’s entry into the First World War, he was vocally in favor of Germany and against American intervention. Although I don’t challenge Boas’ Jewish identity making up a big part of his character, I wonder if his Jewishness had anything to do with his ardent pro-German stance in 1916. King seems to believe this came as result of Boas’ natural affinity towards his country of birth—which does somewhat challenge MacDonald’s interpretation above. Further, Boas did walk it like he talked it, and suffered major career setbacks after the war for his unpopular, and some would say treasonous, opinions.

Still, it can be argued that Boas’ support for Germany hinged much more on the relatively high degree of emancipation German Jews enjoyed at the time than for anything inherent about Germans or Germany. This would explain why the Germanistic Society of America (for which Boas was secretary at one point) contained so many influential and ethnocentric Jews as members—Jews such as the future Soviet financier Jacob Schiff. Boas’ support for Germany could also be explained by German antagonism toward Czarist Russia during the war. As MacDonald writes in an ongoing revision of Culture of Critique:

It is sometimes argued that a letter from 1916 decrying criticism of Germany during World War I shows the predominance of Boas’s German identity. However, it should be pointed out that by far the most prominent attitude of Diaspora Jewish communities was to oppose Czarist Russia because of its perceived anti-Semitism and thus support the German war effort. For example, immigrant Jews in the U.K. overwhelmingly refused to be drafted into military service because Germany was fighting Russia.

Regardless, this may be the exception that proves the rule. In many ways Kevin MacDonald’s chapter on Franz Boas in The Culture of Critique reads like a condensed version of the Boas chapters in Gods of the Upper Air. The facts are the same—but as it often is with the Jews, it is how you say them that makes all the difference.

9 replies
  1. Aelred A.
    Aelred A. says:

    Your mention of German Jews’ antipathy toward Russia because of the latter’s anti-Semitism makes me wonder whether the principal reason the U.S. has been at odds w/ Russia/Soviet Union all these years is due to the influence of Jews rather than any putative antipathy toward “communism.” Since the fall of the Soviet Union, I’ve wondered also why the U.S. and Russia don’t team up as allies, which seems like it would be an awesomely powerful alliance, yet we keep being told that Russia is the Great Bogeyman, even to the point of sacrificing the whole country of Ukraine (not to mention Palestine) to destroy it. I also wonder whether the Jewish antipathy toward Russia doesn’t stem from the medieval conflicts between the Rus and the Khazarians; the latter driven out by the former in those times. These groups have long memories and an undying desire for vengeance.

    • Wilfred
      Wilfred says:

      There’s an underappreciated part in The Culture of Critique about American Jews discarding their sympathy for the Soviet Union when they began to see it as anti-Semitic tsarism all over again (due to official anti-Zionism, the “Doctors’ Plot,” etc.). Probably no enemy is/was quite as bad— and no ally quite as good—as the dominant narratives tell us.

      • James J O'Meara
        James J O'Meara says:

        These ideas, of you and Aelred above, are noticing were propounded by Yockey in The Enemy of Europe: Stalin promoted nationalism, defeated and expelled Trotsky and other Jews, who turned their attention to Zionism and promoting “anti-Communism” in the US (i.e. the enemy was Stalin’s Soviet Union, not liberalism, capitalism or in short the Jews). The true enemy of Europe was liberal-Jewish USA.

        Events after Yockey’s death (Khrushchev’s overthrow by the Zionist faction, then the collapse and occupation by the Harvard Gang of neocons, i.e. Trotskyites) negated this analysis. Although Putin alludes to various nationalist themes, the Ukraine/Russia war is really just a family quarrel btw. oligarchs, not unlike a mafia “war”.

        Ironically, although Yockey was rejected by “the Right” who embraced the “anti-communist” psy-op after the war, much of the “dissident Right” today seems to have rediscovered him, at exactly the time his analysis is outmoded: i.e., the whole “based Putin” nonsense.

  2. Junghans
    Junghans says:

    Congrats on your excellent review, Spencer. A timely reminder of how, and by who, racial anthropology was subverted many decades ago.

  3. Anna Cordelia
    Anna Cordelia says:

    How bizarre to be reminded that Boas et al insisted race and sex accounted for nothing, whereas today it seems we are constantly harangued about how race and sex accounts for everything.

    As in, everything that has ever gone wrong anywhere can be laid at the feet of White Men.

  4. Alan
    Alan says:

    Its a very long way down to the top”
    This article though brilliant pellucid.. evocative .like..hemingways besotted drunken wasteful era..unleashed a flood..of bad memories…bristling hostilities and foreboding resentment by the long gone vanishing .Margaret Mead.We never liked trusted…felt comfortable with.. had
    any confidence from or any remote sense of integrity with “that woman” .If the world had been exposed to more police reports and more righteous negative reactions from balanced decent folk who knew her….that bizarre female animal..a fraud..a misdirected libertine?..a schizophrenic ..what?..cradle robber perhaps?… matter ..apparantly the samoans werent crazy about her it is perhaps ..all to come out in the wash.
    Then again… Maybe not…but We say readers..young people..while no one..not God or anyone else has accorded us the power and title of interlocutor..interpreter…informer to new readers and especially young peoples that may..serendipitously stumble on or hopefully become addicted to informed..we never liked Margaret Mead.”Not even a little bit.Not at all.
    As with so many non jews who wallow with or glommed on to the ultra jewish social science degenerate types …Neoliberal perverts in disguise…how jewish!…… mead was the neoliberal queen of self escapee from paradise to her own personal hell ..but she wanted that …she insisted on trying to justify that..for everyone…not just her own saturnine existance it seemed… is objectively true… one brilliant commenter said..”it always comes down to .the fault of a white Man.” The “fault..”if someone opts to. wrongly decode it or call it such… .. white male patriarchy…is..rational blocking of irrational opportunistic deconstructive self cannibalizing deleterious impulses.. choice actions.A case could easily be made and we think,won, that Margaret. Mead the feminazi… the would be predicator to polyamorous..”love…”… wasted her life altogether.We could very easily, arguably ,say the very same about that dogmatic arrogant sneering jew… the sclerotic cloying pontificator ..the disgusting disreputable Franz Boas.
    Young people….take a moment…think on this…The homosexual jew Sigmund Freud “married “a woman in Vienna to hide his jewish homosexuality in his era…Freud idiotically sputtered..”what do. women want?”..newsflash!.. Gay men absolutely do not..cannot..will not. understand heterosexual females,they view females as competition for males,after all.
    Margaret Mead was the type of “nobody”that twisted. inverted decadent society..or unsociety..makes into a “somebody.”
    In the dimly recent. american past… a one liner on this very subject was…”it’s a very long way way down to the the top”.Worldly success in all its deceptions…Margaret Mead..Franz Boas..””rabbi””John Lennon.. the murderous hideous obese. jew tool…the “made woman”Orca winfrey….from pseudo intellectual academic resentful guttersnipe academics to absolutely. ersatz..mindless .. brainless .. mass culture pop culture poltroons.. Well dressed but stinking bourgeoisie clochards! . Imagine the powerful productive creative brilliant balanced white. alpha male who wronged nobody..suddenly seeing the trendy jew supported meteroric rise to social prominence of the quintessentially Margaret Mead. and .betty freidan…conversely….when she was least …Jane fonda in tights..a pants..was physically attractive though a scorpion in mentality.The swedes of yesteryear had an expression about some women…”the sword wrapped in Silk” Margaret Mead was no physical beauty..but her inner life was chaotic ,delusional..pathetic.. neurotic to a self defeating pathologically distorted fault…the quintessential idiotic rebel with out a clue”. A skivey skell”…Margaret Mead..and to us certainly..the horrifying hubristic jew toad Franz Boas..will hopefully be vanished. with the flotsam and Jetsam of the very forgettable thankfully receding past..hopefully never to. return.” Margaret Mead…A skivey Skell..””

  5. Birhan Dargey
    Birhan Dargey says:

    As America enters the 2024 elections cycle the Woke/DEM/Blue Globalists vrs Nationalists/Conservative/MAGA rages on..Both factions must understand that TRUMP is the rightful candidate to bring America into a National reconciliation for traditional America. It makes me wonder under what set of conditions/pledges would the American powerful banking finncial (jewish) woke elite allow TRUMP to return to the WH?? kep financing NATO? IF the jewish Neocons woke elites insist/persist in their laWARfare or their elections fraud, or they decide to execute TRump then they will detonate the American Civil War.II,,which may end any hope for one/any America at all..

  6. Not Alpine
    Not Alpine says:

    Nothing wrong with talking about Nordics and Alpines. These are differences you can also see today. If you think subrace makes no difference, look at what the women married to Steve Jobs, etc look like.

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