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Sick Societies : Challenging the Myth of Primitive Harmony
by Robert B. Edgerton

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Hardcover - 278 pages (October 1992)
Free Press; ISBN: 0029089255 ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.02 x 9.61 x 6.47 Sales Rank: 88,750

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Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars Based on 11 reviews. Write a review.

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Editorial Reviews
An anthropologist challenges the myth of the Noble Savage, reviewing the actual social conditions in the developed and developing worlds and examining such phenomena as mental illness, poverty, disease, deviance, criminality, suicide, revolution, and more.

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:

4 out of 5 stars What they don't teach you in anthropology class, September 7, 2000
Reviewer: John Blackstone (see more about me) from North America

Jean-Jacques Rousseau would have it that man in his primitive or original condition is good and noble, and that he is flawed by over-sophisticated institutions. "Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains". Dr. Edgerton dips his pen in acid and refutes that notion.

The previous reviewers have commented accurately on the case Dr. Edgerton makes against adaptivism and cultural relativism.

Dr. Edgerton is a strong corrective against the Margaret Mead's utopian philosophy. He demonstrates madness, fetishism, mutilation, cannibalism, irrational beliefs, and just plain evil in primitive societies.

In contrast, western civilization does not look bad.

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55 of 62 people found the following review helpful:

4 out of 5 stars full of evidence although sometimes needlessly conciliatory, December 16, 1999
Reviewer: dan brueggert (see more about me) from indiana

Edgerton presents cultural research on several "primitive" cultures, detailing their warfare, famine, subjugation of women, suicide, irrational beliefs, poor hygeine, and often depravity. These case-studies end the myth that "all that is primitive is bliss, and all that is industrial is sickness". With this, he demonstrates the fallacies of thinking that each society has acheived its unique balance. He shows the irrationality of cultural and moral relativism. He shows that cultures CAN be judged from the outside, and that all cultural differences ought not to be respected by default.

Proving the adage that "madness is more common in groups than in individuals", Edgerton provides case after case of cultures gone awry.

What position are WE in to evaluate and pass judgement on another culture? If we value freedom, health, productivity, social stability, knowledge, growth, and peace, we are in a good position to criticize the evils and mistakes of any culture.

My only negative criticism of the book is a part in the beginning, in which Edgerton praises relativism for providing us with a much-needed dose of skepticism and wariness. Relativism has indeed made us cautious about passing judgement, but with the categorical refutations Edgerton has collected in disproving the major thrust of relativism, why make concilliations regarding its benefits? Because of his equivocation, I withhold the final star...

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Avg. Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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5 out of 5 stars The Fall of Cultural Relativism, November 7, 2001
Reviewer: Douglas A. Feldman from Brockport, NY USA

This is unquestionably one of the most important works in anthropological theory in the last half of the 20th century. Edgerton's Sick Societies forces us to question the basic assumptions of cultural relativism that have dominated anthropological thinking for most of the 20th century. The Star Trek prime directive not to interfere in the cultural evolution of a society, and the anthropological assumption that societies can only be judged by their emic criteria (from which the Star Trek prime directive was based) is demonstrated to have no relevance or validity. What I particularly like about this book, outside of its enormous intelligence, is the way that it demolishes the rationale of postmodernism while laying a strong foundation for a viable applied anthropology. A masterpiece!

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:

4 out of 5 stars Long-overdue corrective to Rousseau, June 9, 2001

Top 500 Reviewer Reviewer: Geoff Puterbaugh (see more about me) from Cupertino, CA United States

It is astonishing, when you come to think about it, that anyone pays any attention to anything said or written by Rousseau.

It is even more astonishing that they pay any attention to his ideas about "the noble savage" or "primitive man." Rousseau knew NOTHING about these subjects.

Nowadays, of course, we have fairly good knowledge of early man. At least we know that mankind spent about 4 million years as hunter-gatherers, living in tribes and fighting a bitter struggle to stay alive. Altogether, the hunter-gatherer population of England was about 10,000 people! Agriculture began just ten thousand years ago.

Rousseau preached the loony doctrine that "primitive man" in the "state of nature" represented the human ideal, and that everything since then was decadence and decay. I am not sure why anyone ever listened to him, but it is a fact that the traces are still with us e.g. in modern tourism, where people are always rushing off to find "unspoiled nature." Me, give me a fortnight in Paris, the ballet, and the opera.

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