Therefore, this "scientist" declares, to regain our natural, angst-free state we must relinquish our preoccupation with traditional family and morality. Why saddle ourselves with this unnatural monogamy thing? It only leads to conflict.
Despite the book's wide, authoritative acceptance (I recall as a boy seeing it in a church library and thinking something was amiss), several problems are apparent. For starters, as Wiker notes, Mead assumes that "what is natural and original is best." Second, other anthropologists have at last challenged Mead's findings. They claim "the Samoans were far more concerned with chastity, and hence far less sexually promiscuous, than Westerners of the time." In other words, this is junk science.
As with numerous writers Wiker examines, Mead's true genre may have been autobiography. Her travels appear to be more of a search for relativistic justification for her personal life than a fact-finding mission. As Wiker tells it,
She was married when she sailed to Samoa, but ditched her first husband for a man she met on the journey back home. The second was soon traded for a third, and finally her third marriage was casually cast aside. The whole time she was carrying on with her lesbian lover, Ruth Benedict.
Given Mead's mis-observations and terribly unscientific method, it is clear that Coming of Age only gained traction because it was what the elites wanted to hear. As one anthropologist remarked, "Had the book been similarly unscientific but with an opposite ideology we no doubt would have ripped it apart for its scientific failings."
(Column continues below)
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If one pattern emerges from Wiker's list of books, it is the authors' alternative scenarios of human origins and destiny. Hobbes claimed that in a state of nature, anything goes. Morality does not exist until we form a contract with the state. Rousseau also urges return to a "state of nature," though his is an Edenic paradise. It is only society itself that corrupted us. Society and morality (especially sexual morality, as you might have guessed) are "unnatural." And closer to our own time, Freud convinced many that religious traditions originated in an act of patricide: Ancient tribal sons killed and ate their father because they sexually desired their mother. (One is reminded in all of this of Peter Kreeft's "It's the sex, stupid!")
This is all too ironic for Wiker. We were told that God and the traditional Western notions of man's origins were rejected because of hard science. Wiker writes:
The ideas of God and sin might all seem too mythical for this scientific age until we recall that whether the bad thinker is Hobbes, Rousseau, Marx, or Freud, the authors we've covered in this book were mythmakers. They were enthralled by entirely mythical states of nature, entirely fictional alternative Edens, entranced by entirely impossible utopian paradises. Tens of millions of lives were offered up to the twin fictions of an alternative Garden of Eden and an alternative paradise, each taken and presented (falsely) as scientific fact.