There have been some important developments in the legal and political struggle to make Jared Diamond and New Yorker magazine pay for their defamation of Papua New Guinea highlander Daniel Wemp, whom Diamond falsely named as a killer in its pages.
For the latest, check Rhonda Shearer’s Stinky Journalism website where you can find one recent article dealing with the legal aspects and another on the politics. In the former article, titled Jared Diamond, The New Yorker Deny All: New Guinea Tribesmen Wemp and Mandingo File Amended Libel Lawsuit, Katie Rolnick brings us up to date on where the suit stands today:
Last Friday, New York attorneys Jack Litman and Richard Asche filed an amended complaint for their clients New Guinea Tribesmen Daniel Wemp and Isum Mandingo in the New York State Supreme Court.
Wemp was the main source and character in Jared Diamond’s New Yorker article, “Vengeance is Ours,” in which Diamond depicted Papua New Guinean Wemp and his co-plaintiff Isum Mandingo, as murderers. Previously, Wemp — who claims that because of Diamond’s story, he cannot return to his PNG highlands village — and Mandingo sought $10 million in damages from Diamond and Advance Publications Inc., The New Yorker’s publisher, both of whom were named as co-defendants on the suit.
In September, 2009, following their original suit filed in April, 2009, Wemp and Mandingo served Diamond and Advance Publications with an amended complaint (as opposed to filing through the court system). When attorneys for the defendants filed an answer with the New York State Supreme Court last Wednesday October 14, 2009, Litman (a highly acclaimed criminal trial lawyer whose clients have included Robert Chambers) proceeded by filing the amended compliant with the Court on Friday, October 16, 2009.
According to Forbes magazine, Wemp and Mandingo’s 30-page amended suit details what they claim to be false and inaccurate information in Diamond’s story. “The latest filing identifies 24 separate passages in the story Wemp and Mandingo say are bunk. For example: Diamond’s account says 30 people lost their lives during a three-year clan war that began after a pig ransacked someone’s garden. The complaint says only four people died, the war lasted three months and the conflict didn’t start over a pig in a garden, but an argument over a card game. The filing claims Wemp wasn’t even a participant in the clan war: “At the time of the fighting, Wemp was working some 200 miles away at the coast, in a city called Madang.”
For those who still might have some illusions in Jared Diamond’s scholarly credentials (at least on human beings; he is much more reliable when writing about birds), they would be shattered by Valerie Alia’s Jared Diamond in the Rough: Media, Misrepresentation, and Indigenous People. Alia’s article does something I think is essential for putting this scandal into perspective. She shows that demonizing native peoples is a very old story:
In 1991, the national British newspaper, The Telegraph, sent a team of journalists to Holman Island in the Canadian Arctic to prepare a photo essay for its weekend magazine. Headlined “Dressed to Kill: Hunting with the Eskimos of Holman Island,” it told thousands of readers that an Inuit hunter has “no code of honour” and “is merciless and self-interested, gathering food only for himself and his family …” That was pure fabrication. The strong sense of community, interdependence, and centuries-old Inuit food-sharing system are well-documented in academic studies and Inuit oral histories.
The story mentions a “young white man who stepped off a train to stretch his legs,” whose “frozen body was discovered the following spring.” Perhaps someone had a joke at the journalist’s expense. Or maybe the journalist just made it up. Either way, he never checked the facts, and the editor never verified them. No one has ever stepped off a train at Holman – the nearest railhead is more than a thousand miles away
While the fight for native rights has advanced in recent years, largely due to the efforts of activists in groups like Survival International, there is still a large reservoir of hostility that can only be attributed to 5 centuries of colonialism. In seeking to marginalize indigenous peoples often to the point of genocide, the colonizers bent on wholesale extraction of minerals from native homelands, it was convenient to turn the victim into the criminal and the criminal into the victim. What better way to make the European or American invader look enlightened than to turn his victims into wanton killers. In Diamond’s New Yorker article, he compares people like Daniel Wemp to a Nazi storm-trooper and argues that Papua New Guinea was “rescued” from tribal warfare once the British came in and put the savages under their control. Of course this killed two birds with one stone since it made it all the more easy to extract minerals from the soil without interference.
If you click http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/category/jared-diamond/, you will find all my articles dealing with this latest violation of scholarship and progressive values by Jared Diamond but this does not exhaust my inventory of critiques of the UCLA superstar professor. And if you go to http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/my_ecology.htm, you will find a series of articles on “Collapse” and “Guns, Germs and Steel”, two of his best known books and a harbinger of the polluted nonsense that would make their appearance in the New Yorker Magazine. Despite his reputation as a fair-minded friend of stone age peoples, he is anything but.
For those who have been reading my series of posts on Napoleon Chagnon and the Yanomami (I will be putting this on the front burner shortly), you will be aware that many of the same issues are involved. Like Diamond, Chagnon had a vested ideological interest in making these Amazon rainforest Indians look like something that walked out of a horror movie. Both Chagnon and Diamond adhere to a view within the dubious sociobiology discipline that amounts to an update of Hobbes. They argue that stone age peoples, unimpeded by courts and cops, have an unbridled appetite for mayhem in pursuit of the basest instinct, namely to control and own female bodies in order to spread their genes. This is a neo-Darwinian worldview that people such as the late Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin have eviscerated and one that refuses to go away because it satisfies an imperative of late capitalism, namely that white Europeans and Americans have the right to rule the world in the same way that dinosaurs became extinct: it was an act of nature.
Ironically, as long as the ruling class and its mouthpieces such as Jared Diamond have their way, humanity and nature will face the very extinction they supposedly want to prevent. Ultimately, the collapse that confronts us is one based on the private ownership of the means of production, a system that certainly deserves to become extinct.