"Robert Ardrey: The Current Scheherazade",
a review by Carroll Quigley in The Washington Sunday Star,
October 11 1970,
of a book:
THE SOCIAL CONTRACT: A Personal Inquiry into the Revolutionary Sources
of Order and Disorder,
by Robert Adrey.
New York: Atheneum, 1970
Ardrey, the Current Scheherazade"
THE SOCIAL CONTRACT: A personal inquiry into the
revolutionary sources of order and disorder.
By Robert Ardrey.
Atheneum, New York. $10.
Carroll Quigley teaches history at Georgetown University.
He is the author of TRAGEDY AND HOPE: The World in Our Time. (Macmillan, 1966.)
People seem to have strong feelings about Robert Ardrey. A great many think he is wonderful; quite a few think he is terrible;
some even think he is dangerous and should be silienced. If you want
entertainment, Ardrey has some merits, depending on the level of your personal
taste. But if you want science, that is another matter. Unfortunately, Ardrey
pretends to be a scientist, or at least a science reporter; but in this book
there is no more science than there is in a comic strip.
As an entertainer, Ardrey is the Scheherazade of the present day, telling tales
about strange animals, in far off places and in remote times, with every
assurance that they are true, but, like the Arabian Nights, it is foolish to
worry about how true they are, they are so unbelievable and so glib. For my
taste, his style is often clotted and obscure, too ornate, and too full of
metaphors and other figures, but I suppose we should expect verbal arabesques
from a modern Scheherazade.
Above all, he loves to tear down people with big names and build up people he
believes he has just discovered. In doing this, he constantly assures us that he
is giving us not the science of today but the science of tomorrow, and he
constantly hints that the reason this science of tomorrow is not already here
today is because these Big Names are in a tacit conspiracy to keep the truth
from the people. The reasons for this conspiracy are not stated, but it seems to
be partly because the established don't want these brilliant young researchers,
whom Ardrey has found, to eclipse them and show them up for the old
fuddy-duddies that they are. Partly also for more secret political reasons
related to Ardrey's idea that there is a profoundly unscientific liberal
establishment which is based on a number of lies like equality, democracy, and
freedom which makes it necessary for them to want to suppress the scientists
that Ardrey is reporting on.
The trouble with this is that it is
nonsense. Ardrey's brilliant discoveries (who are numerous) are, as often as
not, people we have known about for years, and who, in many cases, have done a
few good things, but are far from being the Newtons, Darwins, and Galileos that
Ardrey insists they are; or they are really young unknowns who haven't done
anything very significant, even if Ardrey thinks they have.
It is true that Ardrey has read a great deal about animal behavior,
but he never seems to grasp what it all means, and his biases prevent him from
seeing what is really there. For example, he gives the impression that he is
constantly exploring Africa, watching lions with George Schaller, or chatting
with the world's greatest experts about elephants. He tells us that he "made a
general survey of predatory communities" in Africa in 1968, but his ignorance of
lions is so great that he misunderstands most of what he sees, reads, or is
told. For example, one afternoon, Ardrey and his wife roused a lioness "a few
hundred yards" from a herd of browsing impala. Two of the impala came over to
see the lioness as it sought another sleeping place, while the others "never for
a moment stopped eating." Ardrey was amazed at this, but decided that he could
not say that the impala were "suicidal" since the lioness was so sleepy. Then he
adds, "Nevertheless, one can state in very nearly mathematical terms the
survival value of approaching or fleeing the presence of a lion of unknown
antagonism if you are an impala."
This is typical of the ponderous way Ardrey covers his ignorance.
Despite his claims of intimacy with Schaller, who studied lions in Africa over
three years, 1966-1969, Ardrey apparently does not know that killing by a lion
(1) is not motivated by "antagonism"; (2) almost never takes place in the middle
of the day; (3) is never directed at an animal which is looking at the lion; and
(4) the attack never is made from a distance of over 40 to 50 yards. Ardrey will
find these rules stated by R. D. Estes in Natural History for February and March
1967 or by Schaller in National Geographic for April 1969. The latter says, "The
lion must stalk to within a few feet of a potential victim before its rush has
much chance of success. Prey animals are fully aware of the lion's limitations.
They have learned how near to a lion they may wander without danger of
attack—usually to within about 120 feet. This leads to ludicrous situations . .
. A visible lion is a safe lion." Need I add that Ardrey's "suicidal" impala
were about 500 feet from danger.
Ardrey tells us that he watched elephants for years and could not
discover what was their alarm call: "The problem, I found, had bothered others
less innocent than I, and Irven Buss had solved it in a European zoo. . . . The
elephant's alarm call is silence." This is typical of Ardrey's great
contemporary scientific discovery. Buss "solved" nothing; the zoo keeper told
him that the elephant, when alarmed, simply stops his regular, internal
physiological noises. Any elephant keeper or circus trainer or elephant hunter
in history could have told them this fact. I, who am younger than Ardrey,
learned it in 1925 from elephant watchers like Carl Akeley and Martin Johnson.
It is recorded, with the additional fact that the elephant does have a very
audible alarm call, in Akeley's "In Brightest Africa."
On the basis of this rather shaky understanding of animal behavior,
Ardrey tries to tell us what man is like. He insists that man is simply an
animal (which implies that animals are simply men). This is, of course, contrary
to general scientific belief, which holds that man evolved from an animal when
his survival shifted from dependence upon inherited behavior to dependence upon
learned behavior. Of course Ardrey does not accept this, although almost all
students of men do, which is convenient for him because it means that he can
write on human society and human behavior without making any effort to examine
what serious students of man have written on the subject. For example, Ardrey
has a very unenlightening discussion here on the role of play in human
development, a subject on which there is an extensive literature headed by J.
Huizinga 's "Homo Ludens" (1949), which is still available in paperback; but all
Ardrey has to say is based on Carpenter's studies of the howler monkeys.
Similarly, when Ardrey wants to define human society he comes up
with three definitions (one his own), all from animal behaviorists. One of these
is from Wynne-Edwards, another of Ardrey's infatuations, whose book on animal
dispersion is "revolutionary" (Ardrey's life is full of "revolutionary books
written by quiet little men), "a slim, softly speaking man of utmost
distinction, as unlikely a bomb-thrower as ever showed up at an anarchists'
drinking party." This great man's definition is "a society can be defined as a
group of individuals competing for conventional prizes by conventional means."
The lack of merit in that definition will be seen if we merely replace the word
"society" by any other collective term, such as "high school" or "football
game." Then, a football game is a society — obvious nonsense.
Just as Ardrey insists that man is an animal and nothing more, so
he insists that human society is exactly the same as animal societies and
nothing more. He justifies this on the ground that both have need for their
fellows (gregarious). But, he ignores that the needs are very different because
most of animal actions are genetic, while almost all of human actions are
learned. Thus human society has artifacts, symbols, speech, and organizational
structures which often take on life and drives of their own, outside of and
beyond the drives and needs of the individuals who make them up.
Moreover, this slovenly thinking, which ignores the distinction
between animal societies and human societies, also ignores the distinction
between social acts and biological actions. Thus he says that "the social life"
of a leopard is "limited to a few occasional hours of copulation;" copulation is
biological, not social, just as parturition is. The whole book is filled with
his confusions of quite distinct things in this way. Thus he confuses needs with
desires and both with drives, and by continuous confusions of this kind, says
that the drive to live by developing our potentialities is "aggression," that
war is the same as games or seeking higher grades, and that gregarious need is
the same thing as xenophobia. He does not go so far as to say that love is the
same thing as hatred, but it is implied throughout the book.
Ardrey's own definition of "society" is in the first sentence of
the book: "A society is a group of unequal beings organized to meet common
ends." The inequality is assumed and is based on his belief that each individual
is the consequence of the union of a single ovum and a single sperm cell ("the
accident of the night"). Thus each is unique and thus all are unequal. Further,
he assumes that what each person becomes is determined by this accident of the
Unfortunately, Ardrey is such a confused thinker and confusing
writer, that he gives in the book evidence that his assumptions are not true, by
referring to the Dionne quintuplets as "identical, developed from a single
fertilized egg," and then admits, as we all know, that these five girls grew up
with quite different personalities and intellectual levels (p. 109). So his
persistent attacks on what he calls "the environmentalists" are destroyed by
Fundamentally, Ardrey is a racist, devoted to a belief in human
inequality and unfreedom, an enemy of social "disorder" which must be suppressed
by authority because man is a predatory, violent, aggressive creature, compelled
by irresistible hereditary compulsion to war over territory. These are fascist
ideas, and, in this book, Ardrey is doing for America what Treitschke, H. S.
Chamberlain, Alfred Rosenberg, and others did for Germany: preparing an
intellectual basis for fascist political action. Unfortunately, there is not
space here to show this in detail, but a few brief points will show the trend.
Ardrey speaks of 6 to 7 million mentally deficient Americans as an
example of "the accident of the night," when he must know perfectly well that a
considerable part of these have nothing to do with inheritance but are the
result of virus infections or other events of an environmental nature which
occurred after conception.
Negro intelligence, which he renames "capacity to learn," he
insists, is inferior. To soften the blow, he says that Negroes have "superiority
of anatomical endowment and neurological coordination," then asks, "If racial
distinction on the playing field is to be accepted, then can there exist
theoretical grounds for banishing distinctions in the classroom? In the United
States the evidence for inferior learning capacity is as inarguable as superior
performance on the baseball diamond." He bases this of course, on the Coleman
Report and, equally naturally, runs into a conspiracy to prevent him from
getting a copy of this explosive document: "After some eight months of trying, I
pried a copy out of the U.S. Government Printing Office. Why it had become
unavailable became evident only after long exploration of its 700-plus pages of
statistics. The Negro had failed in American schools catastrophically, beyond
statistical doubt or sentimental apology. . . . Worse still for the black was
the record of the Oriental-American, subjected in American life to
discrimination certainly as rigorous as the Negro, who consistently equalled and
in areas excelled the records of white students." Naturally, Ardrey finds Arthur
Jensen's article "on the genetic inferiority of Negro intelligence" a persuasive
document and calls those who reject it hysterical.
I can answer Ardrey simply by pointing out that his ignorance
totally disqualifies him from writing on the subject. If he had compared
Chinese-Americans with Negro-Americans from several points of view (crime rate,
educational achievement, recourse to violence, mental ill-health, need for
government social and economic relief), he would have discovered that the
Chinese record is far superior to the Negro on all of these. He would also have
discovered that the Chinese family is probably the most stable of any American
minority, just as the Negro family is the most unstable, and that most students
of these matters would attribute the difference in various social indicators to
the factor of family stability, rather than to race or skin color.
Moreover, if Ardrey had taken time to compare the family life of
the 15 percent of Negroes who do as well as the upper 50 percent of whites, he
would have found that the higher achieving group came from more stable Negro
families. The Moynihan Report, despite its obvious weaknesses, is as quotable as
the Jensen paper, but Ardrey, who constantly doctors his evidence by selection,
does not mention Moynihan. Ardrey's bigotry appears when he says that
Chinese-Americans are "subjected in American life to discrimination certainly as
rigorous as the Negro." This is nonsense.
Forty-five years ago, about 1925, writers like Ardrey were arguing
the genetic inferiority of Negroes by using the intelligence tests of draftees
in World War I. These bigots were silenced only when it was pointed out that the
same tests which showed the whites did better than Negroes also showed that
Northern Negroes did better than Southern whites. In Ardrey's case, as usual, he
can be refuted from his own book. He admits that the Coleman Report tests were
"culture-bound" and intended to be so. In that case, to use them to indicate
genetic (that is, non-cultural) differences reveals Ardrey for what the whole
book shows: that he is a writer who has no concern with scientific procedures.
-- CARROLL QUIGLEY
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