Posts from March, 2011
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March 25th, 2011

Functionalist Interpretations of Primitive Warfare, C. R. Hallpike, 1973 Explaining Why Marings Fought, Andrew P. Vayda, 1989


Hallpike (1973) gives us a summary of what functionalist’s view on warfare is and why it is fallacious with their interpretation. Specifically, he went on and argued that the functional method in anthropology was useless when trying to capture the complexity of human society thus inevitably, imposed the flaw of such analysis.

Hallpike (1973)’s first argument is about the functional social groups. As he put it, if functionalists argue the competition between societies, they’d better have a definable boundary of such society. But in reality, such attempt can be provably difficult. The difficulty of properly defining a society can be troublesome for the argument of “economic motivated” warfare since the latter one relies on a clear beneficial group that can be motivated.

On Vayda (1971)’s evidence, Hallpike (1973) put a new perspective and argued that there were neither awareness about the shortage nor the perceived relationship between aggression and the land shortage. Moreover, Hallpike (1973) pointed out that many people were drove out of their territory only temporarily such that there were no immediate benefits from land acquisition after warfare. Even in some cases, the land acquisition becomes true; Hallpike (1973) argued that we could only perceive such fact as aftermath, thus, a consequence rather than a cause. It couldn’t explain why people fought without a more thoughtful analysis.

The indifference between consequences and causes imposed, a philosophically dilemma to functionalists because in their analysis, it is common to attribute individual motivation of warfare to some proximate factors as the actual function of such warfare only exists accumulatively. The problem is that the function they perceived often presented itself through the aftermath of warfare. Thus, it is hard to distinguish between such thing as either a consequence or a cause. If there is no evidence of cumulative awareness to pursuit such function, can we still argue it as a “cause”? From Hallpike’s perspective, such aftermath could only suggest such motivation may exist.

Hallpike (1973) summarized functionalist’s attempt as if “whatever is, is necessary” which from his point, dismissed the complexity of such decision making (go to/not go to war). If war is necessary to restore one’s sense of well-being, at a society that wars were driving by vengeance (Tauade), people were angry all time. The vengeance vector, from Hallpike (1973)’s perspective, is hard to capture by functionalism means. Hallpike (1973) argued that, with Vayda (1967)’s fallacy on revenge driving warfare, since the retaliation will only exaggerate the magnitude of offenses, it unlikely to decline by any means. Such argument brought the idea of “stop criteria” in warfare to table. Hallpike (1973) attacked Gluckman’s theory as fictional or at least not universal applicable. Such theory of “stop criteria” depends on inter-marriage between groups. In Hallpike (1973)’s example of Konso which is a group of small towns that has no cross-cutting ties, however, despite the chronic warfare, life goes on from one generation to another. Hallpike (1973) acknowledged that such evidence is not strong enough to dismiss the importance of cross-cutting relations in restoring peace. But he did provide an example of Tauade where the cross-cutting relationship actually maximized conflict.

After the attack on fallacies of Vayda’s Maori & Iban analysis, Hallpike (1973) compared the analogy of functionalist to historical inevitably. The functionalism failed to acknowledge the alternative possibilities of society and only accepted it as is. From Hallpike (1973)’s perspective, the failure comes from its incapability of analysis the different culture trend, the desire of individuals, which complex the society as a whole.


Vayda (1989) acknowledged Hallpike’s criticism with some re-examination of his previous work in Marings. He admitted the previous flaw in analysis which analyzed consequence of warfare without due concern. To compensate that, he provided a detailed analysis of a specific example where the land shortage clearly was the motivation. Vayda (1989), though acknowledged the previous flaws in functional analysis of warfare, argued that due to explanatory relativity, different answers could all be correct ones depending on different assumptions about the question we made. In the case of seeking explanation for warfare, Vayda (1989) would like to have such pragmatic attitude as a resolution to the different explanations purposed.

In Marings’ case, Vayda (1989) argued that rather than a binary result (war occurred or not, land acquired or not), what he had described was a systematic process that involved warfare as a part. From that perspective, the Marings’ acquisition of land was very impressive. Vayda (1989) addressed the problem of motivation for warfare (as of land acquisition) with yet another reinforcement learning mechanism. To dismiss the possibility of land acquisition as by-product of warfare, Vayda (1989) acknowledged that a particular example to illustrate such intention is essential. Vayda (1989) went on and gave an example of fights of two Marings groups: Kauwatyis and Kundagais. The significance of these two groups, as Vayda (1989) argued, was that without the intervention of Australian administration, these two groups would take over all lands. The last two wars that Vayda (1989) gave, - Kundagai-Ambrakui war and Kauwatyi-Tyenda war - , were clearly originated from land dispute. Vayda (1989) argued that though the two specific examples could not prove that land shortage was the cause of all fights between Marings groups, it was equally invalid to say that land shortage could not be the cause of any Marings wars as Hallpike suggested at times. The explanatory relativity, Vayda (1989) went on to argue, can reconsolidate Hallpike’s puzzling assertion. What Hallpike was really looking for, is an answer to a broader question: why Marings or some other people fought at all. For that question, land shortage was surely not the right answer Vayda (1989) argued about. Vayda (1989) explicitly pointed out that you have to observe that without land shortage, Marings won’t fight at all to prove such point.

The second question to the problem, as Vayda (1989) suggested, is why Marings or other people fought frequently. To Vayda (1989), that is the real concern of Hallpike because his explanation to the fought among Tauade people in New Guinea is on frequency rather than why fought at all. As of Vayda (1989), his answer is to a particular question that why Marings or other people fought frequently at a particular time. In that case, Vayda (1989) argued that even his answer was narrower it was useful when we were looking for a way to resolve such issue in the future. Another concern of why the narrow answer is import is that for Vayda (1989), such answer provided the variability of purposeful human behavior. To Vayda (1989), an uniformist’s answer is ignorant in a way that when a new phenomenon surfaced, it would not be easy to be incorporated into the old theory.


Hallpike’s criticism of functionalist attempt of “whatever is, is necessary” is spot on. That’s the fallacy of unwilling to admit that we are still in the progress of evolution and thus, the existence of everything is not perfect. Functionalists are attempting to find the functionality of something merely because it exists, but in reality, unfit things exist only because they haven’t been eliminated by evolution yet.

However, Hallpike’s dismissal of functional social group made me uneasy. Though the dismissal is only a helper tool for attacking functionalist’s warfare explanation, I felt that the argument was loosely backed. For any scientific study, probably anthropology for the most, defining a proper boundary between subjects can be hard. However, it cannot be interpreted as worthless. A categorization of social group would help anthropologists to isolate fields of study and make incremental progress. That is wide accepted idea in science studies, but it seems to be not so obvious in social science studies. Without an incremental progress which often requires isolation of one group or another, you cannot make progress in the field at all.

The complexity of human society exhibited as another main concern in Hallpike’s paper. However, his argument of that since such complexity exists, a simple analysis is difficult and wrongness is fallacious. The point of studying the wars in New Guinea area is that primitive war is simple enough such that we can gain insight into how war is taking in its most original form. Anthropologists use such approach to attack the complexity imposed in human society. For me, it is the scientific way of doing thing rather than attribute reason to human emotions. Hallpike’s attribution of warfare to human emotions annoyed me from evolutionary standpoint. Emotions are genetically encoded survival instincts. They are the results of mutation and adaptation to environment. From Hallpike’s perspective, such emotion triggers the warfare, but from evolutionary point of view, the emotion is merely a proximate factor whereas the real factor is hidden in the evolution course of human beings. It is amusing that Hallpike had successfully pointed out the mis-attribution of consequence to cause in Vayda’s analysis of land shortage but failed to realize it himself.


Vayda admitted the fallacy he made of land-shortage cause as generalization without backup. I liked his theory that even if such cause (land-shortage) could only explain the warfare in a particular region and at a particular time, it was still valuable. Vayda’s idea of varieties of explanation which fits a particular niche is intuitive and to me, is the right thing to do.

The problem of seeking a uniform theory is that, the complexity of human society usually made such theory fails in some combinations of environment. When such seeking is troublesome enough, what Vayda suggests is a more pragmatic way. The explanation works at particular time in particular region, but it also suggests that under similar circumstance, the explanation should work too. Thus, though the explanation is certainly limited, it can be applied to real world. From that perspective, it is natural to come to the realization of explanatory relativity. Since there are different angles to attack the same problem, there are several equally correct answers to each aspect. However, even with the explanatory relativity, I still share the same skepticism of Hallpike’s attribution of warfare to psychological effect. Vayda brought up his skepticism but went on to suggest that Hallpike’s argument concerns why warfare are frequent in this area whereas Vayda’s assessment was about why warfare occurred at a particular time in that area.

From Vayda’s standpoint, his fallacy of not acknowledging the difference of consequence of cause is annoying. He tried to argue that with more facts in hand you could properly attribute land-shortage as cause for some wars. To me, resource competition can be a serious cause of warfare, however, Vayda, for the sake of accuracy, stepped back to suggest such competition would only result war in particular area at particular time. It should be more universal. Chimpanzee only fights for land and mate opportunity (as resource in general). Since they are the genetically closest animal to human beings, it is intuitive to believe such trait should be influential through our evolutionary path. Vayda, on the other hand, really wanted to have a concise grasp on this issue under Hallpike’s heavy attack. It is understandable that he retreated from the generalization.


The origin of war is a much debatable subject in anthropology studies. It would be wrong to ignore the fact that warfare regarding its role in human society is an on-going evolutionary process. It may be redundant, worthless or extremely useful, and to anthropologists, picking sides early would narrow the view of possible explanations. On the other hand, the evolutionary aspect of warfare provides a way to differentiate proximate factors from real ones, but unfortunately, it hasn’t been addressed enough that from time to time, people still confused causes and consequences in their warfare studies.

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March 25th, 2011

One thing that bothers me when reading Robert Scoble’s assertion on “the Next Facebook” is: no big companies in his list are founded by a “serial entrepreneur”. No, I am not saying Bill Gates, Larry Page or Mark Zuckerberg are not entrepreneurs. They are true entrepreneurs who can found a company, grow it and pilot it for a very long time. Nor am I dismissing the fact that them may have some small successes in the past.

I want to know that if they are entrepreneurs in heart, why they don’t have an amazing tracking record before big ones? Here is my educated guess: the chance of hitting big is so small that the sheer number of inexperienced entrepreneurs outnumbered the serial ones.

Or there is a gene that prohibits a serial entrepreneur to hit something big.

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March 25th, 2011
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March 16th, 2011

Everyone knows that the God acts upon the world through his mysterious power called the statistical probability. Since I am an outlier from the beginning, the God acts against me from time to time. Every time, when I was happy and had fun, the God pulled me back into my little cold nutshell, and I could still count myself a king of infinite space. The God is unhappy, and I should be more careful. The God, I will not pursuit the happiness, you have my word, but I will do my best I can to avoid the pain.

And I will win, in a long term unless I am short-lived.

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March 14th, 2011

但是事情也不会自己完成。要慢慢把状态给Pick Up。首先把Hacker News给戒了吧。还有各种情绪控制,深呼吸,冥想。

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March 10th, 2011

“找一批人,做一点事,留下一串闪亮的名字和让人采撷的珍珠。” —— 摘自某篇日记

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March 5th, 2011

It turns out my old scheduler performed poorly recent days and things become hard to get done. The older one uses a FIFO queue with ad-hoc prioritize items, and the problem is, when an item takes really long time, it will block every consequent operations.

Without further due, I will present the new one. The new scheduler have a new ETC (Estimated Time to Complete) attribute which indicates the deadline for a particular job. It still has a FIFO queue structure, such that any new job will enter the bottom of the queue, with a ETC. Job on the top of the queue, if completed, will be removed; if the ETC reached, will request a new ETC, save the context, and put it in the bottom of the queue again.

The main take on the new scheduler is that, it will pursuit earliest start time rather than earliest completion time in order to be “fair”. Assume no priority setting, each job will have a strict start time.

I will experiment the new scheduler in the next few days.