I’m currently reading Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky edited by Peter R. Mitchell & John Schoeffel, published 2002 by The New Press, New York. The editors put the book together by transcribing tapes of Q&A sessions at public talks by Noam Chomsky held between 1989 and 1999. The book’s footnotes are on line at http://understandingpower.com/
In chapter two of the printed book, on page 65, Chomsky, in discussing conditions in Central America, says “…look at Brazil: potentially an extremely rich country with tremendous resources, except it had the curse of being part of the Western system of subordination. So in northwest Brazil, for example, which is a rather fertile area with plenty of rich land, just it’s all owned by plantations. Brazilian medical researchers now identify the population as a new species with about 40 per cent the brain size of human beings, a result of generations of profound malnutrition and neglect – and this may be unremediable except after generations, because of the lingering effects of malnutrition on one’s offspring.”
Here’s the footnote for this:
- On the new human species in northeast Brazil, see for example, Isabel Vincent,
*Life a struggle for Pygmy family, * Globe & Mail (Toronto), December 17, 1991, p. A15. An excerpt: “A diet consisting mainly of manioc flour, beans and rice has affected [northeastern Brazilian laborers’] mental development to the point that they have difficulty remembering or concentrating. Fully 30.7 per cent of children in the Northeast are born malnourished, according to Unicef and the Brazilian Ministry of Health. . . Brazilian medical experts have known of undernourishment in the country’s poorest region for more than two decades, but they confirmed only recently the existence of a much more startling problem – a severe lack of protein in their diet that is producing a population of Brazilian Pygmies known by some medical researchers in Brazil as homens nanicos. Their height at adulthood is far less than the average height recording by the World Health Organization and their brain capacity is 40 per cent less than average. . . . In the poorest states of the Northeast, such as Alagoas and Piaui, homens nanicos comprise about 30 per cent of the population. . . . Much of the Northeast comprises fertile farm land that is being taken up by large plantations for the production of cash crops such as sugar cane.”
Okay, I note that Chomsky refers to the Brazilian Pygmies as having 40% of the normal human brain size, while the article excerpt in the footnote says their brain capacity is 40% less then normal. Assume that the article has it right, and Chomsky, speaking from memory, reversed the percentages. We’re still talking about people with a brain capacity that is only 60% of the norm for homo sapiens.
Holy Shit! I feel an impulse to rush to northeast Brazil! (But do I want to help these people… or study them?) My questions for the Teeming Millions: To which pre-human species are the Brazilian Pygmies equivalent? And does anyone know of any studies done on this population since the one 1991 article cited? I’m really wondering what sort of society they’ve built.