This failure he says is tied to its inability to transcend their cultures and technologies. Marvin Harris implies that every civilization or culture will eventuate failure no matter how successful its modes of production and reproduction. It is apparent from Harris' introduction within Cannibals and Kings that he is laying out a case for cultural materialism, he says,
Limits of growth have been reached and transcended only to be reached and transcended again. Much of what we think of as contemporary progress is actually a regaining of standards that were widely enjoyed during prehistoric times.It is this attitude that Marshall Sahlins criticizes. The cultural materialist is too dependent on the etic perspective, relying too much on the “objective” analysis, though the hard data (through census and observation) presents an overall view of cultures-at-large. Sahlins sees Harris’ view of cultural materialism as lacking, referring to the materialists' theory,
I take it up in detail because it epitomizes the kind of social analysis Harris advocates. Especially it is typical for what it leaves out, since the practical function of institutions is never adequate to explain cultural structure. In other words, it certainly useful to take the empirical data into account to help define a society’s overall personality, but to leave it strictly to empiricism, leaves out the intangible elements that forward a culture-at-large to reproduce itself and evolve.
Jonathan Friedman accused Marvin Harris of “vulgar materialism,” but I think he missed the overall assertion of Harris that the dialectic exist within modes of production and modes of reproduction along with the “state’s” infrastructure, structure, and suprastructure. One can see this with Harris over stressing the need for protein in cultures both ancient and modern (see his work Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture and his essay on The Cultural Ecology of India’s Sacred Cattle). The dialectic of which he advocates, Harris that is, is to demonstrate how cultures are contradictory and conflicted within their own religious beliefs. And, as a matter of pragmatism find ways around cultural and religious taboos. He writes this in regards to slaughter of cattle by Hindus:
But to assert that they do not kill their animals when it is economically important for them to do so may be equally false. This interpretation escapes the notice of so many observers because slaughtering process receives recognition only in euphemisms.Essentially, those who are reliant on the emic perspectives of the native in sharing the true violation of their taboos have missed the point, when it is necessary for a society to produce more in terms of resources and reproduction, it will find ways around them. All one has to do is look at the products it produces and the reproduction of its population. Although Harris lumps modes of production and modes of reproduction together they are in conflict with each other, and in conflict within themselves, he infers that the creation of which continues the dialectic and is to be in opposition in and of itself. Therefore, the struggle and contradiction that may not be apparent to Friedman is resolved in the materialism needs of the culture. But it is also what Sahlins finds offensive, he says
The idea that Aztec sacrifice was designed to supply human meat has little economic cogency. Indeed, of all peoples of the Hemisphere who practiced intensive agriculture, the Aztecs probably had the greatest natural protein resources: the lakes of the Valley of Mexico, teeming animalitos and algae process food, as well as fish, and in the winter, millions of ducks….Essentially, Sahlins find Harris’s selective use of the etic information by “Spanish conquerors” and priests disingenuous. In a sense, Harris is cannibalizing his facts to fit his own ideology of cultural materialism. Furthermore, Harris’s ethnological studies are no better than Morgan’s, Spencer’s, or Benedict’s, in that he is using the information of others to illustrate through analogy and comparative analysis to demonstrate etic of Boasian process of induction as valid. However, he has violated one of its core principles and that is to relay all information good and bad. As Dr. David Eller, of Metropolitan State of Colorado, says “Harris is a one trick pony…” His view of cultural materialism can be summed up in his closing words of introduction of Cannibals and Kings, he says
I am convinced that one of the greatest existing obstacles to the exercise of free choice on behalf of achieving the improbable goals of peaces, equality, and affluence is the failure to recognize the material evolutionary processes that account for the prevalence of wars, inequality, and poverty (p xiv).And, this revelation actually gives away Harris’s true motivation. He has politicized his anthropology to push that the modes of production and reproduction are corrupted, and the individual is locked into the repetitive structure and function of their culture-at-large; therefore remaining trapped by the old Victorian model of onwards-and-upwards progress of evolutionary culture. It is not until we cannibalize these practices that we will be free, Harris says,
To change social life for the better, one must begin with the knowledge of why it usually changes for the worse. That is why I consider ignorance of the casual factors in cultural evolution and disregard of the odds against a desired outcome to be forms of moral duplicity.One can respect that view point, but his failure to understand the emic perspective of why people do the things they do can subvert any idea of freedom, or free will as well. Ultimately, it is the individuals who make up the institutions, the structure, infrastructure, and superstructure of a culture, and it is the individual that can destroy it.
 Cannibals and Kings, p 10.
 Quote from Marshal Sahlins review of Cannibals and Kings.
 There is nothing wrong with using the comparative data of others, and there is certainly nothing wrong in analyzing the data to create a theoretical model. Spencer, Morgan, and other aforementioned certainly did, but I find it troubling that the data is being used to forward a political agenda. The data is what the data is and to “massage” the data for one’s “message” is not only disingenuous, it speaks against the work of the anthropologist—to be revealer of truth and enhance the beauty of humanity through its diversity.