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A Bounty of Science

A new book reexamines the mutiny on the Bounty, but science offers a deeper account of its cause
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The most common explanation for the Bounty mutiny pits a humane Fletcher Christian against an oppressive William Bligh. In her 2003 revisionist book, The Bounty, Caroline Alexander recasts Bligh as hero and Christian as coward. After 400 pages of gripping narrative, Alexander hints that the mutiny might have involved “the seductions of Tahiti” and “Bligh’s harsh tongue” but concludes that it was “a night of drinking and a proud man’s pride, a low moment on one gray dawn, a momentary and fatal slip in a gentleman’s code of discipline.”

A skeptic’s explanation may seem less romantic, but it is more intellectually satisfying because it is extrapolated from scientific evidence and reasoning. There are, in fact, two levels of causality to consider: proximate (immediate historical events) and ultimate (deeper evolutionary motives). Both played a role in the Bounty debacle. (continue reading…)

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