Anthropology Friday: Appalachia, pt 2/4

Gutierrez map of 1562 showing Appalachia

Welcome back to Anthropology Friday. Today were are continuing with Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders, published in 1913.

Physical appearance:

“Spartan diet does not put on flesh. Still, it should be noted that long legs, baggy clothing, and scantiness or lack of underwear make people seem thinner than they really are. Our highlanders are conspicuously a tall race. Out of seventy-six men that I have listed just as they occurred to me, but four are below average American height and only two are fat. About two-thirds of them are brawny or sinewy fellows of great endurance. The others generally are slab-sided, stoop-shouldered, but withey. The townsfolk and the valley farmers, being better nourished and more observant of the prime laws of wholesome living, are noticeably superior in appearance but not in stamina.”

EvX: I cannot help but think we have lost something of healthy stamina.

“There is a wealthy man known to everyone around Waynesville, who, being asked where he resided, as a witness in court, answered: “Three, four miles up and down Jonathan Creek.” The judge was about to fine him for contempt, when it developed that the witness spoke literal truth. He lives neither in house nor camp, but perambulates his large estate and when night comes lies down wherever he may happen to be. In winter he has been known to go where some of his pigs bedded in the woods, usurp the middle for himself, and borrow comfort from their bodily heat.”

EvX: I do not now about you, but I feel a kind of kinship with this man. Often I feel a restlessness, a sense that I am trapped by the walls of my house. It is not a dissatisfaction with the people in my house–toward them I feel no restlessness at all–but the house itself.

I am at peace again when I find myself in the woods, the trees towering over me; I am at peace in the snow, drifting through a blizzard. I am at peace in a fog, the world shut out by a faded haze. In the distance I see the mountains, and though I am walking to the playground or the shops they tug at me, and I am always tempted to turn my feet and just keep going until I arrive.

I do not want a large or fancy house; I just want to live in the woods among the plants and people I love.

But back to the man in the woods in the court:

“This man is worth over a hundred thousand dollars. He visited the world’s fairs at Chicago and St. Louis, wearing the old long coat that serves him also as blanket, and carrying his rations in a sack. Far from being demented, he is notoriously so shrewd on the stand and so learned in the law that he is formidable to every attorney who cross-questions him.”

Religion:

“The first settlers of Appalachia mainly were Presbyterians, as became Scotch-Irishmen, but they fell away from that faith, partly because the wilderness was too poor to support a regular ministry, and partly because it was too democratic for Calvinism with its supreme authority of the clergy. This much of seventeenth century Calvinism the mountaineer retains: a passion for hair-splitting argument over points of doctrine, and the cocksure intolerance of John Knox; but the ancestral creed itself has been forgotten.

“The circuit-rider, whether Methodist or Baptist, found here a field ripe for his harvest. Being himself self-supporting and unassuming, he won easily the confidence of the people. He preached a highly emotional religion that worked his audience into the ecstasy that all primitive people love. And he introduced a mighty agent of evangelization among outdoor folk when he started the camp-meeting.

“The season for camp-meetings is from mid-August to October. The festival may last a week in one place. It is a jubilee-week to the work-worn and home-chained women, their only diversion from a year of unspeakably monotonous toil. And for the young folks, it is their theater, their circus, their county fair. (I say this with no disrespect: “big-meetin’ time” is a gala week, if there be any such thing at all in the mountains—its attractiveness is full as much secular as spiritual to the great body of the people.)”

EvX: Vacation Bible Camp is still a thing, of course.

“It is a camp by day only, or up to closing time. No mountaineer owns a tent. Preachers  and exhorters are housed nearby, and visitors from all the country scatter about with their friends, or sleep in the open, cooking their meals by the wayside.

“In these backwoods revival meetings we can witness to-day the weird phenomena of ungovernable shouting, ecstasy, bodily contortions, trance, catalepsy, and other results of hypnotic suggestion and the contagious one-mindedness of an overwrought crowd. This is called “taking a big through,” and is regarded as the madness of supernatural joy. It is a mild form of that extraordinary frenzy which swept the Kentucky settlements in 1800, when thousands of men and women at the camp-meetings fell victims to “the jerks,” “barking exercises,” erotic vagaries, physical wreckage, or insanity, to which the frenzy led.

Christian snake handlers

“Many mountaineers are easily carried away by new doctrines extravagantly presented. Religious mania is taken for inspiration by the superstitious who are looking for “signs and wonders.” At one time Mormon prophets lured women from the backwoods of western Carolina and eastern Tennessee. Later there was a similar exodus of people to the Castellites, a sect of whom it was commonly remarked that “everybody who joins the Castellites goes crazy.” In our day the same may be said of the Holy Rollers and Holiness People.”

EvX: Wikipedia appears to have nothing on the Castellites, but Wiktionary says they were a religious group in North Carolina in the late 19th century.

Language:

“An editor who had made one or two short trips into the mountains once wrote me that he thought the average mountaineer’s vocabulary did not exceed three hundred words. This may be a natural inference if one spends but a few weeks among these people and sees them only under the prosaic conditions of workaday life. But gain their intimacy and you shall find that even the illiterates among them have a range of expression that is truly remarkable. I have myself taken down from the lips of Carolina mountaineers some eight hundred dialectical or obsolete words, to say nothing of the much greater number of standard English terms that they command. …

“Our highlander often speaks in Elizabethan or Chaucerian or even pre-Chaucerian terms. His pronoun hit antedates English itself, being the Anglo-Saxon neuter of he. Ey God, a favorite expletive, is the original of egad, and goes back of Chaucer. Ax for ask and kag for keg were the primitive and legitimate forms, which we trace as far as the time of Layamon. When the mountain boy challenges his mate: “I dar ye—I ain’t afeared!” his verb and participle are of the same ancient and sterling rank. Afore, atwixt, awar, heap o’ folks, peart, up and done it, usen for used, all these everyday expressions of the backwoods were contemporary with the Canterbury Tales.

“A man said to me of three of our acquaintances: “There’s been a fray on the river—I don’t know how the fraction begun, but Os feathered into Dan and Phil, feedin’ them lead.” He meant fray in its original sense of deadly combat, as was fitting where two men were killed. Fraction for rupture is an archaic word, rare in literature, though we find it in Troilus and Cressida. “Feathered into them!” Where else can we hear to-day a phrase that passed out of standard English when “villainous saltpetre” supplanted the long-bow? It means to bury an arrow up to the feather, as when the old chronicler Harrison says, “An other arrow should haue beene fethered in his bowels.”

Social Organization (or lack thereof):

“Bear in mind that in the mountains every person is accorded the consideration that his own qualities entitle him to, and no whit more. It has always been so. Our Highlanders have neither memory nor tradition of ever having been herded together, lorded over, persecuted or denied the privileges of free-men. So, even within their clans, there is no servility nor any headship by right of birth. Leaders arise, when needed, only by virtue of acknowledged ability and efficiency. In this respect there is no analogy whatever to the clan system of ancient Scotland, to which the loose social structure of our own highlanders has been compared.

“We might expect such fiery individualism to cool gradually as population grew denser; but, oddly enough, crowding only intensifies it in the shy backwoodsman. Neighborliness has not grown in the mountains—it is on the wane. There are to-day fewer log-rollings and house-raisings, fewer husking bees and quilting parties than in former times; and no new social gatherings have taken their place. Our mountain farmer, seeing all arable land taken up, and the free range ever narrowing, has grown jealous and distrustful, resenting the encroachment of too many sharers in what once he felt was his own unfenced domain. And so it has come about that the very quality that is his strength and charm as a man—his staunch individualism—is proving his weakness and reproach as a neighbor and citizen. The virtue of a time out-worn has become the vice of an age new-born.

The mountaineers are non-social. As they stand to-day, each man “fighting for his own hand, with his back against the wall,” they recognize no social compact. Each one is suspicious of the other. Except as kinsmen or partisans they cannot pull together. Speak to them of community of interests, try to show them the advantages of co-operation, and you might as well be proffering advice to the North Star. They will not work together zealously even to improve their neighborhood roads, each mistrusting that the other may gain some trifling advantage over himself or turn fewer shovelfuls of earth. Labor chiefs fail to organize unions or granges among them because they simply will not stick together.”

 

Just some very quick thoughts

Liberals find repellant the idea of insult*, not because they refuse to be crass or impolite–they are perfectly skilled at being both–but because to say that something is bad and outline the traits that comprise its badness is to say that one thing is better or worse than another thing and that there are certain traits which are, inherently, better or worse than others. Such judgmentalism does not jive with the quest for full equality–equality of spirit, body, and soul.

*except against personal enemies

There’s one strain of thought which holds that liberals (and perhaps conservatives) are a specific ideology that has been transmitted over the centuries, and another that liberality and conservativeness are just personalities that people happen to have.

A related quote:

I'm sorry, I forgot who wrote this. If you know, please let me know so I can credit them properly.
I’m sorry, I forgot who wrote this. If you know, please let me know so I can credit them properly.

I tend toward the personality hypothesis, and that society needs both liberal and conservative personalities for optimal functioning (one side is good at generating novel ideas, and the other side is good at preserving things that shouldn’t be changed,) but this is dependent on both sides recognizing this and letting each other be. (Ideally, this is where something like federalism comes in.)

No, hunter gatherers were not peaceful paragons of gender equality

They aren’t today, either.

It seems like people are always trying to use hunter gatherers to further some wacky theory or other. The Paleo Diet isn’t too bad; it is at least a reasonably accurate representation of what hunter-gatherers actually eat, though your chances of replicating hunter-gather food at home are slim–which is why we end up with things like “Paleo Bread.” But then you have the far less accurate theories, often pushed by people who really ought to know better. Like the theory that hunter gatherers had no wars, or that they were all gender egalitarians. Or that there was once a global civilization of feminist goddess-worshipers who were wiped out by evil agriculturalists.

Oh, those evil, evil agriculturalists:

Share of violent deaths, non-state societies vs. state societies
Share of violent deaths, non-state societies vs. state societies
Violence in state and non-state societies
From “The Better Angels of our Nature,” by Steven Pinker

 

But let’s backtrack a minute. Where do these wacky theories come from?

The short answer is that they come from Marxists. You may laugh or roll your eyes, but I was actually assigned Das Kapital twice in college–once in my major, political science, and once in my minor, anthropology. I was also assigned explicitly Marxist papers in my Feminism class. This was a reputable university where many of my professors were identifiably conservative, not an obvious liberal bastion like Berkley or Reed.

Marx is deep in academia.

You do not have to be explicitly citing Marx or realize that you are using theories of the world derived from Marx to be using one of Marx’s theories, anymore than you have to have studied the Chicago School of Economics or the Austrian School to pick up one of their theories and start using it. But most academics of the past 100 years or so have known the intellectual provenance of their ideas, because like me, they were assigned it in class and no one in academia is shy about explicitly citing Marx.

To be honest, I don’t hate Marx’s theories. I enjoy Bakunin better than Marx, but I understand Marx’s attempt at making a science out of economic history. Not a terribly rigorous science, unfortunately.

This isn’t the time or place for a full explanation of where exactly Marx went wrong–there are far better authors than me who have spilled plenty of ink on the subject if you want to take a look. But suffice to say, real-life experience has not been terribly kind to Marx’s theories. Nonetheless, they still undergird a great deal of academic thinking and were formative in the educations of many, many anthropologists.

And the basic thought process went like this:

Jesus Effin’ Christ, WWII was the most awful, worst thing ever. Nazis are horrifying, racist scum. We need different theories.

Marxism explains human behavior through entirely environmental means, namely the means of production (ie, whether you live in a hunter-gatherer, agricultural, industrial, etc., kind of society.)

Marxism says that humans have wars because capitalists make them–that is, war is a side effect of capitalist society.

Therefore, in the pre-capitalist society, people didn’t have wars.

And then academics went and wrote a lot of things about how they now realized that pre-state people didn’t have wars or violence or were ever mean to each other.

Alas, many a beautiful theory has been destroyed by an ugly fact, and the ugly fact in this case is that pre-state people killed each other all the damn time. Take the Dorset, completely wiped out by the Thule (Inuit) about 700 years ago:

The genetic prehistory of the New World Arctic
The genetic prehistory of the New World Arctic, from

Science 29 August 2014: Vol. 345 no. 6200 DOI: 10.1126/science.125583,  Maanasa Raghavan et al.

 

Those blue bars represent Dorset DNA found in ancient gravesites around the arctic. The red guys represent Thule (Inuit) DNA. The Dorset are gone; their DNA did not make it into the Thule.

Anthropologists and archaeologists have spent the last 70 years or so arguing that if you find one kind of pots in one layer of your excavation, and radically different pots in the next layer, all it means is that people traded for some different pots. In the case of the Dorset, it means the Thule killed them all, a good 200 years before Columbus even set foot anywhere near Cuba.

Speaking of Columbus, he wrote of the Indians he met in the Bahamas, “Many of the men I have seen have scars on their bodies, and when I made signs to them to find out how this happened, they indicated that people from other nearby islands come to San Salvador to capture them; they defend themselves the best they can. I believe that people from the mainland come here to take them as slaves.”

But what of other hunter-gatherers?

According to the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica,

“[The Bushman’s] courage is remarkable, and Fritsch was told by residents who were well qualified to speak that supported by a dozen Bushmen they would not be afraid of a hundred Kaffirs. The terror inspired by the Bushmen has indeed had an effect in the deforestation of parts of Cape Colony, for the colonists, to guard against stealthy attacks, cut down all the bush far round their holdings.

Marriage is a matter merely of offer and acceptance ratified by a feast. Among some tribes the youth must prove himself an expert hunter. Nothing is known of the laws of inheritance. … As among other African tribes the social position of the women is low. They are beasts of burden, carrying the children and the family property on the journeys, and doing all the work at the halting-place. It is their duty also to keep the encampment supplied with water, no matter how far it has to be carried.”

Yes, clearly they are bastions of peaceful gender egalitarianism!

“A recent study… gave some astonishing cross-cultural figures. The homicide rate in modern Britain is roughly 0.5/100,000; in the USA it is about 20 times as high, at about 10.5. The highest death rate recorded in a nation, as opposed to a tribe, is 34 / 100,000, in Colombia. Though it is difficult to calculate exact correspondences for much smaller populations, about whom much less is known, it is still clear that Stone Age tribes make up in enthusiasm what they lack in the technology of murder. Even the !Kung bushmen, popularised as “The Harmless People”, had a had a homicide rate of 41.9 on this scale; the Yanomamo come in at 165. The record appears to be held by the Hewa people of New Guinea, with a score of 778. … the Murngin hunter-gatherer aborigines of Northern Australia come in with a score of 330.” –from The Darwin Wars, by Andrew Brown, (you can find excerpts on Brown’s promotional website for the book.)

Of the Yanomamo, Brown notes, ” There are fashions in noble savages as in other things, and the Yanomamo, a warlike and intermittently cannibal tribe living on the borders of Brazil and Venezuela, are one of the most heavily studied and nastiest in their habits of all the unspoiled people in the Seventies and Eighties. …

The tribes are quite exceptionally violent and sexist. The Yanomamo term for marriage translates literally as “dragging something away”; their term for divorce is “throwing something away.” [My emphasis, not Brown’s.] Villages war with villages; villagers with each other. They use poisoned arrows, spears and wooden clubs. When nothing much seems to be happening in the world outside, villagers will fight with long poles: two men will stand facing each other, and exchange insults. Then they will take turns to punch each other in the chest as hard as possible. Finally they take up long flexible poles, and — once more taking turns — smash each other around the head with them until the loser is felled, unconscious and bleeding all over his head. To quote one lurid description: “A man with a special grudge against another challenges his adversary to hit him on the head with an eight foot long pole shaped like a pool cue. The challenger sticks his own pole in the ground, leans on it, and bows his head. His adversary holds his pole by the thin end, whipping the heavy end down on the proffered pate with bone-crushing force. Having sustained one blow, the recipient is entitled to an immediate opportunity to wallop his opponent in the same manner.”

And if we go back to the data cited at the top of the post, Steven Pinker estimates, in The Better Angels of our Nature, that about 15% of people died of violence–murder or warfare–in pre-state societies.

This is about the same % as the Russians lost in WWII, if we go with the high estimate of Soviet casualties–about half that if we take the low estimate. Of course, hunter gatherers live to be about 45, while WWII was compressed into 6 years, so the death rate was rather faster during WWII, but if you did manage to survive, you lived the rest of your 60 or 70 years in relative peace.

 

In short, Marx obviously missed some major factors that lead people to kill each other, and anthropologists, not necessarily trained in things like analyzing crime statistics, ran with the idea, producing books with titles like “The Harmless People” about the Bushmen.

Unfortunately, wanting something to be true is not the same as it being true.

So what’s the real story?

Put yourself in the bare feet of a hunter-gatherer, unfettered by the rules and oppressions of the modern state. You meet a random stranger. Kill him, and you can take his pile of nuts, his gourd of water, and his wife. Don’t kill him, and he can kill you and take your nuts, water, and wife. There are no police in your society, so who’s going to stop you?

Throughout pre-history, the men who killed their neighbors and took their wives became your ancestors, and the men who didn’t got killed.

“Citing recent DNA research, Dr. Baumeister explained that today’s human population is descended from twice as many women as men. Maybe 80 percent of women reproduced, whereas only 40 percent of men did.”–Is There Anything Good About Men?

1 in 200 people today is descended from Genghis Khan’s immediate family, or perhaps the Great Khan himself. (I challenge you to tell the difference between Genghis’s Y chromosome and his brother’s.)

This is, literally, evolution in action. This is survival of the fittest, the struggle to reproduce and pass your genes on to the next generation.

Interestingly, Genghis Khan’s empire, after the massacres, was supposedly very safe–it was said that a woman carrying a bag of gold could walk unmolested, alone, from one end of the empire to the other. Probably an exaggeration, but in general, you did not mess with Genghis Khan’s money-making trade routes unless you wanted to be dead.

As has been said many times, the State demands a monopoly on the use of violence, punishing–often killing–those who would take the ancestral route to paternity. This is a novel evolutionary pressure–the collective pressure of the state against the violent.

Thus violent crime rates have plummeted in state-societies over the past 5,000 years or so:

homicide_in_europe_1200_2000

(Look, if you find a better graph, let me know.)

Genetic Pacification in England
Genetic Pacification in England, Eisner, 2001

Peter Frost lays out this argument excellently in his post, “The Genetic Pacification of Europe“–basically the idea that European governments have been executing their violent criminals (or otherwise letting them die in jail) for centuries, resulting in a drastic reduction in the prevalence of genes coding for violence in areas with long histories of strong, organized state rule.

According to Wikipedia, monoamine oxidase A, also known as the “warrior gene”, is associated with several types of antisocial behavior.  “…individuals with the low activity MAO-A gene, when faced with social exclusion or ostracism showed higher levels of aggression than individuals with the high activity MAO-A gene. Low activity MAO-A could significantly predict aggressive behaviour in a high provocation situation, but was less associated with aggression in a low provocation situation. Individuals with the low activity variant of the MAO-A gene were just as likely as participants with the high activity variant to retaliate when the loss was small. However, they were more likely to retaliate and with greater force when the loss was large.”

Also, “The frequency distribution of variants of the MAO-A gene differs between ethnic groups. 59% of Black men, 54% of Chinese men, 56% of Maori men, and 34% of Caucasian men carry the 3R allele. 5.5% of Black men, 0.1% of Caucasian men, and 0.00067% of Asian men carry the 2R allele.”

Now, as HBD Chick has pointed out, we aren’t just looking at states at agents of pacification, we’re looking especially at a specific sub-set of states. Like those inside the Hajnal Line, where the Catholic church forbade cousin marriage (one of the preferred forms of marriage throughout the rest of the world, actually,) a thousand and a half or so years ago, leading to the breakup of the barbarian tribal/clan systems and the genetic prerequisites for living in modern states (I assume something functionally kinda similar has happened in China and Japan, since they also have low crime rates, but that requires more research.)

One final point on gender equality, again from Peter Frost:

“According to a survey of 93 nonindustrial cultures, men were expected to dominate their wives in 67% of them, the sexes were expected to be about equal in 30%, and women were expected to dominate their husbands in 3% (Whyte, 1978). Sex roles differ to varying degrees even among hunter-gatherers, who correspond to the earliest stage of cultural evolution. In the tropics, women provide more food through gathering than men do through hunting. The reverse is true beyond the tropics, where women have few opportunities to gather food in winter (Kelly, 1995, pp. 128-132; Martin, 1974, pp. 16-18).”

Also:

“English psychologist John T. Manning has pioneered the use of this digit ratio as a way to measure how prenatal male and female hormones influence various behavioral traits. In a recent study, he looked at how prenatal hormones might influence gender equality in different populations. After measuring the digit ratios of participants from 29 countries, his research team averaged the score for each country and compared it with indices of gender equality: women’s share of parliamentary seats; women’s participation in the labor force, women’s education attainment level; maternal mortality rates; and juvenile pregnancy rates. To ensure comparability, all of the participants were of European descent.

… the more similar the two sexes were in 2D:4D, the more equal were the two sexes in parliamentary and labor force participation. The other variables were not as strongly correlated. (Manning et al., 2014)

In general, women from Northwest Europe have more masculine digit ratios, whereas women from farther east and south have more feminine digit ratios. This geographical trend is more pronounced for the right hand than for the left hand. Since the right-hand digit ratio is associated with social dominance, Northwest Europeans may be less sexually differentiated for that particular trait, as opposed to being less sexually differentiated in general.

Presumably, this isn’t a new tendency. Women must have been more socially dominant among Northwest Europeans even before the late 19th century and the earliest movements for women’s suffrage. So how far back does the tendency go? To medieval times? To pre-Christian times? It seems to go back at least to medieval times and, as such, forms part of the Western European Marriage Pattern:

‘The status of women differed immensely by region. In western Europe, later marriage and higher rates of definitive celibacy (the so-called “European marriage pattern”) helped to constrain patriarchy at its most extreme level. 

[…] In eastern Europe however, the tradition of early and universal marriage (usually of a bride aged 12-15 years, with menarche occurring on average at 14) as well as traditional Slavic patrilocal customs led to a greatly inferior status of women at all levels of society. (Women in the Middle Ages, 2014)’ ”

 

If you’re looking for a peaceful, gender-egalitarian society, don’t look to prehistory, hunter gatherers, or non-state societies. Look at your own country. It’s probably pretty good.