The Puritans really get a bad rap these days. “The Pilgrims” get favorable treatment in some children’s books, but “the Puritans” are lucky to get a neutral description anywhere, much less a positive one. Much of the time they described in outright hostile terms, as bad people who oppressed women and children and nature and the Indians and so on and so forth.
Much of that is basically true, but what those accounts tend to leave out is that pretty much every other group on Earth was also terrible by modern standards.
You ever wonder what happened to Roanoke colonists? Chief Powhatan told Captain John Smith thathe’d killed them all. Why? The colonists had gone to live with another Indian tribe in the area, Powhatan and his soldiers attacked and slaughtered that tribe for local tribal politics reasons.
To be clear: the Roanoke (and Jamestown) settlers were not Puritans. Totally different group. I’m just commenting here on the behavior of the Powhatans, who massacred their neighbors, including the Jamestown settlers themselves (an attack that left a quarter of them dead.)
But if you pick up a children’s book about Pocahontas, do you read how the Powhatan people massacred the Roanoke colony and later tried to wipe out Jamestown? Or do you read about how the Powhatan loved nature so much they were constantly surrounded by a chorus of singing birds and magic trees?
Do you ever read a story about the Puritans in which they are surrounded by magical choruses?
I am picking on the Powhatans because they come up in the relevant literature, even though they had nothing to do with the Puritans. I could just as easily talk about the Killing Fields of Cambodia; ISIS; or folks like King Gezo and Madam Efunroye Tinubu, who became wealthy selling people into slavery and didn’t hesitate to slaughter hundreds of slaves for religious sacrifices.
History (and the modern world) has a lot of groups in it I wouldn’t want to live in or near. The Puritans, by contrast, are downright pleasant. When everyone else kept telling them their religion was annoying, they politely moved away from everyone else so they could go about their business peacefully. They were never much involved in the slave trade, worked hard, attempted to lead virtuous lives, taught their children to read, and even established schools for the Indians so they could learn to read.
Here we have a map showing genetic clusters in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Eastern England obviously has the most red, a product of Anglo-Saxon admixture. (Note that the A-S component isn’t a majority, even here.) Western England is more varied, showing less of the Anglo Saxon and more of the old Celtic (or perhaps pre-Celtic) bloodlines, simply because the Anglo Saxons et al landed on the south eastern shore and spread inward from there, leaving a fringe of less mixed native people on the western (and, obviously, northern) side of the Island. (Note also that “Celtic” is not a homogenous group, but more of a catch-all for everyone who just doesn’t have a lot of A-S.) Cornwall, Wales, eastern and northern England, and the English/Scottish border region all show up quite distinctly on this map.
And here we see where people from each region headed. They did not move randomly, but shipped off with their friends and families, aiming for places where people like them were already established. The Jamestown settlers, as I mentioned before, were not Puritans; they were in it for the economic opportunities and hailed largely from the western side of the island.
The Puritans hailed from the east side of the island, the Anglo-Saxon zone, but obviously were not a random assortment even here, as they were members of a relatively small religious sect that wasn’t all that well tolerated by the other locals. Personality wise, they remind me a lot of the Dutch (and not just because they lived in Holland for a few years.)
Here we can see where the various groups landed and then spread. The Puritans arrived in Massachusetts in 1620 and spread quickly:
to their fairly reliable present locations.
The Wikipedia claims that in contrast to the Jamestown colony, which was largely populated by men hoping to get rich, the Puritans consisted of a more even mix of men, women, and children who intended to raise children and build a civilization, a “Shining city upon a hill.”
The Puritans basically believed that god wanted them to run their lives via a joint-stock corporation with a semi-democratically elected board of directors.
Religiously, Puritanism is the kind of movement you’d expect from the Little Ice Age. They hated nice-looking churches, fancy decorations, and, one suspects, anything that smacked too much of “fun,” all of which they associated with their hated enemies, people who had insufficiently purged themselves of all vestiges of Catholicism. Their idea of a “good time” was attending church in a plain wooden building, then having a sedate meeting at home to discuss the sermons. (Anne Hutchinson got banished for hosting insufficiently sedate sermon discussions, after which the Puritans attempted to generally crack down on women enjoying church too much.)
Basically, the Puritans were trying to route religion through the logic parts of the brain. I don’t know if this is just because they had some other reason to hate Catholics, because they simply wanted to be rational about their religion, or if they just lacked the basic impulse toward irrational emotional experiences and so found ritual inherently strange and repellant.
Whatever the reasons for their attempt at striping down their religion to its barest, calmest bones, I suspect that religious belief is dependent on emotional rather than rational experiences, and thus attempts to conduct religion “rationally,” no matter how well-intentioned, quickly result in atheism. Ritual, symbolism, mysticism, and other altered, transcendent states instill an overwhelming sense of divine presence that mere logic cannot match.
By the 1660s, just 40 years after the Pilgrims had landed, the Puritan churches were undergoing a bit of a crisis due to the children and grandchildren of the original Puritans just not being as into church as their forefathers.
This is not much of a surprise; when it comes to breeding for particular traits, one must always deal with regression to the mean. The original stock of New World Puritans consisted of people who were so concerned about the English government not doing enough to root out the last few vestiges of Catholicism from the Church of England that they decided to risk death so they could start a new community on the other side of the ocean. Their children and grandchildren, having regressed a bit toward the religious mean, were not quite so devout.
This is a pattern I see among super-religious people today; they try their very hardest to pass on their religious fervor, but their children rarely turn out as religious as their parents.
The Puritans haven’t quite shaken the habit of attending church, even though they stopped believing in all of this “god” business long ago.
What else made the Puritans Puritans?
One thing I have noticed about Yanks is their almost compulsive drive to create organizations. (I swear, these people cannot hang out and watch TV together without establishing a set of by-laws and a treasury to handle snack funds.)
The Puritan colonies were not just a random assortment of huts tossed up on Massachusetts’s shores. They were company towns set up by joint-stock corporations like the London Company, Plymouth Company, and most famously, the Dutch East India Corporation, which preceded the London Company by about 4 years, making the Dutch the first people to use joint-stock corporations for international trade and settlement, which is why the whole business strikes me as so very Dutch.
I wrote about the development of these joint stock corporations and their importance in the history of the United States and Europe back in Les Miserables.
The original British and Dutch colonies of Jamestown, New York, Plymouth, etc., were literally corporations whose purpose was to make money for their stock holders by harvesting timber (England had cut down pretty much all of its trees and was reduced to burning mud and rocks,) growing tobacco, and carrying on trade with the Indians. In practical terms, this was the only way the Puritans could get the funding necessary to buy the boats and supplies they needed to get from England to New England.
“On April 10, 1606 King James I of England (James VI of Scotland) granted a charter forming two joint stock companies. … Under this charter the “first Colony” and the “second Colony” each were to be ruled by a “Council” composed of 13 individuals. The charter provided for an additional council of 13 persons to have overarching responsibility for the combined enterprise. Although no name was given to either the company or council governing the respective colonies, the council governing the whole was named “Council of Virginia.”
“The investors appointed to govern over any settlements in the “first Colony” were from London; the investors appointed to govern over any settlements in the “second Colony” were from the “Town of Plimouth in the County of Devon.” The London Company proceeded to establish Jamestown. The Plymouth Company under the guidance of Sir Ferdinando Gorges covered the more northern area, including present-day New England, and established the Sagadahoc Colony in 1607 in present-day Maine.”
(The Maine colony failed.)
Different colonies probably differed in how they handled the exact details of administration, but the general gist of things is that the Puritans believed that democracy was divinely ordained by John Calvin. Adult males who were formal members of the Puritan Church and had been “sponsored by an existing freeman and accepted by the General Court” (wikipedia) were allowed to vote for the colony’s governors.
Despite a deeply held religious conviction that they should work hard and build the best joint-stock corporation they could, the early Puritans had a very rough time of it in the New World and a great many of them died, which had a major negative impact on profits for the first few years. The investors in the Plymouth Colony decided to cut their losses in 1627, and sold the colony to the colonists, at which point they were technically an independent republic. The Massachusetts Bay company followed a similar path, first by relocating their annual stockholders meeting from England to Massachusetts, and then by buying out the remaining non-Massachusetts residents’ stock shares.
The British at this time were content to basically ignore the colonies (aside from the 10,000 or so who emigrated,) until after the English Civil War, when the newly restored king decided he was going to take over the colonies and rule them himself. Of course, you know how that eventually ended; the Puritans were too numerically dominant in their area and 1700s tech still too limited for Great Britain to control them for long.
As for daily life in the colonies, once they got the houses insulated and the crops growing, it wasn’t nearly so bad. There was plenty of land to till, child mortality was low, interpersonal violence was low, and the people seem to have been basically happy and productive.
I spent a while trying to decide whether the Puritans or the Jamestown colonists were more “liberal,” and eventually decided that “liberal” and “conservative” are meaningless, at least in this context. Virginia produced democracy-loving deists like Jefferson, whereas the Puritans were, well, Puritans. Jamestown has been block-voting with the rest of the South pretty much since George Washington retired (and probably before Washington was even born), and Plymouth Colony has voted against Jamestown in almost every election, so we should probably just chalk the political divide up to “ethnic differences dating back to the Anglo-Saxon and Norman conquests of Britain” and leave it at that.
The Sentinelese appear to have split off from the rest of humanity approximately 48,500 years ago, and aside from occasional contact with other members of the Andaman islands, have remained isolated ever since.
People have occasionally landed on or near Sentinel island, but the islanders have all resisted contact, generally by shooting arrows at anyone who gets too close. Even National Geographic hasn’t got any pictures of them–when they tried to make a documentary on the island, armed with gifts, they had to retreat after the director took an arrow in the thigh. The last guys whose boat accidentally drifted onto their beach got killed and buried in shallow graves on the beach.
North Sentinel Island is technically owned by India, but India has given up trying to make peaceful contact, and it would probably look bad to just bomb the place.
So what do we know about the Sentinelese?
Obviously not a whole lot, since most of what we know of them has been observed from a distance.
The whole island is about the size of Manhattan, and probably inhabited by 40-500 people. They’re generally characterized as Negritos, a term used for the shorter than average but taller than Pygmies, dark-skinned people of the Andaman Islands and certain groups in the Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia. The term is only descriptive; different Negrito tribes may not be related to each other at all. (I promised I’d get around to the Negritos eventually.)
Aside from stuff that has randomly washed up on their island or was given to them by folks trying to make contact, they have only stone tools and, according to the Wikipedia, appear not to have fire.
But a little more research suggests that Wikipedia may just be wrong on this point; during the search for the lost Malaysian jetliner, smoke was observed rising from North Sentinele, which implies that the people there probably do have fire.
At any rate, we do know that they have bows and arrows, boats, and spears.
When National Geographic tried to make contact, they left a plastic toy car, coconuts, a live pig, a doll, and aluminum cookware on the beach before getting shot at. After they retreated, they observed the Sentinelese shoot and bury the pig (not eat it?) and, if the Wikipedia is accurate, shoot and bury the doll. They took the coconuts and pans; no word of the car’s fate.
In 1970, a group of Indian anthropologists that came near the island had a decidedly strange incident:
Quite a few discarded their weapons and gestured to us to throw the fish. The women came out of the shade to watch our antics… A few men came and picked up the fish. They appeared to be gratified, but there did not seem to be much softening to their hostile attitude… They all began shouting some incomprehensible words. We shouted back and gestured to indicate that we wanted to be friends. The tension did not ease. At this moment, a strange thing happened — a woman paired off with a warrior and sat on the sand in a passionate embrace. This act was being repeated by other women, each claiming a warrior for herself, a sort of community mating, as it were. Thus did the militant group diminish. This continued for quite some time and when the tempo of this frenzied dance of desire abated, the couples retired into the shade of the jungle. However, some warriors were still on guard. We got close to the shore and threw some more fish which were immediately retrieved by a few youngsters. It was well past noon and we headed back to the ship…
Virtually nothing is known about the Sentinelese language, though it is speculated that it is related to the Onge language of the Andaman islands. However, attempts at using the Onge as translators have failed, as the Onge themselves cannot understand a word of Sentinelese.
A British expedition in the 1880s that got a decent look at the island claimed that, of all the nearby groups, Sentinelese culture most closely resembled Onge culture, so it is still possible that the languages are related, albeit distantly.
Since much more is known about the Onge, I’m going to speak briefly about them:
The Onge are marked in blue on the map above; today they live chiefly on Little Andaman Island in the south, but in the past they ranged further north, closer to to the Sentinelese. Contact with the outside world has reduced their population from almost 700 people (1900) to about 100. (There may well have been >700 people before 1900, that’s just the first date I have numbers for.) Strangely, the Onge appear to be the world’s least fertile people, with 40% of couples suffering infertility. Wikipedia estimates their Net Reproductive Rate (similar to TFR, but only looks at daughters) at 0.91, which is below replacement, however, their population appears to have held steady for the past 30 years, so perhaps the problem is working itself out.
Why such infertility? The most obvious guesses (IMO) are some sort of environmental poison/effect; some sort of diseased-induced infertility, like gonorrheal scaring (please note that I have no idea if any of the Onge have ever had gonorrhea, but it is a common cause of infertility;) or a side effect of inbreeding/lack of genetic diversity following their extreme population collapse.
Genetically, the Onge appear to have been isolated for an extremely long time. They all share the same mitochondrial DNA, haplotype M32, which is not found anywhere outside of the Andaman Islands. (The larger umbrella-group M, to which all M-varieties belong, is one of the world’s most wide-spread lineages, emerging either shortly before the Out of Africa event, or shortly after it, but is most reliably concentrated in Asia, with several ancient lineages in India.)
The Onge language is related to the languages of some of the other tribes in the Andaman Islands, and speculated to be part of the greater Austronesian language family. (Considering that the whole Indo-European language family is about, what, 4-6,000 years old, I am a little skeptical of our ability to reconstruct too much about a language that may have diverged 40,000+ years ago.)
Onge Y-DNA belongs to Haplogroup D-M174, which emerged in Asia about 60,000 years ago and isn’t found outside of Asia. It is found today among Tibetans, the Ainu, and the Andaman Islanders, suggesting that these people are all (at least partially) descended from a common source that split off from other humans around 60,000 years ago, or just after the OoA (relatively speaking.) D-M174 is also found in small amounts in China and central/east Asia.
The Ainu, IIRC, also have a particular tooth shape that is commonly found in Melanesia, but not outside of it, and a small amount (about 15%, I think,) of Siberian DNA. And, of course, we now have evidence of Melanesian DNA showing up in the Amazon rainforest, not to mention the curious concentration of archaic Denisovan admixture in Melanesians, despite the only Denisovan remains we’ve found so far coming from Russia. However, it appears that there is no Denisovan DNA in the Andaman Islanders, so maybe they split off before the Denisovan admixture advent.
The sum of the evidence suggests a single band of people, perhaps most closely resembling the Negritos, spread 60,000 years ago along the coast of southern Asia and spread far into the interior, reaching at least as far as Tibet, the Andaman Islands, and northern Japan, and possibly even crossing the Bering Strait and down to the tip of South America. (Since Melanesians do not appear to have ever spread to Polynesia, I suspect they did not boat straight across the Pacific, but maybe we just haven’t yet found Melanesian remains in Polynesia.)
Over the ensuing millenia, later population waves, like the Polynesians and the common ancestors of east Asians like the Han and the Japanese, migrated into the area, leaving only a few isolated remnants of Haplogroup D-M174 in far-flung, difficult to reach places like the Andaman islands, the Himalayan Plateau, and the coldest parts of Japan. Likewise, Melanesian DNA in the New World seems to have best survived in one of its harshest, most difficult to penetrate habitats: the rain forest.
This all gets back to my theory of genetic survival at the fringes, (discussed here,) which I hope to devote a full post to soon. The history of the world is the group with better tech conquering the group with worse tech, and then getting conquered in turn by a group with even better tech.
The island of Taiwan illustrates this well; the most recent immigration wave happened in 1949, when the ROC lost their war with the PRC and evacuated 2 million of their people to Taiwan, a nation of 6 million at the time. Taiwan had previously (temporarily) been conquered by the Japanese, and before that, by other Chinese people, who began arriving around 1300. They’ve been gradually defeating/replacing the aboriginal Taiwanese, who are now a very small population, and the aboriginal Taiwanese themselves have legends about having wiped out a negrito-like people who predated their arrival, but I consider such legends only potentially true. Each group got conquered by the next group with better tech.
A couple more pictures of Andaman Islanders:
Anyway, back to the Sentinelese.
The available evidence suggests that they split off from the rest of the human population ages upon ages ago, and have been effectively isolated from everyone but their immediate neighbors ever since. Though technically their island is considered part of India, as a practical matter, they govern themselves. They have managed to retain their independent status for so long by living on a tiny, hard-to-reach island and enforcing a strict immigration policy of killing anyone who shows up on their beach.
Given that the Sentinelese would probably all die of the common cold if they ever did let foreigners onto their island, their policy is not unreasonable. You wouldn’t want to let some plague-bearing foreigner kill you with their germs, either. Unfortunately, the disease situation is unlikely to reverse itself; their population is just too small to withstand contact with the outside world. Too-long isolation in such a tiny place has cut them off from all the technological progress of the past 40,000 to 60,000 years, and their population is too small to develop much tech internally. To be fair, their strategy has worked so far. But now they’re stuck, maintaining their tiny island against the odds until someone decides to show up with guns and do some logging, fishing, or whatever they feel like, at which point there’s a good chance they’ll be wiped out.
Long term, total isolation is a policy with very low survival odds.
After some thought, the best option I can think of for the Sentinelese, other than continuing as they are and hoping for the best (after all, the rest of the world could destroy itself in a nuclear holocaust and leave them behind to continue doing their thing for the next 40,000 years,) is to expand their numbers and send excess people to the other Andaman Islands. Sure, most of those people would probably get colds and die, and if not the colds, alcohol’s a likely culprit, but as long as they keep exporting people, eventually some of them will survive, and create a breeding population/intermix with the other Andamanese until they have the numbers/immunity to interact with the outside world.
We recently discussed the Boers as an example of reactionary exit gone wrong. I posit that motorcycle clubs area uniquely American form of reactionary exit, tribalism, and spontaneous social organization.
I became interested in biker culture shortly after the shootout in Waco that left 9 people dead, 20 injured, 239 detained, and 177 arrested and charged with engaging in organized crime. The bikers who weighed in on the stories had a very different opinion of the day’s events than the official story reported on the news. Many were absolutely convinced that the WACO police, perhaps operating from nearby rooftops, had shot the bikers themselves and then arrested everyone on site. Furthermore, they asserted, the Waco police were targeting any biker who rode through the city for arrest. “It’s open season on bikers.”
Everyone I happened to chat with who wasn’t a biker seemed overjoyed at the opportunity to tweet about hundreds of white criminal gang members killing each other and getting arrested.
After months of protests and arguments over whether the police murdered an innocent black guy or killed a criminal in self-defense, the difference in attitudes toward a possible case of the police murdering nine people who happened to be white was striking.
So what’s up with bikers? Who are they? What makes them tick? Why do they join clubs? And why do they love Harley Davidsons so much?
I’ve discovered that there are not a lot of good ethnographies of biker culture, and those that are out there focus on the 1%s, or Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs (often referred to as OMGs or Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs in law enforcement publications.) The focus of my research has not been on Outlaw clubs, because I don’t think it’s very sensible to try to understand 100% of something by only reading about 1% of it, but rather the average Harley-riding motorcycle enthusiast.
Since I don’t have the spare time necessary for real fieldwork in a biker club, I have merely been talking talking with bikers about their experiences and researching them via the internet, rather than taking the immersive approach. I hope that I have not gotten anything terribly wrong, but if I have, feel free to let me know.
First, though, a little terminology:
Organizations for motorcycle enthusiasts are called clubs, not gangs. Even the Hells Angels is officially the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club.
“Outlaw” motorcycle clubs are a real thing that really exist, and yes, some of them engage in some form of illegal activity. However, Outlaws are a small % of people who like motorcycles. Most motorcyclists are not outlaws.
Some bikers ride things that are not Harleys, but in biker culture, Harleys are the bike.
So. Who are bikers?
While bikers come in all shapes and sizes, from girls just riding their Vespas to work in Tokyo to rich guys puttering around on the weekend, biker culture in the US is solidly working class, white, and male.
In fact, I strongly suspect that the vast majority of bikers are ethnically mostly Borderland Scots + Scots-Irish + Cavaliers from south-eastern England (and Wales?,) but mot of their ancestors have been in this country for a couple hundred years, if not longer. In other words, they are old stock Southerners and Appalachians, and quite ethnically distinct both from the Puritans of the North and from the more recent immigrants, like the Catholic Irish, Germans, Scandinavians, etc. Many of them have ancestors or great- uncles who fought for the Confederacy or at least lived through the war. (Heck, I have sill-living relatives who are old enough that they heard first-hand stories from their relatives about the Civil War.)
Personality-wise, this is a group that is strongly ethno-nationalist and committed to the warrior ethos. I cannot help but see the Scottish reiver, no longer able to ride across the English border to steal cattle or women but still driven by that basic instinct, hopping aboard his Harley and roaring down the open road.
The most common occupation among bikers is military. Some huge percentage of them are vets or even current military; I’m not sure how many, but it’s a correlation that’s impossible to miss.
I don’t think this is just a coincidence; either something about both motorcycles and military employment attract the same group of people, or something about being in the military makes people ride Harleys.
I suspect it’s a little of each.
Many of the famous clubs were founded by vets; the Hells Angels, for example, are named after the WWII flying squadron Hells Angels:
The useful thing about this is that the attitudes of bikers are therefore likely to be similar to the attitudes of army grunts I’ve been sorta-studying, since there’s a huge overlap between the two groups.
The other thing motorcyclists are really into is religion, chiefly Protestant Christianity. I know the Southern Baptists are big in the South, but I don’t get the impression that Bikers are particularly Baptist–rather, I get the impression that they prefer more independent churches that cater more to the working/lower class (probably a lot of Charismatics), while Baptists lean more middle class.
In other words, Guns, God, and Glory.
To summarize, bikers are primarily working class, white, Southern men whose ancestors hailed from parts of Britain outside the Hajnal Line; they’re veterans, deeply religious, and strongly nationalist.
Being a biker, I theorize, not only satisfies a variety of instinctual/mental desires, like the enjoyment of riding down the open road, but also serves as a way to create an alternate society (exit) in which they are on top, rather than on the bottom. At work, you might just be an average Joe who lays carpet or digs ditches all day for crappy pay, but hop on your Harley and you are the king of the road and no one fucks with you.
What makes bikers tick?
Bikers are generally anarcho-tribalists who would die to defend their family or nation, but view the Federal Government as a hostile, occupying force that would march them into a mushroom cloud to save a few dollars on animal subjects for radiation testing. Most don’t use the term “Cathedral,” but they understand the concept intuitively.
Back in the 60s and 70s, I suspect that many clubs were explicitly whites-only, but in my all of my conversations with bikers, I have not heard a single racist word. Even if a lot of the symbolism dates back to the Confederacy or has white power undertones, today the symbols seem to function more as a “fuck you” to society and represent in-group solidarity more than out-group dislike.
In-group solidarity and loyalty are vitally important in the biker world. “Band of Brothers” doesn’t just refer to guys in the army; it’s also a motorcycle club. Motorcycle clubs–and biker culture more generally–provide a sense of fierce tribal identity in a society that is otherwise anonymous, anomized, indifferent and huge.
The shared experience of being military veterans, as mentioned before, is an inseperable part of the biker experience. For many of these guys, war–be it WWII, Korea, Vietnam, or Iraq–was a traumatic experience, and they received little to no support upon returning to civilian life. The adrenaline rush of the motorcycle, fuck all attitude, and brotherhood of riders appealed to the returning war veteran’s psyche and provided the status and support society lacked.
Why Motorcycle Clubs?
One of the most interesting things about biker clubs is that they exist at all. Why do guys whose whole mystique is “fuck the system” form their own organizational structures with rules?
The obvious reason is that it’s safer to ride in groups than alone; cars have this nasty habit of accidentally running over bikers. Riding in packs makes bikers more visible and thus safer:
The other reason is that the club is a thede, an ethny, a tribe. People who are only a few centuries removed from a actual tribal clan system still have an instinctual desire to belong to a tight-knit group that has each other’s backs against the world.
If you’ve ever seen pictures of bikers, you’ve probably noticed that the pictures hardly ever show their faces. Rather, they show the backs of their jackets, where their club patches are displayed:
As far as I know, every club has its own, unique patches, but they all seem to have the same basic structure–a large central patch, with two more patches directly above and below it. EG:
1) Top rocker – used for club name 2) Club logo plus MC (Motorcycle club) patch 3) Bottom rocker – used for territory 4) 1% signifying “outlaw” intent (Note that the vast majority of bikers do not belong to Outlaw clubs) 5) Club name or location 6) Office or rank held within club 7) Side patch
The basic structure is remarkably similar across clubs–so whether you ride with an anti-child abuse club, a religious club, a charity club, a “we just like bikes” club, or even a housewives club, chances are your patches will still have the same basic layout as even the most outlaw of Outlaw clubs.
The patches are big so they can be easily read at a distance, and loudly proclaim each wearer’s tribal identity. (In fact, many clubs’ names even include words like “tribe,” “pagan,” or otherwise evoke a tribal identity.)
This should go without saying, but don’t wear a patch you haven’t earned.
While there are probably some clubs you can join just by filling out a form and paying some dues, most clubs appear to have pretty strict rules about who can and can’t join, and some clubs are harder to get into than Harvard. Like all goods, that which is obtained cheaply is not worth much. Brotherhood is not given easily; you don’t promise to have someone’s back without first making sure their back is worth having.
Practically speaking, if you’re going to be publicly associating yourself with a group of people, it makes sense to be careful about who you take into that group. If one of your club members makes a big stink at a bar, the owners might not let your club back into the bar. If one of your club members gets into a fight with another club, retribution could come down on you.
Since the available ethnographies all focus on Outlaw clubs, (and they’re quite old,) I only know about their procedures, and long story short, you have to know a guy. A prospective club member gradually meets and gets to know everyone in the club. He hangs out with them for a year or so, and then they vote on whether or not to accept him into the club. If anyone votes “no,” that’s a no.
One of the useful things about basing one’s tribal identity around motorcycle ownership is that it is a very difficult identity to fake. Motorcycles are expensive, joining a club is difficult and members are often well-known to each other, and the patches function like very large ID cards.
If you are extending brotherhood and solidarity to others in your tribe, it is best to make sure your thedic symbols are difficult to counterfeit.
Motorcycle clubs are a form of spontaneous human organization and ethnic symbolism. No one sat down and said, “Hey, know what will make motorcycle riding way more awesome? A government to make a bunch laws about it!” but that is precisely what they’ve done. They have made their own society.
If you want to make a better world, go out and make it.
Why Harley Davidsons?
While many people ride things that are not Harleys, for many bikers, the Harley is the only bike.
This is a Harley:
These are not Harleys:
Don’t ride a Vespa to Sturgis.
Harley riders have an intense level of brand loyalty and a passion for their machines that we mere car drivers rarely match. Honestly, I don’t consider it unusual to see a half-assembled motorcycle sitting in biker’s living room.
There are two, possibly three main reasons for this loyalty:
Harley Davidson is an American brand, and bikers are strongly nationalistic. Why would a red-blooded American send his money to anyone other than a fellow American worker, making a fellow American motorcycle?
The Harley looks more like a bad-ass working class bike, whereas the BMW and Kawasaki bikes look like futuristic designs for rich people. The aesthetics are totally different. (And obviously the Vespa is right out.)
Price and modifiability? Working on the bike is a biker past time; guys with limited incomes would prefer to be able to fix their own bikes.
This is also a Harley:
Women and Motorcycles
The motorcycle world is mostly male but obviously some bikers are female, and if Google image search is anything to go by, they are all very well-endowed and scantily clad.
Most of the women who are into motorcycles are probably married to or dating men who are into motorcycles, and like doing fun things with their partners. Some are also really into the bikes; the world is vast; it contains multitudes.
The female bikers I have talked to have not had much appreciation for feminism as a political or practical philosophy. As one of the anthropologists who has studied bikers noted, Women’s Lib hasn’t really reached the biker world, at least as of when they were still calling it Women’s Lib. Nevertheless, biker chicks are not wilting damsels keen on wearing pretty pink shoes and shopping. In fact, I strongly recommend against insulting them or pissing them off, as getting punched really hurts.
Do biker lives matter?
I certainly hope so.
Bikers represent one form of exit, the creation of a parallel society with its own tribes, institutions, and rules, within which bikes are high-status and enjoy the benefits of tribalism. They are anarchists who spontaneously made governments in order to advance their own freedom. Their thedic symbols (principally motorcycles and patches) are difficult to fake and therefore high-value. The motorcycle itself provides a great deal of enjoyment, perhaps assuaging some primal, instinctual need to ride fast on the open road.
And the bikers I know are good folks whose company I enjoy.