Normally I like to do both the Anthropology Friday excerpts and my own thoughts at the same time, but this time I didn’t want to interrupt the narrative’s flow.
The first thing that struck me in all of this was that Quantrill had a considerable number of followers: he lead 450 men to burn and loot Lawrence, Kansas. Pretty good for a guy who wasn’t even in the army. We can explain Quantrill’s motivation in the burning by arguing that he was trying to earn himself a commission in the Confederate Army by proving to them that he was a good commander, but what about his followers? Surely most of them could have joined the (Confederate) army the regular way, without detouring through Kansas.
Even after the burning, when it was quite clear that Quantrill was not going to get a commission and most of his followers had left, he still had some. So did many of the other men we’ll meet in this series, from outlaw bikers to mob bosses. (And pirates as we’ve already seen.)
And while most people are not very fond of criminals, folks like Quantrill and Jesse James found plenty of “safe” places where the locals were willing to shelter them, help them, or at least look the other way and not report them to the authorities.
What was the difference, really, between Quantrill and a regular army commander? Or the guerrilla soldiers known as the Red Legs and Jayhawkers?
Although I was familiar with the phrase “Burning Kansas” from history class, I hadn’t grasped the conflict’s full depth until reading Dago’s account. I’ve never heard anyone from Kansas or Missouri speak ill of each other–whatever bad blood there was in the Civil War’s immediate aftermath seems to have worn off. In Dago’s telling, the Kansas/Missouri border was a burnt-out, lawless zone where blood feuds brought men down for decades.
And what was the difference between an outlaw like Quantrill and a conqueror like Genghis Khan? ISIS? The chief of a Yanomamo tribe? Queen Medb of the Táin Bó Cúailnge?
(The Tain, if you haven’t heard of it before, is an Irish epic that revolves around the attempts by Queen Medb to steal a particular bull from another Irish king, and the efforts of the Irish hero Cu Chulainn to stop her.)
After all, Quantrill, while officially an “outlaw,” had many followers–as did these other men (and woman.)
I propose a simple answer: Quantrill was an “outlaw” because the official powers-that-were declared him one. Had Quantrill been successful enough to attract enough men to his side to not only burn and loot Lawrence, but keep it, he would have been its ruler, plain and simple. Genghis Khan did little more than burn, loot, massacre, and rape, but in so doing he amassed an empire. But Genghis Khan’s enemies were probably much less well-organized and equipped than Quantrill’s–certainly they didn’t have railroads.
War is a universal feature of human society. Even chimps have wars, bashing each other’s brains out with rocks. Early humans had war; pre-agricultural tribes have war. (The horticultural Yanomamo have some of the highest homicide rates in the world.)
We moderns have this odd notion that “war” is an official thing which is officially declared by official governments (and what makes an official government? We could go in circles all day.) We believe that war has rules (or at least that it ought to): that it should be fought only by official soldiers on official battlefields, using officially approved weapons, and only targeting official targets. Anything not by the book, such as targeting women and children, using chemical weapons, hijacking airplanes and flying them into buildings, or fighting on behalf of a group that doesn’t issue uniforms and pay cheques, just confuses us.
But I guarantee you that Genghis Khan did not conquer one of the biggest empires in history by refusing to slaughter women and children.
Similarly, ISIS is nothing but a bunch of outlaws who’ve conquered some territory, but in their case, they have an ideology that justifies their actions and encourages other people to come join them, boosting their numbers.
While tribal, pre-agricultural life was full of war and homicide, it seems that groups rarely got too much of an advantage over each other. Rather, conflict was nearly constant–every so often a battle would break out and a few people would died. When conflicts were particularly bad, small tribes would band together against larger tribes until they balanced out (or slaughtered their enemies.) When conditions approved, tribes split up and people went their own way (until they got into conflicts with each other and the cycle repeated.) But occasionally one tribe developed (or obtained) a distinct advantage over the others: armies mounted on horseback dominated less mobile units. Armies with guns massacred people who had none. Vikings, Spaniards, and later Englishmen built boats which let them conquer large swathes of the world. Etc.
Our present state of relative peace (compared to our ancestors) is due to the fact that all of this conquering eventually led to the amalgamation of large enough states with large enough armies that we now have few enemies willing to take the risk of attacking us. We have nukes; as a result, few formal states with formal armies are willing to attack us. This state of mutual balance is–for now–holding for the developed world.
This state of peace is not guaranteed to last.
I noticed back in The Walls Tear Themselves Down that borders are ironically places of disorder. As Dago notes, criminals take advantage of borders–and stateless zones–to escape from law enforcement.
On a related note, Saul Montes-Bradley has an interesting post about Islamic terrorist groups raising money via drug trade in Latin America:
The tentacles of Jihad extend further than most people realize. …
In particular in South American countries, long the allies of Middle Eastern Fascism, terrorist organizations find support and, most grievously financing. Indeed, the second largest source of financing for Hezballat is drug trafficking and smuggling between Argentina, Paraguay and Chile, often under the protection of local government officials.
This feature of borders will be showing up a lot in the next few Anthropology Fridays.
So I was reading this excellent interview the other day with Napoleon Chagon, (famous for his ethnography of the Yanomamo, a formerly isolated tribe in the Amazon rainforest) and Steven Pinker, (who wrote The Better Angels of our Nature and has generally been the guy pushing the notion that humans have become radically less violent over time,) Blood is Their Argument. Serious HBDers like Peter Frost have picked up this notion; one important idea is that humans have been self-domesticating, often by getting together in groups and executing the more violent among us.
Frost goes into a great deal of detail about his theory that European states, by executing murderers and other ne’er do wells, changed the genetic distribution of traits that code for violent behavior in European pops, leading to the relatively nice, non-violent people we see today. Chagnon, in his study of the Yanomamo, not only documented that thy are super-violent, but also that the Yanomamo who had killed the most people were also the ones who had the most offspring, providing evidence for the idea that evolutionary pressures could act on human populations, pushing them to be murderous (or not.)
Chagnon has suffered tremendous pushback from his “colleagues” in anthropology because there is a very vocal myth that pre-agricultural, pre-modern people were lovely innocents in a state of nature who never did bad things like murder or hate and that these were all just invented by evil white male cishetero colonizers, and that if we were only more like the virtuous mother goddess-worshiping innocent pagans, we could all be peaceful again.
The attacks on Chagnon have been shameful and, to be frank, horrible. There are powerful people trying to destroy a man and his life’s work because it conflicts with their narrative about human nature. Note also that Peter Frost has stopped writing because he is concerned about getting prosecuted by the Canadian government and James Watson, Nobel Prize winner, getting watsoned.
Anyway, in the interview, Pinker noted that people often object to him that some of the tribes he documents are not hunter-gatherers, and he responds that limiting the inquiry solely to HGs doesn’t help matters and that the real division is between state and non-state. To quote a bit:
CHAGNON: … All I’ve been claiming in my writings is that the Yanomamö are not necessarily the modern day survivors of the Stone Age. They are, however, the best approximation that we have in the ethnographic world today of peoples living in a kind of environment—a kind of political system, okay, social system—that approximates as closely as you can find human beings today living in a condition—a state of nature, as it were—that is quite comparable to what must have happened during most of human history. And to that extent, we can learn a lot of things about politics, political attitudes, violence, agression, etc. from people like the Yanomamö. Unfortunately, there aren’t many people like the Yanomamö left, and that’s what awed and astonished me the first time I saw them.
PINKER: When I’ve cited figures on violence from a variety of hunter-gatherer, hunter-horticulturalist, and tribal peoples, I often get the criticism, “Well, these aren’t all hunter-gatherers.” My response is, “Well, that’s irrelevant.” For the purpose of testing a specific hypothesis, say, whether government reduces violence, it doesn’t matter whether they’re literally hunter-gatherers. What matters is the value of the independent variable you’re testing, for example, Is government present, or is government absent? My attitude is that the value of studying these peoples is that there are many features of our present environment that we can’t subtract other than by looking at such people. Whether or not they survive only by hunting and gathering is irrelevant to the effect of that variable.
CHAGNON: I’ve had this argument with Marvin Harris and people like that. You’re not exactly what you eat, though in some cases you might be.
The important thing that I’ve discovered about the Yanomamö is the answer to the question of a lot of highly educated people in our society who say, “Oh, it would be so wonderful if we could just go back to an earlier time when life was so much simpler, and pleasant, and neighbors cooperated…” And what I found is the further back in time you go, the more that unpleasant things are ubiquitous in your environment. Violence is just around the corner, and wishing for a return to the noble savage past is possibly one of the biggest errors that one might make philosophically. I don’t think life in the state of nature was nearly as pleasant as a lot of people would like it to be.
I also sometimes get this same objection, but the Yanomamo are so much closer to “the state of nature” than ourselves that it is really quite silly. Obviously there is not a sharp difference between societies where merely raising a few yams or bananas will automatically make you peaceful.
Anyway, so I was reading Buckley’s account of life among the Aborigines and thinking to myself, How do you get states to start forming so that criminals can be punished and revenge spirals halted? and of course thinking about Gobekli Tepi and organized religion and accounts of missionary work among the Samoans, where the missionaries and local pagan witch doctors got into conflict because the missionaries were trying to stop the violence cycles with their pleas that god doesn’t approve of murder, and the local witch doctors were trying to keep them going because they benefited from them.
And it occurred to me that an important distinction here, that I think may be helping drive state formation, is between agricultural and horticultural societies.
Okay, what is agricultural and what is horticultural?
Horticulture is gardening, often of foods like squash, yams, and potatoes. Gardens are not too intense and can be grown by women. Horticultural societies are often dependent on female labor for growing food, because you don’t need men for it.
Agriculture is full-scale farming, generally of cereal crops like rice, wheat, and corn. Agricultural work is intense, difficult, and requires men. In agricultural societies, men plow fields and women tend gardens.
Obviously there exist a wide variety of hunter gatherer, horticultural, and agricultural societies throughout the world. As Richerson et al note in Principles of Human Ecology (ch. 4):
The range of variation in political institutions is large under horticultural subsistence. Note in Steward and Faron’s (1959) maps and tables that there is a pretty close cor-relation between ecology, population density, and political and social complexity. We looked briefly at the Gebusi in the last Chapter, who are as simple politically as the simplest hunting and gathering groups (Knauft, 1985). They lack any sort of formalized political
roles. Kin relations and personal ties are all that order Gebusi society. The weak headman is also found among the simpler horticultural societies, such as those of the Amazon Basin, while full-fledged imperial states are found in the most advanced societies, such as the Inca Empire of Peru. More typically, horticultural societies are either organized around “Big- men” or Tribal Chiefs.
In the simpler horticultural societies, differences compared to hunters and gatherers are, to repeat, modest. Kinship remains the most important means of organizing social interactions, and plays almost the same role as described for these societies.
We tend to think of agricultural and horticultural systems as essentially equivalent because they both involve the technology of growing food instead of hunting it, but they are often structurally quite different. In a horticultural society, women are busy and men are not; the men have plenty of leisure time to spend hunting or raiding other villages and killing people in them. One of these raids might result in a few men dying, but may also result in a few women captured, who can be brought back to the village and then employed in further food production. To get more children (evolution’s “goal,” as it were,) a horticultural tribe sacrifiices so me of its men to get more women who’ll make food and babies, and ends up polygynous.
By contrast, the men in an agricultural tribe are BUSY much of the time, plowing and hoeing and harvesting and so on, and so have far less time for war. The death of men in an agricultural society means one less farmer to bring in crops and so hunger for his wife and children. Bringing more women into an agricultural society is not particularly useful, especially at the expense of male lives, as these women cannot support themselves by producing their own food. (The upper class is an exception, who by taxing other men can support a harem for themselves.) For agriculturalists, war quickly becomes famine.
This may be, then, the long-term beginning of the process by which agricultural societies begin to pacify their people, start developing a state that manages conflicts, etc.
There is no hard line where “pre-modern” ends and “modern” begins. It is all a process of transition from one to the next.
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:
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:
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.”
“[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?
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:
(Look, if you find a better graph, let me know.)
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.)
“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).”
“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.