“The Government is Us”: Brahmin Tic and the Civil War

dead soldiers, from Ewell's May 1864 attack at Spotsylvania
Dead soldiers, from Ewell’s May 1864 attack at Spotsylvania

Looking back at American history, there’s one big group of whites that harnessed the power of the Federal government to oppress another big group of whites, in what was likely the largest of all internal American events other than the conquering of the country itself.

600,000 white people died in the process of one group of whites imposing its values on another group of whites. I happen to agree with the victors that slavery is a great moral evil, but I note that most other western countries managed to end slavery without slaughtering their own people in the process.

Now let me stop and declare outright: I am not a Civil War historian, and I know there are thousands, perhaps millions of people more knowledgeable on the subject than I am. I do know, however, that Southern secession was motivated by fear that the North would outlaw slavery and use the power of the Federal government to enforce it.

1 in 13 Veterans returned as amputees
1 in 13 Veterans returned as amputees

According to Wikipedia:

The war produced at least 1,030,000 casualties (3 percent of the population), including about 620,000 soldier deaths—two-thirds by disease, and 50,000 civilians.[12] Binghamton University historian J. David Hacker believes the number of soldier deaths was approximately 750,000, 20 percent higher than traditionally estimated, and possibly as high as 850,000.[20][208] The war accounted for more American deaths than in all other U.S. wars combined.[209]

Based on 1860 census figures, 8 percent of all white males aged 13 to 43 died in the war, including 6 percent in the North and 18 percent in the South.[210][211] About 56,000 soldiers died in prison camps during the War.[212] An estimated 60,000 men lost limbs in the war.[213]

You might think that all of this was at least for the good for the slaves, but according to historian Jim Downs of Connecticut College, thousands of the freed slaves died of hunger, disease, and exposure in the aftermath of the war:

as Downs shows in his book, Sick From Freedom, the reality of emancipation during the chaos of war and its bloody aftermath often fell brutally short of that positive image. Instead, freed slaves were often neglected by union soldiers or faced rampant disease, including horrific outbreaks of smallpox and cholera. Many of them simply starved to death.

After combing through obscure records, newspapers and journals Downs believes that about a quarter of the four million freed slaves either died or suffered from illness between 1862 and 1870. He writes in the book that it can be considered “the largest biological crisis of the 19th century” and yet it is one that has been little investigated by contemporary historians. …

Downs reconstructed the experiences of one freed slave, Joseph Miller, who had come with his wife and four children to a makeshift freed slave refugee camp within the union stronghold of Camp Nelson in Kentucky. In return for food and shelter for his family Miller joined the army. Yet union soldiers in 1864 still cleared the ex-slaves out of Camp Nelson, effectively abandoning them to scavenge in a war-ravaged and disease-ridden landscape. One of Miller’s young sons quickly sickened and died. Three weeks later, his wife and another son died. Ten days after that, his daughter perished too. Finally, his last surviving child also fell terminally ill. By early 1865 Miller himself was dead. …

Things were so bad that one military official in Tennessee in 1865 wrote that former slaves were: “dying by scores – that sometimes 30 per day die and are carried out by wagonloads without coffins, and thrown promiscuously, like brutes, into a trench”.

So bad were the health problems suffered by freed slaves, and so high the death rates, that some observers of the time even wondered if they would all die out.

re-interring the war dead
re-interring the war dead

The echoes of this moral imposition are still with us. There are those who refer to the government as “we” and “us,” as in “We ought to do something about poverty” or “we should make healthcare a basic right” and then there are those who refer to the government as something alien and outside, as in “the government killed 85 people in Waco.” (By the way, it looks like the Branch Davidians set their own compound on fire.) or “the government is raising taxes on the middle class.”

Or as Moldbug puts it:

Surely one of the most grievously forgotten authors of the 20th century is Freda Utley. In the immortal words of Rutger Hauer, Utley “saw things… you people wouldn’t believe” – she moved to Moscow as a Communist true believer in the 1930s, lost her husband to the Gulag, and never remarried. Her honesty and fearlessness did not make her popular, especially when she spoke out against American abuses in the occupation of Germany, or against Maoism 40 years before it was fashionable. …

Perhaps Utley’s most acute realization in Odyssey, though on a trivial subject, is when she notices that her friend Bertrand Russell always uses the word “we” to refer to the government. She points out that this little linguistic tic is an unmistakable mark of any ruling class.

Apparently this “nostrism” (if I can risk another obscure quasicoinage) was more unusual in the ’50s than it is now. Because, although I have tried repeatedly to break myself of the habit, I use exactly the same pronoun. It’s an unmistakable sign of my Brahmin upbringing. I can’t imagine counting the number of times I’ve heard someone say “we should…” when what they really mean is “the government should…” Language is repetition, and though my considered view is that it’s just as bizarre to define “we” as the US Federal Government, especially for someone who isn’t actually an employee of said entity, as it would be to use the first person plural for Safeway, Comcast or OfficeMax, habits die hard.

Today, Russell-style nostrism is peculiar, I believe, to the Brahmin caste. Certainly Helots, Dalits, and Vaisyas all think of the government as very much “they.” If Optimates go with “we,” it’s probably because they’re so used to having to pass as Brahmins. I find it rather hard to imagine a cardiologist or a hedge-fund hotshot genuinely thinking of Uncle Sam as “we.”

Given that this is Moldbug, this is actually a short quote.

Civil War cemetery, Andersonville, GA
Civil War cemetery, Andersonville, GA

More culturally, there are those who generally think the government is on their side and can be used to solve social problems, (or at least they did before Trump was elected,) and those who think the government is basically against them and creates social problems, and which side you’re on probably has a lot to do with whether or not the government marched in and burned down your great-great-great-grandparents’ farm in 1864. Today the South remains poorer than the North, which they blame on the long-term effects of the war and punitive reconstruction policies. (Which is about as true as the story about Japan being poor today because the US military bombed its cities to smithereens.) Nevertheless, much American politics can be simplified as a continuing conflict between poor southerners and rich northerners.

The group that currently talks a lot about “institutional racism,” “white privilege,” and the importance of using the government to correct social ills through programs like Welfare and Affirmative Action happens also to be on the side that did the marching back in 1864 (even if they are actually just the children of immigrants who only recently moved to the area.)

Let’s take a quick look at poverty in America:

(Obviously poverty is relative and few of us are living in what passes for poverty in the third world, but let’s stay on topic.) So here is the census data (pdf) on poverty rates by race:


Obviously blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans have the highest poverty rates, while whites and Asians have the lowest.

But remember that there are a lot more whites than anyone else in America. When you multiply poverty rates by actual numbers, you get 17.8 million whites in poverty compared to 10 million blacks. (source.)

And as you might have noticed, we still live in a democracy, where numbers matter.

Summary: The side that thinks it imperative that we listen to their ideas for how government should end the poverty of black communities doesn’t understand why the white communities whose ancestors were invaded and killed by that same government, who are actually the biggest community of poor people in the US, disagree with them on the matter.

This might just be coincidence. I’m certain there are other factors involved (including genetics.) But it might also be an important thing to keep in mind when trying to convince others of the importance of using the government to enforce social change.

Wise Tim, Crime, and HBD: part 5/5

Okay, so we are finally coming to the end of this series. Today we are going to discuss Flaherty and Sethi’s Homicide in Black and White (pdf):

African-Americans are six times as likely as white Americans to die at the hands of a murderer, and roughly seven times as likely to murder someone. Young black men are fifteen times as likely to be murdered as young white men. This disparity is historic and pervasive, and cannot be accounted for by individual characteristics. … We argue that any satisfactory explanation must take into account the fact that murder can have a preemptive motive: people sometimes kill simply to avoid being killed. As a result, disputes can escalate dramatically in environments (endogenously) perceived to be dangerous, resulting in self-fulfilling expectations of violence for particular dyadic interactions, and significant racial disparities in rates of murder and victimization. … Differences in the manner in which the criminal justice system treats murders with victims from different groups, and differences across groups in involvement in street vice, may be sufficient to explain the size and pattern of the racial disparity.

World-Murder-Rate-Geocurrents-Map-1024x726Well, I must give this one credit for offering up a new hypothesis: black people murder each other so often because they believe that other black people are murderous and are trying to avoid being the victim by killing the other guy first.

This makes sense in a Hobbesian, Napoleon Chagnon studying Yanomamo tribesmen kind of way. (If only there existed some kind of state-run institution that had historically cut discouraged homicide by punishing murderers so that people could go about their business in the heart of American cities without fear of Amazonian jungle-style violence.)

cobiptaumaactcrThe fact that whites do not go out of their way to preemptively murder blacks to the same degree that blacks murder other blacks suggests that whites don’t think blacks are as violent as other blacks do. This is a curious implication, all things considered, but not unreasonable. Aggressively “paranoid” behavior/belief that one’s neighbors are likely to be violent toward you is probably heritable, itself a result of having ancestors whose paranoia about their neighbors enabled them to survive in a hostile, homicide-ridden environment.

Flaherty and Sethi continue:

The magnitude of the difference in murder and victimization rates far exceeds any difference in characteristics that appear to predispose people to kill and be killed: being poor, being a highschool dropout, living in a dense urban environment, or being raised in a single-parent household, for instance. Blacks are about 2.75 times as likely as whites to be poor, 2.2 times as likely to be high-school dropouts, 2.9 times as likely to live in a large city, and 2.7 times as likely to grow up in a single parent household–all ratios that are far below the observed ratios for murder victimization and offending.

Well, that’s interesting.

Moreover, the racial homicide gap is long-lasting and widespread, and is much greater in cities and among young men than in other places or among other age-gender groups. In rural areas, there is no racial disparity in murder. The homicide gap is also much larger than the racial disparity in aggravated assault–in some ways the crime closest to murder–and there is no racial disparity in aggravated assault among young men.


Picture 4

Source: Color of Crime

Okay, so, our authors are clearly lying: blacks commit aggravated assault at 7x the rate of whites, which is not that different from their rate of 8.5x murder rate. (And, in general, the Color of Crime report demonstrates that incarceration rates reflect actual offending rates.)

crdgu1gwgaaycfbUnfortunately, the authors don’t cite any evidence to back up their claim that in rural areas, blacks and whites have equal homicide rates, but as mentioned before, this seems a little problematic, given that the entire continent of Africa has fairly low population density and still has fairly high homicide rates. And why would rural environments make white people more likely to murder each other and black people less likely? Why would cities cool whites’ murderous tempers while inflaming blacks’? Why aren’t any of the world’s most violent cities located in India or China?

Even if we are just looking at selection effects–murderous whites like living in the countryside; murderous blacks like living in cities–we still have to wonder Why?

The Wikipedia page on Statistical Correlations of Criminal Behavior doesn’t mention neighborhood density.

The Atlantic notes:

There’s a big increase in crime as density rises from rural to urban, because crime thrives on anonymity–you don’t rob your neighbors, not necessarily because you like them, but because the likelihood of being identified is very high.  In an urban environment, random assaults like Matt’s are much easier to get away with.

While researching this post, I came across some very interesting thoughts on Density and Human Behavior:

Researchers in the social sciences have long tried to explain the effects of urbanization on the human animal. Of special interest has been the observed rates of crime and deviant behavior found in cities. In the United States city crime rates are higher than suburban rates, which in turn are higher than rural rates. …

Two major theories have developed to explain the effects of density on human behavior. Wirth’s (1938) is the most common with his famous statement that size, density and heterogenity explain the effects of urban life on the human animal.  The experiments done by Milgram (1970) suggest that when people are confronted with a large number of strangers in everyday life, they tend to withdraw and take less interest in the community in order to protect themselves from overload. Wolfgang (1970), among others, suggests that urban withdrawal and anomie resulting from density explains higher urban crime rates.

Animal studies made famous by Calhoun (1962) show that crowding in the animal world results in what he calls the behavioral sink. Normal behavior and reproductive habits fail. Aggressive behavior increases when density passes a certain point as animals compete for resources. In the experience of the reviewer, those who deny any possible connection between any human behavior simply say that humans are not animals so there can be nothing learned from animal experiments. However, human animals do seem to exhibit much lower fertility rates in cities than is true in rural areas. …

Using data from the Toronto Mental Health and Stress study (Turner and Wheaton 1992), Regoeczi looks at crowding in housing using the measure of persons per room. …

There is an optimal relationship between crowding and withdrawal.  The optimal point is 1.18 persons per room. This relationship holds even when the control variables are introduced. “The threshold for aggression is identical to that for withdrawal: 1.18 persons per room. After this point, the deleterious effect of density begins to take off and increased crowding leads to more aggressive responses among individuals.”

Cabrini Green, circa 1960
Cabrini Green, circa 1960

In other words, it’s probably safe to conclude that Cabrini Green and Pruitt Igoe, despite the good intentions behind them, were inhuman hellscapes that would drive any sane person to despair.

On the other hand, Manila, Philippines, is (according to Wikipedia) the densest city in the world, at 41,500 people per square kilometer, (or 107,500 people per square mile,) and it isn’t even ranked in the top 50 most murderous cities.

So while density may cause anomie, despair, plunging birth rates, and even anime consumption, it is clearly not the only ingredient involved in making some people murder their neighbors at higher rates than other people.

The best explanation I’ve come across for why our authors might have found closer to equal crime (not murder, haven’t found that) rates in rural areas than in urban areas comes, again, from La Griffe du Lion’s Politics, Imprisonment, and Race:

We all know that African Americans are imprisoned disproportionately to their numbers in the general population. According to the last decennial census a black man was 7.4 times more likely than his white counterpart to be incarcerated. In the language I’ll use today, we would say that the disparity or incarceration ratio was 7.4. State-by-state, the figures varied widely from 3.1 to 29.3. But contrary to expectation, the highest disparity ratios turned up mostly in politically progressive states, while the smallest ratios were mostly found in conservative states. Though the numbers change a bit from year to year, this racial-political pattern of imprisonment endures. One of the questions I will answer today is, why?

La Griffe’s answer is that more conservative (read, rural) states criminalize more behavior and so put more people in prison. Liberal states are more likely to put only the worst criminals behind bars, resulting in even more disproportionate imprisonment of blacks.

But returning to our PDF:

We begin with a baseline model in which race is the only visible characteristic, and the distribution of unobserved characteristics may differ across groups. In this setting, we explore two possible mechanisms through which significant racial disparities in homicide rates can arise. First, suppose that the costs of committing murder are contingent on the identity of the victim, with murders less likely to be solved and less aggressively prosecuted if the victims are black. … But this means
that blacks face greater danger in all their interactions, and are more likely therefore to kill preemptively. Anticipating this, whites will be more likely to kill preemptively in interactions with blacks than in interactions with other whites.

ct4h54nviaa6mabWhile it appears to be true that people who murder blacks (primarily other blacks) receive lesser sentences than people who commit similar crimes against whites*,** (which makes the disparities between black and white prison populations all the more concerning,) I don’t think this gets us to “blacks are vastly more likely to murder each other than whites are to murder blacks.” If it’s perceived as “open season” on killing blacks, then blacks and whites will kill blacks. And if blacks are killing back in self-defense (or perceived self-defense,) then they’re going to kill other blacks and whites.

*Note that there is an even greater disparity in sentencing between people who kill men and people who kill women, but no one suggests that this disparity is driving male-on-male violence.

**Note also that this does not imply that “society thinks black lives matter less than white lives,” as these lesser sentences maybe a result of black juries being more sympathetic toward black criminals than white juries toward white criminals.

Back to the PDF:

The second mechanism is based on costs of murder being contingent on the identity of the offender rather than the victim. Systematically lower incomes and higher rates of unemployment among blacks make the penalties for attempted murder or manslaughter lower for blacks relative to their outside options.

source: https://www.newyorkfed.org/medialibrary/media/research/epr/99v05n3/9909levi.pdf

This is an interesting theory, but it’s kind of destroyed by the fact that high-income blacks still have higher homicide rates than lower-income whites.

So, even before we get to the paper’s math (and Flaherty and Sethi certainly do a lot of math,) I have a lot of disagreements with the paper’s basic assumptions. I don’t dispute the authors’ basic Hobbesian sense that your chances of being punished for a crime or your fear of being murdered by someone else can influence behavior, and I agree that black communities would probably be better served by locking away more criminals so that innocent black people can live in peace instead of fear, but I also think they are ignoring some pretty big behavioral correlations (ie, the behavior of people in Africa; the behavior of people in other dense places,) and have failed to ask themselves why they think people got the notion that crime rates are high in black communities in the first place.

In other words, they’re not entirely wrong, but they’re missing some big pieces of the puzzle.

Anthropology Friday: The Life and Adventures of William Buckley, pt 3/3

Welcome back. Today we’re finishing up with The Life and Adventures of William Buckley, 32 years a Wanderer among the Aborigines.

Buckley (in case you missed parts 1 and 2 of our adventure,) was an English convict sent to Australia in the early 1800s. He escaped from the prison ship, hoping to make it to Sydney, which turned out to be about 1000 miles away. He had nearly died of thirst before some friendly Aborigines found him, saved his life, and, believing him to be a recently deceases relative returned from the grave, adopted him into their tribe.

Unfortunately, life in the “state of nature” was horribly violent, with tribes frequently attacking each other. Buckley blames most of the violence on fights over women, but occasionally notes the ways local animist beliefs also contribute to unending cycles of murder and revenge, in this case after a man who’d joined their community died of a snake bite:

1426857301587“The cause of this sudden unprovoked cruelty was not, as usual, about the women, but because the man who had been killed by the bite of the snake belonged to the hostile tribe, and they believed my supposed brother-in-law carried about with him something that had occasioned his death. They have all sorts of fancies of this kind, and it is frequently the case, that they take a man’s kidneys out after death, tie them up in something, and carry them round the neck, as a sort of protection and valuable charm, for either good or evil.”

EvX: Note that Buckley’s adoptive family, his sister and brother-in-law, who’ve been helping him since the tribe saved his life years ago, was killed in this incident.

I recently read an account of Florence Young’s missionary work in the Solomon Islands (which are near Australia.) I haven’t been using these Christian Heroes books for Anthropology Friday sources because they aren’t first hand sources and I have no capacity to judge their accuracy, but they are still pretty interesting if you’re a middle schooler hankering to read about Christian missionaries. Anyway, the book recounts an identical justification for the cycle of violence on the Solomon Islands (which was quite threatening to Florence herself.) Every time someone died of any natural cause, their family went to the local witch doctor, who then used magic to determine who had used malicious magic to kill the dead guy, and then the family would go and kill whomever the witch doctor indicated.

The advent of Christianity therefore caused a power struggle between the missionaries and the witch doctors, who were used to being able to extort everyone and trick their followers into killing anyone who pissed them off. (See also Isaac Bacirongo’s account of the witch doctor who extorted his pre-pubescent sister as payment for a spell intended to kill Isaac’s wife–note: Isaac was not the one buying this spell; he likes his wife.)

Returning to Buckley, after the death of his friends:

“I should have been most brutally unfeeling, had I not suffered the deepest mental anguish from the loss of these poor people, who had all along been so kind and good to me. I am not ashamed to say, that for several hours my tears flowed in torrents, and, that for a long time I wept unceasingly. To them, as I have said before, I was as a living dead brother, whose presence and safety was their sole anxiety. Nothing could exceed the kindness these poor natives had shown me, and now they were dead, murdered by the band of savages I saw around me, apparently thirsting for more blood. Of all my sufferings in the wilderness, there was nothing equal to the agony I now endured.” …

“I returned to the scene of the brutal massacre; and finding the ashes and bones of my late friends, I scraped them up together, and covered them over with turf, burying them in the best manner I could, that being the only return I could make for their many kindnesses. I did so in great grief at the recollection of what they had done for me through so many years, and in all my dangers and troubles. ”

After this, Buckley cares for his deceased relatives’ children, a blind boy and a little girl. This goes about as depressingly as expected:

“Our small community remained in perfect harmony for many months, until, unfortunately, a young man about twenty years of age, belonging to another tribe, arrived. This youth was taken seriously ill a few days after joining us, and although we did all we could for him he died. This event created great distress, and by way of changing the scene, our small party broke up, and left the Karaaf on a short hunting excursion. After a time we fell in with the deceased young man’s family, who, on being informed of his death, expressed great astonishment and rage, fancying it had been brought about by some unfair means on our part. This excitement arose to such a height, as to approach what it would be mercy to describe insanity. After a time, they forced the poor blind boy away from me, and killed him on the spot, because he had happened to be in the same hut in which the young man died, believing he had been in some way the means of his death.

“After this, they roasted the body in the usual manner; but whilst this was going on I left, with the little girl, moving on, and on, until meeting the tribe to which the man belonged to whom in her infancy she had been promised; I explained all the particulars of the sacrifice of her poor blind brother. They immediately vowed vengeance, and two or three of them set out for the purpose of murder, returning in a few days with the intelligence that they had killed two
of the children of their enemies. …

“Having transferred her to the care of these people, I set off alone, determined to live by myself in order to avoid a repetition of the scenes I had witnessed, and all further intercourse with the natives.”

EvX: Buckley didn’t live entirely alone–he got married twice in this period–but he did try to avoid large tribal gatherings for a long while, and lived mostly alone for some time, out of both grief and a practical desire to avoid danger. During that time he built himself a couple of huts and a fishing weir that served him well. After several years it appears he resumed interacting more with others, as he reflects later:

“I had seen a race of children grow up into women and men, and many of the old people die away, and by my harmless and peaceable manner amongst them, had acquired great influence in settling their disputes. Numbers of murderous fights I had prevented by my interference, which was received by them as well meant; so much so, that they would often allow me to go
amongst them previous to a battle, and take away their spears, and waddies, and boomerangs. My visits were always welcomed, and they kindly and often supplied me with a portion of the provisions they had, assuring me, in their language, of the interest they took in my welfare.”

Stanley island rock art showing European ships
Stanley island rock art showing European ships

EvX: Despite his friends and remaining family, at the first news of English ships in the area, Buckley rushed to the spot. He attempted to make contact, but couldn’t swim out to the ship and couldn’t convince the ship to send a boat to him (Buckley had, at this point, forgotten how to speak English.) Buckley was again heartbroken until another ship showed up, and he found the English colonists and tried to approach them:

“Presently some of the natives saw me, and turning round, pointed me out to one of the white people; and seeing they had done so, I walked away from the well, up to their place, and seated myself there, having my spears and other war and hunting implements between my legs. The white men could not make me out–my half-cast colour, and extraordinary height and figure [Buckley was around 6’5” or taller,]–dressed, or rather undressed, as I was–completely confounding them as to my real character. At length one of them came up and asked me some questions, which I could not understand; but when he offered me bread–calling it by its name–a cloud appeared to pass from over my brain, and I soon repeated that, and other English words after him. …

The first settlers discover William Buckley, by Frederick Woodhouse, 1861
The first settlers discover William Buckley, by Frederick Woodhouse, 1861

“Word by word I began to comprehend what they said, and soon understood, as if by instinct, that they intended to remain in the country; that they had seen several of the native chiefs, with whom–as they said–they had exchanged all sorts of things for land; but that I knew could not have been, because, unlike other savage communities, or people, they have no chiefs claiming or possessing any superior right over the soil: theirs only being as the heads of families. I also knew that if any transactions had taken place, it must have been because the natives knew nothing of the value of the country, except as hunting grounds, supplying them with the means of present existence. I therefore looked upon the land dealing spoken of, as another hoax of the white man, to possess the inheritance of the uncivilized natives of the forest, whose tread on the vast Australian Continent will very soon be no more heard, and whose crimes and sorrows are fast fading away amongst other recollections of the past.”

EvX: Interestingly, the Wikipedia page on the Wathaurong people, with whom Buckley lived, claims that they did have chiefs:

Prior to European settlement, 25 separate clans existed, each with an arweet, or clan headman.[5] Arweet held the same tribal standing as a ngurungaeta of the Wurundjeri people.

The page on ngurungaeta says:

Ngurungaeta is a Woi-Wurrung word meaning ‘head man’ or ‘tribal leader’. Used by Clans of the Woi-Wurrung tribes and Taung Wurrung Ngurai-illum Wurrung ref First Peoples, GaryPresland.[1] Ngurungaeta held the same tribal standing as an Arweet of the Bunurong and Wathaurong people. The current Ngurungaeta is Murrundindi.

Ngurungaeta include:

  • Bebejan – one of the seven ngurungaeta who signed the 1835 treaty with John Batman[2]

Signing of the threaty between John Batman and the Wurundjeri elders (artist's impression)
Signing of the treaty between John Batman and the Wurundjeri elders (artist’s impression)

John Batman is the leader of the colonists Buckley is here discussing. By all accounts, Batman was not a nice guy–he massacred villages, kidnapped children, and negotiated treaties with people who had no hope of understanding what he really meant.

According to Buckley, the Aborigines had intended to murder Batman and take all of his trade goods–something was definitely opposed to. Despite his friendships with the natives, Buckley longed to be rescued and return to English society. He therefore worked hard to convince the Aborigines not to kill Batman, and likewise, tried to stop the settlers from killing the Aborigines (including acting as an interpreter in a capital murder trial, successfully preventing an Aborigine man from being executed for a crime he didn’t commit.) In the end, of course, there was nothing Buckley could do about white treatment of the Aborigines, a subject matter far too vast for me to deal with it here.

I find it interesting that throughout these sorts of accounts–and I include here Napoleon Chagnon’s account of the Yanomamo, famed for their violence–people still tend to believe in the essential goodness of their companions. Buckley does not say, “Oh, these Aborigines, they’re evil people who kill people and eat them!” No, he repeatedly states his gratitude to them for saving his life, taking them in, and treating him kindly. His feelings of grief upon the loss of his Aborigine family appear quite genuine. He does not think they should murder and eat each other, but he does not seem to attirbute these behaviors to character flaws. Likewise, though Buckley criticizes the English for their mistreatment of the Aborigines, he does not declare them evil, either.

Nor does Napoleon Chagnon dislike the Yanomamo tribesmen he’s lived with, despite the fact that he knows full well that a great many of them are murderers!

Which leaves us with our ultimate questions:

What does it mean to be good?

What does it mean to be evil?

Anthropology (yes!) Friday: The Life and Adventures of William Buckley, 32 years a wanderer amongst the Aborigines…

William Buckely
William Buckely

Hey everyone, today we are reading The Life and Adventures of William Buckley: 32 years a wanderer amongst the Aborigines of the then unexplored Country Bound Port Phillip, the province of Victoria. (That is a long title.)

Buckley, a British soldier caught stealing a bolt of cloth, was shipped out to their penal colony in Australia, ran away to the bush, nearly died, and was rescued by the Aborigines, who taught him how to live off the land. He lived with them for 32 years (from 1804 through 1835,) without sight nor sound of another Englishman, and had likely given up hope of ever returning to civilization when colonists finally arrived in the area. In 1852 he dictated his life’s adventures to John Morgan, who wrote the book, and wow is it Hobbesian.

We’ll start with Buckley’s first encounter with the Aborigines:

Approximate location of Buckley's wanderings
Approximate location of Buckley’s wanderings

“…I thought I heard the sound of human voices; and, on looking up, was somewhat startled at seeing three natives standing on the high land immediately above me. They were armed with spears, and had opossum skins thrown over their shoulders, partially covering their bodies. Standing as they did, en an elevated position, armed too, and being myself totally defenceless, I confess I felt alarmed … They were however soon upon my track, and shouting what I considered to be a call for me to come out, I resolved to do so; indeed I could not have remained there long on account of the water.

“With but faint hopes of meeting with good treatment at their hands, I crawled out from my shelter, and surrendered at discretion. … After seizing both my hands, they struck their breasts, and mine also, l making at the same time a noise between singing and crying: a sort of whine, which to me sounded very like premeditated mischief. Pointing to my hut, they evinced a desire to examine it, so we entered. … One made up a large fire, another threw off his rug and went into the sea for crayfish, which, on his return, he threw alive into the flames, at the same time looking at me with an expression as much as to intimate that they intended to grill me next, by way of a change of diet. I can afford to smile, and even laugh now at the recollection; but, at the time, I assure the reader, I was by no means satisfied with the prospect before me, or with my visitors. At length my suspense ended, by their taking the fish, fairly dividing them, and handing to me the first and best portion.”

EvX: In his defense, the Aborigines in the area did practice cannibalism, though I think of the ritual variety.

Buckley parts ways with his new acquaintances, nearly dies of thirst, then encounters some more Aborigines:

Buckley's escape from the convict ship and discovery by the Aborigines, by Tommy McRae, Aborigine artist
Buckley’s escape from the convict ship and discovery by the Aborigines, by Tommy McRae, Aborigine artist

“Whilst searching for the gum already mentioned, I was seen by two native women, who watched me unperceived. … Presently they all came upon me unawares, and seizing me by the arms and hands, began beating their breasts, and mine, in the manner the others had done. After a short time, they lifted me up, and they made the same sign, giving me to understand by it, that I was in want of food. The women assisted me to walk, the men shouting hideous noises, and tearing their hair. When we arrived at their huts, they brought a kind of bucket, made of dry bark, into which they put gum and water, converting it by that means into a sort of pulp. This they offered me to eat, and I did so very greedily.

Artist's interpretation of Buckley's apperance
Artist’s interpretation of Buckley’s apperance

“They called me Murrangurk, which I afterwards learnt, was the name of a man formerly belonging to their tribe, who had been buried at the spot where I had found the piece of spear I still carried with me. They have a belief, that when they die, they go to some place’ or other, and are there made white men, and that they then return to this world again for another existence. They think all the white people previous to death were belonging to their own tribes, thus returned to life in a different colour. In cases where they have killed white men, it has generally been because tkey imagined them to have been originally enemies, or belonging to tribes with whom they were hostile. In accordance with this belief, they fancied me to be one of their tribe who had been recently killed in a fight, in which his daughter had been speared also. …

Wathaurong people, from the tribe Buckley joined
Wathaurong people, from the tribe Buckley joined

“I remained with them all that night, but in great anxiety, not knowing their intentions; I thought several times of endeavoring to make my escape, but in my weak state, it was impossible. The women were all the time making frightful lamentations and waillings–lacerating their faces in a dreadful manner. All this increased my anxiety and horror, which was added to in J the morning, When I saw the frightful looking demons they had made themselves. They were covered with blood from the bounds they had inflicted, having cut their faces and legs into ridges, and burnt the edges with fire sticks sticks. …”

EvX: Once Buckley learned their language, he figured out that all of this lamenting was for “his” sake, since they believed him to be their family member whose death they were still sad about, and whom they thought had returned from the dead after suffering such horrible traumas that he had clearly lost his memory, forgotten how to speak their language, and become a half-starved idiot who didn’t know how to gather food.

Once the mourning ends, there proceeds a great deal of singing, dancing, and celebration:

“The reader, in these colonies, will be aware that what I had witnessed was nothing more than a great Corrobberree, or rejoicing, at my having come to life again, as they supposed. After eating some roots I lay down by the side of my new friends, and although so recently highly exited, yet I enjoyed a sleep undisturbed by dreams, either of the past, the preset, or the future.”

r331409_1494994EvX: So Buckely is basically “adopted” into the Wathaurong tribe, taking the place of the dead man everyone believes him to be. “His” sister and brother-in-law take charge of him, making sure he has food and water, teaching him to hunt and speak, etc.

Unfortunately, the Wikipedia page on the Wathaurong people doesn’t say much about their traditional culture or lifestyle beyond:

Wathaurong, also called the Wathaurung and Wadawurrung, are an Indigenous Australian tribe living in the area near Melbourne, Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula. They are part of the Kulin alliance. The Wathaurung language was spoken by 25 clans south of the Werribee River and the Bellarine Peninsula to Streatham. They were sometimes referred to by Europeans as the Barrabool people. They have inhabited the area for at least the last 25,000 years, with 140 archaeological sites having been found in the region, indicating significant activity over that period.

Personally, I am extremely skeptical of any group sticking around in the same spot for 25,000 years, but I’m not in the mood to go hunting down the relevant archaeological journals to see if someone has proved conclusively how to distinguish Wathaurong artifacts from those of their neighbors and that those same artifacts were being produced in the area 25,000 years ago (or someone could dig up an ancient skeleton and test its DNA to see who it matches.) Regardless, someone was living there.

From here the book is dominated by accounts of violence, eg:

“in the mean time, the women behind the huts were all fighting with clubs and sticks. Presently the men, excepting the two with me, rushed toward them, in order to separate the combatants, after which they brought roots which they roasted and offered me. What the fight was about I could not understand, but think it must have originated in the unfair division of the food.”

“At break of day, I heard a great noise and talking; at length I saw that a quarrel had ensued, for they began to flourish their spears as a token of hostilities I should here observe, that these spears are very formidable weapons, about twelve feet long, sharp at one end; others are about half that length, being made of a kind of reed with pointed sticks joined to them; these are sharpened with hard cutting stones, or shells. …

“After a little time, and a great deal of challenging bluster, the two tribes commenced fighting in reality. When my relations, for so for convenience, I suppose, I must sometimes call them, saw what was going on, they led me a short distance off, where they remained
with me, looking at the conflict. It was any thing but play work–it was evidently earnest. One man was speared through the thigh, and removed into the bush, where the spear was drawn, A woman of the tribe to which I had become attached, was also speared under the arm, and she died immediately. At last peace was restored, and the parties separated, except about twenty of the tribe to which the woman belonged who had been killed…”

“we left this place, and joined a friendly tribe, about fifty in number, and on the evening of our meeting had a Corrobberree. The next day we all started together to meet another tribe; but on joining, from some cause or other, they quarrelled, commenced fighting, and two boys were killed. I could not then understand what all these quarrels were about, but afterwards understood that they were occasioned by, the women having been taken away from one tribe by another, which was of frequent occurrence. At other times they were caused by the women willingly leaving their husbands, and joining other men, which the natives consider very bad.”

“After the skirmish just mentioned was over, the tribe to whom the boys belonged retired farther into the bush, when we made our huts, as I have described, with boughs and bark. Suddenly in the night, the others came upon our party and drove us away. The bodies of the two boys who were killed were laying in one of the huts, so they cut off their legs and thighs, carrying them away; the remains of their bodies our people burned in the usual manner…”

“On our arrival at the battle ground, about twenty miles distant, we found five different tribes all collected together, and ready for action. The fight commenced immediately, and it lasted about three hours, during which three women were killed, for, for strange to say, the females in these quarrels generally suffered the most. These continual contests alarmed me, for the contending parties were always pointing toward me, as if I had been their origin, and I again began to think I should be sacrificed as a peace offering. Quiet was at length restored, and the tribe we had joined separated from the others, and came toward where I was standing. ”

Waddies made by the Aranda people (wikipedia)
Waddies (Aboriginal war clubs) made by the Aranda people

“we were unexpectedly intruded upon by a very numerous tribe, about three hundred. Their appearance, coming across the plain, occasioned great alarm, as they were seen to be the Waarengbadawa, with whom my tribe was at enmity. … The women ran with their children into the bush, and hid themselves, and being a living dead man, as they supposed, I was told to accompany them. On the hostile tribe coming near, I saw they were all men, no women being amongst them. They were smeared all over with red and white clay, and were by far the most hideous looking savages I had seen. In a very short time the fight began, by a shower of spears from the contending parties. One of our men advanced singly, as a sort of champion; he then began to dance and sing, and beat himself about with his war implements… Seven or eight of … our opponents, then got up also, and threw their spears at him; but, with great dexterity, he warded them off, or broke them every one, so that he did not receive a single wound. They then threw their boomerangs at him, but he warded them off also with ease. After this, one man advanced, as a sort of champion from their party, to within three yards of him, and threw his boomerang, but the other avoided the blow by falling on his hands and knees, and instantly jumping up again he shook himself like a dog coming out of the water. At seeing this, the enemy shouted out in their language “enough,” and the two men went and embraced each other. After this, the same two beat their own heads until the blood ran down in streams over their shoulders.

“A general fight now commenced, of which all this had been the prelude, spears and boomerangs flying in all directions. The sight was very terrific, and their yells and shouts of defiance very horrible. At length one of our tribe had a spear sent right through his body, and he fell. On this, our fellows raised a war cry, on hearing which, the women threw off their rugs, and each armed with a short club, flew to the assistance of their husbands and brothers; I being peremptorily ordered to stay where I was, my supposed brother’s wife remaining with me. Even with this augmentation, our tribe fought to great disadvantage, the enemy
being all men, and much more numerous.

“As I have said in the early part of this narrative, I had seen skirmishing and fighting in Holland; and knew something therefore, of what is done when men are knocking one another about with powder and shot, in real earnest, but the scene now before me was much more frightful, both parties looking like so many devils turned loose from Tartarus. Men and women were fighting furiously, and indiscriminately, covered with blood; two of the latter were killed in this affair …

“Soon after dark the hostile tribe left the neighbourhood, and, on discovering this retreat from the battle ground, ours determined on following them immediately, leaving the women and
myself where we were. On approaching the enemy’s quarters, they laid themselves down in ambush until all was quiet, and finding most of them asleep, laying about in groups, our party rushed upon them, killing three on the spot, and wounding several others. The enemy fled precipitately, leaving their war implements in the hands of their assailants and their wounded to be beaten to death by boomerangs, three loud shouts closing the victors triumph.”

EvX: After a while I got tired of recording battles and decided just to count them:

Fights: 34
Deaths: 60

I can’t promise that I caught 100% of them; some sections of the book were badly scanned and hard to read. Also, the numbers only reflect the deaths Buckley specifically reported. In instances where he merely said something like “a few people died,” or “many people died,” I recorded only that a fight had occurred, not deaths. So the real death toll must actually be much higher than my accounting.

To be fair, these occurred over the course of 32 years, but Buckley began trying to avoid fights later in the book, so there may have been many more fights his tribe was involved in that didn’t make it into the book.

Consider, for quick comparison, how many people you have personally seen murdered or killed in battle. Chances are none–only 4/100,000 people are murdered in the US every year, and most other Western countries have even lower rates.

Luckily for Buckley, his status as already dead meant that no one thought it worth bothering to kill him again.

Buckley blames the constant warfare on fights over women, but a certain aspect of magical thinking frequently at play in animist religions is also clearly present: any death, even by natural causes, is believed to have been caused by human malice. As I noted back in my previous Anthropology Friday on the Aborigines, they had quite complicated explanations for how someone could have secretly snuck into another tribe’s camp and magically killed them without anyone else noticing. As a result, any death, even by wholly natural causes, could lead to the members of one tribe deciding to exact murderous revenge on another tribe, which would naturally endeavor to return the favor.

In a recent interview, Napoleon Chagnon, the anthropologist famous for studying the Yanomamo, (who are famous for being very violent,) stated:

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.

One example I give from my travels across the United States: I happen to have been invited on a trip into the Grand Canyon by the man who was then Governor of Arizona, Fife Symington, and we had the park ranger, the archeologist for the Grand Canyon area, along with us, and he took us into parts of the Grand Canyon that most tourists don’t see. One of the most astonishing things we saw, Pueblo houses built into the edge of the Grand Canyon, with a 1,000-foot drop below, and these houses were occupied by prehistoric Indians who were so terrified of their neighbors that they’d climb down vines and ropes with their kids on their back, and firewood under their arm, and the day’s catch in their baskets, because they were just terrified of their neighbors. And that’s the way the Yanomamö live. Even the missionaries who have lived among the Yanomamö the longest have pointed out repeatedly to me and other people that these people are terrified of neighbors. It’s like Hobbe’s war of “all against all” in many respects, and Rousseau is way off the mark. …

PINKER:  What about standing back and saying—at some point they must figure this out—”We’re avenging that death, which was caused when they avenged the previous death, and the cycle of violence keeps going on. Is there some way that we can extricate ourselves from this cycle?” Did that thought occur to them? Because they must at some point do the math and realize, well, not every killing could be in revenge.

CHAGNON:  You are asking a profound question here. And the answer to that is best explicated in an incident that happened to me when the Yanomamö began being aware of Venezuelans, for example. It was a territorial capital 200+ miles away, and some of the missionaries sent young guys to the territorial capital to learn practical nursing to come back to the village and treat snake bites, and scratches, and wounds, and things like that, and to give them malaria pills. And they taught them how to use microscopes.

But one of these guys came back and he was just terribly excited when he told me that he discovered policia. I was like, “Well, what’s policia?” “They will grab people and haul them off and put them in these little separate houses, if they do something wrong. And I think we need policia, because my brother killed a man from Iwahikorobateri five years ago, and I’m always worried that the Iwahikorobateri are going to come and kill me, because he’s my brother.” And he thought that if they had law, law would be a good thing. …

PINKER:  So you discovered kind of a Yanomamö Hobbes, who discovered the Leviathan.

CHAGNON:  Right.

We’ll return to both Buckley and Chagnon’s interview (which I must credit with inspiring me to read Buckley’s account) later… Perhaps in Part 2.

Making Sense of Maps–violence and grain

So I was looking at this map, trying to figure out what might be causing different rates of violence:

No data for non-EU countries like Norway and Russia
No data for non-EU countries like Norway and Russia

Clearly it’s not degree of Germaness, as the Germans have less (reported) violence than their cousins in France, the UK, and Denmark. Doesn’t look like a Hajnal line effect, as France is solidly inside the line and Greece isn’t. Doesn’t look like latititude, is Ireland and Denmark and Latvia are all around the same latitude. Probably not an immigration thing, as it’s a stretch to blame violence against half of Denmark’s women on whatever relatively small % of the population is immigrants, while Spain and Italy (which I’m sure also have immigrants) are down in the 20%s.

Then I thought, aside from Ireland, it does look rather like a map of when grain arrived in Europe. Maybe the violence is fueled by alcohol, and groups that have been exposed to alcohol for longer are more resistant to its effects. (And Ireland, btw, does not have as much of an alcohol problem as is generally claimed.)

So here is a map of the spread of wheat in Europe:

Poor Finland got left off the map
From Science News: Wheat Reached England before Farming

Since grain originated (as far as Europe is concerned) in Turkey, I suspect that it became a dominant dietary staple faster after introduction in Spain, whose climate is probably similar to Turkey, than in more northerly places like Scotland or Finland. Ireland does not appear to lag significantly behind England, but northern Scotland does. Sadly, this map does not show us the Baltic and Scandinavia, where I gather the hunter-gatherer-fisher-herder lifestyle held on much longer.

Here is another map, of alcohol-related deaths:



This map sheds some light on why the UK comes out with more violence than Ireland: the Scottish. The English look pretty okay overall, but the Scots apparently get drunk and beat their wives with the vigor of, well, I guess the French.

I’d really like to see more complete versions of these maps, but oh, well. (Though I’m glad they left off Russia, which I suspect would change the scale on the graph, compressing the rest of the data into uselessness.)

Here are my suspicions: Grain (particularly wheat) started out over in Turkey and spread to Greece, Italy, Spain, the south-Slavic regions, southern French coast, and Germany, in about that order. These areas all seem to have low rates of domestic violence and, except for the Slavs, low rates of alcohol-fueled death. Perhaps the stats on that reflect differences in density or drunk driving laws, or the later admixture of another population like the Magyars that has less alcohol tolerance. East Germany clearly stands out as an anomaly that is probably due to the Cold War.

Wheat farming reached northern Europe later, reaching Scotland, Denmark, the Baltic, and Scandinavia last. Lower rates of alcohol-related death in some of these spots probably reflect people driving drunk less often due to local factors.

According to “investoralist”, in “The geo-alcohol belts of Europe,” “Episodic drunkenness seems embedded in the Nordic culture, so much so that most Scandinavian states have outrageously high alcohol taxes to discourage binge-drinking.  In a country where alcohol is the most common cause of death among working-aged adults, Finland raised its alcohol taxes twice in the 2008-2009 period.”

He further quotes, “[W]hen Finns drink, they drink heavily. The important thing is that I believe that they are not only drinking away their cultural neurosis; they actually value the cathartic effect of Dionysian drinking. This leads to a situation where, as I have put it, you can’t single out the alcoholics at our parties because everyone is as dead-drunk as alcoholics. This leads to a cultural tradition where drunkenness is positively valued among rather large segments of the population. Therefore, there exists no cultural consensus regarding the positive effects of moderation.”

According to the Wikipedia article on binge drinking, Denmark has the most binge drinkers.

Oh look:

Is this a map of where Scandinavians (and Germans) settled in the US?
Is this a map of where Scandinavians (and Germans) settled in the US?

Your thoughts?

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:


(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).”


“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.