INDIANS – Setting the Record Straight (A response to Jim Davies at STR)

I recently wrote a lengthy four-part article (#1, #2, #3, #4) on Russell Means’ proposal for a “Republic of Lakotah” and Steven Lendman’s take on it; during that time, I and many others were saddened that Russell succumbed to cancer and died in Pine Ridge.  As expected, his death triggered a whole host of articles on the state of the AmerInd Nation and Russell Means’ own life.

I assume that is one of the things that triggered Jim Davies article, “Indians,” at Strike The Root, and he wrote a very interesting article.

But, as was the case with many of the other articles (including those which attacked Russell Means and  those which praised Russell), his article has some faults because he (a) does not understand history better, (b) does not understand Indians better, (c) does not understand Russell Means better, and (d) has some really strange misconceptions.  As I’ve told Jim, that is really a shame, because he has some great thoughts about anarchy, the past, and the future.

As is so often the case, I fear that Jim’s valuable work will be ignored or rejected because of his misconceptions.  In the interests of furthering the debate,  setting the record straight, and applauding Jim’s efforts, I have followed  my common  practice and  given a paragraph by paragraph rebuttal and commentary on Jim’s own commentary.  As usual, my comments are in italics.  Jim, I really appreciate your permission to let me publish your article and to so viciously attack your words!  We all know that steel sharpens steel, and that friendship and common goals are stronger than disagreeing on articles and what we write.

Here is to liberty – to all that we have given us from God so freely!

INDIANS: A Column by Jim Davies.
Exclusive to STR

The coming free society will be rational; residents will live on the basis of reality and reason rather than myth. We will recognize government for what it is and therefore reject it on rational grounds; we will think in rational, economic terms predominantly. I can be sure of this, because a free society will not come into being until everyone does think predominantly in rational, economic terms; as long as society wallows in myth, it will not throw off the curse of government.

It all depends on WHICH “myths” we subscribe to:  there are myths that are related to liberty and against government.

That said, will superstition play in it any part at all? Will there be any place for religion, for example? In my opinion, not much, but the very nature of freedom absolutely requires that everyone be left free to believe anything he wishes, be it ever so absurd. Perhaps that is one of the contradictions with which we shall have to grapple. But yes, of course there will be such a place. Perhaps it would be a cold and mechanistic society without it.

Although Jim’s biases are well known to many of us – at least he makes it clear where his sentiments lie.  His concept is not one I find sympathy for.  And unlike too many who have his sympathies, he is NOT willing or anxious to force them on everyone else.

People will be free — of course! — to believe that the scientific method and all that it has brought mankind by way of medicine, knowledge, exploration, pleasure, culture, leisure and wealth in any of its multiple forms, is a curse to be discarded in favor of primitive living and a return to nature. Should they wish to act on that belief, good luck to them! Nobody has any business forcing them to conform to any beliefs but their own, any more than we have obligation to bail them out when their babies die for want of medical care, and they have no business forcing the rest of us to abandon our preference for civilization. They will need to acquire proper title to the land they want to occupy, but then they’ll have a perfect right to be left in peace.

“Of course!” Just as in the Dritte Reich and during the Great Cultural Revolution and the myriad of Five-Year Plans.  He mistakenly believes that the two “opposites” are mutually incompatible.  There is nothing in the physical, social, or spiritual world to say that we MUST choose either the “scientific method and its many benefits OR “primitive living and a return to nature.”  Of course, the various Georgist advocates of land theories [look up name] would NOT agree with Jim on “proper title” and land in general.

So I got to thinking, what would America have been like, if the European settlers had all been rational market anarchists? In particular, what would have happened to the “Indian” tribes that were occupying North America and living thus, close to Nature and completely unaware of any other way?

Of course Neil Smith has touched upon these matters somewhat: as his North American Confederation was basically a nation of rational (free) market anarchists.  Neil’s Confederacy had a much different situation for American Indians.  But more to the point of criticizing Jim’s article:

Pre-Columbian/Pre-Contact American Indians (AmerInd) were not uniformly (1) “living close to Nature” NOR(2)  were they “completely unaware of any other way.”

In 1492, cities that were significantly larger in both population and size than European and Middle Eastern cities of the time existed across the continents:  Cuzco and other Peruvian cities; the Mayan complexes, the huge urban complex of what is now Ciudad Mexico, the thriving towns and villages of the Hopi, Zuni, the other Pueblo tribes, and the great Mound-builders’ cities along the Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee Rivers all existed.  The far flung abandoned towns and villages of the Anasazi were still relatively intact.  The nonurban but still communal society of the Northwest was reaching its stride.  And as for being unaware?  Even the most “primitive” of wanders on-foot, nomads hunting and gathering in the Great Plains or the Great Basin or the woodlands of the Northeast and Southeast traded for goods that came great distances in peddler’s backpacks or in their canoes, and with the goods came knowledge of events, ideas, history, religion, and much more.  Jim shares the warped view of too many people – that AmerInd existed in some kind of Never-Never Land of ignorance and naivety.

The encounter, and the four centuries that followed, is both monumental and tragic. When Leif Ericson stayed a while in Newfoundland, his party had a bad encounter with native Americans, who must have been scared and astonished, but they didn’t stay. The great and apparently more friendly encounters were in or around 1497, by Cabot and Columbus.

Although here we get into the realm of myth and legend, there were likely many more contacts that just never made it to the headlines (or to the public consciousness).  Jim’s assessment here isn’t bad.

This is of such significance I cannot find words adequate to describe it. If the timeline in Spencer Wells’ Journey of Man is correct, these two branches of our species had not met for 30,000 years–yet there they were, face to face and knowing they were fundamentally alike. The much-overused term “awesome” hardly suffices for such an encounter. That long ago, migrants from Africa had parted company, one group continued Northeast towards Siberia and spent thousands of years living as herders with reindeer, eventually crossing into Alaska when the sea was frozen and moving into America, North and South. About 20,000 years earlier yet another group had made the same trip from the Pacific Rim. But those who turned West towards Europe found a kinder climate and became us, or most of us. Five centuries ago, descendants of those Westbound migrants met their Eastbound brethren. Talk about historic!

At least Jim admits that the uniformitarian, traditional dating may be wrong.  But whether it was 30,000 years or just 4,000 years, it was indeed a great occasion, if not so unique as he tries to make out.  Personally, there is far more evidence that the parting of the ways came on the Plain of Shinar rather than in some mythical African veldt.  As for Europe’s “gentler climate” – Jim, you know better.  Europe’s climates may not vary as much as what we find in the Americas, but there are many places in North and South America that have much better climates than those most common in Europe. Indeed, many of them, like southern and central California, or parts of the Gulf Coast and especially the Cari Islands are the lands of the lotus-eaters in which much is available and little is required.

The skills developed by the veterans of Siberian ice were amazing, and they were honed by life in more recent millennia in America with its temperate seasons. No longer herders, they reverted to hunting and gathering, and of course knew very intimately how close was mankind to all the rest of nature. They had (and despite all that governments did to them, their descendants still have) an understanding of, and respect for, the natural world which modern man has forgotten. For one small example, I understand that when killing an animal for food, they apologize to it. Meaningless? Useless? Perhaps. But it seems to show more reverence for life than herding cattle into a mechanized slaughterhouse.

Once more Jim both makes things incredibly, naively simplistic and very idealistic.  The AmerInd did not (at least, not as a whole or even a majority) revert to being hunter-gatherers, and farmers and ranchers (peasants and herders, if you prefer) are as intimate with nature as any hunter-gatherers.  As for this vaunted “reverence for life” that Jim implies is an essential part of AmerInd nature; well, he needs to spend even a few days in several of the reservation (and urban) societies with their incest, fetal alcohol syndrome, child and spouse abuse, and all the rest to see how they “revere” live. And he needs to look at history, such as the human sacrifice and probable cannibalism of the Azteca, the cannibalism of the Tonkawa and certain other tribes in Texas, the Gulf Coast and the Carib, and the cannibalism found in abundant evidence at many Anasazi sites in the US Southwest.  Perhaps they DID apologize to the child or adult that they killed and ate, before or after ripping their beating heart out of their victim’s chest, but I hardly call that “reverence for life.”  And the vast post-battle sacrifices of tens of thousands of victims on the pyramid altars of Azteca cities was as mechanized as you could get with obsidian knives and no electrical or pneumatic power. All too often, now and historically, it is like the axe murderer whose character witness says, “He wouldn’t harm a fly.”  And if it was their survival of the obstacle of “Siberian Ice” that created this character, why do not the Scandinavians and Celts of Britain share a similar character?

As nomads, they needed to make some decisions communally. Members could always leave and go solo, but if they stayed in the group, there were some matters with only a binary answer: Shall we strike camp and move today, or next week?, etc. The time-honored way to settle such questions was that of consensus. The “Chief” is a moderator, not a dictator. Decisions are made only when all agree. In this, they are far superior to all that European man developed, ever since history was first written down.

In your dreams, Jim – unless you are trying to create more of those myths you derided at the start. Nomads “needed to make some decisions communally?”  Like the Mongols?  The Huns?  The Romany?  The Berbers and Arabs and Vikings?  Some of the WORST examples of human tyranny can be found in the camps of nomads.  Perhaps you remember “Citizen of the Galaxy” and the Free Traders? Chiefs as “moderators?” Please, please, history shows exactly the opposite. And of course, MOST AmerInd were NOT “nomads.”   Jim, why do you hate your own ancestors?  And why do you buy into this garbage that says that millions of AmerInd in thousands of bands and tribes were all just variations of Plains tribes like the Comanche and Kiowa and Lakota and Ute?

Some 20,000 years after that Great Division, somewhere between the Caspian and the Himalayas, the Westbound migrants discovered fixed agriculture–evidently, in or near what is now Lebanon. This discovery was the most significant of all human history, and you’ll have noticed that it happened after the Eastbounders were long gone. They missed out on it. That’s why they reached North America as hunter-gatherers, instead of as farmers. That’s why those 400 years of interaction were so tragic. The difference was a fact, but the tragedy could and should have been avoided.

Now Jim leaves the realms of history into his own foggy universe of misunderstanding.  Agriculture was not “discovered” – no alien race left fields of wheat and barley untended for some wandering nomads to find and claim.  Rather, agriculture was INVENTED by the minds and hands of men and women, perhaps given a nudge by the Lord.  But agriculture is NOT something that requires a genius to “discover” or even invent.  But whatever dates he wants to claim, it is a documented fact that AmerInd, both north and south, had agriculture – both horticulture and domesticated animals, centuries if not millennia before Columbus and Cabot.  (By the way, what is this “400 years” about?  1492 (or even 1497) and 2012 are five hundred, roughly.)

Very close in time to that discovery, 10,000 years ago, two other vastly important things took place: government was born, and writing began – see my “Origins” for remarks about the former. Once governments appeared, they didn’t go away, and fixed-agricultural man has been awash in the blood they spilled ever since. Part of the wealth mankind produced extra to what was needed to live on (the “agricultural surplus“) was stolen by them and used for nefarious purposes like pampering their leaders and making war on their rivals. That is the nature of government–but it results not from the surplus itself, but from the theft of the surplus. Mankind’s problem for the last 10,000 years has not been that we got more civilized, but that we were cursed with government. As detailed in my Denial of Liberty, but for government we would have become far more civilized, very much faster.

If both government and writing were INVENTED (not a “thing that takes place”) that far back, both for good and bad, they were apparently constantly lost and constantly reinvented.  Actually, it is probably more accurate to say they were neglected or ignored, rather than being lost or stolen.  Of course, I suspect that like me, Jim does NOT subscribe to the notion that is burned into our brains from infancy that “civilization” means “cities” – civitas, and that civilization’s advance is marked more by “advances” in government than in anything else.  We have indeed been cursed, but if we had not been, we would at least not make the mistake of thinking that government and cities are essential to an advanced and comfortable standard of living and a society with all the amenities of arts, good medicine, good food, easy travel, and lots of wealth and leisure-time activities.

Back, then, to our original question; How would European settlers of this continent have handled the “Indian” problem if they had been anarchists, if theirs had been a free society?

After a means of communication had been established, the matter of land ownership would have arisen. The newcomers wanted land, the natives apparently had land. So a deal could have been struck, for the newcomers had a few things the natives valued. However, the natives didn’t have an understanding of land ownership!

Yeah, maybe in SOME tribes, and in SOME cultures (like those Plains and Mountain people of the Comanche and Lakota etc.).  But try telling that to the Hopi, or to ANY of the Pueblo people.  Or to the Northwest peoples with their ownership of rivers and watersheds.  Or for that matter, to the Dakota and Cree and Chippewa of the region around the great pipestone quarries in Minnesota.  The rest of Jim’s idea of land ownership by the AmerInd is pure horsepucky.

To them, the land was just “there,” to be used by any and all who wished to hunt and gather, it was what we’d call a kind of “commons.” Commons work fine, until the demand for grazing land exceeds the supply available. Then, there is chaos and discord, which can be resolved only by exclusive ownership–property rights. So the first lesson our landed anarchists would have had to teach the natives would have had to be the Tragedy of the Commons (without access, of course, to Hardin’s 1968 essay) and the concept of ownership. But given a few patient years and good linguistic progress on all sides, the job would have been done, and bargains would have been struck. The price of land, once the natives understood that they would be excluded from what they sold to the settlers, might have been rather high, but it would have been paid. The natives, accordingly, would have gained wealth which they valued more than the land, the use of which they gave up. Such is the free-market subjective theory of value, without which wealth generation is not possible.

After a while–a few generations, possibly–I believe most natives would have found the bargains very satisfactory, and would have eagerly learned the science of fixed agriculture as fast as the European farmers were able to teach them. But if a few did not–if they preferred life on the open range so much they would not sell at any price–then, as we saw above, a free society would have left them in peace.

Here is where Jim’s bucolic ideal breaks down:  one of the faults of the Founding Fathers and their many partners in crime is that even the settled, agronomically-advanced tribes were STILL ‘not us,’ and didn’t have real title to the land.  It didn’t matter that some of those villages and towns in places like Western New York State and along the Tennessee had been fully developed townsites since before northern European tribes started mining ancient Roman ruins to build their own little villages.  Never mind that their own ancestors, only three or four generations back, thought that the old Roman forts and places like Stonehenge had been built by “giants;” obviously the local red-skinned near-humans could not have built the Mounds at Cahokia or the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings.  They were “savages” and “primitives” and “probably not even human.” (Of course, a good many AmerInd cultures thought the same thing about the white Anglo-European invaders: subhuman, or even fay (one common AmerInd language family’s most common name for white people is often translated as “nasty little cunning dwarves.”)

The process of communication and negotiation would have been repeated by new immigrants, as they arrived and pressed Westward, for “Indians” were of course not a single tribe but nearly 100, each with its own language. But since the immigrants would (by the premise here) all have been market anarchists, no force would have been used–only persuasion and exchange. Most importantly, there would have been no white man’s government, to make treaties and then break them at will. The free, anarchist society would have operated a justice industry as effective in settling natives’ grievances as much as those of the newcomers.

Come ON, Jim.  Try maybe 1,000 tribes, not one hundred.  It was government bureaucrats that lumped them into these massive mega-“tribes” like claiming that ALL the Ahkota bands were a single nation (the Great Sioux Nation) instead of at least thirteen distinct separate polities which in reality were just convenient and blood-related voluntary groupings, who fought each other almost as much as all those near-human people who didn’t speak the same language.  The best comparison I can think of is trying to treat the Europe of 1700 like it was the European Union of 2000.  Even the pre-1800 Germanies can’t be compared because the Germans at least CLAIMED to have the “Holy Roman Emperor” as a (mostly figurehead) head of state and government.

Accordingly, the tragedy–by which armed government agents herded and slaughtered native Americans like sheep, or worse–would not have taken place. There would still have been the tragedy of death from infection by diseases to which the natives had no immunity, but that was not then understood, so the Europeans cannot be blamed. There would have been no armed agents, no government, no deliberate slaughter, and no grievance the free-market courts could not have settled.

Jim makes a LOT of libertarians look bad with THIS little fairy tale.  No, there might not have been GOVERNMENT agents, but look at just one group: our Scots-Irish ancestors, whose generations grew up in hundreds of years of blood feud and inter-tribal (clan) warfare:  their bloody heritage and ways did not depend on government to create it: government merely honed their skills and their need for their skills.  Again, let me suggest another book to re-read, or read (the author isn’t as popular among libertarians as Bob Heinlein is, though he should be): Louis L’Amour’s early Sackett novels such as Sackett’s Land and To The Far Blue Mountains.  Without government intervention and freer markets, the various AmerInd tribes might have been able to better arm themselves to fight with the various Anglo-Celtic tribes, but the bloodshed would still have been there. And free-market bloodshed is JUST as deliberate as the government kind, in frontier societies and on the front-lines of cultural conflict.  Look at Afghanistan, Canaan,  the Alps, the Sahara, and Korea.

Some may feel this is optimistic, so I’ll throw in another reason why I believe something like that would have replaced the actual, bloody history of the actual American Genocide: Native society is intrinsically anarchist, or close to it. The adjustments they would have had to make, in the four centuries after Columbus arrived, would have been relatively slight. Above, I noted that they were used to making group decisions only by consensus–so they were already at least halfway there.

I am splitting Jim’s paragraph here, because there is too much to cover.  I’ve already talked about this myth of “consensus” – even modern AmerInd believe in that as an ideal, but it was seldom put in practice, and even Jim’s beloved Plains nomad tribes had all the elements of government, including the soldier societies (both the army AND the camp police) and ways of enforcing compliance beyond just the expulsion of the undesirable.  And in settled, fully developed cultures like the Mound Builders and the vast confederations of the Southwest and Southeast, there were plenty of despots and their bully-boys to go around. And let us recall that peculiar institution of slavery, too.  It was NOT Europeans, or even Africans, who introduced slavery into North America.  It may have been a crueler, race-based slavery that the new folks from overseas finally introduced, but slavery was NOT new to the New World.

This may have been what drew Russell Means, who led the American Indian Movement’s occupation at Wounded Knee in 1973, and who later occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs in D.C., to seek the Libertarian Party’s nomination for President in 1988. I met him at that convention in Seattle, and voted for him. What we needed most, I thought, was media exposure, and his flamboyant style was almost guaranteed to draw some. He was eloquent and did well—joking, for example, that when elected, he would establish a “Bureau of Caucasian Affairs”–but lost to Ron Paul, who got very little media attention. I knew Russell would have needed a crash course in free-market economics, but he was highly intelligent and willing to learn, and there were plenty ready to teach.

Russell Means had MANY reasons to seek alliance with the LP, but Russell would have signed a pact with the Devil if he thought it would aid his cause(s) (and probably did, more than once).  But as I’ve written about elsewhere, his “Republic of Lakotah” was envisioned as anything BUT a libertarian (minarchist OR anarchist) society and nation.

That’s not to say I embrace the “Indian” worldview generally, or even understand it–I don’t. (Take a look; do you?) It just says that there is a natural affinity between the “Indian” way of doing things and the anarchist way of people who have the advantage of 10,000 extra years of civilization. We anarchists stand for laissez faire: let us be, live and let live. So do they. We would have got along just fine.

For good or bad, Russell did NOT reflect the “worldview” of some mythical generic Indian, or even of his own Oglala Lakota nation.  Russell’s worldview was – Russell’s!

Russell died this week, too young at 72, of cancer. Before going he promised that in the next life he will return as lightning: “When lightning zaps the White House, they’ll know it’s me.” Hurry back, friend.

Russell may have considered Jim a friend, but he certainly would not have stood for Jim’s bizarre, naive, bigoted view of Lakota, Cheyenne, Ute, Iroquois, Shoshone, Inde (Apache), Dineh (Navajo), Dakota, Kansa, Seminole, or any other tribe or people’s view of liberty.  Either in 1492 or 1580 or 1642 or 1776 or today.

About TPOL Nathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (a christian), Pahasapan (resident of the Black Hills), Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer, Evangelist. Successor to Lady Susan (Mama Liberty) at TPOL.
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2 Responses to INDIANS – Setting the Record Straight (A response to Jim Davies at STR)

  1. Ken Santema says:

    I just wanted to thank you both for the interesting and thought-provoking read. I’ve always found it odd when I hear people (politicians and such) talk about ‘Indian issues”. It always seemed like too large of a demographic to be reduced to a bullet list. This article by Jim, with the reply’s from Nathan, made me realize I know even less about Indian ways or culture than I thought I did.


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