Was the Noble Savage noble? Or savage?

There has been a debate in the press recently about whether the state (nation) is fundamentally a source of exploitation and war, or whether it’s a civilizing influence on humans’ natural brutal nature. The debate has echoes of Jean-Jacque Rousseau versus Thomas Hobbes, as well as echos of FDR versus the Koch brothers.

In short, was the Noble Savage noble or savage?

Anarchist and Yale political scientist James Scott has written a series of books critical of the state and nostalgic for the supposed peaceful and cooperative hunter-gatherer past. In a piece published in The Nation, political scientist and legal scholar Samuel Moyn reviews Scott’s work and concludes that Scott both ignores the brutality of pre-state humans and understates the benefits of states and civilization. The very qualities of equality and freedom that Scott bestows are a product of states.

Some other references suggesting that hunter-gatherers were relatively peaceful and egalitarian include:

Human Nature May Not Be So Warlike After All

Warfare was uncommon among hunter-gatherers: study

“Warfare was uncommon among hunter-gatherers, and killings among nomadic groups were often due to competition for women or interpersonal disputes, researchers in Finland said Thursday.” (Is it really war or just an interpersonal feud? Several researchers point out that organized war, with masses of troops probably required states, but feuds and minor killings sill occurred in hunter-gatherer society.)

But there are many scholars who think hunter-gatherers were war-like and treated woman poorly.

Hunter-gatherers were brutal and we have the state to thank for a decrease in violence and an increase in equality

Review of the book Violence and Warfare among Hunter-Gatherers, Journal of Anthropological Research. “LeBlanc develops a set of features common to hunter-gatherer warfare cross-culturally and argues that overwhelming ethnographic evidence shows intergroup violence was frequently dangerous but likely tied to resource stress between human populations.” “The reader finishes the book with an understanding that interpersonal violence and warfare occurred at all levels of sociopolitical complexity, predated colonization, and were widely variable in intensity and frequency.”

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined is a 2011 book by Steven Pinker.

[Pinker] argues that violence in the world has declined both in the long run and in the short run and suggests explanations as to why this has occurred.The book contains a wealth of data simply documenting violence across time and geography. This paints a picture of massive declines in violence of all forms, from war, to improved treatment of children. He highlights the role of nation-state monopolies on force, of commerce (making “other people become more valuable alive than dead”), of increased literacy and communication (promoting empathy), as well as a rise in a rational problem-solving orientation as possible causes of this decline in violence. He notes that, paradoxically, our impression of violence has not tracked this decline, perhaps because of increased communication,[2] and that further decline is not inevitable, but is contingent on forces harnessing our better motivations such as empathy and increases in reason. (Source)

No, hunter gatherers were not peaceful paragons of gender equality Lots of graphs. Violence is decreasing over time.

10,000-year-old massacre suggests hunter-gatherers went to war

Prehistoric Massacre Hints at War Among Hunter-Gatherers

Finding a hunter-gatherer massacre scene that may change history of human warfare “We have discovered the oldest known case of violence between two groups of hunter gatherers took place there, with ten excavated skeletons showing evidence of having been killed with both sharp and blunt weapons.” “[M]any scholars have argued that warfare must have emerged after farming and more complex political systems arose.” But these findings challenge that view.

Noble or Savage? “The era of the hunter-gatherer was not the social and environmental Eden that some suggest.”
 

My concern with this is that many anarchists and bottom-up proponents on the Left are (perhaps unwittingly) aiding libertarians who want to destroy the New Deal and regulatory state crafted by progressive politics of the last 100 years. Yes, the state is often corrupted and used to harm people. Our task is to fix it so that it serves the many.

Sports as an opiate for the masses

Sports are like religion: an opiate for the masses. They distract people from political engagement.

I don’t understand why people “root” for a team. Why should Seattle’s team be better than any other city’s team? And why should residents here take pride in victories? Sports must exploit some deep-seated need of humans to belong and to have an “us versus them” mentality.

Also, sports reinforce the glorification of war, competition and capitalism, instead of cooperation.

Maybe political parties exploit that mentality too, as do religions.

Luke Held responded:

Clearly you don’t like sports. Many people do. You seem to see only the negative aspects of sports. 600,000 people were on the streets to welcome the Seahawks super bowl home. You can see that negatively, or positively, it’s up to you. Sports bring people of many cultures and classes together in support of something. I don’t really hate people from San Francisco, but it’s fun to pretend and give them crap about their team. I can also talk to nearly anyone, anywhere about sports, across generation, race, whatever. Good luck going up to anyone and talking about health care reform without a fight. You might as well take away music too. It’s obviously only distraction, right? Movies? Art? Take it all away because its only distraction?

There is a limit though. ESPN is the most lucrative businesses in the media realm. It exploits people’s love of sports. It also provides crappy non-substantive coverage of sports, but people are desperate for distraction in these times of insecurity and stress. Sports provides a much needed outlet, but the line between over saturation is far too distorted towards the distraction side. Sports in general though are critical to a culture. Balance is key.

David Markham said “Competitive sports are ideal for controlled and healthy aggression – which isn’t going away anytime soon.

I wonder if there is a correlation between sports fandom and religiosity or conservatism.

Indeed, this Forbes article from 2010 is relevant: Study: Sports Fans Skew Republican.

Progressives oppose Islamic extremism but oppose war even more

In the video Winning the War of Ideas, Sam Harris interviews author Sam Harris.  Both agree that progressives are making a serious error by failing to oppose Islamic violence and misogyny.

Harris and Maher don’t sufficiently acknowledge that progressives are indeed critical of Islamic repression.  But progressives are even more concerned with stopping a Holy War against Islam.  War lovers in both major parties are using the threat of terrorism to justify military spending and endless war.

After all, Muslim radicalism is largely a result of decades of war waged by the West against Muslim countries, and by U.S. meddling in the Middle East.   The U.S. created Al Qadea in Afghanistan in an effort to eject Russia.

The U.S. waged war against secular Iraq but has protected theocratic Saudi Arabia. Mostly, the U.S. should stop trying to be the policeman of the world. In reality, the motivation isn’t to save them from repression. The motivation is to get their oil.

 

Bernie Sanders and Foreign Policy

Bernie’s statement on regime change never being a good idea, and mentioning Guatemala, Mossadegh, and Allende is heading toward the vision of what we actually need to do. End our imperial foreign policy, start closing our military bases overseas, focus on our domestic problems. Whether it’s a winning issue with a majority of the public is another matter. They have been quite literally scared out of their wits with a decade of BS propaganda about the “evildoers,” and on and on. Older voters got the Cold War BS. It’s hard to both educate and win in the same campaign. That’s why he’s focused on domestic economic issues, a broad consensus that working families are being screwed already exists.

When foreign policy comes up, IMO, he should frame talk about pulling back within the first 150 years of American foreign policy, not the more recent anti-imperialist strain of criticism that has been effectively marginalized by the corporate war mongers. Avoid foreign entanglements, spread democracy abroad by be a shining example here at home. In that vein, he needs to bring up his opposition to the USA PATRIOT Act and domestic spying more too. Clinton is very vulnerable there.

Saying that we need to have a discussion about why the American military is being used around the world to protect our supposed “commercial interests” when those commercial interests increasingly consider themselves global corporations, not American ones, might also prove useful. They ship our jobs overseas, they invest overseas, they offshore their profits, they avoid US taxes, but without the US military, the global casino economy and resource extraction racket they’ve created is vulnerable.

Glen Anderson: Military "Solutions" Are Really the PROBLEM

Glen Anderson: Military “Solutions” Are Really the PROBLEM- a workshop given at Fellowship of Reconciliation of Oregon and Washington’ annual conference at Seabeck, July 4th 2015.

Military ‘Solutions’ Are Really the PROBLEM. Choose humane, sustainable ways for TRUE Security. In our daily lives, we know better than to think violence solves problems, but at the national level the U.S. government routinely threatens and uses military violence all over the world. Militarism makes problems worse, so why does the government keep using militarism? Who benefits from this? We could achieve more profound, holistic “national security” by renouncing violence and promoting peace and fairness. This highly participatory workshop will encourage participants to share their information and insights. Glen Anderson has worked consistently for many issues related to peace, social & economic justice, and nonviolence since the 1960s. He engages people to help them think creatively and organize at the grassroots.