War & the Noble Savage

bei Ng
A Critical Inquiry into Recent Accounts
of Violence amongst Uncivilized Peoples
by
gyruS
DreamfleSh PreSS
london
Tis work is licensed under the Creative Commons attribution-
NonCommercial-Share alike license. to view a copy of this
license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/
except credited images—see respective sources for their copyright status.
Published by Dreamfesh Press
bm 2374
london
WC1N 3XX
england
http://dreamfesh.com
first print edition 2009
Tis electronic edition 2010
Design and typography by gyrus
Set in adobe Caslon Pro
iSbN-10 095541962X
iSbN-13 9780955419621
With thanks to michael murphy, Professor of Demography at the london
School of economics, for guidance in the ways of statistics; to Dr David luke, for
unspeakable resources; and to mike Jay, for checking sanity.
Dedicated to Julian & Dorian Cope, whose unfagging vitality always inspires.
Contents
Introduction ................................................................................... v
Te Origins of the Noble Savage ...................................................... 1
Solitary, Poor, Nasty, Brutish & Short ............................................ 8
Te Violent Past & the Political Present ......................................... 12
Te Tribal Zone ............................................................................ 16
Te Remains of the Past .................................................................30
Ape Cousins & Hard-Wired Violence ............................................ 35
Complexity & Confict ..................................................................42
Te Ecologically Noble Savage .......................................................46
Conclusions ................................................................................... 53
APPENdI x I: Society Against the State ......................................... 60
APPENdI x I I: Te Stoned Ape Hypothesis .....................................63
Notes ............................................................................................68
Bibliography ................................................................................. 71
Index ............................................................................................ 74
Image credits
Cover: “Te old-time warrior—Nez Percé”. Photograph by edward S. Curtis (c. 1910). from http://
commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/file:Nez_Perce_warrior_on_horse.jpg.
p. 1—“Jean-Jacques rousseau (1712–1778)”: Portrait by maurice Quentin de la tour. from http://
commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/file:Jean-Jacques_rousseau_%28painted_portrait%29.jpg.
p. 4—“John Crawfurd (1783–1868)”: from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/file:John_Crawfurd.jpg.
p. 5—“Charles Darwin (1809–1882)”: from http://mikeely.wordpress.com/2009/02/10/
whats-in-a-name-honor-charles-darwin-but-kill-of-darwinism/.
p. 5—“yaghan people as depicted in J.g. Wood’s Te uncivilized races of men (1871)”: from
ellingson (2001).
p. 8—“Tomas hobbes (1588–1679)”: Portrait by John michael Wright. from http://commons.
wikimedia.org/wiki/file:Tomas_hobbes_%28portrait%29.jpg.
p. 27—“Te white man brings civilization and Christianity to the savages. Some still fght in the
background. from J.g. Wood’s Te uncivilized races of man (1871)”: from ellingson (2001).
p. 35—“Te common chimpanzee”: Photograph by Tomas lersch (2005). from http://commons.
wikimedia.org/wiki/file:Schimpanse_zoo-leipig.jpg.
p. 39—“a male bonobo”: Photograph by evan maclean (http://www.duke.edu/~maclean/). from
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/file:male_bonobo_lola_ya_bonobo_2008.jpg.
p. 42—“two andamanese islanders in 1875”: unknown photographer. from the Pitt rivers museum,
oxford, via http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/file:great_andamanese_-_two_men_-_1875.
jpg.
p. 59—“Te North great andamanese peace dance (1905)”: Photograph by alfred reginald
radclife-brown. from http://www.andaman.org/.
Introduction
g
rowing up, i never had a particular interest in war. or history, for that
matter. Why on earth do i fnd myself writing about the history of war?
it’s both glibly convenient and at least partially true to pin the blame
on terence mcKenna’s 1992 book, Food of the Gods. reading this provocative tome
awoke in me for the frst time an excitement and curiosity about the shape of history.
Tat is, the contours, the peaks and valleys, that our concepts of “development” and
our value judgements about the quality of life bestow upon the past.
1
Te theory for which the book is most famous—the so-called “Stoned ape
hypothesis”—suggests that the dramatic psychological and social efects of psilo-
cybin mushrooms played a crucial role in human evolution; cultural, and perhaps
biological (see appendix ii). Tis hypothesis remains both contested and interesting,
but in the end the more important aspect of Food of the Gods is the wider perspective
within which it is embedded. for anyone not especially versed in ecology, his vision
of the almost symbiotic dance of mutuality between humans and various psychoac-
tive plants—from mushrooms, perhaps, in the mists of prehistory, to cofee, sugar
and smack in the cold light of modernity—is deeply educational. looking back, the
efect of this new perspective was to shake me out of the blind slumber that my bad
history teachers and our culture’s tedious, barely post-victorian models of history
had left me drifting in. Te book was blast of conceptual fre, energizing me with
curiosity about our species’ journey, and about the multitude of forms that it’s pos-
sible to imbue our vision of that journey with.
and war? Well, mcKenna believed—following riane eisler’s Te Chalice and the
Blade—that for large stretches of our prehistory, “partnership” rather than “domina-
tor” social norms held sway. Society was more female-centred, and throughout the
early european Neolithic a great goddess was revered. for mcKenna, these times
were the last traces of the infuence of Palaeolithic mushroom cults of the african
grasslands. Tese partnership societies were held to be generally peaceful, eventually
battered into submission by horse-borne, hierarchical warriors (the indo-europeans,
my and possibly your cultural ancestors) from the central asian steppes. With their
battle-axes they brought a monomaniacal Sky god; the rest, as they say, is history.
it’s a simple narrative in many ways, and in its sense of degeneration from a
primeval state of peace it’s far from new; the book of genesis is (ironically) a notable
War & the Noble Savage
vi
predecessor. Still, for a while it functioned well for me as a rather fawed alternative to
a very fawed orthodoxy. Progress is a concept so deeply embedded in our worldview
that it’s simply exhilarating and inspiring to break away from it, even by such simple
and ostensibly depressing means as inversion. from one perspective, “progress” is the
air we breathe. being “for” it is beyond even common sense; questioning it can seem
like wilful perversion. however, this dogma of scientifc humanism wrestles in the
hearts of most Westerners with the Christian doctrine of the fall from eden—not
to mention gruelling everyday realities that nag us and mock our pretensions to
cumulative improvement. We move onward and upward, telling stories of the good
old days…
i retained a more than passing interest in the issues of war and peace relating to
the archaic world over the years. from hakim bey’s rich mix of primitivism, radical
politics and heretical spirituality i picked up the idea that much hunter-gatherer
confict was ritualistic. following bey’s tracks led me to anthropologist Pierre Clas-
tres, who believed that primitive war was indeed violent, but was fuelled by the in-
stinct for freedom; small egalitarian bands resisted the pull to merge into larger-scale
social structures (and the hierarchies and inequalities they bring) simply by fghting
each other a lot (see appendix i). Palaeopsychologist howard bloom painted a dark
picture of our aggressive primate inheritance. and i found primitivist blogger Jason
godesky fying the fag for the evolutionary and moral superiority of the forager way
of life while never risking a slide into a crude romantic vision of “prehistoric peace.”
Such a complex (if scattershot and shallow) education in the feld left me rather
unprepared for a talk by popular psychologist Steven Pinker called ‘a brief history
of violence’.
2
filmed in 2007 before a prestigious invite-only audience, Pinker argued
that, contrary to the popular myth that the past was a time of peace, degenerating
into our modern nightmare of holocausts and genocides, actually things have been
steadily getting better over the years. Deaths from violent confict in contemporary
Western countries (when measured as a proportion of the total population) pale into
insignifcance next to the comparably horrifc death tolls among hunter-gatherers.
human empathy has expanded alongside global population levels, and—with due
respect to the millions of victims of recent wars—relatively speaking we’re living in
a golden age.
Tis rather simplistic thesis tugged at the simplistic levels of my intellect, creat-
ing tensions. Didn’t i usually appreciate revealing attacks on tired conventional views?
but hang on, when did the idea of peaceful prehistory become conventional? Did i
miss a meeting? Surely this was just re-entrenchment of orthodoxy dressed up as a
i NtroDuCti oN
vii
challenging new perspective. in any case, by now i had Pinker in my sights.
having been invited to talk at the metageum conference on archaic conscious-
ness in london in 2009, i decided to, in part, honour Charles Darwin’s bicentennial
by tackling some ways in which evolutionary theory had afected our views of pre-
historic life. in the end, my talk fell into three parts. Pinker stood at the beginning as
a neo-Darwinian whose dim view of archaic humanity bolstered, in some sense, the
(mis)application of biological theory to society, wherein we fnd the idea of evolution
as an ascending ladder of progress (rather than a radiating bush of mutation) irresist-
ible when looking out and back from the modern Western vantage point. Somehow
terence mcKenna popped up next, with his ideas about the role of psilocybin mush-
rooms in human evolution. finally, i attacked an aspect of David lewis-Williams’
work,
3
that is, the quite bizarre contrast between the efort he expends and sensitivity
he musters in reconstructing the cognitive worlds of the shamanic Stone ages, and
the harsh judgements he frames his narratives with. famed for constructive use of
the anthropology of the african bushmen in interpreting prehistoric rock paintings,
he nevertheless holds the worldview of such people to be irredeemable nonsense,
best consigned to the past. again, an “evolutionary” doctrine that, like Pinker’s, has
more to do with the Darwin’s victorian cultural superiority complex than his theo-
ries of natural selection.
a few weeks before i was due to deliver my talk, pangs of integrity struck me.
if i was to attack Pinker’s views, shouldn’t i frst acquaint myself with his work more
deeply than watching a talk on youtube? i picked up his book Te Blank Slate—the
basis for his talk on violence—and was unexpectedly engrossed. While riddled with
problems, his central thesis on the skewed “nature versus nurture” debate is compel-
ling and timely. most interesting is his observation that the association of genetics
with, particularly, the Nazis, has somehow left theories in that feld tainted in a way
that the “blank slates” on which Stalin and mao believed they were writing their
twisted visions of history hasn’t tainted the “nurture”-dominated theories that have
been conventional in academia since World War ii.
his section on war and the “Noble Savage,” though, only complexifed my re-
sponse to his “history of violence” theory. even accepting the numbers regarding the
decrease in proportional mortality rates from war, is this as good a yardstick as it
seems? and had he not heard of the perils of projecting observations of contempo-
rary tribal people back into prehistory?
i noted that Pinker’s chief source for this section of his work was lawrence h.
Keeley’s 1996 study, War Before Civilization: Te Myth of the Peaceful Savage. becom-
ing curious about research in the feld since Keeley’s book, i searched the web a little,
and experienced the vertigo you get when you realize you’ve bitten of more than
War & the Noble Savage
viii
you can chew. my talk was imminent, yet it seemed that to speak with any degree
of authority—let alone satisfy my curiosity—i had a veritable pile of research to get
through.
of course, any “pile” of research on an interesting issue is really a black hole in
disguise. even now, writing this essay that aims to dig deep where my metageum
talk had merely skimmed the surface, i feel woefully premature. at the same time,
i recognize this as only partly a mark of the brevity of my bibliography. it’s also an
acknowledgement of the irreducible complexity of the topic. my fascination with
remote periods of the past, and their relationship to our present and future, has
always embraced the fundamental lack of certainty that’s involved. further, michael
i. handel, after exhaustively studying those titans of martial theory, Sun tzu and
Clausewitz, concluded: “to streamline the theories of war by artifcially eliminating
contradictions is dysfunctional, unrealistic, and counter-productive.”
4
Trow some
mercurial prehistory and ethnography into the mix, and the profundity of this advice
can only be extended.
Tis work is partly a review of (some of ) the literature, partly my own medita-
tions on the thorny issues threading through the history of violent confict. in the
former, i hope to be fair in representing others’ views. in the latter, i hope to heed
handel’s warning about “streamlining,” while at the same time being clear that—like
everyone—i have my own perspective.
i also hope that i can act as a “way in” to these topics for people. it’s sometimes
daunting reading the work of experts who have devoted entire careers to studying a
particular subject—and bafing when you go and read another expert on the same
subject who reaches entirely diferent conclusions. how does the layperson reason-
ably fnd their position in the debate, given that they have very little time, if any, to
do proper research, and see that even intelligent people who spend forever doing the
research end up disagreeing wildly? as a layperson who’s fortunate enough to fnd
more time than most to dig beneath the cultural surface of such debates, i hope i can
at least act—whether you agree or disagree with particular views—as a mediating
infuence across that confusing divide.
Te Origins of the
Noble Savage
a
s with all complex topics that are tangled with sensitive cultural nerves,
the study of prehistoric war gains much of its charge from a beguiling
polarization. each pole in the debate is in the care of a philosopher, their
historical images happily standing fast where their actual counterparts may have
requested a break every now and then. each is defned by the view they represent
regarding the origins of violent confict.
Cast in a role idealizing the primordial is 18th
century french philosopher Jean-Jacques rous-
seau; his script is dominated by the concept of the
Noble Savage. his proclamation that “man is born
free; and everywhere he is in chains”
5
is rather well-
known. in a “state of nature,” humans are taken to
be generally peaceable, any violence restricted to
the bare necessities of nature. in order to ft the
round pegs of human nature into the square holes
of civilization, however, our impulses are thwarted
and distorted; natural fows of energy and related-
ness are dammed, and we are damned to the perver-
sions of oppression, alienation, and their convulsive
consequences.
rousseau is opposed in this background drama by Tomas hobbes, an english
philosopher who predated rousseau by about a century. he set forth his views on so-
ciety in Leviathan, in which he argued that the “state of nature” is one of unrestrained
competition and selfshness, a “war of all against all,” which necessitates a strong
central state to enforce social limitations on our natural brutishness.
Such is the frame of the debate. of course it’s based on truths about the respec-
tive philosopher’s positions, but the rich realities behind this inherited frame are
highly instructive.
Jean-Jacques rousseau
(1712–1778)
War & the Noble Savage
2
Rousseau Revisited
ethnomusicologist ter ellingson has written a fascinating book—ignored
by recent works that make use of rousseau’s role in the debate on war
6
—called Te
Myth of the Noble Savage. ellingson attempts to show how the history of the Noble
Savage trope deviates rather markedly from the beliefs that usually cluster around
the phrase for us. a blunt summary of his thesis would be that the real “myth” is that
anyone really held to this notion at all.
People who know that rousseau didn’t originate the term (he never even used
it) usually attribute its actual origin to lines in John Dryden’s restoration drama Te
Conquest of Granada (1670):
i am as free as Nature frst made man,
ere the base laws of servitude began,
When wild in woods the noble savage ran.
7
in fact, the term’s original appearance lies further back, in the 1609 publication of
the french lawyer marc lescarbot’s travelogue compendium, Histoire de la Nouvelle
France:
Now leaving there those Anthropophages brazilians, let us return to our New
france, where the men there are more humane, and live but with that which
god hath given to man, not devouring their like. also we must say of them
that they are truly noble, not having any action but is generous, whether we
consider their hunting or their employment in the wars, or that one search out
their domestical actions …
8
right away we fnd the complexity that lescarbot’s actual experience of “savages”
revealed to him, when compared to the polarities that seeped into popular debates
via hobbes’ and rousseau’s simplistically politicized anthropology. Tere is no gen-
eralization about tribal people; some are more, some are less humane. Tere is no
question of any war-free idyll; they, like us, fght. but still some are remarkably “no-
ble” and “generous”.
Te heading that lescarbot gave this section was “Te Savages are truly Noble”,
and the nature of this nobility deserves attention. in europe at the time, hunting was
the preserve of the nobility, “one of the marques de noblesse, the emblematic privileges
that distinguished nobles from commoners.”
9
typically, europeans approaching the
New World would apply their own frameworks to this unknown land rather than
revise those frameworks. Te sight of a hunting free-for-all, rather than prompt-
ing a response along the lines of, “Te privileges of our nobility are unfair!”, caused
lescarbot the lawyer to conclude that, because all of the natives hunted, all of them
the ori gi NS of the Noble Savage
3
were, at least legally speaking, “noble.” Te wider connotations of the word did of
course extend lescarbot’s terminology past simple observation. and the implied
critique of hierarchical society that hunter-gatherer egalitarianism ofered was soon
taken up in europe, not least by rousseau. however, it’s interesting to note that
these initial perceptions of “savage nobility” were more a result of an imposition of
european values than any criticism of them, and had little, if anything, to do with
any idealization of primitive life.
as for rousseau’s critique, ellingson points out that, on top of not making use
of the Noble Savage trope so often attributed to him, rousseau’s concept of humans
in a “state of nature” had more of the character of a thought experiment than any
kind of ethnological judgement. taking the existence of song as an example, rous-
seau states, “while the Savages of america sing because they speak, true Savages have
never sung at all.”
10
Singing, he argues, is a product of culture, not nature; therefore
the american savages are more than “natural.” his “true Savages” are hypothetical
humans in “a state which no longer exists, which perhaps never existed, and which
will probably never exist, yet of which it is necessary to have sound ideas if we are to
judge our present state satisfactorily.”
11
rather abstract and bafing, to be sure; but
it’s clear that rousseau’s concern is not to romanticize Native americans, but to use
our inevitably hypothetical models of early humanity as a tool with which to break
apart ossifed contemporary ideas about the whys and wherefores of society. Tis
“state of nature” is neither a past nor a future state. No “return to nature” is possible;
again, savage life is a chance to see our present ills from a diferent perspective, in
order to challenge them.
ellingson succeeds in showing that rousseau—like most people of his time—
had rather more complex views of actual tribal peoples than our idea of a pervasive
romantic notion of the Noble Savage among europeans suggests. but—hypothetical
or not—his image of pre-cultural humanity has a lot of problems. his use of song as
a mark of unnatural, uniquely human “culture” stands as an obvious one, given birds
and whales. and his characterization of man in a state of nature is genuinely deserv-
ing of Steven Pinker’s attacks on the absurdity of the philosophy of the blank Slate.
explicitly linking his judgements to native Caribbeans, rousseau writes:
his imagination paints no pictures; his heart yearns for nothing; his modest
needs are readily supplied at hand; and he is so far from having enough knowl-
edge for him to desire to acquire more knowledge, that he can have neither
foresight nor curiosity.
12
Tese pronouncements are, in their way, as ridiculous as those of hobbes (which
we’ll come to soon).
War & the Noble Savage
4
Crawfurd’s Coup & Darwin’s Wretched Savages
after exhaustively surveying ethnographic writings on american indians,
ellingson fnds european attitudes before and after rousseau to be a mixed bag of
ambiguities and oppositions, a “dialectic of vices and virtues”. While certain laudable
qualities are admitted to, ambivalence, colonial utilitarianism, and Christian superi-
ority are the dominant attitudes. if there is any change after rousseau, “it is toward
a more negative evaluation.”
13
many instances of ascribing “nobility” seem to have
merely served to picture the savages as worthy opponents whose defeat would give
honour to european conquerors.
and yet by 1865 ellingson fnds John lubbock, a president of london’s ethno-
logical Society (a forerunner of today’s royal anthropological institute), convinced
that the myth we falsely attribute to rousseau, and falsely see as rampant during
the enlightenment, was rife: “Tere are, indeed, many who doubt whether happi-
ness is increased by civilization, and who talk of the free and noble savage.”
14
What
happened?
ellingson maintains that the myth as we know it
can be traced to a paper delivered to the ethnologi-
cal Society in 1859 by John Crawfurd, a respected and
rather racist ex-colonial administrator who—elling-
son claims—was part of a coup designed to overtake
the society. rooted in the aborigines Protection So-
ciety and with a strong Quaker contingent, the eth-
nological Society was rather enlightened for the time,
with a marked anti-slavery agenda. Te theory at the
centre of ellingson’s story is that Crawfurd resurrected
this rarely-used term as a straw man, something to
make sympathies with aboriginal cultures seem risible.
if this is true, it’s worked remarkably well.
Crawfurd’s racist cod-evolutionary views were
contested; but of course, in victorian england, they were not unusual. Still, he need-
ed to muster potent rhetoric in order to gain momentum for his bid for presidency
of the ethnological Society—through which he, together with white supremacist
James hunt, sought to fend of factions in the nascent science of anthropology who
advocated universal human rights. his speech hijacked imagery from two key sourc-
es in order to drive home the supposed transparency of inherent racial hierarchy.
one was “a vision, partly fctitious, and partly founded on an actual dream”,
drawn from the writings of Sir humphry Davy (perhaps inspired by Davy’s extensive
John Crawfurd
(1783–1868)
the ori gi NS of the Noble Savage
5
experiments with nitrous oxide inhalation). Davy’s vision, cited by Crawfurd, de-
scribes “naked savages feeding upon wild fruits, or devouring shell-fsh, or fghting
with clubs for the remains of a whale ….” Tey are “wretched human beings” whose
“greatest delicacy appeared to be a maggot or worm”.
15
Te other source was Crawfurd’s friend Charles Darwin’s experiences travel-
ling on the famed hmS beagle’s second voyage in the 1830s. Darwin’s bourgeois
sensibilities were shaken by his encounter with the ya-
ghan, natives of the southernmost archipelago of South
america, tierra del fuego, and his description, also cited
by Crawfurd, leaves no doubt as to his conclusions about
primitive culture:
i could not have believed how wide was the diference
between savage and civilized man. it is greater than that
between a wild and domesticated animal, inasmuch as in
man there is a greater power of improvement. … Tese
poor wretches were stunted in their growth, their hide-
ous faces bedaubed with white paint, their skins flthy
and greasy, their hair entangled, their voices discordant,
their gestures violent and without dignity. viewing such
men, one can hardly make oneself believe they are fellow
creatures, and inhabitants of the same world.
16
Darwin’s impressions were to later form the basis for theories about the evolution of
civilization in Te descent of Man, which contains the unfortunately quite prescient
prediction that “at some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries,
the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout
the world the savage races.”
17
While Darwin wasn’t actively advocating this future,
it seems that he felt no
great regret for its apparent
inevitability.
Te status of Darwin’s
dim views of the yaghan
is made more intriguing
by the reports of Charles
Wilkes, an american
explorer who, after visit-
ing tierra del fuego a
few years after Darwin,
remarked:
Charles Darwin
(1809–1882)
yaghan people as depicted in J.g. Wood’s
Te Uncivilized Races of Men (1871)
War & the Noble Savage
6
i have seldom seen so happy a group. Tey were extremely lively and cheer-
ful, and any thing but miserable, if we could have avoided contrasting their
condition with our own.
18
a clearer instance of the realities of cultural relativism is hard to imagine. yes, actual
fuegians existed there and then, doing specifc things and behaving in specifc ways;
yet the fuegians of Darwin and Wilkes are a world apart, testifying as much to the
personal and cultural flters of Darwin and Wilkes as to the yaghan themselves.
Wilkes’ fnal point about avoiding judgements based on comparisons with our own
way of life is remarkably perceptive, and while cultural relativism is hard to defend as
an unqualifed philosophy, Wilkes’ sensitivity is worth bearing in mind when we get
to Pinker and Keeley’s war statistics.
Despite fnding it hard to make himself believe that these “wretches” were “fel-
low creatures,” Darwin eventually managed it, and settled on a monogenist theory
of human evolution that held us all to be a single species with a common origin.
Crawfurd held to the then more popular polygenist view that diferent races of hu-
mans had evolved separately, which of course neatly dovetailed with his hierarchical
theories of human being, and the immutable inferior and superior races it entailed.
Tis crucial disagreement led, following the publication of On the Origin of Species in
1859, to a break between Darwin and racists like Crawfurd who sought in science a
justifcation for their prejudices.
Still, barely seven months prior to the appearance of Darwin’s seminal work,
Crawfurd was making ample use of his friend’s negative impressions of the yaghan.
ellingson fnds the creation of the Noble Savage myth to be completed by the con-
clusion of Crawfurd’s paper, where he quotes John Dryden’s lines, then uses Darwin’s
reports to attack a familiar name:
Such savages as i have now been describing, are the men whose condition
was envied by a very eloquent but very eccentric philosopher of the last century;
but i imagine a week’s residence—even a night’s lodging with the fuegians
would have brought Jean-Jacques rousseau to a saner conclusion. meanwhile,
i think i may safely congratulate you that you are not the red men of terra [sic]
del fuego, but civilized white men and accomplished women, the humblest
amongst you having the power of enjoying more of the comforts and pleasures,
physical and intellectual, of life, than the proud lords of a horde of ten thousand
barbarians.
19
it’s a rhetorical trick that’s still common currency. a critique of modern society that
makes use of a “less developed” way of life is debunked by portraying the person in
question as literally wanting to return to that way of life. Perhaps this way of life is
the ori gi NS of the Noble Savage
7
presented in a distorted fashion, perhaps not; either way, the supposed irrationality of
the critique is hammered home. i saw it happen just last week. Douglas rushkof’s
careful, clear attack on modern corporatism, Life Inc., involves a re-assessment of the
late middle ages, when life was apparently better than we have been led to believe.
rushkof is at pains to stress that of course he’s not suggesting a wholesale return
to that period, but that we might learn valuable lessons from the positive impact of
local currencies at that time, prior to the centralization of currency during the ren-
aissance, as royals tried to gain some control over the rising business classes. yet the
Financial Times review of the book opens with the suggestion that rushkof “would
rather be living in europe some time between the years 1100 and 1300”!
20
ellingson fnds little space in his study for analyzing how Crawfurd’s fabrica-
tion, which managed to cement the idea that the Noble Savage was an actual ideal
held by rousseau and others, has impacted the science of anthropology through the
20th century. reading Pinker’s and Keeley’s accounts of modern anthropology, even
allowing for their own distortions, makes it clear that this—and not the 18th cen-
tury—was the heyday of rosy images of primitive life. as Keeley justly observes: “in
Western popular culture, rousseau triumphs over hobbes only when ‘man in a state
of nature’ is no longer a visible competitor and has faded from direct sight.”
21
(even
so, Keeley’s claim that 20th century anthropology, in its “neo-rousseauianism,” has
ignored war, is largely false. a 1987 attempt to compile a bibliography of the anthro-
pology of war was given up “around 1,500 citations, because there was no end in sight
… Te literature has grown by leaps and bounds since then.”
22
)
What ellingson manages to show is that any recent idealizations of primitives
have been wrought in an atmosphere skewed by imperialist victorian propaganda.
Crawfurd manufactured an ideal that was extreme enough to easily dismiss; subse-
quently, much discussion of the positive aspects of pre-civilized life was caught in
the gravity of this sizeable straw man. Distorted further by the back-and-forth of
post-colonial guilt and self-justifcation, the 20th century held little promise for clear
comparisons of savage and modern life.
Solitary, Poor, Nasty,
Brutish & Short
t
here seems to be less of a tale to tell
regarding the history of Tomas hobbes’
characterizations of primitive life. his
materialism and implicit atheism certainly earned
him controversy and opposition in his day, but as
these issues became less contentious, his authori-
tarianism made him understandably less challeng-
ing to institutions of power. Te ideas set forth in
Leviathan are strongly monarchist, yet its more
general philosophical rationale for the state, a con-
trolling central authority with a monopoly on vio-
lence, has meant that hobbes’ ideas have appeared
only moderately challenging to the various ideologies that the West has entertained.
left or right, the state is for the most part a given; actual anarchism has a vibrant
history, but has held little real sway in the mainstream of our culture.
before looking at his famous “nasty, brutish, and short” passage, it’s worth—es-
pecially given our overarching theme here—looking at hobbes’ defnition of “war”
that precedes it.
[a]s long as men live without a common power to keep them all in awe,
they are in the condition known as ‘war’; and it is a war of every man against
every man. for War doesn’t consist just in battle or the act of fghting, but in
a period of time during which it is well enough known that people are willing
to join in battle. So the temporal element in the notion of ‘when there is war’ is
like the temporal element in ‘when there is bad weather’. What constitutes bad
weather is not a rain-shower or two but an inclination to rain through many
days together; similarly, what constitutes war is not actual fghting but a known
disposition to fght during a time when there is no assurance to the contrary. all
other time is PeaCe.
23
Tis defnition of war is interesting in that it may well be reversed to defne peace
as not necessarily the total absence of violence, but a general tendency towards
Tomas hobbes
(1588–1679)
9
Soli tary, Poor, NaSty, bruti Sh & Short
non-violence, perhaps punctuated by violent incidents that do not per se entail
“war.” both defnitions are worth bearing in mind when considering—as we’ll do
later—whether a line should be drawn between warfare and homicide in small-scale
societies.
in any case, hobbes proceeds—with his own reasoning rather than evidence as
a guide—to draw conclusions about the primeval state of humanity:
Terefore, whatever results from a time of war, when every man is enemy to
every man, also results from a time when men live with no other security but
what their own strength and ingenuity provides them with. in such conditions
there is no place for hard work, because there is no assurance that it will yield
results; and consequently no cultivation of the earth, no navigation or use of
materials that can be imported by sea, no construction of large buildings, no
machines for moving things that require much force, no knowledge of the face
of the earth, no account of time, no practical skills, no literature or scholarship,
no society; and—worst of all—continual fear and danger of violent death, and
the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
as with rousseau, we fnd an anthropology of primitives that is itself more primitive
than its subjects. Conclusive exhibits that may be presented here in defence of pre-
civilized culture include Polynesian navigation of vast stretches of the Pacifc ocean
(“no navigation”!), intimate bioregional information systems and the colonization
of most of the globe before the advent of agriculture (“no knowledge of the face
of the earth”!), Palaeolithic—even Neanderthal—fint-knapping skills that almost
no modern humans can replicate
24
(“no practical skills”!)… need i carry on? “No
society”!
to be fair to hobbes, like rousseau he verged on the domain of the “thought
experiment” in his vision of early human life. indeed, he baldly states, “i believe
it was never generally like this all over the world”—making him more cautious,
perhaps, than some of his recent successors. Still, his conviction is simpler when it
comes to the realities of Native american life. his reading of early ethnographies
made him quite positive that “those savages live right now in the brutish manner i
have described.”
Te perception of solitude in the warring “state of nature” is perhaps the root
of hobbes’ vision, and the root of many of his mistakes. Noting that seeing primi-
tives as solitary was also a fault in rousseau’s thought, it should be made clear that
whatever human nature is, it includes sociality—out of the box, so to speak. No man
or woman is an island, indeed. most higher primates share our genetic propensity
towards socialization.
hobbes lists wolves among the supposedly asocial creatures
25
—and why not?
War & the Noble Savage
10
isn’t the wolf, typically, the “lone wolf ”? Tere’s a deep irony here, though, as it seems
that early human social organization may actually have more in common with that
of wolves than with that of our primate predecessors.
instead of perpetuating our traditional attitude that our “domesticated
animals” are intentional creations of human ingenuity, we propose that initial
contacts between wolves and humans were truly mutual, and that various sub-
sequent changes in both wolves and humans must be considered as a process of
co-evolution. Te impact of wolves’ ethics on our own may well equal or even
exceed that of our efect on wolves’ changes in their becoming dogs in terms of
their general appearance or specifc behavioral traits. … even the term domes-
tication has the wrong ring, since the meeting of wolves and modern humans
predates, by far, anything that could be considered a human habitation in the
form of a domus (latin for house). Canids’ use of dens dates back further. Con-
sequently, instead of domestication, we should talk about “cubilication” (cubile,
latin for den) … and wonder who cubilicated whom.
26
Neither hobbes nor rousseau could really be expected to appreciate the rich-
ness of hunter-gatherer culture that has been exposed to us through modern an-
thropology. rousseau, at least, didn’t let his blunders get in the way of perceiving
primitive life as viable. hobbes seems rather more blinded by his entrenchment in
civilized life, and got it—on the issue of solitude at least—plain wrong. Perhaps he’d
have changed his mind if he’d learned—as we did over the past century or so—that
the supposedly woeful, unworkable state he saw primitive humans as existing in
actually accounts for about 94% of our species’ 200,000-year existence.
ironies abound with hobbes. We’ll see that the basis for war is probably located
more in our social nature, in complex social ties and the conficts they entail, than it
is in some primal individual baseness that must be suppressed by a central authority.
and while modern Western lives are certainly not short, it seems probable to me
that this, the largest and most sophisticated society ever known, creates the greatest
amount of solitary existences. hobbes may have believed, wrongly, that primitive
humans lacked society; but when margaret Tatcher said in the 1980s that there is no
such thing as society, here and now, she was at least partially correct. She stood in the
wake of centuries of individualistic cultural traditions that have made her perception
worryingly accurate.
Fear of Chaos & Ignorance of Order
in The GreaT Year, Nicholas Campion’s excellent study of astrology and its re-
lationship to conceptions of the course of history, an interesting parallel between
11
Soli tary, Poor, NaSty, bruti Sh & Short
hobbes’ social philosophy and the work of his contemporary, galileo, is revealed:
hobbes set as his personal goal the discovery of the correct form of authority
necessary to restrain a nation’s citizens. human beings were, like the planets,
in a continual state of motion, and the state’s primary function was to restrain
them. his view of people as essentially disorderly was directly comparable to the
hebrew prophets’ dislike of the planets on the same grounds, and in his opinion
galileo’s astronomy, with its demonstration of a new planetary order, pointed
the way to an efective authoritarian system: the orderly laws of astronomy
could be used to inhibit the disorderly tendencies of human society.
27
anomalous celestial events such as comets were overwhelmingly interpreted in a
negative light by most ancient civilizations, due to their unsettling capriciousness.
by the same token, the apparent disorder of the “wandering stars,” the planets, was
usually viewed with suspicion, to the extent that their orbits were not comprehended.
however, Campion shows that hebrew suspicion of the planets demonstrated a
degradation in astronomical knowledge which would take a while to be rectifed.
mesopotamian priests, around a millennia earlier than the hebrews, had made
observations of the planets precise enough to roughly understand their complex—
though not disorderly—patterns. apparently erratic bodies such as venus, instead of
being shunned as chaotic afronts to god’s orderly cosmos, were embraced within
mesopotamian mythology.
to the [hebrew] prophets, who lacked the fundamental astronomical
knowledge available to the mesopotamian priests, these planetary movements
represented the random, threatening quality of the universe that signifed a re-
turn to formless chaos.
28
Could the hobbesian vision of primeval, asocial chaos be, like the hebrews’ fear
of the wandering stars, ascribed to a simple lack of knowledge? Well, as you’ll have
gathered by now, not much here will be deemed simple. but a even a quick analysis of
hobbes’ take on primitive life shows, as much or perhaps more than an examination
of rousseau’s, that we can’t rely on centuries-old guesswork for judging prehistoric
life.
Te Violent Past &
the Political Present
S
teven Pinker’s assessment of rousseau and hobbes shows that he’s
smart enough to see through their simple polarity. in Te Blank Slate, he con-
sciously hijacks the Noble Savage trope as a way of referring to the general
tendency to see what is natural as “better” than the artifcial. he sees this as part of a
trio of modern dogmas, also comprising the blank Slate itself (the idea that we start
life as a tabula rasa, to be inscribed by impressions from the environment) and the
ghost in the machine (the belief that there is something—spirit or mind—that is
qualitatively separate from matter, but which exerts some power over it).
his earliest and gravest stumble in his generally thorough argument occurs
when the straw man unwittingly inherited from John Crawfurd rises up and constel-
lates that seductive polarization again:
[i]t is the doctrine of the Noble Savage that has been most thoroughly de-
bunked by the new evolutionary thinking. a thoroughly noble anything is an
unlikely product of natural selection … [i]n the past two decades anthropolo-
gists have gathered data on life and death in pre-state societies rather than ac-
cepting the warm and fuzzy stereotypes. What did they fnd? in a nutshell:
hobbes was right, rousseau was wrong.
29
in a 500-page book, you might have thought Pinker would be able to aford a slightly
larger nutshell than that. Despite his apparent intent of transcending political divi-
siveness, his blithe summary, too eager for a clear position, is typical of many highly
vocal, politically charged contributions to this debate over the last century.
Hobbes versus Rousseau in Modern Anthropology & Genetics
i have no argument with Pinker’s contention that the belief in nurture over
nature grew past its bounds in the 20th century—in academia and particular areas
of intellectual culture at least (i certainly wouldn’t characterize our cultural main-
stream as subscribing to all the “dogmas” that Pinker attacks). and yes, tainted by
racist theories of evolution and inheritance, genetic theories have always been hard
13
the vi oleNt PaSt & the Poli ti Cal PreSeNt
to separate from the cultural tangle that our reeling from colonialism, slavery and the
holocaust created. What seems less easy to understand is how those who countered
strongly genetic theories with culturally determinist theories failed to sense the taint
of mao and Stalin at their heels. Pinker argues that, contrary to the common idea
that “nurture over nature” saves us from the dismal prospect of being governed by our
biological inheritance, it’s just as much the case that our sociality, bonding skills, and
rich forms of communication—all endowments of our genetic evolution—save us
from being more easily dominated by political forces. if mao really had been inscrib-
ing his revolution on people who were like “sheets of white paper,” things would have
been much worse.
30
Pinker’s liberal scientism says: genetic endowments don’t control
us; their morally mixed bag is what has worked through the ages, and the tensions
and balances they enable provide the grounding for our free being in the world.
but during the 20th century, battle lines were drawn, with cultural determin-
ists determined to permanently defeat the basis for racism in genetic science and
philosophy. Controversies raged.
margaret mead’s anthropological work on Samoan sexual morality and pacifsm
among the arapesh in Papua New guinea has been strongly challenged by Derek
freeman and others. Te Wikipedia entry on mead, for what that’s worth, references
recent studies on the issue and remarks, “many anthropologists concluded that the
truth would probably never be known, although most published accounts of the
debate have also raised serious questions about freeman’s critique.” Pinker has mead
as “almost perversely wrong.”
31
Tere are few quarrels surrounding the autopsy of journalist Patrick tierney’s
shit-stirring 2000 book darkness in El dorado. in it, he accused anthropologist Na-
poleon Chagnon (noted for his studies of the famously violent amazonian natives,
the yanomami) and James Neel (a founder of the modern science of genetics) of a
number of unsavoury things. most shocking was the accusation that they intention-
ally exacerbated a measles epidemic among the yanomami in order to test what
the anthropologists who touted tierney’s work called “eugenically slanted genetic
theories”.
32
Te american anthropological association investigated, and ultimately
cleared Chagnon and Neel of all the most serious allegations. tierney later remarked,
“experts i spoke to then had very diferent opinions than the ones they are express-
ing now.”
33
Te perils of relying on experts, eh?
i’ve not found time in preparing this study to dig through such controversies to
make my own mind up, though it seems clear that tierney, supported by the left-
leaning political agenda of said anthropologists, stooped to very low levels to have a
go at the geneticists. reservations about Chagnon’s actual work notwithstanding, i
wholeheartedly concur with Pinker’s conclusion on this matter:
War & the Noble Savage
14
Te decimation of native americans by european disease and genocide
over fve hundred years is indeed one of the great crimes of history. but it is
bizarre to blame the crime on a handful of contemporary scientists … . and it
is a dangerous tactic. Surely indigenous peoples have a right to survive in their
lands whether or not they—like all human societies—are prone to violence and
warfare. Self-appointed “advocates” who link the survival of native peoples to
the doctrine of the Noble Savage paint themselves into a terrible corner. When
the facts show otherwise they either have inadvertently weakened the case for
native rights or must engage in any means necessary to suppress the facts.
34
Defensive reaction against the profoundly dangerous—and by no means extinct—
prospect of racially motivated genetic science certainly might explain excesses such
as tierney’s, but can’t excuse them.
even so—was hobbes really “right”? it rather depends on what you’re using
hobbes to represent. Te “data on life and death in pre-state societies” that Pinker
mentions as hobbes’ proof is specifcally talking about violence. in this context,
“hobbes” is a shorthand for the idea that humans are naturally more competitive
than co-operative, more aggressive than peaceable, and hard-wired for collective
confict—war. Peace and progress are the result of artifcial impositions.
among other evidence, Pinker cites anthropologist Donald brown’s “human
universals”.
35
Tis is a list of hundreds of traits and behaviours that, in brown’s sur-
vey of ethnographic literature, appear to manifest in every known human society. it
includes things as varied as use of consciousness-altering substances or techniques,
fear of snakes, the sucking of wounds, and jokes. Pinker draws attention to the inclu-
sion of “confict, rape, revenge, jealousy, dominance, and male coalitional violence”.
oddly, given his general argument of the balancing mechanisms in our genetic in-
heritance, he neglects to mention that the list also includes “confict, consultation
to deal with,” “confict, means of dealing with,” “confict, mediation of,” and “rape
proscribed”. more signifcant, i think, is the use made of the fact that some things
occur in all cultures. While from one perspective, brown’s universals demonstrate a
great richness and variety to human existence, from another it fattens it out. only
a fool would believe in a society without confict. Setting the argument up in a way
that makes its universality some form of demonstration that it is one of the dominant
aspects of our nature seems deceptive to me. it’s precisely this kind of deformation of
debate that Crawfurd’s Noble Savage was intended to propagate.
Tose, if they exist, who buy into the “strong” version of the Noble Savage—that
war, aggression, even confict don’t exist at all in aboriginal human societies—are not
only shooting themselves in the foot, but are also fring wildly at the feet of anyone
trying to seriously assess the relations between violence, confict, and quality of life
15
the vi oleNt PaSt & the Poli ti Cal PreSeNt
in diferent forms of society. at the same time, while not doubting Pinker’s good
intentions, saying “hobbes was right” is as misjudged a way to counter naïvety as
advocating a blinkered “rousseau” position is to counter geneticism.
Te Real Orthodoxy
before proceeding, let’s be clear. our world is not dominated by peaceniks who
think that the nomadic life of the forager was as good as it got. it is categorically
dominated by corporate powers who want more than anything to foster the belief
that unrestrained competition between individuals is natural and good, whose valu-
ations of peace and war are governed by the market value of those conditions; and by
states whose undoubted interest in bolstering their own power is academic, as they’re
efectively subservient to corporate forces and the wealthy anyway. Power today is a
convoluted hybrid that embraces both hobbesian and rousseauian elements. Te
state, under recent neoliberal doctrine, acts as a facilitator of corporate dominance,
and a dim hobbesian view of human nature is required to the extent that it justifes
enough state power to defend the economic system against popular opposition. our
centralized authorities enforce the relocation of our “warring nature” (read: “will to
freedom”) into the economic sphere, where a bastardized and disingenuous rous-
seauian ideal is espoused, which holds that the fewer the artifcial constraints, the
greater the good for all. Tis is a freedom that, in the immediate wake of violent
colonial dominance and the extension of personhood to corporations, translates as
the freedom for hierarchical monopolies to continue in ever more complex and in-
tractable forms. (as Naomi Klein’s Te Shock doctrine shows, this includes the most
signifcant recent manifestation of the blank Slate: not a belief in aboriginal purity,
but the exploitation of the tabula rasa that wars and disasters create in order to install
the free market vision of progress.) in public at least, industry leaders and politicians
hold to the belief that this arrangement is a crowning, cumulative achievement, and
that the best way forward is more of the same. i—in case it’s not clear already—
strongly disagree.
Pinker’s attack on those trying to associate genetic science with dodgy right-
wing ideology is important. but the stance he takes to mount this attack can unwit-
tingly support those who dominate—and endanger—the globe. Just as we need to
separate authentic, morally informed genetic science from eugenics and racism, we
also need to separate the realities of primitive life from the pervasive rhetoric and
ambient persuasions of corporate economics and modern progressivism.
Te Tribal Zone
t
he book War in the Tribal Zone is a 1992 collection of essays on “the violent
edge of empire” edited by anthropologists r. brian ferguson and Neil l.
Whitehead. it’s not squeezed its way into my current research, but luckily
ferguson supplies downloads of most of his signifcant articles on his faculty page
at the State university of New Jersey.
36
Te phrase “the tribal Zone” is intended
to delineate the often turbulent interactions between modern colonial powers and
surviving indigenous cultures. ferguson defnes it as “that area continuously afected
by the proximity of a state, but not under state administration”.
37
using it is a use-
ful reminder that all our knowledge of these cultures is irrevocably mixed up with
some—at least—“contamination” with Western contact.
Tis isn’t a concept that lawrence Keeley is a big fan of.
Since these neo-rousseauian scholars characterize any evidence of hob-
besian social or demographic features, tribal traditions, and mythologies among
prestate societies as being consequences of contact, they appear to believe that
the resulting transformations, which touched almost every facet of social life
and culture, occurred almost instantaneously. Tus the proponents of prehistoric
peace not only reject the validity of certain ethnographic observations uncon-
genial to their view of the primitive condition, but also deny the legitimacy
of ethnography altogether. Tat is the substance of arguing that ethnographic
descriptions merely mirror civilized behaviour and do not provide a window on
the precivilized way of life. …
Tis hypothesis attributes an exceptional potency—indeed, a peculiar radio-
activity—to civilized people and their products. Were there never epidemic dis-
eases before Western contact? Were there never uncivilized items of trade that
excited the practical appetites of primitive consumers and were worth fghting
over? Did new weapons never difuse to modify prehistoric warfare? Were there
never population movements or expansions before civilization?
38
ferguson is specifcally targeted as the main “neo-rousseauian,” though he is per-
haps most rousseauian in being persistently misrepresented. regarding warfare
among indians on the northwest coast of america, he wrote in 1984:
Northwest coast warfare was no game … war was deadly serious struggle.
Sneak attacks, pitched battles, ambushes, prolonged additional campaigns,
the tri bal ZoNe
17
treacherous massacres, sporadic raiding—these were facts of life from before
contact to “pacifcation” in the 1860s.
he cites “archaeological evidence to claim that a war complex [on the northwest
coast] went back to about 1000 B.C.—although now i would push that back to 2200
B.C., at least.” he has also stated in publications: “It is an indisputable fact that warfare
existed in Amazonia before the arrival of Europeans” (his emphasis) and, “even in the
absence of any state, archaeology provides unmistakable evidence of war among sed-
entary village peoples, sometimes going back thousands of years”.
39
Such blatant misrepresentation of a fellow scholar does little to establish trust
in Keeley’s work. i don’t think this kind of inaccuracy extends to his hard data, but
at the level of the important rhetorical frames he places the data within, he—and
Pinker in his wake—clearly falls under the spell of the Noble Savage trap, simplify-
ing the “primitive peace” position in order to knock it down. Conversely, in reading
ferguson, i’ve found no rhetorical “mistakes” of a similar order; his representations
of his opponents seem fair even amidst ferce disagreement.
While being a professor in an anthropology department, Keeley has an archaeo-
logical background, and his emphatic allegiance to the “hard science” aspect of the
discipline—which he uses to underpin the main arguments of his book—is for me a
clue to the sloppiness of his interpretative blunders. he states:
for archaeologists, the human past is unequivocally real: it has mass, solid
form, color, and even occasionally odor and favor. millions of pieces of it—
bones, seeds, stones, metal and pottery—sit on lab tables and in museum draw-
ers all over the world. Te phrase “the weight of evidence” has a literal meaning
for archaeologists because their basic evidence is material ….
40
in the face of the notoriously tricky nature of archaeological interpretation, this faith
in the unequivocal reality of evidence comes across as rather naïve, and speaks of a
certain bewitchment by matter’s solidity. his belief that the careful scholarship of
people like ferguson can be swept away by brandishing a few relics and touting their
reality over the airiness of theory often serves him badly—especially as ferguson
embraces such evidence in any case.
Keeley caricatures the debate as being between those who believe that West-
ern contact violently disrupted the veritable eden of aboriginal life, and those (like
himself ) who believe that contact merely caused variations in the practice of war.
ferguson’s actual position is that “prehistoric warfare got much worse in later prehis-
tory, before any outside contact”
41
(due to things like increasing populations, com-
plexifying social structures, and ecological pressures) and that “what has been called
War & the Noble Savage
18
primitive or indigenous warfare was generally transformed, frequently intensifed,
and sometimes precipitated by Western Contact”.
42
in simplifying ferguson’s posi-
tion and then opposing it, Keeley leaves himself as the one espousing a crude view:
the idea that we can safely project contemporary ethnography back into prehistory;
that we can learn most of what we need to know about ancient life from present-day
tribal societies.
Te Deadly Savage
figure 1 is a graph, based on Keeley’s survey of data,
43
showing the annual per-
centage of male deaths that are due to warfare in various societies. Te top eight bars
represent averages from various indigenous societies in South america and New
guinea; the tiny bars at the bottom represent war deaths in france during the 19th
century and the united States and europe during the whole of the 20th century.
Keeley’s main intention in marshalling this kind of information is to put paid
to the idea that primitive warfare was generally “ritualistic,” and efectively harm-
less. ironically, part of the reason for the propagation of this idea as a catch-all
c .c ac ¸c ¡c ¸c 6c ,c
US & ¡uropc acth C.
Francc .µth C.
Gcbusi
Huli
Yanomami (Namowic)
Murngin
Ðugum Ðani
Mac ¡nga
Yanomami (Shamatari)
Jivaro
Figure 1. Te percentage of male deaths due to warfare in various societies. after Keeley (1996).
the tri bal ZoNe
19
characterization of primitive war was the Western superiority complex. Te infu-
ential early anthropologist of war, harry holbert turney-high (1899–1982), was a
colonel in the military police, and thought that savages were too irrational and lazy
to strategize properly, and had inferior weapons to boot; basically, he thought they
were incompetent.
44
he sounds like the type of guy who called hippies “losers.”
Keeley himself—with rather backhanded praise—rates indigenous military skills
highly. he believes that “it is civilized warfare”—in its bureaucracy and formality—
“that is stylized, ritualized, and relatively less dangerous”, stating that when civilized
soldiers clash with natives (or their modern equivalents in terms of military strategy,
guerrillas), “it is precisely these ‘decorative’ civilized tactics and paraphernalia that
must be abandoned by the former if they are to defeat the latter.”
45
he argues that in
most cases it was biological elements (such as imported disease and plant or animal
pests) that paved the way for conquests in the New World; in themselves, superior
weaponry and discipline may not have been enough to overcome agile warriors who
knew the land like the backs of their hands.
Keeley also relates a tale of a New guinea native who, on frst seeing a plane that
an ethnographer had arrived in, asked for a ride. he wanted to take some big rocks
with him; when asked about them, he said he wanted to drop them on an enemy
village. he had grasped the military implications of fight immediately, whereas ap-
parently it took years for the West, after developing the airplane, to use it in wars for
anything but observational purposes.
46
once we started using planes to drop things, those things were deadlier than
big rocks. at the same time, the point that indigenous cultures are quite capable of
deadly intent has to be conceded by anyone blinkered enough to think otherwise
in the frst place. Still, the staggering statistics presented in fgure 1 jar against our
knowledge of the scale of devastation in modern wars. What’s going on here?
Lies, Damned Lies, and Mortality Rates
Pinker, in The Blank SlaTe and his subsequent talk on violence, relies heavily on
Keeley’s above graph. elsewhere in Te Blank Slate he makes much of the dissonance
between our intuitive perception of the world and the realities revealed by statistics.
a simple example, like the prevalence of the fear of fying placed next to aviation’s
relatively good safety record, sufces to give you the general idea.
is our repugnance at modern war just like the fear of fying? Does it blind us
to the underlying severity of the less spectacular “car crash” war deaths that accrue
in non-state societies? let’s analyze those statistics a little more. (and yes, i’ll be
War & the Noble Savage
20
using jolly sentences like that along the way to fool you into thinking statistics about
mortality rates can be fun.)
it might be objected straight away that the data in fgure 1 are for the percent-
age of male deaths that were caused by warfare. What if the overall mortality rates
for the indigenous peoples are rather low, but just happen to have a very high propor-
tion caused by violence? Tis criticism is apparently held back by another of Keeley’s
prominent graphs showing the percentage of populations killed per year in warfare,
presented in fgure 2.
firstly, please note the tiny percentage values on the bottom axis compared to
fgure 1, and be careful to remember that fgure 1 isn’t simply war-related deaths,
it’s war deaths as a proportion of all deaths. Te above graph shows war deaths as a
proportion of the total population, and they range from below 0.1% to 0.5%.
for direct comparison, i’ve tried to keep only indigenous peoples who are ref-
erenced in fgure 1 in this graph, but bear in mind that Keeley’s data contain several
other indigenous peoples ranking higher here than the Dugum Dani, such as the
Kato indians from 1840s California, who racked up a 1.45% per year war mortality
. . . . . . .
Japan th C.
France th C.
Russia th C.
Germany th C.
Gebusi
Yanomami
Mae Enga
Murngin
Dugum Dani
Figure 2. Te percentage of various populations killed per year in war. after Keeley (1996).
the tri bal ZoNe
21
rate. Still, fgures for modern states are dwarfed by pre-state peoples.
but hang on. Does this really answer the criticism? We have the percentage
of male deaths caused by war, and the percentage of populations killed in war, but
we’re still lacking overall mortality rates. Can we piece them together from the two
datasets?
it’s hard to extract a true comparison here, because the fgures for modern states
are mostly from diferent societies in each dataset. Well, there’s one—france in the
19th century—that’s common to both, and has a similar low ranking to other modern
examples, so let’s look at that. i’ll use the yanomami numbers from each dataset to
compare with france (taking the higher Shamatari numbers from fgure 1), although
it seems the ethnographies drawn on for the yanomami in each graph are diferent.
Tis is back-of-the-envelope stuf, but let’s see what happens.
all we need to get going is population sizes. What’s the average size of a
yanomami social group? good ol’ Wikipedia has it (unreferenced) as between 50 and
400 people. a rather more reliable source explains that villages larger than 90 to 100
people “frequently split into 2 groups while on wayumi [an expedition to fnd food].”
47
150 is classed as a “very large village”. Keeley’s source for fgure 2 states the “contact
population” as being 121, which fts the word from our authority—so let’s use 120.
as it cites ofcial french census data, the Wikipedia page on france’s demo-
graphics might be more readily admitted to this little stats party we’re having. it
seems the french population grew relatively steadily from about 29.5 million in 1800
to around 40.5 million by the end of the century. i’ll take the mean of these fg-
ures—35 million—for the purposes of these calculations.
one last thing. i’ll be taking all deaths due to war from Keeley’s data behind
fgure 1—not just the male deaths shown. i think that’s the only way to use those
percentages in combination with the data for fgure 2, which are “genderless.”
So… in a yanomami village of 120, 0.29% killed a year in war (fgure 2) trans-
lates as 0.348 people a year (please don’t try to visualize it). if this represents 20.9%
of all deaths (fgure 1), that gives a total annual death rate of about 1.67 people a
year—1.39% of the population.
for france in the 19th century, 0.07% of 35 million killed a year in war means
24,500 war deaths per year. if this is 3% of all deaths, the total annual death rate
works out as about 816,667 people a year. Tat’s 2.33% of the population.
Suddenly modern civilization looks a little less rosy. from those numbers it
looks like yes, you’re more likely to die from violent confict in the upper amazon,
but you’re less likely—nearly half as likely—to die overall when compared to life in
19th century france.
Not so fast, though… it’s hard to say without more data, but the french
War & the Noble Savage
22
population may well have had a longer life expectancy than among the yanomami.
Tis and other factors would lead to a diferent age structure in the population, with
a greater proportion of deaths being those of old people. a higher overall death rate
may embrace a greater number of people living to a ripe old age.
but in turn, a larger elderly population means that the simple proportion of
all deaths that war deaths represent (fgure 1) may mask an added complexity. old
people aren’t sent into battle as often as young people, so a smaller “war death pro-
portion of all deaths” may not accurately refect the chances for young people dying
in war. Conversely, in yanomami society, most killing is done by older men, further
derailing the statistical comparison.
48
modern statistics like those in fgure 1 should
be viewed with this in mind.
for what it’s worth, ranking the yanomami alongside the Cia World factbook’s
death rate stats for countries in 2009
49
places them 24th. Te chart is topped by
Swaziland’s whopping 3.08% of the population dying annually. i presume it’s no co-
incidence that this country also tops the chart for hiv/aiDS prevalence (highlight-
ing the dangers posed by infectious diseases in dense populations, with the health
industry dominated by corporatism, and a strong roman Catholic presence). Te
united Kingdom scores a 1% death rate, and the united States a respectable 0.83%.
of course, a much more detailed analysis of these fgures is required for true
comparison, given the global system that allows us to export confict around the
world via byzantine economic structures and “defensive war” (afghanistan ranks 8th,
with a 1.9% mortality rate). at the same time as we ditch romanticized images of the
Noble Savage, it should be recognized that structurally, the life of nomadic bands
can’t help but represent a certain level of transparency that the complexities of civili-
zation preclude. as r. brian ferguson puts it:
yanomami warfare is very diferent in that its small scale allows it to be stud-
ied in its full social context, within which major permutations can be compared.
Tat goal is far beyond the reach of even the most massive research projects
directed at modern warfare.
50
We should also be extremely cautious using data, like the Cia’s, that cover one
year only. our yanomami stats covered two decades. how do we know whether 2009
was above or below average for these countries for the past 20 years? or the next 20
years? one attempt at compiling aggregated data for the 20th century
51
shows that it
was only in the 1960s that, as a global society, we bettered the yanomami death rate.
and our fast-paced, ever-changing story is not over yet.
the yanomami versus france is only one rough comparison, of course, with
the tri bal ZoNe
23
plenty of nested caveats. but i think it’s more than enough to demonstrate that while
Keeley’s graphs certainly contain useful information, pressing them into the service
of simple judgements about tribal life is disingenuous at best. he and Pinker are a
little too focused on knocking down that false Noble Savage to admit all the reali-
ties involved. Teir concern is proving that primitive war can be deadly in terms of
intentional killing. Tis can seen clearly in Keeley’s attempt to show how tipped in
favour of indigenous peoples the data in fgure 2 are. he emphasizes that death rates
given for civilized states include war’s “disease casualties” and “accidents”,
52
whereas
those for pre-state societies don’t. but if you go to war, who cares if gangrene or a
machine gun gets you? many would prefer the latter in any case.
generally, in these modern apologetics, there’s a distracting focus on disprov-
ing naïve rousseauian beliefs, with a seamless, deceptive segue into making general
comparisons between societies.
Blinded by Numbers and Ego
i don’t want to press the point implicit in these overall mortality percentages,
though i think it’s well worth making, to show how the framing of “objective data”
often tilts things in particular directions. aside from the complexities of demo-
graphic analysis, why don’t i want to press it?
Well, what we’re essentially saying by judging things based on relative mortal-
ity rates is that we want to be in the situation which gives us the smaller chance of
early death. a pretty reasonable position to take, no? it’s the position Pinker takes in
presenting Keeley’s data, and he uses the blinding preferability of a smaller chance of
early death to appeal to his audience and convince them that they, too, think we’ve
come a long way since the brutal times before centralized power.
but its preferability blinds people indeed, i believe. firstly, i don’t think most
people see just how far the unarguable “hard facts” distance them from lived experi-
ences. and secondly, this position, in this context, is monstrously selfsh.
let me deal with the frst point by looking at how the statistics game plays out
with another example Pinker takes from Keeley, one that has propagated widely in
the wake of Pinker’s work: that of the !Kung people in southern africa. Pinker says:
Te !Kung San … had been described by elizabeth marshall Tomas as “the
harmless people” in a book of that title. but as soon as anthropologists camped
out long enough to accumulate data, they discovered that the !Kung San have a
murder rate higher than that of american inner cities.
53
War & the Noble Savage
24
Can this be true? Pinker’s drawing on a book called demonic Males that i’ve not got
round to, so i’ll resort to data from raymond C. Kelly (watch out for possible sur-
name confusion with Keeley!). Kelly in turn draws on the work of bruce m. Knauft.
both are well respected in the anthropology of war. Kelly gives the homicide rate
for hunter-gatherer societies such as the !Kung, Semai, mbuti and Siriono as being
“33.3 to 44.4 per 100,000 per annum”.
54
Tis does indeed drastically overshadow New
york’s 2008 rate of around 6.2 per 100,000 per annum,
55
and rivals modern murder
hotspots like Jamaica and South africa (the urban areas, that is).
56
imagine that. Te carnage of these chaotic hubs of street violence, only con-
densed down to a small-scale foraging situation and wrought with basic weapons
and bare hands. one pictures endless aggression, ceaseless bloodbaths… in short,
hobbes’ “continual fear and danger of violent death”.
however, the reality is rather diferent. Tis seemingly sky-high murder rate
in a population of around 150 (a typical San band) pans out to, on average, one kill-
ing every ffteen to twenty years. once a generation. Tat’s why those anthropologists
needed to “camp out long enough to accumulate data”. Kelly remarks:
Tus [despite the statistically high murder rate] the general tenor of daily so-
cial relations observed by the ethnographer can readily be a strongly positive one
of friendship, camaraderie, and communal sharing that is very rarely disrupted
by argument or physical fghting.
57
it’s like hobbes is in control of the numbers but on the ground we fnd rousseau
living it up. how much reality do we bestow upon the abstract viewpoint, and how
much reality do we grant to lived experience? Tis seems to be a crucial question, one
we’re forced to ask by the emerging fact that in relating demographic statistics to
quality of life, scale matters. it’s grossly misleading to rank band-based society fgures
next to those of mass civilizations.
Sure, that once-a-generation murder in your forager band will likely be someone
you know and love, whereas the civilized (at least, the privileged classes) can be
relatively well isolated from such tragedy. but as with the yanomami versus france
example, it’s plain that things are far from the overwhelming simplicity of the pic-
tures sketched by Pinker, which increasingly appear cartoonish.
my second point was that preferring the society where the chance of any indi-
vidual (say, yourself ) dying was lowest was, simply, selfsh. So what? Can wanting to
live reasonably be called selfsh?
Te game we’re playing with Pinker here (and to a lesser extent with Keeley)
is one of comparisons. has civilization improved our general lot, or not? at least in
the tri bal ZoNe
25
terms of violence, Pinker categorically thinks it has. but doesn’t this focus on per-
centages and proportions blind us to the fact that a staggering number of people—in
absolute terms—die violent deaths in the modern world compared to primitive so-
cieties? Tis is exactly the perspective Pinker and Keeley claim to reveal as deceptive.
in the written version of his ‘history of violence’ piece on edge.org, Pinker does
mention the dilemma of whether a greater absolute mortality rate is worse than a
greater relative mortality rate, but dismisses it as a “moral imponderable”. at the
same time, he seems to have had few problems with his pondering, having clearly
made up his mind that the latter is worse. being charitable to this duplicity, let’s
translate “imponderable” as “debatable,” and look at the other side of the story.
Nomadic hunter-gatherer societies are by defnition very small-scale; over 100 in
a social group is big, as we’ve seen. Civilizations, conversely, have very large popula-
tions. Tat’s the deal. for the sake of argument, let’s stick to Pinker and Keeley’s
emphasis on war deaths and accept that civilization allows us a lower per-person
chance of dying violently compared to primitive life. given the inherent scales of
these social structures, “preferring” civilization is like saying you’re willing for more
people in total to die in order to get a better chance at living a long life yourself.
envision a simplistic fantasy scenario where we’re able to step into life with, on
the one hand, a band of 100 hunter-gatherers with a 0.5% annual war death rate (as
bad as it gets in the most war-torn tribal groups); or, on the other hand, a civilization
of 100 million with a 0.05% war death rate—that’s among the lower modern fgures,
and represents 10 times less chance of “dying by the sword”. like a pair of quantum
cats, neither society actually exists until you make your choice and step in. if you
choose the former, someone dies violently every other year. if you choose the latter,
about 140 people die violently every day. Which do you choose?
it’s not a choice that anyone is ever literally faced with. and some cynic will
surely point out that the least number of actual deaths would occur if you refused the
given dilemma by committing suicide. but it seems like a thought experiment that
conveys a certain truth. for the most part, the primary concern of attempts to de-
bunk this truth is the supposed pacifc or violent nature of the “primitive character.”
Te fact that less actual death occurs in foraging social groups is deemed irrelevant
because it’s not a result of a conscious attitude on these people’s part; it’s “merely” a
function of the social scale. but for anyone who accepts from the start that all hu-
mans are quite capable of violence, and thus isn’t bothered about proving or denying
aggressive intent, small-scale societies may begin to look like a rather more agreeable
and humane overall situation. as has been said, by their fruits ye shall know them.
War & the Noble Savage
26
Te Impact of Contact
all this statistical evaluation has taken place with a complete suspension of
the idea that recent ethnographies don’t refect “pristine” indigenous hunter-gatherer
situations, but rather describe societies impacted by contact with Western and other
states (let alone other societies such as neighbouring pastoralists). if we’re to infer
anything about the exceptionally long forager-only opening to the human story from
those who still live this way, surely this issue needs addressing?
referring to his much-discussed primitive war casualty fgures, Keeley admits
that “only in the past few decades have ethnographers attempted to collect such in-
formation.”
58
but even in the face of such a dubious range for our data, he compares
the idea that ethnography cannot reveal precontact realities to his father’s “facetious
claim that the fesh of a watermelon is really white until the skin is broken and it turns
instantly red.”
59
he “quickly dispose[s] of the argument that these high casualty rates
only refect contact between tribal peoples and Westerners”
60
using archaeological
data from precontact periods. everyone i’m drawing on here acknowledges that ar-
chaeology is indeed the major means of “cross-referencing” our ethnographic data,
and we’ll deal with that topic in the next part of our study. if you can postpone frm
judgements until this supporting evidence is rallied, we can quickly have a look at
some arguments about the impacts of more complex cultures on indigenous peoples.
even if we try to gain more insight into precontact indigenous cultures by go-
ing back to the very earliest reports of them, it seems we have much more than the
temperamental biases of explorers and missionaries to worry about. ferguson shows
that many impacts of colonization precede actual contact. transmission of disease
for which the natives have no immunity, and the spread of imported animals and
plants that wreak havoc on ecosystems unaccustomed to their presence, are two vital
biological factors that may race ahead of the “edge of empire.” (you’ll recall that
Keeley himself argued that the devastation wreaked by these biological elements
accounted to a large extent for the ease with which the New World was conquered.)
on top of this, imported goods valued by natives—especially, of course, weaponry
like knives and guns—can disrupt conditions among societies some distance from
the newcomers thanks to radiating trade networks. in many cases, those natives who
are in contact with invaders are recruited in order to combat or enslave rival groups,
extending the colonial infuence past the actual colonists in yet another way.
exactly how and to what extent these things (let alone direct contact) afect the
indigenous situation is, of course, the nub. ferguson’s research has led him to con-
clude that “what has been assumed to be ‘pristine’ warfare now seems more likely
to be a refection of the european presence.”
61
i can’t claim to have done enough
the tri bal ZoNe
27
research to strongly agree or disagree with this statement, but it seems hard to argue
with his subsequent observations:
Tis does not mean that nothing can be known about war outside of the
infuence of europe or other state systems. archaeological data and judicious
use of early reports from some situations can provide such information. Te
point, rather, is that we cannot discriminate precontact war patterns without a
theoretically informed sensitivity to the infuences of contact even in its earliest
phases.
ferguson’s image of the “refection of european presence” categorically does not entail
the precontact indigenous mirror as some blank Slate. We saw earlier how Keeley
misrepresented him, claiming ferguson was arguing that all war in native societies
was engendered by contact when in fact he argued that indigenous war existed, but
was “generally transformed, frequently intensifed, and sometimes precipitated” by
colonial infuence. When handled
with more sensitivity than Keeley
allows, the debate becomes a dense,
sometimes esoteric discourse, with
plain english summaries forc-
ing words such as “frequently,”
“rarely,” “typically” and “sometimes”
to carry perhaps more of a weight
of meaning than their imprecision
can bear. Nevertheless, once again,
if we dispense with the naïve rous-
seauian idea of a primitive state of
total peace (and with opposition to
such ideas), at least the discussion
becomes more useful.
Some argue that yes, euro-
pean colonists often had an efect
on indigenous warfare, but that
it was one of pacifcation, not of
engendering confict. Tis pacif-
cation, though, when it occurred,
cannot be submitted simply as an
argument for the “benefts” of eu-
ropean infuence. as Keeley says:
Te white man brings civilization and Christianity to
the savages. Some still fght in the background. from
J.g. Wood’s Te Uncivilized Races of Man (1871)
War & the Noble Savage
28
Te price of imperial peace was manifold indignity, dispossession, abject
poverty, slavery, famine, and worse; and that price was surely too high. Te peace
that humans universally desire is not that of the grave or the chain gang, but
imperial pacifcation often meant both.
62
however, harvard archaeologist Steven a. leblanc, author of Constant Battles:
Why We Fight,
63
argues that this peaceful aftermath also shows why we can’t rely on
recent ethnographies to infer anything about the remote past. it’s like a reversed ap-
plication of ferguson’s position. rather than saying present violence can’t be used as
evidence for the past because of the infuence of contact, he says present peace can’t
be used as evidence, again because of the infuence of contact:
in the majority of cases [of contemporary indigenous “peace”], either the
group’s population has been decimated and the survivors were then living far
below their carrying capacity, or they had received such useful technology that
the carrying capacity grew markedly.
64
“Carrying capacity” is a term from ecology which basically means the population
size of a certain species that a particular environment can sustain long-term. leblanc
sees the breach of ecological limits such as carrying capacity (i.e. over-population)
as a crucial catalyst for war. So while in some instances the catastrophic efects of
colonial genocides and disease impacts function as “post-apocalyptic” generators of
violence-ridden tribal societies we encounter,
65
leblanc argues that these exact ef-
fects made some natives more peaceful, because there was more to go around—be-
cause, in turn, there were fewer people for resources to be shared among. and in
contrast to ferguson’s extensive work showing how the introduction of steel tools
exacerbated patterns of yanomami warfare,
66
leblanc argues that new technologies
enabled some natives (not specifcally the yanomami) to increase their ability to ex-
ploit local resources—hence increasing carrying capacity, and ameliorating confict.
my research isn’t extensive enough to say exactly how right or wrong leblanc
may be on this point; i submit it merely as an interesting factor that underlines the
complexities of using ethnography for judging tribal life per se.
other complexities seem even less amenable to study. for instance, if the pre-
contact mix of “peaceful” and “warlike” indigenous peoples was more varied than the
rather war-centric distribution that some ethnography implies,
67
perhaps the more
peaceful people were simply wiped out. Tis could have been at the hands of euro-
pean invaders or amidst inter-tribal confict precipitated by the colonial infux—or
perhaps long before contact, as population and ecological pressures made ferocity
a prominent advantage. equally, peaceful tribes would presumably have vanished
at a higher rate thanks to cultural absorption rather than death—that is, thanks to
the tri bal ZoNe
29
ethnocide rather than genocide. fierce tribes would be more likely to stand their
ground and resist the transformation of their way of life—and previously peaceable
societies would be more likely to become ferocious in order to defend their culture.
Tis may be a good argument against pacifsm when it comes to contact with a
war-oriented culture, but at the same time it creates further difculties for the use of
ethnography in judging prehistory.
as ferguson said, though, none of this is to advocate the abandonment of eth-
nography as valueless. Keeley assumes a brittle stance, seeing any admission that
european contact dramatically changed the indigenous situation as implying some
sort of wholesale abandonment of ethnography (rather than as calling for a more
cautious use of ethnography).
Still, whatever position is taken on ethnography, everyone in the debate ac-
knowledges the immense value of the material evidence supplied by archaeology. it’s
to this discipline’s contribution to the feld that we now turn.
Te Remains of the Past
i
imagine that by now it’s probably redundant to open this section on ar-
chaeology with a warning that we shouldn’t expect conclusions as hard as the
discipline’s material evidence. taking that for granted, i want to start by honing
in on the implications of Keeley’s title: War Before Civilization.
Bands & States, the Nomadic & the Settled
i’ve not been that up-front about terminology so far. i’ve used some terms (like
“primitive”) that aren’t generally acceptable these days due to political sensitivities.
i hope it’s clear that i’m comfortable with such a term precisely because i hold no
truck with the progressivist philosophy it’s usually seen to entail. in any case, i’ve
been moderately careful with my labels, but by not discussing them in-depth i’ve
omitted one of the crucial faws in Keeley’s position.
Simply put, the faw is this: there are few, if any people today who argue for a
signifcantly low rate or absence of war in any societies other than nomadic, egalitarian
hunter-gatherers. Keeley, in using the origins of civilization as his cut-of point for
comparison, is largely polemicizing against non-existent adversaries. most primitiv-
ists see the genesis of agriculture and/or settled, sedentary life as the source of endemic
human confict—not the state, however closely these may grow to be linked. Tere’s
a more interesting argument to be made about the diferences between foraging
and agricultural societies, or between nomadic and sedentary societies, than there
is between non-state and state-based societies. in strictly framing his argument us-
ing the state as the dividing line across which cultures are compared, and lumping
together hunter-gatherer and agricultural or sedentary non-state societies, Keeley
isn’t missing out on a reality of entirely “peaceful savagery”; but he is obscuring the
most relevant axis of debate.
While both Keeley and leblanc have good, relevant archaeological feldwork
under their belts, it sometimes appears as if they allow the impact of their direct
professional experience to fuel the rash leaps to their rather broad conclusions.
Keeley relies heavily on his specialism in the european early Neolithic, circa
the remai NS of the PaSt
31
5000 BCE, which saw early agriculturalists spreading west. Some argue from his-
torical genetics that modern europeans retain a large proportion of DNa from the
mesolithic hunters who preceded this advance, and see this as evidence that the
spread was as much adoption of agriculture by native communities as displacement
of natives by invaders.
68
others argue that, whatever DNa slipped through, this
period was one of severe confict, “a blitzkrieg by the standards of the day.”
69
agricul-
ture’s nearby point of origin, the middle east, had been farmed for several millennia
by this time, and growing populations, soil exhaustion and erosion certainly made
the westward expansion more an increasingly desperate necessity than a friendly
adventure spreading new technology.
of course violence existed among the european hunters of the mesolithic. Tis
period, which saw the social structures of indigenous foragers complexifying far past
the primordial band-based nomadic model, has been described as that “when true
warfare began in europe”.
70
but while mesolithic europe profers excellent evidence
for pre-state war, and certainly warns against simplistic ideas of pre-agricultural con-
ditions, it may have little bearing on the less complex Palaeolithic, prior to 10,000
BCE.
i mentioned earlier that Keeley managed to “quickly dispose” of the idea that
high war casualty rates among contemporary tribes were an artefact of Western con-
tact using archaeology. Te archaeology in question was drawn from “several prehis-
toric populations”. it’s not a wide sample to try and prove that all primitive societies
before 1492 were war-ridden; and on top of its small size, it’s strongly selective, when
you drop the state / non-state axis and focus on the nomadic forager / sedentary
society axis. Te sample includes:
•  Te only undisputed instance of severe Palaeolithic confict, from Jebel Sahaba,
northeast africa, circa 11,000 BCE. Tis was during drastic climate change at
the end of the last ice age, the efect of which on Nile valley societies has been
described as “an unmitigated disaster”.
71
•  Te oneota indians from illinois, around 1300 CE—“the frst in the … region to
rely on intensive agriculture”
72
and organized into “large nucleated villages”.
73
•  Te Prince rupert harbour indians from british Columbia on the Northwest
Coast, from 1500 BCE to 500 CE. Tis culture showed “social organizational com-
plexity” and “dense, sedentary village populations”.
74
•  Te infamous Crow Creek indian massacre from the early 14th century, an ex-
ceptional event involving subsistence agriculturalists living in fortifed villages
and probably experiencing famine.
75
•  a late mesolithic culture from 4100 BCE in vedbæk, on the coast of Denmark,
where rich grave goods are taken as early evidence of social stratifcation.
76
War & the Noble Savage
32
•  téviec, on brittany’s coast around 6000 BCE, also seen by many as showing evi-
dence of “ascribed status.” Tis and other factors place it as an key example of
the transition between the late mesolithic and the early Neolithic in europe; as
at vedbæk, while these people fshed and gathered, they were largely sedentary.
77
it should also be noted that the cemeteries found at both vedbæk and téviec repre-
sent rather small samples—around two dozen bodies in each. Tis makes statistical
representation, as with war deaths among modern indigenous populations, subject
to the sometimes misleading efects of what statisticians call “the volatility of small
numbers.” even one death among such small numbers represent a relatively large
increase in deaths as a proportion of the population.
78
all in all, as with Keeley’s contemporary evidence, there’s not much to hold
against someone arguing for war-free life among egalitarian hunter-gatherer no-
mads—our ancestors for the vast majority of our timeline.
Keeley hammers home his evidence, such as it is, with details of his own frst
excavation, a village from the San francisco bay circa 1000 CE, concluding:
it is clear from these archaeological examples that the casualty rates recorded
by ethnographers are neither improbable nor exceptional. tribal people needed
no instructions or inducements from europeans to make real war.
79
however, the apparent blanket projection of limited evidence across the whole span
of human history belies his acknowledgement that while relatively peaceful socie-
ties do “occur (if uncommonly) at every level of social and economic complexity …
truly peaceful agriculturalists appear to be somewhat less common than pacifstic
hunter-gatherers.”
80
less nuanced is Steven leblanc, whose crudely titled Constant Battles, while
containing good arguments on the ecological factors in war, reveals another archae-
ologist so impressed with the fndings of his own digs that he seems a little too
ready to make sweeping judgements. in the early 1970s he excavated remains from
the Classic phase (around 1000 CE) of the mimbres culture—New mexico indians
living in large pueblos and undergoing agricultural intensifcation.
81
refecting on
his discovery of violent confict there, leblanc “began to think that if the Southwest
was not peaceful, then there was little reason to believe any other place on earth was
peaceful for long.”
82
i’m not sure i’ve encountered bolder archaeological theorizing
anywhere else—and coming from me, that’s saying something.
the remai NS of the PaSt
33
Te Deep, Dark Past
after many centuries of grossly naïve historical belief inspired by Te holy
bible, science began one its most visionary projects during the 18th century enlight-
enment: the revelation of deep time. geologists James hutton and Charles lyell
unravelled the earth’s evidence to place its origins far, far before the paltry handful of
millennia proposed by Christian tradition, paving the way for the current estimate of
four and half billion years. Tis vast span of geological time set the stage for Darwin’s
evolutionary narrative, which in turn uncovered our species’ hitherto unsuspected
deep past.
Tat we’ve only recently awoken to this epic history, and that its overwhelming
scope verges on the incomprehensible in any case, might forgive our general tenden-
cy to let the depth of our past vanish over our horizon. Perhaps a reminder is in order.
Te above timeline shows, in years before the present, our origins as a species,
and the end of the Palaeolithic, which saw the rise of signifcant new levels of so-
cial complexity that rapidly swamped our small-scale hunter-gatherer heritage. Te
overwhelming majority of archaeological evidence for violent confict lies after that
Palaeolithic divide—inconceivably remote, and yet so close behind us.
So what do we know about that other 94% of our existence? a comprehensive
survey of Palaeolithic archaeological evidence is way beyond my scope, probably my
ability, and certainly my patience. So it’s impossible for me to objectively assess what
the scattered, hotly disputed evidence for Palaeolithic violence might imply. to get
going, let’s instead look at the broader scope of this sort of inquiry. What can we
know about war and violence in this period? let’s see what our experts reckon.
Keeley, embracing the history of the Homo genus rather than just that of the
Homo sapiens species, remarks that “any attempts to survey 2 million years of human
prehistory for evidence of violence and armed confict face several daunting difcul-
ties.”
83
Tese include the fact that few regions are known well archaeologically, the
disturbance of remains before burial practices became common, and the perishability
of early weaponry. “Tus it is possible to document prehistoric warfare reliably only
War & the Noble Savage
34
within the past 20,000 to 30,000 years and in only a few areas of the world.” but
despite this terrible blow to his faith in the “peculiarly robust” nature of archaeology,
before the end of his work he’s talking of the “brutal reality” of war predominating
through the ages.
84
leblanc, attempting to cast doubt on the early human ecological record, cites
the difculty of rallying positive evidence for harmony with the environment—
which may apply equally well to evidence for the absence of war. “as with archaeo-
logical information, it is easier to see evidence for non-conservationist behavior and
a lack of ecological balance in the historic and ethnographic record than it is to
demonstrate that such a balance took place.”
85
Discussing the relationship between
population dynamics and confict, he does say, “i would expect … rapid growth
among farmers to be accompanied or followed by considerable confict—and often
by subsequent population collapse. in fact, this is precisely what the archaeology and
historical accounts show for early farmers.”
86
Still, he must fulfl the title of his book,
so he throws nuance to the wind and declares: “from the earliest foragers found
archaeologically to historical accounts of foragers from all corners of the globe, the
evidence shows that they fght and kill in deadly earnest. … early foragers were not
able to live peacefully.”
87
ferguson readily admits in an interview that if there was war before 20-25,000
years ago, there would probably be no evidence.
88
however, he points out that argu-
ing for persistent violence previous to this limit of archaeological perception would
also have to account for why it went away as soon as the archaeological record begins,
taking another 10,000 years or so to re-appear. he notes elsewhere that, apart from
the unequivocal carnage at Jebel Sahaba from the end of the ice age, “only about a
dozen Homo sapiens skeletons 10,000 years old or older, out of hundreds of similar
antiquity examined to date, show clear indications of interpersonal violence.”
89
later,
caution about the archaeological record in general (i.e. including the Palaeolithic
expanse) evaporates as he describes it as “abundant”, and lacking evidence of warfare.
“Te signs are not there; here is not the case that ‘the absence of evidence is not
evidence of absence’.”
90
Te impartial layperson would be forgiven after all this for thinking that all the
experts simply project into the void of Palaeolithic uncertainty the beliefs in which
they have so much invested. and perhaps the experts may be forgiven for this, be-
cause they wouldn’t come across as very expert if they simply said, “We don’t know.”
in part, it’s their job to give it their best guess. but it’s disconcerting to see guesswork
translate so readily into the rhetoric of certitude; such, perhaps, are the infating
pressures of academia and commercial publishing.
Ape Cousins &
Hard-Wired Violence
i
f ethnography is mixed at best, and archaeology turns into not so much
a dead-end as a dark, perceptually bottomless pit, where to turn to fnd solid
foundations for human war? many turn to DNa. more specifcally, to the
sometimes controversial disciplines that explore the relationship between genetics
and behaviour—sociobiology and evolutionary psychology—and to the implications
for human behaviour they can draw from the study of our cousins: chimpanzees.
91
Te Homo line of descent
shares with the Pan (chimpanzee)
genus an as yet unknown common
ancestor, dated through genetic
studies to about 4 to 6 million years
ago. as all other Homo species fell
by the wayside, chimps stand as
our closest evolutionary relatives.
Jared Diamond’s book Te Tird
Chimpanzee made the observation
that the 1-2% genetic diference
between us and chimps is small
enough to warrant placing us all
within the same genus—Pan sapiens anyone? even though recent research has sug-
gested the gene gap might be more along the lines of 6%,
92
our common evolutionary
heritage leads many to ground their speculations (and sometimes their convictions)
about human violence in what primatological studies have to tell us.
Goodall’s Wild Chimps
howard bloom, like many others, cites Jane goodall’s famous research in equato-
rial africa. he recounts that by the early 1970s she “had lived fourteen years among
the wild chimpanzees of tanzania’s gombe reserve.”
Te common chimpanzee
War & the Noble Savage
36
She loved the chimps for their gentle ways, so diferent from the violence
back home among humans. yes, there were simian muggings, beatings, and rage,
but the ultimate horror—war—was absent.
goodall published a landmark book on chimpanzee behaviour—In the
Shadow of Man—a work that to some proved unequivocally that war was a
human creation. after all, the creatures shown by genetic and immunological
research to be our nearest cousins in the animals kingdom knew nothing of
organized, wholesale violence.
Ten, three years after goodall’s book was printed, a series of incidents
occurred that horrifed her. Te tribe of chimps goodall had been watching
became quite large. food was harder to fnd. Quarrels broke out. to relieve the
pressure, the unit fnally split into two separate tribes. one band stayed in the
old home territory. Te other left to carve out a new life in the forest to the
south.
at frst, the two groups lived in relative peace. Ten the males from the larger
band began to make trips south to the patch of land occupied by the splinter
unit. Te marauders’ purpose was simple: to harass and ultimately kill the sepa-
ratists. Tey beat their former friends mercilessly, breaking bones, opening mas-
sive wounds, and leaving the resultant cripples to die a slow and lingering death.
When the raids were over, fve males and one elderly female had been murdered.
Te separatist group had been destroyed; and its sexually active females and part
of its territory had been annexed by the males of the band from the home turf.
goodall had discovered war among the chimpanzees, a discovery she had hoped
she would never make.
93
Te implicit message of this, and most such use of primate studies (especially stud-
ies of violence), is that in looking at chimps, because they’re genetically very close
to us, we’re looking at a low-resolution but otherwise irrefutable refection of our
own “hard-wired” nature. as bloom’s colourful language has it, “our biological legacy
weaves evil into the substrate of even the most ‘unspoiled’ society.”
however, in this looking-glass, all is not as it seems. margaret Power’s 1991 study
Te Egalitarians—Human and Chimpanzee
94
shows how goodall’s studies weren’t ex-
actly “observations” of wild chimp populations. to more easily track them, she lured
them with boxed bananas, encouraging them to pretty much settle around her camp.
Tis distortion of the logistics of their normal feeding patterns seems to be instru-
mental in the transition from her early observations of relatively peaceful behaviour
to the “war” she later observed. goodall has since acknowledged that this practice
led to a dramatic rise in aggression; and that when she stopped doing it, the aggres-
sion—in the short term at least—abated. yet, Power argues, longer-term damage was
done. Tis period of ecological rupture created a sustained deviation in social habits
that led to unnatural levels of violence.
37
aPe CouSi NS & harD-Wi reD vi oleNCe
an anthropologist who critically reviewed Power’s book noted a number of
rather serious errors in her scholarship. but, while he warns against non-specialists
taking her work at face value, he concludes that
her thesis cannot be dismissed as readily as her handling of the evidence with
which she supports it. Despite its faults, it is founded on a true and troubling
statement: “Despite more than 30 years of study … there is no frm agreement as
to the social organization of [chimpanzees]”. … territorial confict and closed
communities at gombe and mahale do not preclude carnivals and open social
networks at other sites, and vice versa. We need a better idea of precisely how
ecological factors, acting through demographic variables, determine the behav-
ioral options open to chimpanzees at diferent sites.
95
all this begs the question of what we’re talking about when we try to claim
that violence is “natural.” Te capacity for violence is obviously natural for most spe-
cies that survive for any length of time, for getting food or for self-defence at least.
Tis capacity can also be brought to bear on settling territorial disputes and beating
rivals in the mating game. violence has been periodically used in both scenarios by
apes—human and chimp—so there’s no doubting the capacity here, either. Te real
question, again, regards the propensity for addressing problems in this way. and the
answer from primatology—as from archaeology, as from ethnography—appears to
be: it depends on the context.
r. brian ferguson, in his argument about yanomami warfare being impacted
by Western contact, doesn’t deny war’s existence before the european invasion; he
suggests that contact’s disruptions “lowered the threshold at which confict turns to
war.”
96
it’s the shifting of this threshold, which pushes “capacity” towards “propen-
sity,” that’s important. and these shifts aren’t genetic.
Conversely, Power’s critical reviewer observes with regard to the gombe chimp
war: “Te speed and repeatability with which these events unfold suggest a ‘natural’
basis.” again, there is a clear capacity present; there’s no room for literalist Noble
Savage nonsense. but in the end, an accurate gauge of the real issue, propensity, is
for the most part a thorny mystery—no matter how seductive the apparent solidity
of statistics can be.
Tere’s a fnal point worth making about how much we need to factor in epige-
netic variables when we look at chimps in their “natural” state: they’re an endangered
species. Te international union for Conservation of Nature tells us that wild chimp
populations are “estimated to have experienced a signifcant population reduction in
the past 20 to 30 years”.
97
major threats include habit destruction, poaching (“bush-
meat”), and infectious disease—all directly or indirectly attributable to encroaching
War & the Noble Savage
38
human populations. as with Western impacts on indigenous peoples, this contact
doesn’t “cause” chimp violence; but we’d be naïve to think it leaves it in whatever its
natural state is.
Te Animal Psyche
most significant for me in these inferences from chimp studies are the lin-
gering traces of the Christian-Cartesian split between humans and the rest of the
natural world. Tis split (which seems to haunt modern science to varying degrees,
despite emphatic opposition to it) bestows upon the human mind not just unique
qualities, but a separate order of reality.
to give credit to richard Dawkins, he follows his theories up with action in
supporting the great ape Project. behind the project’s campaign to extend basic le-
gal rights to non-human great apes is the acknowledgement that while the advent of
Homo sapiens certainly saw the arrival of hitherto unseen complexity in animal intel-
ligence, it didn’t signal any absolute break in the continuum of evolution. We possess
mind, psyche, or soul, which gives us our ability to behave in ways that respond in a
much more sophisticated way to the environment than mechanical translations of
genetic codes allow. but if evolutionary theory says anything, it says that this capac-
ity to be “un-natural” didn’t appear out of nowhere, like god breathing into adam’s
body. it, like our bodies, is rooted in a continuum extending throughout the living
world. We have to open up our falsely exclusive epigenetic “mind club” to a wider and
more subtly graded membership.
98
admitting this means admitting that in observing chimpanzee behaviour under
specifc circumstances, we aren’t necessarily looking at some image of what our bio-
logical nature is “in itself.” alongside genes, we need to be sensitive to the role of psy-
che in the scene—with its inevitable corollary, psychopathology. obviously goodall’s
artifcial distortion of chimp behaviour is an extreme instance of this. but even genu-
ine observations in the feld may not be concrete revelations of our encoded genetic
inheritance; they may contain contingent psychological aberrations, infuenced by a
complex network of forces in the immediate environment.
of course, this isn’t to argue that our genetic inheritance is “clean,” a blank Slate,
wholly bereft of unfortunate traits; or that all violence is pathological. it does mean
that we should be careful of casting any complex social animal’s behaviour as wholly
governed by genes, and of drawing conclusions about our own genes from observing
what they do. it also means that as we open our identities up to connect with the
animal kingdom, we’ll fnd resonance with instances of pathological cruelty as well
39
aPe CouSi NS & harD-Wi reD vi oleNCe
as with instincts to love and nurture. finding cruelty in nature may not be a cue to
understand or justify human perversions as “natural”; it may indicate that our strug-
gles with the tumultuous difculties of psychic life are not ours alone.
What About the Bonobo?
When most of us say “chimp,” we’re talking about Pan troglodytes, the common
chimpanzee found in West and Central africa. but there’s another branch to the
Pan line: Pan paniscus, also known as the dwarf or pygmy chimpanzee (even though
only their heads are smaller). it’s gained modest fame as the bonobo, the “hippy
chimp.”
bonobos live in the forests south
of the Congo river. it’s thought that
the two species originated when the
river formed up to 2 million years
ago, splitting these bad swimmers
into two populations, whose evolution
diverged. bonobos are less aggressive
than their more common relatives,
socially more female-centred, and
more egalitarian. Tey also express a
surprising array of sexual behaviours,
believed to be instrumental to their
peaceful nature. (Tis could reveal a
tricky double edge to the great ape Project. if legal rights are extended to them,
many will argue that legal responsibilities should be, too; bonobos would then have
to be careful what they get up to in some uS states.)
our genetic afnity is with the bonobo as well as the chimp, so it’s no surprise
to fnd the poles of the hobbes versus rousseau debate each claiming a species as
evidence against the other. Certainly, the bonobo’s generally peaceable habits take
the wind out the kind of one-dimensional use of primatology evidenced by howard
bloom. and a recent study seems to have dashed the hopes of any who let them-
selves believe that we’d discovered an ape without the capacity for things that liber-
ated Westerners consider unseemly.
99
but this evidence—apparently showing that
bonobos occasionally hunt other primates—seems to be more of a blow to naïve
vegetarians than anything else. even the bonobo’s public champion, frans de Waal,
fnds himself having to placate those who get over-enthusiastic about the bonobo’s
a male bonobo
War & the Noble Savage
40
undoubted positive qualities: “Tose who learn about bonobos fall too much in love,
like in the gay or feminist community. all of a sudden, here we have a politically
correct primate, at which point i have to get into the opposite role, and calm them
down: bonobos are not always nice to each other.”
100
bonobos are no more saintly than nomadic hunter-gatherers; but both still
present serious problems for simplistic hobbesian philosophies.
Putting Biology in its Place
We’ve seen that in Te Blank Slate, Steven Pinker is happy to rely heavily on
lawrence Keeley’s analysis of primitive war, and to sum up with “hobbes was right.”
as a neo-Darwinian, though, he understandably neglects to mention a section in
Keeley’s book headed “Te irrelevance of biology”.
101
here Keeley argues that the
hobbesian “war of all against all” “might be used to describe some solitary species of
nonhuman animals, but it cannot be applied to any known human society” (or great
ape society for that matter). our “inborn aptitude for social cooperation” makes it
“far easier to explain peace than war”. While he sees the propensity for war as com-
mon, he rejects the idea that it’s ingrained, citing societies that swing quickly from
bellicosity to peace (e.g. the iroquois indians, or the Norse in Scandinavia). “military
ferocity is not a fxed quality of any race or culture, but a temporary condition that
usually bears the seeds of its own destruction.”
102
later in his analysis, Pinker is more up-front, in a statement that might surprise
some who dismiss him without reading him:
i fnd myself in agreement with the radical scientists who insist that we
will never understand violence by looking only at the genes or brains of violent
people. violence is a social and political problem, not just a biological and psy-
chological one.
103
he goes on to unpack his “hobbes was right” declaration to show that, contrary to
the shallow association of hobbes and “innatist” biological theories, social factors are
as important, if not more important in analyzing war:
hobbes’s analysis of the causes of violence, borne out by modern data on
crime and war, shows that violence is not a primitive, irrational urge, nor is it a
“pathology” except in the metaphorical sense of a condition that everyone would
like to eliminate. instead, it is a near-inevitable outcome of the dynamics of
self-interested, rational social organisms.
104
ah—here’s the “socio” part of sociobiology. but once more, a blanket analysis of
41
aPe CouSi NS & harD-Wi reD vi oleNCe
violence across all types of societies masks the real arguments for more peaceful liv-
ing conditions among foraging nomads:
if an obstacle stands in the way of something an organism needs, it should
[according to “selfsh gene” theory] neutralize the obstacle by disabling or elimi-
nating it. Tis includes obstacles that happen to be other human beings—say,
ones that are monopolizing desirable land or sources of food.
105
Causes of war—settled living and resource monopolies—are exposed, but societies
that generally live without such things are omitted.
hobbes’s perception of primitive man as “solitary” is, as we’ve seen, risible, and
Pinker acknowledges the irony that the cause of most brutishness (as well as most
tenderness) is social life: “human sociality is the original ‘entangling alliance,’ in
which two parties with no prior animus can fnd themselves at war when the ally
of one attacks the ally of the other. it is the reason i discuss homicide and war in a
single chapter. in a species whose members form bonds of loyalty, the frst can easily
turn into the second.”
106
Plainly, in looking at the origins of war, we’re dealing with a complex mixture of
genetic capacities, ecological contingencies, and social structures. Pinker highlights
the role of social entanglements as a central issue in the generation of violence, but,
in trying to ground this in “selfsh gene” theory, skirts right past any detailed analy-
sis of how these entanglements may have evolved non-genetically. are the kind of
social bonds that breed confict intrinsic to human being? i’d like to turn now to an
anthropological study that directly addresses the importance of social structures and
the evolution of alliances that can fan the spark of homicide into the fre of war.
Complexity & Confict
i
t seems odd, after casting so much doubt on the value of ethnographic ac-
counts of indigenous confict, to return at this late stage to anthropology. how-
ever, raymond Kelly’s Warless Societies and the Origins of War is an especially
well-crafted study that, in lacking naïvety and analyzing data thoroughly, avoids
most of the pitfalls that we’ve discussed. even lawrence Keeley, whose work it im-
plicitly calls into question, was impressed enough to lend its cover some blurb; he
found Kelly’s thesis “important, interesting, plausible”.
Kelly’s approach is two-fold. on the one hand, he analyzes data on confict
and violence among indigenous peoples classically trumpeted as “peaceful,” e.g. the
!Kung in southern africa, the Semai of the malay Peninsula, the mbuti pygmies
from the Congo, the northern Canadian Copper inuit, and the Siriono of eastern
bolivia. his method is to compare various aspects of such societies, such as popula-
tion density, social structure, sedentarism, and so forth. out of these permutations he
tries to make some general deductions about the occurrence of war.
on the other hand, he conducts an
in-depth case study of the various peoples
native to the andaman islands, a small ar-
chipelago in the indian ocean that came
to many peoples’ attention recently as one
of the places devastated by the 2004 tsu-
nami. While unquestionably impacted by
colonial occupation, the native situation
found in ethnographic reports presents a
wide variety in ecological niches, nuances
in social structure, and exposure to colonial
infuence, which Kelly takes as an invita-
tion to use the andamanese as a micro-
cosm for studying the evolution of violent
confict. Crucially, the andamanese eth-
nography is subjected to the checks and
balances of comparison with the wider
anthropological data described above, and
two andamanese islanders in 1875
43
ComPleXi ty & CoNfli Ct
the archaeological record.
Te most important starting point in Kelly’s work is the fact that he doesn’t buy
into the hobbes versus rousseau simplifcations that have derailed so many studies.
he feels—unlike Keeley and Pinker—that it’s useful and signifcant to distinguish
between homicide and war, and admit that the absence of the latter can never pre-
clude the existence of the former. hence, his work is the identifcation of “warless”
societies, not the naïvely utopian search for “peaceful” societies. at the same time,
he bears in mind that scale matters when trying to deduce the quality of life from
murder statistics.
homicide, the killing of a killer (capital punishment), and spontaneous, po-
tentially lethal confict over resources do go well back into human prehistory.
however, these were rare events from an actor’s point of view, in that lethal
violence would be likely to occur within one’s own local group only about once
every hundred years (or once every twenty years in a regional band of fve neigh-
boring local groups). Te “nightmare past” that hobbes envisioned in which
individuals lived in continual fear of violent death clearly never existed. on
the other hand, an efort to locate ethnographic instances of societies in which
confict is absent and utopia concretely exemplifed invites disappointment.
107
What, then is “war”? if someone severely pisses you or your family of repeat-
edly, and the confict—in the absence of a central power’s mediation—escalates to
the point where you kill them, that’s murder. however, if a feud or other ongoing
confict (e.g. over resources) develops between two social entities, and it gets to the
point where people can be targeted merely because they’re one of “them” rather than
one of “us”—that’s war. Kelly calls it social substitutability. an attack can be directed
against an individual who’s done no wrong to you per se because they “stand for” the
other social group—and it’s this abstraction that’s the real target in warfare.
further, social substitutability only seems to be facilitated by a certain level of
social complexity. as we’ve seen, Keeley’s War Before Civilization makes his demoli-
tion of the idea that social complexity is related to war both easy and worthless by
taking the dividing line as that between state and non-state societies. Kelly is more
discerning, placing the line between what he calls unsegmented and segmental socie-
ties. he fnds little if any direct correlation between war and other factors (e.g. popu-
lation density and marriage customs), but all “warless” indigenous societies seem to
be unsegmented in organization. Tis means that:
•  a typical social group is “limited to the family, kindred, and local community”
(i.e. no “clans” or “tribes”—“band” is the usual label for an unsegmented social
unit);
War & the Noble Savage
44
•  when you marry, the bond only links you to your spouse and their immediate
family;
•  marriage payments and “kin group member liability to vengeance” are absent;
•  “settlement pattern is either fully migratory or seminomadic with an absence
of food storage” (and of the potential for economic inequality that food storage
engenders);
•  “population density is variable, ranging from less than 0.2 to as many as 5 per-
sons per square mile, but is characteristically below 1 person per square mile.”
108
Tis might seem like an absurdly tight series of constraints that would make the
number of qualifying “warless” societies vanishingly small. indeed, there aren’t many
places on the planet where this kind of life is still viable. but some have managed
it within living memory; and more importantly, there’s good reason to believe that
this pattern was typical for much of that Palaeolithic expanse. taking Kelly’s thesis
seriously tilts our judgement about life before the end of the ice age away from “we
can’t be sure” towards “possibly or probably warless.”
Note that Kelly’s conclusion isn’t as simple as saying that living an unsegmented
lifestyle completely removes the possibility of war. it’s just that this factor more than
any other governs the lowering of the threshold for war. in the professional lingo:
… the distinction between unsegmented and segmental organizational types
successfully diferentiates comparatively warless and warlike foragers, and …
each of these organization designs also modulates the efects of other variables
on the frequency of war. Tis is entirely consistent with the fundamental con-
cept that war and society coevolve.
109
i’m no fan of academic jargon, but the more i’ve looked into this issue, the more i’ve
appreciated its extreme complexity, and the value of fnely wrought analysis. authors
of popular works may decry such verbosity with the often justifed accusation of
sophistry, but in this case it seems to me that Kelly has simply taken more care in
his thinking.
even appreciating that “extraordinarily high” homicide rates in small-scale so-
cieties can still translate to “day-to-day tranquillity”,
110
it’s still difcult for us to
not fnd these claims a little fshy. Without glossing over the instances of brutality
that inevitably happened, and happen, in forager societies, a few andamanese eth-
nographic snippets are useful for getting a feel for the more general situation. it is,
in efect, what many primitivists claim as a kind of ‘original anarchism’. it involves
greater personal responsibility than living under a state, of course; but at the same
time it certainly isn’t a fearful open-ended “war of all against all.”
45
ComPleXi ty & CoNfli Ct
m.v. Portman, recruited by an anthropologist to photograph andaman island-
ers in the late 19th century, described andamanese men as “gentle and pleasant to
each other, and kind to children, but having no legal or other restraint on their pas-
sions, are easily roused to anger, when they commit murder.”
111
Kelly adds: “Women
also fght each other, sometimes employing sticks, although no female homicides are
reported …. usually, a homicide engenders no sequel.” Tat is, there’s no sense of
group-level obligation to avenge a murder, and when the family of a murder victim
act, they usually target the killer and no one else.
individual responsibility and animist spirituality merge in the fact that venge-
ance is usually left for the deceased’s spirit to enact. Kelly quotes radclife-brown,
a social anthropologist who spent two years on the andaman islands shortly before
World War i, who describes the purifcation rites that a man must undergo to avoid
retaliation from his victim’s spirit:
if a man kills another in a fght between two villages, or in a private quarrel,
he leaves the village and goes to live by himself in the jungle, where he must stay
for some weeks, or even months. his wife, and one or two of his friends may live
with him or visit him and attend to his wants. for some months the homicide
must observe a rigorous tabu. he must not handle a bow or arrow. he must not
feed himself or touch any food with his hands, but must be fed by his wife or a
friend. he must keep his neck and upper lip covered with red paint, and must
wear plumes of shredded Tetranthera wood (celmo) in his belt before and behind,
and in his necklace at the back of his neck. if he breaks any of these rules it is
supposed that the spirit of the man he has killed will cause him to be ill. at the
end of a few weeks the homicide undergoes a purifcation ceremony. his hands
are frst rubbed with white clay (tol-odu) and then with red paint. after this he
may wash his hands and may then feed himself with his hands and may handle
bows and arrows. he retains the plumes of shredded wood for a year or so.
112
Such obligations may not be an efective deterrent for a modern atheist gangster,
but within the context of andamanese culture, and along with the elaborate peace-
making traditions that Kelly documents, they demonstrate the seriousness with
which killing is taken. it’s clear that the lack of state power in such societies in no
way precludes social order and collective morality.
at the very least, Kelly’s thesis is a powerful counter-balance to the “war is
ingrained” side of the recent debate, which often relies too heavily on attacking crude
rousseauian beliefs. it’s unfortunate, but perhaps predictable, that compelling but
involved reasoning like this only registers as a faint signal, if at all, on the radar of
popular intellectual discussion.
Te Ecologically Noble Savage
S
teven leblanc’s Constant Battles is the least successful popular study of
primitive war i’ve covered here. Which is a shame, as it’s the one that deals
most extensively with the fascinating and undoubtedly important issue of the
ecological factors in the generation of warfare.
No one questions the impact of environmental problems on confict. Keeley
admits that “it is becoming increasingly certain that many prehistoric cases of in-
tensive warfare in various regions corresponded with hard times created by ecologi-
cal and climatic changes.” and, even while stressing that “no type of economy or
social organization is immune to natural disasters or to the impetus they give to
warfare,” against the grain of his main argument he concedes that “larger, denser, and
more technologically sophisticated societies have a greater capacity to create their
own disasters through deforestation, soil salinization, the introduction of new pests,
and even foolish economic policies.”
113
ferguson formulates fve “preconditions”
that contributed to war in prehistoric times: sedentarism, social hierarchies, long-
distance trade, over-population and… climate change. and Kelly compares specifc
andamanese examples of war to the late Palaeolithic evidence from Jebel Sahaba,
highlighting the similar environmental contexts and the impact of resource short-
ages. leblanc is much bolder: “ecological imbalance, i believe, is the fundamental
cause of warfare.”
114
however, instead of discussing the various roles that ecology plays in group con-
ficts, i’d like to round things of by returning to the more general issue of the Noble
Savage that we began with. Te recent suggestions that civilization is more benign in
terms of violence than primitive culture, rather than vice versa, go hand-in-hand with
attacks on the idea that indigenous peoples live in harmony with the environment.
indeed, part of leblanc’s argument, grounded in the somewhat overstated belief that
ecological dysfunction is the root of all war, involves showing how prehistoric people
ended up fghting much of the time because they weren’t ecological saints.
Te past couple of decades has seen a minor wave of revisionist scholarship
aiming to expose this “conservation absence.”
115
most critics attack the idea of a
spotless environmental record for tribal people with the best interests of indigenous
groups in mind, trying to demolish over-idealized images before their inevitable
crumbling creates a kind of disillusioned backlash. however, as ter ellingson has
the eCologi Cally Noble Savage
47
argued, framing the argument with loaded phraseology (as in m.S. alvard’s 1993
paper ‘testing the “ecologically Noble Savage” hypothesis’) “tends to infate the
emotional ‘noise’ level of virtually any discussion”,
116
scuppering any good intentions.
Such scholarship, predictably enough, slips comfortably into some wildly re-
actionary contexts, such as ‘Te anti-biblical Noble Savage hypothesis refuted’
by John Woodmorappe (also author of Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study).
117
of course
sound scholarship can be hijacked by dodgy causes. but some people make it easier
than it need be—especially when the underlying assumptions of the scholarship
itself are questionable.
in keeping with the rest of this essay, i’ll not bother with looking at this issue in
relationship to complex and agricultural prehistoric societies. if anyone still thinks
that spirituality oriented towards the natural world can somehow automatically
trump the destructive dynamics of agriculture, Jared Diamond’s bestseller Collapse
is worth a read.
Killing of the Megafauna
Probably ranking alongside the brawling habits of the yanomami as a totem-
ic exhibit in the prosecution of primitive culture is the extinction of various species of
large animals (megafauna) during our early colonization of the globe. as an example
of its use in debate to paint the modern world as no worse than any human world,
environmentalist journalist george monbiot—who is probably seen as some sort of
primitivist by many consumers of british media—brings the point up in an exchange
with Paul Kingsnorth about the merits of industrial civilization:
you maintain that modern industrial civilisation “is a weapon of planetary
mass destruction.” anyone apprised of the Palaeolithic massacre of the african
and eurasian megafauna, or the extermination of the great beasts of the ameri-
cas … must be able to see that the weapon of planetary mass destruction is not
the current culture, but humankind.
118
as far as i can make out the issue in africa and eurasia isn’t bandied about much.
Te length of human habitation in these regions means that any extinctions were less
dramatic, and some megafauna were able to evolve defences against our predation.
119

Te real furore, the “proof ” of primitive human rapaciousness, seems to emerge from
our expansion into the americas—much of the controversy being due to cultural
sensitivities around the image of Native americans.
Te theory that human hunting was the primary cause of megafauna extinctions
in these areas—the “overkill hypothesis”—has been championed since the 1960s by
War & the Noble Savage
48
geologist Paul S. martin. Depending on who you read, either his theory has faced
a long uphill struggle of acceptance and currently has broad consensus, or it gained
much support in the decades after its proposal, but has been made debatable by more
recent evidence. in his wide-ranging and thorough survey of the late Palaeolithic and
early Neolithic, After the Ice, Steven mithen examines the evidence against the Clovis
people who frst entered the americas across the bering Straits, and concludes with
a question mark.
120
a few dozen species seem to have fnally become extinct around
10,000 BCE, near the time of human arrival, but from these the only “kill sites” in
evidence are for mammoths—and even these seem to be ambiguous.
all told, human hunting probably played a part in some of these extinctions, but
it’s worth remembering that it seems to have been playing a quiet second fddle to
the devastation brought about by climate change as the ice caps melted. Quite nor-
mal hunting patterns could have tipped the scale for these creatures, beset by massive
environmental shifts. So, some may have made it if humans had stayed put in asia;
does this make a case for any kind of hobbesian primeval human deadliness? Not
really. as Jason godesky writes:
No, there was no noble savage; but there was no murderous savage, either.
humans were not created good or evil—just human. our entrance into the
americas, oceania and the rest of the world was as harmless as wolves, lions
or sharks. my words there are carefully chosen. We don’t normally consider
wolves, lions or sharks particularly “harmless,” and neither were humans. but
we recognize the place such predators have in the natural world. We recognize
that they’re part of a bigger picture. We know that introducing them into a
new situation will have far-reaching efects on that situation, but we also know
that’s not a refection of their own nature, but the nature of ecology itself. Just
like humans.
121
our role in Palaeolithic extinctions certainly topples the idea that hunter-gath-
erer shamans were in telepathic communication with the group mind of their prey,
and could modify their bands’ hunting patterns in order to make sure humans never
witnessed anything so heinous as an extinction. but isn’t it strange how shocking
“extinction” can seem when placed in a frame with “pristine” hunter-gatherers, even
as we ignore our numbness to the mind-boggling acceleration of extinction rates
precipitated by our own agriculture and industry?
once more we’re saddled with exaggerated Noble Savage ideals, foating about
in the cultural ether, arguably not actually believed in by anyone. and in bringing
these ghostly ideals down to earth, it’s felt that actual hunter-gatherers have been
exposed as fraudulent in some way, and that the only change the modern world has
wrought on the planet has been improvement. at worst, “it was ever thus.”
the eCologi Cally Noble Savage
49
mithen’s chapter on the megafauna in the New World is titled ‘Clovis hunters
on trial’, and the reference to legality is interesting. in modern law, when responsible
for someone’s death you’re generally only charged with murder if you intended to kill
them or if you acted with wilful disregard for their life.
Tere aren’t many cases on record of any humans driving species to extinction
with intent—perhaps a virus here and there that’s been eradicated from the wild.
Still, when you have crops and animals to defend, suddenly some animals become
“pests” and “vermin”; combined with expansionism, you have a recipe for potential
if not efective “speciecide.” Conversely, when it comes to disregard, i fnd it hard to
imagine a hunting culture who don’t care about the ongoing success of the animals
they hunt. Clearly, any extinctions caused by foragers happened simply because the
culture wasn’t equipped with a means of knowing what was happening.
among the blessings of the modern life sciences is the ability to collate enough
data from the natural world to assess the overall health of particular species, to an
extent never before possible. unfortunately, this blessing comes as a thin silver lining
on a very dark cloud called the holocene extinction. Tis is generally considered to
be the sixth great “extinction event” the planet has seen, and its origins coincide with
the emergence of human culture from the Palaeolithic.
Some classify the ice age megafauna extinctions separately from the ongoing
process happening around us now, calling this earlier episode the Quaternary extinc-
tion.
122
others see them as just the thin end of our big holocene wedge. Certainly
the “thin end” perspective is unarguable when you’re just looking at the numbers.
but in terms of holding cultures to account, i would argue that the development of
agriculture—and certainly the industrial revolution—signalled massive qualitative
shifts. Disregard became much more viable. and while i hold conservation eforts in
very high regard, a wider perspective makes it hard to see that silver lining—our eco-
logical knowledge—as unalloyed “point-scoring” for the modern world. Combined
with the exponential increase in devastation, our increasing knowledge of the scale
of the issue changes the charges against us from plain uncomprehending disregard
to wilful disregard. We know what we’re doing, and, on balance, carry on doing it.
By Teir Fruits
you might object that all this talk of “point-scoring” and legalistic judgements
is petty and irrelevant. a species doesn’t prefer to be made extinct by uninformed
hunters as opposed to obtuse industrialists. What counts is what happens, because
the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions.
War & the Noble Savage
50
it’s a very good point. Sadly, it seems to have been entirely lost—if it was ever
mooted—in the recent wave of scholarship debunking the ecologically Noble
Savage.
Steven leblanc’s contributions are typical. in discussing a culture in which a
custom that prohibits collecting honey from hives facing north seems to reduce over-
exploitation, he dismissively remarks that “this beneft is more likely accidental than
by design.”
123
and looking at hunting habits, he says:
as hunting reduces the numbers of some species, the foragers shift their aim
toward other more common animals because the cost, in time, of getting the
rare ones is too high.
but this is not conservationist behavior. it is behavior that is focused on the
short term. Deciding to stop hunting a species that has become rare difers from
consciously hunting that animal so lightly that it does not become rare. Te true
conservationist will not kill a rare species, even when it is easy to do so.
124
indeed, the whole recent debate seems to hinge on this attitude towards “conser-
vationist intent.”
125
Discussing the defnition of “conservation”, raymond hames
notes:
for the u.S. government, “Conservation commonly refers to the mainte-
nance of genetic, species, and ecosystem diversity in the natural abundance in
which they occur”; for evolutionary ecologists, “… conservation acts are by def-
nition costly and entail the sacrifce of immediate rewards in return for delayed
ones”; and for conservation biologists “… researchers with more applied interests
typically consider an intent to conserve, as evidenced by institutional design, to be
sufcient.”
126
(my emphasis)
if studies of contemporary hunter-gatherers don’t show that they consciously, ration-
ally plan to minimize their impact on their ecosystem—and not many studies seem
to—then even if they have a relatively minor environmental impact, any eco-friendly
credentials are denied them. Conversely, by some defnitions, the mere intent to con-
serve, even if you live within a system that violently pulls the rug out from under your
good will, gets you brownie points as a “true conservationist.”
Some have argued that the concept of “conservation” is entirely modern, and
improperly judgemental when applied to indigenous and archaic cultures. i would
agree. Judging conservation based on intent is both humanistic and Christian, and is
predicated on the double-edged sword that agriculture has given us: (apparent) do-
minion over the natural world. With the control we’ve gained, we’ve accumulated the
power to degrade nature to a degree unthinkable to even the least informed forager
culture. alongside this we’ve accumulated knowledge that, in theory at least, might
the eCologi Cally Noble Savage
51
let us wield this sword more wisely, exercising control over nature with other species
than our own in mind. We might move from the old testament’s “dominion” to the
New testament’s “stewardship.”
127
We might—but we haven’t, as yet. in any case, for
us, “conservation” is an absolute necessity. We—let alone the species and ecosystems
we try to conserve—won’t survive without it. on the other hand, while i doubt that
callous disregard for the environment was ever a feature of pre-agricultural times,
even if it was, the impact of simple hunter-gatherer societies wouldn’t have been
signifcantly worse. low numbers and lack of agriculture would see to that.
Tis precisely echoes the debate on war. regarding the absence of war among
some hunter-gatherers, Keeley remarks:
Te seeming peacefulness of such small hunter-gatherer groups may there-
fore be more a consequence of the tiny size of their social units and the large
scale implied by our normal defnition of warfare than of any real pacifsm on
their part.
128
(my emphasis)
We’ve seen how using proportional statistics to “overcome” this perception can lead
to distortions in our impressions of the actual lives these people lived. When it comes
to ecological impact, the distortions following in the wake of a triumphant discov-
ery of “non-conservationist behaviour” among foragers are perhaps even greater. Te
argument that they can’t be let of because of their tiny social units doesn’t wash. Te
tiny social unit is part of the deal, just as constant expansion is part of our deal. Neither are
necessarily intentional, but… by their fruits ye shall know them. both agriculture (to
a large extent) and modern capitalism (inherently) share an imperative to constant
growth, which has landed us in a very tight spot. if it’s possible to escape, it may
only be through the radical application of planning and ingenuity. but we can’t judge
foragers for lacking these qualities in their interaction with the environment. Con-
trary to the delusions of hobbes and rousseau, they possess the capacity for forward
thinking; but with respect to the large-scale interactions of their society with the
wider ecology, they simply didn’t and don’t need it as much as we do.
Te high value we’re forced to place on conscious intent runs right through the
literature analysing war and ecology among indigenous and prehistoric peoples. Jared
Diamond subtitled his book Collapse with “how Societies Choose to fail or Suc-
ceed”—though the concept of “choosing to fail” here is more of a rhetorical challenge
to modern people than any kind of real assessment of the dynamics of past societies
that have catastrophically collapsed. Te title of his 1987 article ‘Te Worst mistake
in the history of the human race’ (meaning agriculture) seems to imply that we
(wrongly) chose this historical path. i think this is an artefact of the very progressivist
ideology he’s challenging, wherein we saw that growing food was good, so we took
War & the Noble Savage
52
it up in the name of conscious, linear improvement. all the evidence, meanwhile,
seems to show that we “fell” into agriculture in a series of unwitting responses to the
combination of growing populations and climate change.
it is of course humbling to admit that we’re not the masters of our fate, and
never really have been. many will confuse this realization with the idea that we’re
entirely victims of historical forces; but that’s just a neurotic kind of panic that comes
when our too-tight grip on the reins is loosened. it seems that for the majority of our
species’ existence, a pretty good life didn’t require the kind of mastery that we now
believe in and need so much that we can’t imagine properly human life without it.
Nomadic foraging, this sociocultural system that evolved alongside our bodies, didn’t
hermetically protect us or the life around us from each other; that’s not how nature
works. but it allowed a fair level of harmonious integration, which didn’t need whole
sub-cultures of activists and pressure groups to sustain it. as tribalism advocate Dan-
iel Quinn has it: “Nothing evolution brings forth is perfect; it’s just damnably hard
to improve upon.”
129
We are still in the very early stages of “evolutionary testing” of the system we live
by now. it’s already had a terrible impact on the biosphere, and any success for it that
now seems viable probably involves such a radical mutation of the system that it will
become unrecognizable. Which is just a long-winded way of saying: it won’t succeed.
if we persist, something else will have succeeded. Te slick sheen of modern luxury
doesn’t go very deep, and masks some huge problems to overcome if we’re to thrive
following this evolutionary blink of an eye since the dawn of agriculture.
Conclusions
e
arly on in this study, i emphasized that the assaults by Steven Pinker
and lawrence Keeley on the “orthodoxy” of rousseauian ideals regarding
prehistory, while perhaps vital within the academic and intellectual spheres,
were to a large extent misplaced in the world at large. at best they represent a polem-
ical “over-correction” of intellectual debates. and while there’s no simple reductionist
explanation for this surge of debunking the Noble Savage, it’s my feeling that it’s our
current cultural turbulence, at the interface between the free market capitalist ideals
we’ve thrived on in very recent times and the ecosystems that have always supported
us, that is a major factor in this trend.
i don’t know if Pinker or Keeley are consciously or primarily infuenced by this
turbulence in their pronouncements on primitive war. however, many commenta-
tors, such as howard bloom (whose solution to the ills of the modern world is sum-
marized as “working harder” at being nice within liberal capitalism
130
), are explicitly
motivated by capitalist apologetics, and this tendency is signifcant and questionable
enough to warrant some criticism.
Not many things are left clear to me after studying this topic in-depth, but per-
haps one simple observation stands out. it seems that the political and cultural ideals
ostensibly treasured above all by the modern West—freedom, democracy, egalitari-
anism—cannot be claimed as successes that vindicate us. in fact, their most concrete
and prevalent manifestation is arguably the institution of nomadic hunter-gatherer
culture. it seems to be no coincidence that our view of these people is so rife with
distortion and denial—when we remember to include them at all in our debates
on prehistory. Caveats apply, of course; women’s rights and the initiatory rites of
puberty seem to be worth bearing in mind, though i know of no reason to suggest
that the more repellent examples of these in ethnography are universal in small-scale
societies. Still, i wonder if the compelling evidence from anthropology that foragers
practice a genuine democracy, living at the scale at which the collective will can be
manifested with minimum compromise, at some level hurts our pride, and skews our
collective assessments of them.
our civil freedoms and democratic cultural institutions are undoubted achieve-
ments, but to a large extent they seem to be valiant recoveries from a great lapse.
Tese are recoveries that our vast social scales (another frequent source of pride)
War & the Noble Savage
54
prevent from ever being fully realized, and which are underwritten to an unknown
extent by a resource abundance that we seem to have squandered abysmally.
So, why don’t i just go and live in the desert or something? Tis question is an ob-
vious response to my contrasting primitive culture favourably with modern culture,
but it’s also obvious nonsense. Tere’s no going back.
Some primitivists do believe that civilization is so fundamentally unsustainable
that catastrophic collapse is inevitable, and tribal life is, as well as being our origins,
our only way forward. Tis is at least a coherent position, though i have grave doubts
that the ruins of civilization will be any sort of viable foundation for recreating the
warless egalitarianism that may once have prevailed in the human world. and any-
one who loudly says that collapse is inevitable will have to watch their backs if it
happens. Some advocates of positive thinking seem to believe that all such predic-
tions are “apocaphilic,” and signifcantly contribute to the likelihood of disaster. if
the worst comes to the worst, no doubt the surviving optimists will roam the world
in packs, violently holding the pessimists to account for not looking on the bright
side while there was still time.
Te problem with this, apart from it being a caricature, is that in our current
situation there is also much in “optimism” that colludes, subtly or overtly, with the
unsustainable momentum of modern capitalism. optimism versus pessimism, like
hobbes versus rousseau, is a duality that has little to ofer our complex predicament.
Such polar oppositions are of course very useful for triangulating one’s position in
the extensive landscapes of belief, and for plotting one’s course. however, it is one
thing for a navigator to use the constancy of a Pole Star to gain vital orientation; it
is quite another to shun the complexities of actual terrain by heading straight for an
actual Pole, to take up residence at this abstracted point, and then try to ignore the
barren, frozen wastes that are found at such inhuman extremities.
in the end, i see no great value in the fragile optimism that efectively says, “i
can only face a future in which it all works out oK.” Without trying to suggest that
it’s an easy state to achieve or maintain, much more desirable is the conviction that
come what may, the future as well as the present will always ofer opportunities for
improvement and good cheer—things best pursued with graceful aspirations, not
fundamentalist compulsions.
for all my criticism of hobbes, it may surprise some if i say now that anar-
chism in any global form is—for our current situation—not the answer. hobbes,
on balance, does seem to have been wrong. Te life we lived for the majority of our
CoNCluSi oNS
55
existence was profoundly social, and within those small communities, the inevitable
conficts that expressed themselves violently, while perhaps proportionately rife com-
pared to modern states, almost certainly translated to infrequent irruptions into daily
experience. but we don’t live that way any more, and for now we can’t. States aren’t
generally necessary because humans need them to live decently; they are currently
necessary because there’s too many of us, surrounded by too many domineering pri-
vate institutions, to live decently otherwise. Just as freud was wrong on many counts
not because he was completely wrong, but because he falsely generalized his analysis
of the fn de siècle viennese psyche to humanity as a whole, hobbes was wrong be-
cause he generalized from complex, large-scale societies. Sometimes, quantity afects
quality, and judgements don’t always scale.
even though i don’t think many billions of people can live even half-decent
lives on this planet without states, primitivism, and actual living hunter-gatherers,
are probably fundamental elements in our global cultural ecology. functioning ex-
amples of our original cultural style are very close to being extinct, and this as much
as anything expresses the peril of the current situation. Tose remaining shouldn’t
be preserved as living museum pieces; they should be simply respected, and engaged
with from that basis. i know it’s probably just cavalier rhetoric to say so, but if this
conficts with mining, agricultural expansion, or what we think is good for them,
tough luck. Te line should have been drawn a long time ago, and if we don’t draw it
now, there’s as little hope for us as there is for them.
Within modern culture, primitivism will never die away. heck, even hunter-
gatherer cultures have myths of a lost age where communication with the gods, now
only attained after gruelling shamanic initiation, was a basic human activity. far
from being a distraction for those too sour to enjoy the blessings of modernity, nos-
talgia for the archaic is a general—universal?—human tendency that is best related
to creatively rather than ignored or dismissed. it will survive as long as two condi-
tions hold true: (1) that present life is unsatisfactory in some way; (2) the nature of
our remote past is subject to uncertainty, and is impossible to prove to have been
worse than present life. i can’t see any end to either of these.
further, i think very modern phenomena like teen suicides and school shootings
point to reasons why, if nostalgia for a golden age will be present in any human sit-
uation, it is more than understandable today—whatever our proportional war deaths
are. Such nihilism expressed by children as they approach the threshold of the adult
world is dismissed with Prozac at our peril. Primitivism in this context is merely one
of a range of creative reactions to our dire situation that try to imagine their way into
a better world rather than just leave the world behind. Te fact that in its simplest
form it is only coherent if a number of billion people vanish certainly sees it brushing
War & the Noble Savage
56
nihilism, but this is far from implying the tradition has nothing to ofer. given our
current situation, in which the population growth of the low-impact poor is often
used as a scapegoat by the high-impact rich who produce fewer children,
131
it’s the
anti-consumerist egalitarianism of primitivism that ofers us most inspiration.
What primitivism expresses for us, and thriving foragers exemplify, is the exist-
ence of radically diferent social perspectives. again, this isn’t the only or even the
major justifcation for the rights of indigenous peoples to self-determination; the
bottom line there is common decency. but for us, painted into this tight corner, our
imagination needs all the perspective it can get. Concrete expressions of primitivism,
anarchism, and other heretical social ideals, while abysmal as all-embracing plans
for any foreseeable global future, should be embraced on the micro scale as widely
as possible within our current context, to act as essential vaccines against futures
of totalitarianism and/or profigate consumption. Te fame of living, face-to-face
democracy should not be smothered beneath the inevitable compromises of coping
with an overcrowded globe. as Dale Pendell has argued, even as we make the best
of things through reformist measures, it is vital to keep primordial visions of human
freedom “on the horizon”.
132
Writing about “perspectives,” and the “games” of comparison between mod-
ern and primitive life, seems rather trivial at times. like, every time i turn on the
news. british soldiers hitting roadside bombs and innocent villagers being massacred
in afghanistan. embattled american troops on the streets of urban iraq, the chaos
of car bombs, iraqis killing each other, so many that most incidents never make the
news media’s radar—just like entire wars in africa and in other places less obviously
bound to Western interests. War in the present—even if some of us are fortunate
enough to be statistically better of than at any other time in human history—is
awful enough. What of its future?
as the general tenor of his argument is that the modern world is the best world
so far, Steven Pinker naturally veers towards optimism. Citing the philosopher of
ethics Peter Singer’s concept of the “expanding circle” of compassion, he sees the
spread of modern media and the democratic state as healthy preconditions for main-
taining his hypothesized trajectory towards more peace.
raymond Kelly, while retaining a realism amidst his claims for “warlessness”
among foragers, is also sanguine. he makes much of the peacemaking traditions of
the andamanese, and provides a social echo to Pinker’s general emphasis on coun-
ter-balancing forces in our evolutionary make-up. he concludes:
CoNCluSi oNS
57
We have seen that war and society coevolve. one central aspect of this co-
evolution is that the elaboration of peacemaking goes hand in hand with the
origin and development of war. Te hope of future peace therefore does not
require a nostalgic longing for a return to the simpler times of the upper Paleo-
lithic and/or the simpler ways of unsegmented societies. Te human propensity
to peacemaking, so strikingly evident from the characteristic alternation of war
and peace, is central to the nexus of interrelationships between human nature,
war, and society—and this bodes well for the future.
133
brian ferguson is perhaps more cautious: “Te foreseeable future of war looks
pretty robust.”
134
but still, his tenacity in insisting on warlessness in the Palaeolithic
goes to the root of this position as a politicized view. even as i express caution about
projecting desires into the past, from the perspective of seeking the truth of the mat-
ter, i can’t deny the value in holding on to this: “to recognize an ancient beginning
is to conceptualize the possibility of a future end to war.”
135
however, it’s Steven leblanc’s views on the future of war that concern me most,
because they seem to exemplify a certain optimistic obtuseness that is sadly charac-
teristic of our culture’s attempts to grapple with the magnitude of our problems. his
general argument revolves around ecology, but it is precisely on this issue that his
analysis of the present and future trips up.
Some people do manage it, but i feel it’s hard to overstate the importance of
fossil fuels for understanding the runaway success of the modern world. Te major
fip-side of this success is of course the twin perils that fossil fuels currently present:
the climate change that our profigate use of them has set in motion, and the utter
dependence on these fnite resources of much of our present carrying capacity. Con-
servative estimates of usable reserves place us on the edge of a clif, if not over the
edge already, grinning because the breeze is nice and we’ve not hit the ground yet.
accurate or not, liberal estimates of usable reserves, like most commonplace opti-
misms, seem to be usually taken as an excuse to postpone facing a very serious issue.
in any case, leblanc refers to the shadow cast by this huge problem only ob-
liquely, admitting that there’s “no guarantee that the current low growth and resource
abundance among the industrialized, or urbanized, states will continue over the long
term. Just because the situation seems stabilized does not mean that a long-term bal-
ance has been developed.” i can only think that it’s a kind of well-meaning obligation
to end on a high note that leads him—after calling his book Constant Battles, admit-
ting that our current abundance is possibly short-term, and generally conceding that
“modern states have incredibly severe ecological problems”—to then claim:
We are on the right trajectory for world peace. We are moving in the right
direction, but this process will not produce instant success any more than the
War & the Noble Savage
58
war on cancer has. … Te opportunity for humans to live in long-term balance
with nature is within our grasp if we do it right. it is a chance to break a million-
year-old cycle of confict and crisis.
if warfare has, in fact, been based on rational behavior for much of human
history, then deciding that warfare is bad and should be stopped will not solve
our problem. if, as i believe, warfare has ultimately been a constant battle over
scarce resources throughout the ages, then only solving the problem of adequate
resources will enable us to become better at ridding ourselves of confict. for
the frst time in history, we have a real ability to provide adequate resources for
everyone living on the planet. if we have reached a point at which we can live
within earth’s carrying capacity, we can eliminate warfare in the same way we
can eliminate infectious disease: nor perfectly, not immediately, but slowly and
surely.
136
anyone concerned with ecology who looks around the world today and decides that
we’re currently on the right trajectory for world peace surely throws their credibility
immediately into question. Te explicit conclusion that chronic confict and ecologi-
cal dysfunction are our fundamental inheritance, only now approaching a solution
via the modern world, is unforgivable. it ignores the very complex realities of Palaeo-
lithic archaeology and contemporary ethnography—which include viable arguments
for war and signifcant ecological damage being largely products of sedentarism and
agriculture—and allies itself with an almost messianic vision of civilization. it is the
monomania of this secular messianism, and not primitivist nostalgia, that poses the
greatest threat to our future.
in afTer The Ice, Steven mithen discusses the efect of the younger Dryas on
the cultures of the middle east. Te younger Dryas refers to a period when, as
global temperatures warmed at the end of the last ice age, before they stabilized and
initiated the current age—the holocene—things got suddenly colder for a thousand
years or so. Te efect on the Natufans, generally peaceful hunter-gatherers who had
been making the best of the improving climate, kicking back in villages and growing
in numbers considerably, was terrible. mithen talks of “a devastating collapse of food
supplies just as population levels had reached an all-time high.”
137
Te Natufans
were forced to return to a nomadic life. When things warmed up again, agriculture
evolved relatively quickly, apparently a complex reaction to this traumatic climatic
oscillation.
With the bulk of our food production reliant on fossilized resources that are
running out, and in the knowledge that these resources have to a large extent fa-
cilitated our recent exponential population growth, the lessons to be learned from
the Natufan experience couldn’t be more stark. of course, there is much of what
CoNCluSi oNS
59
Nietzsche called “world-historical irony” in the fact that natural climate change
helped initiate agriculture, which in turn created industrial civilization, which un-
wittingly triggered climate change and other cascades of ecological disruption which
may contribute signifcantly to the downfall of the whole trajectory. is this why some
are so desperate to zoom in on the imperfections of cultures outside this tragic loop?
as John h. bodley writes,
it is no surprise that revisionist assaults on “noble savages” and “wilderness”
come at the historical moment when the global culture’s unsustainable cultural
imperative of perpetual capital accumulation is reducing the earth’s stocks of
water, soil, forests, and fsheries to dangerously low levels and disrupting ecosys-
tems and natural cycles on an unprecedented scale.
138
for me, this is the most profound issue underpinning current debates on the
Noble Savage—whether the image is one of a ecological Saint or of a Peaceful
Saint. While both are unrealistic ideals, many recent attempts to undermine them
have overshot their mark by a long stretch. our civilization is the most ecologically
destructive ever, in the way that really counts: its gross efect on other species and
on our own sustainability. any claims about our relative peacefulness, until we’ve
resolved our ecological crisis, are premature at best. our strongest cause for opti-
mism is the fact that while it’s far too early to proclaim our civilization a trium-
phant improvement on the past, it’s also possible that it’s a little early for outright
condemnation. but whatever social modes prove sustainable, making ourselves feel
better through the ill-considered debunking of false myths is no way forward. We
need to stop kicking around the image of the primitive to justify our singular story
of progress, and take it as one image among many that might inspire new stories of
human potential.
Te North great andamanese peace dance (1905)
aPPeNDi X i
Society Against the State
t
he theories of french anthropologist Pierre Clastres seem to be nei-
ther widely supported nor widely refuted. Tis indiference (in the english-
speaking world, at least) probably stems in part from the fact that he slips
right past the hobbes versus rousseau polarity that frames and energizes much
debate on the nature of primitive society. Clastres says: primitive humans are violent,
but an overlooked positive social function of their violence is to guard against the
formation of the state, which is sensed by the aboriginal mind as a looming evil.
Clastres was mentored by the anthropological giant Claude lévi-Strauss, and
his ideas were a key reference point for gilles Deleuze and félix guattari in their
Capitalism and Schizophrenia volumes.
139
he shares with these philosophers a Ni-
etzschean concern with the origins of political power, and a ferce independence of
mind which no doubt found resonance with the yanomami and guayaki tribes he
spent time with during feldwork in the amazon.
Clastres’ apparent “advocacy” of primitive war may seem perverse at frst glance.
at its heart, though, is the spirit of Winston Churchill’s reputed response when
someone said to him, “Nothing is worse than war.” Churchill snapped back, “Slavery
is worse than war! Dishonour is worse than war!”
140
of all the qualities rightly or
wrongly attributed to hunter-gatherers, egalitarianism is perhaps of the least dis-
puted. Clastres argues that the very foundation of oppression and alienation is the
division of society into the rulers and the ruled, masters and servants, and that this
foundation emerges as a function of large-scale society. Past a certain number of
people, a society cannot practice living democracy, which is really anarchism, the
self-determination of a society of equals. Population growth eventually necessitates
representatives and leaders, and slides past what Clastres sees as a “point of no return”
on the road to the fundamental iniquities of statehood.
Steven mithen, in After the Ice, wonders why the Natufans, hunter-gatherers in
the middle east lasting from about 12,500 to 9,500 BCE, whose sedentary life was a
precursor to the earliest farming, gave up “the mobile lifestyle that had served human
society since its frst appearance 3.5 million years ago on the african savannah.”
SoCi ety agai NSt the State
61
Why create the social tensions that inevitably arise when one has permanent
next-door neighbours within a village? Why expose oneself to human waste and
garbage and the health risks that accompany a more sedentary lifestyle? Why
risk the depletion of the animals and plants near one’s own village? …
Te Natufan people appear to have been quite peaceable as well as healthy.
Tere are no signs of confict between groups, such as embedded arrow points in
human bones … . Te Natufan hunter-gatherer groups were good neighbours;
there was plenty of land, gardens and animals for all.
it is possible that the Natufan … people were prepared to sufer the down-
side of village life … to enjoy the benefts. françois valla … believes that the
Natufan villages simply emerged from the seasonal gatherings of the Kebaran
people. he recalls the work of social anthropologist marcel mauss who lived
with hunter-gatherers in the arctic at the turn of the century. mauss recognised
that periodic gatherings were characterised by intense communal life, by feasts
and religious ceremonies, by intellectual discussion, and by lots of sex. in com-
parison, the rest of the year, when people lived in small far-fung groups, was
rather dull.
141
Tis theory does beg the question, if foraging life was so boring, why did it take a few
million years for hominids to get round to settling down? Whether boredom was a
factor or not, for Clastres there is some seductive allure to larger communities, whose
diversions mask the necessity of a loss of autonomy and equality, and which “primi-
tive war” defends against. it’s not a hobbesian vision exactly; large-scale sociality is
a problem to be guarded against, while within the band there is intense conviviality
and social intimacy. rather than the overstated “war of all against all,” Clastres’ vi-
sion is one of war as a persistently irruptive frictional potential between social units,
guarding against the deeper divisions that crude social unifcation brings.
War, as external policy of primitive society, relates to its internal policy, to
what one might call the intransigent conservatism of this society, expressed as
the incessant reference to the traditional system of norms, to the ancestral law
which must always be respected, which cannot be altered. What is primitive
society seeking to conserve with its conservatism? it is seeking to conserve its
very being; it wants to persevere in its being. but what is this being? it is an
undivided being; the social body is homogeneous; the community is a We.
142
Some cultures that Clastres studied at frst hand in the amazon did have chiefs,
of a sort,
143
but he saw these leaders as rather hollow fgures, in terms of power, being
representatives of the community in a way that makes our use of the term for our
politicians seem like a euphemism. Clastres believes that “in his discourse, the chief
never expresses the fights of his individual desire or the statement of his private law,
but only the sociological desire that society remain undivided, and the text of law
War & the Noble Savage
62
that no one has established, for it has nothing to do with human decision. Te leg-
islators are also the founders of society—the mythical ancestors, the cultural heroes,
the gods.”
144
Te social scale is small enough that, without any monopoly on violence,
the chief is very much the servant of the people, who are prepared to depose or kill
him if his personal desires are seen to obstruct his expression of the communal will.
also, Clastres sees the role of the warrior in such societies as rather tragic. While
their exploits do garner prestige (honour or glory), they gain little power (ability to
efect social control). he recognizes the potential of a “warrior class” emerging from
any dependence on war to maintain social unity, but sees the emphasis on honour
rather than power as the reward for battle as leaving warriors, if anything, more
exploited by than exploiting society.
Tere are a number of problems with Clastres’ theory. Te obvious inequality in
social standing between men and women—most striking among the yanomami—is
dismissed unsatisfactorily with a discussion of men’s association, through their being
warriors on a certain track to an inevitable bloody demise, with death, and women’s
association, through childbirth, with life, and the power they can exercise in refusing
to give birth.
Tere are also questions left dangling about the origin of the state, which his
theories are meant to address. in his discussion of the seminal work of Étienne de
la boétie (a friend of montaigne’s who asserted that tyrants have power because
people give it to them) Clastres resorts to calling the state’s genesis “the misfortune”,
and leaves it mostly unelaborated. he also never seems to put forward any evidence
that primitive peoples consciously connect their antagonism towards neighbouring
groups with the maintenance of small-scale autonomy. Presumably he sees war’s
anti-state role as a function of the general primitive social structure, not the result of
intent. however, some of his rhetoric suggests otherwise.
Despite its failings, Clastres’ work deserves attention for its independence of
thought and challenges to both sides of the traditional “primitive violence” debate. if
accepted, though, his work stands as rather pessimistic. he frmly rejects the stand-
ard accusations of wanting to “return” to primitive life, saying, “i content myself with
describing the Savages”;
145
and he explicitly sees the transition from pre-state to
the state as being a one-way street. at best, we learn to appreciate that a reversal
in libertarian ambitions has transpired. if primitive society maintained its political
freedom through dispersive war and social conservatism, our best bets, on the other
hand—given our technologies of destruction and intransigent institutions—seem to
be non-violence and novelty.
aPPeNDi X i i
Te Stoned Ape Hypothesis
t
erence mcKenna—an ecology and Conservation graduate of an ex-
perimental berkeley college in 1969, a vocal advocate of plant psychedelics,
adopted as a guru fgure by early 1990s rave culture—is perhaps an unlikely
believer in the brutishness of humanity’s “state of nature.”
however, along with his anarchic anti-politics and penchant for consciousness
expansion, he inherited from the sixties that period’s popular palaeoanthropology.
Writers such as robert ardrey (author of African Genesis, 1961) and Desmond mor-
ris (Te Naked Ape, 1967) formulated the “killer ape” theory, which emphasized the
importance of violence and male social hierarchies among our primate forebears.
With lawrence Keeley and Steven Pinker claiming that rousseauian ideals pre-
vailed in 20th century theories of early humanity, it’s a little odd to think of this
kind of hypothesis dominating the public discourse of this supposedly peace-loving
decade. however, its strong infuence can clearly be seen in the opening ‘Dawn of
man’ sequence of that psychedelic classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey—and in mcKenna’s
theories about the infuence of psilocybin mushrooms on human evolution in his
book Food of the Gods. to what extent this vision of early hominids is undermined by
bonobos and other evidence isn’t something i want to get into here. accepting that
mcKenna believed it, though, lays the groundwork for understanding his theories.
he basically believed that, as our proto-human ancestors emerged from the for-
ests onto the grasslands of tropical and sub-tropical africa, their experiments with
the wide variety of novel plant foods led them to discover, in the dung of wild cattle,
fungi rich with psilocybin, a potent tryptamine hallucinogen. from that point on,
until climate change erased the plentiful supplies of mushrooms from the african
savannah, mcKenna sees human development as a being channelled via a symbiotic
bond with this natural transcendence catalyst. he sees our part of the symbiosis deal
as involving several layers of benefts to psilocybin ingestion:
•  low doses of psilocybin have been shown to enhance visual acuity, an undoubt-
ed boon for hunters.
War & the Noble Savage
64
•  moderate doses stimulate arousal, including sexual arousal, leading to more fre-
quent sex and—mcKenna argues—a great number of ofspring, and hence an
adaptive advantage.
•  high doses dissolve the ego and open experience up to religious and transcend-
ent dimensions, and the catalysis of linguistic powers, thus contributing to the
evolution of these crucial aspects of human being.
Te important bit for us here is that mcKenna saw the human “state of nature”
as one that carried with it the aggressive, male-dominated hierarchies of primates.
his “high Plains of eden”, the african Palaeolithic, represented the discovery of
something—psilocybin—that suppressed this social pattern, keeping the nascent ego
at bay and encouraging a more co-operative, feminine, orgiastic culture.
for a very long time, as we evolved out of the animal nature, perhaps a hun-
dred thousand years, psilocybin was part of our diet and our rituals and our
religion. and though those individuals taking the psilocybin didn’t know it, it
was having a very profound efect upon them. What it was doing was it was
suppressing a primate behavior that is so basic to primates that it goes clear
back to squirrel monkeys. and what that behavior is is a tendency to form what
are called male-dominance hierarchies. and we all know what this is, because
it bedevils our own political situation, and our own efort to create a reasonable
society. but there was a great long period in the human past when this tendency
was pharmacologically suppressed, in the same way that you would give Prozac
to somebody to suppress a tendency to manic-depression. in other words, what
the shamans of the high Paleolithic fgured out was how to medicate people so
that they would live together in harmony, decency, and dignity.
146
for mcKenna, peaceful proto-Neolithic cultures such as the Natufans (see appen-
dix i) were fading traces of this age-old african tradition, and the loss of access to
the mushroom became a prime cause of the descent into agriculture, social hierar-
chies and brutalization.
Te old dominance hierarchy hard-wiring re-asserted itself in the ancient
middle east with the invention of agriculture, the need to become sedentary in
order to carry out agriculture, the need to defend surplus, the establishment of
kingship. Tese are a re-assertion of an older pattern that had been interrupted
by a factor in the diet which basically made people mellow. … Te bestial nature,
the animal nature, that had been suppressed by the psilocybin in the diet, re-
emerged, so you get male dominance, standing armies, kingship, walled cities,
the whole bit that leads to western civilization.
147
as with Pierre Clastres’ work (appendix i), but for diferent reasons, this is a
fascinating upheaval of the customary hobbes versus rousseau axis. mcKenna has
the StoNeD aPe hyPotheSi S
65
modern hierarchical state-based societies as an irruption, rather than a containment,
of a warring “state of nature.” and a superfcially rousseauian archaic idyll is envi-
sioned not as our default condition, but as a profoundly elaborated socio-spiritual
complex, modifying our animality through symbiosis with a plant that seems to
manifest communion with the gaian planetary mind. if nothing else, absorbing such
boldly independent theorizing goes a long way to creatively upsetting the worn ruts
of scholarly debate.
interestingly, in a near mirror-image of mcKenna’s vision, some have argued
against the innatist biological theories of war by highlighting the extent to which
people seem to require some form of altered consciousness or intoxication in order
to do battle. among the avatip of New guinea,
headhunting raids required special magic, which placed the fghters in a
trance-like state of dissociation and relieved them of accountability for their
actions; it was supposed to make them capable of killing even their own wives
and children. Tat is to say, the ability to kill had to be imparted by magic and
ritual, and deliberately removed at the end of raids.
148
Te need for artifcial induction of battle rage certainly upsets simple notions of
“hard-wired violence.” but in turn, for some people they call into question mcK-
enna’s idea that psychedelics automatically chill out a supposed primate tendency
towards aggression. one might point to amazonian peoples such as the Jivaro and
the yanomami, noted for both violence and ritual use of one of mcKenna’s favour-
ite tipples, the ayahuasca brew, which contains Dmt—closely related to psilocybin.
Whether amazonian conficts have been afected by colonization or not, the juxta-
position of tryptamines and dominator violence apparently suggests that the former
don’t automatically suppress the latter. i never heard mcKenna address this point,
but i imagine he would have drawn attention to the second crucial component of
ayahuasca, a vine which contains harmala alkaloids such as harmine. Noted pharma-
cologist alexander Shulgin cites reports of harmine experiences in which sensations
of “lightness” alternated with instances of “irrational aggression”. one report said:
“Te excitement i felt was increased even in a belligerent way. although it is not my
nature, i started a fght with a man in the street … .”
149
however, harmine’s synergy
with the other ingredients of ayahuasca appears to at least transform this potential.
Ayahuasca’s humbling visionary efects and its traditional ceremonial contexts seem
to leave most of its association with confict frmly embedded in specifc and complex
amazonian cultural situations.
Te only recorded traditions of psilocybin mushroom use are found around the
oaxacan highlands of mexico, probably trace survivals of aztec traditions. Te social
War & the Noble Savage
66
context for its use there by healers is certainly far removed from the hypothetical
situation envisioned by mcKenna for archaic africa. in the end, as ever with psych-
edelics, we have to remember the importance of “set and setting,” of the profound
diference to the experience that is made by the nature of the immediate situation.
yet again, examples from one corner of history may not be easily applicable to other
areas; yet again, above our prehistory in africa hovers a hazy question mark.
When mcKenna returned in 1971 from a psychedelic quest in the amazon
with his brother Dennis, he approached Dr. gunther Stent, a noted molecular biolo-
gist at the university of California in berkeley. mcKenna was hoping for feedback
from the “real experts” on a dense, fantastical hypothesis he and Dennis had con-
cocted in the depths of the jungle.
Teir “hypercarbolation” theory, based on enthusiastic experimentation, involved
setting up harmonic resonance between the human voice and the genetic structures
of hallucinogenic compounds coursing through the bloodstream, in an efort to ex-
teriorize a hyperdimensional information matrix that the brothers associated with
the alchemists’ fabled Philosopher’s Stone, no less. Predictably, the austere Dr. Stent
was unimpressed. Sighing, he told the awe-struck mcKenna: “my dear young friend,
these ideas are not even fallacious.”
150
Tis withering response probably refers to the notion of “falsifability.” Some
positivist schools of science hold that a theory which can’t be shown to be false (or
true) by experiment or observation is worse than false—it’s senseless. When faced
with the idea that mushroom use infuenced early human development so pro-
foundly, some people share Dr. Stent’s reaction to hypercarbolation, and treat it as
unworthy of consideration.
Te archaeological invisibility of the Palaeolithic, relative to more recent his-
tory, leaves so much scope for speculation that in a way we have to pay even more
attention to the few landmarks of evidence we have, lest we get hopelessly lost. Still,
to demand falsifability from any theory of early humanity—let alone one involving
so perishable an item as a mushroom—is to drastically misunderstand the scope of
palaeoanthropology. for myself, while i have reservations about mcKenna’s specula-
tion, i can’t in good conscience close the door on it. if i did, integrity would demand
that the door be closed on much of what is interesting about studying prehistory;
indeed, much of our vision of the possibilities of prehistory would be blotted out.
Specifcally regarding the Stoned ape hypothesis, perhaps it’s too much to expect of
a culture in the grip of a neurotic love/hate relationship with psychoactive substances
to dispassionately assess the evidence.
NoteS
1. recommended in-depth studies of
this topic include Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle
by Stephen Jay gould, Te Great Year by
Nicholas Campion, and Time Maps by eviatar
Zerubavel. an interesting view is also given by
David Christian’s Maps of Time.
2. http://www.ted.com/talks/steven_pinker_
on_the_myth_of_violence.html
3. in Te Mind in the Cave (2002) and Inside
the Neolithic Mind (2005)
4. Quoted in hillman (2004, p. 215)
5. from Te Social Contract (1762)
6. With the potential exception of Steven
leblanc’s Constant Battles, which enigmatically
refers to the Noble Savage as “a concept
formulated in the nineteenth century” (p.
104). i’m not sure what this refers to if not
ellingson’s thesis.
7. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/
John_Dryden
8. Quoted in ellingson (2001, pp. 21-22)
9. ellingson (2001, p. 24)
10. Quoted in ellingson (2001, p.83)
11. Quoted in ellingson (2001, p. 81)
12. Quoted in ellingson (2001, p. 82)
13. ellingson (2001, p. 100)
14. Quoted in ellingson (2001, p.299)
15. Quoted in ellingson (2001, p. 292)
16. Quoted in ellingson (2001, p. 293)
17. Darwin (1871)
18. Quoted in ellingson (2001, p. 146)
19. Quoted in ellingson (2001, p. 294)
20. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/b53e82c2-
77e2-11de-9713-00144feabdc0.html
21. Keeley (1996, p. 168)
22. ferguson (2006, p. 475)
23. hobbes (1651, ch. 13)
24. mithen (2006, p. 227)
25. hobbes (1651, ch. 4)
26. Schleidt & Shalter (2003)
27. Campion (1994, p. 420)
28. Campion (1994, p. 111)
29. Pinker (2002, p. 55-56)
30. Pinker (2002, p. 11) quotes this line of
mao Zedong’s. however, it’s important to
note that in its original context, it doesn’t seem
that mao—as the frame of Pinker’s argument
suggests—was stating a belief about human
nature. Te full quotation makes it clear that
mao’s “blankness” refers to a socio-economic
state, not an innate condition: “apart from
their other characteristics, the outstanding
thing about China’s 600 million people is that
they are ‘poor and blank’. Tis may seem a bad
thing, but in reality it is a good thing. Poverty
gives rise to the desire for change, the desire for
action and the desire for revolution. on a blank
sheet of paper free from any mark, the freshest
and most beautiful characters can be written;
the freshest and most beautiful pictures can be
painted.” from ‘introducing a Co-operative’
(april 15, 1958). http://trotsky.org/reference/
archive/mao/works/red-book/ch03.htm
31. Pinker (2002, p. 56)
32. turner & Sponsel (2000)
33. Quoted in Pinker (2002, p. 117)
34. Pinker (2002, p. 119)
35. See http://condor.depaul.edu/~mfddler/
hyphen/humunivers.htm
36. http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~socant/
brian.htm
37. ferguson & Whitehead (1992, p. 3)
38. Keeley (1996, p. 21)
39. Quoted in ferguson (2006, p. 476)
40. Keeley (1996, p. x)
War & the Noble Savage
68
41. ferguson (2006, p. 496)
42. ferguson (2003, p. 29)
43. Keeley’s (1996) graphs are shown and
discussed on pp. 88-91, based on data given in
tables on pp. 195-197. i’ve redrawn the graphs
and based my calculations on these tables.
Pinker uses Keeley’s second graph (percentage
of male deaths caused by war) in his work
(2002) on p. 57.
44. Keeley (1996, p. 14)
45. Keeley (1996, p. 175)
46. Keeley (1996, ch. 5)
47. good (1995, p. 87)
48. Torpe (2003, pp. 149-150)
49. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/
the-world-factbook/rankorder/2066rank.html
50. ferguson (1995, p. 369)
51. http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/warstat8.
htm#total
52. Keeley (1996, p. 89)
53. Pinker (2002, p. 56)
54. Kelly (2000, p. 22)
55. Calculated from data at http://www.fbi.
gov/ucr/08aprelim/table_4mt-oh.html
56. http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/
cri_mur_percap-crime-murders-per-capita
57. Kelly (2000, p. 22)
58. Keeley (1996, p. 88)
59. Keeley (1996, pp. 21-22)
60. Keeley (1996, p. 91)
61. ferguson (1992, p. 27)
62. Keeley (1996, p. 150)
63. originally subtitled (perhaps to echo
Keeley’s work) Te Myth of the Peaceful, Noble
Savage.
64. leblanc (2003, p. 202)
65. See godesky (2007a)
66. See ferguson (1995)
67. for example, Carol ember’s 1978
calculation that 90 percent of hunter-gatherers
engage in warfare—cited by Pinker (2002, p. 57)
68. for example, mithen (2003, pp. 178-195)
69. godesky (2007b), quoting richard
manning’s book Against the Grain: How
Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization.
70. Torpe (2003, p. 155)
71. angela Close, quoted in mithen (2003,
p. 452)
72. http://www.mhecopark.org/ecology/pre-
1842/05-oneotasubsistence.php
73. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/iowa_archae
ology#oneota_.281250-1700.29
74. Waldram, herring and young (1995,
p. 40). oddly, Keeley’s graph undercuts the
data given for this culture in the table in the
appendix by about 6%.
75. http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/
archaeology/sites/northamerica/
crowcreekmassacre.html
76. http://archaeology.about.com/od/
vterms/g/vedbaek.htm
77. See Schulting (1996)
78. See early and Peters (2000, pp. 93-95)
79. Keeley (1996, p. 91)
80. Keeley (1996, p. 31)
81. Shafer (2003, p. 112)
82. leblanc (2003, p. 56)
83. Keeley (1996, p. 36)
84. Keeley (1996, p. 174)
85. leblanc (2003, p. 31)
86. leblanc (2003, p. 134)
87. leblanc (2003, p. 127)
88. http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/14196
around 39:00.
89. ferguson (2003, p. 31)
90. ferguson (2003, p. 33)
91. basic data about chimpanzees are
taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Chimpanzee, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
bonobo and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
hominidae.
92. http://www.scientifcamerican.com/
article.cfm?id=human-chimp-gene-gap-wide
93. bloom (1995, pp. 28-29)
94. for information on this work i’m
indebted to Jim moore’s review from Te
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
(http://cogprints.org/738/0/Power.html)
and Teodore D. Kemper’s review from Te
69
NoteS
American Journal of Sociology. to be cautious in
such second-hand citation, i’ve erred on the
side of moore’s rather critical review.
95. http://cogprints.org/738/0/Power.html
96. ferguson (1995, p. 349)
97. http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15933/0
98. See bradshaw and Watkins (2006)
99. http://www.
cosmosmagazine.com/news/2253/
bonobos-have-violent-streak-too-study-says
100. http://www.newyorker.com/
reporting/2007/07/30/070730fa_fact_parker
101. Keeley (1996, pp. 157-159)
102. Keeley (1996, p. 130)
103. Pinker (2003, p. 317)
104. Pinker (2003, p. 329)
105. Pinker (2003, p. 319)
106. Pinker (2003, p. 323)
107. Kelly (2000, p. 159)
108. Kelly (2000, p.73)
109. Kelly (2000, p. 73)
110. Kelly (2000, p. 37)
111. Quoted in Kelly (2000, p. 102)
112. Quoted in Kelly (2000, p. 103)
113. Keeley (1996, pp. 140-141)
114. leblanc (2003, p. 69)
115. See hames (2007) and ellingson (2001,
pp. 342-358)
116. ellingson (2001, p. 355)
117. http://www.rae.org/savage.html
118. monbiot (2009)
119. See http://www.megafauna.com/
120. mithen (2003, pp. 246-257)
121. godesky (2005)
122. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
holocene_extinction
123. leblanc (2003, p. 25)
124. leblanc (2003, p. 29)
125. See hames (2007)
126. hames (2007, p. 180)
127. See genesis 1:26 and luke 12:41-48
128. Keeley (1996, p. 29)
129. Quinn (1999, p. 60)
130. See http://rushkof.com/videoaudio/
howard-bloom/, around 56:12–57:25
131. See http://www.monbiot.com/
archives/2009/09/29/the-population-myth/
132. See Pendell (2006) and http://
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/horizon_anarchism
133. Kelly (2000, p. 161)
134. ferguson (2008, p. 35)
135. ferguson (2006, p. 505)
136. leblanc (2003, p. 230)
137. mithen (2003, p. 48)
138. Quoted in ellingson (2001, p. 353)
139. http://www.semiotexte.com/authors/
clastres.html
140. http://tank.nationalreview.com/post/?q=
ZjmyZjm5mmQxmDfhNji5N2yxoDc5mt
rhoDhhmDrmmWm=
141. mithen (2003, p. 43)
142. Clastres (1994, p. 163)
143. it’s worth noting that the “tribal”
structure of many (though of course, not
all) indigenous peoples emerged out of the
necessities of contact with colonial powers,
who could only interact with them via the
familiar medium of a “leader.” See ferguson
and Whitehead (1992). Tis dynamic is often
echoed in the inability of the media and police
to relate to the frequently non-hierarchical
organization of modern grassroots protest
groups.
144. Clastres (1994, p. 156)
145. Clastres (1994, p. 120)
146. http://users.lycaeum.org/~sputnik/
mcKenna/evolution/theory.html
147. http://users.lycaeum.org/~sputnik/
mcKenna/evolution/theory.html
148. S. harrison, quoted in Torpe (2003, p.
148)
149. http://www.erowid.org/library/books_
online/tihkal/tihkal14.shtml
150. mcKenna (1993, p. 165)
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2001: a Space odyssey (flm), 63
!Kung San, 23, 42. See also bushmen
aborigines Protection Society, 4
afghanistan, 22, 56
africa, v, vii, 23, 24, 31, 35, 39, 42, 47, 56, 60, 63, 66
african genesis, 63
after the ice (book), 48, 58, 60
agriculture, 9, 30, 31, 34, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 55,
58, 59, 64
alchemy, 66
alvard, m.S., 47
amazon, 17, 21, 60, 61, 65, 66
america, 3, 5, 16, 18, 22, 23, 39, 48, 50. See
also New World
american anthropological association, 13
american indians. See Native americans
anarchism, 8, 44, 54, 56, 60
andaman islands, 42, 44, 45, 56, 59
animism, 45
anthropology, vii, 2, 4, 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, 19, 24, 42,
45, 53, 60
arapesh, 13
archaeology, 17, 26, 29, 30, 31, 34, 35, 37, 58
ardrey, robert, 63
astrology, 10
astronomy, 11
avatip, 65
ayahuasca, 65
bering Straits, 48
berkeley, 63, 66
bey, hakim, vi
bible, 33, 51
blank Slate (philosophy), vii, 3, 12, 15, 27, 38. See
also tabula rasa
blank Slate, Te (book), vii, 12, 19, 40
bloom, howard, vi, 35, 36, 39, 53
bodley, John h., 59
bolivia, 42
bonobo, 39. See also Pan paniscus; See
also chimpanzee
british Columbia, 31
brittany, 32
brown, Donald, 14, 45
bushmeat, 37
bushmen, vii. See also !Kung San
California, 20, 66
Campion, Nicholas, 10, 11
cannibalism, 2
capitalism, 51, 54
Capitalism and Schizophrenia (book), 60
carrying capacity, 28, 57, 58
Cartesian, 38
Chagnon, Napolean, 13
Chalice and the blade, Te (book), v
chimpanzee, 35, 36, 37. See also primates; See
also bonobo
Christianity, vi, 4, 33, 38, 50
Churchill, Winston, 60
Cia World factbook, 22
civilization, 1, 4, 5, 6, 16, 21, 22, 24, 25, 30, 46, 47,
54, 58, 59, 64
Clastres, Pierre, vi, 60–62, 64
Clausewitz, Carl von, viii
climate change, 31, 48, 52, 57, 59, 63
Clovis culture, 48, 49
Collapse (book), 47, 51
colonialism, 4, 7, 16, 26, 27, 28, 42
comets, 11
Congo river, 39, 42
Conquest of granada, Te (play), 2
conservation, 46, 49, 50, 51
conservatism, 61, 62
Constant battles (book), 28, 32, 46, 57
Copper inuit, 42
corporatism, 7, 15, 22
i NDeX
War & the Noble Savage
74
cosmology, 11
Crawfurd, John, 4, 5, 6, 7, 12, 14
Crow Creek massacre, 31
cultural determinism, 13
cultural relativism, 6
Darkness in el Dorado (book), 13
Darwin, Charles, vii, 5, 6, 33
Davy, Sir humphry, 4, 5
Dawkins, richard, 38
death rates, vi, vii, 18, 20, 21, 25, 32. See
also murder rates
Deleuze, gilles, 60
democracy, 53, 60
Demonic males (book), 24
Denmark, 31
Descent of man, Te (book), 5
Diamond, Jared, 35, 47, 51
disease, 14, 19, 23, 26, 28, 37, 58
DNa. See genetics
Dryden, John, 2
Dugum Dani, 18, 20
ecology, v, 17, 28, 32, 34, 36, 37, 41, 42, 46–52, 57,
58, 59
economics, 15, 22
eden, vi, 17, 64. See also golden age
edge.org, 25
egalitarianism, vi, 3, 30, 32, 36, 53, 54, 60
egalitarians - human and Chimpanzee, Te
(book), 36
eisler, riane, v
ellingson, ter, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 46
enlightenment, 4, 33
ethnocide, 29
ethnography, viii, 4, 9, 14, 16, 18, 19, 24, 26, 28, 29,
34, 35, 37, 42, 53, 58
ethnological Society, 4
eugenics, 13, 15
europe, 2, 3, 7, 18, 27, 30, 31, 32
evolution, vii, 6, 12, 13, 38, 52
evolutionary psychology, 35
extinction, 47, 48, 49
falsifability, 66
ferguson, r. brian, 16, 17, 18, 22, 26, 27, 28, 29,
34, 37, 46, 57
financial times, 7
food of the gods (book), v, 63
foragers. See hunter-gatherers
fossil fuels, 57, 58
france, 2, 18, 20, 21, 22, 24
freeman, Derek, 13
freud, Sigmund, 55
galileo galilei, 11
gebusi, 18, 20
genesis, book of, v
genetics, vii, 12, 13, 14, 15, 31, 35, 36, 38, 65. See
also selfsh gene
genocide, 14, 29
germany, 20
goddess, v
godesky, Jason, vi
golden age, vi, 55. See also eden
gombe reserve, 35, 37
goodall, Jane, 35, 36, 38
great ape Project, 38, 39
great year, Te (book), 10
guattari, félix, 60
guerrillas, 19
hames, raymond, 50
handel, michael i., viii
harmine, 65
headhunting, 65
hebrews, 11
histoire de la Nouvelle france (book), 2
history, v, vii, viii, 2, 8, 10, 14, 32, 33, 56, 58, 66
hiv/aiDS, 22
hmS beagle, 5
hobbesian, 11, 16, 40, 48, 61
hobbes, Tomas, 1, 2, 3, 7, 8–11, 12, 14, 15, 24, 39,
40, 41, 43, 51, 54, 55, 60, 64
holocaust, 13
holocene, 49, 58
homicide. See murder
homo sapiens, 33, 34, 38
honey, 50
huli, 18
humanism, vi, 50
75
i NDeX
human universals, 14
hunter-gatherers, vi, 3, 24, 25, 26, 30, 32, 34, 40,
44, 48, 50, 51, 52, 53, 55, 58, 60, 61
hunting, 2, 47, 48, 49, 50
hunt, James, 4
hutton, James, 33
hypercarbolation, 66
ice age, 31, 34, 44, 49, 58
illinois, 31
indian ocean, 42
indo-european, v
industrial revolution, 49
initiation, 55
international union for Conservation of
Nature, 37
in the Shadow of man (book), 36
iraq, 56
iroquois, 40
Japan, 20
Jebel Sahaba, 31, 34, 46
Jivaro, 18, 65
Kato indians, 20
Kebaran people, 61
Keeley, lawrence h., vii, 6, 7, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21,
23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 40, 42, 43,
46, 51, 53, 63
Kelly, raymond C., 24, 42–45, 46, 56
Kingsnorth, Paul, 47
Klein, Naomi, 15
Knauft, bruce m., 24
la boétie, Étienne de, 62
language, 64
leblanc, Steven a., 28, 30, 32, 34, 46, 50, 57
lescarbot, marc, 2, 3
leviathan (book), 1, 8
lévi-Strauss, Claude, 60
lewis-Williams, David, vii
life expectancy, 22
life inc. (book), 7
lubbock, John, 4
lyell, Charles, 33
mae enga, 20
magic, 65
mahale, 37
malay Peninsula, 42
mao. See Zedong, mao
marriage, 43, 44
martin, Paul S., 48
mauss, marcel, 61
mbuti, 24, 42
mcKenna, Dennis, 66
mcKenna, terence, v, vii, 63–66
mead, margaret, 13
megafauna, 47, 49
mesolithic, 31, 32
messianism, 58
metageum conference, vii, viii
mexico, 32, 65
middle ages, 7
middle east, 31, 58, 60, 64
mimbres culture, 32
mithen, Steven, 48, 49, 58, 60
modern war, 19, 25
monbiot, george, 47
montaigne, michel de, 62
morris, Desmond, 63
mortality rates. See death rates
murder, 9, 23, 24, 43, 45, 49
murder rates, 23, 24, 43. See also death rates
murngin, 18, 20
myth of the Noble Savage, Te (book), 2–7
Naked ape, Te (book), 63
Native americans, 3, 4, 9, 16, 47
Natufan culture, 58, 60, 61, 64
nature versus nurture, vii, 12, 13, 40
Nazism, vii
Neanderthals, 9
Neel, James, 13
Neo-Darwinism, vii, 40
neoliberalism, 15
Neolithic, v, 30, 32, 48, 64
New guinea. See Papua New guinea
New mexico, 32
New World, 2, 19, 49. See also america
New york, 24
nihilism, 55, 56
War & the Noble Savage
76
Nile (river), 31
Noah’s ark: a feasibility Study (book), 47
Noble Savage, vii, 1–7, 12, 14, 17, 22, 23, 37, 46, 47,
48, 50, 53, 59
nomadism, 25, 30, 40, 44, 52, 53, 60
Northwest Coast (of america), 16, 31
nostalgia, 55, 58
oaxaca, 65
oneota indians, 31
on the origin of Species (book), 6
optimism, 54, 56, 57
pacifcation, 17, 27, 28
Pacifc ocean, 9
Palaeolithic, v, 9, 31, 33, 34, 44, 46, 47, 48, 49, 57,
58, 64, 66
Pan paniscus, 39. See also bonobo
Pan troglodytes, 39. See also chimpanzee
Papua New guinea, 13, 18, 19, 65. See also mae
enga
partnership society, v
peace, v, vi, 8, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 24, 27, 28, 36, 39, 40,
43, 45, 51, 56, 57, 58, 59, 62, 63
pessimism, 54
Philosopher’s Stone, 66
Pinker, Steven, vi, vii, 3, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 19,
23, 24, 25, 40, 41, 43, 53, 56, 63
planets, 11
Pole Star, 54
Portman, m.v., 45
pottery, 17
Power, margaret, 36, 37
primates, 9, 36, 39, 63, 64
primitivism, vi, 55, 56, 58
Prince rupert harbour indians, 31
progress, vi, 15
Prozac, 55, 64
psilocybin mushrooms, v, 63–72
psychedelics, 63–72, 65, 66
Quakers, 4
Quaternary extinction, 49
Quinn, Daniel, 52
racism, 13, 15
radclife-brown, alfred reginald, 45
rape, 14
rave culture, 63
renaissance, 7
roman Catholicism, 22
rousseauian, 15, 16, 23, 27, 45, 53, 63, 65
rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 1–7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15, 24,
39, 43, 51, 54, 60, 64
royal anthropological institute, 4
rushkof, Douglas, 7
russia, 20
San. See !Kung San; See bushmen
San francisco, 32
Scandinavia, 40
school shootings, 55
sedentarism, 17, 30, 31, 32, 41, 58, 60, 61, 64
selfsh gene, 41. See also genetics
Semai, 24, 42
sexuality, 13, 39, 61, 64
shamanism, vii, 55
Shock Doctrine, Te (book), 15
Shulgin, alexander, 65
Singer, Peter, 56
Siriono, 24, 42
snakes, 14
social hierarchies, v, vi, 3, 4, 6, 64
sociality, 9, 10, 13, 41, 61
social scale, vi, 9, 17, 21, 24, 43, 51, 53, 55, 60–62
social substitutability, 43
sociobiology, 35, 40
solitude, 9, 10
song, 3
Stalin, Josef, vii, 13
state (central power), 1, 8, 10, 15, 16, 43, 55, 60–62
State university of New Jersey, 16
Stent, Dr. gunther, 66
Stoned ape hypothesis, v, 63–72
suicide, 25, 55
Sun tzu, viii
Swaziland, 22
tabula rasa, 12, 15. See also blank Slate
(philosophy)
tanzania, 35
technology, 28, 31
77
i NDeX
tetranthera, 45
téviec, 32
Tatcher, margaret, 10
Tird Chimpanzee, Te (book), 35
Tomas, elizabeth marshall, 23
tierney, Patrick, 13, 14
tierra del fuego, 5, 6. See also yaghan
tribalism, 52
turney-high, harry holbert, 19
united Kingdom, 22
united States. See america
valla, françois, 61
vedbæk, 31, 32
victorian, v, vii, 4, 7
Waal, frans de, 39
War before Civilization (book), vii, 30, 43
War in the tribal Zone (book), 16
Warless Societies and the origins of War
(book), 42–45
wayumi, 21
weapons, 16, 19, 24, 26, 33, 62
Whitehead, Neil l., 16
Wikipedia, 13, 21
Wilkes, Charles, 5, 6
wolves, 9, 10, 48
Woodmorappe, John, 47
World War i, 45
World War ii, vii
yaghan, 5, 6. See also tierra del fuego
yanomami, 13, 18, 20, 21, 22, 24, 28, 37, 47, 60,
62, 65
younger Dryas, 58
Zedong, mao, vii, 13
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This work is licensed under the Creative Commons attributionNonCommercial-Share alike license. to view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ except credited images—see respective sources for their copyright status. Published by Dreamflesh Press bm 2374 london WC1N 3XX england http://dreamflesh.com first print edition 2009 This electronic edition 2010 Design and typography by gyrus Set in adobe Caslon Pro iSbN-10 095541962X iSbN-13 9780955419621

With thanks to michael murphy, Professor of Demography at the london School of economics, for guidance in the ways of statistics; to Dr David luke, for unspeakable resources; and to mike Jay, for checking sanity.

Dedicated to Julian & Dorian Cope, whose unflagging vitality always inspires.

Contents
The Origins of the Noble Savage ......................................................1 The Violent Past & the Political Present ......................................... 12 Introduction................................................................................... v Solitary, Poor, Nasty, Brutish & Short ............................................ 8 The Tribal Zone ............................................................................ 16 The Remains of the Past.................................................................30 Complexity & Conflict ..................................................................42 The Ecologically Noble Savage .......................................................46
APPENdIx I:

Ape Cousins & Hard-Wired Violence ............................................ 35

Conclusions ................................................................................... 53 Society Against the State......................................... 60 The Stoned Ape Hypothesis .....................................63
APPENdIx II:

Notes ............................................................................................68 Bibliography ................................................................................. 71 Index ............................................................................................ 74

Image credits
Cover: “The old-time warrior—Nez Percé”. Photograph by edward S. Curtis (c. 1910). from http:// commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/file:Nez_Perce_warrior_on_horse.jpg. p. 1—“Jean-Jacques rousseau (1712–1778)”: Portrait by maurice Quentin de la tour. from http:// commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/file:Jean-Jacques_rousseau_%28painted_portrait%29.jpg. p. 4—“John Crawfurd (1783–1868)”: from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/file:John_Crawfurd.jpg. p. 5—“Charles Darwin (1809–1882)”: from http://mikeely.wordpress.com/2009/02/10/ whats-in-a-name-honor-charles-darwin-but-kill-off-darwinism/. p. 5—“yaghan people as depicted in J.g. Wood’s The uncivilized races of men (1871)”: from ellingson (2001). p. 8—“Thomas hobbes (1588–1679)”: Portrait by John michael Wright. from http://commons. wikimedia.org/wiki/file:Thomas_hobbes_%28portrait%29.jpg. p. 27—“The white man brings civilization and Christianity to the savages. Some still fight in the background. from J.g. Wood’s The uncivilized races of man (1871)”: from ellingson (2001). p. 35—“The common chimpanzee”: Photograph by Thomas lersch (2005). from http://commons. wikimedia.org/wiki/file:Schimpanse_zoo-leipig.jpg. p. 39—“a male bonobo”: Photograph by evan maclean (http://www.duke.edu/~maclean/). from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/file:male_bonobo_lola_ya_bonobo_2008.jpg. p. 42—“two andamanese islanders in 1875”: unknown photographer. from the Pitt rivers museum, oxford, via http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/file:great_andamanese_-_two_men_-_1875. jpg. p. 59—“The North great andamanese peace dance (1905)”: Photograph by alfred reginald radcliffe-brown. from http://www.andaman.org/.

1 The theory for which the book is most famous—the so-called “Stoned ape hypothesis”—suggests that the dramatic psychological and social effects of psilocybin mushrooms played a crucial role in human evolution. it’s a simple narrative in many ways. Why on earth do i find myself writing about the history of war? it’s both glibly convenient and at least partially true to pin the blame on terence mcKenna’s 1992 book.Introduction g rowing up. Society was more female-centred. looking back. and in its sense of degeneration from a primeval state of peace it’s far from new. and perhaps biological (see appendix ii). for that matter. for anyone not especially versed in ecology. eventually battered into submission by horse-borne. i never had a particular interest in war. That is. but in the end the more important aspect of Food of the Gods is the wider perspective within which it is embedded. This hypothesis remains both contested and interesting. The book was blast of conceptual fire. his vision of the almost symbiotic dance of mutuality between humans and various psychoactive plants—from mushrooms. Food of the Gods. With their battle-axes they brought a monomaniacal Sky god. these times were the last traces of the influence of Palaeolithic mushroom cults of the african grasslands. the contours. for mcKenna. is history. and war? Well. the peaks and valleys. in the mists of prehistory. perhaps. reading this provocative tome awoke in me for the first time an excitement and curiosity about the shape of history. as they say. the book of genesis is (ironically) a notable . energizing me with curiosity about our species’ journey. sugar and smack in the cold light of modernity—is deeply educational. hierarchical warriors (the indo-europeans. These partnership societies were held to be generally peaceful. “partnership” rather than “dominator” social norms held sway. that our concepts of “development” and our value judgements about the quality of life bestow upon the past. and throughout the early european Neolithic a great goddess was revered. mcKenna believed—following riane eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade—that for large stretches of our prehistory. to coffee. the effect of this new perspective was to shake me out of the blind slumber that my bad history teachers and our culture’s tedious. cultural. the rest. my and possibly your cultural ancestors) from the central asian steppes. or history. barely post-victorian models of history had left me drifting in. and about the multitude of forms that it’s possible to imbue our vision of that journey with.

actually things have been steadily getting better over the years.2 filmed in 2007 before a prestigious invite-only audience. from hakim bey’s rich mix of primitivism. and—with due respect to the millions of victims of recent wars—relatively speaking we’re living in a golden age. but was fuelled by the instinct for freedom. degenerating into our modern nightmare of holocausts and genocides. however. radical politics and heretical spirituality i picked up the idea that much hunter-gatherer conflict was ritualistic.vi Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e predecessor. even by such simple and ostensibly depressing means as inversion.” Such a complex (if scattershot and shallow) education in the field left me rather unprepared for a talk by popular psychologist Steven Pinker called ‘a brief history of violence’. This rather simplistic thesis tugged at the simplistic levels of my intellect. Deaths from violent conflict in contemporary Western countries (when measured as a proportion of the total population) pale into insignificance next to the comparably horrific death tolls among hunter-gatherers. Didn’t i usually appreciate revealing attacks on tired conventional views? but hang on. Progress is a concept so deeply embedded in our worldview that it’s simply exhilarating and inspiring to break away from it. who believed that primitive war was indeed violent. for a while it functioned well for me as a rather flawed alternative to a very flawed orthodoxy. contrary to the popular myth that the past was a time of peace. being “for” it is beyond even common sense. when did the idea of peaceful prehistory become conventional? Did i miss a meeting? Surely this was just re-entrenchment of orthodoxy dressed up as a . Pinker argued that. this dogma of scientific humanism wrestles in the hearts of most Westerners with the Christian doctrine of the fall from eden—not to mention gruelling everyday realities that nag us and mock our pretensions to cumulative improvement. We move onward and upward. and i found primitivist blogger Jason godesky flying the flag for the evolutionary and moral superiority of the forager way of life while never risking a slide into a crude romantic vision of “prehistoric peace. human empathy has expanded alongside global population levels. Palaeopsychologist howard bloom painted a dark picture of our aggressive primate inheritance. from one perspective. following bey’s tracks led me to anthropologist Pierre Clastres. telling stories of the good old days… i retained a more than passing interest in the issues of war and peace relating to the archaic world over the years. Still. questioning it can seem like wilful perversion. “progress” is the air we breathe. small egalitarian bands resisted the pull to merge into larger-scale social structures (and the hierarchies and inequalities they bring) simply by fighting each other a lot (see appendix i). creating tensions.

the Nazis.3 that is. having been invited to talk at the metageum conference on archaic consciousness in london in 2009. and experienced the vertigo you get when you realize you’ve bitten off more than . in part. While riddled with problems. Pinker stood at the beginning as a neo-Darwinian whose dim view of archaic humanity bolstered. his central thesis on the skewed “nature versus nurture” debate is compelling and timely. the quite bizarre contrast between the effort he expends and sensitivity he musters in reconstructing the cognitive worlds of the shamanic Stone ages. by now i had Pinker in my sights. in any case. i attacked an aspect of David lewis-Williams’ work. is this as good a yardstick as it seems? and had he not heard of the perils of projecting observations of contemporary tribal people back into prehistory? i noted that Pinker’s chief source for this section of his work was lawrence h. War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage. honour Charles Darwin’s bicentennial by tackling some ways in which evolutionary theory had affected our views of prehistoric life. wherein we find the idea of evolution as an ascending ladder of progress (rather than a radiating bush of mutation) irresistible when looking out and back from the modern Western vantage point. a few weeks before i was due to deliver my talk. his section on war and the “Noble Savage.” though. with his ideas about the role of psilocybin mushrooms in human evolution. like Pinker’s. Somehow terence mcKenna popped up next. has more to do with the Darwin’s victorian cultural superiority complex than his theories of natural selection. has somehow left theories in that field tainted in a way that the “blank slates” on which Stalin and mao believed they were writing their twisted visions of history hasn’t tainted the “nurture”-dominated theories that have been conventional in academia since World War ii. only complexified my response to his “history of violence” theory. most interesting is his observation that the association of genetics with. again. he nevertheless holds the worldview of such people to be irredeemable nonsense. shouldn’t i first acquaint myself with his work more deeply than watching a talk on youtube? i picked up his book The Blank Slate—the basis for his talk on violence—and was unexpectedly engrossed. an “evolutionary” doctrine that. Keeley’s 1996 study. becoming curious about research in the field since Keeley’s book. i decided to. the (mis)application of biological theory to society. even accepting the numbers regarding the decrease in proportional mortality rates from war. in some sense. famed for constructive use of the anthropology of the african bushmen in interpreting prehistoric rock paintings. pangs of integrity struck me. best consigned to the past. finally. in the end.iNtroDuCtioN vii challenging new perspective. and the harsh judgements he frames his narratives with. if i was to attack Pinker’s views. i searched the web a little. particularly. my talk fell into three parts.

and counter-productive. any “pile” of research on an interesting issue is really a black hole in disguise. after exhaustively studying those titans of martial theory. . how does the layperson reasonably find their position in the debate. yet it seemed that to speak with any degree of authority—let alone satisfy my curiosity—i had a veritable pile of research to get through.viii Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e you can chew. and the profundity of this advice can only be extended. in the former. of course. i also hope that i can act as a “way in” to these topics for people.”4 Throw some mercurial prehistory and ethnography into the mix. i feel woefully premature. unrealistic. my talk was imminent. if any. writing this essay that aims to dig deep where my metageum talk had merely skimmed the surface. This work is partly a review of (some of ) the literature. even now. handel. partly my own meditations on the thorny issues threading through the history of violent conflict. and see that even intelligent people who spend forever doing the research end up disagreeing wildly? as a layperson who’s fortunate enough to find more time than most to dig beneath the cultural surface of such debates. in the latter. it’s also an acknowledgement of the irreducible complexity of the topic. it’s sometimes daunting reading the work of experts who have devoted entire careers to studying a particular subject—and baffling when you go and read another expert on the same subject who reaches entirely different conclusions. i recognize this as only partly a mark of the brevity of my bibliography. michael i. concluded: “to streamline the theories of war by artificially eliminating contradictions is dysfunctional. to do proper research. further. and their relationship to our present and future. has always embraced the fundamental lack of certainty that’s involved. Sun tzu and Clausewitz. given that they have very little time.” while at the same time being clear that—like everyone—i have my own perspective. i hope to heed handel’s warning about “streamlining. at the same time. my fascination with remote periods of the past. i hope to be fair in representing others’ views. i hope i can at least act—whether you agree or disagree with particular views—as a mediating influence across that confusing divide.

and everywhere he is in chains”5 is rather wellknown. of course it’s based on truths about the respective philosopher’s positions. in which he argued that the “state of nature” is one of unrestrained competition and selfishness.” which necessitates a strong central state to enforce social limitations on our natural brutishness. Such is the frame of the debate. their historical images happily standing fast where their actual counterparts may have requested a break every now and then.” humans are taken to be generally peaceable. however.The Origins of the Noble Savage s with all complex topics that are tangled with sensitive cultural nerves. any violence restricted to the bare necessities of nature. each pole in the debate is in the care of a philosopher. rousseau is opposed in this background drama by Thomas hobbes. his proclamation that “man is born free. but the rich realities behind this inherited frame are highly instructive. in order to fit the round pegs of human nature into the square holes of civilization. he set forth his views on society in Leviathan. and we are damned to the perverJean-Jacques rousseau sions of oppression. Cast in a role idealizing the primordial is 18th century french philosopher Jean-Jacques rousseau. each is defined by the view they represent regarding the origins of violent conflict. the study of prehistoric war gains much of its charge from a beguiling polarization. a . in a “state of nature. natural flows of energy and relatedness are dammed. alienation. a “war of all against all. an english philosopher who predated rousseau by about a century. his script is dominated by the concept of the Noble Savage. our impulses are thwarted and distorted. and their convulsive (1712–1778) consequences.

also we must say of them that they are truly noble. they. Histoire de la Nouvelle France: Now leaving there those Anthropophages brazilians. fight. People who know that rousseau didn’t originate the term (he never even used it) usually attribute its actual origin to lines in John Dryden’s restoration drama The Conquest of Granada (1670): i am as free as Nature first made man. ellingson attempts to show how the history of the Noble Savage trope deviates rather markedly from the beliefs that usually cluster around the phrase for us. There is no generalization about tribal people. “one of the marques de noblesse. in the 1609 publication of the french lawyer marc lescarbot’s travelogue compendium. rather than prompting a response along the lines of. caused lescarbot the lawyer to conclude that. the term’s original appearance lies further back. The sight of a hunting free-for-all. let us return to our New france. some are less humane. or that one search out their domestical actions …8 right away we find the complexity that lescarbot’s actual experience of “savages” revealed to him. all of them . and the nature of this nobility deserves attention. when compared to the polarities that seeped into popular debates via hobbes’ and rousseau’s simplistically politicized anthropology. a blunt summary of his thesis would be that the real “myth” is that anyone really held to this notion at all. and live but with that which god hath given to man. where the men there are more humane. not devouring their like. some are more. because all of the natives hunted.”9 typically.7 in fact. whether we consider their hunting or their employment in the wars. The heading that lescarbot gave this section was “The Savages are truly Noble”. like us.2 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e Rousseau Revisited ethnomusicologist ter ellingson has written a fascinating book—ignored by recent works that make use of rousseau’s role in the debate on war6—called The Myth of the Noble Savage. in europe at the time. There is no question of any war-free idyll. europeans approaching the New World would apply their own frameworks to this unknown land rather than revise those frameworks. the emblematic privileges that distinguished nobles from commoners. but still some are remarkably “noble” and “generous”. not having any action but is generous. “The privileges of our nobility are unfair!”. hunting was the preserve of the nobility. When wild in woods the noble savage ran. ere the base laws of servitude began.

given birds and whales. rousseau states. as ridiculous as those of hobbes (which we’ll come to soon). he argues. rousseau’s concept of humans in a “state of nature” had more of the character of a thought experiment than any kind of ethnological judgement. but to use our inevitably hypothetical models of early humanity as a tool with which to break apart ossified contemporary ideas about the whys and wherefores of society. explicitly linking his judgements to native Caribbeans. in order to challenge them. This “state of nature” is neither a past nor a future state. uniquely human “culture” stands as an obvious one. savage life is a chance to see our present ills from a different perspective.t h e o r i g i N S o f t h e N o b l e S ava g e 3 were. which perhaps never existed. “while the Savages of america sing because they speak. and he is so far from having enough knowledge for him to desire to acquire more knowledge. ellingson points out that.” The wider connotations of the word did of course extend lescarbot’s terminology past simple observation. in their way. however. again. but it’s clear that rousseau’s concern is not to romanticize Native americans. his use of song as a mark of unnatural. at least legally speaking.12 These pronouncements are. rousseau writes: his imagination paints no pictures. and which will probably never exist. and the implied critique of hierarchical society that hunter-gatherer egalitarianism offered was soon taken up in europe. and his characterization of man in a state of nature is genuinely deserving of Steven Pinker’s attacks on the absurdity of the philosophy of the blank Slate. and had little. it’s interesting to note that these initial perceptions of “savage nobility” were more a result of an imposition of european values than any criticism of them. his modest needs are readily supplied at hand. not least by rousseau. “noble. on top of not making use of the Noble Savage trope so often attributed to him.” his “true Savages” are hypothetical humans in “a state which no longer exists. ellingson succeeds in showing that rousseau—like most people of his time— had rather more complex views of actual tribal peoples than our idea of a pervasive romantic notion of the Noble Savage among europeans suggests. to do with any idealization of primitive life. is a product of culture.”10 Singing. taking the existence of song as an example. true Savages have never sung at all. but—hypothetical or not—his image of pre-cultural humanity has a lot of problems.”11 rather abstract and baffling. that he can have neither foresight nor curiosity. if anything. therefore the american savages are more than “natural. his heart yearns for nothing. not nature. yet of which it is necessary to have sound ideas if we are to judge our present state satisfactorily. to be sure. as for rousseau’s critique. . No “return to nature” is possible.

indeed. together with white supremacist James hunt. a respected and rather racist ex-colonial administrator who—ellingson claims—was part of a coup designed to overtake the society. his speech hijacked imagery from two key sources in order to drive home the supposed transparency of inherent racial hierarchy. (1783–1868) Crawfurd’s racist cod-evolutionary views were contested. and falsely see as rampant during the enlightenment. While certain laudable qualities are admitted to. with a marked anti-slavery agenda. “it is toward a more negative evaluation. rooted in the aborigines Protection Society and with a strong Quaker contingent. John Crawfurd if this is true. one was “a vision. ellingson finds european attitudes before and after rousseau to be a mixed bag of ambiguities and oppositions.”14 What happened? ellingson maintains that the myth as we know it can be traced to a paper delivered to the ethnological Society in 1859 by John Crawfurd. a president of london’s ethnological Society (a forerunner of today’s royal anthropological institute). sought to fend off factions in the nascent science of anthropology who advocated universal human rights. in victorian england. if there is any change after rousseau. they were not unusual. Still. it’s worked remarkably well.4 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e Crawfurd’s Coup & Darwin’s Wretched Savages after exhaustively surveying ethnographic writings on american indians. partly fictitious. and yet by 1865 ellingson finds John lubbock. and who talk of the free and noble savage. the ethnological Society was rather enlightened for the time. The theory at the centre of ellingson’s story is that Crawfurd resurrected this rarely-used term as a straw man. convinced that the myth we falsely attribute to rousseau. and Christian superiority are the dominant attitudes. drawn from the writings of Sir humphry Davy (perhaps inspired by Davy’s extensive .”13 many instances of ascribing “nobility” seem to have merely served to picture the savages as worthy opponents whose defeat would give honour to european conquerors. a “dialectic of vices and virtues”. something to make sympathies with aboriginal cultures seem risible. he needed to muster potent rhetoric in order to gain momentum for his bid for presidency of the ethnological Society—through which he. colonial utilitarianism. was rife: “There are. many who doubt whether happiness is increased by civilization. and partly founded on an actual dream”. ambivalence. but of course.

Wood’s remarked: The Uncivilized Races of Men (1871) .16 Charles Darwin (1809–1882) Darwin’s impressions were to later form the basis for theories about the evolution of civilization in The descent of Man. also cited by Crawfurd. Darwin’s bourgeois sensibilities were shaken by his encounter with the yaghan. an american explorer who.t h e o r i g i N S o f t h e N o b l e S ava g e 5 experiments with nitrous oxide inhalation). and inhabitants of the same world. tierra del fuego. not very distant as measured by centuries. describes “naked savages feeding upon wild fruits.” They are “wretched human beings” whose “greatest delicacy appeared to be a maggot or worm”. their skins filthy and greasy. The status of Darwin’s dim views of the yaghan is made more intriguing by the reports of Charles Wilkes. their voices discordant. one can hardly make oneself believe they are fellow creatures. it seems that he felt no great regret for its apparent inevitability. and his description. or fighting with clubs for the remains of a whale …. their hideous faces bedaubed with white paint.15 The other source was Crawfurd’s friend Charles Darwin’s experiences travelling on the famed hmS beagle’s second voyage in the 1830s. leaves no doubt as to his conclusions about primitive culture: i could not have believed how wide was the difference between savage and civilized man. or devouring shell-fish. inasmuch as in man there is a greater power of improvement. viewing such men.g. cited by Crawfurd. their gestures violent and without dignity. which contains the unfortunately quite prescient prediction that “at some future period. natives of the southernmost archipelago of South america. it is greater than that between a wild and domesticated animal.”17 While Darwin wasn’t actively advocating this future. … These poor wretches were stunted in their growth. their hair entangled. yaghan people as depicted in J. after visiting tierra del fuego a few years after Darwin. the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races. Davy’s vision.

than the proud lords of a horde of ten thousand barbarians. are the men whose condition was envied by a very eloquent but very eccentric philosopher of the last century. and while cultural relativism is hard to defend as an unqualified philosophy. Wilkes’ sensitivity is worth bearing in mind when we get to Pinker and Keeley’s war statistics. Perhaps this way of life is . which of course neatly dovetailed with his hierarchical theories of human being. but i imagine a week’s residence—even a night’s lodging with the fuegians would have brought Jean-Jacques rousseau to a saner conclusion. Despite finding it hard to make himself believe that these “wretches” were “fellow creatures. where he quotes John Dryden’s lines. and any thing but miserable. if we could have avoided contrasting their condition with our own. Still.19 it’s a rhetorical trick that’s still common currency. but civilized white men and accomplished women. of life.18 a clearer instance of the realities of cultural relativism is hard to imagine. testifying as much to the personal and cultural filters of Darwin and Wilkes as to the yaghan themselves. Crawfurd held to the then more popular polygenist view that different races of humans had evolved separately. Crawfurd was making ample use of his friend’s negative impressions of the yaghan. following the publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859. barely seven months prior to the appearance of Darwin’s seminal work. the humblest amongst you having the power of enjoying more of the comforts and pleasures. then uses Darwin’s reports to attack a familiar name: Such savages as i have now been describing. to a break between Darwin and racists like Crawfurd who sought in science a justification for their prejudices. meanwhile. i think i may safely congratulate you that you are not the red men of terra [sic] del fuego. physical and intellectual. actual fuegians existed there and then. They were extremely lively and cheerful.” Darwin eventually managed it. yes. yet the fuegians of Darwin and Wilkes are a world apart. Wilkes’ final point about avoiding judgements based on comparisons with our own way of life is remarkably perceptive.6 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e i have seldom seen so happy a group. and settled on a monogenist theory of human evolution that held us all to be a single species with a common origin. and the immutable inferior and superior races it entailed. This crucial disagreement led. a critique of modern society that makes use of a “less developed” way of life is debunked by portraying the person in question as literally wanting to return to that way of life. doing specific things and behaving in specific ways. ellingson finds the creation of the Noble Savage myth to be completed by the conclusion of Crawfurd’s paper.

subsequently. in its “neo-rousseauianism. Crawfurd manufactured an ideal that was extreme enough to easily dismiss. prior to the centralization of currency during the renaissance. even allowing for their own distortions. because there was no end in sight … The literature has grown by leaps and bounds since then. Life Inc. reading Pinker’s and Keeley’s accounts of modern anthropology.500 citations. when life was apparently better than we have been led to believe.”21 (even so. a 1987 attempt to compile a bibliography of the anthropology of war was given up “around 1.” has ignored war.t h e o r i g i N S o f t h e N o b l e S ava g e 7 presented in a distorted fashion. perhaps not. has impacted the science of anthropology through the 20th century. Douglas rushkoff ’s careful. as Keeley justly observes: “in Western popular culture. yet the Financial Times review of the book opens with the suggestion that rushkoff “would rather be living in europe some time between the years 1100 and 1300”!20 ellingson finds little space in his study for analyzing how Crawfurd’s fabrication. makes it clear that this—and not the 18th century—was the heyday of rosy images of primitive life. rousseau triumphs over hobbes only when ‘man in a state of nature’ is no longer a visible competitor and has faded from direct sight. . much discussion of the positive aspects of pre-civilized life was caught in the gravity of this sizeable straw man. Keeley’s claim that 20th century anthropology. which managed to cement the idea that the Noble Savage was an actual ideal held by rousseau and others. but that we might learn valuable lessons from the positive impact of local currencies at that time. Distorted further by the back-and-forth of post-colonial guilt and self-justification.. i saw it happen just last week. the supposed irrationality of the critique is hammered home. involves a re-assessment of the late middle ages.”22) What ellingson manages to show is that any recent idealizations of primitives have been wrought in an atmosphere skewed by imperialist victorian propaganda. is largely false. rushkoff is at pains to stress that of course he’s not suggesting a wholesale return to that period. the 20th century held little promise for clear comparisons of savage and modern life. either way. as royals tried to gain some control over the rising business classes. clear attack on modern corporatism.

his authoritarianism made him understandably less challenging to institutions of power.Solitary. Nasty. but in a period of time during which it is well enough known that people are willing to join in battle. has meant that hobbes’ ideas have appeared only moderately challenging to the various ideologies that the West has entertained. a conThomas hobbes trolling central authority with a monopoly on vio(1588–1679) lence. The ideas set forth in Leviathan are strongly monarchist. brutish. What constitutes bad weather is not a rain-shower or two but an inclination to rain through many days together. all other time is PeaCe. yet its more general philosophical rationale for the state. and it is a war of every man against every man. before looking at his famous “nasty. actual anarchism has a vibrant history. Brutish & Short here seems to be less of a tale to tell regarding the history of Thomas hobbes’ characterizations of primitive life. but has held little real sway in the mainstream of our culture. his materialism and implicit atheism certainly earned him controversy and opposition in his day. Poor.23 t This definition of war is interesting in that it may well be reversed to define peace as not necessarily the total absence of violence. it’s worth—especially given our overarching theme here—looking at hobbes’ definition of “war” that precedes it. the state is for the most part a given. So the temporal element in the notion of ‘when there is war’ is like the temporal element in ‘when there is bad weather’. left or right. for War doesn’t consist just in battle or the act of fighting. they are in the condition known as ‘war’. but as these issues became less contentious. but a general tendency towards . [a]s long as men live without a common power to keep them all in awe. and short” passage. similarly. what constitutes war is not actual fighting but a known disposition to fight during a time when there is no assurance to the contrary.

no literature or scholarship. and consequently no cultivation of the earth. whatever results from a time of war. no account of time. Still. b r u t i S h & S h o r t 9 non-violence. and—worst of all—continual fear and danger of violent death. perhaps punctuated by violent incidents that do not per se entail “war. it includes sociality—out of the box. his conviction is simpler when it comes to the realities of Native american life. like rousseau he verged on the domain of the “thought experiment” in his vision of early human life. no machines for moving things that require much force. nasty. no practical skills. No man or woman is an island.S o l i ta r y . than some of his recent successors. no navigation or use of materials that can be imported by sea. perhaps. his reading of early ethnographies made him quite positive that “those savages live right now in the brutish manner i have described. and the life of man solitary. hobbes proceeds—with his own reasoning rather than evidence as a guide—to draw conclusions about the primeval state of humanity: Therefore. brutish. poor. in such conditions there is no place for hard work. no knowledge of the face of the earth.” The perception of solitude in the warring “state of nature” is perhaps the root of hobbes’ vision. we find an anthropology of primitives that is itself more primitive than its subjects. also results from a time when men live with no other security but what their own strength and ingenuity provides them with. hobbes lists wolves among the supposedly asocial creatures25—and why not? . indeed. most higher primates share our genetic propensity towards socialization. indeed.” both definitions are worth bearing in mind when considering—as we’ll do later—whether a line should be drawn between warfare and homicide in small-scale societies. Palaeolithic—even Neanderthal—flint-knapping skills that almost no modern humans can replicate24 (“no practical skills”!)… need i carry on? “No society”! to be fair to hobbes. so to speak. he baldly states. as with rousseau. N a S t y . when every man is enemy to every man. “i believe it was never generally like this all over the world”—making him more cautious. because there is no assurance that it will yield results. no society. Conclusive exhibits that may be presented here in defence of precivilized culture include Polynesian navigation of vast stretches of the Pacific ocean (“no navigation”!). P o o r . and the root of many of his mistakes. it should be made clear that whatever human nature is. and short. intimate bioregional information systems and the colonization of most of the globe before the advent of agriculture (“no knowledge of the face of the earth”!). Noting that seeing primitives as solitary was also a fault in rousseau’s thought. in any case. no construction of large buildings.

instead of domestication. latin for den) … and wonder who cubilicated whom. Canids’ use of dens dates back further. the largest and most sophisticated society ever known. … even the term domestication has the wrong ring. Consequently. as it seems that early human social organization may actually have more in common with that of wolves than with that of our primate predecessors.10 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e isn’t the wolf. The impact of wolves’ ethics on our own may well equal or even exceed that of our effect on wolves’ changes in their becoming dogs in terms of their general appearance or specific behavioral traits. unworkable state he saw primitive humans as existing in actually accounts for about 94% of our species’ 200. She stood in the wake of centuries of individualistic cultural traditions that have made her perception worryingly accurate. instead of perpetuating our traditional attitude that our “domesticated animals” are intentional creations of human ingenuity. wrongly. rousseau. an interesting parallel between .26 Neither hobbes nor rousseau could really be expected to appreciate the richness of hunter-gatherer culture that has been exposed to us through modern anthropology. hobbes seems rather more blinded by his entrenchment in civilized life. but when margaret Thatcher said in the 1980s that there is no such thing as society. ironies abound with hobbes.000-year existence. anything that could be considered a human habitation in the form of a domus (latin for house). and that various subsequent changes in both wolves and humans must be considered as a process of co-evolution. it seems probable to me that this. we propose that initial contacts between wolves and humans were truly mutual. typically. hobbes may have believed. than it is in some primal individual baseness that must be suppressed by a central authority. didn’t let his blunders get in the way of perceiving primitive life as viable. Nicholas Campion’s excellent study of astrology and its relationship to conceptions of the course of history. Fear of Chaos & Ignorance of Order in T he G reaT Year . in complex social ties and the conflicts they entail. We’ll see that the basis for war is probably located more in our social nature. we should talk about “cubilication” (cubile. since the meeting of wolves and modern humans predates. Perhaps he’d have changed his mind if he’d learned—as we did over the past century or so—that the supposedly woeful. here and now. and while modern Western lives are certainly not short. though. she was at least partially correct. at least. by far. creates the greatest amount of solitary existences. the “lone wolf ”? There’s a deep irony here. and got it—on the issue of solitude at least—plain wrong. that primitive humans lacked society.

N a S t y . like the planets.” the planets. by the same token. mesopotamian priests. with its demonstration of a new planetary order. threatening quality of the universe that signified a return to formless chaos. ascribed to a simple lack of knowledge? Well. instead of being shunned as chaotic affronts to god’s orderly cosmos. P o o r . was usually viewed with suspicion. that we can’t rely on centuries-old guesswork for judging prehistoric life. to the [hebrew] prophets. around a millennia earlier than the hebrews. and the state’s primary function was to restrain them. asocial chaos be. and in his opinion galileo’s astronomy. due to their unsettling capriciousness. Campion shows that hebrew suspicion of the planets demonstrated a degradation in astronomical knowledge which would take a while to be rectified. who lacked the fundamental astronomical knowledge available to the mesopotamian priests. the apparent disorder of the “wandering stars. to the extent that their orbits were not comprehended. pointed the way to an effective authoritarian system: the orderly laws of astronomy could be used to inhibit the disorderly tendencies of human society.27 anomalous celestial events such as comets were overwhelmingly interpreted in a negative light by most ancient civilizations. as much or perhaps more than an examination of rousseau’s.28 Could the hobbesian vision of primeval. his view of people as essentially disorderly was directly comparable to the hebrew prophets’ dislike of the planets on the same grounds. not much here will be deemed simple. apparently erratic bodies such as venus. b r u t i S h & S h o r t 11 hobbes’ social philosophy and the work of his contemporary. galileo. is revealed: hobbes set as his personal goal the discovery of the correct form of authority necessary to restrain a nation’s citizens. human beings were. however. these planetary movements represented the random. . but a even a quick analysis of hobbes’ take on primitive life shows. had made observations of the planets precise enough to roughly understand their complex— though not disorderly—patterns. in a continual state of motion. were embraced within mesopotamian mythology. as you’ll have gathered by now. like the hebrews’ fear of the wandering stars.S o l i ta r y .

also comprising the blank Slate itself (the idea that we start life as a tabula rasa. What did they find? in a nutshell: hobbes was right. genetic theories have always been hard . you might have thought Pinker would be able to afford a slightly larger nutshell than that. too eager for a clear position. to be inscribed by impressions from the environment) and the ghost in the machine (the belief that there is something—spirit or mind—that is qualitatively separate from matter. is typical of many highly vocal. Despite his apparent intent of transcending political divisiveness. a thoroughly noble anything is an unlikely product of natural selection … [i]n the past two decades anthropologists have gathered data on life and death in pre-state societies rather than accepting the warm and fuzzy stereotypes. tainted by racist theories of evolution and inheritance. but which exerts some power over it).29 in a 500-page book. his earliest and gravest stumble in his generally thorough argument occurs when the straw man unwittingly inherited from John Crawfurd rises up and constellates that seductive polarization again: [i]t is the doctrine of the Noble Savage that has been most thoroughly debunked by the new evolutionary thinking.The Violent Past & the Political Present S teven Pinker’s assessment of rousseau and hobbes shows that he’s smart enough to see through their simple polarity. in The Blank Slate. his blithe summary. he consciously hijacks the Noble Savage trope as a way of referring to the general tendency to see what is natural as “better” than the artificial. rousseau was wrong. politically charged contributions to this debate over the last century. he sees this as part of a trio of modern dogmas. and yes. Hobbes versus Rousseau in Modern Anthropology & Genetics i have no argument with Pinker’s contention that the belief in nurture over nature grew past its bounds in the 20th century—in academia and particular areas of intellectual culture at least (i certainly wouldn’t characterize our cultural mainstream as subscribing to all the “dogmas” that Pinker attacks).

eh? i’ve not found time in preparing this study to dig through such controversies to make my own mind up. though it seems clear that tierney.32 The american anthropological association investigated. and the tensions and balances they enable provide the grounding for our free being in the world. it’s just as much the case that our sociality. contrary to the common idea that “nurture over nature” saves us from the dismal prospect of being governed by our biological inheritance.30 Pinker’s liberal scientism says: genetic endowments don’t control us. most shocking was the accusation that they intentionally exacerbated a measles epidemic among the yanomami in order to test what the anthropologists who touted tierney’s work called “eugenically slanted genetic theories”.” Pinker has mead as “almost perversely wrong. Controversies raged.” things would have been much worse. and ultimately cleared Chagnon and Neel of all the most serious allegations. i wholeheartedly concur with Pinker’s conclusion on this matter: . Pinker argues that. slavery and the holocaust created. if mao really had been inscribing his revolution on people who were like “sheets of white paper. the yanomami) and James Neel (a founder of the modern science of genetics) of a number of unsavoury things. although most published accounts of the debate have also raised serious questions about freeman’s critique.t h e v i o l e N t Pa S t & t h e P o l i t i C a l P r e S e N t 13 to separate from the cultural tangle that our reeling from colonialism. in it. their morally mixed bag is what has worked through the ages. supported by the leftleaning political agenda of said anthropologists. and rich forms of communication—all endowments of our genetic evolution—save us from being more easily dominated by political forces. tierney later remarked. The Wikipedia entry on mead.”33 The perils of relying on experts. but during the 20th century. reservations about Chagnon’s actual work notwithstanding. battle lines were drawn. he accused anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon (noted for his studies of the famously violent amazonian natives.”31 There are few quarrels surrounding the autopsy of journalist Patrick tierney’s shit-stirring 2000 book darkness in El dorado. margaret mead’s anthropological work on Samoan sexual morality and pacifism among the arapesh in Papua New guinea has been strongly challenged by Derek freeman and others. “many anthropologists concluded that the truth would probably never be known. bonding skills. with cultural determinists determined to permanently defeat the basis for racism in genetic science and philosophy. “experts i spoke to then had very different opinions than the ones they are expressing now. stooped to very low levels to have a go at the geneticists. for what that’s worth. references recent studies on the issue and remarks. What seems less easy to understand is how those who countered strongly genetic theories with culturally determinist theories failed to sense the taint of mao and Stalin at their heels.

When the facts show otherwise they either have inadvertently weakened the case for native rights or must engage in any means necessary to suppress the facts. Peace and progress are the result of artificial impositions. Setting the argument up in a way that makes its universality some form of demonstration that it is one of the dominant aspects of our nature seems deceptive to me. but it is bizarre to blame the crime on a handful of contemporary scientists … . While from one perspective. i think. even so—was hobbes really “right”? it rather depends on what you’re using hobbes to represent. appear to manifest in every known human society. fear of snakes. The “data on life and death in pre-state societies” that Pinker mentions as hobbes’ proof is specifically talking about violence. is the use made of the fact that some things occur in all cultures. Pinker cites anthropologist Donald brown’s “human universals”. even conflict don’t exist at all in aboriginal human societies—are not only shooting themselves in the foot.35 This is a list of hundreds of traits and behaviours that. it’s precisely this kind of deformation of debate that Crawfurd’s Noble Savage was intended to propagate. he neglects to mention that the list also includes “conflict. means of dealing with.” “conflict.” and “rape proscribed”. in this context. in brown’s survey of ethnographic literature. from another it flattens it out. Surely indigenous peoples have a right to survive in their lands whether or not they—like all human societies—are prone to violence and warfare. more significant. “hobbes” is a shorthand for the idea that humans are naturally more competitive than co-operative. rape. but can’t excuse them. dominance. revenge. and jokes. aggression. given his general argument of the balancing mechanisms in our genetic inheritance. who buy into the “strong” version of the Noble Savage—that war. oddly. mediation of. and quality of life . jealousy. Pinker draws attention to the inclusion of “conflict. among other evidence. brown’s universals demonstrate a great richness and variety to human existence. consultation to deal with. if they exist. and it is a dangerous tactic. but are also firing wildly at the feet of anyone trying to seriously assess the relations between violence. it includes things as varied as use of consciousness-altering substances or techniques. and hard-wired for collective conflict—war.34 Defensive reaction against the profoundly dangerous—and by no means extinct— prospect of racially motivated genetic science certainly might explain excesses such as tierney’s. more aggressive than peaceable. and male coalitional violence”. Self-appointed “advocates” who link the survival of native peoples to the doctrine of the Noble Savage paint themselves into a terrible corner.14 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e The decimation of native americans by european disease and genocide over five hundred years is indeed one of the great crimes of history. conflict.” “conflict. Those. only a fool would believe in a society without conflict. the sucking of wounds.

where a bastardized and disingenuous rousseauian ideal is espoused. this includes the most significant recent manifestation of the blank Slate: not a belief in aboriginal purity. and that the best way forward is more of the same. under recent neoliberal doctrine. but the exploitation of the tabula rasa that wars and disasters create in order to install the free market vision of progress. and a dim hobbesian view of human nature is required to the extent that it justifies enough state power to defend the economic system against popular opposition. while not doubting Pinker’s good intentions. .t h e v i o l e N t Pa S t & t h e P o l i t i C a l P r e S e N t 15 in different forms of society. cumulative achievement. the greater the good for all. at the same time. The state. The Real Orthodoxy before proceeding. Power today is a convoluted hybrid that embraces both hobbesian and rousseauian elements. acts as a facilitator of corporate dominance. and by states whose undoubted interest in bolstering their own power is academic. our world is not dominated by peaceniks who think that the nomadic life of the forager was as good as it got. let’s be clear. Pinker’s attack on those trying to associate genetic science with dodgy rightwing ideology is important. (as Naomi Klein’s The Shock doctrine shows. which holds that the fewer the artificial constraints. i—in case it’s not clear already— strongly disagree. in the immediate wake of violent colonial dominance and the extension of personhood to corporations. morally informed genetic science from eugenics and racism. This is a freedom that. but the stance he takes to mount this attack can unwittingly support those who dominate—and endanger—the globe. as they’re effectively subservient to corporate forces and the wealthy anyway. industry leaders and politicians hold to the belief that this arrangement is a crowning. our centralized authorities enforce the relocation of our “warring nature” (read: “will to freedom”) into the economic sphere. we also need to separate the realities of primitive life from the pervasive rhetoric and ambient persuasions of corporate economics and modern progressivism. saying “hobbes was right” is as misjudged a way to counter naïvety as advocating a blinkered “rousseau” position is to counter geneticism. translates as the freedom for hierarchical monopolies to continue in ever more complex and intractable forms. it is categorically dominated by corporate powers who want more than anything to foster the belief that unrestrained competition between individuals is natural and good.) in public at least. Just as we need to separate authentic. whose valuations of peace and war are governed by the market value of those conditions.

… This hypothesis attributes an exceptional potency—indeed. . Since these neo-rousseauian scholars characterize any evidence of hobbesian social or demographic features. which touched almost every facet of social life and culture. prolonged additional campaigns. That is the substance of arguing that ethnographic descriptions merely mirror civilized behaviour and do not provide a window on the precivilized way of life. but also deny the legitimacy of ethnography altogether.The Tribal Zone he book War in the Tribal Zone is a 1992 collection of essays on “the violent edge of empire” edited by anthropologists r. Whitehead. regarding warfare among indians on the northwest coast of america.37 using it is a useful reminder that all our knowledge of these cultures is irrevocably mixed up with some—at least—“contamination” with Western contact.36 The phrase “the tribal Zone” is intended to delineate the often turbulent interactions between modern colonial powers and surviving indigenous cultures. Were there never epidemic diseases before Western contact? Were there never uncivilized items of trade that excited the practical appetites of primitive consumers and were worth fighting over? Did new weapons never diffuse to modify prehistoric warfare? Were there never population movements or expansions before civilization?38 t ferguson is specifically targeted as the main “neo-rousseauian. and mythologies among prestate societies as being consequences of contact. he wrote in 1984: Northwest coast warfare was no game … war was deadly serious struggle. brian ferguson and Neil l. ferguson defines it as “that area continuously affected by the proximity of a state. tribal traditions. they appear to believe that the resulting transformations. Sneak attacks. but not under state administration”. a peculiar radioactivity—to civilized people and their products. it’s not squeezed its way into my current research. pitched battles. This isn’t a concept that lawrence Keeley is a big fan of. but luckily ferguson supplies downloads of most of his significant articles on his faculty page at the State university of New Jersey. ambushes.” though he is perhaps most rousseauian in being persistently misrepresented. Thus the proponents of prehistoric peace not only reject the validity of certain ethnographic observations uncongenial to their view of the primitive condition. occurred almost instantaneously.

Keeley caricatures the debate as being between those who believe that Western contact violently disrupted the veritable eden of aboriginal life.39 Such blatant misrepresentation of a fellow scholar does little to establish trust in Keeley’s work. this faith in the unequivocal reality of evidence comes across as rather naïve. complexifying social structures.C.—although now i would push that back to 2200 B.t h e t ri ba l Zo N e 17 treacherous massacres. he cites “archaeological evidence to claim that a war complex [on the northwest coast] went back to about 1000 B. metal and pottery—sit on lab tables and in museum drawers all over the world. “even in the absence of any state. his belief that the careful scholarship of people like ferguson can be swept away by brandishing a few relics and touting their reality over the airiness of theory often serves him badly—especially as ferguson embraces such evidence in any case.40 in the face of the notoriously tricky nature of archaeological interpretation. and his emphatic allegiance to the “hard science” aspect of the discipline—which he uses to underpin the main arguments of his book—is for me a clue to the sloppiness of his interpretative blunders. i’ve found no rhetorical “mistakes” of a similar order. While being a professor in an anthropology department. before any outside contact”41 (due to things like increasing populations. ferguson’s actual position is that “prehistoric warfare got much worse in later prehistory. and ecological pressures) and that “what has been called . sometimes going back thousands of years”. but at the level of the important rhetorical frames he places the data within. millions of pieces of it— bones. stones. Keeley has an archaeological background. the human past is unequivocally real: it has mass. color. his representations of his opponents seem fair even amidst fierce disagreement.C. sporadic raiding—these were facts of life from before contact to “pacification” in the 1860s.” he has also stated in publications: “It is an indisputable fact that warfare existed in Amazonia before the arrival of Europeans” (his emphasis) and. and speaks of a certain bewitchment by matter’s solidity. archaeology provides unmistakable evidence of war among sedentary village peoples. seeds.. The phrase “the weight of evidence” has a literal meaning for archaeologists because their basic evidence is material …. i don’t think this kind of inaccuracy extends to his hard data. solid form. and those (like himself ) who believe that contact merely caused variations in the practice of war. at least. he states: for archaeologists. in reading ferguson. Conversely. and even occasionally odor and flavor. simplifying the “primitive peace” position in order to knock it down. he—and Pinker in his wake—clearly falls under the spell of the Noble Savage trap.

frequently intensified.42 in simplifying ferguson’s position and then opposing it.         Figure 1.43 showing the annual percentage of male deaths that are due to warfare in various societies. based on Keeley’s survey of data.” and effectively harmless. The percentage of male deaths due to warfare in various societies. Keeley’s main intention in marshalling this kind of information is to put paid to the idea that primitive warfare was generally “ritualistic. the tiny bars at the bottom represent war deaths in france during the 19th century and the united States and europe during the whole of the 20th century. ironically. The Deadly Savage figure 1 is a graph. after Keeley (1996). US & Europe th C. that we can learn most of what we need to know about ancient life from present-day tribal societies.18 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e primitive or indigenous warfare was generally transformed. part of the reason for the propagation of this idea as a catch-all Jivaro Yanomami (Shamatari) Mae Enga Dugum Dani Murngin Yanomami (Namowie) Huli Gebusi France th C. The top eight bars represent averages from various indigenous societies in South america and New guinea. and sometimes precipitated by Western Contact”. . Keeley leaves himself as the one espousing a crude view: the idea that we can safely project contemporary ethnography back into prehistory.

is our repugnance at modern war just like the fear of flying? Does it blind us to the underlying severity of the less spectacular “car crash” war deaths that accrue in non-state societies? let’s analyze those statistics a little more. in themselves. to use it in wars for anything but observational purposes. the staggering statistics presented in figure 1 jar against our knowledge of the scale of devastation in modern wars. ritualized.”45 he argues that in most cases it was biological elements (such as imported disease and plant or animal pests) that paved the way for conquests in the New World. and thought that savages were too irrational and lazy to strategize properly. relies heavily on Keeley’s above graph. he thought they were incompetent. suffices to give you the general idea. What’s going on here? Lies. and Mortality Rates Pinker. harry holbert turney-high (1899–1982). after developing the airplane.44 he sounds like the type of guy who called hippies “losers. superior weaponry and discipline may not have been enough to overcome agile warriors who knew the land like the backs of their hands. he believes that “it is civilized warfare”—in its bureaucracy and formality— “that is stylized.t h e t ri ba l Zo N e 19 characterization of primitive war was the Western superiority complex. Still.46 once we started using planes to drop things. he had grasped the military implications of flight immediately. The influential early anthropologist of war. at the same time. Damned Lies. basically. was a colonel in the military police. stating that when civilized soldiers clash with natives (or their modern equivalents in terms of military strategy. he said he wanted to drop them on an enemy village. and had inferior weapons to boot. the point that indigenous cultures are quite capable of deadly intent has to be conceded by anyone blinkered enough to think otherwise in the first place. when asked about them. on first seeing a plane that an ethnographer had arrived in.” Keeley himself—with rather backhanded praise—rates indigenous military skills highly. in T he B lank S laTe and his subsequent talk on violence. he wanted to take some big rocks with him. elsewhere in The Blank Slate he makes much of the dissonance between our intuitive perception of the world and the realities revealed by statistics. “it is precisely these ‘decorative’ civilized tactics and paraphernalia that must be abandoned by the former if they are to defeat the latter. asked for a ride. i’ll be . (and yes. whereas apparently it took years for the West. and relatively less dangerous”. like the prevalence of the fear of flying placed next to aviation’s relatively good safety record. guerrillas). a simple example. Keeley also relates a tale of a New guinea native who. those things were deadlier than big rocks.

who racked up a 1. firstly. after Keeley (1996). please note the tiny percentage values on the bottom axis compared to figure 1. Dugum Dani Murngin Mae Enga Yanomami Gebusi Germany th C. . . for direct comparison. . i’ve tried to keep only indigenous peoples who are referenced in figure 1 in this graph. it’s war deaths as a proportion of all deaths. What if the overall mortality rates for the indigenous peoples are rather low. France th C.45% per year war mortality . but just happen to have a very high proportion caused by violence? This criticism is apparently held back by another of Keeley’s prominent graphs showing the percentage of populations killed per year in warfare. .1% to 0. The percentage of various populations killed per year in war.) it might be objected straight away that the data in figure 1 are for the percentage of male deaths that were caused by warfare. Russia th C. The above graph shows war deaths as a proportion of the total population.5%. such as the Kato indians from 1840s California.20 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e using jolly sentences like that along the way to fool you into thinking statistics about mortality rates can be fun. . Japan th C. . . and they range from below 0. presented in figure 2. and be careful to remember that figure 1 isn’t simply war-related deaths. Figure 2. but bear in mind that Keeley’s data contain several other indigenous peoples ranking higher here than the Dugum Dani.

it seems the french population grew relatively steadily from about 29. from those numbers it looks like yes.5 million in 1800 to around 40. figures for modern states are dwarfed by pre-state peoples. there’s one—france in the 19th century—that’s common to both. but you’re less likely—nearly half as likely—to die overall when compared to life in 19th century france. This is back-of-the-envelope stuff. but let’s see what happens. the Wikipedia page on france’s demographics might be more readily admitted to this little stats party we’re having. Well. i’ll take the mean of these figures—35 million—for the purposes of these calculations. What’s the average size of a yanomami social group? good ol’ Wikipedia has it (unreferenced) as between 50 and 400 people. Does this really answer the criticism? We have the percentage of male deaths caused by war. you’re more likely to die from violent conflict in the upper amazon. which are “genderless. 0.348 people a year (please don’t try to visualize it).” 47 150 is classed as a “very large village”. that gives a total annual death rate of about 1. as it cites official french census data. the total annual death rate works out as about 816.33% of the population. but hang on. but the french .29% killed a year in war (figure 2) translates as 0.39% of the population.67 people a year—1. i think that’s the only way to use those percentages in combination with the data for figure 2. which fits the word from our authority—so let’s use 120. Can we piece them together from the two datasets? it’s hard to extract a true comparison here. 0. for france in the 19th century. because the figures for modern states are mostly from different societies in each dataset. one last thing. i’ll use the yanomami numbers from each dataset to compare with france (taking the higher Shamatari numbers from figure 1).” So… in a yanomami village of 120. Keeley’s source for figure 2 states the “contact population” as being 121. all we need to get going is population sizes.07% of 35 million killed a year in war means 24.9% of all deaths (figure 1).t h e t ri ba l Zo N e 21 rate.500 war deaths per year. if this is 3% of all deaths.667 people a year. Not so fast. but we’re still lacking overall mortality rates.5 million by the end of the century. Suddenly modern civilization looks a little less rosy. although it seems the ethnographies drawn on for the yanomami in each graph are different. and the percentage of populations killed in war. if this represents 20. a rather more reliable source explains that villages larger than 90 to 100 people “frequently split into 2 groups while on wayumi [an expedition to find food]. so let’s look at that. i’ll be taking all deaths due to war from Keeley’s data behind figure 1—not just the male deaths shown. and has a similar low ranking to other modern examples. Still. though… it’s hard to say without more data. That’s 2.

we bettered the yanomami death rate. The chart is topped by Swaziland’s whopping 3. old people aren’t sent into battle as often as young people. and a strong roman Catholic presence). as r. That goal is far beyond the reach of even the most massive research projects directed at modern warfare. further derailing the statistical comparison. ever-changing story is not over yet. ranking the yanomami alongside the Cia World factbook’s death rate stats for countries in 200949 places them 24th. but in turn. a higher overall death rate may embrace a greater number of people living to a ripe old age. with a 1. The united Kingdom scores a 1% death rate. as a global society. how do we know whether 2009 was above or below average for these countries for the past 20 years? or the next 20 years? one attempt at compiling aggregated data for the 20th century51 shows that it was only in the 1960s that. within which major permutations can be compared. and our fast-paced. the life of nomadic bands can’t help but represent a certain level of transparency that the complexities of civilization preclude.9% mortality rate). a larger elderly population means that the simple proportion of all deaths that war deaths represent (figure 1) may mask an added complexity. with . at the same time as we ditch romanticized images of the Noble Savage.48 modern statistics like those in figure 1 should be viewed with this in mind. with a greater proportion of deaths being those of old people. it should be recognized that structurally. and the united States a respectable 0. brian ferguson puts it: yanomami warfare is very different in that its small scale allows it to be studied in its full social context. a much more detailed analysis of these figures is required for true comparison. with the health industry dominated by corporatism. i presume it’s no coincidence that this country also tops the chart for hiv/aiDS prevalence (highlighting the dangers posed by infectious diseases in dense populations. Conversely.83%. that cover one year only.08% of the population dying annually.50 We should also be extremely cautious using data. This and other factors would lead to a different age structure in the population. like the Cia’s. in yanomami society. most killing is done by older men. given the global system that allows us to export conflict around the world via byzantine economic structures and “defensive war” (afghanistan ranks 8th. so a smaller “war death proportion of all deaths” may not accurately reflect the chances for young people dying in war. our yanomami stats covered two decades.22 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e population may well have had a longer life expectancy than among the yanomami. of course. the yanomami versus france is only one rough comparison. of course. for what it’s worth.

they discovered that the !Kung San have a murder rate higher than that of american inner cities. i don’t think most people see just how far the unarguable “hard facts” distance them from lived experiences. too. Pinker says: The !Kung San … had been described by elizabeth marshall Thomas as “the harmless people” in a book of that title. though i think it’s well worth making. but its preferability blinds people indeed. he emphasizes that death rates given for civilized states include war’s “disease casualties” and “accidents”. no? it’s the position Pinker takes in presenting Keeley’s data. let me deal with the first point by looking at how the statistics game plays out with another example Pinker takes from Keeley. to show how the framing of “objective data” often tilts things in particular directions. and secondly. he and Pinker are a little too focused on knocking down that false Noble Savage to admit all the realities involved. firstly. what we’re essentially saying by judging things based on relative mortality rates is that we want to be in the situation which gives us the smaller chance of early death. this position. i believe. a pretty reasonable position to take. think we’ve come a long way since the brutal times before centralized power. but as soon as anthropologists camped out long enough to accumulate data. aside from the complexities of demographic analysis. there’s a distracting focus on disproving naïve rousseauian beliefs. in these modern apologetics. who cares if gangrene or a machine gun gets you? many would prefer the latter in any case. is monstrously selfish. This can seen clearly in Keeley’s attempt to show how tipped in favour of indigenous peoples the data in figure 2 are. in this context. generally.t h e t ri ba l Zo N e 23 plenty of nested caveats. and he uses the blinding preferability of a smaller chance of early death to appeal to his audience and convince them that they. but i think it’s more than enough to demonstrate that while Keeley’s graphs certainly contain useful information. deceptive segue into making general comparisons between societies. why don’t i want to press it? Well. Their concern is proving that primitive war can be deadly in terms of intentional killing. but if you go to war. one that has propagated widely in the wake of Pinker’s work: that of the !Kung people in southern africa. with a seamless.53 . pressing them into the service of simple judgements about tribal life is disingenuous at best. Blinded by Numbers and Ego i don’t want to press the point implicit in these overall mortality percentages.52 whereas those for pre-state societies don’t.

000 per annum. ceaseless bloodbaths… in short. Knauft. selfish. one killing every fifteen to twenty years. or not? at least in . scale matters. mbuti and Siriono as being “33.2 per 100. that once-a-generation murder in your forager band will likely be someone you know and love. how much reality do we bestow upon the abstract viewpoint.4 per 100. This seemingly sky-high murder rate in a population of around 150 (a typical San band) pans out to.56 imagine that. Sure. camaraderie. but as with the yanomami versus france example.24 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e Can this be true? Pinker’s drawing on a book called demonic Males that i’ve not got round to. one we’re forced to ask by the emerging fact that in relating demographic statistics to quality of life. simply. however. so i’ll resort to data from raymond C. That’s why those anthropologists needed to “camp out long enough to accumulate data”. which increasingly appear cartoonish. hobbes’ “continual fear and danger of violent death”. has civilization improved our general lot. and communal sharing that is very rarely disrupted by argument or physical fighting.55 and rivals modern murder hotspots like Jamaica and South africa (the urban areas. on average. whereas the civilized (at least. Semai. Kelly in turn draws on the work of bruce m. yourself ) dying was lowest was.57 it’s like hobbes is in control of the numbers but on the ground we find rousseau living it up. one pictures endless aggression.000 per annum”. and how much reality do we grant to lived experience? This seems to be a crucial question. Kelly remarks: Thus [despite the statistically high murder rate] the general tenor of daily social relations observed by the ethnographer can readily be a strongly positive one of friendship. The carnage of these chaotic hubs of street violence. the privileged classes) can be relatively well isolated from such tragedy. Kelly (watch out for possible surname confusion with Keeley!). it’s grossly misleading to rank band-based society figures next to those of mass civilizations. the reality is rather different. both are well respected in the anthropology of war.54 This does indeed drastically overshadow New york’s 2008 rate of around 6. my second point was that preferring the society where the chance of any individual (say. it’s plain that things are far from the overwhelming simplicity of the pictures sketched by Pinker. Kelly gives the homicide rate for hunter-gatherer societies such as the !Kung. only condensed down to a small-scale foraging situation and wrought with basic weapons and bare hands.3 to 44. once a generation. So what? Can wanting to live reasonably be called selfish? The game we’re playing with Pinker here (and to a lesser extent with Keeley) is one of comparisons. that is).

. a civilization of 100 million with a 0. he seems to have had few problems with his pondering. Pinker does mention the dilemma of whether a greater absolute mortality rate is worse than a greater relative mortality rate. Nomadic hunter-gatherer societies are by definition very small-scale. and represents 10 times less chance of “dying by the sword”. have very large populations. let’s stick to Pinker and Keeley’s emphasis on war deaths and accept that civilization allows us a lower per-person chance of dying violently compared to primitive life.” The fact that less actual death occurs in foraging social groups is deemed irrelevant because it’s not a result of a conscious attitude on these people’s part. as has been said. if you choose the former. in the written version of his ‘history of violence’ piece on edge.5% annual war death rate (as bad as it gets in the most war-torn tribal groups). on the one hand. for the most part. like a pair of quantum cats.org. someone dies violently every other year. by their fruits ye shall know them. over 100 in a social group is big. and thus isn’t bothered about proving or denying aggressive intent. at the same time. conversely. but for anyone who accepts from the start that all humans are quite capable of violence. but doesn’t this focus on percentages and proportions blind us to the fact that a staggering number of people—in absolute terms—die violent deaths in the modern world compared to primitive societies? This is exactly the perspective Pinker and Keeley claim to reveal as deceptive. having clearly made up his mind that the latter is worse. on the other hand. given the inherent scales of these social structures. being charitable to this duplicity. it’s “merely” a function of the social scale. let’s translate “imponderable” as “debatable. but dismisses it as a “moral imponderable”.05% war death rate—that’s among the lower modern figures. small-scale societies may begin to look like a rather more agreeable and humane overall situation.” and look at the other side of the story. as we’ve seen. about 140 people die violently every day. Pinker categorically thinks it has. “preferring” civilization is like saying you’re willing for more people in total to die in order to get a better chance at living a long life yourself. if you choose the latter. a band of 100 hunter-gatherers with a 0. but it seems like a thought experiment that conveys a certain truth. That’s the deal. neither society actually exists until you make your choice and step in. Civilizations. or. the primary concern of attempts to debunk this truth is the supposed pacific or violent nature of the “primitive character. for the sake of argument. envision a simplistic fantasy scenario where we’re able to step into life with.t h e t ri ba l Zo N e 25 terms of violence. Which do you choose? it’s not a choice that anyone is ever literally faced with. and some cynic will surely point out that the least number of actual deaths would occur if you refused the given dilemma by committing suicide.

” (you’ll recall that Keeley himself argued that the devastation wreaked by these biological elements accounted to a large extent for the ease with which the New World was conquered. the nub. exactly how and to what extent these things (let alone direct contact) affect the indigenous situation is. in many cases. we can quickly have a look at some arguments about the impacts of more complex cultures on indigenous peoples. but rather describe societies impacted by contact with Western and other states (let alone other societies such as neighbouring pastoralists). extending the colonial influence past the actual colonists in yet another way.) on top of this. if you can postpone firm judgements until this supporting evidence is rallied. and we’ll deal with that topic in the next part of our study. of course. even if we try to gain more insight into precontact indigenous cultures by going back to the very earliest reports of them.”58 but even in the face of such a dubious range for our data.”59 he “quickly dispose[s] of the argument that these high casualty rates only reflect contact between tribal peoples and Westerners”60 using archaeological data from precontact periods. ferguson shows that many impacts of colonization precede actual contact. ferguson’s research has led him to conclude that “what has been assumed to be ‘pristine’ warfare now seems more likely to be a reflection of the european presence. if we’re to infer anything about the exceptionally long forager-only opening to the human story from those who still live this way.”61 i can’t claim to have done enough . of course. weaponry like knives and guns—can disrupt conditions among societies some distance from the newcomers thanks to radiating trade networks. and the spread of imported animals and plants that wreak havoc on ecosystems unaccustomed to their presence. he compares the idea that ethnography cannot reveal precontact realities to his father’s “facetious claim that the flesh of a watermelon is really white until the skin is broken and it turns instantly red. everyone i’m drawing on here acknowledges that archaeology is indeed the major means of “cross-referencing” our ethnographic data. it seems we have much more than the temperamental biases of explorers and missionaries to worry about. those natives who are in contact with invaders are recruited in order to combat or enslave rival groups. transmission of disease for which the natives have no immunity. are two vital biological factors that may race ahead of the “edge of empire. Keeley admits that “only in the past few decades have ethnographers attempted to collect such information. surely this issue needs addressing? referring to his much-discussed primitive war casualty figures.26 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e The Impact of Contact all this statistical evaluation has taken place with a complete suspension of the idea that recent ethnographies don’t reflect “pristine” indigenous hunter-gatherer situations. imported goods valued by natives—especially.

g. Wood’s The Uncivilized Races of Man (1871) ropean influence. This pacification. with plain english summaries forcing words such as “frequently. if we dispense with the naïve rousseauian idea of a primitive state of total peace (and with opposition to such ideas). and sometimes precipitated” by colonial influence. We saw earlier how Keeley misrepresented him. not of engendering conflict.t h e t ri ba l Zo N e 27 research to strongly agree or disagree with this statement. the debate becomes a dense. archaeological data and judicious use of early reports from some situations can provide such information. The white man brings civilization and Christianity to cannot be submitted simply as an the savages. The point. at least the discussion becomes more useful. is that we cannot discriminate precontact war patterns without a theoretically informed sensitivity to the influences of contact even in its earliest phases. Some still fight in the background. as Keeley says: .” “typically” and “sometimes” to carry perhaps more of a weight of meaning than their imprecision can bear. ferguson’s image of the “reflection of european presence” categorically does not entail the precontact indigenous mirror as some blank Slate. When handled with more sensitivity than Keeley allows. rather. claiming ferguson was arguing that all war in native societies was engendered by contact when in fact he argued that indigenous war existed. sometimes esoteric discourse. though. from argument for the “benefits” of euJ. frequently intensified. european colonists often had an effect on indigenous warfare. but that it was one of pacification. but was “generally transformed. once again. but it seems hard to argue with his subsequent observations: This does not mean that nothing can be known about war outside of the influence of europe or other state systems.” “rarely. Some argue that yes. Nevertheless. when it occurred.

he says present peace can’t be used as evidence. author of Constant Battles: Why We Fight. leblanc sees the breach of ecological limits such as carrying capacity (i. rather than saying present violence can’t be used as evidence for the past because of the influence of contact. my research isn’t extensive enough to say exactly how right or wrong leblanc may be on this point. slavery. again because of the influence of contact: in the majority of cases [of contemporary indigenous “peace”]. there were fewer people for resources to be shared among. equally. as population and ecological pressures made ferocity a prominent advantage. peaceful tribes would presumably have vanished at a higher rate thanks to cultural absorption rather than death—that is. because there was more to go around—because.28 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e The price of imperial peace was manifold indignity. if the precontact mix of “peaceful” and “warlike” indigenous peoples was more varied than the rather war-centric distribution that some ethnography implies. or they had received such useful technology that the carrying capacity grew markedly. either the group’s population has been decimated and the survivors were then living far below their carrying capacity. but imperial pacification often meant both.64 “Carrying capacity” is a term from ecology which basically means the population size of a certain species that a particular environment can sustain long-term. in turn. it’s like a reversed application of ferguson’s position.67 perhaps the more peaceful people were simply wiped out.66 leblanc argues that new technologies enabled some natives (not specifically the yanomami) to increase their ability to exploit local resources—hence increasing carrying capacity. This could have been at the hands of european invaders or amidst inter-tribal conflict precipitated by the colonial influx—or perhaps long before contact. famine. leblanc. abject poverty. The peace that humans universally desire is not that of the grave or the chain gang. and in contrast to ferguson’s extensive work showing how the introduction of steel tools exacerbated patterns of yanomami warfare. over-population) as a crucial catalyst for war.63 argues that this peaceful aftermath also shows why we can’t rely on recent ethnographies to infer anything about the remote past. i submit it merely as an interesting factor that underlines the complexities of using ethnography for judging tribal life per se. and that price was surely too high.62 however. dispossession. and worse. harvard archaeologist Steven a. and ameliorating conflict.e. for instance. other complexities seem even less amenable to study. thanks to . So while in some instances the catastrophic effects of colonial genocides and disease impacts function as “post-apocalyptic” generators of violence-ridden tribal societies we encounter.65 leblanc argues that these exact effects made some natives more peaceful.

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ethnocide rather than genocide. fierce tribes would be more likely to stand their ground and resist the transformation of their way of life—and previously peaceable societies would be more likely to become ferocious in order to defend their culture. This may be a good argument against pacifism when it comes to contact with a war-oriented culture, but at the same time it creates further difficulties for the use of ethnography in judging prehistory. as ferguson said, though, none of this is to advocate the abandonment of ethnography as valueless. Keeley assumes a brittle stance, seeing any admission that european contact dramatically changed the indigenous situation as implying some sort of wholesale abandonment of ethnography (rather than as calling for a more cautious use of ethnography). Still, whatever position is taken on ethnography, everyone in the debate acknowledges the immense value of the material evidence supplied by archaeology. it’s to this discipline’s contribution to the field that we now turn.

The Remains of the Past

i

imagine that by now it’s probably redundant to open this section on archaeology with a warning that we shouldn’t expect conclusions as hard as the discipline’s material evidence. taking that for granted, i want to start by honing in on the implications of Keeley’s title: War Before Civilization.

Bands & States, the Nomadic & the Settled
i’ve not been that up-front about terminology so far. i’ve used some terms (like “primitive”) that aren’t generally acceptable these days due to political sensitivities. i hope it’s clear that i’m comfortable with such a term precisely because i hold no truck with the progressivist philosophy it’s usually seen to entail. in any case, i’ve been moderately careful with my labels, but by not discussing them in-depth i’ve omitted one of the crucial flaws in Keeley’s position. Simply put, the flaw is this: there are few, if any people today who argue for a significantly low rate or absence of war in any societies other than nomadic, egalitarian hunter-gatherers. Keeley, in using the origins of civilization as his cut-off point for comparison, is largely polemicizing against non-existent adversaries. most primitivists see the genesis of agriculture and/or settled, sedentary life as the source of endemic human conflict—not the state, however closely these may grow to be linked. There’s a more interesting argument to be made about the differences between foraging and agricultural societies, or between nomadic and sedentary societies, than there is between non-state and state-based societies. in strictly framing his argument using the state as the dividing line across which cultures are compared, and lumping together hunter-gatherer and agricultural or sedentary non-state societies, Keeley isn’t missing out on a reality of entirely “peaceful savagery”; but he is obscuring the most relevant axis of debate. While both Keeley and leblanc have good, relevant archaeological fieldwork under their belts, it sometimes appears as if they allow the impact of their direct professional experience to fuel the rash leaps to their rather broad conclusions. Keeley relies heavily on his specialism in the european early Neolithic, circa

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5000 BCE, which saw early agriculturalists spreading west. Some argue from historical genetics that modern europeans retain a large proportion of DNa from the mesolithic hunters who preceded this advance, and see this as evidence that the spread was as much adoption of agriculture by native communities as displacement of natives by invaders.68 others argue that, whatever DNa slipped through, this period was one of severe conflict, “a blitzkrieg by the standards of the day.”69 agriculture’s nearby point of origin, the middle east, had been farmed for several millennia by this time, and growing populations, soil exhaustion and erosion certainly made the westward expansion more an increasingly desperate necessity than a friendly adventure spreading new technology. of course violence existed among the european hunters of the mesolithic. This period, which saw the social structures of indigenous foragers complexifying far past the primordial band-based nomadic model, has been described as that “when true warfare began in europe”.70 but while mesolithic europe proffers excellent evidence for pre-state war, and certainly warns against simplistic ideas of pre-agricultural conditions, it may have little bearing on the less complex Palaeolithic, prior to 10,000 BCE. i mentioned earlier that Keeley managed to “quickly dispose” of the idea that high war casualty rates among contemporary tribes were an artefact of Western contact using archaeology. The archaeology in question was drawn from “several prehistoric populations”. it’s not a wide sample to try and prove that all primitive societies before 1492 were war-ridden; and on top of its small size, it’s strongly selective, when you drop the state / non-state axis and focus on the nomadic forager / sedentary society axis. The sample includes:
•  The only undisputed instance of severe Palaeolithic conflict, from Jebel Sahaba, northeast africa, circa 11,000 BCE. This was during drastic climate change at the end of the last ice age, the effect of which on Nile valley societies has been described as “an unmitigated disaster”.71 •  The oneota indians from illinois, around 1300 CE—“the first in the … region to rely on intensive agriculture”72 and organized into “large nucleated villages”.73

•  The Prince rupert harbour indians from british Columbia on the Northwest Coast, from 1500 BCE to 500 CE. This culture showed “social organizational complexity” and “dense, sedentary village populations”.74

•  The infamous Crow Creek indian massacre from the early 14th century, an exceptional event involving subsistence agriculturalists living in fortified villages and probably experiencing famine.75

•  a late mesolithic culture from 4100 BCE in vedbæk, on the coast of Denmark, where rich grave goods are taken as early evidence of social stratification.76

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•  téviec, on brittany’s coast around 6000 BCE, also seen by many as showing evidence of “ascribed status.” This and other factors place it as an key example of the transition between the late mesolithic and the early Neolithic in europe; as at vedbæk, while these people fished and gathered, they were largely sedentary.77

it should also be noted that the cemeteries found at both vedbæk and téviec represent rather small samples—around two dozen bodies in each. This makes statistical representation, as with war deaths among modern indigenous populations, subject to the sometimes misleading effects of what statisticians call “the volatility of small numbers.” even one death among such small numbers represent a relatively large increase in deaths as a proportion of the population.78 all in all, as with Keeley’s contemporary evidence, there’s not much to hold against someone arguing for war-free life among egalitarian hunter-gatherer nomads—our ancestors for the vast majority of our timeline. Keeley hammers home his evidence, such as it is, with details of his own first excavation, a village from the San francisco bay circa 1000 CE, concluding:
it is clear from these archaeological examples that the casualty rates recorded by ethnographers are neither improbable nor exceptional. tribal people needed no instructions or inducements from europeans to make real war.79

however, the apparent blanket projection of limited evidence across the whole span of human history belies his acknowledgement that while relatively peaceful societies do “occur (if uncommonly) at every level of social and economic complexity … truly peaceful agriculturalists appear to be somewhat less common than pacifistic hunter-gatherers.”80 less nuanced is Steven leblanc, whose crudely titled Constant Battles, while containing good arguments on the ecological factors in war, reveals another archaeologist so impressed with the findings of his own digs that he seems a little too ready to make sweeping judgements. in the early 1970s he excavated remains from the Classic phase (around 1000 CE) of the mimbres culture—New mexico indians living in large pueblos and undergoing agricultural intensification.81 reflecting on his discovery of violent conflict there, leblanc “began to think that if the Southwest was not peaceful, then there was little reason to believe any other place on earth was peaceful for long.”82 i’m not sure i’ve encountered bolder archaeological theorizing anywhere else—and coming from me, that’s saying something.

“Thus it is possible to document prehistoric warfare reliably only . Keeley. This vast span of geological time set the stage for Darwin’s evolutionary narrative. and the perishability of early weaponry. remarks that “any attempts to survey 2 million years of human prehistory for evidence of violence and armed conflict face several daunting difficulties. So what do we know about that other 94% of our existence? a comprehensive survey of Palaeolithic archaeological evidence is way beyond my scope. might forgive our general tendency to let the depth of our past vanish over our horizon. The overwhelming majority of archaeological evidence for violent conflict lies after that Palaeolithic divide—inconceivably remote. and that its overwhelming scope verges on the incomprehensible in any case. which saw the rise of significant new levels of social complexity that rapidly swamped our small-scale hunter-gatherer heritage. embracing the history of the Homo genus rather than just that of the Homo sapiens species. Perhaps a reminder is in order. paving the way for the current estimate of four and half billion years. The above timeline shows. geologists James hutton and Charles lyell unravelled the earth’s evidence to place its origins far. in years before the present. Dark Past after many centuries of grossly naïve historical belief inspired by The holy bible. far before the paltry handful of millennia proposed by Christian tradition. let’s instead look at the broader scope of this sort of inquiry. our origins as a species. That we’ve only recently awoken to this epic history. science began one its most visionary projects during the 18th century enlightenment: the revelation of deep time. and certainly my patience. to get going. probably my ability.”83 These include the fact that few regions are known well archaeologically. and the end of the Palaeolithic. So it’s impossible for me to objectively assess what the scattered. What can we know about war and violence in this period? let’s see what our experts reckon. hotly disputed evidence for Palaeolithic violence might imply. which in turn uncovered our species’ hitherto unsuspected deep past. the disturbance of remains before burial practices became common.t h e r e m a i N S o f t h e Pa S t 33 The Deep. and yet so close behind us.

”85 Discussing the relationship between population dynamics and conflict.000 to 30. taking another 10. caution about the archaeological record in general (i.84 leblanc. such. he points out that arguing for persistent violence previous to this limit of archaeological perception would also have to account for why it went away as soon as the archaeological record begins. attempting to cast doubt on the early human ecological record. . this is precisely what the archaeology and historical accounts show for early farmers. including the Palaeolithic expanse) evaporates as he describes it as “abundant”.”86 Still. are the inflating pressures of academia and commercial publishing. “The signs are not there. “i would expect … rapid growth among farmers to be accompanied or followed by considerable conflict—and often by subsequent population collapse. in fact. it is easier to see evidence for non-conservationist behavior and a lack of ecological balance in the historic and ethnographic record than it is to demonstrate that such a balance took place.” but despite this terrible blow to his faith in the “peculiarly robust” nature of archaeology.”90 The impartial layperson would be forgiven after all this for thinking that all the experts simply project into the void of Palaeolithic uncertainty the beliefs in which they have so much invested. there would probably be no evidence. but it’s disconcerting to see guesswork translate so readily into the rhetoric of certitude. apart from the unequivocal carnage at Jebel Sahaba from the end of the ice age. because they wouldn’t come across as very expert if they simply said.000 years and in only a few areas of the world.” in part.000 years or so to re-appear.34 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e within the past 20. show clear indications of interpersonal violence. … early foragers were not able to live peacefully. and lacking evidence of warfare. before the end of his work he’s talking of the “brutal reality” of war predominating through the ages.”87 ferguson readily admits in an interview that if there was war before 20-25.”89 later. “only about a dozen Homo sapiens skeletons 10. the evidence shows that they fight and kill in deadly earnest. here is not the case that ‘the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’. it’s their job to give it their best guess.000 years ago.88 however. he notes elsewhere that. perhaps.e. and perhaps the experts may be forgiven for this. so he throws nuance to the wind and declares: “from the earliest foragers found archaeologically to historical accounts of foragers from all corners of the globe. “We don’t know. he does say.000 years old or older. out of hundreds of similar antiquity examined to date. he must fulfil the title of his book. cites the difficulty of rallying positive evidence for harmony with the environment— which may apply equally well to evidence for the absence of war. “as with archaeological information.

to the sometimes controversial disciplines that explore the relationship between genetics and behaviour—sociobiology and evolutionary psychology—and to the implications for human behaviour they can draw from the study of our cousins: chimpanzees. dated through genetic studies to about 4 to 6 million years ago. he recounts that by the early 1970s she “had lived fourteen years among the wild chimpanzees of tanzania’s gombe reserve. Jared Diamond’s book The Third Chimpanzee made the observation that the 1-2% genetic difference between us and chimps is small The common chimpanzee enough to warrant placing us all within the same genus—Pan sapiens anyone? even though recent research has suggested the gene gap might be more along the lines of 6%.92 our common evolutionary heritage leads many to ground their speculations (and sometimes their convictions) about human violence in what primatological studies have to tell us. Goodall’s Wild Chimps howard bloom. perceptually bottomless pit.91 The Homo line of descent shares with the Pan (chimpanzee) genus an as yet unknown common ancestor. more specifically. and archaeology turns into not so much a dead-end as a dark. as all other Homo species fell by the wayside. like many others.” . chimps stand as our closest evolutionary relatives. where to turn to find solid foundations for human war? many turn to DNa.Ape Cousins & Hard-Wired Violence i f ethnography is mixed at best. cites Jane goodall’s famous research in equatorial africa.

and rage. to relieve the pressure. margaret Power’s 1991 study The Egalitarians—Human and Chimpanzee94 shows how goodall’s studies weren’t exactly “observations” of wild chimp populations. in this looking-glass. and most such use of primate studies (especially studies of violence). yes. there were simian muggings. and its sexually active females and part of its territory had been annexed by the males of the band from the home turf. Quarrels broke out. the unit finally split into two separate tribes. one band stayed in the old home territory. This distortion of the logistics of their normal feeding patterns seems to be instrumental in the transition from her early observations of relatively peaceful behaviour to the “war” she later observed. so different from the violence back home among humans. a series of incidents occurred that horrified her. as bloom’s colourful language has it. longer-term damage was done. food was harder to find. beatings. the creatures shown by genetic and immunological research to be our nearest cousins in the animals kingdom knew nothing of organized. but the ultimate horror—war—was absent. breaking bones. goodall published a landmark book on chimpanzee behaviour—In the Shadow of Man—a work that to some proved unequivocally that war was a human creation. encouraging them to pretty much settle around her camp. The other left to carve out a new life in the forest to the south. all is not as it seems. at first. The tribe of chimps goodall had been watching became quite large. we’re looking at a low-resolution but otherwise irrefutable reflection of our own “hard-wired” nature. and leaving the resultant cripples to die a slow and lingering death. Then the males from the larger band began to make trips south to the patch of land occupied by the splinter unit. “our biological legacy weaves evil into the substrate of even the most ‘unspoiled’ society. because they’re genetically very close to us. Power argues. This period of ecological rupture created a sustained deviation in social habits that led to unnatural levels of violence. after all. and that when she stopped doing it. The separatist group had been destroyed. They beat their former friends mercilessly. three years after goodall’s book was printed. Then.93 The implicit message of this. opening massive wounds. the two groups lived in relative peace. goodall had discovered war among the chimpanzees.36 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e She loved the chimps for their gentle ways. five males and one elderly female had been murdered. wholesale violence. The marauders’ purpose was simple: to harass and ultimately kill the separatists. . goodall has since acknowledged that this practice led to a dramatic rise in aggression. the aggression—in the short term at least—abated. is that in looking at chimps. she lured them with boxed bananas. When the raids were over. a discovery she had hoped she would never make. yet.” however. to more easily track them.

97 major threats include habit destruction. he concludes that her thesis cannot be dismissed as readily as her handling of the evidence with which she supports it. and infectious disease—all directly or indirectly attributable to encroaching . r. and vice versa. he suggests that contact’s disruptions “lowered the threshold at which conflict turns to war. doesn’t deny war’s existence before the european invasion. propensity.95 all this begs the question of what we’re talking about when we try to claim that violence is “natural. there’s no room for literalist Noble Savage nonsense. again. poaching (“bushmeat”).” again. and the answer from primatology—as from archaeology. it is founded on a true and troubling statement: “Despite more than 30 years of study … there is no firm agreement as to the social organization of [chimpanzees]”. There’s a final point worth making about how much we need to factor in epigenetic variables when we look at chimps in their “natural” state: they’re an endangered species. which pushes “capacity” towards “propensity. for getting food or for self-defence at least. but in the end. while he warns against non-specialists taking her work at face value.” that’s important. and these shifts aren’t genetic.”96 it’s the shifting of this threshold. there is a clear capacity present. is for the most part a thorny mystery—no matter how seductive the apparent solidity of statistics can be. in his argument about yanomami warfare being impacted by Western contact. violence has been periodically used in both scenarios by apes—human and chimp—so there’s no doubting the capacity here. … territorial conflict and closed communities at gombe and mahale do not preclude carnivals and open social networks at other sites. We need a better idea of precisely how ecological factors. Conversely. determine the behavioral options open to chimpanzees at different sites. This capacity can also be brought to bear on settling territorial disputes and beating rivals in the mating game. but. Power’s critical reviewer observes with regard to the gombe chimp war: “The speed and repeatability with which these events unfold suggest a ‘natural’ basis.” The capacity for violence is obviously natural for most species that survive for any length of time. The real question. The international union for Conservation of Nature tells us that wild chimp populations are “estimated to have experienced a significant population reduction in the past 20 to 30 years”. acting through demographic variables. brian ferguson. Despite its faults. regards the propensity for addressing problems in this way. either.a P e C o u S i N S & h a r D -W i r e D v i o le N C e 37 an anthropologist who critically reviewed Power’s book noted a number of rather serious errors in her scholarship. an accurate gauge of the real issue. as from ethnography—appears to be: it depends on the context.

we aren’t necessarily looking at some image of what our biological nature is “in itself. We possess mind. This split (which seems to haunt modern science to varying degrees. it says that this capacity to be “un-natural” didn’t appear out of nowhere.” a blank Slate. it didn’t signal any absolute break in the continuum of evolution. but we’d be naïve to think it leaves it in whatever its natural state is. like our bodies.98 admitting this means admitting that in observing chimpanzee behaviour under specific circumstances. as with Western impacts on indigenous peoples. behind the project’s campaign to extend basic legal rights to non-human great apes is the acknowledgement that while the advent of Homo sapiens certainly saw the arrival of hitherto unseen complexity in animal intelligence. he follows his theories up with action in supporting the great ape Project. but even genuine observations in the field may not be concrete revelations of our encoded genetic inheritance. but a separate order of reality. obviously goodall’s artificial distortion of chimp behaviour is an extreme instance of this. influenced by a complex network of forces in the immediate environment. which gives us our ability to behave in ways that respond in a much more sophisticated way to the environment than mechanical translations of genetic codes allow. it. or soul. and of drawing conclusions about our own genes from observing what they do. psyche. wholly bereft of unfortunate traits. psychopathology. like god breathing into adam’s body. it also means that as we open our identities up to connect with the animal kingdom. but if evolutionary theory says anything. or that all violence is pathological. despite emphatic opposition to it) bestows upon the human mind not just unique qualities. We have to open up our falsely exclusive epigenetic “mind club” to a wider and more subtly graded membership. we need to be sensitive to the role of psyche in the scene—with its inevitable corollary. to give credit to richard Dawkins. is rooted in a continuum extending throughout the living world. of course. The Animal Psyche most significant for me in these inferences from chimp studies are the lingering traces of the Christian-Cartesian split between humans and the rest of the natural world. we’ll find resonance with instances of pathological cruelty as well . it does mean that we should be careful of casting any complex social animal’s behaviour as wholly governed by genes.” alongside genes. this isn’t to argue that our genetic inheritance is “clean. they may contain contingent psychological aberrations.38 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e human populations. this contact doesn’t “cause” chimp violence.

finding cruelty in nature may not be a cue to understand or justify human perversions as “natural”. believed to be instrumental to their a male bonobo peaceful nature. many will argue that legal responsibilities should be. so it’s no surprise to find the poles of the hobbes versus rousseau debate each claiming a species as evidence against the other. even the bonobo’s public champion.a P e C o u S i N S & h a r D -W i r e D v i o le N C e 39 as with instincts to love and nurture. the bonobo’s generally peaceable habits take the wind out the kind of one-dimensional use of primatology evidenced by howard bloom. it’s gained modest fame as the bonobo. finds himself having to placate those who get over-enthusiastic about the bonobo’s . also known as the dwarf or pygmy chimpanzee (even though only their heads are smaller). but there’s another branch to the Pan line: Pan paniscus.” bonobos live in the forests south of the Congo river. it may indicate that our struggles with the tumultuous difficulties of psychic life are not ours alone. splitting these bad swimmers into two populations. bonobos are less aggressive than their more common relatives. too. if legal rights are extended to them. the common chimpanzee found in West and Central africa. socially more female-centred.) our genetic affinity is with the bonobo as well as the chimp. it’s thought that the two species originated when the river formed up to 2 million years ago. the “hippy chimp. and a recent study seems to have dashed the hopes of any who let themselves believe that we’d discovered an ape without the capacity for things that liberated Westerners consider unseemly. and more egalitarian. whose evolution diverged.” we’re talking about Pan troglodytes.99 but this evidence—apparently showing that bonobos occasionally hunt other primates—seems to be more of a blow to naïve vegetarians than anything else. What About the Bonobo? When most of us say “chimp. bonobos would then have to be careful what they get up to in some uS states. Certainly. (This could reveal a tricky double edge to the great ape Project. frans de Waal. They also express a surprising array of sexual behaviours.

shows that violence is not a primitive. he understandably neglects to mention a section in Keeley’s book headed “The irrelevance of biology”. instead.g. irrational urge. it is a near-inevitable outcome of the dynamics of self-interested.101 here Keeley argues that the hobbesian “war of all against all” “might be used to describe some solitary species of nonhuman animals.104 ah—here’s the “socio” part of sociobiology. “military ferocity is not a fixed quality of any race or culture. but it cannot be applied to any known human society” (or great ape society for that matter). he rejects the idea that it’s ingrained. but both still present serious problems for simplistic hobbesian philosophies. but a temporary condition that usually bears the seeds of its own destruction. and calm them down: bonobos are not always nice to each other. Pinker is more up-front. our “inborn aptitude for social cooperation” makes it “far easier to explain peace than war”. rational social organisms. Putting Biology in its Place We’ve seen that in The Blank Slate. all of a sudden. here we have a politically correct primate. not just a biological and psychological one. but once more.40 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e undoubted positive qualities: “Those who learn about bonobos fall too much in love. and to sum up with “hobbes was right. like in the gay or feminist community.”100 bonobos are no more saintly than nomadic hunter-gatherers. a blanket analysis of . the iroquois indians. violence is a social and political problem.” as a neo-Darwinian. if not more important in analyzing war: hobbes’s analysis of the causes of violence. While he sees the propensity for war as common. at which point i have to get into the opposite role. social factors are as important.103 he goes on to unpack his “hobbes was right” declaration to show that. in a statement that might surprise some who dismiss him without reading him: i find myself in agreement with the radical scientists who insist that we will never understand violence by looking only at the genes or brains of violent people. borne out by modern data on crime and war. contrary to the shallow association of hobbes and “innatist” biological theories. Steven Pinker is happy to rely heavily on lawrence Keeley’s analysis of primitive war. citing societies that swing quickly from bellicosity to peace (e. nor is it a “pathology” except in the metaphorical sense of a condition that everyone would like to eliminate. though. or the Norse in Scandinavia).”102 later in his analysis.

it should [according to “selfish gene” theory] neutralize the obstacle by disabling or eliminating it. are the kind of social bonds that breed conflict intrinsic to human being? i’d like to turn now to an anthropological study that directly addresses the importance of social structures and the evolution of alliances that can fan the spark of homicide into the fire of war. but societies that generally live without such things are omitted. it is the reason i discuss homicide and war in a single chapter. and Pinker acknowledges the irony that the cause of most brutishness (as well as most tenderness) is social life: “human sociality is the original ‘entangling alliance. and social structures. we’re dealing with a complex mixture of genetic capacities. ones that are monopolizing desirable land or sources of food.”106 Plainly. ecological contingencies. as we’ve seen. in a species whose members form bonds of loyalty.’ in which two parties with no prior animus can find themselves at war when the ally of one attacks the ally of the other. risible. . in trying to ground this in “selfish gene” theory.a P e C o u S i N S & h a r D -W i r e D v i o le N C e 41 violence across all types of societies masks the real arguments for more peaceful living conditions among foraging nomads: if an obstacle stands in the way of something an organism needs. hobbes’s perception of primitive man as “solitary” is. Pinker highlights the role of social entanglements as a central issue in the generation of violence. but. skirts right past any detailed analysis of how these entanglements may have evolved non-genetically.105 Causes of war—settled living and resource monopolies—are exposed. This includes obstacles that happen to be other human beings—say. the first can easily turn into the second. in looking at the origins of war.

he analyzes data on conflict and violence among indigenous peoples classically trumpeted as “peaceful. and the Siriono of eastern bolivia.Complexity & Conflict i t seems odd. the Semai of the malay Peninsula.g. sedentarism. and so forth. raymond Kelly’s Warless Societies and the Origins of War is an especially well-crafted study that. the northern Canadian Copper inuit. social structure. a small archipelago in the indian ocean that came to many peoples’ attention recently as one of the places devastated by the 2004 tsunami. and exposure to colonial influence. the !Kung in southern africa. was impressed enough to lend its cover some blurb. nuances in social structure. his method is to compare various aspects of such societies. the native situation found in ethnographic reports presents a wide variety in ecological niches. While unquestionably impacted by colonial occupation. he conducts an in-depth case study of the various peoples native to the andaman islands. plausible”. Kelly’s approach is two-fold. and . out of these permutations he tries to make some general deductions about the occurrence of war. whose work it implicitly calls into question.” e. interesting. on the other hand. after casting so much doubt on the value of ethnographic accounts of indigenous conflict. however. to return at this late stage to anthropology. in lacking naïvety and analyzing data thoroughly. on the one hand. Crucially. the mbuti pygmies from the Congo. which Kelly takes as an invitation to use the andamanese as a microcosm for studying the evolution of violent conflict. such as population density. he found Kelly’s thesis “important. the andamanese ethnography is subjected to the checks and balances of comparison with the wider two andamanese islanders in 1875 anthropological data described above. avoids most of the pitfalls that we’ve discussed. even lawrence Keeley.

The most important starting point in Kelly’s work is the fact that he doesn’t buy into the hobbes versus rousseau simplifications that have derailed so many studies. then is “war”? if someone severely pisses you or your family off repeatedly. homicide. Kelly is more discerning. The “nightmare past” that hobbes envisioned in which individuals lived in continual fear of violent death clearly never existed. not the naïvely utopian search for “peaceful” societies. over resources) develops between two social entities. an effort to locate ethnographic instances of societies in which conflict is absent and utopia concretely exemplified invites disappointment. that’s murder.e. on the other hand. hence.g. population density and marriage customs). an attack can be directed against an individual who’s done no wrong to you per se because they “stand for” the other social group—and it’s this abstraction that’s the real target in warfare. however. social substitutability only seems to be facilitated by a certain level of social complexity. further.107 What. and it gets to the point where people can be targeted merely because they’re one of “them” rather than one of “us”—that’s war. however. kindred. his work is the identification of “warless” societies. at the same time. the killing of a killer (capital punishment). as we’ve seen. these were rare events from an actor’s point of view. in that lethal violence would be likely to occur within one’s own local group only about once every hundred years (or once every twenty years in a regional band of five neighboring local groups). if a feud or other ongoing conflict (e. and the conflict—in the absence of a central power’s mediation—escalates to the point where you kill them. he finds little if any direct correlation between war and other factors (e. Keeley’s War Before Civilization makes his demolition of the idea that social complexity is related to war both easy and worthless by taking the dividing line as that between state and non-state societies. potentially lethal conflict over resources do go well back into human prehistory. he feels—unlike Keeley and Pinker—that it’s useful and significant to distinguish between homicide and war. no “clans” or “tribes”—“band” is the usual label for an unsegmented social unit). and local community” (i. placing the line between what he calls unsegmented and segmental societies.ComPleXit y & CoNfliCt 43 the archaeological record. he bears in mind that scale matters when trying to deduce the quality of life from murder statistics. . This means that: •  a typical social group is “limited to the family.g. Kelly calls it social substitutability. and admit that the absence of the latter can never preclude the existence of the former. but all “warless” indigenous societies seem to be unsegmented in organization. and spontaneous.

it’s just that this factor more than any other governs the lowering of the threshold for war. •  “settlement pattern is either fully migratory or seminomadic with an absence of food storage” (and of the potential for economic inequality that food storage engenders). ranging from less than 0. in forager societies. it is. and … each of these organization designs also modulates the effects of other variables on the frequency of war. •  marriage payments and “kin group member liability to vengeance” are absent. in effect. This is entirely consistent with the fundamental concept that war and society coevolve. and the value of finely wrought analysis.2 to as many as 5 persons per square mile.110 it’s still difficult for us to not find these claims a little fishy. a few andamanese ethnographic snippets are useful for getting a feel for the more general situation. indeed. of course. what many primitivists claim as a kind of ‘original anarchism’. but is characteristically below 1 person per square mile. but in this case it seems to me that Kelly has simply taken more care in his thinking. taking Kelly’s thesis seriously tilts our judgement about life before the end of the ice age away from “we can’t be sure” towards “possibly or probably warless. and more importantly. but at the same time it certainly isn’t a fearful open-ended “war of all against all. it involves greater personal responsibility than living under a state. there’s good reason to believe that this pattern was typical for much of that Palaeolithic expanse. the more i’ve appreciated its extreme complexity. authors of popular works may decry such verbosity with the often justified accusation of sophistry. but the more i’ve looked into this issue.” . there aren’t many places on the planet where this kind of life is still viable. •  “population density is variable. even appreciating that “extraordinarily high” homicide rates in small-scale societies can still translate to “day-to-day tranquillity”. the bond only links you to your spouse and their immediate family.”108 This might seem like an absurdly tight series of constraints that would make the number of qualifying “warless” societies vanishingly small.” Note that Kelly’s conclusion isn’t as simple as saying that living an unsegmented lifestyle completely removes the possibility of war. but some have managed it within living memory.44 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e •  when you marry.109 i’m no fan of academic jargon. in the professional lingo: … the distinction between unsegmented and segmental organizational types successfully differentiates comparatively warless and warlike foragers. Without glossing over the instances of brutality that inevitably happened. and happen.

. individual responsibility and animist spirituality merge in the fact that vengeance is usually left for the deceased’s spirit to enact. sometimes employing sticks. and in his necklace at the back of his neck. they usually target the killer and no one else. after this he may wash his hands and may then feed himself with his hands and may handle bows and arrows. which often relies too heavily on attacking crude rousseauian beliefs. his hands are first rubbed with white clay (tol-odu) and then with red paint.v. Portman. recruited by an anthropologist to photograph andaman islanders in the late 19th century. it’s unfortunate. for some months the homicide must observe a rigorous tabu. at the very least. a social anthropologist who spent two years on the andaman islands shortly before World War i. his wife. if at all. he must not feed himself or touch any food with his hands. it’s clear that the lack of state power in such societies in no way precludes social order and collective morality. he leaves the village and goes to live by himself in the jungle. and along with the elaborate peacemaking traditions that Kelly documents.112 Such obligations may not be an effective deterrent for a modern atheist gangster. although no female homicides are reported ….”111 Kelly adds: “Women also fight each other. who describes the purification rites that a man must undergo to avoid retaliation from his victim’s spirit: if a man kills another in a fight between two villages. they demonstrate the seriousness with which killing is taken. described andamanese men as “gentle and pleasant to each other. on the radar of popular intellectual discussion. but having no legal or other restraint on their passions. that compelling but involved reasoning like this only registers as a faint signal. or even months. when they commit murder. and one or two of his friends may live with him or visit him and attend to his wants. and when the family of a murder victim act. and kind to children. and must wear plumes of shredded Tetranthera wood (celmo) in his belt before and behind. usually.ComPleXit y & CoNfliCt 45 m. a homicide engenders no sequel. at the end of a few weeks the homicide undergoes a purification ceremony.” That is. there’s no sense of group-level obligation to avenge a murder. Kelly quotes radcliffe-brown. he must not handle a bow or arrow. but must be fed by his wife or a friend. if he breaks any of these rules it is supposed that the spirit of the man he has killed will cause him to be ill. but within the context of andamanese culture. are easily roused to anger. Kelly’s thesis is a powerful counter-balance to the “war is ingrained” side of the recent debate. he must keep his neck and upper lip covered with red paint. or in a private quarrel. but perhaps predictable. he retains the plumes of shredded wood for a year or so. where he must stay for some weeks.

indeed.”115 most critics attack the idea of a spotless environmental record for tribal people with the best interests of indigenous groups in mind. highlighting the similar environmental contexts and the impact of resource shortages.” against the grain of his main argument he concedes that “larger. involves showing how prehistoric people ended up fighting much of the time because they weren’t ecological saints. No one questions the impact of environmental problems on conflict. denser. even while stressing that “no type of economy or social organization is immune to natural disasters or to the impetus they give to warfare. instead of discussing the various roles that ecology plays in group conflicts. rather than vice versa. as ter ellingson has . go hand-in-hand with attacks on the idea that indigenous peoples live in harmony with the environment.”113 ferguson formulates five “preconditions” that contributed to war in prehistoric times: sedentarism. and Kelly compares specific andamanese examples of war to the late Palaeolithic evidence from Jebel Sahaba. trying to demolish over-idealized images before their inevitable crumbling creates a kind of disillusioned backlash. the introduction of new pests. i’d like to round things off by returning to the more general issue of the Noble Savage that we began with. longdistance trade. as it’s the one that deals most extensively with the fascinating and undoubtedly important issue of the ecological factors in the generation of warfare. and more technologically sophisticated societies have a greater capacity to create their own disasters through deforestation.The Ecologically Noble Savage S teven leblanc’s Constant Battles is the least successful popular study of primitive war i’ve covered here.”114 however. Keeley admits that “it is becoming increasingly certain that many prehistoric cases of intensive warfare in various regions corresponded with hard times created by ecological and climatic changes. over-population and… climate change. and even foolish economic policies. leblanc is much bolder: “ecological imbalance. Which is a shame. The recent suggestions that civilization is more benign in terms of violence than primitive culture.” and. is the fundamental cause of warfare. however. soil salinization. social hierarchies. The past couple of decades has seen a minor wave of revisionist scholarship aiming to expose this “conservation absence. part of leblanc’s argument. i believe. grounded in the somewhat overstated belief that ecological dysfunction is the root of all war.

Such scholarship. predictably enough. in keeping with the rest of this essay. such as ‘The anti-biblical Noble Savage hypothesis refuted’ by John Woodmorappe (also author of Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study). but humankind. but some people make it easier than it need be—especially when the underlying assumptions of the scholarship itself are questionable. The theory that human hunting was the primary cause of megafauna extinctions in these areas—the “overkill hypothesis”—has been championed since the 1960s by . the “proof ” of primitive human rapaciousness.” anyone apprised of the Palaeolithic massacre of the african and eurasian megafauna. alvard’s 1993 paper ‘testing the “ecologically Noble Savage” hypothesis’) “tends to inflate the emotional ‘noise’ level of virtually any discussion”. Killing off the Megafauna Probably ranking alongside the brawling habits of the yanomami as a totemic exhibit in the prosecution of primitive culture is the extinction of various species of large animals (megafauna) during our early colonization of the globe. Jared Diamond’s bestseller Collapse is worth a read. as an example of its use in debate to paint the modern world as no worse than any human world. environmentalist journalist george monbiot—who is probably seen as some sort of primitivist by many consumers of british media—brings the point up in an exchange with Paul Kingsnorth about the merits of industrial civilization: you maintain that modern industrial civilisation “is a weapon of planetary mass destruction. seems to emerge from our expansion into the americas—much of the controversy being due to cultural sensitivities around the image of Native americans.116 scuppering any good intentions. if anyone still thinks that spirituality oriented towards the natural world can somehow automatically trump the destructive dynamics of agriculture. slips comfortably into some wildly reactionary contexts. or the extermination of the great beasts of the americas … must be able to see that the weapon of planetary mass destruction is not the current culture.119 The real furore.117 of course sound scholarship can be hijacked by dodgy causes. The length of human habitation in these regions means that any extinctions were less dramatic. and some megafauna were able to evolve defences against our predation. framing the argument with loaded phraseology (as in m.t h e e C o l o g i C a l ly N o b l e S ava g e 47 argued. i’ll not bother with looking at this issue in relationship to complex and agricultural prehistoric societies.118 as far as i can make out the issue in africa and eurasia isn’t bandied about much.S.

it’s felt that actual hunter-gatherers have been exposed as fraudulent in some way. Depending on who you read. lions or sharks. either. After the Ice. floating about in the cultural ether. but the nature of ecology itself. does this make a case for any kind of hobbesian primeval human deadliness? Not really. but has been made debatable by more recent evidence.121 our role in Palaeolithic extinctions certainly topples the idea that hunter-gatherer shamans were in telepathic communication with the group mind of their prey. as Jason godesky writes: No. We know that introducing them into a new situation will have far-reaching effects on that situation. We recognize that they’re part of a bigger picture. lions or sharks particularly “harmless. in his wide-ranging and thorough survey of the late Palaeolithic and early Neolithic. but we also know that’s not a reflection of their own nature. and in bringing these ghostly ideals down to earth. “it was ever thus. some may have made it if humans had stayed put in asia. but it’s worth remembering that it seems to have been playing a quiet second fiddle to the devastation brought about by climate change as the ice caps melted. We don’t normally consider wolves.48 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e geologist Paul S. our entrance into the americas. human hunting probably played a part in some of these extinctions. arguably not actually believed in by anyone. oceania and the rest of the world was as harmless as wolves. my words there are carefully chosen.” and neither were humans. martin. but from these the only “kill sites” in evidence are for mammoths—and even these seem to be ambiguous. humans were not created good or evil—just human. and could modify their bands’ hunting patterns in order to make sure humans never witnessed anything so heinous as an extinction. near the time of human arrival. but there was no murderous savage. but isn’t it strange how shocking “extinction” can seem when placed in a frame with “pristine” hunter-gatherers. and concludes with a question mark. Just like humans.000 BCE. there was no noble savage. and that the only change the modern world has wrought on the planet has been improvement. even as we ignore our numbness to the mind-boggling acceleration of extinction rates precipitated by our own agriculture and industry? once more we’re saddled with exaggerated Noble Savage ideals. So.” . Quite normal hunting patterns could have tipped the scale for these creatures. beset by massive environmental shifts. Steven mithen examines the evidence against the Clovis people who first entered the americas across the bering Straits. all told. either his theory has faced a long uphill struggle of acceptance and currently has broad consensus. or it gained much support in the decades after its proposal. at worst. but we recognize the place such predators have in the natural world.120 a few dozen species seem to have finally become extinct around 10.

a wider perspective makes it hard to see that silver lining—our ecological knowledge—as unalloyed “point-scoring” for the modern world. this blessing comes as a thin silver lining on a very dark cloud called the holocene extinction. when you have crops and animals to defend. among the blessings of the modern life sciences is the ability to collate enough data from the natural world to assess the overall health of particular species. Still. and its origins coincide with the emergence of human culture from the Palaeolithic. but in terms of holding cultures to account. and. any extinctions caused by foragers happened simply because the culture wasn’t equipped with a means of knowing what was happening. when it comes to disregard.122 others see them as just the thin end of our big holocene wedge. on balance. a species doesn’t prefer to be made extinct by uninformed hunters as opposed to obtuse industrialists.t h e e C o l o g i C a l ly N o b l e S ava g e 49 mithen’s chapter on the megafauna in the New World is titled ‘Clovis hunters on trial’. combined with expansionism. in modern law. We know what we’re doing. and while i hold conservation efforts in very high regard. when responsible for someone’s death you’re generally only charged with murder if you intended to kill them or if you acted with wilful disregard for their life. Disregard became much more viable. calling this earlier episode the Quaternary extinction. Some classify the ice age megafauna extinctions separately from the ongoing process happening around us now. What counts is what happens. our increasing knowledge of the scale of the issue changes the charges against us from plain uncomprehending disregard to wilful disregard. There aren’t many cases on record of any humans driving species to extinction with intent—perhaps a virus here and there that’s been eradicated from the wild. suddenly some animals become “pests” and “vermin”.” Conversely. because the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions. carry on doing it. Clearly. and the reference to legality is interesting. you have a recipe for potential if not effective “speciecide. . i find it hard to imagine a hunting culture who don’t care about the ongoing success of the animals they hunt. Combined with the exponential increase in devastation. Certainly the “thin end” perspective is unarguable when you’re just looking at the numbers. unfortunately. By Their Fruits you might object that all this talk of “point-scoring” and legalistic judgements is petty and irrelevant. i would argue that the development of agriculture—and certainly the industrial revolution—signalled massive qualitative shifts. This is generally considered to be the sixth great “extinction event” the planet has seen. to an extent never before possible.

Conversely. he dismissively remarks that “this benefit is more likely accidental than by design. any eco-friendly credentials are denied them. even when it is easy to do so. might . “… conservation acts are by definition costly and entail the sacrifice of immediate rewards in return for delayed ones”. and for conservation biologists “… researchers with more applied interests typically consider an intent to conserve. Sadly.”126 (my emphasis) if studies of contemporary hunter-gatherers don’t show that they consciously. in time. The true conservationist will not kill a rare species. and is predicated on the double-edged sword that agriculture has given us: (apparent) dominion over the natural world. to be sufficient. With the control we’ve gained. he says: as hunting reduces the numbers of some species. rationally plan to minimize their impact on their ecosystem—and not many studies seem to—then even if they have a relatively minor environmental impact. gets you brownie points as a “true conservationist. even if you live within a system that violently pulls the rug out from under your good will. and ecosystem diversity in the natural abundance in which they occur”. government. “Conservation commonly refers to the maintenance of genetic. we’ve accumulated the power to degrade nature to a degree unthinkable to even the least informed forager culture.S. and improperly judgemental when applied to indigenous and archaic cultures. in discussing a culture in which a custom that prohibits collecting honey from hives facing north seems to reduce overexploitation. raymond hames notes: for the u. the mere intent to conserve.124 indeed. the whole recent debate seems to hinge on this attitude towards “conservationist intent. as evidenced by institutional design. Deciding to stop hunting a species that has become rare differs from consciously hunting that animal so lightly that it does not become rare. Steven leblanc’s contributions are typical. species. in theory at least. the foragers shift their aim toward other more common animals because the cost.”123 and looking at hunting habits. Judging conservation based on intent is both humanistic and Christian. alongside this we’ve accumulated knowledge that. but this is not conservationist behavior. for evolutionary ecologists. of getting the rare ones is too high. it is behavior that is focused on the short term. it seems to have been entirely lost—if it was ever mooted—in the recent wave of scholarship debunking the ecologically Noble Savage.”125 Discussing the definition of “conservation”. by some definitions.50 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e it’s a very good point. i would agree.” Some have argued that the concept of “conservation” is entirely modern.

wherein we saw that growing food was good. Jared Diamond subtitled his book Collapse with “how Societies Choose to fail or Succeed”—though the concept of “choosing to fail” here is more of a rhetorical challenge to modern people than any kind of real assessment of the dynamics of past societies that have catastrophically collapsed. they possess the capacity for forward thinking. even if it was. the distortions following in the wake of a triumphant discovery of “non-conservationist behaviour” among foragers are perhaps even greater. This precisely echoes the debate on war. so we took .t h e e C o l o g i C a l ly N o b l e S ava g e 51 let us wield this sword more wisely. but with respect to the large-scale interactions of their society with the wider ecology. it may only be through the radical application of planning and ingenuity. while i doubt that callous disregard for the environment was ever a feature of pre-agricultural times. the impact of simple hunter-gatherer societies wouldn’t have been significantly worse. they simply didn’t and don’t need it as much as we do.128 (my emphasis) We’ve seen how using proportional statistics to “overcome” this perception can lead to distortions in our impressions of the actual lives these people lived. but… by their fruits ye shall know them. The high value we’re forced to place on conscious intent runs right through the literature analysing war and ecology among indigenous and prehistoric peoples. on the other hand. Keeley remarks: The seeming peacefulness of such small hunter-gatherer groups may therefore be more a consequence of the tiny size of their social units and the large scale implied by our normal definition of warfare than of any real pacifism on their part. both agriculture (to a large extent) and modern capitalism (inherently) share an imperative to constant growth. We—let alone the species and ecosystems we try to conserve—won’t survive without it. which has landed us in a very tight spot. The argument that they can’t be let off because of their tiny social units doesn’t wash. as yet. in any case. just as constant expansion is part of our deal. We might move from the old testament’s “dominion” to the New testament’s “stewardship. The tiny social unit is part of the deal. for us. When it comes to ecological impact. The title of his 1987 article ‘The Worst mistake in the history of the human race’ (meaning agriculture) seems to imply that we (wrongly) chose this historical path. if it’s possible to escape. Neither are necessarily intentional. low numbers and lack of agriculture would see to that. but we can’t judge foragers for lacking these qualities in their interaction with the environment. regarding the absence of war among some hunter-gatherers. Contrary to the delusions of hobbes and rousseau.”127 We might—but we haven’t. “conservation” is an absolute necessity. i think this is an artefact of the very progressivist ideology he’s challenging. exercising control over nature with other species than our own in mind.

Which is just a long-winded way of saying: it won’t succeed. it’s just damnably hard to improve upon. a pretty good life didn’t require the kind of mastery that we now believe in and need so much that we can’t imagine properly human life without it. all the evidence. many will confuse this realization with the idea that we’re entirely victims of historical forces.52 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e it up in the name of conscious. it seems that for the majority of our species’ existence. and masks some huge problems to overcome if we’re to thrive following this evolutionary blink of an eye since the dawn of agriculture. seems to show that we “fell” into agriculture in a series of unwitting responses to the combination of growing populations and climate change. if we persist. something else will have succeeded. but that’s just a neurotic kind of panic that comes when our too-tight grip on the reins is loosened. The slick sheen of modern luxury doesn’t go very deep. meanwhile. didn’t hermetically protect us or the life around us from each other. linear improvement. Nomadic foraging. it is of course humbling to admit that we’re not the masters of our fate. . as tribalism advocate Daniel Quinn has it: “Nothing evolution brings forth is perfect. this sociocultural system that evolved alongside our bodies. and any success for it that now seems viable probably involves such a radical mutation of the system that it will become unrecognizable. but it allowed a fair level of harmonious integration.”129 We are still in the very early stages of “evolutionary testing” of the system we live by now. which didn’t need whole sub-cultures of activists and pressure groups to sustain it. and never really have been. that’s not how nature works. it’s already had a terrible impact on the biosphere.

and while there’s no simple reductionist explanation for this surge of debunking the Noble Savage. living at the scale at which the collective will can be manifested with minimum compromise. in fact. it seems that the political and cultural ideals ostensibly treasured above all by the modern West—freedom. Still. of course. i emphasized that the assaults by Steven Pinker and lawrence Keeley on the “orthodoxy” of rousseauian ideals regarding prehistory. though i know of no reason to suggest that the more repellent examples of these in ethnography are universal in small-scale societies. i wonder if the compelling evidence from anthropology that foragers practice a genuine democracy. women’s rights and the initiatory rites of puberty seem to be worth bearing in mind. egalitarianism—cannot be claimed as successes that vindicate us. and skews our collective assessments of them. while perhaps vital within the academic and intellectual spheres. Not many things are left clear to me after studying this topic in-depth. were to a large extent misplaced in the world at large. These are recoveries that our vast social scales (another frequent source of pride) . but perhaps one simple observation stands out. and this tendency is significant and questionable enough to warrant some criticism.Conclusions e arly on in this study. that is a major factor in this trend. at some level hurts our pride. are explicitly motivated by capitalist apologetics. it’s my feeling that it’s our current cultural turbulence. democracy. our civil freedoms and democratic cultural institutions are undoubted achievements. at best they represent a polemical “over-correction” of intellectual debates. their most concrete and prevalent manifestation is arguably the institution of nomadic hunter-gatherer culture. at the interface between the free market capitalist ideals we’ve thrived on in very recent times and the ecosystems that have always supported us. i don’t know if Pinker or Keeley are consciously or primarily influenced by this turbulence in their pronouncements on primitive war. however. Caveats apply. but to a large extent they seem to be valiant recoveries from a great lapse. such as howard bloom (whose solution to the ills of the modern world is summarized as “working harder” at being nice within liberal capitalism130). it seems to be no coincidence that our view of these people is so rife with distortion and denial—when we remember to include them at all in our debates on prehistory. many commentators.

it may surprise some if i say now that anarchism in any global form is—for our current situation—not the answer. and for plotting one’s course. and then try to ignore the barren. does seem to have been wrong.” and significantly contribute to the likelihood of disaster. frozen wastes that are found at such inhuman extremities. apart from it being a caricature. subtly or overtly. So. “i can only face a future in which it all works out oK. like hobbes versus rousseau. i see no great value in the fragile optimism that effectively says. The life we lived for the majority of our . why don’t i just go and live in the desert or something? This question is an obvious response to my contrasting primitive culture favourably with modern culture. with the unsustainable momentum of modern capitalism. Such polar oppositions are of course very useful for triangulating one’s position in the extensive landscapes of belief. optimism versus pessimism. if the worst comes to the worst. to take up residence at this abstracted point. it is quite another to shun the complexities of actual terrain by heading straight for an actual Pole. is a duality that has little to offer our complex predicament. our only way forward.54 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e prevent from ever being fully realized. no doubt the surviving optimists will roam the world in packs. is that in our current situation there is also much in “optimism” that colludes. much more desirable is the conviction that come what may. hobbes. Some advocates of positive thinking seem to believe that all such predictions are “apocaphilic. not fundamentalist compulsions. Some primitivists do believe that civilization is so fundamentally unsustainable that catastrophic collapse is inevitable. on balance. This is at least a coherent position. though i have grave doubts that the ruins of civilization will be any sort of viable foundation for recreating the warless egalitarianism that may once have prevailed in the human world. however. for all my criticism of hobbes. violently holding the pessimists to account for not looking on the bright side while there was still time. as well as being our origins.” Without trying to suggest that it’s an easy state to achieve or maintain. it is one thing for a navigator to use the constancy of a Pole Star to gain vital orientation. and tribal life is. and which are underwritten to an unknown extent by a resource abundance that we seem to have squandered abysmally. but it’s also obvious nonsense. in the end. and anyone who loudly says that collapse is inevitable will have to watch their backs if it happens. The problem with this. There’s no going back. the future as well as the present will always offer opportunities for improvement and good cheer—things best pursued with graceful aspirations.

they are currently necessary because there’s too many of us. agricultural expansion. i know it’s probably just cavalier rhetoric to say so. there’s as little hope for us as there is for them. Those remaining shouldn’t be preserved as living museum pieces. and is impossible to prove to have been worse than present life. are probably fundamental elements in our global cultural ecology. while perhaps proportionately rife compared to modern states. even though i don’t think many billions of people can live even half-decent lives on this planet without states.CoNCluSioNS 55 existence was profoundly social. it is more than understandable today—whatever our proportional war deaths are. they should be simply respected. and within those small communities. or what we think is good for them. and actual living hunter-gatherers. but we don’t live that way any more. large-scale societies. now only attained after gruelling shamanic initiation. tough luck. i can’t see any end to either of these. The line should have been drawn a long time ago. The fact that in its simplest form it is only coherent if a number of billion people vanish certainly sees it brushing . and engaged with from that basis. far from being a distraction for those too sour to enjoy the blessings of modernity. but if this conflicts with mining. i think very modern phenomena like teen suicides and school shootings point to reasons why. Such nihilism expressed by children as they approach the threshold of the adult world is dismissed with Prozac at our peril. and judgements don’t always scale. functioning examples of our original cultural style are very close to being extinct. and for now we can’t. even huntergatherer cultures have myths of a lost age where communication with the gods. heck. hobbes was wrong because he generalized from complex. but because he falsely generalized his analysis of the fin de siècle viennese psyche to humanity as a whole. primitivism. Primitivism in this context is merely one of a range of creative reactions to our dire situation that try to imagine their way into a better world rather than just leave the world behind. Sometimes. surrounded by too many domineering private institutions. almost certainly translated to infrequent irruptions into daily experience. Just as freud was wrong on many counts not because he was completely wrong. quantity affects quality. and this as much as anything expresses the peril of the current situation. it will survive as long as two conditions hold true: (1) that present life is unsatisfactory in some way. if nostalgia for a golden age will be present in any human situation. to live decently otherwise. and if we don’t draw it now. nostalgia for the archaic is a general—universal?—human tendency that is best related to creatively rather than ignored or dismissed. Within modern culture. further. States aren’t generally necessary because humans need them to live decently. primitivism will never die away. was a basic human activity. (2) the nature of our remote past is subject to uncertainty. the inevitable conflicts that expressed themselves violently.

in which the population growth of the low-impact poor is often used as a scapegoat by the high-impact rich who produce fewer children. like. our imagination needs all the perspective it can get. the chaos of car bombs.” and the “games” of comparison between modern and primitive life. painted into this tight corner. but for us. What primitivism expresses for us. so many that most incidents never make the news media’s radar—just like entire wars in africa and in other places less obviously bound to Western interests. What of its future? as the general tenor of his argument is that the modern world is the best world so far. and thriving foragers exemplify. is the existence of radically different social perspectives.132 Writing about “perspectives. again. to act as essential vaccines against futures of totalitarianism and/or profligate consumption.56 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e nihilism. british soldiers hitting roadside bombs and innocent villagers being massacred in afghanistan. Citing the philosopher of ethics Peter Singer’s concept of the “expanding circle” of compassion. as Dale Pendell has argued.131 it’s the anti-consumerist egalitarianism of primitivism that offers us most inspiration. it is vital to keep primordial visions of human freedom “on the horizon”. Steven Pinker naturally veers towards optimism. War in the present—even if some of us are fortunate enough to be statistically better off than at any other time in human history—is awful enough. he concludes: . The flame of living. given our current situation. is also sanguine. the bottom line there is common decency. embattled american troops on the streets of urban iraq. while retaining a realism amidst his claims for “warlessness” among foragers. Concrete expressions of primitivism. he sees the spread of modern media and the democratic state as healthy preconditions for maintaining his hypothesized trajectory towards more peace. should be embraced on the micro scale as widely as possible within our current context. iraqis killing each other. this isn’t the only or even the major justification for the rights of indigenous peoples to self-determination. and other heretical social ideals. seems rather trivial at times. while abysmal as all-embracing plans for any foreseeable global future. raymond Kelly. anarchism. even as we make the best of things through reformist measures. he makes much of the peacemaking traditions of the andamanese. every time i turn on the news. but this is far from implying the tradition has nothing to offer. face-to-face democracy should not be smothered beneath the inevitable compromises of coping with an overcrowded globe. and provides a social echo to Pinker’s general emphasis on counter-balancing forces in our evolutionary make-up.

if not over the edge already. his tenacity in insisting on warlessness in the Palaeolithic goes to the root of this position as a politicized view. grinning because the breeze is nice and we’ve not hit the ground yet. so strikingly evident from the characteristic alternation of war and peace. leblanc refers to the shadow cast by this huge problem only obliquely. i can’t deny the value in holding on to this: “to recognize an ancient beginning is to conceptualize the possibility of a future end to war.”134 but still. or urbanized. but i feel it’s hard to overstate the importance of fossil fuels for understanding the runaway success of the modern world. it’s Steven leblanc’s views on the future of war that concern me most. and society—and this bodes well for the future. but it is precisely on this issue that his analysis of the present and future trips up.133 brian ferguson is perhaps more cautious: “The foreseeable future of war looks pretty robust. admitting that there’s “no guarantee that the current low growth and resource abundance among the industrialized. The human propensity to peacemaking. and the utter dependence on these finite resources of much of our present carrying capacity.CoNCluSioNS 57 We have seen that war and society coevolve. liberal estimates of usable reserves. and generally conceding that “modern states have incredibly severe ecological problems”—to then claim: We are on the right trajectory for world peace. Conservative estimates of usable reserves place us on the edge of a cliff. like most commonplace optimisms. because they seem to exemplify a certain optimistic obtuseness that is sadly characteristic of our culture’s attempts to grapple with the magnitude of our problems. The major flip-side of this success is of course the twin perils that fossil fuels currently present: the climate change that our profligate use of them has set in motion. is central to the nexus of interrelationships between human nature. in any case. but this process will not produce instant success any more than the . The hope of future peace therefore does not require a nostalgic longing for a return to the simpler times of the upper Paleolithic and/or the simpler ways of unsegmented societies.” i can only think that it’s a kind of well-meaning obligation to end on a high note that leads him—after calling his book Constant Battles. seem to be usually taken as an excuse to postpone facing a very serious issue. Some people do manage it. states will continue over the long term. admitting that our current abundance is possibly short-term. even as i express caution about projecting desires into the past. one central aspect of this coevolution is that the elaboration of peacemaking goes hand in hand with the origin and development of war. war. accurate or not. from the perspective of seeking the truth of the matter. his general argument revolves around ecology. Just because the situation seems stabilized does not mean that a long-term balance has been developed. We are moving in the right direction.”135 however.

was terrible. Steven mithen discusses the effect of the younger Dryas on the cultures of the middle east.58 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e war on cancer has. The effect on the Natufians. in fact. of course. warfare has ultimately been a constant battle over scarce resources throughout the ages. there is much of what . then only solving the problem of adequate resources will enable us to become better at ridding ourselves of conflict. that poses the greatest threat to our future. been based on rational behavior for much of human history. if. in a fTer The I ce . and in the knowledge that these resources have to a large extent facilitated our recent exponential population growth.136 anyone concerned with ecology who looks around the world today and decides that we’re currently on the right trajectory for world peace surely throws their credibility immediately into question. it ignores the very complex realities of Palaeolithic archaeology and contemporary ethnography—which include viable arguments for war and significant ecological damage being largely products of sedentarism and agriculture—and allies itself with an almost messianic vision of civilization. but slowly and surely. if we have reached a point at which we can live within earth’s carrying capacity. The explicit conclusion that chronic conflict and ecological dysfunction are our fundamental inheritance. if warfare has. and not primitivist nostalgia. The younger Dryas refers to a period when. agriculture evolved relatively quickly. we can eliminate warfare in the same way we can eliminate infectious disease: nor perfectly. for the first time in history. we have a real ability to provide adequate resources for everyone living on the planet. generally peaceful hunter-gatherers who had been making the best of the improving climate. the lessons to be learned from the Natufian experience couldn’t be more stark. only now approaching a solution via the modern world. When things warmed up again. not immediately. as global temperatures warmed at the end of the last ice age. is unforgivable. kicking back in villages and growing in numbers considerably. it is a chance to break a millionyear-old cycle of conflict and crisis. With the bulk of our food production reliant on fossilized resources that are running out. … The opportunity for humans to live in long-term balance with nature is within our grasp if we do it right.”137 The Natufians were forced to return to a nomadic life. it is the monomania of this secular messianism. before they stabilized and initiated the current age—the holocene—things got suddenly colder for a thousand years or so. apparently a complex reaction to this traumatic climatic oscillation. then deciding that warfare is bad and should be stopped will not solve our problem. mithen talks of “a devastating collapse of food supplies just as population levels had reached an all-time high. as i believe.

many recent attempts to undermine them have overshot their mark by a long stretch. We need to stop kicking around the image of the primitive to justify our singular story of progress. making ourselves feel better through the ill-considered debunking of false myths is no way forward. forests. our strongest cause for optimism is the fact that while it’s far too early to proclaim our civilization a triumphant improvement on the past. and take it as one image among many that might inspire new stories of human potential. bodley writes. it’s also possible that it’s a little early for outright condemnation. The North great andamanese peace dance (1905) . and fisheries to dangerously low levels and disrupting ecosystems and natural cycles on an unprecedented scale. but whatever social modes prove sustainable. any claims about our relative peacefulness. it is no surprise that revisionist assaults on “noble savages” and “wilderness” come at the historical moment when the global culture’s unsustainable cultural imperative of perpetual capital accumulation is reducing the earth’s stocks of water. soil. which unwittingly triggered climate change and other cascades of ecological disruption which may contribute significantly to the downfall of the whole trajectory. our civilization is the most ecologically destructive ever. this is the most profound issue underpinning current debates on the Noble Savage—whether the image is one of a ecological Saint or of a Peaceful Saint.CoNCluSioNS 59 Nietzsche called “world-historical irony” in the fact that natural climate change helped initiate agriculture.138 for me. While both are unrealistic ideals. in the way that really counts: its gross effect on other species and on our own sustainability. are premature at best. which in turn created industrial civilization. until we’ve resolved our ecological crisis. is this why some are so desperate to zoom in on the imperfections of cultures outside this tragic loop? as John h.

This indifference (in the englishspeaking world. “Slavery is worse than war! Dishonour is worse than war!”140 of all the qualities rightly or wrongly attributed to hunter-gatherers. a society cannot practice living democracy. gave up “the mobile lifestyle that had served human society since its first appearance 3. at its heart. which is really anarchism. and that this foundation emerges as a function of large-scale society. hunter-gatherers in the middle east lasting from about 12. Clastres argues that the very foundation of oppression and alienation is the division of society into the rulers and the ruled. Population growth eventually necessitates representatives and leaders. Clastres’ apparent “advocacy” of primitive war may seem perverse at first glance.500 BCE. though.” a P P eN D i X i t .” Churchill snapped back. is the spirit of Winston Churchill’s reputed response when someone said to him.139 he shares with these philosophers a Nietzschean concern with the origins of political power. masters and servants. in After the Ice. and slides past what Clastres sees as a “point of no return” on the road to the fundamental iniquities of statehood. Clastres was mentored by the anthropological giant Claude lévi-Strauss. and a fierce independence of mind which no doubt found resonance with the yanomami and guayaki tribes he spent time with during fieldwork in the amazon. “Nothing is worse than war. but an overlooked positive social function of their violence is to guard against the formation of the state. egalitarianism is perhaps of the least disputed. whose sedentary life was a precursor to the earliest farming. Steven mithen. Clastres says: primitive humans are violent. the self-determination of a society of equals. and his ideas were a key reference point for gilles Deleuze and félix guattari in their Capitalism and Schizophrenia volumes. wonders why the Natufians.5 million years ago on the african savannah. Past a certain number of people.500 to 9.Society Against the State he theories of french anthropologist Pierre Clastres seem to be neither widely supported nor widely refuted. which is sensed by the aboriginal mind as a looming evil. at least) probably stems in part from the fact that he slips right past the hobbes versus rousseau polarity that frames and energizes much debate on the nature of primitive society.

the rest of the year. why did it take a few million years for hominids to get round to settling down? Whether boredom was a factor or not. when people lived in small far-flung groups. but only the sociological desire that society remain undivided.141 This theory does beg the question.143 but he saw these leaders as rather hollow figures. Clastres believes that “in his discourse. and by lots of sex. War. The Natufian hunter-gatherer groups were good neighbours. by feasts and religious ceremonies. expressed as the incessant reference to the traditional system of norms. it’s not a hobbesian vision exactly. if foraging life was so boring. it is possible that the Natufian … people were prepared to suffer the downside of village life … to enjoy the benefits. was rather dull. What is primitive society seeking to conserve with its conservatism? it is seeking to conserve its very being. to what one might call the intransigent conservatism of this society.142 Some cultures that Clastres studied at first hand in the amazon did have chiefs. the chief never expresses the flights of his individual desire or the statement of his private law. and which “primitive war” defends against. françois valla … believes that the Natufian villages simply emerged from the seasonal gatherings of the Kebaran people. by intellectual discussion. being representatives of the community in a way that makes our use of the term for our politicians seem like a euphemism. in terms of power. but what is this being? it is an undivided being. rather than the overstated “war of all against all. for Clastres there is some seductive allure to larger communities. relates to its internal policy. to the ancestral law which must always be respected. of a sort. it wants to persevere in its being. he recalls the work of social anthropologist marcel mauss who lived with hunter-gatherers in the arctic at the turn of the century. which cannot be altered. gardens and animals for all. while within the band there is intense conviviality and social intimacy. the community is a We. and the text of law . such as embedded arrow points in human bones … . the social body is homogeneous. guarding against the deeper divisions that crude social unification brings. large-scale sociality is a problem to be guarded against. in comparison.S o C i e t y a g a i N S t t h e S tat e 61 Why create the social tensions that inevitably arise when one has permanent next-door neighbours within a village? Why expose oneself to human waste and garbage and the health risks that accompany a more sedentary lifestyle? Why risk the depletion of the animals and plants near one’s own village? … The Natufian people appear to have been quite peaceable as well as healthy. there was plenty of land. There are no signs of conflict between groups. whose diversions mask the necessity of a loss of autonomy and equality. as external policy of primitive society.” Clastres’ vision is one of war as a persistently irruptive frictional potential between social units. mauss recognised that periodic gatherings were characterised by intense communal life.

not the result of intent. There are a number of problems with Clastres’ theory. though. Presumably he sees war’s anti-state role as a function of the general primitive social structure. however.”144 The social scale is small enough that. There are also questions left dangling about the origin of the state. Despite its failings. without any monopoly on violence. through their being warriors on a certain track to an inevitable bloody demise. While their exploits do garner prestige (honour or glory). he also never seems to put forward any evidence that primitive peoples consciously connect their antagonism towards neighbouring groups with the maintenance of small-scale autonomy. the chief is very much the servant of the people. saying. some of his rhetoric suggests otherwise. through childbirth. we learn to appreciate that a reversal in libertarian ambitions has transpired. more exploited by than exploiting society.145 and he explicitly sees the transition from pre-state to the state as being a one-way street. who are prepared to depose or kill him if his personal desires are seen to obstruct his expression of the communal will. if anything. “i content myself with describing the Savages”. if accepted. and women’s association. our best bets. if primitive society maintained its political freedom through dispersive war and social conservatism. the gods. they gain little power (ability to effect social control). Clastres sees the role of the warrior in such societies as rather tragic. in his discussion of the seminal work of Étienne de la boétie (a friend of montaigne’s who asserted that tyrants have power because people give it to them) Clastres resorts to calling the state’s genesis “the misfortune”. he recognizes the potential of a “warrior class” emerging from any dependence on war to maintain social unity. he firmly rejects the standard accusations of wanting to “return” to primitive life. which his theories are meant to address.62 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e that no one has established. on the other hand—given our technologies of destruction and intransigent institutions—seem to be non-violence and novelty. and leaves it mostly unelaborated. the cultural heroes. his work stands as rather pessimistic. . with life. Clastres’ work deserves attention for its independence of thought and challenges to both sides of the traditional “primitive violence” debate. and the power they can exercise in refusing to give birth. but sees the emphasis on honour rather than power as the reward for battle as leaving warriors. at best. also. The obvious inequality in social standing between men and women—most striking among the yanomami—is dismissed unsatisfactorily with a discussion of men’s association. The legislators are also the founders of society—the mythical ancestors. with death. for it has nothing to do with human decision.

a potent tryptamine hallucinogen. as our proto-human ancestors emerged from the forests onto the grasslands of tropical and sub-tropical africa. an undoubted boon for hunters. lays the groundwork for understanding his theories. 1961) and Desmond morris (The Naked Ape. though. he basically believed that. accepting that mcKenna believed it. until climate change erased the plentiful supplies of mushrooms from the african savannah. Writers such as robert ardrey (author of African Genesis. With lawrence Keeley and Steven Pinker claiming that rousseauian ideals prevailed in 20th century theories of early humanity. adopted as a guru figure by early 1990s rave culture—is perhaps an unlikely believer in the brutishness of humanity’s “state of nature. mcKenna sees human development as a being channelled via a symbiotic bond with this natural transcendence catalyst. 1967) formulated the “killer ape” theory. it’s a little odd to think of this kind of hypothesis dominating the public discourse of this supposedly peace-loving decade. which emphasized the importance of violence and male social hierarchies among our primate forebears. its strong influence can clearly be seen in the opening ‘Dawn of man’ sequence of that psychedelic classic. to what extent this vision of early hominids is undermined by bonobos and other evidence isn’t something i want to get into here. however. a P P eN D i X i i t . 2001: A Space Odyssey—and in mcKenna’s theories about the influence of psilocybin mushrooms on human evolution in his book Food of the Gods.” however. a vocal advocate of plant psychedelics. along with his anarchic anti-politics and penchant for consciousness expansion.The Stoned Ape Hypothesis erence mcKenna—an ecology and Conservation graduate of an experimental berkeley college in 1969. he sees our part of the symbiosis deal as involving several layers of benefits to psilocybin ingestion: •  low doses of psilocybin have been shown to enhance visual acuity. their experiments with the wide variety of novel plant foods led them to discover. fungi rich with psilocybin. in the dung of wild cattle. he inherited from the sixties that period’s popular palaeoanthropology. from that point on.

thus contributing to the evolution of these crucial aspects of human being. this is a fascinating upheaval of the customary hobbes versus rousseau axis. The old dominance hierarchy hard-wiring re-asserted itself in the ancient middle east with the invention of agriculture. as we evolved out of the animal nature. the african Palaeolithic. •  moderate doses stimulate arousal. including sexual arousal. male-dominated hierarchies of primates. What it was doing was it was suppressing a primate behavior that is so basic to primates that it goes clear back to squirrel monkeys. keeping the nascent ego at bay and encouraging a more co-operative. for a very long time. in the same way that you would give Prozac to somebody to suppress a tendency to manic-depression. the need to become sedentary in order to carry out agriculture. leading to more frequent sex and—mcKenna argues—a great number of offspring. the establishment of kingship. his “high Plains of eden”. and dignity. peaceful proto-Neolithic cultures such as the Natufians (see appendix i) were fading traces of this age-old african tradition. but for different reasons. psilocybin was part of our diet and our rituals and our religion. the whole bit that leads to western civilization. it was having a very profound effect upon them. the animal nature. decency. social hierarchies and brutalization. but there was a great long period in the human past when this tendency was pharmacologically suppressed. orgiastic culture. so you get male dominance. walled cities.64 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e •  high doses dissolve the ego and open experience up to religious and transcendent dimensions.146 for mcKenna. and our own effort to create a reasonable society. because it bedevils our own political situation.147 as with Pierre Clastres’ work (appendix i). standing armies. and what that behavior is is a tendency to form what are called male-dominance hierarchies. mcKenna has . represented the discovery of something—psilocybin—that suppressed this social pattern. The important bit for us here is that mcKenna saw the human “state of nature” as one that carried with it the aggressive. These are a re-assertion of an older pattern that had been interrupted by a factor in the diet which basically made people mellow. that had been suppressed by the psilocybin in the diet. and the catalysis of linguistic powers. reemerged. the need to defend surplus. perhaps a hundred thousand years. and hence an adaptive advantage. … The bestial nature. feminine. what the shamans of the high Paleolithic figured out was how to medicate people so that they would live together in harmony. in other words. and the loss of access to the mushroom became a prime cause of the descent into agriculture. and we all know what this is. and though those individuals taking the psilocybin didn’t know it. kingship.

but as a profoundly elaborated socio-spiritual complex. although it is not my nature. but i imagine he would have drawn attention to the second crucial component of ayahuasca. a vine which contains harmala alkaloids such as harmine. Ayahuasca’s humbling visionary effects and its traditional ceremonial contexts seem to leave most of its association with conflict firmly embedded in specific and complex amazonian cultural situations. absorbing such boldly independent theorizing goes a long way to creatively upsetting the worn ruts of scholarly debate. Noted pharmacologist alexander Shulgin cites reports of harmine experiences in which sensations of “lightness” alternated with instances of “irrational aggression”. headhunting raids required special magic. the juxtaposition of tryptamines and dominator violence apparently suggests that the former don’t automatically suppress the latter. rather than a containment. interestingly.” and a superficially rousseauian archaic idyll is envisioned not as our default condition. which placed the fighters in a trance-like state of dissociation and relieved them of accountability for their actions. one might point to amazonian peoples such as the Jivaro and the yanomami. That is to say. modifying our animality through symbiosis with a plant that seems to manifest communion with the gaian planetary mind. The social . some have argued against the innatist biological theories of war by highlighting the extent to which people seem to require some form of altered consciousness or intoxication in order to do battle. in a near mirror-image of mcKenna’s vision. for some people they call into question mcKenna’s idea that psychedelics automatically chill out a supposed primate tendency towards aggression.”149 however. of a warring “state of nature.the StoNeD aPe hyPotheSiS 65 modern hierarchical state-based societies as an irruption. Whether amazonian conflicts have been affected by colonization or not. among the avatip of New guinea. the ability to kill had to be imparted by magic and ritual. probably trace survivals of aztec traditions. i started a fight with a man in the street … . i never heard mcKenna address this point. the ayahuasca brew. and deliberately removed at the end of raids. noted for both violence and ritual use of one of mcKenna’s favourite tipples. harmine’s synergy with the other ingredients of ayahuasca appears to at least transform this potential. one report said: “The excitement i felt was increased even in a belligerent way. The only recorded traditions of psilocybin mushroom use are found around the oaxacan highlands of mexico.148 The need for artificial induction of battle rage certainly upsets simple notions of “hard-wired violence. which contains Dmt—closely related to psilocybin. it was supposed to make them capable of killing even their own wives and children. if nothing else.” but in turn.

as ever with psychedelics. Their “hypercarbolation” theory. lest we get hopelessly lost. in an effort to exteriorize a hyperdimensional information matrix that the brothers associated with the alchemists’ fabled Philosopher’s Stone. indeed. to demand falsifiability from any theory of early humanity—let alone one involving so perishable an item as a mushroom—is to drastically misunderstand the scope of palaeoanthropology. Specifically regarding the Stoned ape hypothesis. and treat it as unworthy of consideration.66 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e context for its use there by healers is certainly far removed from the hypothetical situation envisioned by mcKenna for archaic africa. a noted molecular biologist at the university of California in berkeley. Stent’s reaction to hypercarbolation. Stent was unimpressed. if i did. for myself. leaves so much scope for speculation that in a way we have to pay even more attention to the few landmarks of evidence we have. fantastical hypothesis he and Dennis had concocted in the depths of the jungle. When mcKenna returned in 1971 from a psychedelic quest in the amazon with his brother Dennis. i can’t in good conscience close the door on it. he approached Dr.” of the profound difference to the experience that is made by the nature of the immediate situation. in the end. involved setting up harmonic resonance between the human voice and the genetic structures of hallucinogenic compounds coursing through the bloodstream. some people share Dr. yet again. relative to more recent history. When faced with the idea that mushroom use influenced early human development so profoundly. perhaps it’s too much to expect of a culture in the grip of a neurotic love/hate relationship with psychoactive substances to dispassionately assess the evidence. these ideas are not even fallacious. Predictably. above our prehistory in africa hovers a hazy question mark. much of our vision of the possibilities of prehistory would be blotted out. Sighing. gunther Stent. yet again. the austere Dr. no less. we have to remember the importance of “set and setting.” Some positivist schools of science hold that a theory which can’t be shown to be false (or true) by experiment or observation is worse than false—it’s senseless. integrity would demand that the door be closed on much of what is interesting about studying prehistory. based on enthusiastic experimentation. mcKenna was hoping for feedback from the “real experts” on a dense. while i have reservations about mcKenna’s speculation. examples from one corner of history may not be easily applicable to other areas. .”150 This withering response probably refers to the notion of “falsifiability. Still. he told the awe-struck mcKenna: “my dear young friend. The archaeological invisibility of the Palaeolithic.

13) 24. p. hobbes (1651. 420) 28. Campion (1994.html 3.” from ‘introducing a Co-operative’ (april 15. p. 55-56) 30.wikiquote. p. from The Social Contract (1762) 6. The Great Year by Nicholas Campion. p. Quoted in Pinker (2002. ellingson (2001. Quoted in ellingson (2001. 2. 293) 17. p. 56) 32. turner & Sponsel (2000) 33. p. Quoted in hillman (2004.ft.org/wiki/ John_Dryden 8.rutgers. 227) 25. Keeley (1996. 117) 34. ch. which enigmatically refers to the Noble Savage as “a concept formulated in the nineteenth century” (p. Pinker (2002. pp. 215) 5. it’s important to note that in its original context. ferguson & Whitehead (1992. Darwin (1871) 18. p. an interesting view is also given by David Christian’s Maps of Time. i’m not sure what this refers to if not ellingson’s thesis. it doesn’t seem that mao—as the frame of Pinker’s argument suggests—was stating a belief about human nature. http://www. Quoted in ellingson (2001. 11) quotes this line of mao Zedong’s. ch. 21) 39. p. 475) 23. 21-22) 9. http://andromeda. 4) 26. p. p. With the potential exception of Steven leblanc’s Constant Battles.com/talks/steven_pinker_ on_the_myth_of_violence. The full quotation makes it clear that mao’s “blankness” refers to a socio-economic state. Campion (1994. p. 3) 38.edu/~mfiddler/ hyphen/humunivers. 1958). p. in The Mind in the Cave (2002) and Inside the Neolithic Mind (2005) 4. p. p. the freshest and most beautiful characters can be written. Keeley (1996.edu/~socant/ brian. and Time Maps by eviatar Zerubavel. the freshest and most beautiful pictures can be painted. Pinker (2002.com/cms/s/2/b53e82c277e2-11de-9713-00144feabdc0. p. 292) 16. 111) 29. 476) 40. 24) 10. http://en.depaul. p. however. recommended in-depth studies of this topic include Time’s Arrow. This may seem a bad thing. p. Quoted in ellingson (2001.83) 11. x) . http://trotsky.htm 31.299) 15. Quoted in ellingson (2001. Quoted in ellingson (2001. hobbes (1651.ted. the desire for action and the desire for revolution. ellingson (2001. 119) 35. Pinker (2002. Quoted in ferguson (2006. 104).N o t eS 1. not an innate condition: “apart from their other characteristics. p. 168) 22.html 21. 81) 12. but in reality it is a good thing. Pinker (2002. See http://condor. 146) 19. 7. Quoted in ellingson (2001. p. ferguson (2006. p. Schleidt & Shalter (2003) 27. p. p. mithen (2006.htm 37. Quoted in ellingson (2001. 82) 13. http://www. p. the outstanding thing about China’s 600 million people is that they are ‘poor and blank’. Keeley (1996. 100) 14. 294) 20. Quoted in ellingson (2001. on a blank sheet of paper free from any mark.htm 36.org/reference/ archive/mao/works/red-book/ch03. p. Time’s Cycle by Stephen Jay gould. Quoted in ellingson (2001. Poverty gives rise to the desire for change. p.

149-150) 49. p. 22) 58. http://www. http://www.php 73. Keeley (1996. Pinker uses Keeley’s second graph (percentage of male deaths caused by war) in his work (2002) on p. Waldram. 29) 43. basic data about chimpanzees are taken from http://en. 195-197. leblanc (2003. Shafer (2003. 496) 42. angela Close. 89. Keeley’s graph undercuts the data given for this culture in the table in the appendix by about 6%. p. Keeley (1996.tv/diavlogs/14196 around 39:00. p. http://en. Calculated from data at http://www. Keeley (1996. gov/ucr/08aprelim/table_4mt-oh. p. leblanc (2003.scientificamerican. 36) 84.cia. 155) 71. for information on this work i’m indebted to Jim moore’s review from The American Journal of Physical Anthropology (http://cogprints. 70. htm#total 52. 75. Thorpe (2003.htm 77. Noble Savage. 452) 72.com/ article. Keeley (1996.org/wiki/iowa_archae ology#oneota_. 31) 81. p.wikipedia. http://bloggingheads. pp. See godesky (2007a) 66. 56) 83. ch. 88) 59. p. 174) 85. p. godesky (2007b). Keeley (1996. p. 175) 46. leblanc (2003. 202) 65. Kelly (2000. p. p. p.edu/emuseum/ archaeology/sites/northamerica/ crowcreekmassacre. 33) 91. http://en. 56) 54. herring and young (1995. http://www.com/od/ vterms/g/vedbaek. leblanc (2003. 22) 55. 369) 51.wikipedia.68 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization. 14) 45. Keeley (1996. Thorpe (2003. http://users. Keeley (1996.mnsu. Carol ember’s 1978 calculation that 90 percent of hunter-gatherers engage in warfare—cited by Pinker (2002.html 50. http://www.wikipedia. 88-91. 112) 82. pp. Kemper’s review from The 41. p.org/ecology/pre1842/05-oneotasubsistence.about. p. 89) 53. quoted in mithen (2003. i’ve redrawn the graphs and based my calculations on these tables.html) and Theodore D. 5) 47. Kelly (2000. Keeley (1996. p. p. good (1995. pp. 21-22) 60. p. pp.29 74. 44.html 56. http://archaeology.html 76. 31) 86. Keeley (1996. oddly.org/wiki/ hominidae. 127) 88. p. 93-95) 79. ferguson (2003. https://www. 40).org/wiki/ Chimpanzee. p. Keeley (1996. 91) 80.org/wiki/ bonobo and http://en. pp. p. p. 178-195) 69. bloom (1995. Keeley’s (1996) graphs are shown and discussed on pp. ferguson (2006. ferguson (1995. p.fbi. p. Keeley (1996. Keeley (1996.wikipedia. leblanc (2003. for example. Pinker (2002.erols. mithen (2003. 87) 48. ferguson (2003. See Schulting (1996) 78. 92. originally subtitled (perhaps to echo Keeley’s work) The Myth of the Peaceful. quoting richard manning’s book Against the Grain: How . p. 31) 90.mhecopark. p.281250-1700. 91) 61. p. 27) 62. 134) 87. ferguson (1992. p.com/mwhite28/warstat8. ferguson (2003. p. p. See ferguson (1995) 67. 64. p. See early and Peters (2000. p.com/graph/ cri_mur_percap-crime-murders-per-capita 57. 57.nationmaster. 57) 68. 150) 63.org/738/0/Power. 28-29) 94.cfm?id=human-chimp-gene-gap-wide 93. for example. based on data given in tables on pp.gov/library/publications/ the-world-factbook/rankorder/2066rank.

317) 104. p. http://www. 157-159) 102.org/~sputnik/ mcKenna/evolution/theory. Kelly (2000. p.html 147.html 118. cosmosmagazine. http://users. Quinn (1999. http://www. Keeley (1996. p.rae. p. p.com/videoaudio/ howard-bloom/. p. it’s worth noting that the “tribal” structure of many (though of course. leblanc (2003. 29) 129. p. quoted in Thorpe (2003. monbiot (2009) 119. http://www.html 148. http://en. http://cogprints.monbiot. ferguson (1995. 60) 69 130. 165) . http://www. See http://www. 161) 134. p. 120) 146.org/library/books_ online/tihkal/tihkal14. 103) 113. 69) 115.NoteS American Journal of Sociology. 319) 106. See http://rushkoff. See hames (2007) and ellingson (2001. See http://www. 163) 143.org/738/0/Power. p. p. Pinker (2003. to be cautious in such second-hand citation. pp. p. p. pp. mithen (2003. Clastres (1994. Keeley (1996. Clastres (1994. 329) 105. ellingson (2001. Quoted in ellingson (2001. p. p.megafauna. harrison.nationalreview. Pinker (2003.com/ 120.html 140. 29) 125.com/authors/ clastres. This dynamic is often echoed in the inability of the media and police to relate to the frequently non-hierarchical organization of modern grassroots protest groups.html 96. leblanc (2003.erowid. 505) 136.org/savage. 35) 135. p. mcKenna (1993.com/ reporting/2007/07/30/070730fa_fact_parker 101. 230) 137. 148) 149. godesky (2005) 122. 95. pp.org/wiki/ holocene_extinction 123. Keeley (1996.wikipedia. http://users. See bradshaw and Watkins (2006) 99. p.73) 109. pp. around 56:12–57:25 131. Kelly (2000. p. Kelly (2000. hames (2007. 159) 108. S. p. p. http://www.com/news/2253/ bonobos-have-violent-streak-too-study-says 100.shtml 150. who could only interact with them via the familiar medium of a “leader. p. http://tank. http://www. ferguson (2008. p. 342-358) 116. See genesis 1:26 and luke 12:41-48 128. See hames (2007) 126. Kelly (2000. Keeley (1996. leblanc (2003. p. leblanc (2003.org/wiki/horizon_anarchism 133. Clastres (1994. 130) 103. 37) 111. 349) 97. Kelly (2000. 355) 117. p. 353) 139.semiotexte. 25) 124. p. p. ferguson (2006.com/ archives/2009/09/29/the-population-myth/ 132.com/post/?q= ZjmyZjm5mmQxmDfhNji5N2yxoDc5mt rhoDhhmDrmmWm= 141. p. p. 43) 142. Pinker (2003. mithen (2003. p. 246-257) 121.org/details/15933/0 98.wikipedia. p. p. p.org/~sputnik/ mcKenna/evolution/theory. 48) 138. 323) 107.lycaeum. i’ve erred on the side of moore’s rather critical review. Quoted in Kelly (2000.” See ferguson and Whitehead (1992).lycaeum.iucnredlist. not all) indigenous peoples emerged out of the necessities of contact with colonial powers.newyorker. 156) 145. 144. 180) 127. 73) 110. Quoted in Kelly (2000. Pinker (2003. 102) 112. See Pendell (2006) and http:// en. mithen (2003. 140-141) 114.

Social Structure and Population dynamics. 1994. g. War in the Age of Intelligent Machines. 52. howard. Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History. Sauvik. Pierre. ellingson. 64-66). and Watkins. Jared. in Natural History (2003. New york: Semiotext(e). other good introductions include hames (2007) on the “ecologically Noble Savage” and Thorpe (2003) on war.uk/ editorialintroductions/freeman_TheDescentofman. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New york: Penguin books. The xilixana Yanomami of the Amazon: History. Millenarianism and History in the Western Tradition. ‘hobbes’ mistake: The rational Case for anarchy’. pp. Cultural anthropology. Summer 2008.ccsindia. The Myth of the Noble Savage. The Great Year: Astrology. ‘ten Points on War’. and the origins and intensifications of War’. The Archaeology of Warfare: Prehistories of Raiding and Conquest. and Selection in Relation to Sex. Neil l. issue 2. gainesville: university Press of florida. http://www. london: arkana. Chakraverti. ‘trans-Species Psychology: Theory and Praxis’. early. John D. in discover (may 1987. New york: atlantic monthly Press. in arkush. July/august). bloom. tv/diavlogs/14196. r. mary.environnement. 32-49).rutgers. Clastres. ——. mark W. Charles. 2000.fr/perso/claessen/agriculture/mistake_jared_diamond. Nm: Scholl of american research Press. edu/~socant/brian. in Times of India (may 2001). David.a.htm. ——. brian and . pdf ——. Archeology of Violence. 2005. The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History. http://darwin-online.ens. 1995.org/ccsindia/people_sc_hobbes. brian and Whitehead. berkeley: university of California Press. brian. pp.b i b li o g r a P h y all material by r. and to his work. ‘The Worst mistake in the history of the human race’. in ferguson. fall 2006. Darwin.html (accessed 9/8/09. gainesville: university Press of florida. is the interview with John horgan at http://bloggingheads. pp. 69-94). in Social Analysis (vol. Diamond. bradshaw. ferguson. original published 1871). 2004. ter. an excellent introduction to the topic of the anthropology of war. 1995. 1991. 1994. elizabeth N. ——. 75. in Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture (vol. Santa fe. brian ferguson was accessed via http://andromeda. http://www. ‘The violent edge of empire’. r. r. New york: Swerve editions. Yanomami Warfare: A Political History. ‘The birth of War’. 2006. berkeley: university of California Press. John f. Campion. and allen. De landa. 2001. and Peters. Nicholas. manuel.htm Christian. ‘archaeology.org. ferguson. The descent of Man.

The Shock doctrine: The Rise of disaster Capitalism.bibliograPhy 71 Whitehead. ‘“The Savages are truly Noble”’. 2001. ——.com/archives/2009/08/18/should-we-seek-to-save-industrial-civilisation/ . Kemper. maxine l. Jason. San francisco: harperSanfrancisco. Kidner. good. 1992. 1992. in Annual Review of Anthropology (2007. Naomi. New york: oxford university Press.com/anthropik/2007/05/the-savages-aretruly-noble/ (accessed 20/8/09. original published 2007a). with register.). mcfalls Jr.pdf mcKenna. Kelly. ‘Should We Seek to Save industrial Civilization?’. 1995. 2000. http://tobyspeople. gainesville: university Press of florida. 2008. ——. Santa fe. albany: State university of New york Press. ——. 2004. raymond C. ‘Population: a lively introduction’. ‘overkill. Materialism. george and Kingsnorth. Time’s Arrow. No. in murphy. Kenneth. may 1992. War in the Tribal Zone: Expanding States and Indigenous Warfare.com/anthropik/2007/09/ashort-history-of-western-civilization/ (accessed 27/8/09. leblanc. Neil l.com/ideas/the-neolithic-crisis/ (accessed 18/8/09. ‘The ecologically Noble Savage Debate’. Leviathan.com/pdf/hobbes1. Thomas. A Terrible Love of War. Science. James. original published 1651). ‘The Egalitarians—Human and Chimpanzee: An Anthropological View of Social Organization by margaret Power’ (review). ‘a Short history of Western Civilization’. After the Ice: A Global Human History. ‘hunting Patterns and village fissioning among the yanomami: a Cultural materialist Perspective’. and margolis. 1). martin’s griffin. Nature and Psyche: Radical Environmentalism and the Politics of Subjectivity. vol. in The American Journal of Sociology (vol. 2003. hobbes.. http://www. in Population Bulletin (march 2007. 1757-1759). Steven a. 97.monbiot. ‘Wolves & Dogs’. pp. ann arbor: university of michigan Press. pp. gould. New york: Penguin books. overchill and human Nature’.unl. Paul. ——. Keeley. Time’s Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the discovery of Geological Time. http://www. original published 2007b). 1996. 6.000–5. http://tobyspeople. http://tobyspeople. 20.edu/rhames/ms/savage-prepub. Language. Klein. hames. Stephen Jay. War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage. Katherine e. lawrence h. No. raymond. 1991.com/anthropik/2005/12/ overkill-overchill-and-human-nature/ (accessed 7/9/09. london: Penguin. Joseph a. ——. 2006. 62. original published 2005). london: Penguin Press. london: Phoenix. original published 3/8/09). vol. Food of the Gods: A Radical History of Plants. http:// www.pdf (accessed 9/8/09. http://tobyspeople.org/pdf07/62. mithen. london: rider. terence. ——. Steven.000 BC. Nm: School of american research Press.prb. godesky. New york: St. monbiot. 36. Warless Societies and the Origin of War. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd. Constant Battles: Why We Fight. The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music. original published 2006). No. (eds. 2003. David W. and the Study of Culture.earlymoderntexts. ‘The Neolithic Crisis’. 177-190).1livelyintroduction.com/anthropik/2006/11/wolves-dogs/ (accessed 9/8/09. True Hallucinations. 1. Mind and Body. martin f. 1993.pdf hillman. http://tobyspeople. Theodore D. drugs and Human Evolution. http://www.

Aboriginal Health in Canada: Historical. and Shalter. original talk given 2006). No. original published 1762). brittany’. ——. albuquerque: university of New mexico Press. ‘imminent anthropological Scandal’. 1995. The Blank Slate: The Modern denial of Human Nature. 1. Dale. http:// www. http://www.htm (accessed 11/8/09. 2003.uwsp. Kue.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take it Back. New york: Three rivers Press. archaeology. rushkoff.pdf Schulting. edu/~humed1/darkness_in_el_dorado/documents/0055. ‘horizon anarchism’. in Evolution and Cognition (2003. 2003.edge. harry J. Life Inc.ted. Cultural. The Social Contract.J. pp. rousseau. vol.constitution. herring. in Antiquity ( June 1996. ‘economics is Not a Natural Science’. also on video: http://www. http://www. ann and young. pp. and the origin of Warfare’. James burgess. http://findarticles. i. michael D.html (accessed 11/8/09). Pendell.raiazome. 35.com/talks/steven_ pinker_on_the_myth_of_violence. rick J. Mimbres Archaeology at the NAN Ranch Ruin. Waldram. vol. bone Pins and flint blades: The mesolithic Cemeteries of téviec and hoedic. Schleidt. ‘antlers. in World Archaeology ( June 2003. . Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Great Adventure. london: The bodley head. leslie. 145-165). toronto: university of toronto Press.html Quinn. Pinker.72 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e (accessed 18/8/09). Thorpe.html (accessed 20/9/09. ‘Co-evolution of humans and Canids: an alternative view of Dog Domestication’. Jean-Jacques. 335-350). com/p/articles/mi_hb3284/is_n268_v70/ai_n28672573/ Shafer. vol. 268. original published 2000). org/jjr/socon. Daniel.htm (accessed 8/8/09. ——. http://www. Wolfgang m. london: Penguin books. 2009.edu/psych/s/275/Science/Coevolution03.edge. and Epidemiological Perspectives. Douglas. ‘a history of violence’. No. 70. ‘anthropology.org/3rd_culture/pinker07/pinker07_index. terry and Sponsel. original published 19/3/07). or Principles of Political Right. 1999. 9. turner. http://www. t. http://www. Steven.nku. 1).N.com/Dale_Pendell--horizon_anarchism (accessed 3/10/09.org/3rd_culture/rushkoff09/ rushkoff09_index. No.

49 Collapse (book). 22 . 42. 40 bloom. 35. 58.S. 7. 49. 7. 59. 23. 53. 54. 66 african genesis. 7. 33. 63 after the ice (book). 50. The (book). 42. 15. 11 avatip. 64 alchemy. 13. 2 conservation. 63 astrology. 59. 39. 47. 28. 60–62. 38. 49. 26. 37. 52. vi bible. 56. 60 andaman islands. 39. 47. 63 !Kung San. 4.. vii. 22. 51 conservatism. 47. vii. 38 Chagnon. 27. 38.i N D eX 2001: a Space odyssey (film). 50. 50 Churchill. 30. 18. Nicholas. howard. 58 ardrey. 29. 31. 45 bushmeat. Pierre. 57. See also !Kung San California. 65. 17. 51. 48 berkeley. 27. hakim. 24. 45 anthropology.. 51. 12. 61. 58 Cartesian. 28. 56. 56. The (play). 46. 48. 19. 60 arapesh. 47. 2 capitalism. 4. 4. 36. 65 ayahuasca. 4. See also New World american anthropological association. 22. 9. Napolean. 6. 57 Copper inuit. 60 carrying capacity. vi. See also tabula rasa blank Slate. 39. 60. vi. 60 agriculture. 66 Campion. 22. 20. 26. See also Pan paniscus. v chimpanzee. 33. 39. 13 american indians. 47 amazon. 42 Conquest of granada. See also primates. 63. 60 Cia World factbook. 31. 63. vii. 58. 21. 61. 45. 10. 28. 31. 14. 31 brittany. 5. See also bushmen aborigines Protection Society. 51 blank Slate (philosophy). 39. The (book). 48. 35. See also bonobo Christianity. 22 civilization. 66 america. 23. 64 Clausewitz. 21. vii. 11 cannibalism. 46. 66 bey. 24. vi. 55. 46. 59. 25. 45. 51 colonialism. 31. 16. 37 bushmen. 9. 16. 54 Capitalism and Schizophrenia (book). 34. 42 corporatism. 30. 42 comets. 48. 19. 12. 15. Carl von. 1. 3. Winston. 63 Clovis culture. viii climate change. 58. 13 Chalice and the blade. 59 animism. 57. 37. See Native americans anarchism. 44. v. 54. 35. 60. 66 alvard. 32. Donald. robert. 2. vii. 50. 10 astronomy. 13 archaeology. m. 34. 56 africa. 36. 64 Clastres. 48. 10. 52. 4 afghanistan. 12. 8. 59 bolivia. 24. 53 bodley. 44. 35. 42. 42 bonobo. 48. 3. 17. 11 Congo river. 30. 23. 42. 65 bering Straits. 16. 32 brown. 5. 62 Constant battles (book). John h. See also chimpanzee british Columbia.

66 hiv/aiDS. 36. 2. v. 14. 4. See also murder rates Deleuze. 7. 46. 18. 46 enlightenment. 38. 51 disease. v. The (book).human and Chimpanzee. 37 goodall. 22. 11. 26. 28. 1. 60. 61 hobbes. 15 europe. 53. 24 Denmark. 14. 12. 7. 18. 25. 49. vii. Charles. 24. 32 evolution. ter. 29. 17. 11 histoire de la Nouvelle france (book). 7. 7 food of the gods (book). 12. 19. 4. michael i. riane. 2 Dugum Dani. 16. vii. 38. 50 handel. 41. viii. 34. 26. v genetics. 32. 20. 4. 57. 18. 11 gebusi. 21. 4. 12. 34. 42. 57 financial times. 35. 13 freud. vi. 5. 56. félix. 6. 16. 28. 38 great ape Project. 63 foragers. 38 honey. See murder homo sapiens. 66 . 18. 36. 29. 43. 31. 14. vii. 60 egalitarians . 17. 2. 42. Sir humphry. vi. 22 hmS beagle. 58 france. 4 eugenics. 58. 34. 12. 55. 6. John. 40.org. Sigmund. 36 eisler. 37. 39. 31 cultural determinism. 5 Diamond. 48. 37. 50 huli. 35. 15. Thomas. 32. 26. gilles. r. 52 evolutionary psychology. 38 death rates. 20 ecology. 18 humanism. Jane. 53. 30. 64. 19 hames. viii harmine. 2. 5. 13. 65. 6. 41. v ellingson. 35. 7. vii. 3.. Jared. 31 Descent of man. 37. 5 Dawkins. vi. 32. 27. 33. 3. 20 genesis. 20 goddess. vi. 58 DNa. See genetics Dryden. 20. 13 Darwin. 36. 13. 59 economics. Jason. 34. 30. 54. 50 cosmology. 10 guattari. 29 germany. 33 Davy. 54. 47. 29 ethnography. 28. 65 headhunting. See also selfish gene genocide. See also golden age edge. 35. vi golden age. 39 great year. 2 history. 8–11. 10. 13 cultural relativism. richard. 51. 47. 55 galileo galilei. 35.74 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e ferguson. 60 democracy. v. raymond. 22 eden. 49 falsifiability. vii. 6. 48. 15. 58 homicide. 24. 33 ethnocide. 16. 3. brian. 17. 64 holocaust. 33. 32. See hunter-gatherers fossil fuels. vi. 14. 60 guerrillas. 58. 14. 13. 36. 57. 53. viii. 21. 60 Demonic males (book). 65 hebrews. 40. 4. book of. 46–52. 6 Darkness in el Dorado (book). The (book). John. 18. 2. 5 hobbesian. 31. 13 holocene. 18. 11 Crawfurd. 38. 18. 58 ethnological Society. 25 egalitarianism. 19. Derek. 27. 2. 35 extinction. 24 freeman. 37. 23. v godesky. 55. 3. 22. 15. 9. 28. 14. 14 Crow Creek massacre. See also eden gombe reserve. The (book). 8.

15 Knauft. vi. lawrence h. 64 mimbres culture. michel de. 2. 55 international union for Conservation of Nature. 13 megafauna.. Steven a. 58. v. Naomi. 58 illinois. 7 lubbock. Étienne de. 48. 26. marc. 3 leviathan (book). 42 mcKenna. 4 hutton. 15 Neolithic. vii life expectancy. 58. 4 lyell. 25. terence. 31. vii. 27. 65 Kato indians. 31. 19. 24. 22 life inc. 64 New guinea. 42. vii. 46. 32 mithen. 57 lescarbot. 30. 31. 49. 55. bruce m. vii. James. 43. Desmond. 47 Natufian culture. 17. 56 iroquois. 3. 61. 24 la boétie. 25 monbiot.. 23. 6. See Zedong. 34. 32. 20 magic. 48. 25. 24 nihilism. 13. 34. 12. 32. 16. 28. 60 modern war. 30. 33. 18. 63 Native americans. 44. 19. 9. 30. 63 Kelly. Steven. 16. The (book). 50. 49 murder rates. 43. 58. 60. 47. 9. 32. mao marriage. David. 2. 20 myth of the Noble Savage. 53. 26. 55. george. 34. See Papua New guinea New mexico. 64 nature versus nurture. vii. See death rates murder. v industrial revolution. 47 Klein. 20 Jebel Sahaba. 46. 49 initiation. See also death rates murngin. vii. 46 Jivaro. 62 morris. 42–45. 24. 9 Neel. Charles. 66 mcKenna. raymond C. 49. 1. 56 Kingsnorth. 60. 58 metageum conference. 42 indo-european. 49. 33 mae enga.. 24. 18. Paul. 32. 51. Paul S. 47 montaigne. 13 Neo-Darwinism. 62 language. 58. 31. 40. 46. 40 Japan. 8 lévi-Strauss. 4. James. 48 mauss. 7. 29. Claude. 2. 65 mahale. 63 mortality rates. marcel. 37 malay Peninsula.. Dennis. 45. 61 mbuti.. 20 Kebaran people. 48. 49. 21. 61 Keeley. 50. 32. 44 martin. See also america New york. 23. 49 mesolithic. 31.iNDeX human universals. 24. 19. 32 messianism. 30. 47. 23. 66 ice age. John. 60. 40 neoliberalism. 51. viii mexico. 7 middle east. 40. 2–7 Naked ape. 56 75 . 52. 43. 43. 36 iraq. 20. 50 hunt. vii Neanderthals. 33 hypercarbolation. 3. margaret. 44. James. 65 middle ages. 32 New World. 37 in the Shadow of man (book). 64 leblanc. 61 hunting. 48. 24. (book). 63–66 mead. 14 hunter-gatherers. v. 34. 31 indian ocean. 42 mao. 60 lewis-Williams. The (book). 18. 24. 53. 40 Nazism.

22 rousseauian. 17. 44. 16. 57. 31 progress. 64. 31 Nile (river). 13. 15. 53. 14. 40. 57 pacification. 51. 43. 11. 9 Palaeolithic. vii. 64 shamanism. vi. See also genetics Semai. 31 on the origin of Species (book). 6 optimism. See !Kung San. 32 Scandinavia. 14 rave culture. 60 Northwest Coast (of america). 50. 23. 45 pottery. 4 rushkoff. Peter. 16. 39. 66 Stoned ape hypothesis. 7 roman Catholicism. 11 Pole Star. 15 Shulgin. 40. v. 16. 55.76 Wa r & t h e N o b l e S ava g e radcliffe-brown. 25. 63–72 psychedelics. 13. 21. 37. 43. 42 sexuality. 53. 35 technology. 52 racism. 39. 14. 23. viii Swaziland. 63. 16. 53. See also mae enga partnership society. 27. Steven. 1–7. 66 Quakers. 53. 63 renaissance. 64 primitivism. 9. 58 Prince rupert harbour indians. 63 planets. 45. 30. gunther. Josef. 9. 64 sociality. 49 Quinn. 53. 24. 41. 19. 12. 43. 60–62 social substitutability. 55. 28 Pacific ocean. 6. 19. 66 Pinker. 45 rape. alfred reginald. 47. 64 royal anthropological institute. See also bonobo Pan troglodytes. 49. 15. 61. 37 primates. 10. 43. 15. 61 social scale. 24. 13. 3. 31 Noah’s ark: a feasibility Study (book). Jean-Jacques. 16 Stent. 58 oaxaca. 39. 63–72 suicide. 24. Douglas. v. 15. 65. 58. 56. 17 Power. 4 Quaternary extinction. 44. 56 Siriono. 56. 60. 65 oneota indians. 55. 7. 51. 17. 8. 13. vi. 33. 15 Prozac. 12. 3 Stalin. 36. 35. 17. 64 psilocybin mushrooms.. 43 sociobiology. 7 russia. 56. 10. 13. 61. Dr. 42 snakes. alexander. 47 Noble Savage. 9. 55. vii. 15. 13. v. 17. 51. vii. 55 sedentarism. 41. 9. 48. See also blank Slate (philosophy) tanzania. m. 34. 46. 30. 24. 40 school shootings. 48. 14. 25. 54. 22 tabula rasa. 63. 17. 6. 31. 65 rousseau. 14 social hierarchies. 9. vi. 62. 43. margaret. The (book). 56. 17. 58. 54 Portman. 39. 36. 55 Shock Doctrine. 52. 28. 59. 15. 46. 60. v. See bushmen San francisco. 63 pessimism. 39. 22. 36. 54. 9. See also chimpanzee Papua New guinea. vi. v peace. 20 San. 31. 25. 27. v. 12. 12. 40. 4. 8. 27. vi. vii. Daniel. 63–72. 18. 55. 39. 1. 10. 40 solitude. 10 song. 41. 32. 47. 58. 45. 31 nostalgia. 55 Sun tzu. 28. 3. 54 Philosopher’s Stone. 66 Pan paniscus. 65 Singer. 57. 65. 23.v. 24. vi. 24. 59 nomadism. 64 selfish gene. 13 state (central power). 60–62 State university of New Jersey. 41. 15 . 1–7.

See also tierra del fuego yanomami. 5. 61 vedbæk. 21 Wilkes. 62. 16. 65 younger Dryas. 20. 6. 7 Waal.. vii yaghan. 52 turney-high.iNDeX tetranthera. 23 tierney. 45 téviec. 37. 60. 32 Thatcher. 48 Woodmorappe. 33. Charles. 10. frans de. 13. 13. Patrick. 42–45 wayumi. 35 Thomas. 14 tierra del fuego. vii. 16 Warless Societies and the origins of War (book). 31. 19. 21 weapons. 24. 5. 43 War in the tribal Zone (book). 6. 30. 24. 10 Third Chimpanzee. 13 77 . 22. margaret. 39 War before Civilization (book). 6 wolves. harry holbert. 32 victorian. 26. 22 united States. See america valla. 16 Wikipedia. mao. The (book). Neil l. 18. 58 Zedong. 13. vii. 28. vii. 9. 47. 45 World War ii. 21. 5. See also yaghan tribalism. 47 World War i. françois. elizabeth marshall. 62 Whitehead. 4. v. 19 united Kingdom. John.

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