"Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain." ~ Frederic Bastiat
Column by Jim Davies.
Exclusive to STR
It's a bit difficult to compress a big slice of human history into a few hundred words, so if I omit some of your favorite details, I hope you'll forgive me.
I pick 1492 as being the pivotal year in that immense saga. One could of course choose from other good candidates: 50,000 years ago when mankind migrated out of Africa to populate the rest of the world, or 10,000 years ago when he discovered fixed agriculture, probably in what is now Lebanon though in considerably greener condition, since that was the time when the last Ice Age was receding. Taking the estimate of migration paths uncovered by Dr. Spencer Wells in The Journey of Man, by 10,000 years ago homo sapiens had already populated most of the world by several routes, and fixed agriculture made such elegant good sense that it was adopted almost everywhere, almost at once. The key here is that "almost" everywhere--because it wasn't any use to the herder tribes in frozen, Northern Siberia who migrated to America across the Bering Straits. In any case, most of that migration was already over and the Straits were melting.
Thus, those who populated the Americas had no knowledge of fixed agriculture, and it so happens that the Northern ones never discovered it independently. Some did further South, about 4,000 years ago, but its perceived advantages were less obvious where land was abundant in flora and fauna. Hence, the tribes that met European explorers following Columbus' 1492 landing were nomadic; they hunted and gathered and kept moving. A perfectly adequate way to maintain life, given plenty of land and a modest population. In contrast, by that date Europeans were quite experienced in farming, in maximizing the food that could be extracted from each acre to sustain a large population. That was the first contrast between these two branches of humanity, who had lived separately for about 40,000 years. It was one source of trouble later on.
There was another contrast, of vast importance here: the European newcomers were the product of 10,000 years of governed society. The native Americans had no government; when a communal decision was needed, they reached it by the peaceful method of talking it through and reaching consensus. This difference was profound, and is the source of all the violence of the next few hundred years.
So, in 1492, there began the momentous encounter between a governed society and a non-governed society.
It's very sad and quite curious that government was invented almost immediately after fixed agriculture. The latter has brought incalculable benefit, while the former has left an unbroken trail of misery and destruction. I can see no reason why government should have followed the establishment of farming; it did so, but it did not have to do so; this STRticle suggests how it came about. Human history could have continued without government; tragically, it did not. All the vast potential of fixed agriculture, of the use to which humans could put the surplus it brought, has been frustrated and delayed by the arrival of a parasitic, initiative-killing, kleptocratic governing class. It is our vast privilege and opportunity, in this very Century, to correct that dreadful error and restore mankind to the path of accelerating progress and wellbeing.
Since 1492, there's no denying that humans have blown it. The nomads (I'm reluctant to call them "Indians" because none of their ancestors ever lived in India and they don't resemble Indians) had the priceless advantage of a society with little or no government; had the newcomers adopted that mode of life, the prosperity of America would have been boundless and news of it would have spread rapidly back to the old countries for them to adopt also. At the same time, the nomads could have learned in a few generations what the palefaces had developed over 10,000 years; they had used the agricultural surplus to take science, engineering and culture to a level undreamed of by the natives. Both had much to bring the other. What a tragedy that each thought the other knew little worth learning!
The result is only too well known; the natives declined to give up their absurdly wasteful, inefficient use of land resources while the newcomers declined to reconsider their absurd intoxication with the institution of government. The inevitable result was conflict, and with their superior weaponry and numbers, the newcomers' government inevitably crushed the natives.
Fast-forward to 1988, when one of those almost-crushed native Americans met with some of those almost-besotted newcomers in Seattle, WA. He was wise enough to grasp that we former Europeans also have some useful things to teach, and that subset was wise enough to recognize that government is a disaster. His name is Russell Means, and the occasion was the Libertarian Party Nominating Convention.
Means had been the inspiring leader of the Wounded Knee rebellion of 1973, which shook the US government as it had not been shaken for a century, and in 1988, he bid to run for US President, so as to shake it a good deal more; his main opponent was Ron Paul, who also had merit. I was a delegate, and supported Means--because I reckoned our main need was for media coverage (it still is) and saw this flamboyant native American as a way to get some. I acknowledge that he would have needed a crash course in Misesian Economics and Rothbardian philosophy, but he was willing and able. He didn't win. Ron then did a creditable job, but the opportunity was missed. Not, mind, that it would have progressed far even if Means had won, for politics is a hopeless way to terminate government, as I realized later; even so, the publicity would have brought an educational benefit, a positive effect. But that critical reunion, the blending of native anarchism with modern technology, was postponed again.
However, a good deal more is needed than a mere blending of those two; for that would ignore the fact that each of the two cultures is seriously distorted from a rational standard. Ten thousand years of government has deeply ingrained the European one, and needs rooting out; even our technology is colored by the dead hands of the controllers, with their huge emphasis on killing machines and central funding for R&D. Equally, though, 50,000 years of tribal communalism (counting from that exodus from Africa, there's not been very much change) have ingrained the nomads with the fiction that technology is a bad idea, that everything in their culture is good, not just their consensus-based decision making process, and that everything in ours is bad. That is simply not true.
Some even say communities must be limited in size (how?) like the native tribes, to a few thousand. Nonsense; market anarchism will work fine in a society of any magnitude. Some say that intensive agriculture is wrong, that it "rapes the earth," as if the planet were a person in some sense. Again, sheer rubbish, and much worse than rubbish. Today, thanks entirely to the smart farming civilized societies have developed over the last few hundred years, enough food is produced for all seven billion of us. Tragically, a fraction of humanity never sees it because their governments interfere with the free flow of trade, but there is enough. If governments forced agriculture to become primitive again, there would not be nearly enough. The resultant mass starvation would compare with the Black Death, except that ten times as many would perish. The self-righteous, self-styled "greens" and "intellectuals" who would have caused it all as "friends of the Earth" would have far more blood on their hands than Wilson, FDR, Lincoln, Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin and Mao Tse Tung combined. It is of paramount importance that these lethal sociopaths never get their hands on the levers of political power. The rats who occasioned that 14th Century plague had no way of knowing they were doing so; they were just going about the innocent business of being rats.
It's tragic that the adventurers who rejoined the long-separated branches of our race after 1492 were not market anarchists. Had the settlers who followed Columbus all been fleeing government itself instead of just government of a particular religious flavor, the key ingredients for a successful merger would have been present. Natives wished to retain large swaths of land so they could continue as nomads? No problem. Let them stake the claim, leaving a small corner for immigrant farmers, perhaps in exchange for some of their produce. After a generation of successful farming, the latter would have shown the former how easily they could feed and clothe and house themselves and have much time left over for leisure and reading and design of ingenious tools, machines and medicines. At least the younger natives would have questioned parental authority and asked for their own little plots to do likewise. A few generations later, integration would have been a done deal. There might still have been some holdout nomads, and good luck to them; a free society would have had no way or desire to get in their way. The key is the axiom--and I insist that it's an axiom, an undeniable premise--of individual self-ownership. Acknowledge that, and any lifestyle goes. Deny it, and remain a flat-Earther.