Column by Jim Davies.
Exclusive to STR
The coming free society will be rational; residents will live on the basis of reality and reason rather than myth. We will recognize government for what it is and therefore reject it on rational grounds; we will think in rational, economic terms predominantly. I can be sure of this, because a free society will not come into being until everyone does think predominantly in rational, economic terms; as long as society wallows in myth, it will not throw off the curse of government.
That said, will superstition play in it any part at all? Will there be any place for religion, for example? In my opinion, not much, but the very nature of freedom absolutely requires that everyone be left free to believe anything he wishes, be it ever so absurd. Perhaps that is one of the contradictions with which we shall have to grapple. But yes, of course there will be such a place. Perhaps it would be a cold and mechanistic society without it.
People will be free -- of course! -- to believe that the scientific method and all that it has brought mankind by way of medicine, knowledge, exploration, pleasure, culture, leisure and wealth in any of its multiple forms, is a curse to be discarded in favor of primitive living and a return to nature. Should they wish to act on that belief, good luck to them! Nobody has any business forcing them to conform to any beliefs but their own, any more than we have obligation to bail them out when their babies die for want of medical care, and they have no business forcing the rest of us to abandon our preference for civilization. They will need to acquire proper title to the land they want to occupy, but then they'll have a perfect right to be left in peace.
So I got to thinking, what would America have been like, if the European settlers had all been rational market anarchists? In particular, what would have happened to the "Indian" tribes that were occupying North America and living thus, close to Nature and completely unaware of any other way?
The encounter, and the four centuries that followed, is both monumental and tragic. When Leif Ericson stayed a while in Newfoundland, his party had a bad encounter with native Americans, who must have been scared and astonished, but they didn't stay. The great and apparently more friendly encounters were in or around 1497, by Cabot and Columbus.
This is of such significance I cannot find words adequate to describe it. If the timeline in Spencer Wells' Journey of Man is correct, these two branches of our species had not met for 30,000 years--yet there they were, face to face and knowing they were fundamentally alike. The much-overused term "awesome" hardly suffices for such an encounter. That long ago, migrants from Africa had parted company, one group continued Northeast towards Siberia and spent thousands of years living as herders with reindeer, eventually crossing into Alaska when the sea was frozen and moving into America, North and South. About 20,000 years earlier yet another group had made the same trip from the Pacific Rim. But those who turned West towards Europe found a kinder climate and became us, or most of us. Five centuries ago, descendants of those Westbound migrants met their Eastbound brethren. Talk about historic!
The skills developed by the veterans of Siberian ice were amazing, and they were honed by life in more recent millennia in America with its temperate seasons. No longer herders, they reverted to hunting and gathering, and of course knew very intimately how close was mankind to all the rest of nature. They had (and despite all that governments did to them, their descendants still have) an understanding of, and respect for, the natural world which modern man has forgotten. For one small example, I understand that when killing an animal for food, they apologize to it. Meaningless? Useless? Perhaps. But it seems to show more reverence for life than herding cattle into a mechanized slaughterhouse.
As nomads, they needed to make some decisions communally. Members could always leave and go solo, but if they stayed in the group, there were some matters with only a binary answer: Shall we strike camp and move today, or next week?, etc. The time-honored way to settle such questions was that of consensus. The "Chief" is a moderator, not a dictator. Decisions are made only when all agree. In this, they are far superior to all that European man developed, ever since history was first written down.
Some 20,000 years after that Great Division, somewhere between the Caspian and the Himalayas, the Westbound migrants discovered fixed agriculture--evidently, in or near what is now Lebanon. This discovery was the most significant of all human history, and you'll have noticed that it happened after the Eastbounders were long gone. They missed out on it. That's why they reached North America as hunter-gatherers, instead of as farmers. That's why those 400 years of interaction were so tragic. The difference was a fact, but the tragedy could and should have been avoided.
Very close in time to that discovery, 10,000 years ago, two other vastly important things took place: government was born, and writing began – see my “Origins" for remarks about the former. Once governments appeared, they didn't go away, and fixed-agricultural man has been awash in the blood they spilled ever since. Part of the wealth mankind produced extra to what was needed to live on (the "agricultural surplus") was stolen by them and used for nefarious purposes like pampering their leaders and making war on their rivals. That is the nature of government--but it results not from the surplus itself, but from the theft of the surplus. Mankind's problem for the last 10,000 years has not been that we got more civilized, but that we were cursed with government. As detailed in my Denial of Liberty, but for government we would have become far more civilized, very much faster.
Back, then, to our original question; How would European settlers of this continent have handled the "Indian" problem if they had been anarchists, if theirs had been a free society?
After a means of communication had been established, the matter of land ownership would have arisen. The newcomers wanted land, the natives apparently had land. So a deal could have been struck, for the newcomers had a few things the natives valued. However, the natives didn't have an understanding of land ownership! To them, the land was just "there," to be used by any and all who wished to hunt and gather, it was what we'd call a kind of "commons." Commons work fine, until the demand for grazing land exceeds the supply available. Then, there is chaos and discord, which can be resolved only by exclusive ownership--property rights. So the first lesson our landed anarchists would have had to teach the natives would have had to be the Tragedy of the Commons (without access, of course, to Hardin's 1968 essay) and the concept of ownership. But given a few patient years and good linguistic progress on all sides, the job would have been done, and bargains would have been struck. The price of land, once the natives understood that they would be excluded from what they sold to the settlers, might have been rather high, but it would have been paid. The natives, accordingly, would have gained wealth which they valued more than the land, the use of which they gave up. Such is the free-market subjective theory of value, without which wealth generation is not possible.
After a while--a few generations, possibly--I believe most natives would have found the bargains very satisfactory, and would have eagerly learned the science of fixed agriculture as fast as the European farmers were able to teach them. But if a few did not--if they preferred life on the open range so much they would not sell at any price--then, as we saw above, a free society would have left them in peace.
The process of communication and negotiation would have been repeated by new immigrants, as they arrived and pressed Westward, for "Indians" were of course not a single tribe but nearly 100, each with its own language. But since the immigrants would (by the premise here) all have been market anarchists, no force would have been used--only persuasion and exchange. Most importantly, there would have been no white man's government, to make treaties and then break them at will. The free, anarchist society would have operated a justice industry as effective in settling natives' grievances as much as those of the newcomers.
Accordingly, the tragedy--by which armed government agents herded and slaughtered native Americans like sheep, or worse--would not have taken place. There would still have been the tragedy of death from infection by diseases to which the natives had no immunity, but that was not then understood, so the Europeans cannot be blamed. There would have been no armed agents, no government, no deliberate slaughter, and no grievance the free-market courts could not have settled.
Some may feel this is optimistic, so I'll throw in another reason why I believe something like that would have replaced the actual, bloody history of the actual American Genocide: Native society is intrinsically anarchist, or close to it. The adjustments they would have had to make, in the four centuries after Columbus arrived, would have been relatively slight. Above, I noted that they were used to making group decisions only by consensus--so they were already at least halfway there. This may have been what drew Russell Means, who led the American Indian Movement's occupation at Wounded Knee in 1973, and who later occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs in D.C., to seek the Libertarian Party's nomination for President in 1988. I met him at that convention in Seattle, and voted for him. What we needed most, I thought, was media exposure, and his flamboyant style was almost guaranteed to draw some. He was eloquent and did well—joking, for example, that when elected, he would establish a "Bureau of Caucasian Affairs"--but lost to Ron Paul, who got very little media attention. I knew Russell would have needed a crash course in free-market economics, but he was highly intelligent and willing to learn, and there were plenty ready to teach.
That's not to say I embrace the "Indian" worldview generally, or even understand it--I don't. (Take a look; do you?) It just says that there is a natural affinity between the "Indian" way of doing things and the anarchist way of people who have the advantage of 10,000 extra years of civilization. We anarchists stand for laissez faire: let us be, live and let live. So do they. We would have got along just fine.
Russell died this week, too young at 72, of cancer. Before going he promised that in the next life he will return as lightning: “When lightning zaps the White House, they'll know it's me.” Hurry back, friend.