‘Hostiles’ and Hollywood’s Untold Story

Hollywood’s recent attempt to depict Frontier life captures the reality of “hostiles” shooting various weapons at one another, but the real history is more interesting, Jada Thacker explains in this essay.

By Jada Thacker

A theatrical poster for the recent American Western movie “Hostiles” depicts its principal characters – a Frontier widow, a hardboiled Indian fighter, and an Indian chief – with a helpful blurb stating the story’s theme with the subtlety of a striking rattlesnake: “We are all hostiles.”

Hostiles movie poster

Some critics think the movie somehow ought to have been a different one – that it should have included a bit more of this, or a bit less of that…whatever. Maybe they have a point. Though it hardly seems fair to ding “Hostiles” for being an imperfect example of the ideal Frontier fantasy.

But it is fair to criticize a movie for being a perfect example of a movie genre that consistently ignores the most essential themes of the American Frontier. “Hostiles” succeeds brilliantly as the latest addition to a very long list of movies that focus laser-like attention on hostile Frontier characters, rather than on the consequences of Frontier hostility.

The American Frontier was not, as Hollywood formerly portrayed it, merely a canvas background prop for a violent soap box drama starring Cowboys & Indians – or, as more recently re-imagined, an ethnic melodrama featuring white Bad Guys versus Noble Indian resistance.

Nor can the American Frontier be considered a particularly hostile place without expunging from history the slaughter-grounds of Cannae, Verdun, Stalingrad, or even America’s own Gettysburg – each of which produced more bloated corpses than any number of Wild Wests. In an encyclopedia of human violence, the massacres at the Little Bighorn and Wounded Knee would be relegated to a footnote.

Yet, the significance of the American Frontier endures. William Faulkner was not referring to the Frontier experience when he said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” but he was right.

Unacknowledged by the silver screen, contemporary America remains as hostile as it ever was to the Frontier dwellers of tee-pees, log cabins, wigwams, or army outposts. Every American today who rages at corrupt and incompetent government, who counts out their pennies for rent or mortgage, or who despairs of the growth-driven, mechanized rape of the American landscape can thank the American Frontier experience for their trouble.

Frontier Anarchy

No government existed in North America at the time of European contact. The societies that pre-existed there lived in a condition of anarchy.

Although the term “anarchy” is used casually to denote a condition of chaos, it literally refers only to a society without government (from the Greek: a [without] + archy [rulers]). Anarchy is the voluntary self-organization of people without the use of authoritative force. Thus, anarchy does not denote an absence of social order, but only the absence of a forcible social order.

Anarchy is not an exception to human organization, but the rule – if we can forgive the pun. All non-governmental organizations are anarchic, voluntary associations: sports teams, business entities, civic groups, church congregations, trade unions, symphony orchestras, and marriages included. American Indian societies had thrived just so without authoritative force for some 20,000 years before Europeans appeared to set things straight.

Immediately upon European arrival, the Frontier materialized as a lethal No Man’s Land where the alien hierarchical order of government clashed catastrophically with indigenous anarchy. At issue was not just the survival of hostile individuals, but the survival of fundamentally hostile political cultures.

Unlike anarchy, government has nothing to do with the voluntary self-organization of society. Nobody ever volunteers to be arrested, pay fines, go to jail, or be executed – or pay the taxes necessary for doing so to others. And no such elements of coercion existed in North America prior to the importation of European authoritarianism. (When so-called “democratic government” later purported to banish British tyranny, it made certain to keep prisons and capital punishment intact.)

Moviegoers, no less than movie-makers and history textbooks, blithely assume that Indian leaders wielded the same authority as did government officials in white society. Not so. Indians had no officials because they had no offices. Indian chiefs led by example and inspiration only; they possessed no more coercive ability than a scoutmaster or a captain of a football team.

Abenaki area of early New England

In any event, Indians had no written laws that begged enforcement. Anarchic political culture does not depend on the enforcement of rules and regulations, but upon free consent to them. A Wikipedia article summarizes the Abenaki people’s consensual customs:

“Group decision-making was done by a consensus method. The idea is that every group (family, band, tribe, etc.) must have equal say, so each group would elect a spokesperson. Each smaller group would send the decision of the group to an impartial facilitator.

“If there was a disagreement, the facilitator would tell the groups to discuss again. In addition to the debates, there was a goal of total understanding for all members. If there was not total understanding, the debate would stop until there was understanding.

“When the tribal members debate issues, they consider the Three Truths: Peace: Is this preserved? Righteousness: Is it moral? Power: Does it preserve the integrity of the group?

“These truths guide all group deliberations, and the goal is to reach a consensus. If there is no consensus for change, they agree to keep the status quo.”

Not all Indian self-organization was this formal, but it all was intensely democratic. The hierarchical European political culture which ruled by indelible law, dictated by police and military forces and financed by forcible taxation, decidedly was not.

The collision of anarchy and government in America was not a melodramatic struggle between “good” and “evil.” But it did involve a spiritual choice – between a circle and a pyramid.

The Indian way was represented by a circle or hoop, symbolized physically by the Puebloan people’s kiva, a circular, ceremonial meeting place. The Lakota and other tribes conceived of universal order as a hoop. The symbolic meaning is one of balance and equality, with each member of society located equidistant from a common core. Indian leaders did not occupy the position of “top dog” or “king of the hill” but as central mediators among equals.

In contrast, all civilizations – including the white civilization that hovered in the wings of the Frontier stage – are pyramidal structures. In pyramidal culture, authority resides at the apex and flows only downward, forcibly if necessary. While pyramidal culture was not unique to the colonizing European culture of the day – Ancient Egyptians and Aztecs expressed their pyramidal culture in stone, just as current organization charts express our pyramids on paper – it was utterly foreign to the Indian consciousness.

Iroquois Confederacy

So-called “Indian Nations” were conceptual fallacies that did not in fact exist. Even the famous Iroquois League, or Haudenosaunee, was not an example of “Indian government” and certainly not of pyramidal structure. It was a decentralized, voluntary confederacy – a hooplike “League of Peace” (ca.1140 – 1784) of its six constituent tribes – not a hierarchical command-and-control structure that dominated Indian society.

Frontier Economics

Lest the Right-Libertarians among us applaud too loudly the absence of Big Government (or any government) in Indian society, the central conflict between white and red men (a term Indians used to describe themselves) was a contest between individualistic vs. collective property rights.

To be clear, Indians had a keen sense of territorial sovereignty. But this did not include personal property ownership, which was both unknown and an anathema to the Indian way. T.R Fehrenbach, a notable commentator on Frontier culture and author of the encyclopedic Comanches: The History of a People, put it simply:

“Hypocrisy was perhaps inevitable in a people [whites] who convinced themselves that they were creating something new in the New World, while actually carrying out the most primordial form of conquest.”

But then he adds:

“Amerindians resisted all sincere imitation of their conquerors. Broken warriors refused to become economic men, to accept the concept of private property or the discipline of incessant labor.”

Comanche man, 1910

Quite frankly, the Comanche people (the Nermernuh) of whom Fehrenbach spoke were without doubt the most rapacious Indians that whites ever encountered. (Other Indians were intimidated by them, too, and for good reason, a point “Hostiles” duly observes.) Alongside hunting buffalo, raiding and stealing constituted the raison d’etre of their predatory society.

In fact, hostility and theft generally characterized Indian between-group behavior both before and after European arrival; they did not need the presence of whites to justify their elevation of lethal larceny to an art form. By the same token, European pioneers needed no particular excuse to exterminate Indians, or each another, while committing Grand Theft Continent.

Ironically, armed robbery was the primary economic activity whites and Indians shared in common. “Making a killing” by “hostile takeovers” of others’ property is not a new pony trick invented by corporate raiders.

But the ruthless exploitation of one’s own kinsmen and their resources is something else. This was as unthinkable to tribal peoples as it was premeditated by the bringers of civilization. The privatization of shared resources proved to be the profound and irreconcilable issue that separated the two peoples’ concepts of economic justice.

Even in abject defeat, Indians never shared the whites’ notion that the land’s resources could, or should, be monopolized as private property. Since Indians perceived themselves essentially as children of the Earth, private ownership of land made no more sense to them than a child claiming to own its parents.

Unlike whites, the Indian concept of territory was communal. What they possessed in common they defended in common. Their view of communal property rights flowed naturally from their egalitarian culture, which did not tolerate landlords or economic class distinctions.

Within any Indian band, no privileged economic class could exist simply because there was no hierarchical power structure to sustain one. Since no Indian had the power to control the food supply of another, they were liberated at birth from the private monopolization of the “means of production.” Possession of property was not justified by individual privilege but was their common birthright.

Thus, Indian society was devoid of both private property and the State. This is inconvenient news for today’s Marxists and Right-Libertarians, alike.

Indian society repudiated the Right-Libertarian (anarcho-capitalist) notion that individual liberty requires the sanctity of private property ownership. No humans have exercised more individual liberty, nor owned less private property, than American Indians. Ownership of private property – which cannot and does not exist in the absence of government-sanctioned privilege – would not have conferred any liberty to Indians they did not already possess.

At the other end of the economic spectrum, Indian society also belied the Marxian notion that economics is determined to evolve from capitalism, through socialism, to the ideal of communism. In reality, American Indians had beat Marx to the punchline 20,000 years before he set pen to paper.

In modern parlance, Indians were communists long before communism was cool. Contemporary Indians may disavow Marx as an industrial materialist with no respect for their spiritual way; that doesn’t mean their people were not original communists, but only that they are not Marxists.

Marx was the latecomer – and then he got it all backwards. The American Frontier experience graphically demonstrated that humanity was not advancing toward a stateless, economic Utopia but was rooting out and laying waste to prehistoric communism wherever it still persisted.

All “isms” aside, reality reveals that whoever exercises effective ownership of a place rules it for their benefit. First and foremost, the Frontier was a place of a hostile and involuntary transfer of economic property from communal Indian ownership into the itchy palms of the private white owners who usually stood at the apex of an authoritarian pyramid.

Frontier Ecology

Pre-contact Indians lived in Stone Age societies. They possessed no metal implements, and the highest level of tool technology available to them employed only stone, bone, and clay.

In Stone Age Economics, Marshall Sahlins famously referred to Stone Age people as the “original affluent society” – not because they possessed much material wealth, but rather because they required so little and because their modest needs were so readily fulfilled when compared to the far greater requirements of us Moderns.

On the other hand, we would be mistaken to believe Indians were conscious “environmentalists.” Like any society, theirs took from nature what was needed for survival. Stone Age people had no reason to conserve that which was beyond their power to despoil.

As Sahlins “original affluence” implies, the trick to achieving environmental sustainability does not lie in not taking what is needed, but in not needing to take more than the environment can afford. “What the environment can afford” is known in ecology-speak as carrying capacity.

More formally stated, carrying capacity is the ability of the environment to sustain a given population of organisms indefinitely. “Sustain” usually means “to feed” and “indefinitely” simply means “with no end in sight.” Thus, a given number of organisms that continues to live (and reproduce) within the means of its food-energy supply is “ecologically sustainable.”

In any event, “living sustainably” should not be conceptualized as “living in harmony with nature.” Nature is not a Barbershop Quartet. Nature is nothing if not a relentless, biological gang fight encompassing every organism on the planet. Each organism will lose the fight eventually, only to decompose into the itinerant molecules from which it was temporarily pasted together.

In fact, the natural danse macabre preserves ecological balance at the expense of harmony. Any cosmic harmony on the American Frontier, existed only under the influence of mezcal and peyote.

Moreover, just because an organism manages to survive individually does not imply that it lives in a sustainable society. Sustainability requires that a given number of organisms must be able to survive indefinitely. No environmental carrying capacity can sustain too many needy organisms, or even a few organisms that consume more food-energy than the environment can replace.

By any measure, however, American Indians had been living sustainably for millennia before Europeans waded ashore with their metallurgy, animal husbandry, intensive agriculture, literacy – and their marked tendency toward epidemic plagues, famine, industrialized warfare, and commercial-grade slavery. Upon arrival, the benighted invaders found practically nothing to remind them of their ecologically stressed homelands, which they had abandoned.

Nowhere in America did the colonizers find the privation, starvation, social depravity, and ecological wastage that characterized their soil-ravaged and forest-denuded homeland. Having accidentally stumbled upon a Stone Age population that lived sustainably, civilized Europeans set about at once to destroy it, as they had done at home. Indeed, had Europeans possessed a sustainable culture, they would not have needed to ditch their depleted continent in search of lootable resources elsewhere.

The supreme irony of the Old-World invasion was that Europeans never realized the “savages” inhabiting the Americas were practically identical to their own ancestors, though a couple of hundred generations removed. Ecologically, the European invasion did not represent the wave of the future, but a retrogression to their own Edenic past.

The environmental devastation that had taken several thousand years to accomplish in Europe was replicated in three centuries in the Americas. Such was the price and the speed of the “progress” achieved on the American Frontier.

Frontier Armageddon

A woman in a white robe is the symbol of America’s “Manifest Destiny” in this classic painting.

The Frontier did not disappear just because the westward movement had run out of geographical space, its few Indian survivors having been herded into open-air prisons. Rather, the Frontier itself was destroyed by the westward migration of the Industrial Revolution – a truly monstrous creation of unrelenting factory toil, rolling on steel rails, powered by steam, and financed by perpetual human servitude to debt.  

The terminal theme of the Frontier was not to be man’s conquest of nature, or even of man’s conquest of other men, but instead the industrial conquest of humanity. Metastasizing far beyond the “primordial form of conquest” of Indians by hypocritical whites, this final act of destruction was so complete that not even whites survived it.

A Stone Age world bound by blood kinship, loyalty, courage, intuition and revenge was within a single lifetime displaced by the depersonalized tyranny of contract law, freight schedules, time zones, taxes, universal debt and ‘no trespassing’ signs. Proud Indian warriors, brave Texas Rangers, indomitable pioneer sod-busters – all alike swept away only to be reincarnated by industrialized karma as sweatshop wage-slaves, coal mining troglodytes, and corporate lackeys.

After this cataclysm, we can rely on Hollywood to remind us now and again that the Frontier was where some hostile hombres ran amok shooting various weapons at one another – as if that is not the daily fare of modern-day America. The theatrical poster blurb “We are all hostiles” could be a permanent contemporary subtitle to American civilization.

But the American Frontier was not a blurb or a subtitle. It was a war that raged westward for 300 years before its place was lost to history. Yet, the ultimate loss of the Frontier was not by those fortunate few who once lived within the warzone; the greater loss was to those unfortunate multitudes who were fated to live thereafter without it. And that would be us.

Possibly lost to us forever has been our egalitarian self-determination, our common possession of the means of survival, our ecological sustainability, and our sense of the primacy of personal human worth. These hallmarks of human society have been eradicated so thoroughly that even celluloid fables of our own history betray hardly a trace of their multi-millennial existence. Unwilling to recall such a way of life, we retell only tales of hostility that surrounded its death.

But lest old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind, Americans everywhere now commemorate the first day of each calendar month with a nagging sense of loss – as befits the date on which the rent is due in this erstwhile Land of the Free.

Jada Thacker, Ed.D is the author of Essential Themes of America History. He teaches collegiate Political Science and History courses in Texas. jadathacker@sbcglobal.net

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46 comments for “‘Hostiles’ and Hollywood’s Untold Story

  1. Ivy Mike
    March 23, 2018 at 9:29 pm

    Primary sources tell that Indians were quite acquisitive and had a keen appreciation of personal property (especially the power conferred by owning many horses) and were as vain as any European Dandy when it came to dress and personal appearance. Letters and diaries leave no doubt Indians helped wipe out game populations, even slaughtering buffalo for hides and tongues, to trade for knives, guns, metal utensils,blankets, and whiskey. An anarchy existed at the time the Euro invasion, but just prior to that invasion a great civilization, one in which power centered in one man, had existed for centuries along the Mississippi and was collapsing. At the time Cabeza De Vaca began his wanderings there were still in use extensive trade routes from coast to coast and down into mesoamerica. I think a great collective guilt for the genocide we perpetrated leads whites to make up a lot of happy crappy about the people whose own migration into this land predated ours. The truth of their 10-20 thousand year history here is lost to us forever.
    The last wild Plains Indian, one who rejected everything Euro except the horse and gun, was the Comanche Quanah Parker. Bad Hand Mckenzie hounded Quanah’s band to the furthest corner of Texas, then arranged for their peaceful surrender and move to the reservation in Oklahoma. Quanah became a succesful farmer, kept a houseful of wives and children, and founded the Native American Church.

  2. March 23, 2018 at 8:08 pm

    Wow, what a great read.

  3. Zzp
    March 22, 2018 at 5:00 pm

    What an incredible crock of crap. I’m hugely disappointed in consortium readers for abdicating critical thinking in droves, swallowing such a spun-out-of-wisps obviously fantasist view.

    Even the most basic layman’s knowledge shoots truck-sized holes in this fuzz-brained inanity.

    Equating tribal banishment to *contemporary divorce* is such obvious disregard of reality, it should have clued in even the most credulous. The tortured re-definitions of “government” & “anarchy” are the most juvenile sort of sophistry.

    My estimation of consortium news has suffered a huge dent…. as has my faith in the critical thinking of the fawning commenters here. Shame.

  4. Sandy
    March 22, 2018 at 3:10 pm

    Exceptional coverage of issue.

  5. Ron Johnson
    March 20, 2018 at 11:24 am

    Please consider also the 1782 massacre of the Christian Delawares at Gnadenhutten by the “Paxton Boys” militia from Pennsylvania:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gnadenhutten_massacre

    The received history of the United States is not what happened. But then, look and see that our just punishment is ongoing and self-inflicted.

  6. Litchfield
    March 19, 2018 at 5:05 pm

    Interesting article, and I enjoyed reading it.
    Despite the many good and I think valid points, the article does seem to build on a number of stereotypes and I think it oversimplifies a couple of issues..
    The author seems to remove Native Americans from their own historical process, preexistent before colonizers and conquerors arrived. He also writes as if all Native Americans were the pretty much the same. He states that power centers could not arise, for various reasons. In my view such a discussion is incomplete without making reference to the work and hypotheses of Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus, The Creation of Inequality: How Our Prehistoric Ancestors Set the Stage for Monarchy, Slavery, and Empire. This work combines anthropoloigcal and archaeological evidence.

    For a very good, detailed account of the political states of pre-Contact Natives and Europeans and Africans in their home territories and the ways these circumstances affected the way these groups interacted at Contact, see John K. Thornton’s brilliant A Cultural History of the Atlantic World, 1250 to 1820. A great read that plumbs incredible archival sources.

    Regarding the supposed stasis/sustainability of Native American society, bear in mind that aboriginal Native Americans hunted to death the various megafauna that they found in North America and possibly also South America. Then their acquisition of the horse, more or less by accident, had a huge influence on Plains Indians’ influence on their environment and on the herds of bison. In fact, strong arguments have been made that a sustainability crisis was already advanced on the Plains before white settlers actually got there. Similar arguments have been made for New England: that population growth prior to the arrival of settlers (and also prior to the plague that swept through coastal new England *immediately* before the settlers’ arrival [well described in Nathanial Bowditch’s Mayflower]) was stressing the traditional food supply—suggested by evidence found in middens of major changes in diet.

    No argument with the concept that the juggernaut of industrialization has destroyed all before it. But I think a discussion could be more granular to qualify some of the broad generalizations.

  7. Edward F. Roby
    March 19, 2018 at 12:35 pm

    Great essay! Totally agree. But we also know that Marx and Engels were well aware of the incompatibility of Amerindian anarchy and European hierarchy because they both studied the works of Yankee sociologist Lewis Henry Morgan, an adopted Seneca. Although far from being a proto-communist, Morgan understood and analyzed the indigenous culture like no other. And he warned his own people that the hierarchical obsession with accumulating private property concealed the seeds of their own eventual destruction.

  8. Peter Loeb
    March 19, 2018 at 5:52 am

    TO CONSORTIUM:

    This ad which I have seen before should not be printed by consortium.

    It is quite inapproprite and disturbs any conversation among
    commenters.

    Peter Loeb

  9. Mark Thomason
    March 17, 2018 at 2:43 pm

    The Iroquois League or Confederacy was first organized by The Peacemaker in 1142. It governed much of the Continent East of the Mississippi.

    Much of it was matrilineal. The primary severe sanction was expulsion. Since ancient times in the West, exile or expulsion was seen as a very severe sanction. It counts as “force” to enforce government power.

    This article under-rates the level of political organization among American Indians.

    • mike k
      March 18, 2018 at 10:34 am

      I agree. What I have learned of the Confederacy of several tribes indicates that their ideas of government even influenced the white settlers to some degree, at least in their ideas and rhetoric, if not in their practice.

      • mike k
        March 18, 2018 at 10:36 am

        Moderation of my comment going off the tracks again?

    • Jada Thacker
      March 18, 2018 at 9:00 pm

      MT, exactly as you say, the Iroquois was indeed a “league” and a “confederacy,” both of which are essentially voluntary organizations. But it did not constitute government in any form we recognize today (or even then). In fact, it dissolved without civil war because the constituent members of the league ultimately disagreed on policy regarding the white invaders. This was hardly the response of the US government following Pearl Harbor.

      Indeed, the exercise of expulsion from a voluntary group is the precise opposite of coercion by an authoritarian government: it is the removal of an obligation, not an imposition of one. In the case of the Iroquois, which considered itself essentially ‘at war’ with any other Indian tribe other than its members, expulsion would definitely pose the possibility of having to face the league (or other tribes) alone, militarily. But a spouse threatening divorce is no more an authoritarian, governmental force than the threat of an impending hurricane.

      There is no doubt Indian leaders were masterful politicians; and there is also no doubt that they were strategic losers to white conquerors because they had no means to compel other tribes — nor even their own people — to unite in armed resistance. On the one occasion in which they were successful in achieving inter-tribal military cooperation, they won the largest victory by Indians in North American history at St. Clair’s Defeat.

      This scale of battlefield success was never to be repeated because Indians, unlike whites, had no government capable of coercing people to fight against their will or rewarding them for doing so.

  10. March 17, 2018 at 10:55 am

    Thanks CN for publishing a very informed article.

    “Nowhere in America did the colonizers find the privation, starvation, social depravity, and ecological wastage that characterized their soil-ravaged and forest-denuded homeland. Having accidentally stumbled upon a Stone Age population that lived sustainably, civilized Europeans set about at once to destroy it, as they had done at home. Indeed, had Europeans possessed a sustainable culture, they would not have needed to ditch their depleted continent in search of lootable resources elsewhere.”

    Perhaps an overstatement since many Indian tribes tried their best to wipe out their enemies but lacked the capacities that our culture possessed to do harm to others. Maybe I read into the statement more than Professor intended to convey.

    When I read such doomsday articles, however, I persuaded that they are not always helpful and more helpful would be to acknowledge our wasteful and hostile behavior and start from there in baby steps to do something about it. Simple things like recycling and requiring that manufacturers only make things that can be recycled.

    The quality of the articles selected by Nat and whoever else are great and thank you Professor for taking the time to write it.

  11. Bob Van Noy
    March 17, 2018 at 10:30 am

    Excellent surprise CN, there is much to think about here, thank you.

    As I read through this piece I kept thinking about my early interest in Emerson’s Transcendentalists, and how I gained in disenchantment by realizing their complete disregard for the Indian Cultures they were complicit in literally shoving out of the way. I have realized in time, that disappointed as one may be by our heroic misconceptions, it is even more valuable to review our historic heritage in light of our past transgressions.

    To say that we live in interesting times seems almost inadequate this morning in America.

  12. jimbo
    March 17, 2018 at 10:18 am

    At dinner with friends this evening one friend mentioned a mutual friend of ours, a non-Indian woman born and raised in Seattle from a long line of Seattleites. This woman had recently found a great-great-grandmother’s journal describing her crossing America in a wagon train to Seattle. And? It was boring she said. No raiding parties, nothing exciting happened.

  13. Stelli Kerk
    March 17, 2018 at 10:17 am

    https://libcom.org/library/karl-marx-iroquois-franklin-rosemont
    KARL MARX AND THE IROQUOIS
    Karl Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks

    • mike k
      March 18, 2018 at 10:29 am

      Thanks Stelli. Fascinating stuff.

  14. March 17, 2018 at 10:14 am

    A thought-provoking essay and many insightful comments, as well. BTW, I have no idea how I got this ridiculously complex moniker(this is Bob H). When it previously occurred it was corrected after I reported it, but it has happened once again. Does anyone else have this problem ?…any ideas about how this might have happened? I tend to think I need to sign out and change my password, but as i never signed out on this website(and don’t see a sign-out) I’m not sure how to go about it. The comment also disappeared when i entered it previously.

  15. March 17, 2018 at 9:42 am

    A thought-provoking essay, along with some very insightful comments

  16. mike k
    March 17, 2018 at 9:17 am

    March 17, 2018 Watching tiger cubs learning to stalk their prey on Planet Earth. Hunting techniques and weapons were used against other humans. Can the apex predators of today be stopped, before they destroy all life? The struggle to create a world of love and cooperation must contend with these throwbacks to our ancient origins. Can we use our intelligence and positive emotions to overcome the selfish power drives we also have? People like Trump, the Koch bros., neocons, CIA exult in their power to get more power and wealth by killing others. They use their lack of conscience to succeed in their quest for domination and power. They use the peaceful thinking and behavior of their human prey to enslave or destroy them. Their lack of scruples is their strength to effect their evil aims. Torture is natural to them, and simply an obvious tool to get what they want. Like all sadists, they glory in being able to hurt those who might oppose them.

    Our fundamental question is: Can we turn a world given over to violence and greed into one ruled by love and cooperation? If we cannot do this, we are doomed to die as a species, at the hands of the worst among us.

  17. mike k
    March 17, 2018 at 8:11 am

    The more “evolved” precolumbian societies on this continent all developed the brutal forms of organization typified by the Aztecs. When human numbers grow beyond those conducive to tribal ways of management, authoritarian and pyramidal ways come about, just as they did in Egypt and elsewhere. The possible pathways to a cooperative and egalitarian society were not discovered and implemented. The strong and powerful imposed their will and forced societies into the forms that most still exhibit. Will we ever find ways to live in peace together? Our survival depends on this.

  18. March 17, 2018 at 7:08 am

    The US still seems to be in search of frontiers territories and transfixed by Manifest Destiny.

  19. CitizenOne
    March 17, 2018 at 12:33 am

    All of this lovely history does not advance any theory of how the American natives used the horses introduced by the Spanish to evolve their culture out on the Great Plains. What were they doing before horses? Were they creeping up on Mammoths and Saber Tooth Tigers and spearing them in the icy cold until the saber cats were extinct? Did they stalk Mammoths to their extinction? If true then the neolithic American Indians can hardly be called good stewards of ecology. They were just exploiting the natural resources leading to the extinction of indigenous species in the same way we are exploiting natural resources to exterminate all life on the planet.

    I completely disagree that somehow native Americans had some balance of nature in front of their thouhts. They simply lacked the means to destroy their environment and the so called balance they achieved is nothing more than their limited ability to exploit the environment given their primitave technology.

    History reveals that eventually they acquired modern weapons and hunted with them for their economic gain.

    There was no circle of consensus. That is a lot of BS. The American Indians simply did not have the weapons of mass destruction at hand to be able to use them.

    The tale of the West is just the tale of ever powerful weapons leading up to our mastery of the nuclear fission and fusion weapons we have today. If the Indians had Hydrogen Bombs to kill the White Man they would have used them. If the White Man possessed the H-Bomb they would have surely nuked the Indians.

    This is a one way street. The possesor of the most powerful weapons will prevail.

    Now we are just like the Indians as we face AI and the new electronic frontier. We face a completetly interconnected global World where we might end up on the short list of people to be escorted to reservations unless we serve some valuable function for the new wave.

    No doubt the history of the mistreatment of the Indians is just a prelude to how we conquers will be treated in the days to come. Guns and ammunition will not spare us any more than the horse riders were spared.

    • CitizenOne
      March 17, 2018 at 1:01 am

      Envisioning ourselves as “The Indians”:

      We are being invaded but we cannot see it. The Spanish were welcomed by the Aztecs and Moctezuma was deceived by Hernán Cortés. The Aztec Empire’s fall may be attributed in part to the belief in Cortés as the returning Quetzalcoatl.

      How are we just like the Aztecs? We are welcoming hosts who have not a clue that the technology which we welcome into our homes will seek to exploit us just like Cortes exploited the naive beliefs of the Aztecs that the Spaniards were the human deification of Quetzalcoatl.

    • Zachary Smith
      March 17, 2018 at 1:12 am

      I completely disagree that somehow native Americans had some balance of nature in front of their thouhts. They simply lacked the means to destroy their environment and the so called balance they achieved is nothing more than their limited ability to exploit the environment given their primitave technology.

      If Mr. Thacker wrote that Indians were conscious environmentalists, I missed that part. My understanding of what he was saying is that they were – at the time of European invasion – at a sort of cultural plateau, and in a technical stand-off with the land. When they acquired horses and the other items needed for exploiting Nature more thoroughly, of course they used them.

      The difference between Us (now) and Them (then) is that they didn’t know any better. Those Native Americans were just coming out of the stone age, and being pre-literate knew nothing of the technology of the invaders, and nothing of the Science we now possess. We modern folks are destroying the only world we have to profit a handful of the super-rich. And this despite our knowing better.

    • Mark Thomason
      March 17, 2018 at 2:46 pm

      Africans without horses have shown how they can hunt on open plains with spears. Humans can run down faster game, because humans can have more stamina for a long distance run. They can even “run to death” some game. They also herd game into traps or over cliffs, and we have located such sites in the American West.

      Horses help. They are not essential, just better.

  20. E Wright
    March 16, 2018 at 10:46 pm

    A brilliant synopsis. I enjoyed that, thank you.

  21. March 16, 2018 at 10:28 pm

    One of the most thought-provoking and insightful pieces I’ve read in a long time…

  22. Silly Me
    March 16, 2018 at 9:54 pm

    Edifying article with gentle humor.

    Let’s not forget about the nearly inevitable omnipresence of a pecking order in most primitive communities. I would be hard-pressed to call that democratic. Still, democracy seems like a racket, anyway.

  23. Greg Schofield
    March 16, 2018 at 9:48 pm

    A very good article unfortunately marred by a needless and ill-informed denunciation of Marxism. Why?

    It is true that many that purport to be Marxists know little of it, and many are simply radical liberals :—: of which Marx once said “I am no Marxist”. Did you know that all of theory behind what you have said come through Lewis Henry Morgan? And this was recognized by Marx as a better historical approach to world social history than his own and incorporated it within his own historical method?

    It is frustrating then to have such an interesting piece that bars engagement with its interesting points by this needless ideological barrier. I would instead preferred not to have had to write this but engaged with the text.

    For instance, the people of the great plains, because of the Spanish introduction of horse flesh not only began a knew techniques of production, but that their hyper-mobility and desire for horses led to intensified and widespread warfare, as a horse became personal mobile property that could be accumulated and therefore gifted. Warfare may have been a constant but its intensity was responsive to social change of which Europeans, smallpox and horses had an immense effect in provoking.

    At the same time, using Morgan’s term, the Plains people and the Aztecs where within the same ‘ethnic period’ which he himself argued in “Motezuma’s Dinner”, the wondrousness diversity within the same mode of production, has been part of the Marxist orthodoxy, it is the radical liberals who made this into a mechanical determination which I think you were referring to when you mentioned industrialization, which by the way Marx saw as a passing historical phase.

    We need to disengage from the ideological, discuss things within their own sphere without presuming political effect, knowledge is powerful, the past does not disappear but shapes and thus persists into the present and projects itself into the future. The American invasion, the response to it by indigenous people persists, as does that which occurred in Australia. The dead are owed but one thing :—: truth unwatered and unabashed.

    • mike k
      March 17, 2018 at 7:49 am

      The knock on Marx was indeed unnecessary and untrue.

  24. mike k
    March 16, 2018 at 4:39 pm

    OK. Some excellent insights. But I am concerned with the possibility of man’s future evolution (title of five lectures by Ouspensky). The answer, if we should find one, will not be a return to stone age simplicity, nor will it involve an even more developed technological society. It will involve a bit of each of those, but woven in a new way, a way based on love. We have created a society based on selfishness, greed, and violence – it is time to try something different…………….or else.

    • geeyp
      March 16, 2018 at 6:53 pm

      Interesting to me that the encyclopedia of the Comanches came up, as I have a distant relative who is part Comanche. There is a new map out, done with love and care and it shows where all the groups of Indians were located prior to them getting divided up and/or slaughtered. Nowadays it is getting worse in schools with history either not taught, or rewritten for the identity politics running rampant in everything you read. Freedom of speech is stifled and if info isn’t in a movie like this or on TV, it doesn’t exist. I’m jumping around here, I know. Life does not need all these plastic things and can come down to very simple means. The Indians form of democracy is the true democracy. Respect is key.

      • Zachary Smith
        March 16, 2018 at 8:04 pm

        The Indians form of democracy is the true democracy.

        From what I know it surely was a democracy, but a “true” one? That I doubt.

        The North American Indians hadn’t yet evolved more advanced forms of government, but that was surely only a matter of time. Either this would have happened eventually, or invaders from the South would have imposed it on them. Remember that the Incas had a huge kingdom, and so did the Aztecs. Central America had the Olmecs and Maya, among others.

        I’ve recalling what I’ve read of Jared Diamond now, but all the natives of the Americas had one huge lack – domesticated animals large enough to pull plows. That really crimped their social development in that their other technical advances couldn’t be properly utilized. Unless I’m mistaken there were already abortive attempts to follow the path of the rest of the world. Cahokia was one such case. Do you suppose any peasants lived near the top of Monk’s Mound? IMO kings and kingdoms were just a matter of time in the North as well.

        • Greg Schofield
          March 16, 2018 at 10:01 pm

          Zachary Smith consider for a moment that they were not held back by anything, but the desire to maintain a good life. Of course historically it is the result of past endeavour that defines what is good and this does pay scant regard to our own conceptions.

          Now consider the fundamental freedom of self-activity, to make one-self by what one does. Sure that varies in different societies, but once property is no longer shared, once those that command it become masters, then it is not freedom in the abstract that is lost, but human dignity, even when that is compensated with commodities of wonder and beyond the imagination of even our great grandparents :—: still the loss is acute, constant and without relief.

          The road to social self-development need not have passed the way it had, it did so because a brute force technology was refined by brute force societies, the slaves and wage-slaves that is synonymous with modernity. History cannot be replayed, the result is the result, but the route was made by people that made each step a precondition to the next :—: no sensible person would if they could be aware of the consequences have taken the route that lead to us, we should be a little humbled by that even if it is all we have, other people at other times had less of what we have, and more than we are.

        • Realist
          March 17, 2018 at 2:32 am

          That’s the first thing I thought of too: there were several large Indian nations to the South, essentially the ones you mentioned, that had advanced significantly beyond the stone age in terms of social organisation, technology, art, architecture, “science” (if you count astronomy), road building and record keeping. Yet, they too, succumbed to the Western colonial juggernaut, leaving not a one of them intact as a people, though their genes may still pass, to a greater or lesser extent, through the extant populations.

          This latter bit of history reminds me of a recent video on You Tube discussing what happened to the Byzantine people (who represented a very large Greek-speaking, if genetically diverse, Christian population inhabiting most of the Anatolian peninsula and surrounds, like Syria and Lebanon) after the fall of Constantinople and their almost total replacement by the Ottoman Turks or Sunni Arabs. Happened pretty much contemporaneous with the dissipation of the great American Indian civilisations, considering that Constantinople fell in 1453 and Columbus led the invasion of the America’s in 1492. Give one competing faction a distinct technological edge or allow chance to determine one critical military engagement and one human culture, if not its underlying genetic clade, will thoroughly displace another. The Hittites are long gone, though many men may still carry the same R1b haplotype as they did on their Y chromosome. And where are the scattered descendants of the Corded Ware Culture today? Living as modern Germans, Poles, Lithuanians and Russians totally clueless about their common ancestors who once dominated from the Rhine to the Volga. Come back to Earth in a couple hundred years, you won’t recognise the place.

  25. KiwiAntz
    March 16, 2018 at 4:38 pm

    Wonderful article , I never heard of this viewpoint before as we always are told the European & whiteman’s version of events? It’s so true the saying that the winners get to write the history? The clear, concise & measured way that the writer described the Indigenous, Native American’s mindset & hierarchy is illuminating & could as easily explain the mindset of all Native races & people’s around the World? They all lived in harmony with their natural environments, & although they had tribal conflicts over resources & territories, they never took more than was required, & maintained a natural equilibrium? Contrast that with the European mindset & their history of disease, conflict, genocide, domination & theft of resources & the rape & pilligaging of resources & Indigenous native lands for monetary gain rather than living in harmony with others & Nature? This was the purest example of zero Government & a alternative system that actually worked for thousands of years with Native races & people’s around the World?

  26. Zachary Smith
    March 16, 2018 at 4:30 pm

    Slaveholding Indians: the Case of the Cherokee Nation

    If my post ever comes out of “moderation”, that’s the link for it.

    • Jada Thacker
      March 16, 2018 at 5:38 pm

      Zachary, it’s quite true many North American Indians held slaves occasionally. But their widespread participation in the commercial slavery began only after whites introduced economic incentives for doing so. I recommend “The Other Slavery” by Resendez for more on this subject.

      • orwell
        March 17, 2018 at 3:43 pm

        Mr. Thacker, BUSINESS ENTITIES ARE NOT ANARCHIC!!!
        How can a MASTER_WAGE SLAVE RELATIONSHIP
        BE ANARCHIC???????!!!!!!!!!

    • Peter Loeb
      March 19, 2018 at 5:46 am

      ZACHARYS POST…

      As soon as you see the word “settlers” used (or sooner?”) you
      should beware.

      Francis Jennings in THE INVASION OF AMERICA eloquently begins
      Chapter 2 (p.15):

      “European explorers and invaders discovered an inhabited land.
      Had it been pristine it would possibly still be so today, for neither
      the technology or the social organization of Europe in the sixteenth
      and seventeenth centuries has the capacity to maintain, of its
      own resources, outpost colonies thousands of miles from home.
      Incapable of conquering true wilderness, the Europeans were
      highly competent in the skill of conquering other people and
      that is what they did. They did not settle a virgin land. They
      invaded and displaced a resident people.”

      [For background of invasions and documented discussion see Ch. 1,
      op cit.)

      —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  27. Zachary Smith
    March 16, 2018 at 4:26 pm

    Slaveholding Indians: the Case of the Cherokee Nation

    If my post ever comes out of “moderation”, that’s the link for it.

  28. Zachary Smith
    March 16, 2018 at 4:14 pm

    Anarchy is not an exception to human organization, but the rule – if we can forgive the pun. All non-governmental organizations are anarchic, voluntary associations: sports teams, business entities, civic groups, church congregations, trade unions, symphony orchestras, and marriages included. American Indian societies had thrived just so without authoritative force for some 20,000 years before Europeans appeared to set things straight.

    I don’t believe I can agree with this broad definition of “anarchic” organizations. In every case but the churches, bosses and wages are involved. There is nothing “voluntary” about them. Regarding the churches, they have been known to “kick out” people who disagree in any way with Doctrine. Excommunication is one means, and simply telling a person to never again show up at the front door of the meetinghouse is another.

    Nowhere in this essay is there any mention of the Cherokee. This tribe proved to be quite adaptable to the arrival of the White invaders. All of a sudden there is a bunch of strangers who possess Nice Things. Firearms. Hatchets and knives. Iron skillets and mirrors. Farming tools and steel traps. The Cherokees quickly began to do things which allowed them to have goods to exchange for such wonders. It didn’t take long for the Whites to notice the changing situation.

    In proportion as the original civilization program became real, a growing number of whites began to realize the dangers contained in the planned evolution of Cherokees. If indeed the Indians became ‘civilized’, if the hunter became a farmer and cultivated his fields with the help of slaves, and if in addition he was a normal educated church-going citizen, on what ground could the remaining Indian lands be confiscated from such ‘Americans’? In the late 1820s, Georgia decided to take action, and based it on an agreement signed by Thomas Jefferson in 1802: the agreement stipulated that Georgia would cede to the Union all the western territories included in its original charter, while the United States promised, in exchange, to buy all the Indian lands located in Georgia and redistribute them to white Georgian settlers.

    I’m quite sure this piece is correct in the broadest sense, but it has to be kept in mind that all American Indians who survived the initial surge of diseases and massacres and enslavements began to quickly adapt. Like with Israel and the Palestinians, it has continued to be in the interests of the Power Elites to pretend the poor savages must continue to be treated as backward children.

    • Peter Loeb
      March 19, 2018 at 5:26 am

      WHO IS FRANCIS JENNINGS?

      This article incorporates some of the points made in in many
      landmark books of Francis Jennings (b. 1918-d.1980) but
      I do not find them easy to find.

      I hasten to say that Jennings makes his points with considerable
      profundity and deep scholarship. He also knows the background
      of European society. Which is —to use the fashionable
      word today– “relevant”.

      In my many readings of Jennings’ works, I find immediate and
      obvious reference to the Zionist invasion of Palestine.
      See Thomas Suarez, STATE OF TERROR..

      As always, thanks to Zachary Smith for his insights.

      —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  29. Zachary Smith
    March 16, 2018 at 4:10 pm

    Anarchy is not an exception to human organization, but the rule – if we can forgive the pun. All non-governmental organizations are anarchic, voluntary associations: sports teams, business entities, civic groups, church congregations, trade unions, symphony orchestras, and marriages included. American Indian societies had thrived just so without authoritative force for some 20,000 years before Europeans appeared to set things straight.

    I don’t believe I can agree with this broad definition of “anarchic” organizations. In every case but the churches, bosses and wages are involved. There is nothing “voluntary” about them. Regarding the churches, they have been known to “kick out” people who disagree in any way with Doctrine. Excommunication is one means, and simply telling a person to never again show up at the front door of the meetinghouse is another.

    Nowhere in this essay is there any mention of the Cherokee. This tribe proved to be quite adaptable to the arrival of the White invaders. All of a sudden there is a bunch of strangers who possess Nice Things. Firearms. Hatchets and knives. Iron skillets and mirrors. Farming tools and steel traps. The Cherokees quickly began to do things which allowed them to have goods to exchange for such wonders. It didn’t take long for the Whites to notice the changing situation.

    In proportion as the original civilization program became real, a growing number of whites began to realize the dangers contained in the planned evolution of Cherokees. If indeed the Indians became ‘civilized’, if the hunter became a farmer and cultivated his fields with the help of slaves, and if in addition he was a normal educated church-going citizen, on what ground could the remaining Indian lands be confiscated from such ‘Americans’? In the late 1820s, Georgia decided to take action, and based it on an agreement signed by Thomas Jefferson in 1802: the agreement stipulated that Georgia would cede to the Union all the western territories included in its original charter, while the United States promised, in exchange, to buy all the Indian lands located in Georgia and redistribute them to white Georgian settlers.

    Because I probably have a bit more American Indian heritage than Elizabeth Warren, I’d not hesitate to urinate on the grave of Andrew Jackson If doing so wouldn’t get me arrested.

    I’m quite sure this piece is correct in the broadest sense, but it has to be kept in mind that all American Indians who survived the initial surge of diseases and massacres and enslavements began to quickly adapt. Like with Israel and the Palestinians, it has continued to be in the interests of the Power Elites to pretend this hasn’t happened, and the poor savages must continue to be treated as backward children.

  30. Zachary Smith
    March 16, 2018 at 4:08 pm

    Anarchy is not an exception to human organization, but the rule – if we can forgive the pun. All non-governmental organizations are anarchic, voluntary associations: sports teams, business entities, civic groups, church congregations, trade unions, symphony orchestras, and marriages included. American Indian societies had thrived just so without authoritative force for some 20,000 years before Europeans appeared to set things straight.

    I don’t believe I can agree with this broad definition of “anarchic” organizations. In every case but the churches, bosses and wages are involved. There is nothing “voluntary” about them. Regarding the churches, they have been known to “kick out” people who disagree in any way with Doctrine. Excommunication is one means, and simply telling a person to never again show up at the front door of the meetinghouse is another.

    Nowhere in this essay is there any mention of the Cherokee. This tribe proved to be quite adaptable to the arrival of the White invaders. All of a sudden there is a bunch of strangers who possess Nice Things. Firearms. Hatchets and knives. Iron skillets and mirrors. Hoes and steel traps. The Cherokees quickly began to do things which allowed them to have goods to exchange for such wonders. It didn’t take long for the Whites to notice the changing situation.

    In proportion as the original civilization program became real, a growing number of whites began to realize the dangers contained in the planned evolution of Cherokees. If indeed the Indians became ‘civilized’, if the hunter became a farmer and cultivated his fields with the help of slaves, and if in addition he was a normal educated church-going citizen, on what ground could the remaining Indian lands be confiscated from such ‘Americans’? In the late 1820s, Georgia decided to take action, and based it on an agreement signed by Thomas Jefferson in 1802: the agreement stipulated that Georgia would cede to the Union all the western territories included in its original charter, while the United States promised, in exchange, to buy all the Indian lands located in Georgia and redistribute them to white Georgian settlers.

    Because I probably have a bit more American Indian heritage than Elizabeth Warren, I’d not hesitate to urinate on the grave of Andrew Jackson If doing so wouldn’t get me arrested.

    I’m quite sure this piece is correct in the broadest sense, but it has to be kept in mind that all American Indians who survived the initial surge of diseases and massacres and enslavements began to quickly adapt. Like with Israel and the Palestinians, it has continued to be in the interests of the Power Elites to pretend this hasn’t happened, and the poor savages must continue to be treated as backward children.

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