September 11, 2007

Indians as warlike as Europeans?

In the Craigslist history forum, someone started a thread by claiming Europeans brought "bad karma" to the Americas. Someone else responded that the Indians were as bad--as violent and warlike--as the people who conquered them. This set off a lengthy debate.

I joined the fracas late and offered some rebuttals to the anti-Indian claims. Because of the debate format, these are scattershot arguments, not a well-developed thesis. Nevertheless, I reproduce them here for the reader's edification. Enjoy!

No peaceful Natives? Wrong < robschmidt > 09/10/07 16:52

Actually, tons of Natives lived peaceful lives. West of the Plains, for instance, there was hardly any serious warfare among tribes. A few raids and skirmishes were about it.

Someone estimated that as many as 70% of Native cultures were peaceful. I don't know the corresponding percentage for European cultures, but I doubt it's as high.

Inca represent all Indians? < robschmidt > 09/10/07 17:01

Thanks for the report on two Indian cultures: the Inca and the Iroquois. That's two down, a thousand to go. Share your "education" on something other than the Aztecs, Inca, Lakota, and Iroquois--the same four cultures every naysayer uses to "prove" a thousand other Indian cultures were violent and warlike.

Differences in worldview < robschmidt > 09/10/07 17:10
Commenting on indigenous warfare, anthropologist Stanley Diamond has noted that to people such as the American Indians "taking a life was an occasion," whereas warfare of the type described "is a kind of play. No matter what the occasion for hostility, it is particularized, personalized, ritualized." In contrast, by the time of the invasion of the Americas, European warfare had long since been made over into what Diamond describes as "an abstract, ideological compulsion" resulting in "indiscriminate, casual, unceremonious killing."

David Stannard, American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World
Culture is the problem, not race < robschmidt > 09/10/07 17:25

"Yes, we get it. You think Europeans are by nature greedy and selfish." It's not clear to me you "get" anything. The argument is about different cultural outlooks, not different biological gene sets. Race has absolutely nothing to do with it.

"Find me a group of Native Americans who inhabited an area that was never previously inhabited by another group." The Basketmaker culture of the American Southwest.

"In a desirable living region like MesoAmerica, one can dig the remains of several dozens of cultures in a single spot-each displaced and killed off by the culture above it." Talk about ignorant. Except for perhaps the Moundbuilder cultures along the Mississippi, you won't find "dozens of cultures in a single spot" anywhere north of Mexico. Five or ten is about the max. If you did find layers of cultures, you'd quickly learn one culture replaced another without violent warfare.

List all the "dozens" of violent Native cultures that killed and replaced one another in a desirable location such as the San Francisco Bay, for instance. Good luck with your answer.

Beliefs were markedly different < robschmidt > 09/10/07 17:33
"The way they [Indians] behaved is absolutely no different than the pattern we see across Eurasia and Africa."

For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.

Again, the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled; this principle, of necessity, extends to all mankind.

It is clear, then, that some men are by nature free, and others slaves, and that for these latter slavery is both expedient and right.

Aristotle, Politics, III, 350 BC
Your religion was written on tables of stone by the iron finger of an angry God, lest you might forget it. The red-man could never remember nor comprehend it.

Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors, the dreams of our old men, given them by the great Spirit, and the visions of our sachems, and is written in the hearts of our people.

Your dead cease to love you and the homes of their nativity as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb. They wander far off beyond the stars, are soon forgotten, and never return. Our dead never forget the beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its winding rivers, its great mountains and its sequestered vales, and they ever yearn in tenderest affection over the lonely hearted living and often return to visit and comfort them.

Chief Seattle (Suquamish), from a speech, 1855?
Indians were more democratic than Euros < robschmidt > 09/10/07 17:38

"That includes things like human rights, women's suffrage, democracy, abolition of slavery, and all those other evils of Western civilization, right? Because all of those evolved from western civilization."
The most consistent theme in the descriptions penned about the New World was amazement at the Indians' personal liberty, in particular their freedom from rulers and from social classes based on ownership of property. For the first time the French and the British became aware of the possibility of living in social harmony and prosperity without the rule of a king.
During this era the thinkers of Europe forged the ideas that became known as the European Enlightenment, and much of its light came from the torch of Indian liberty that still burned brightly in the brief interregnum between their first contact with the Europeans and their decimation by the Europeans. The Indian, particularly the Huron, became the "noble savage," the man of liberty living in the "natural state." While a few Europeans chose the path of Violette and left the corrupt world of Europe for America, others began working on ideas and plans to change Europe by incorporating some of the ideas of liberty into their own world. Almost all of the plans involved revolutionary changes to overthrow the monarchy, the aristocracy, or the church, and in some cases even to abolish money and private property.

Jack Weatherford, Indian Givers
(See Indians Gave Us Enlightenment for more on the subject.)

Lots of ancient civilizations < robschmidt > 09/10/07 17:47

"Name one 'ancient civilization'": Sumeria, Phoenicia, Crete, Indus Valley, China, Japan, Timbuktu, Moundbuilders, Anasazi.

"Go see APOCALYPTO...where was the 'civilization' of the Maya?" Go see Apocalypto Now to learn how badly Mel Gibson falsified the Maya culture.

"My guess is there was little 'civilized behavior by any [government]' before the Magna Carta of 1215."
In his 1782 "note on Virginia," Thomas Jefferson pointed out that American Indians in the East had traditionally divided themselves into relatively small societies. He said that this was, no doubt, the result of the Indians having "never submitted themselves to any laws, to any coercive power, or any shadow of government."

Native societies, said Jefferson, controlled their internal relations by "their manners, and that moral sense of right and wrong" that was as much a part of their nature as "the sense of tasting and feeling" is part of the nature of any person.

An offense by any person against that moral sense of right and wrong within a given Native society, noted Jefferson, "is punished by contempt, by exclusion from society, or, where the case is serious, [such] as that of murder, by the individuals whom it concerns."

As "[i]mperfect as this species of coercion may seem," said Jefferson, "crimes are very rare among" the Indians. Jefferson then posed a most interesting question: Which "submits man to the greatest evil," "no law, as among the savage Americans, or too much law, as among the civilized Europeans"?

Jefferson answered that "one who has seen both conditions of existence would pronounce" that too much law as among the civilized Europeans submits man to the greatest evil: "and that the sheep are happier of themselves, than under the care of wolves." It is because large societies cannot exist without government, said Jefferson, that the Native societies "break themselves into small ones."

Steve Newcomb, "On the North American Indian tradition of liberty"
No rights for most of Western history < robschmidt > 09/10/07 17:55

"[T]he right to free speech, free choice of superstitions and to be heard by an impartial judge if accused of some whim by some nut...THAT is a mark of a civilized society."

Too bad Western civilization has only had these rights for about 100 or 200 of its 10,000 years. That's about 1% of its history, in case you can't do the math.

Aztecs are to Indians as Nazis are to Europeans < robschmidt > 09/10/07 18:11

If you expect anyone to believe every Native culture was violent because the Aztecs (or Inca) were violent, you're not thinking clearly. Or you don't understand about statistically valid sample sets (hint: one or two examples doesn't cut it). Or you don't realize how incredibly diverse the thousands of cultures across the Americas were.

Or you do know these things but you're just trying to excuse the European conquest and subjugation of the rest of the world. I wonder which.

1 comment:

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Finally, writerfella has something to say: EuroMan fought and then destroyed and/or absorbed the other human competitors in Europe such as the Cro-Magnon and the Neanderthal, among others, until Thuringen Man was the sole human tribe remaining in Europe. But in both North and South America, close to 1,000 tribes existed. Yes, they fought territorially and some either were absorbed or extincted. BUT --
When EuroMan came to North America, there were over 600 Native tribes extant and that would mean they were NOT eliminating or absorbing one another, as had occurred in Europe. Therefore, WHO was the most warlike? Enh-enh, oh I'm sorry, that's Beulah The Buzzer. Your time is up, and you do not win the all-expenses trip for two to the South Orkney Islands! Lucky for the South Orkney Islanders!
All Best
Russ Bates