Civilization

Uncivilized

Back in 2009, skeptic Michael Shermer wrote an article called “The Beautiful People Myth: Why The Grass Is Always Greener In The Other Century“. The gist of the article is that the primitive societies to which we attribute the virtues of peacefulness and ecological harmony actually had neither. To my American mind, the most obvious example of a “beautiful people” were the pre-Columbian Native Americans.

If you were educated in the United States, you were probably told that the Native Americans were a peaceful civilization who lived in perfect harmony with the land. There was little war or strife between them; women were treated as equals; slavery was unknown; their leaders were wise and just. Everything was going great until Europeans showed up and ravaged the land, at which point the beautiful people were driven away, taken as slaves, or killed by war and disease.

This mythology depicts ancient Europeans as total jerks, and that’s not wrong. But the natives were no saints. Pre-Columbian America was sorely afflicted by human conflict. The wars fought by native societies before the establishment of European settlements were just as long and bloody as anything happening in the Old World. And if the Native Americans or any other non-European societies somehow managed to preserve the pristine quality of their environment, it owed more to low population density than to conscious conservation efforts on the part of the people.

The author of this meme seems to feel that all people are capable of conducting themselves in peace, if we would voluntarily return to a more primitive state like the “uncivilized” (non-European) people depicted in the meme. What the author fails to realize is that “big government” is not a strictly European contrivance, nor are the ills of society from which government ostensibly protects us. Government is an invention born of necessity, and that necessity arises whenever a large group of people try to live in a small space with limited resources. If the meme’s author wishes to live in utter simplicity, free from government control, then he is welcome to round up a small group of like-minded individuals and move to an uninhabited island, where they can coexist peacefully with nature and with each other. Of course, when the evils of “modern” society somehow manage to work their way even into the author’s perfect enclave of goodness, perhaps the author will understand the need for a government, at least on some level.

Pesky evils.

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