In the middle of the eighteenth century, Europeans went to war with a tribal group called the Ohio. This war was a part of the larger Seven Year’s War (French and Indian War). The whole affair was fairly typical of the time. The Europeans lied to the Ohio, and then tried to steal what they wanted. When the Ohio fought back they became the target of genocide. The fact you have probably never heard of it is also not atypical. To most people the American expansion west came with the Natives simply vanishing off the face of Earth. The fact this is nonsense rarely registers. The truth is the Natives were slaughtered both purposefully by acts of war and aggression, and accidentally by disease and cultural contamination.
The war was not a small one. More people died on each side than during the whole of the Spanish-American war, even though most people who never heard of the Ohio can at least dredge up a vague recollection of the Spanish-American war (“yeah, one of my teachers talked about that. I don’t remember much about it.”). The Natives offered a number of possible alternatives to the war, including the complete acculturation of the Ohio. The Europeans rejected them all and pursued the extermination of the Ohio, who naturally took exception to the European plan.
This was also typical, the more civilized a society becomes the more warlike it tends to be. Until the Europeans made contact in 1492, the Natives of the Americas had no experience with the concept of total war, and they never really embraced it like the Europeans did. And in this not unusual war, the Ohio lost, which was also not unusual. At the end of the war each side agreed to return their captives to the others. The freed Natives ran with joy back to their people. The whites had to be bound and dragged back to white society. The children were especially unhappy about it. Although this instance was one of the most dramatic, it was also not uncommon. Indeed, it became so problematic several colonies and later states, made defecting to the Natives punishable by death.
Miranda and I have agreed to write this article because we have both heard people asking, “why would people forsake modern civilization willingly?” The answer we give here is simple: because they always have. Given a simple and straightforward comparison, civilized people the world over give up everything they have been socialized to want at the drop of a hat. Why? Because they want something better, and when they see they can have it they grab for it. The only reason modern civilization still exists at all is a combination of carefully told lies. First, we are better off today, civilization is a story of constant progress from then to now. Second, it would be impossible to change anyway. And third, any attempt at something better is doomed because either “they won’t let you” or because “people are too stupid.”
To the first, this has been disproven so many times over I can no longer even seriously write a rebuttal. Read any scholarly work on native peoples in comparison to modern civilization published in the past fifty years. Seriously, any one at all. They had little illness, better health, more free time, and at least as much art, music, dance, religion, and philosophy as most modern people do.
Second, of course it is impossible. Why is it impossible? Because no one will do it because everyone knows its impossible. Its a very clever lie, no one can come up with a really successful counter example of success because few ever try. And few ever try because it is “impossible.” Except, there are examples of success to varying degrees. Everything from the circus (dead in most countries) to Dancing Rabbit (still going strong) is a success to one degree or another. What actually seems to be impossible is learning how to do better from mistakes, rather than learning from failure not to try.
To the third: if they will not let me, that is fine. I was not actually planning on asking for permission anyway. “They” can either keep up or be left behind, but I for one will not be stopped by a faceless “they” who are apparently only interested in money and power. I am not even convinced “they” exist. As far as too stupid goes, we seem to have reached a place where the rest of the human race (excepting us and those we are complaining with) are so stupid and incompetent that it really is a wonder the government is not handing out pamphlets entitled “How to Breathe and Make Fart Jokes.” Believe it or not, almost all of us are quite capable of making decisions and living a lifestyle we spent the better part of 3 million years evolving.
Beyond the examples we have at the edge of expanding civilization, we even have historical examples of people within civilization embracing nomadism and collectivism. No, I am not talking about communism, which was neither nomadic nor terribly collective.
Throughout the Middle Ages, there were caravans of traders and tinkerers who moved through Europe. Sometimes these people were genuine Gypsies, other times they were not. While generally valued as traders and tinkerers, these people were never welcome for long. Because if they stayed in one place for too long, people would begin to disappear. It did not take long for towns to figure it was the nomad’s fault. What took a while to become clear was the people who disappeared willingly left their lives to join the caravans, which they obviously saw some appeal in.
Another very common example of this same phenomena is the circus. People actually did run away to join the circus. No one runs away to join corporate America, in fact, joining corporate American is what happens if you do not run away. Of course, the circus as such is almost completely dead in the United States now. Circus performances are a corporate business like any other. You can even buy stock in Barnum and Bailey. There are some circuses as such still running around the world though, and they still strike people every year as a better way of life than the one being offered to them by modern society at large.
We wrote this in response to several people who have asked why we thought people would choose to abandon civilization given the chance. Our response is simple: because whenever given the choice, we always have.
– Benjamin Shender and Miranda Vivian