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Friday, January 04, 2013

The Violence of Pre-State Warfare

Here:

"As an example of traditional warfare, Diamond discusses the Dani War in New Guinea during the early 1960s, after a series of revenge killings touched off a protracted and bloody struggle between two alliances that spoke the same Dani language and shared the same culture. The Dani War, for Diamond, epitomized the characteristics of traditional war in general: ambushes; massacres; the demonization of enemies; the involvement of the whole population (not just soldiers); the burning and sacking of villages; low military efficiency combined with chronic hostilities, leading to constant anxiety and fear among the populace; and a per capita death toll higher than Europe’s during the world wars."

The problem isn't the State: the problem is human beings. And the problem with admitting that problem is you're not left with an easy slogan with which to get funding: "Hate the State" is catchy, but "Hate the human being" isn't going to get you many speaking engagements.

33 comments:

  1. Yup. The most startling thing about the 20th century, with all its state-centred violence, is that it is historically one of the safer less bloody periods. I think Douglas Adams had a joke in a hitchiker book, about punishing a criminal by dropping him back in the 20th century. Funny but wrong wrong wrong.

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    1. In what way? The 20th century has been one of the bloodiest in history.

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    2. "The 20th century has been one of the bloodiest in history."

      Well, no it wasn't, Jonathan. "If the wars of the twentieth century had killed the same proportion of the population that die in the wars of a typical tribal society, there would have been two billion deaths, not 100 million." (Pinker)

      So, no, Jonathan, this is an anarchist myth: many awful things happened in the 20th century, but it was one of the LEAST bloody in history, measured in percentages of the population who died violently. (And of course that is the only sensible way to compare these things: of course 100 million people did not die in the 50th century BC, because there were far fewer people than that alive.)

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    3. Exactly Gene. And you need to look at civil violence too. Toss in slavery on top of that ....

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    4. Jonathan, they are referencing Pinker, I haven't read his book closely yet (it's in the stack), so I cannot be sure of his methodology. It would probably be more accurate to say that states are the biggest dealers in death, but that this may have been reducing per capita due to many non-state factors. Of course, there are critiques of his book, as well.

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    5. No I am not relying on Pinker, and have not read that book. This is in lots of books on prehistory and anthropology. Europe has had much bloodier centuries proportionally if you just want to look at that. The tai ping rebellion in China was 30m dead on a much smaller pop.

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    6. And of course Pinker himself is relying on this massive amount of research.

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    7. Gene, but that assumes that the proportion of deaths would be the same in a private society with a similar level of institutional development as a state-ruled society of the 20th century. Similarly, what percentage of people died in wars during earlier state-ruled societies? I'm sure it would be higher; so no, I'm not sure that "deaths by percentage" is the best way of measuring "bloodiest" wars (at least, by itself).

      Ken B, civil violence and slavery have existed in state-ruled societies. In fact, some of the worst cases of institutionalized slavery have occurred under state-rule.

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    8. "in a private society with a similar level of institutional development as a state-ruled society of the 20th century. "

      But since no "private society" ever had the same level of institutional development, we can say pretty much whatever we want without fear of contradiction. But one thing we can say for sure: no private society ever had the same level of institutional development, and I see no reason to think that is a coincidence!

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    9. Okay, Gene was referencing Pinker, you were referencing somebody else. Of course I know that there is a lot of work on this in anthropology, I study anthropology!

      However, notice that I did not agree or disagree, but instead attempted to frame it in a way that was more relevant to the discussion (with regard to Jonathan's reply).

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    10. Jonathan, I was talking about the 20th century. That was the claim you disputed and the only claim I have defended here. Pinker and Gene may be right about why but that's not what I argued. Even the gulag was small in comparison to southern slavery in the previous century, proportionally.

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    11. "no "private society" ever had the same level of institutional development"

      Perhaps, but discussion of freedom, as the libertarians see it, is a very new thing.

      I could just as easily say that the lower violence of the 20th Century is coincident with states slowly moving towards 'anarchy' and becoming less prevalent. Tribal warfare was bloody and inefficient, because the "state", such as it was, was effectively 100% of GDP.

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    12. "I could just as easily say that the lower violence of the 20th Century is coincident with states slowly moving towards 'anarchy' and becoming less prevalent."

      You COULD say that, except that the state was more massive almost everywhere in the 20th century than at any previous time in history.

      "Tribal warfare was bloody and inefficient, because the "state", such as it was, was effectively 100% of GDP."

      Tribal societies are almost always considered to be stateless, so I think you meant 0% of GDP.

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  2. A relatively civil people preyed upon by a state will experience relative civility, just not as much as if they weren't preyed upon. A relatively uncivil people will experience relative incivility if stateless, but even more incivility if preyed upon by a state. The problem is human beings AND the state. Admittedly, that still doesn't make for a catchy slogan or a funding magnet.

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    1. But mallowmar, the evidence is pretty clear: the creation of the state REDUCED the level of violence in society. So no, incivil people experience less incivility once the state comes into being. And so do civil people.

      None of this is to deny that states have done absolutely awful things. But things became less, not more, awful once the state was created.

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    2. And when you get one that isn't bad by historical standards you should give it some value. How often do you see that on Libertarian sites? Almost never. Just look at any of the neo confederate secession stuff as a starter, much less the cries of "statist" for even asking if we need background checks to buy guns.

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    3. Gene, I'm sure you're quite aware of this line of reasoning, but there are too many confounding variables to say that the empirical evidence is pretty clear. We obviously have no counterfactual against which to compare; it's quite possible, and even likely, I think, that civility has been on the increase in statist societies, with no causal connection between the two.

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    4. "We obviously have no counterfactual against which to compare; it's quite possible, and even likely, I think, that civility has been on the increase in statist societies, with no causal connection between the two."

      That's fine: if anarchists stop making over the top claims about the state as a source of violence, I am willing to agree "the evidence is ambiguous"!

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    5. I'm pretty sure that most libertarian anarchists realize that violence is a human attribute, and that the state is not the source of that attribute. However, most libertarian anarchists do say that the state represents a concentration of these attributes, and that it enjoys a monstrous double standard in this regard.

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    6. "However, most libertarian anarchists do say that the state represents a concentration of these attributes..."

      Right. And the empirical evidence says they are wrong.

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    7. How would one even begin to objectively test that case? I mean, there are lots of problems associated with definitions, intent vs. action, reporting, data, incompatibility, cross-referencing, etc. For instance, in the case of welfare many people would define it as a good. However, a libertarian would say that it is grounded in violence because of where the source of that welfare came from (taxation), therefor welfare is a bad (at least in this context).

      However, putting that aside, are you seriously telling me that in terms of deaths and incarcerations, that there is an entity that is responsible for greater numbers of these than states, or a greater concentration? Can you list a few?

      Certainly, it is statistically factual that a single person who murders 100 people will probably have a higher concentration of violence than those of a state (which encompasses many individuals), but such a case would be pretty rare and confined to a small period. It would be an empirical statement to say that that individual has a higher concentration of violence, but that ignores the statistical trick at play. Shit, even if a member of the state engaged in the same act, the state would still statistically get a pass.

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    8. Let's say that I am an individual who feels compelled to kill people, but I am rather averse to incarceration. What would my logical course of action be?

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    9. "However, putting that aside, are you seriously telling me that in terms of deaths and incarcerations, that there is an entity that is responsible for greater numbers of these than states, or a greater concentration? Can you list a few? "

      http://gene-callahan.blogspot.com/2013/01/a-cautionary-tale-of-drug-monopoly.html

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  3. Even though the concept of anarcho-capitalism is interesting, posts like this reaffirm my suspicion and skepticism that it would ever work in reality. I've seen people on YouTube call themselves "anti-statists" and have put out videos explaining their elaborate version of how a stateless society would run with concepts like polycentric law. It's interesting, but it still sounds like a nerdy science fiction fantasy in my eyes, especially since in order for Ancapistan to actually work effectively in my eyes that you need to share much of the vision of the person who came up with their specific version of anarcho-capitalism.

    I commented on this video and the creator left me this comment.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5RwZcZtBTro

    "how can you still not be convinced that anarchism would work after watching this video?"

    I rest my case. We need to rediscover our cultural past in terms of high standards in entertainment and the arts and inject skill back into many of the things that have decayed into amateurism in the past 40-50 years, but anarchy sounds way too drastic and crazy to achieve these objectives.

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  4. The move from foraging to farming lowered the rate of violent death. This is hardly surprising, farming creates these static assets which rather change the incentives.

    The move to increased state monopoly of violence also lowered the rate of violent death, a process that started in the C16th and C17th in NW Europe and then spread south and east. (Gee, a monopoly tended to mean less of something, go figure.)

    The matter of public/private interaction is a complex one. For example , a central problem of drug prohibition is that it creates powerful incentives to buck the state monopoly of violence as the state withdraws its mediation and protection services from banned transactions and property. The "civilising process" is not a magic wand of state power, it is a trade-off and drug prohibition represents the state reneging on part of the trade-off.

    Of course, the illegal drug trade also represents stateless commerce. Bit of worry that. Yes, it represents that state over-reaching (believing it can stop drugs being sold, bought and consumed). But it also represents state withdrawal, and the results aren't pretty.

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    1. "The move from foraging to farming lowered the rate of violent death."

      I don't think that is correct, Lorenzo. I think the worst death rates were the settled societies right before the state came into existence. And, of course, the residents of New Guinea developed agriculture thousands of years ago.

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    2. Re-examing Pinker's data, you may have a point. Possibly the difference is between slash-and-burn agriculture and more settled varieties -- the former drives up population pressures more than it creates vulnerable assets.

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  5. This is going to be slightly off topic. I know, Gene, that you like to try and devote a portion of your blog posts every so often to point out the error in the thinking of anarchists, which I find healthy, although I do not notice a reciprocation.

    Hear me out. The worst things I have to deal with in life, pretty much all of them, involve the state in some shape or form. From the post office, to patrolling officers, the DMV, IRS, legal system(licensings, fees, basic compliance, etc.), etc.. This is why I personally don't like the state. But the point you're making, at least intuitively, makes sense to me. If a population gives consent to an authority it should yield legitimacy, and thus perhaps less violence. This obviously should be a reason for me to like the state. That being said, what about all these other involvements? And it's not just me; co-workers, friends, and relatives would agree, although certainly not all of them, with this assessment, that the state is a royal pain in the ass.

    So my basic question is what is your ideal state system? And if it's anything like our current setup then why should I like it more than I do(I do not)? I know you think anarchism isn't nearly as good as anarchists think it may be, so would you be willing to elaborate more on why people should be more pro-state? I personally think the Constitution isn't nearly as bad as many libertarians think, but it seems if you formulate a constrained state it can be easily dismissed into something woefully at odds with the initial formulation, which is another reason I don't particularly care for the state.

    I appreciate any posts you make to address these topics because I'm truly curious about your own views.

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    1. Jason B, I'll try to write up a post.

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  6. Sorry, Gene, but the wars that interrupt the process of civilization have been made more frequent and more bloody by the encroachment of the state on market-and-civil society. See?

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  7. "Sorry, Gene, but the wars that interrupt the process of civilization have been made more frequent and more bloody by the encroachment of the state on market-and-civil society."

    Sorry, shinyram, but say what?! Sanchez doesn't even try to present any such fact! Even he doesn't deny wars were more frequent and more bloody before the state existed, because they were.

    But his case is even worse than that: tribal societies were not autarkies: they traded a good deal. And it is not the case that they became developed and became less violent, and then the state intervened and made them more violent again: no, violence rose WITH development, and then dropped once states were formed.

    Sanchez is trying to do a priori history.

    See? See?

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  8. I find dismissing the millions of human lives murdered in the 20th century as "oh well it was only 2% of the population" quite disturbing. It reminds me, as cliché as it may be, of Mr. Stalins infamous "million deaths is a statistic."

    Be careful with what such thinking can justify.

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    1. Who "dismissed" millions of people being killed? Who said, "oh well it was only 2%"?

      Nobobdy, Victoria, that's who. You are just making things up and sticking them in others' mouths. That is not very nice.

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