Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Origins of the Pristine State

As I have mentioned elsewhere, the modern nation state societies in which we all are living are not more than 500 or so years old. If we study the human societies around the world then they exhibit different organizational patterns, and the state is only one of these various organizational patterns. People who are living under these nation states might feel as if the condition in which they find themselves today is present since time immemorial. Many a times, during discussion with various people about the future Anarcho-Capitalist society which will be without any nation state, I frequently hear, that the state has always been with us since the beginning of time, and it is never going to go away; we have to live with it, and tolerate its exploitations! These people don't know the human history. The real question for us to understand today is, how the first original states came into being? Whether the nation state is with us since the beginning of time? In this article I will explore these questions.

I have just finished reading Prof. Marvin Harris' important book Cannibals and Kings where he discusses the origins of the, what he termed, Pristine States. Marvin Harris' this chapter is very important for understanding the true nature of today's nation states. Marvin Harris begins this chapter with this wonderful lines:
In most band and village societies before the evolution the state, the average human being enjoyed economic and political freedoms which only a privileged minority enjoy today. Men decided for themselves how long they would work on a  particular day, what they would work at - or if they would work at all. Women, too, despite their subordination to men, generally set up their own daily schedules and paced themselves on an individual basis. There were few routines. People did what they had to do, but the where and when of it was not laid out by someone else. (p. 101)   
I am sure this paragraph itself is a shock to the citizens of modern nation states. Folks today usually think that people who are living in the urban locality under the rule of the nation state governments are the most blessed ones and civilized, but this is a myth. Today's citizens are nothing else but slaves of the state politicians. They work dog bone hard just to pay taxes to these politicians first and then only keep the rest to live their wretched lives. After describing this condition of primitive people, Harris writes this:
With the rise of the state all of this was swept away. ... In many ways the rise of the state was the descent of the world from freedom to slavery.  (p. 102) 
Exactly. The leisurely and free life which our ancestors were living in the olden days were gone once the state came into existence amongst them. You may be thinking that if the existence of the state is going to enslave the people, then, why they brought it into existence in the first place?! Why didn't they try deliberately to stop it from forming amongst their society? The answer to this puzzle is that some societies have actually done that; they have put in place the kind of institutions which stops the process of state formation amongst them e.g., oral culture, migratory life-style etc. (for more on this please read this important book, The Art of Not Being Governed). And, as Prof. Harris explained in Cannibals and Kings, the process of cultural evolution is blind just like the process of biological evolution. People who are involved in the making of these changes in the present time mostly do not know exactly what will come out, as a final result, of these changes in future. Only after these events have passed and their results are in front of us, we can see, in hindsight, its evil effects. Those people who are making present day changes are just trying to solve their present problems. If they knew, in foresight, that their present actions will enslave them and their progeny in future, then, they will surely not make those changes and try to find some better alternatives. Anyway. I am digressing. Let's come back to our main theme here and discuss the origin of the pristine states. How did the world descend into the slavery of these states from a world of freedom and leisure? Prof. Harris provides the short answer:
The rise of pristine states would appear to be best understood as a consequences of the intensification of agricultural production. ... A key part of the process by which the state's structure of subordination developed involves the distinctive nature of the institutions responsible fore rewarding production-intensifiers in sedentary pre-state agriculture villages. (p. 103)
In primitive village societies there were village leaders, who were known as "big men". Their job was to motivate other people to do work hard and produce more to support the increasing population. The reproductive pressure amongst the human society is always present, and this pressure results into intensification of the production process. Prof. Harris explains the role of these "big men":
In their purest, most egalitarian phase, known best from studies of numerous groups in Melanesia and New Guinea, "big men" play the role of hard-working, ambitious, public-spirited individuals who inveigle their relatives and neighbors to work hard for them by promising to hold a huge feast with the extra food they produce. When the feast takes place, the "big men," surrounded by his proud helpers, ostentatiously redistributes - parcels out - piles of food and other gifts but keeps nothing for himself. Under certain ecological conditions, and in the presence of warfare, these food managers could have gradually set themselves about their followers and become the original nucleus of the ruling classes of the first states. (p. 104)  
As Prof. Harris discussed, these "big men" were also war leaders because of their ability to marshal other peoples' support for the war effort, and his having control over the large chunk of village resources, which are required to fight the costly wars. This means today's states have their origins in the warfare and conquest. Now, the major difference between these "big men" chiefs of old times and today's nation state leader politicians is that the former were still dependent on their population for the hard work and increase of production i.e., they were not in a position to coerce their people to work hard for them. If people refused to work hard then these chiefs were not in a position to force them. They were still dependent on the wishes of their people unlike today's politicians who can coerce people to work hard and pay taxes. Prof. Harris illustrates this process with an example of a Trobriander people of New Guinea:
So, even though they feared and respected their "great providers" war chiefs, the Trobriand commoners were still a long way from being reduced to peasant status. Living on island, the Trobrianders were not free to spread out, and their population density had risen in Malinowski's time to sixty persons per square mile. Nonetheless, the chiefs could not control enough of the production system to acquire great power. There were no cereal, grains and yams rot after three or four months, which means that the Trobiand "great provider" could not manipulate people through dispensing food nor could he support a permanent police-military garrison out of his stores. An equally important factor was the open resources of the lagoons and ocean from which the Trobrianders derived their protein supply. The Trobriand chief could not cut off access to these resources and hence could never exercise genuine permanent coercive political control over his subordinates. But with more intense forms of agriculture and large harvest of grains, the power of "great providers" evolved far beyond that of the Trobriand chief. (p. 110)
This shows that as long as the reproductive pressure in not resulting into intensification of production process and as long as people have alternative ways of living their lives without depending on the "great provider (i.e., the state or, as we call today, the government), the chiefs can't enslave the people permanently. This is the reason why today's politicians try every bit hard to make sure that none of the citizen slaves escape the country easily. They don't keep any avenues open from where people can become independent and live their lives freely without any need of the state. People are deliberately made hopelessly dependent on the great Nanny government. Today's politicians are the "great providers" who redistribute (all types of welfare programs) the production to win enslaved peoples' votes and remain in power.

With the increasing reproductive pressure and ensuing intensification of production process then slowly the pristine state started to come into being. Here is Prof. Harris again:
The larger and denser the population, the larger the redistributive network and the more powerful the redistributve war chief. Under certain circumstances, the exercise of power by the redistributor and his closest followers on the one side and by the ordinary food producers on the other became so unbalanced that for all intents and purposes the redistributor chiefs constituted the principal coercive force in social life. When this happened, contributions to the central store ceased to be voluntary contributions. They became taxes. Farmlands and natural resources ceased to be elements of rightful access. They became dispensations. And redistributors ceased to be chiefs. They became kings. (p. 113)
And the kings, over the period of time, became today's politicians.

Once these pristine states came into existence, they waged war on their neighboring villages and enslaved them too. This gave birth to the secondary states. And this completed the process which we witness today in its fullest form. This cultural evolution is continuing, and as I have noted in my past articles, today's states are now becoming weaker. They will be replaced by some other form of societal organization in future. I just wish that that future society will be a Libertarian free society where there is no place for any type of physical aggression or threat of aggression either by individuals or their voluntarily formed governments. I am also aware of the blind forces of this evolution, but as Prof. Marvin Harris very passionately says, if we want to improve our future and escape this slavery then the knowledge of underlying factors of this slavery is very important. The prime reason why he wrote this book is to precisely spread this knowledge amongst us so we can escape such ill results in future. If today's generation equips itself with the knowledge of our cultural history then it is possible to make a better future for ourselves. If not then the future of our human societies is definitely uncertain. 

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