January 30, 2007
The Noble Savage is French Toast
Nicholas Wade is a science writer for the New York Times, who used to be as Politically Correct as anyone in that mob on 42nd Street. No longer. Wade has discovered the new anthropology, now informed by a radically improved understanding of the human genome. The new evidence is clearly explained in his recent book, Before the Dawn: Recovering the lost history of our ancestors. It looks at the deep human past --- tens to hundreds of thousands of years --- combining written records, archeology, anthropology and the human genome. The result is spectacular. If this book is any indication, Politically Correct history is a goner. Rousseau's Noble Savage is French toast.
Wade presents compelling evidence that humans appear to be genetically predisposed to warfare. Among ancient hunter-gatherers, "incessant warfare" was the norm, just as it is today among the Stone Age tribes of New Guinea and South America. Humans have a long history of cannibalism, so much that we carry genes to guard against the toxic consequences of eating human flesh (similar to Mad Cow prion disease). Modern humans are less aggressive than our ancestors were. The very fact that we can live in mass societies at reasonable peace with each other is an extraordinary advance.
Anthropologists have long tried to close their minds to the plentiful evidence for murderous tribal warfare. When they encountered tribal wars, they pointed out that not many people seemed to get killed in any fight --- forgetting that raiding one's neighbors is often a weekly sporting event, like Monday Night Football. So war death rates go to thirty percent over a lifetime, not counting injuries, rapes and ethnic cleansings. And it turns out that even the "peaceful" peoples, like Bushmen, boast of their human kills. They justify killing by explaining that they just get really mad.
Anthropologists have become famous by writing that cannibalism was just a slanderous lie invented by the West. It all fit the neo-racist myth of the White Man's Guilt --- as at Duke University. Such people peddle the myths of the peaceful Hopis and Bushmen, the Gandhi-esque Hindus, Buddhists and Sufis, and all the morally superior non-White cultures. (They somehow forget that Gandhi's independence movement led straight to four million ethnic killings during the Partition of 1948).
Politically Correct history is nonsense, as ordinary people have known for a long time. But it is important to set the record straight. Understanding the human proclivity to violence places American history, for example, in a more accurate context. Maybe the Indian Wars against white settlers were not really so one-sided. Maybe the population pressures that drove Europeans to come to America made perfectly good sense, given widespread misery and persecution in the Old World. Maybe the Mayans and Aztecs were not exactly peace-loving. Maybe American civilization even stopped warlike indigenous tribes from continuing to kill each other and from raping the women of conquered tribes.
Acknowledging human violence is not the same as excusing it. Just the opposite --- precisely because we have the capacity to destroy, we must be taught to act morally. That is the basic view of Western Civilization going back to the Code of Hammurabi. Civilized armed forces like the United States insist on high levels of restraint in their warfighters, even in the face of direct personal danger. But the civilized world is constantly faced with aggressive enemies willing to kill and die for some bizarre cause, from the heavenly glory of the Emperor to some Mullah's weird obsession with hanging sixteen year old girls who fall in love. Not to mention yet another Marxist scam to create a perfectly egalitarian paradise on earth, as is underway in Venezuela today.
Weird, aggressive regimes are hardly unusual in history. Germany and Japan were merciless, power hungry nations seven decades ago. Their soldiers were ordered to suppress any feelings of sympathy while killing innocent civilians. Those nations engaged in unprovoked genocides and endless cruelties, just as jihadis do today. It is vital to understand that, and to grasp that the democratic Anglo-American response was truly defensive, as it is today. We represent civilization against primitive savagery. Pacifists only talk about being civilized; nations that defend against primitive savages actually do something about it. That makes all the difference.
One of the oddities of the Left is its constant sabotage of defensive warfare, even when the facts are as plain as the assault on the Twin Towers on 9/11. Today Europe is going through yet another revisionist version of its own bloody history, trying to deny the undeniable facts of the 20th century. Big German media like Stern and Der Spiegel loudly equate the American overthrow of Saddam Hussein with the war against Hitler. That version of history involves not just one but two Big Lies -- One, that Saddam was an innocent victim of American aggression; and Two, that Hitler was, too. It's too weird for words. Let's hope they get over it - because if they don't, they could be setting the stage for yet another imperial adventure.
Telling the truth about human nature, about the need for rational defense, the crying need for courage and honesty in the face of lies and propaganda, is therefore very, very important. In this book, a famously leftist New York Times staffer is telling it like it is. For Nicholas Wade, the Noble Savage of socialist fantasy has been exposed as a delusion.
It is a sufficiently rare event to celebrate.
James Lewis is the nom de plume of an academic scientist. He blogs at www.dangeroustimes.wordpress.com, when time permits.