The Wolf You Feed

March 31st, 2018

The Wolf You Feed


E. N. Anderson

Jan. 2018



“Son, it’s time to teach you the most important lesson about life and people.  It is that everyone has within him, or her, two wolves:  a good wolf that wants to help everyone and do what’s best for all, and a bad wolf that wants to do evil and hurt people and the world.”

“Father, that’s scary.  It really worries me.  Which wolf wins out in the end?”

“Son: the wolf you feed.”

Native American folktale


This story—perhaps more Manichaean than Native American—captures much of what I have learned in my life.  I was raised to think people are good, and that evil is merely ignorance.  The people around me gave the lie to that.  They were often quite deliberately bad.  Many, perhaps most at one time or another, hurt themselves just to hurt others.  Humanity has a sorry record.  Despite claims of moral progress, the genocidal dictator and the suicide bomber are the emblems of the late 20th and early 21st century.

Yet, obviously, many people are good, some are saintly, and almost everyone is good some of the time.  Even mass murderers and psychopaths usually have a history of decent behavior when not having a psychotic break.

Jesus said:  “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?  It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men” (Matthew 5:13).  The salt of the earth—as opposed to sea salt—came from salt springs, and was contaminated with ordinary dirt or carbonate.  Over time, aerial moisture would leach the salt out, leaving only the residue.  Natural human goodness and sociability is subject to similar leaching.  This was, of course, Jesus’ real message.  (One wonders what Biblical literalists make of verses like this one.)

Most people are in a more or less neutral, everyday state most of the time, not thinking of acting saintly or demoniacal, but they are still torn between virtuous ideals of helping, sheltering, and caring, and vicious ideals of excluding, igoring, and hurting.  We are constantly forced to decide.

The nature and promotion of good have been addressed by every religious writer in history, as well as countless psychologists and other scientists.  Covering this literature is neither necessary nor possible in the present brief essay.  Evil is less well studied.  Outside of religious imprecations against sin, there are rather few studies, mostly by psychologists.  Of these, particularly valuable are Roy Baumeister’s Evil (1997), Aaron Beck’s Prisoners of Hate (1999), Ervin Staub’s books (1989, 2003, 2011), the Sternbergs’ The Nature of Hate (2008), and James Waller’s Becoming Evil (2002) and Confronting Evil (2016).  Simon Baron-Cohen’s Zero Degrees of Empathy (2011), Steven Bartlett’s The Pathology of Man (2005), Fiske and Rai’s Virtuous Violence (2014), and Kathleen Taylor’s Cruelty (2009) cover some important psychological terrain.  Zeki and Romaya (2008) review the physiology of hate.

Most of these books, as well as the literature on genocide, spice up their texts with horrific stories.  Baumeister is especially graphic.  I have absolutely no interest in transmitting such stories here.  If you need to know how bad people get, seek out those sources.


Part I.  Human Evil in Context


Starting with Genocide


This problem always occupied my mind, but it has become increasingly foregrounded since my wife and I got involved in genocide research.  She had done her doctoral research on Cambodian refugees in Thailand and the United States.  Later, visiting Cambodia together, we saw the relics of genocide and the devastation it had wrought.  We resolved to study genocide seriously.

At that time, little was known about genocide in general.  Thousands of historical sources covered Hitler’s Holocaust, and a much smaller but still important literature covered the mass murders by the Young Turks, the USSR leadership, and Mao Zedong.  Much more recent genocides, such as those in ex-Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Cambodia itself, were only beginning to be visible in scholarly sources.

Very few generalizations had come out of this work.  Rudolph Rummel had just written a book, Statistics of Democide (1998; see also Rummel 1994), arguing that genocide was the natural result of totalitarian regimes.  His oft-repeated conclusion was direct: “Power kills, and absolute power kills absolutely.”  (This was a rephrasing of Lord Acton’s famous quote about corruption.)

We quickly realized that this was not far wrong, but that it was not quite true or adequate.  Hitler was democratically elected.  So were several other notorious genociders.  They seized absolute power in the process of killing, but often not until the killing was under way.  We thus set off on a long voyage of discovery, comparing all documented genocides since 1900 to see what were the common themes.

We developed a predictive model (Anderson and Anderson 2012, 2017), and it is quite a simple one.  A would-be leader wins by developing a whole ideology based on ethnic hate, but going beyond mere hate to promise a utopian world—usually, harking back to a lost golden age and promising to recall it and improve it–if we can only eliminate “certain people.”  He normally flourishes only when difficult and uncertain economic times give people economic incentives to look for radical solutions.  John Kincaid says of American far-right politics, “right-wing movements are successful when they deploy rhetorical frames that synthesize both material and symbolic politics” (Kincaid 2016:529), and this finding summarizes a fact that seems well documented worldwide.

When he (such leaders are always male, at least so far) takes over, he quickly moves to consolidate power.  He suspends whatever democratic or institutional checks exist, and becomes a dictator, or takes arbitrary power over some aspect of the country.  Many small genocides have taken place in democracies, but, in almost all such cases, the victims were not citizens and were under de facto authoritarian rule; Native Americans in the 19th century are the prime example.

A dictator begins to consolidate his rule by killing “certain people”—whether they are Jews, bourgeoisie, political enemies, educated people, “heretics,” or any other salient group that seems opposed in some way to the idealized order.  The savagery and scope of the killing depend on the number of targeted groups, which in turn depends on the extremism of the dictator.  Hitler’s indiscriminate hatred extended from Jews to handicapped people to gays to modern artists, totaling over six million dead.  At the other extreme are mass political killings that eliminate the opposition and anyone related to it, but at least stop there, such as Agustin Pinochet’s in Chile, which killed only about 10,000 people.  These political genocides blend into the sort of mass political elimination characteristic of medieval empires.

Usually, there is then a lull in the killing.  The leader has his power.  However, eventually, unrest challenges his position.  In some cases, he is forced out by popular movements.  Dictators do sometimes fall.  Often, however, he meets the new challenge by another wave of mass murder.  The challenge is often external war, as in Hitler’s case and as in Cambodia.  Sometimes it is power jockeying within the ruling party, as in the USSR and Mao’s China.  Sometimes it is civil war or revolt, as in the Indian subcontinent when successive episodes of violence accompanied the breakaway of Pakistan from India, the later breakaway of Bangladesh from Pakistan, and the failed revolution of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

This simple model—exclusionary ideology, dictatorship, consolidation, and challenge—turns out to be 100% predictive.  Of course, anything so reasonable and clear was apt to be discovered by several people, and our findings were paralleled by others, using different databases and theoretical perspectives:  Barbara Harff (2012), Hollie Nyseth Brehm (2015), James Waller (2016), Gregory Stanton (2013—only partially parallel), and others.  Nothing makes a scientist feel more secure than independent confirmation, and we had plenty of it.

We concentrated on genocide under the strictest construction of Raphael Lemkin’s definition of the term—actual mass murder of innocent citizens or subjects by their own government—as opposed to general killing of civilians in war.  Some of the best work on genocide has used that wider definition (e.g. Kiernan 2007, Shaw 2013). Our model does not work for this extended use of the term.  One would have to have a predictive model of all war—something that has so far defied scholarship, despite literally thousands of attempts.  Wars are notoriously multicausal; it usually takes several reasons to make leaders decide to go to war.  Economic gain (or plain loot), political power of the state or its leaders, land, ethnic and religious conflicts, maintaining warrior culture, and other factors all operate.  By contrast, genocide is usually rather simple: when autocratic leaders feel they are in a shaky situation, they kill.  Very often—famously with Hitler, Stalin, and Mao—they come to depend more and more on the level of hatred of their backers, and thus must whip up more and more hate to stay in power; this makes them take still more power and kill still more minorities, to provide red meat to their “base.”

The causal factors lead to genocides falling into three types: settler, consolidation, and crisis genocides.  This has been widely recognized (see Waller 2016).

Settler genocides occur when a large, powerful society takes over land from small or scattered groups, especially when the powerful society is technologically advanced and the smaller victim groups are less so (“Whatever happens, we have got / the Gatling gun and they have not”—Hilaire Belloc; also quoted as “Maxim gun”).  The most famous cases are the United States (Dee Brown 1971; Madley 2016), Brazil (Hemming 1978), and Australia (Pascoe 2014), but the same story can be told of societies from Russia to China to Japan, and goes far back in time.  Ancient Babylon and Assyria exterminated captives.  The Romans and medieval Europeans exterminated rebellious subject peoples and took their possessions.  The Bantu took southern Africa from the Khoi-San with attendant exterminations.

This counts as genocide only if the victims had been conquered and subjected.  Extermination of enemies who are fighting back with everything they have is normal war, not genocide.  The dividing line is obviously blurred in all cases, but extremes are easy to see; the wars with the Apaches and Comanche (Hämäläinen 2008) in the United States and Mexico in the 1870s were fair fights with no quarter given by either side, but the extermination of the Yuki in California in the mid-19th century was the systematic massacre of helpless conquered people (Madley 2016; Miller 1979).

Modern genocides fall into four categories: commuinst, fascist, military dictatorship, and random cases of rulers who lack ideology.  The last are usually military, since military men have an advantage in seizing power, but almost as often they are democratically elected politicians.  Sometimes an initially able ruler becomes more and more extreme (or even demented) with age.  The one common thread is that they come to power by marshaling hate.

Some genocides have direct corporate backing.  American corporations acting through the CIA established genocidal regimes in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Chile.  European colonial powers sometimes established murderous successor regimes in liberated colonies, or, conversely, set up a hopeless government that soon fell to genocidal rebels.  Former colony status is a fair predictor of genocide.  Many genocidal regimes have survived and flourished despite mass murder because states support business interests that are benefited by the regimes in question.  Cases range from early fascist Italy under Mussolini to more modern states such as Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea.  The oil industry is notorious for this, but armaments merchants are interested for obvious reasons, and one recalls “blood diamonds,” blood coltan (columbium-tantalum ore, source of conflict in DR Congo), and other commodities deeply stained.  Plantation slavery is the back story for a vast amount of murder.

On the other hand, there is no definite link between genocide and any particular economic system, organization, interest, or condition.  Claims that genocide is likely during economic downturns remain to be better investigated; they are, at best, unclear (Anderson and Anderson 2012; Brehm 2015).  International war generally dominated mass bloodshed before 1945, but since then genocide has far overshadowed it, causing more deaths than all wars, murders, and crimes combined.  One suspects this has something to do with the dispensability of labor.  Kings of old could not afford to decimate their own work force.  Now, with rapid population growth and machines displacing workers, governments can deal with problems by thinning out their own people, saving the price of war.

Consolidation genocides are the commonest and often among the worst.  They occur when a rather shaky totalitarian regime based on exclusionary ideology takes over full control of a country.  They always occur in that situation, but the kill totals range widely, from rather small-scale politicides (like Marcos’ in the Philippines and Pinochet’s in Chile) to vast mass murders (like Mao’s in China).  The scale depends on the extremism of the new government, especially its exclusionary ideology.  Ideology was not a huge factor in the pragmatic (though murderous) Marcos government; at the other extreme, the indiscriminate hatreds of the Nazis, who hated almost everyone not a zealous Nazi, led to the vast massacres of the Holocaust.

Crisis genocides occur when genocide is brought about or exacerbated by war, either international or civil.  Very minor local rebellions can serve as excuses for already-planned genocides (as in Guatemala in the 1980s), or international war can vastly escalate already-ongoing genocides (as in Hitler’s Germany in the 1940s).  Sometimes consolidation and crisis occur together, as in Cambodia in the late 1970s, producing the most extreme of all genocides.

Almost all genocides fall into one of these three types.  The only exceptions are cases in which an extreme (if not downright psychopathic) dictator continues to kill whole populations without let or stay.  Stalin and Mao are the major cases in history, but other apparently demented monarchs from Caligula to Tamerlane might be mentioned.

Genocides range greatly in the numbers and percentages of people killed.  The Cambodian genocide, which killed perhaps ¼ of the total population, is unique.  Rwanda’s killed 10% in only 100 days.  Most genocides are fortunately smaller; many are “politicides,” confined to classes of political enemies of the dictator.  Mere political killings do not count as genocides, but mass political murders by people like Agustin Pinochet of Chile and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines threw far wider nets; not only actual opponents, but families of opponents, ordinary protestors, children who seemed somehow opposed to the regime, and random suspects were killed.  The scope of genocide depends on the size and range of targeted groups, which in turn depends on the extremism of the exclusionary ideology of the leaders.  Hitler targeted a huge and, at the end, almost random-looking assortment of peoples.  Pinochet narrowly targeted suspected liberals and leftists.

Genocides by our definition have become much commoner and bloodier since 1900.  Earlier genocides were largely religious persecutions (such as the Inquisition) or settler genocides.  Slavery, though not genocide by our definition, is very close to it, and requires a similar mentality: the basic idea that one whole group of humans does not deserve human consideration.  By establishing that mind-set, it helped the progress to modern genocide.  The slave trade was horribly bloody.

The Enlightenment gave rise to ideas of peace and freedom.  War was reduced, and slavery slowly but surely was outlawed everywhere.  However, the Enlightenment was founded on rapid expansion of trade, commerce, communication, and science (and—notoriously—on the slavery and exploitation it eventually fought).  As the world filled up in the 20th century, problems of overpopulation, pressure on resources, and competition for goods became more salient.  Leaders by this time tended to be old and not battle-hardened, so they did not always deal with such problems by international war, the way almost everyone did before 1800.  Often, either during war or instead of war, they turned on sectors of their own people, waging genocide campaigns.  Wars and slaving were partially replaced by internal mass murder.  Genocide developed from religious persecution and settler colonialist practices.

Genocide, like other violence, must ultimately reduce to hatred.  The government must be able to whip up mass hatred, to get support and help in its project of mass murder.  To the extent that people are hateful and angry, they are susceptible to this persuasion.

The forms of mass killing are international war, civil war (which differs from interpolity war in causes and usual course; see Collier and Sambanis 2005), revolution and rebellion, genocide, structural violence on large scales, mass poisoning by pollution, denial of medical care, and mass starvation through refusing to take action on agriculture, welfare, or food security.  These form something of a continuum—genocide being very close to bureaucratic neglect.

Today, a range of violent engagements are common.  International war is still with us, though current ones all grew from local civil wars.  Civil wars abound, and merge with local rebellions.  Criminal gangs dominate whole countries; the governments of Honduras and El Salvador are particularly close to their gangs.  Genocide continues, in Myanmar, Sudan, South Sudan, and several other countries.

Violent, evil regimes now control about 1/6 of the world’s countries.  It is highly contingent.  In countries like Honduras and Thailand, the dice could easily have rolled the other way.  Bad leaders now are the rule, but instead of needing to charismatically lead troops, they conspire in evil circles and appeal to the worst citizens.


As we got more deeply involved in genocide research, we became increasingly aware of a disturbing pattern:  in all genocides, the mass of the population is susceptible to messages of hate, and goes along with the evil leaders.  The public follows the leaders as loyally as they do in international wars or in actual defense of the nation.  The leaders are power-hungry and hateful individuals, but their followers are not; yet their followers do appalling things on command.  Detailed interviewing over time in Germany, China, the USSR, Rwanda, and other states showed that people were swept away by the rhetoric, and then strengthened in murderous resolve by the fact that everyone else was involved in the killing.  Most people simply did what they were told, or what their neighbors were doing.  They often took a sort of pleasure or satisfaction in doing it, but often found it simply a job that had to be done.

This mass conformity is very extensively documented.  (Particularly good recent reviews of it are found in Staub 2011, Tatz and Higgins 2016, and Waller 2016.)  It seems particularly common where hatreds are traditional, as with the Jews in “Christian” Europe, but it is reported everywhere.

We also found that the same is true in criminal gangs everywhere, slave procurement, police work in less lawful parts of the world, and indeed every situation where ordinary people get caught up in violence.  They almost always conform.

In fact, virtually anyone can be converted, rather easily, into a monster who will torture, rape, and murder his or her neighbors and even family members for reasons that no rational person could possibly accept after serious consideration.  Religious wars over heresies are somewhat of a limiting case.  In such conflicts as the Albigensian Crusade, the 13th-century genocide that gave rise to the infamous line “kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out,” probably not one in a thousand participants could explain the differences between Catholic and Albigensian Christianity (see Anderson and Anderson 2012).  Yet the murders of neighbors and friends went on for decades.

Such phenomena raise the question of how and why normal, peaceable human beings can so easily flip into genocidal states.  Many of the most horrible genocides were committed in countries long known for the tranquility, peacefulness, cooperativeness, and even tolerance of their citizenry.  Cambodia was a particularly clear example.  Other genocidal countries, however, had a long and bloody history of independence and conflict.  No pattern emerged from this line of enquiry.

In most genocides, those who resisted and worked to save victims were astonishingly few.  Tatz and Higgins (2016) have recently collected the data from the Holocaust and other genocides, and find that even when there was no penalty for refusing, ordinary people went along with mass murder.  This was as true in the United States and Australia in the 19th century as in Hitler’s Gemany and Rwanda under the Interahamwe.  It is sobering for modern Americans to read how otherwise normal, reasonably decent, “Christian” Americans could perform the most unspeakable and unthinkable acts on Native Americans—often neighbors and (former) friends—without a second thought (see e.g. Madley 2016).

Moreover, genocide always includes far more than mere killing.  Victims are routinely tortured.  Women and girls are almost always raped.  People are burned or buried alive.  Ordinary people are as prone to do all this as the leaders themselves.  Similar findings are common in studies of warfare and criminal gangs.  Ordinary people caught up in even the most mundane street gangs soon learn to commit unspeakable acts without second thoughts.


Anyone, Anytime, Can Turn Evil


People usually are peaceful, and even helpful, generous, and tolerant.  Many are curmudgeons, even snappish or bigoted, but at least not violently cruel.  It takes some effort to make them do deliberate harm to those who have not harmed them.

However, it does not take much effort.  Following discovery of this among Nazi survivors, psychologists experimented with students, seeing how easy it was to make them be cruel to other students.  Stanley Schachter’s famous experiments with faked electric shocks, Philip Zimbardo’s with students acting as jailers and prisoners, and many subsequent experiments showed—to the horror of psychologists and the reading public—that it was very easy indeed.  Zimbardo’s experiment had to be stopped within a week, because the students took their roles far too seriously.  This led to major reforms of experimental ethics, as well as to much soul-searching (Zimbardo 2008).

All of us have encountered a great deal of everyday prejudice, bigotry, and open hatred of people for being what they are (as opposed to what they may have done).  This too has been studied.  (Allport 1954 reviewed early sources; since then a huge literature has accumulated; see below).

Robert Louis Stevenson’s story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is uncomfortably compelling; we sense, somehow, that we could all go there.  Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase “the banality of evil” (Arendt 1963) is also compelling.  Indeed, evil is banal, for the very good reason that it is usually done by the kid next door, or his equivalent.

At the slave museum in Zanzibar, built on the old slave quarters there, one can see the hellholes were slaves were confined, read their stories, and see many excellent exhibits with contemporary accounts, drawings, and even photographs.  The most disquieting, and the most pervasive, message is that the slave trade was an ordinary business, like selling bananas.  Hundreds of people routinely raped, murdered, tortured, brutalized, and oppressed their fellow humans, for eight hours a day (or more), simply as a regular job.  These slavers no doubt felt like any other workers—bored, annoyed by trivial problems, angry at the boss every so often, but totally indifferent to the subjects of their effort.  They were not people who were singled out for being violent, or psychopathic, or intolerant; they were simply locals who happened to be available.  Anyone could do it.

It is at least as hard to imagine the mind-sets of people who worked in the slave trade, day after day, for a whole working lifetime, as to imagine the mind-sets of genociders.  Today, most people in developed countries are repelled by even by bad treatment of farm animals.  I remember when people treated animals worse than they do today, but even in my rural youth, animals were never treated as badly as even the most fortunate slaves were treated in Zanzibar, Byzantium, the American South, and other places where slavery occurred.  The animals needed to stay healthy to turn a profit.  By contrast, the whole goal of slaving is to reduce humans to helpless, terrified victims by intimidation and brutalization.  Their health was a secondary concern at best.  It was easier to get new slaves than to deal with well-treated ones.

Many, possibly half, of Americans believe slavery was happy blacks playing banjos and occasionally picking a bit of cotton under the benevolent eyes of the plantation owners.  The rest usually think of slavery as the work of a few utterly evil men, like Simon Legree of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  The fact is that slavery involved thousands of men (and sometimes women) brutalizing other men and women, simply as a regular job, carried out with varying degrees of racist hate but with little thought about the whole issue.  In America the brutalizers were white and the victims black, but in most of history—and today in countries like Thailand and Ukraine—the slaves were the same race and very often the same culture and society as their oppressors.  Roy Baumeister, in his book Evil, comments on how repugnant most people find evil acts, and how quickly they get used to them and see them as routine; there is no evidence that slavers found even the initial phases of their work particularly unpleasant.  They put in their eight hours (or more) of rape, torture, and murder with a “just doing a job” mentality.

John Stedman wrote a classic 18th-century account of the horrors of slavery in Surinam (Stedman 1988 [1790]).  Stedman was a mercenary in the service of the plantation owners, so at first he was biased in favor of slavery and against slaves; his horror at what he saw convinced him that slavery was an evil practice.  He reports a great deal of real hatred by slaveowners of their slaves, and a great deal of torture simply for torture’s sake, often because of extreme (and not wholly unjustified) fear of slave rebellions, and the fear-driven belief that only brutality could prevent those.  His writings became foundational to the antislavery effort, first in England, then worldwide.  Most interesting, though, is his extremely extensive documentation (confirmed by every other early report) of the matter-of-fact, ordinary-day, routine brutality.  It simply never occurred to most people of the time that this was a monstrous order.

One also recalls John Newton’s conversion, at about the same time, from slaving captain to extremely repentant Christian; after years of depression, he felt divine forgiveness, and wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace,” which, somewhat ironically, became a favorite of African-American churches.  As with resisters of pressure to commit genocide, repenters of slaving are rare in the archives.

Admittedly, the holding pens of Zanzibar and the paranoid plantations of Surinam are extreme cases.  Slavery, especially in traditional societies (from the Northwest Coast of North America to pre-slave-trade Africa), was less murderous and torture-filled.  But it was never other than cruel and oppressive.  All records from all societies speak of rape, terrorizing, and brutalizing.  Yet, no one in history—not Buddha, not Jesus—opposed slavery as an institution, until the Quakers in the 18th century concluded it was against God’s law.  The tide then turned with striking speed.

            Slavery continues today, especially sex slavery, with all the attendant horrors, carried out in the same spirit of “all in a day’s work,” by thugs and pimps from Thailand to Hollywood.  Reading reports of child sex slavery shows how low humans can sink, all the time thinking they are doing what culture and economics require.  As always, there is no evidence that most of these people are especially evil to begin with, though the child slavers are often clearly psychopathic.  Others drift into the life and do what they believe is necessary.

Roy Baumeister, in his book Evil (1997), documents at length the unexceptional nature of people who do evil things.  He also documents the degree to which they self-justify: they think they are doing the right thing, or the reasonable thing, or the expedient thing, they rationalize to avoid guilt, and they use carefully disinfected language.  Most commonliy of all, they think or say that they are only doing what everyone does.  In genocides and slave camps, they are right; everyone in their situation is indeed doing it.

Baumeister demolishes the old idea that evil people are those with low self-esteem; it appears that the worst problem in that area is with people who have “high but unstable self-esteem” (Baumeister 1997:149; his emphasis).  They are often bullies, because they think highly of themselves but are insecure enough to be wounded by challenges.  He also debunks the idea that evil people dehumanize their victims.  They most often see their victims as fully human—just not deserving of normal consideration.  (In recognition of this, Castano 2012 suggests the term “infrahumanization.”  Many recent studies of genocide have made the same point.)  He runs through the standard explanations for violence (“greed, lust, ambition…” on p. 99—the classic land, loot, women, and power—as well as sadism and psychopathy), only to show how inadequate they are; crime rarely pays much, lust turned evil does not feel particularly good, and ambition served by evil rarely ends well.  He sees “egotism and revenge” as more important (Baumeister 1997:128-168).  People committing evil are often showing off their ability to maintain their power.  “Threatened egotism” (Baumeister 1997:377; Baumeister et al. 1996) is the deadliest of the factors he lists.

This, however, results from two things: basic predisposing factors of personality (threatened egotism, sadism, psychopathy) and immediate triggering factors (greed, idealism).  Those triggers do not cause evil in people who do not have the predispositions.  We are left no closer to an explanation of why ordinary people without the basic personality factors become genocidal or become slavers.

Baumeister also points out that much evil is done in the name of good—of idealism.  He is, in my opinion, far too quick to believe that murderous “good-doers” (like the Khmer Rouge) believe what they say.  My rather wide experience of those who talk good but do evil is that they are simply hypocrites.  At best, their willingness to do real harm in the name of imaginary good is hardly a recommendation for their morals.  Suicide bombers claim to be fighting for the right, but killing innocent strangers out of pure hate is right only in a very strange values system; it is within my definition of evil, and not within my definition of idealism.

Idealism that involves nothing beyond torturing people to death hardly deserves the name of idealism, and is not an explanation for evil; it simply raises the question of why people sometimes think that torturing is idealistic, or that idealism can mean nothing but murder.  Usually, hypocrisy is suspected, not without reason.

The trouble with greed and idealism as reasons for evil is that a sensible person, even if greedy or idealistic, would see that it is better to work with others for mutual benefit, or at least to compete fairly.  Greed to the point of ripping others off, or crushing them, is not profitable in the long run.  It is normally done when society forces people into evil ways of making a living, such as slaving.

Idealism that necessarily costs lives but really is for the greater good, like the fight against fascism in WWII, can be genuine.  (Plato and Aristotle already pointed out that the “harm” a surgeon does to his patient is necessary and beneficial.)  Very different is the “idealism” of the Khmer Rouge and their ilk, who did nothing but kill.  Of course, idealism can get corrupted fast, as the French and Russian revolutions did.  It seems to me that the boundary between good and evil is the point at which a reasonable person, independently judging the situation, and outside local pressures to think a certain way, would judge that there is clearly gratuitous harm occurring.  If the harm being done is clearly beyond any justification in terms of goals, it is evil.

In short, humans are evil to a degree not remotely approached by any other animal.  Of course, humans can also be good.  Acting reasonably good seems the default option for most people most of the time.  It is even difficult to make people into killers.  Not only the Nazis, but also armed forces everywhere, have always had trouble accomplishing this (Baumeister 1997:205-212 is a particularly good review).

However, even the most trivial differences in feeding eventually allow the bad wolf to take over from the good one.  The strongest desire of humans is social belonging; therefore, people feel strong needs to conform to social norms and to whatever social currents are flowing (see e.g. the studies of Kipling Williams [2007, 2011] on ostracism).  The currents are not always good ones.


Human Variation


The above speaks of “ordinary people.”  However, in everyday life, we observe a striking range of behavior.  Some few individuals seem genuinely evil; they seem almost incapable of acting without harming someone.  Many more seem saintly.  They are the ones that resist even pressures to kill during mass genocides.

Some few people are clearly sociopaths or psychopaths—people who appear to have been born without a moral compass and without a way of acquiring one.  Others seem moral enough most of the time but apt to lapse into uncontrollable violence.

These are not insensitive individuals.  Unlike autistic people, who are usually well-meaning despite lack of social abilities, psychopaths and hyperaggressive persons often seem to have preternatural social skills.  “A person with autism spectrum disorder has little ability to assume the perspective of someone else.  Psychopaths, on the other hand, understand what others are feeling but have a profound lack of empathetic concern”; they have anomalies in neural connections in the brain (Denworth 2017:61; cf. Baskin-Sommers et al. 2016).  Serious killers may be far more troubled than ordinary psychopaths.  The one mass murderer I have known was both mentally deficient and severely disturbed.  By contrast, people I have known who killed in war were perfectly normal.  They were traumatized by the experience.

Sociopaths seem residents of a different world.  They lie without a second thought, and, even when it clearly is against their better judgment, they seem to prefer dealing treacherously and unfairly with others.  Ordinary rational self-interest simply does not work for them.  I have known several who regularly wrecked their lives by wholly gratuitous betrayal.  They simply could not empathize with others, or understand why betraying others brought outrage. One of the sociopaths I knew was a prominent politician, and—though rather notorious—he was never singled out as being worse than many colleagues.

There are also extremely aggressive individuals, sadists, and others who verge on psychopathy; most have a background of brutal abuse in childhood, by parents and peers, or of major trauma.  Some may simply be “born that way,” others appear made by environment; a harsh, hostile, critical environment worsens all.

Such people are always rare.  Most humans have a great deal of innate empathy—abilities to feel others’ emotions and sensations, understand them, and act accordingly (Denworth 2017).  Reading the literature on crime, politics, and war makes me realize that evil people are far commoner in the wide world than they are in my sheltered little world.

Yet, even so, most people are peaceable and reasonable most of the time.  We can perhaps allow 10% of humanity to be deeply evil—not always, or even usually, acting badly, but doing evil on a regular enough basis to produce serious net harm to their communities.  They can be balanced by the best 10%.  Certainly, well over 10% of my friends and acquaintances are genuinely good people—individuals who never say an unkind word, are unfailingly sensitive and considerate, give gifts and donations freely and save little for themselves, and devote their lives to careers in healing, teaching, charity, and aid.  The sad evidence of the genocide literature suggests that even such people can be corrupted, though only with difficulty.

The other 80% of us are the people within whom the two wolves constantly compete for pride of place.  Common experience suggests that there is a straight and unbroken continuum from the most evil through the bloody-minded to ordinary middling souls, and then to the 10% who are near sainthood.   One might think of a continuum from a clearly demented psychopath (like Mexico’s drug-gang leaders) to an ordinary criminal gangster, then to a schoolyard bully grown up to be a spouse abuser, then to an ordinary person who grumbles and scolds and occasionally fights but rarely harms anyone, and then onward to a basically good and honorable soul who loses her temper on frequent occasions but does no worse than that, and finally to a truly virtuous individual—say, the leader of a charitable medical group.  This continuum exists everywhere I have been, and through literature and psychological studies we can be sure it is essentially universal.  People everywhere range from very bad to very good.

Common experience also teaches that those of us in the 80% tend to weasel good and bad (thanks to Jennifer Skornik for telling me to make this clear).  We drive too fast.  We eat at cafes that underpay their staff.  We take advantage of cheap deals when we know there is some dirty game on.  We weasel on public commitments.  In short, we spend too much time giving nibbles to the bad wolf while trying to serve the good one.

People seem to be, on average, 50% good and 50% bad.  The range, however, is enormous: from utter devils like Hitler’s immediate group to absolute saints.  The worst 10% can win by mobilizing the 40% who are worse than average but not totally evil, and then getting enough of the relatively good to make a majority.  In fact, Hitler was elected with a bare plurality, not a majority, and the same is true of many elected evil leaders.

Half good, half bad predicts the institutions we see in societies: they are meant to preserve the good and redirect the bad to fighting “the enemy.”  And they never work perfectly—all societies have evildoers.

Really evil people like Hitler and Stalin are very rare.  The 10% who are deeply bad are the violent, troubled, unstable ones who can’t get their lives together and the aggressive bullies.  In the end, most evil is due to culture, following orders, and irrational, overnegative reaction to stresses.

The worst problems occur when power-mad people figure out how to use morality to sell their drive for power.  Religious hatred is the commonest and worst way, but nationalism, militarism, and communist and other revolutioinary ideologies have done all too well.   In the United States we have seen hatred justified by opposition to illegal-immigrants, by appeals to law and security, and by opposition to “hate speech” (generally defined as speech by one’s opponents).

Almost anyone will use any power they have to live as luxuriously as possible, kill their enemies and imagined enemies, and help their families and friends at the expense of others.  Many, not all, will go on to hate the weak and the different.  Old-time kings killed along political and kin lines, not ethnoc-religious lines, except in the western world.  But they killed as many people as genocide kills now

Thus, though almost all may be corrupted in a genocide, more usual social matters mobilize only a percentage for evil causes.  Depending on social pressures and the persuasiveness of the cause, that percentage may range from almost none (the few psychopaths and incorrigibly violent) to almost everyone (all but the saintly).  Background factors such as economic and personal insecurity are known to influence the persuasiveness of evil messages, as all the above books agree.

People vary from best to worst along several dimensions.  The most important of these from the point of view of explaining evil are agreeableness vs. hostility, tolerance vs. hatred, peacefulness vs. violent aggression, help vs. gratuitous harm, open-minded vs. closed, and charity vs. greed.  All these are related, but not the same.  They must be unpacked.  Often, however, we observe truly good or truly evil persons who are at the best or at the worst ends on all six measures.  Genocide and other extreme mass-level evils come from hatred, so it must be considered the worst of the lot.

Greed is generally regarded in the US as the worst of sins, a belief going back to Jesus’ “greed for money is the source of all evil.”  However, selfish greed succeeds in mass politics only when it marshals support through whipping up hate.  The few rich must have the support of millions of less affluent; these can be persuaded to act and vote against their self-interest only by making them rabid with hate for minorities.  We have seen this in every genocidal campaign in history, as well as in almost all wars, and many political and religious movements.

Greed, though, is generally a social hatred issue; it is about rivalry for power, for control of people, for competition with people over resources.  The normal expectation if one actually wants some item or some wealth is to cooperate with others to work for it, or at least to work for others in a peaceful setting.  Smash-and-grab is not the normal way to get goods.  The rich who desire endless wealth are not after wealth; they are after social position and social adulation.

Really extreme, high-emotion evil thus usually comes from social hatreds—whether due to psychosis, greed for position, “honor,” extreme defensiveness, extreme need to control others, extreme sensitivity to slights, or—most common and deadly of all—displacing any and all hatreds and aggressions onto weaker people or onto defenseless nature. When not feeding from those troughs, the bad wolf tends to go to sleep, leaving the field to the good wolf.


The counter is any natural emotion that does not involve doing down other people to maintain the illusion of control.  Normal interest, enthusiasm, love, care, concern, generosity, cooperation, and innocent fun are not about to end in evil, and they are best satisfied by warm, close personal relationships.  Rational self-interest, cultural teachings, and innate senses of morality must be aligned to keep the good wolf fed.

Common experience, confirmed by studies, teaches that the very worst individuals are often power-mad or control-obsessed.   They are willing to dedicate their lives to the pursuit of power.  This is both a symptom of their basic disorders and a cause of their evil behavior.  They therefore are disproportionately represented in high places.  Studies show that psychopaths are much commoner in high levels of business and government than in the general population.

Conversely, good people tend to be deferential, humble, and self-effacing.  Their good is divided into many small good deeds.  They are also easily unified behind leaders who appeal to solidarity and group loyalty.  It is always easier to unite people against a perceived enemy than for a good cause.  Thus, evil tends to win, in the “real world.”

The larger the organization the more dangerous this tendency becomes.  An empire or a giant firm will atttract the power-hungry, and they will often rise rapidly, since they are unencumbered by the scruples that restrain most of us.  Since people follow their leaders, history shows that people are considerably worse in aggregate than they are as individuals.

The rich generally come to control society, and the most angry, power-mad, and hostile of the rich seek disproportionate power.  They marshal hatred to get supporters.  But then they fall to the dark forces they have summoned.  These forces fall into crime, conflict, and corruption, and the state dissolves.  The big businessmen who supported Hitler did not flourish in the aftermath.


In summary, we can see that people deliberately go out of their way to hurt others, gratuitously, for several reasons.  Many are just doing their job, or following orders, or mindlessly conforming with a society that relegates “certain people” to low or vulnerable status.  A much smaller number are actively evil: psychopaths, sociopaths, cold callous bureaucrats, highly aggressive people, fragile defensive egos.

Desperate need to assert control is the motive for a great deal of personal violence; it is notoriously basic in domestic violence and other ingroup, interpersonal trouble.  The husband beating his wife because he fears she might stray is strikingly similar to the insecure leader exterminating suspected political enemies; intimate partner violence provides much insight into genocide (Anderson and Anderson 2012, 2017).  Selfish greed, overcompetitiveness, and other negative-sum game-playing is another factor, but in that case one searches for the reasons why an otherwise reasonable person might see such practices as worthwhile.  Deeper problems with fear, threat, and stress are suspected.

Most common and dangerous, though, is social hatred.  Hate is successful at unifying society, blinding people to ripoffs and corruption, getting otherwise unmotivated people to fight for their exploiters, and otherwise allowing evil people to get the mass of ordinary people on their side.  Over the centuries, the worst social hatred has tended to be nationalist or religious, but any social identification can be mobilized antagonistically.  The main generalization is that the more deeply important a social identification is, the more hatred it can mobilize.  This is why religion so often leads to especially irrational and extreme violence; it is about basic issues.  We know from bitter experience that even sports team rivalries may lead to war (Anderson and Anderson 2012), but religion, family, and nationhood are much more often the pretexts.

Social hate, toxic conformity, and minimizing others are the real foods of the bad wolves.


Most communities and states have systems of checks and balances.  It is when these break down, or are deliberately dismantled, that the psychopaths and hatemongers take over, and genocide can begin.

There is thus every reason to work as hard as possible to feed the good wolves in us, and starve the bad ones.  We need to be more virtuous, self-sacrificing, and caring than we want to be, just to balance out the evil power-seekers.


Trying to cope?

Throughout history, people have had to cope with human evil.  Religion has been by far the main and most important way, over and above ordinary community solidarity.  Religion has produced countless saints, sages, holy men, holy women, teachers, and meditators, most of whom were genuinely virtuous people (though many were not, at least by modern standards).  Religion has been the carrier vehicle for most of the moral messages in human history.

However, religion has, notoriously, been the excuse for many of the most horrific mass murders.  No religion has a notably better track record than any other.  Christianity became the excuse for the Crusades.  Islam declined from a call for unity and peace to a call for jihad.  Greek stoicism and related philosophies of ataraxia (suppressing desire) became excuses for expanding the empire.  Even Buddhism, which explicitly bans violence and teaches compassion to all beings, became the religion of the samurai.  It has also been the excuse for countless wars over time, and for two of the worst genocides in modern history: the long-continuing campaigns to exterminate Tamils in Sri Lanka and Rohingya Muslims in Burma.  There are many other cases in history.  The Rohingya massacres should end (but have not so far ended) the stereotypes about Buddhism and Islam current in some parts of American society.

Religions all seem to fall into the trap of seeing ordinary innocent need-satisfaction and fun as “sin,” while social jockeying for position and control is taken for granted, and even put to evil use to promote the faith.  No religion seems to face the obvious fact that most evil in the world is done to maintain social position or control.  Religions have hierarchic orders, organized monasteries and priesthoods, and so on, thus leaving themselves open for the worst sins of all while fighting the trivial ones.

Killing desire, the goal of some religions and philosophies, frequently succeeds in killing desire for the morally good, while leaving hatred intact.  Killing desire is desired.  Killing people is a very frequent consequence.

Hopeful souls have thus argued that religion is the problem, but the alternatives do not have a good track record.  Nationalism, fascism, and communism are the leading ideologies developed as alternatives.  Stalin and Mao repressed religion (all religion) with as much sadistic enthusiasm as Christians in the 17th century demonstrated in repressing heretics.

The problem is clear: all these are social, all of them define groups, and it is social group hatred that is the main and usual problem.  Religions usually blame greed and lust, but cannot get rid of them, because social problems condition them.  The real problem is social hate, and the religions do not even try to get rid of it.  In fact, they often cause it.

We are left, again, with the fact that humans can be good or evil.  Religion, philosophy, and nonreligious ideologies have no better track record at improving people than does ordinary community solidarity.  If anything, they have worse records.  People are similar everywhere; no religion has been able to produce a wholly virtuous community, and no society has produced a wholly evil one, though Hitler came very close to doing so in Germany.  The two wolves are always there, always competing.


Human Nature?


Speculations on human nature have taken place throughout the ages.  Most try to ignore the variation.  The classic Christian and Buddhist views are that people everywhere are basically good; evil is a corruption of their nature.  This is caused, according to Buddhist theology, by giving way to greed, anger, and lust.  The Christian tradition is similar; “greed for money is the root of all evil,” according to Jesus.  Most Confucians follow the great Confucian teacher Mencius in seeing people as basically prosocial.  Many small-scale and traditional societies hold that people are basically sociable and well-meaning, but must develop themselves through spiritual discipline and cultivation.  Quakers speak of the “Inner Light.”  Modern biologists and anthropologists have found it in the social and proto-moral inclinations now known to be innate in humans.

Conversely, the commonest western-world view is probably that of Thomas Hobbes and Sigmund Freud: people are basically evil, selfish, competitive, and out for themselves at the expense of others.  Social behavior has to be forced on them by harsh training.  Hobbes saw “man in his natural state” as being in a permanent condition of “warre of each against all” for resources (Hobbes 1950 [1651]).  Freud had a darker view:  Innate human nature was the Id, a realm of terrifying lust, murderous hate, and insatiable greed.  Both men thought “savages” showed “man in his natural state”; they fed on travelers’ tales rather than real descriptions, and saw “savages” as bloodthirsty, cruel, and driven by the lusts of the moment, with no thought of the future.  In fact, even without modern anthropology, they should have known from actual accounts that small-scale societies are as peaceful and orderly as our own.

Hobbes, Freud, and their countless followers assumed that society will force people to act decently, through powerful discipline.  This is impossible.  One cannot make mountain lions form social contracts, or teach crocodiles to cooperate.  An animal that is naturally individualist, each animal competing with others, cannot create a society capable of enforcing rules.  Hobbes, Freud, and others expected far too much of human rationality.  Rationality is notoriously unable to restrain emotion.  Ask any teenager, or parent of one.

The other current mistaken view of humanity is the rational self-interest view.  The briefest look at humanity instantly dispels that.  People do not act in their self-interest, and rarely act rationally (see e.g. Kahneman 2011).  This is now so well documented that it needs no further notice here.  It is a far more positive view of humanity than Hobbes’ or Freud’s, and it does not give much space to evil; evil would occur only when it really pays in material terms, which is not often.  Tyrants may often die in bed, but they often do not, and suicide bombers and other front-line fighters for the wrong are obviously not advancing their rational self-interest, except by truly perverse definitions of the term.

A more realistic, but still dubious, take on humans comes from the Zoroastrian-Manichaean tradition.  This tradition sees (correctly) that people are a mix of well-meaning, helpful, prosocial good and cruel, brutal evil.  It further holds, less verifiably, that the good comes from the immaterial “spirit” realm, evil from the flesh.  This view lies behind the extreme Puritanism of much of western society—the view that sees sex, good food, good wine, and dancing as Sins with a capital S.  Everything of the flesh tends toward corruption.  Good sex is the door to hell.  “The fiddle is the devil’s riding horse,” held the old American saying.  I was raised in a time and place when this view was widespread.  The social revolution of the 1960s cut it back sharply, but it is resurfacing today.

A deeper problem with the Manichaean view is that people are usually neither saintly nor demonic.  They are just trying to make a living and then get some rest and relaxation.  Their forays into proactive goodness or proactive evil are extensions from ordinary low-profile getting along.

Another problem is that a great deal of human good comes via those “sins.”  Good music, dancing, and sex make people happier, friendlier, and overall better to have around.  Condemning these is regularly used to distract people from the real sins: cruelty, oppression, gratuitous harm, selfish greed, hatred.

This leaves us with the Native American folktale: the two wolves, like the “good and bad angels” that folk Christianity borrowed from the Manichaeans, are symbols of the prosocial and hostile sides of humanity.


People evolved in ever-larger groups that were ever more fluid, so rapidly evolved language and group solidarity and group hatred as one package.

Over the last 50,000 years, there has been progress in science, arts, lifespan, food production, and other areas.  Almost all of this developed in expanding economies, especially those dominated by trade and commerce.  Economies dominated by rentier primary prodiuction are stagnant or regressive.

All agrarian societies from the Inca to Sumer to China wound up the same: city, king, court, bureaucracy, vast mass of farmers from rich to landless.

Really new good ideas spread from rich cores of trade and communication based systems.  Military technology seems to spread fastest of all innovations.  Next come innovations in communication; people want to be in touch.  Then comes ordinary prodiuction.  Last comes the spread of morality.

Then in the twentieth century, primary production, especially fossil fuel production, took over., and now rules most of the world.


The great Greek tragedies, the best of the medieval epics, the Scottish tragic ballads, and equivalent literature around the world (including many Native American tales), reveal people in crisis situations, where they are forced to reveal their deepest selves.  In the crises when ordinary life is disrupted, individuals are forced into extreme good and evil behavior.  Many of these dramas turn on inescapable conflicts between two loyalties, often loyalty to true love versus loyalty to family.  The heroes and heroines are powerful, but have the costs of their virtues, the fatal flaws that comes with their power.  These stories may be the best ways to understand humanity and its conflicts. Great literature strips off the ordinary everyday conforming and reveals the bare human in full glory or vileness.  Greek tragedies do this.  So do Medieval epics, Scottish ballads, Chinese classical stories, and other great works.  Folk literature always contains stories that strip individuals down to bare humanity.

It is now well established that humans are innately “moral,” in the sense that they have natural predispositions to fairness, generosity, tolerance, welcoming, acceptance, sociability, friendliness, and other social goods.  (There is now a huge literature on this; see e.g. De Waal 1996; Bowles and Gintis 2011.)  Unfortunately, people reveal an equal tendency to cruelty, viciousness, nastiness, greed (here defined as hurting others by taking their goods for oneself, without compensating them), and other vices.  We are still not sure how much these are inborn tendencies—like minimal morality—and how much they are learned.  Most authorities think they are learned.  Others concentrate on the learned aspects.  However, broad capacities to fight, hate, and destroy are clearly innate in all higher animals, and humans seem to have more of these innate cruel tendencies than do other animals.


Several recent studies attempt to quantify deaths by violence in human societies.  Stephen Pinker (2011) famously concluded people kill much less than they used to.  This is apparently wrong (Fry 2013), but small-scale societies kill at a relatively high rate.  Many small-scale farming societies, especially chiefdoms, are particularly bloody.

Human average seems to be about 1% dying by violence per year, but it varies from insane meltdowns like the 100 Years War, the fall of Ming, and the Khmer Rouge genocide to total peace.

A recent study by Dean Falk and Charles Hildebolt (2017) finds a very wide range, from small-scale societies that have essentially no violent killings to those where a very large percentage of deaths are violent.  Variation is much higher than among state-level societies.  In general, it appears that small-scale societies do have a somewhat higher percentage of violent deaths than large state societies, but the margin is not great (if it exists at all).  The genocides, slaving deaths, and mass murders of modern states go well beyond Pinker’s estimates.

In no society is murder and war the norm; such a society would quickly self-destruct.  We have records of societies destroyed by violence.  Something very close to that happened to the Waorani, but they were persuaded by missionaries to be more peaceful (Robarchek and Robarchek 1998).  Since death is forever, the consequences of murder are irreparable, while good is easily undone.  A society requires countless small good acts to make up for a terminally bad one.  Human nature must average out fairly positive to keep societies functional.

That said, the human tendencies to defend social position, defend the group, and defend or seize land and resources continue to keep violence at a high level in most societies.  From the books cited above, a clear pattern emerges of why people kill.  As individuals, if not killing in simple defense of self and loved ones, they kill either for gain (as a paid job or for loot) or for social control.  Most often, they kill to maintain social position: control over a spouse, “honor” in local societies, revenge on a neighbor, dominance over minority members, or control of a personal position of some kind.  Even psychopaths who kill compulsively usually wait for such opportunities.

As groups, they kill largely to maintain the power of the group over perceived and hated rivals.  These structural opponent groups may be traditional enemies, new rivals, or ideological or ethnic opposites.  The hatreds lead to international war, religious strife, civil war (most often between regions), ideological murders and genocides, and other types of group violence.  War for land is also extremely frequent.  This led Ben Kiernan to title his great study of warfare with the old Nazi phrase Blood and Soil (2007); he saw identity and land as the two great reasons for mass killing.  (One might note that nationhood—a fictive identity—and religion are deadly, not actual blood relationship.)  War for loot (portable wealth) seems largely limited to Viking raids and such, but war to help one’s national armaments industry, or to support its military, is all too common.  Still, group hatred remains the great reason for war, just as individual social control is apparently the commonest reason for murder.  Greed, even for land, is controllable; the deadly mix of social fear, social hate, and need for social control is the real “heart of darkness” within humans.


Fight, Flee, Freeze


Explaining this begins with the innate fight-flight-freeze response system found in all higher animals.  People are usually sociable, but react to threat as all large, strong animals do: by fighting back.  They are stressed not only by direct threat, but by threat to their social position, and their sense of control of their lives (Langer 1983).

The fight-flight-freeze response is wired into their nervous systems.  It arises from the limbic system in the brain.  Faced with superior strength and an escape route, an animal will flee; with no escape, it will freeze; if it is cornered and attacked, it will fight, even against superior strength.  Humans have considerably complicated the response.  Flight can be into video games and daydreams, freezing can be labeled “depression” or “laziness” by psychologists or judgmental peers, and fighting is usually verbal rather than violent.  Still, all the limbic responses are there, underlying the prefrontal plans and cultural instructions that introduce the complexity.  (Much of what follows is derived from, or at least agrees with, Beck 1999 and Staub 2011; I am sensible of Gian Caprara’s 2002 critique of Beck’s model as being too narrow and not covering a wide enough range of situations and contexts, and I have tried to expand accordingly, but I am writing an essay, not an encyclopedia, so I must remain subject to some of the same critique.)

The most basic root of aggression, then, is fear (on which see LeDoux 2015).  Any animal capable of fighting will fight when threatened or attacked, if there is no alternative.  Animals also fight for resources:  for mates above all, but also food, space, and other necessities.  This may involve fear of loss of necessary resources, but often—especially with mates—it is simply fighting to win desired goods.  Sheer discomfort—sickness, loss—can also make most animals more aggressive or fight-prone.

The human difference is that humans are compulsively social.  They live by, through, and for their social systems: families, communities, neighborhoods, networks, and—in the modern world—states.  Humans feel fear when these communities are threatened.  Even humans not at all involved in a community will often feel fear or anger over seeing it attacked.  People willingly die for their communities.  We routinely observe the heroism of soldiers sacrificing themselves in war, parents dying to save children, suicide bombers blowing up supposed enemies (Atran 2010; Bélanger et al. 2014), and even gutter punks dying for their drug gangs.

Such fighting, fleeing, and freezing are structured along social lines.   The usual human condition seems to be kind, friendly, and warm to one’s in-group, hospitable to strangers, hostile to opponent groups in one’s own society, and deeply hostile to individuals in one’s own society who seem to be a threat to one’s control. The real problem is threat to social place and position, hence partner abuse and other abuse of those that one should be protecting.

Thus, natural human tendencies to deal with fear by fighting or escaping can be mobilized by leaders who wish to commit genocide or other evils.  All they need to do is mobilize fear—whether it be fear of war, or economic problems, or change, or minority groups getting ahead, or any other stress—and convince an increasing sector of the population that this problem can be handled by removing some group.

If people learn rational or common-sense ways of coping with fear and threat, they are less likely to fall into hatred and toxic conformity.  If they do, however, they may become authoritarians.  The old myth of an “authoritarian personality” created by Freudian mechanisms (Fromm 1941) has not stood the test of time, but “authoritarian predispositions” leading to an “authoritarian dynamic” are now well attested and studied (Duckitt 1994, 2001; Stenner 2005).  They are called up or exacerbated especially by normative fear: fear of the breakdown of the social norms that give what the authoritarian mind considers necessary structure to society.  These norms typically involve norms that keep minorities and women “in their place,” and otherwise create a rigid top-down order.  Learned helplessness (Peterson et al. 1993) often leads to toxic conformity.

Authoritarian predispositions may include devotion to strongmen, hatred and fear of homosexuals and other norm-benders, love of stringent punishment for lawbreakers (especially those low on the social scale), militarism, and similar conditions.  There is, however, a great range of ideology here, from the near-anarchist violent right wing to the genteelly hierarchic older businessmen of a midwestern suburb.  It seems likely that we are dealing with several different responses to weakness in the face of threat, the common denominators being a need for a strong-man leader and a need for underlings to blame and oppress.  Authoritarianism is surprisingly common within societies and surprisingly widespread over the world (Stenner 2005).

This rests on several observations about human responses to threat and stress.  The ones already mentioned are obvious enough.  Three other important ones deserve attention:  People hate in others what they dislike in themselves (especially if they feel guilty about it); they like in others what they want for themselves; they use their strengths to make up for their deficiencies.  These are all involved in bullying and authoritarianism.  Bullying can have permanent negative effects on bullied children’s brains (Copeland et al. 2014).

The problems usually follow from cowardice and hostility, which reinforce each other.  In an isolated person, they come out as giving up, or as setting oneself against the world.  In the far commoner case of a social person, they come out in displacing aggression against the weak.  Fear forbids aggressing against actual offenders (if there are any); antagonism is displaced downward, to scapegoats.  This usually leads to bullying them.  Bullying involves belittling them: regarding them as low or worthless.  Underlings use malicious gossip to get back at powerful bosses. “I’m better than you” and “I’m worse than you” are bad enough, but the worst is “I’m worse than you, so I have to pretend I’m better, and if in power I have to bully you.”

A standard bullying routine is to insult the victim, then take any response as an “offense” and “slight” that justifies attack.  Imagined slights are quite adequate.  The genociders’ version of this is the attribution of all manner of horrific but imaginary sins to the targeted group; Hitler’s claims about the Jews are the most famous in this regard, but all genociders seem to do it.

Another very common aspect of bullying is that bullies are adulated as “strong” and “independent” by those who would love to be bullies but are too personally weak.  They become groupies, followers, toadies.  Women who are afraid to be violent themselves, but would love to be bullies, find male bullies irresistable, leading to a remark attributed to Henry Kissinger, “power is the best aphrodisiac.”  Only for a certain type of person.

Evil people whip up hatred.  They can most effectively get the least competent of the tier-just-above-bottom to hate the bottom tiers.  Failing that, they can always whip up nativistic hate of foreigners, especially immigrants.  Evil people seem always desperate for control and power.  Saints, on the other hand, are meek and deferential.  So evil wins unless the middle 70% or 80% are on board to stop it.

Most movements that end in authoritarianism and genocide start by recruiting bullies and haters, then gather momentum.  Not until they win, and succeed in turning the polity into a dictatorship or turning a local community into one defined by hate, can they recruit the vast mass of ordinary people.  However, there are cases in which many followers are genuine idealists, not bullies, and then the picture is complicated by the restraint introduced by the idealists.  Stalin in the USSR was infamous for purging his movement of these idealists, and leaving only those who were either bullies or saw repression as simply a necessary job to do.


Fear and fight lead to three overarching social vectors: ingroup versus rival group; general level of hostility; and minimizing.  The usual direct causes of evil appear to be cowardice, hostility, and minimizing.  The first two are overreaction (overemotional reaction) to fear, threat, and hurt, with structural opponentship (not just difference) seen as a threat.

The third is failure to consider people as fully human, or even failure to consider people at all.  It refers to regarding people as Kantian objects (Kant 2002): mere numbers on a spreadsheet or dirt to be bulldozed out of the way of construction projects, or, at best, underlings to be disregarded.

Such minimizing includes othering.  It can be aggressive.  It can be cold and calculating. It can be simply mindless—just not thinking of the problems of the servants or workstaff.  It usually consists of devaluing people: maintaining that they are unworthy of attention, concern, or care.  Sometimes it involves not noticing people at all.  It tends to go with callous indifference, as opposed to hostility and anger.  Anger shows at least some respect for the opponent; the opponent is worthy of being noticed and hated.  Not infrequently, the opponent is even considered superior, as when revolutionaries attack the state, or a David goes up against a Goliath.

Othering without much hostility is typical of traditional people; they know the “others” are different, but have little to do with them.  Hostility without much othering produces gangsters and aggressive loners.

The human norm seems to be occasional anger and aggression against even one’s nearest and dearest, great aggressiveness against structural-opponent groups, and indifference to the rest—the unknown multitudes out of one’s immediate ken.

Rejection and intolerance are clearly part of this complex, but very common also is the bureaucrats’ attitude that people are merely things to move around, like rocks.  One of the most chilling books I have read is The Future of Large Dams by Thayer Scudder (2005).  Scudder spent his life studying refugees from huge dam projects.  In almost every case, people displaced by big dams were simply ordered to move.  Their homes were bulldozed, their livelihoods flooded.  There were usually token “relief” efforts, but these were so trivial as to be more insulting than helpful.  Millions of refugees were left to shift for themselves, and in poorer nations that meant many of them died.  Scudder bends over backwards to be fair, which makes the stories sound even worse.  The bureaucrat perpetrators are cut from the same cloth as the cold “doing my job” attitude of many of Hitler’s executioners (see e.g. Paxton 2005, Snyder 2015).

Johan Galtung (1969) coined the term “structural violence” to describe destruction by the cold workings of the social system, ranging from the results of institutionalized bigotry to the bureaucratic displacement I am describing.  I hereby introduce the word “bureaupathy” to describe the associated attitude and mindset.  It is a mental state as sick and destructive as psychopathy and sociopathy.

One consoling lie that such people tell themselves is that we live in a just world (Lerner 1980), in which people get what they deserve.  The poor are lazy, the rich worked for their wealth.  People displaced by dams somehow deserve to be displaced.  Genociders come to believe what was often, originally, a fantastically overstated lie: the people they hate are truly evil, subhuman, the sources of all ills.

The common theme of all these matters, and of all evil, is rejection of people simply for being what they are.  They are condemned simply because they are poor, or Jewish, or female, or black-skinned, or any of the other things that give hateful people an excuse to dismiss whole categories of humanity.  The same may be said of hate and disregard for other lives—for animals and plants—but that is for another occasion (I have covered it thoroughly in several books).  Since people do not act hateful all the time, the question at hand is what triggers hatred and turns into a motive for evil action.


This leads to three rough clusters:  callousness (cold indifference, selfish greed, cold callousness, etc.); anger, variously directed; and psychopathy-sadism.  Anger is the most complex.  Anger in proportion to actual challenge, and directed toward the challenger, is perfectly normal and usually reasonable enough.  The problem is that humans—in proportion to how scared they are—exaggerate the anger and misdirect it, usually toward those immediately available and weaker than self.  Bashing weaker people or animals to take out aggressions against stronger ones is probably the commonest form of active evil.


Groups and Group Tensions


It follows from human social solidarity that people will fight, without mercy or quarter given, against any group that their community can credibly claim is a threat.  This is the simplest part of the back story of genocide.  Communities and polities throughout history, and at least some of prehistory, fought each other.  Genocide is different in that the targeted group is a part of the community doing the killing.  Genociders identify some fraction of their own citizenry as a direct and immediate threat that needs to be removed.  They then convince the rest of the citizenry that this fraction is indeed a threat, and that every member of it is threatening and must be destroyed.

This must be negotiated.  There will always be those who do not agree.  This is one reason why the great genocides are always carried out by dictators; they can silence dissent.  Usually, they simply add the dissenters to the target group, and execute them all.  Settler genocides, however, often occurred in democratic or partially democratic societies, where dissent was real, and often effective.  Settler genocides depended on convincing a large part of the citizenry to kill the Indigenous peoples, and to threaten protectors and dissidents into silence (a particularly good study of this is Madley 2016; for a full survey, see Kiernan 2007).

A final key part of the back story is that humans everywhere dislike foldbreakers—people who conspicuously resist conforming to basic social rules.  Even people who are unusually good may be disliked because being so good is “different” (Parks and Stone 2010).  Usually, this serves to maintain conformity by making cantankerous or poorly-educated people fall in line.  Very often, however, it simply makes people hate anyone conspicuously unlike the herd.  Individuals (including geniuses and artists) or groups (Jews in Christian countries, black people in white countries, and so on) are targeted.   (On discrimination, see Kteily, Bruneau, et al. 2015; Kteily, Hodson, and Bruneau 2016; Parks and Stone 2010.)

The failure of religion to change people much, noted above, projects back into history.  Despite Steven Pinker’s attempt to maintain that people have been getting less violent over time (Pinker 2011), and despite the reaction to it from those who still believe in the “noble savage,” there is no real evidence that people have changed.

However, this broad overview hides an enormous amount of small-scale variation.  Modern regions like Scandinavia and the Low Countries have reduced violence to a minimum.  They are balanced out by the appalling genocides that have been so extremely frequent worldwide in the last 100 years.  Similarly, the peaceful San hunters and Semai farmers are balanced by violent subarctic hunters and Upper Amazon farmers (Robarchek and Robarchek 1998).  Within every major religion, there are sects that ban violence with considerable success, and others that idealize mass murder for the faith.  Christianity ranges from Quakers to southern US evangelicals; Islam ranges from Ahmadiyya and some of the Sufi orders to the Wahhabis and Taliban.  Within the United States, there are communities where violence is almost unknown, and other demographically similar ones with astronomical violence rates.  Moreover, these rates vary over time, according to often quite minor circumstances, such as change of police chief or greater availability of dangerous drugs.

All religions attack the major evils, but people do evil and then claim their religions made them do it.  There are always excuses.  Thus morality is never enough.  Society has to have laws, and enforce them.

It is almost maddening to realize that there is so much small-scale diversity—groups in which violence is almost unknown, and other groups of all sizes where murder and war are constant, and few people make it to middle age.  The most important conclusion is that people can create peaceful communities.  Evil is not necessary.  It can be reduced to low levels. 

Perhaps commonest are groups that are peaceful internally but constantly at war with neighbors.  These are impossible to explain from old, simplistic models of human behavior.  How could Hobbesian savages or Freudian ids differentiate so cleanly?  How could virtuous “noble savages” be so bloody to their neighbors?  The only view of humanity that allows it is one in which humans are usually living ordinary low-key lives, but can easily be motivated to support their group in conflict, and somewhat less easily motivated to be peaceful and proactively helpful.  Solidarity in the face of attack by an enemy group seems to be the human norm.  It is probably an evolved behavior, selected for by that situation occurring frequently over the millions of years (Bowles 2006, 2008).  So long as it is actual defense against an attacking enemy, it is a matter of necessity.  Evil begins when hostility is deployed, in the absence of credible serious threat, toward an individual or group that is being peaceable and reasonable.  This means that evil is hard to define; the boundary between rational defense and irrational defensiveness is hard to set, and tends to be highly subjective.  Societies need moral codes to sharpen the lines.

Excessive and misdirected hostility often occurs when people displace their anger.  The genuinely threatening group may be too strong and widespread to attack.  Then people often find a weaker, more vulnerable group to hate.  This clearly occurs in many cases of persecuting minorities.

Also, people may believe that a currently weak group is secretly powerful, or might become so, and could be a threat.  Preemptive strikes then occur.  Both this and the preceding dynamic clearly operated in the case of Hitler’s persecution of the Jews.  The Jews were a small, innocent, relatively defenseless minority.  Hitler directed against them all the anger stirred up in Germany by the loss of WWI and the Depression, and then revived and greatly extended the old image of the Jews as all-powerful and all-destroying.

A more local example is intimate partner violence.  This almost always involves a man (the stronger of the pair) beating a woman because he feels that he is somehow losing control of her (B. Anderson et al. 2004).  Very often, he feels generic anger against the world, or against stronger people in his life, and takes it out on the most vulnerable available person: wife, child, older parent.  Domestic violence is extremely close to genocide—it might even be called the individual-level equivalent.


The Final Reckoning

All the above can be summarized in three basic perceptions.

First, people tend to blame other people—not fate, not the structures of the economy, not the weather, and most certainly not themselves—for whatever goes wrong in their lives.  Their misfortunes are caused by the Jews, or the poor, or the rich, or some such vague group.  The most usual problems people face—threats to their livelihood or wealth, threats to their social place, threats to their security—are assumed to be caused by other people, especially those who can be seen to be directly involved as “competition” or “disrespectful” or simply saliently different.

Second, this scapegoating is done from fear, so is most easily and typically done with weaker individuals or groups as scapegoats.  Wives, children, minorities, isolated individuals, desperately impoverished persons, do the paying for problems that they can very rarely have caused.

Third, social conformity is usually bent to this task.  The vast majority of harms in the world are done by people following customs, orders, or group pressures.  The more their leaders can whip up hatred among their followers, the more the ultimate harm that results, but simply following orders can be bad enough.  The leaders are then caught in a feedback loop: they have to whip up more hate, and eventually start killing the scapegoated groups, to keep their increasingly fanatical followers happy.  In the old days, the enemy was most often the neighboring country (English against French, Greeks against Persians, and so on).  Today, it is usually the internal minorities.  This is how genocide starts.

In short, fear, threat, and insecurity make people seek enemies to hate, but since hatred is a result of cowardice in these cases, the hate is usually misdirected toward weaker but believably “competing” individuals or groups.  This pattern of thought and behavior is vulgarly known as “chickenshit,” a word that seems to lack a polite equivalent.


Antagonism is the general cover term for the usual sources of evil.  It is usually mindless, coming from culture, conformity, orders, etc.

Fighting over social place, control, and power is an entailed cost of sociability in a highly aggressive animal.  Culture, society, and structure all play into it and make everything worse.

Greed can be defined as negative-sum gaming for acquisition of wealth.  Power-hunting, similarly, is playing zero-sum or negative-sum games to get power, as opposed to working honestly for better administration and governance.

The real problem is power madness.  “Greed” is almost always cruel vying for social position via wealth.  Those who just want a lot of stuff tend to be reasonably decent people.  They are willing to work and avoid risks.  To be like the Kochs, Princes, and Mercers you must be both hateful and committed to an evil business: fossil fuels, military supply, mercenary fighting, corrupt politics, or outright crime.

Historically, the biggest reason for evil is maintaining and defending social power: oppression, suppression, from kings down to domestic violence.

Ultimately, the personal component of evil-doing—defined, recall, as gratuitous harm—usually traces back to fear and defensiveness.  The cure is empowerment such that one can rationally cope with fears.

Cowardly emotions differ from their normal equivalents.  Honest fear is not the same as cowardice.  Real anger—wrath at actual injury—is different from the coward’s petulant resentment and hatefulness.  Carelessness from sheer inattention to detail is not the same as defiant sloppiness or toxic irresponsibility.  Real religious feeling is not bigotry.  Love is not the same as the coward’s dependence and controlling clinginess, especially since the latter never goes with real caring interest in the other person.

Interest, liking, disgust, contempt, aesthetics, etc. are about the same for everyone, though cowardice interferes with interest and with aesthetic sense.

Person variables in evildoing are largely traceable to cowardly defensiveness, but psychopathy and innate aggressiveness are not uncommon.  Many people are “troubled” in the sense of being emotionally labile, prone to aggression, and unable to manage their lives well.  These are prime candidates for hate.

Cultural variables include traditional enmity, direct threat, structural opponent status within a society, role expectations (especially for young males, warriors, “bad dudes,” and bureaucrats).

Situation variables include “offense,” “slights,” etc.  Threats to cultural and social position and standing are especially problematic. Scapegoating is the ultimate source of much or most genocidal murder.

Some anger is almost automatic and very hard to stop, notably when one is physically attacked or when one’s loved ones are physically attacked.  Most anger, however, is decided on.  Political anger—which appears to be the main anger in modern societies—is most certainly decided: one learns who to hate and persecute and how angry to get, and one must decide to follow the leaders in this.  Fear is similarly a matter of decision when it is fear for long-term, wide-flung consequences or of vague political entities.  The decision component of social fear, anger, and hate has been too little assessed.

Reasonable alternatives include distancing oneself, resenting silently, turning the other cheek, being as pleasant or fearless as possible, and just bearing hardship.


Feeding Wolves Over the Life Track


The roots of evil have a genetic component.  Psychopathy and aggressiveness seem to run in families.  The fight-flight-freeze response is in everyone.  It appears, however, that most evil is learned, as the enormous person-to-person, time-to-time, and group-to-group variation shows (most of what follows is derived from or paralleled in Beck 1999).

More important is the clear genetic drive in infants to explore, engage, learn, socialize, communicate, and even create.  Babies are surprisingly interactive, and mostly in a positive way, trusting and smiling.  They cry a lot when they are uncomfortable, and can fear strangers, but they are basically a rather positive set of humans.  Allowing them to explore and interact in a secure, supportive environment is the key to feeding the good wolf pup.

“Learning” may be too narrow a word for environmental influences.  Trauma even generations ago can affect the brain, via epigenetics.  Trauma in the womb and during birth can affect the brain.  One common result of trauma—any trauma—that affects the brain is reduction in control over violent emotions and actions.  It does not occur in all cases, but it is not rare.  The exact location of the trauma may matter, but trauma is usually widespread enough to affect at least some relevant brain centers.  Fear is focused in the amygdala, aggression more widely in the limbic system, but interpretation of stimuli as frightening and reaction to fear by rational or irrational means are distributed over the brain, typically following neural pathways from the amygdala and other basal structures to the frontal lobes and the motor centers.  Eventually, all the brain is involved.  Any trauma can impact the fear-aggression pathways somewhere.  (The psychology of upbringing that follows is close to Beck 1999, with inputs from Bandura 1982 and others.  The best study I have found of children growing up resilient or otherwise is that of Werner and Smith [1982, 2001] on Kaua’i.)

Children start by crying for what they want, then grabbing it and holding onto it, then fighting, then slowly growing up to be decent, so any arrest in the process or distortion of it by abuse is deadly.

Young children throw temper tantrums if they are tired, frustrated, uncomfortable, scared, or in need of affection or a sense of control.  These temper tantrums—sudden attacks of uncontrollable weak rage—are the wellsprings of adult hatred and irrational violence.  The adult usually acts from fear of losing social place, but the babyish causes—fatigue, discomfort, and the rest—still operate.

Once the word “learning” becomes more narrowly accurate—i.e., once the baby is born and interacting with caregivers—the process of feeding the wolves truly begins.  A human baby is born helpless, dependent, and scared of disruptive things like loud noises, falling, and sudden appearance of strange persons.  The human infant is weak and fearful, and remains so until old enough to cope and to be taught how to deal with problems.  At that point, either lack of good teaching or abusive treatment will maintain the fear and defensiveness.  A human child with poor parenting has trouble coping with the world in general.  More common are situations in which the child learns to deal adequately with some things but not with others.  The child then overcompensates, by using learned coping mechanisms to deal with weakness and fear based on failure to learn other (and more appropriate) coping mechanisms.  Since humans are supremely social animals, it is fear of social rejection—of isolation, abandonment, hate, scorn—that is the truly deadly fear.  Physical fears are less important; in fact, they are easily handled by a child or adult who feels that her social group “has her back.”

This produces, for example, the uneducated but physically strong schoolyard bullies of my childhood, who beat up “smart kids” as a way of using what they had (strength) to deal with ego threats caused by what they lacked (book-learning).  The converse is the intellectual arrogance of many a physically less-than-perfect academic.  Weak fear due to failure to learn good coping mechanisms also leads to abject conformity, especially conformity to ego-reinforcing notions like the superiority of “my” group to “yours.”  White supremacists are usually those who fear or know that they have nothing else to feel supreme about.

People begin as scared babies, who then, to varying degrees and in varying areas of their lives, grow up.  Most of us partially succeed and partially fail, and that is a dangerous combination.  We are fearful and defensive because of the remaining weakness and failure, and use our strengths to defend—often to overdefend, and often to deflect our hostility downward, to those weaker than we are.

Anything that empowers the growing child to take care of her own problems, by teaching proper and effective responses, feeds the good wolf.  This means that the child must be taught what to do—preferably as the situation unfolds; backed up for doing it; and backed up further in case the response is inadequate.

Inevitably, in a learning child, the response will usually not be adequate.  This is a key moment: if the parent, peer, teacher, or elder then criticizes the child and takes over, “fixing” the situation that the child has “ruined,” the bad wolf gets a huge meal.  Nothing feeds the bad wolf better than deliberately weakening a child by telling her she can’t cope.  The resulting frustration and weakening turns into aggression eventually.  Widespread rejection follows, and rejection is the common sink of hatred, indifference, coldness, and petulance.  It is the immediate cause of much of the harm and evil in the world.

Conversely, nothing feeds the good wolf better than praising the child for doing what she could, while instructing her how to do even better next time.  Wolves feed on power: empowering and supporting the child feeds the good wolf, empowering other people at the expense of the child feeds the bad wolf.  Empowerment means, among other things, teaching coping strategies that work (Cattaneo and Chapman 2012).  To work, they must be reasonable, which random violence and other evil behaviors are not.  (Adults can be coldly and rationally evil, but that usually comes later.)

Somewhere in between is providing support without teaching proactive coping strategies.  A child who knows her parents have her back is in good shape.  But for coping methods she must rely on whatever methods are available.  She must copy or improvise.  These are rather random and unsatisfying methods, especially since copying without real instruction is not often successful.  The essential pieces of the strategy can easily be missed, or underemphasized.

In short, not teaching good coping mechanisms leads to fearfulness and stress, which in turn lead to deploying the fight-flight-freeze response too widely and generally.

In the family, or at the latest in school or playpack, the child will run into bullying.  “Big kids” and even adults will take out generalized anger on the weaker people around.  Any young, small, or emotionally less assertive person is at the mercy of anyone larger, older, and more aggressive.  Bullying is probably the most important learning context, or wolf-feeding context.  The ideal solution would be to stop the bullying, but that is probably not for this world, though reducing it as much as possible is obviously desirable.  The best real-world solution is to make the child as physically and psychologically tough as possible, by the empowerment-and-support method.  The worst solution is to let the child learn that bullying is the way the system works.  Children abused by their parents and older siblings at home typically become bullies of smaller children.  Almost as bad is blaming the child: “You must have done something to make them go after you.”

Later the child—especially if female—is exposed to sexual harassment, which is a form of bullying.  (It is not a form of romance or normal sexuality.  Men do it to dominate, control, and demonstrate power, not to be affectionate.)  The same rules apply.  Telling a girl “you dressed too provocatively” is not only preposterous, it undermines the girl’s confidence in herself and her ability to deal competently with the situation.  It implies that she should turn herself into a mouse, instead of taking assertive action.

Supportive and considerate parenting vs unsupportive and harsh parenting can be set up as a 2 x 2 table.  Supportive and considerate is ideal.  Supportive and harsh was the traditional European and frontier American way.  Unsupportive but considerate and gentle is more or less the classic “spoiling.”  Unsupportive and harsh is the abusive parenting that produces bullies and brutes. Parents should be firm but reasonable and loving, and aware of growth stages and family dynamics; authorities should have functioning bureaucracies, check and balance systems, and ways to buffer hate.

The normal order of learning a new skill is a very good one: from most simple and direct to most abstract.  Children learn to walk, talk, play musical instruments, and do homework by gradual steps, from simple and direct to abstract and complicated.  This is the way to learn civil behavior: from politeness formulas to basic considerateness (sharing etc.), then to basic principles.  The simplest virtues are carefulness, civility, mutual aid, sociability, considerateness, and generosity.  Children should be empowered and made self-confident through acting accordingly and getting praised for it.  Then they can move on to more abstract virtues. Teenage angst and misbehavior are usually cured by giving rights in proportion to responsibilities.

In teaching, exposure to real (and realistically taught) contexts (laboratories, field, great art) works; books and schoolrooms are slightly above neutral.

Failure of control scares everyone (Bandura 1982), especially loss of social control.  If children continue down this route, they become cowardly and hostile.  Most people pick up their lives and learn to cope rationally, or at least to find social support and live calm, relatively inoffensive lives.  Those who do not, or—worse—who learn to cope by bullying, violence, antagonism, and abusing power, are the evildoers.  Psychology seems to agree that such people are low in agreeableness and openness, and have shaky emotional control; most are low in empathy (Robin Bergh, pers. comm.).  They are the classic bigots, those who hate those below them on the social scale or those physically weaker.  (Those who hate upward, so to speak, have a much less specific emotional profile; they can be anyone outraged.  We need more data on all these matters; standard personality scales do not measure ordinary evil very well, though there is a good scale for assessing psychopathy.)  The authoritarian persuasion seems to be driven by such matters: a combination of social norms and an upbringing that combines condign enforcing of those social norms with treatment of the child that tends toward brutality and a lack of support or empowerment.  However, various forms of authoritarianism are widely distributed across social and family dynamics.

Finally, in a situation where control is lost, or where evil people are in control, everyone seems to regress not only into “following orders,” but into the combination of cowardice and hostility that drives brutality in the first place.

Those who must kill in genuine self-defense or defense of their families or nations are usually quite traumatized by it.  So are those ordered to kill by fascist or communist leaders (though many evil killers and genociders are perfectly happy to kill in such conditions; on such matters see Baumeister 1997; Waller 2016).  Post-traumatic stress disorder is very common among former soldiers, and more so among victims of genocide, and probably perpetrators also.  Post-traumatic stress is a risk factor for violence, but most PTSD sufferers do not become violent.

In everyone, the key defense mechanism is the hardest to see and deal with, and the weaker a person is and the more need for strength he has, the worse the problem.  Brutal childrearing perpetuates it.

Genetics, trauma, and these types of parenting explain much of the variation in people, but most may still be the result of culture and society.

A lifetime of coping reasonably with problems is partially inoculating against bad wolves, but culture is always a problem.  Most cultures have many clauses that allow or encourage fear and hostility toward all sorts of groups.  Usually, the groups are familiar.  Very often, they are internal minorities.  Anti-Semitism, for instance, was rampant in Europe from the Middle Ages onward; Hitler needed only to take advantage of it.

Contrary to popular opinion, few groups automatically fear strangers.  My wife and I, in traveling and working all over the world, have met with warm welcomes almost everywhere.  Culture teaches, instead, hatred of one’s own minorities.  Culture also usually teaches intolerance of rulebreakers—exceptional people of all kinds, whether geniuses, deviants, handicapped persons, or original creators.  Going beyond the system is always problematic.  My sense is that well over 90% of evil behavior is due to cultural and social learning, not to the badness of the individual.  Children raised in gang or militia environments are often forced against their will to join such forces.  Children are not born racist; they learn it.  They may bring personal extremism to religion and other social ideologies, but they learn those ideologies, including any encoded hatreds.

The very simple psychodynamic scheme above predicts that the very weak and isolated child will turn escapist and quietist; the weak but socialized one will be a lifelong conformist, and therefore all too available for genocide if the leaders order it.  The strong child will grow up to escape the negative dynamic.  There are few such people, and experience suggests they too will fall in with genocide if the stakes are high.  The most dangerous child is strong in some areas, weak in others.  Unless channeled in helping directions—to use the strengths to help the weaker ones—such a person often ends by bullying and oppressing the weak.

Cultural teachings about the inferiority and badness of certain groups are most effective on people who are already aggressive and fearful.  Cultural teachings of tolerance and civility are most effective on those who are already more sociable, self-confident, and well-meaning.   Those who are not prosocial may find teachings of tolerance and civility to be red flags, rubbing in failure and guilt; the intemperate hatred by the American far right of “political correctness” is a case in point.

Status emulation guarantees that the upper classes, elders, and superiors have more effect on this than the rest of us do.  “The people strive to imitate all the actions and mannerisms of their prince.  It is thus very true that no one harms the state more than those who harm by example…. The bad habits of rulers are harmful not only to themselves but to everyone.” Petrarch (as quoted by Sarah Kyle, 2017:157.)

In sum:  People learn—from culture, society, bad parenting, bad peer groups, bad schools—that the way to deal with threats and stress is by hostility, defiance, and aggression; that the way to direct this hostility is not toward the actual threat, but toward weaker people; that certain groups are particularly deserving of being attacked; and that “different” people of all kinds also deserve attack.  If your boss insults you and you don’t dare confront him, find a nonconformist or minority person to attack.

Fear and hostility are the back story for a range of ills.  These may vary according to emotionality from bureaucratic callousness to genocidal hatred.  They may vary according to group solidarity from an isolated individual against the world (a familiar barroom figure) to the group-mind of genocidal attacks.  They may vary according to social situation from hating the rich to hating the poor.  They may vary according to economic conditions from selfish greed to looting.  A midpoint is ordinary unpleassantness, nastiness, and incivility.  Most people are unfairly hostile to certain others in their environment, often family members or close neighbors.  This small-scale daily bloody-mindedness can be used and manipulated by evil leaders, who can translate it into group hate.

People are not innately evil, nor do they automatically respond to threat with attack, but they are extremely prone to accept these messages of displaced hate.  The human animal seems predisposed to think that way.  The degree to which such messages take effect is proportional to the degree of fear, weakness, and anger that individuals have, but it is also proportional to the degree of bad training they have had.

On the other hand, people clearly have a strong innate tendency to become hateful, cruel, and violent.  It is not a mere ability that society trains into us.  The generalized cognitive abilities to make computers, drive cars, and trap fish in weirs are all innate, in that any trained human of reasonable intelligence can do them; but humans do not have any innate tendencies to carry those specific tasks.  They do not make computers unless taught, within a society with a long history of technological devleopment.  Evil is different.  Every known cultural and social group in the history of the world has had its cruel, brutal, murderous individuals, and the horrible record of wars and genocides proves that almost every human will act with unspeakable cruelty under social pressure.  As long as humans are social animals with strong fight-flight-freeze responses, the chain from defense to hostility to evil is sure to be reinvented, and to become popular wherever displaced aggression is socially tolerated.

The same can be said of callous indifference.  Almost everyone is prone to it.  If it is tolerated, it becomes common.  However, as with evil, its level differs from person to person, according to innate tendencies shaped by good or bad child-rearing.

Summing up the model: because of innate characteristics and learning in inevitably difficult and uncertain and often challenging environments, people develop varying degrees of weakness and defensiveness.  These lead to cowardice and hostility, which in turn—combined—lead to deflecting hatred and coldness downward, to anyone weaker, to anyone in one’s power, to anyone temporarily or permanently subjected.  Thus, the more frightened and defensive people will be those most prone to hate minorities, to display intimate partner violence, to commit genocide, or to displace poor people to make way for a reservoir—depending on the circumstances they find themselves in.  Being weak, they are also the ones most prone to do what superiors tell them, no matter how evil.  Combining those two things, they will be especially prone to obey superiors who tell them to exterminate minorities.

However, this is only the central or focal line of the model.  It extends to people who are merely violent (not fearful), merely fearful (not violent—they make the best heartless bureaucrats), able to hate laterally or even upward as well as downward, and so on.

Thus, evil is not inevitable, and can be prevented, but it takes over when given even a small chance, due to the human fight responses to threat and stress.  Almost any person will become evil if pressured enough, but almost any person can be kept from evil if pressured in that direction.  Culture usually provides both good and bad models and teachings.


Putting It All Together


The daily kibble of the bad wolf is frustration, resentment of trivial or imagined slights, everyday irritation, rejection, disempowerment, harassment.  This is especially true if one assumes the slights and minor rejections are due to malignant intent (Ames and Fiske 2015).  The raw red meat that gives it strength and power to take over is social hate.

Social hate is normally under control.  More moral ways of maintaining social solidarity win out.  What allows it to win is support by powerful leaders, usually those who want to conquer more resources or who lose from change.  The easiest way to unify people is to unite them against a common enemy, and the easiest enemy to unite people against is their own most salient minority group.  It is visible, weak, and easily available for persecution.  This is why the vilest tyrants preferentially go after the Jews, or Tutsi, or liberals, or heretics, or equivalent structural-opponent groups.

At present, the evil reactionary leaders are the heads of the giant multinational firms that produce and trade in oil, coal, minerals, bulk agricultural commodities, and similar raw primary-production goods.  Especially deadly are the sunsetting energy sources, oil and coal.  They were critical to the world economy until recently, so the companies and nations. that produced them gained incredible power.  Now they are obsolete.  The companies and nations in question are not going down without a fight.  Their great hope is to get government protection and subsidies.  To do this, they must control the government, not only through money (bribery, corruption, campaign donations, lobbying) but also through popular support.  The easiest way for them to get the support has been to whip up popular hatreds and lead the fight to devastate minorities and other victim populations.

The daily kibble of the good wolf is support, empowerment, caring, compassion, mutual aid, mutual responsibility, mutual respect, and mutual concern.  The raw red meat that gives it strength to win is conscious work to create and build social solidarity.  To this we now turn.




Part II.  What to Do About It?


First Steps to Policy: Evaluating What Helps


Good behavior does not come easily.  One must not only be moral, but—more importantly—able to deal rationally and as coolly as possible with actual harms and stresses. The innate impulses toward developing morality stem from human needs for warm sociabiloity.

In dealing with evil, we need to attack it directly: to oppose rational truth to hatred, political lies, oppression, cruelty, abuse of power, and the summation of all these in fascism and similar political ideologies.  We need to call out such things directly, constantly, and explicitly.

Above all, we need to drive rational, reasonable thinking and behavior against the irrationality (sometimes downright insanity) of murderous harm.

Nothing helps except dealing directly with it.  When the baby throws up all over you, all you can do is clean it up.  Prayer doesn’t help, good thoughts don’t help, meditation doesn’t help.  You keep loving the baby and do what is necessary.

            The only direct way to stop murder and mass violence is through appealing to reason and rational discourse while also enforcing strict laws within a rule of law.

This, by itself, is not enough.  We have to oppose evil with cultural and social teachings of help and unity, sustained by the innate moral or premoral sense of mutual aid and generosity that sem to inhere in humans.  Also directly relevant is natural interest and culriosity, and the urge to learn more to improve.  Natural toughnesss and innocent enjoyment are reasonable and useful.

            The reason that advancing the good is not mere selfishness.  It is antagonism to cooperating and to working with others as equals.


We must maintain a consistent, oft-repeated ideology of unity, solidarity, mutual aid, mutual care, and tolerance.  The center and left in the United States has recently fallen back on being “the opposition”—opposing rather than promoting.  We need to borrow a leaf from the British, and have a shadow government: a Democrat group who can develop policy and unite the party around it, via shadow cabinet ministers, heads of agencies, and the rest of the government machinery.  History teaches that people must go against something to unite successfully.  We can only do that in the name of a higher, nobler, more inclusive goal.  Even Hitler knew enough to do it.  We certainly should.

I recognize the drawbacks of utilitarian calculation, but I cannot see any way to evaluate policies and politics except by net help to people and the environment versus net harm to same. Things like peace and freedom must be calculated within that shell.  There are times when peace is wrong, such as when one’s country is invaded.  There are necessary limits to freedom, such as denying people the right to bully others.  Proactive effective help is good, by definition.  If it helps, it is good, in my terms.  More help dominates less help.  Similarly, gratuitous harm is my definition of evil.  Gratuitous harm is due to resentment, hostility, and aggressiveness, but these may in turn be due to culture and to social pressures.

The usual social-conformity measures are usually helpful, keeping society together, but they can be bad: being too conformist, going along to get along, and the like.

Helping requires self-efficacy, reasonableness, self-control, self-confidence, and courage (i.e. ability to go into unknown and risky, where self-confidence fails).  Obviously, parents and schools need to do everything possible to develop these.

The usual moral touchstone, the Golden Rule, does not work well for me.  My neighbors do not take well to being treated to Brussels sprouts, Scottish murder ballads, or displays of Chinese art.  Granted that such individual preferences are probably not what was intended by the Golden Rule, where do we draw the line?  I would certainly not inflict my rather old-fashioned Christian morality on the world at large.  Conversely, I would not accept the hierarchic social morality that works in and is highly popular in Singapore and China.  We simply cannot use ourselves as measures of all things and all people.  The only reasonable touchstone is helping people.

Even that must be qualified: what helps?  Is it help in their terms, or in mine?  One hopes for easy cases—things that are recognized by almost everyone as helping, such as feeding the hungry.  Not all cases are easy.  If I were in Singapore (where I lived and worked for a while many years ago), would I work to advance its quite popular but rigid moral code (which—then at least—banned chewing gum, rock music, and Playboy), or would I work to advance freedom and liberty of conscience, according to my own view of helping?  Such cases can only be decided by what appears most helpful overall in the long run.


As Hume said, “Reason is, and must ever be, the slave of the passions” (Hume 1969 [1739-1740]:462).  Reason is a good slave.  It is the only way to get things right so that we can survive.  It is the only possible route to change and improvement.  But what matters is getting the passions right, such that it is a slave to the good ones.  It is at least as competent and hard-working a slave to evil as to good.

As we have seen, people who do major harm have the same range and tendency as the rest of us.  They are usually “following orders” or otherwise acting as society directs.  Some are unstable, out of control, and unable to handle life.  The real problem is the resentment-hostility-evil-harm cycle.  The direct opposite is just being reasonable.  A more extreme opposite would be the “universal positive regard” of the psychologists, but that is a process goal, not achievable in the real world. People work terribly hard and are good family members, most of the time, but at other times their behavior can be appalling.

From the widest point of view, it is not aggression, intolerance, and violence that are bad, it is when they are deployed and against whom.  Minimal tolerance and maximum violence is quite appropriate for someone trying to rape you or your daughter.  The problem of evil is a problem of targeting:  Innocent people are targeted, or disproportionate harm is done for minor offenses.

Life is often dominated by bad occurrences.  We must deal with them, and they inevitably involve fear and threat.  This is why empowerment is so important.  It leads to self-efficacy (Bandura 1982), which leads to self-confidence and courage, which allow but do not guarantee facing and understanding problems and working out rational methods to cope with them.  This often involves direct fighting against real enemies, so life cannot be free from harming others.  This multiplies the need for rational thought, since any irrationality can lead to harming the wrong people.

The cure for misdirected aggression and rejection is reasonableness, followed by actions that are as helping as possible.  Most religions have come up with this idea, but only certain forms of the religion feature it.  It has been termed the “Social Gospel” in Christianity.  It also characterizes reform Judaism, Ahmadiyya, the Three Teachings tradition in China, various forms of Buddhism, and other traditions.  There needs to be a God(dess) of Reasonable Common Sense.


A Bit of History


All societiess have three processes always operating: negative feedback loops maintaining the situation without change; cycles; and positive feedback loops producing slow progress or decline over long periods of time.  Progress has generally dominated throughout history, in spite of long declines like that of the Roman Empire.

The Founding Fathers worked with a strong sense that we are all in this together and that my rights stop where yours start, often phrased as “your right to swing your arm ends at my nose.”   Finally, they were aware that a society and its laws and economy exist within a moral shell, and that shell must be embodied in the laws and indeed in the whole system.  (They got this thoughtful perception from Adam Smith’s writings on morals.)  These basic principles lie behind the Constitution.

This led to emphasizing freedom of conscience, thus of speech, religion, ideology, assembly, and voting.  It meant free enterprise, within reason.  It also meant freedom from torture, warrantless search, and other abuses of government power.  It meant equality in justice, opportunity, and law, with protection in oppression.  It meant rule of law, not of men.  It meant presumption of innocence, protection of all, and mutual defense.

These were seen as necessary because evil so often wins unless actively stoppe.  A polity must have balances of power, equality before the law, universal voting rights, full recourse (rights to sue, etc.) in the event of direct harm, and the other rights the Founding Fathers thought—wrongly—that they had guaranteed in the Constitution.  It is amazing how easily Republicans now get around those rights.

The United States failed at the beginning, in allowing slavery and in refusing citizenship to Native Americans.  It failed again in the Reconstruction by not enforcing full civil rights, and letting the carpetbaggers cream off wealth from the south.  These ills were eventually corrected, but not the lingering racism and power abuses that resulted.  These failures have led cynics to dismiss the entire American program, equality, freedom, and all.  I do not find that a helpful strategy.

The Depression was much better managed.  Fairness and, eventually, civil rights followed from bringing some degree of justice to the economy.

While the world was wide-open, when exploration and colonization were running wild, and then as long as technology was increasing wealth faster than population, freedom and Enlightenment values flourished.  Today, with closing frontiers, people are rushing to make all they can.  Failing that, they support and follow the powerful, in hopes of at least holding onto something.  The poor have given up hope of getting rich; they can only hope to cut other, weaker groups down and take what little those groups have.  This is a negative-sum game.  (Some cultures are much more prone to see the world as a zero-sum or negative-sum game than are others; Róźycka-Tran et al. 2015; Stavrova and Ehlebracht 2016.)

The steady rise of giant firms has been noted, and protested, since the 1870s, but it continues.  It has had a steadily more distorting effect on the economy and on politics.

The broad contours of politics in the early 20th century made sense: the Republicans were the party of business, ranging from family farms to local businesses and up to large firms; the Democrats were the party of labor.  This led to reasonable dialogue (though also plenty of bullying and cruelty by bosses).  The change beginning in the 1920s, but not really serious till the 1970s, was toward a Republican party uniting racism and giant reactionary firms, and eventually a Democratic party also becoming absorbed with identity politics rather than economic issues.  This has led to nothing but hatred, largely Republican racism and religious bigotry.  Serious discussion of economic issues is increasingly contaminated or lost in a welter of mutual accusations about bias.

One of the first effects of the shift from a farm-and-small-business America to an urban one dominated by giant firms was the disappearance of folk society.  This led to the decline of folk and traditional culture after 1950, and then to the dominance of popular culture and passive consumption.

This preceded political decline.  Traditional culture had kept Enlightenment values, including the Founding Fathers’ values, alive.  As traditional cultures and educational forms disappeared, and Hollywood filled the gap, American politics shifted rapidly from democratic to fascist.

What happened in politics was similar to what happened to food.  Decline of food traditions and rise of agribusiness corporations led to the rise of sugar, salt, and soybeans, with resulting heart trouble and diabetes.  Political decline led to a rise of racism, religious bigotry, intolerance, and incivility—not just in the United States, but worldwide.  Face-to-face community has been largely replaced by virtual communities.  Among the casualties are newspapers, local helpfulness, and Robert Putnam’s bowling leagues—Putnam uses their decline as a marker of the vastly wider decline of civic and civil culture in America (Putnam, Bowling Alone, 2000).

Another casualty has been traditional conservatism.  The old union of small-government advocates, hierarchic law-and-order defenders, patriots, and security advocates has disappeared.  Most of them at least had some sense of honor and honesty.  The current “conservatives” favor big government interfering continually in people’s private lives (sex, drugs, religion, media use, and more), are indifferent to hierarchies (though loving strong-men), and make covert deals with Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and other countries against America’s obvious interests.  Their main concerns are using racism and religious bigotry to whip up support for the giant primary-production firms.  As to honor and honesty, I allow the record to speak.  It is a changed world.

It is interesting that the decline of cultures and their ideals came before the political decline, and before any economic effects.  Economic growth continues.  It seems that the last thing to be affected by a change in economic organization is the economy itself!

All the worst things many of us feared over the last 50 years have come together in a perfect storm: attacks on democracy, freedom, equality before the law, the environment, science, minorities, the press, the poor, the workers.  Much of this involves the triumph of popular culture over traditional and folk cultures with the values systems.  The main driver, however, has been the rise of inequality—especially the rise in power and wealth of the rich.  Nazi-like fascism has been revived, with even more focus on Big Lies than in Hitler’s Germany, and with even more fawning surrender of America to the most reactionary of the giant corporations.

The worst of that process is that it allows truly evil people, who are often motivated by extreme greed and hate, to get ahead.  When they triumph, they often end by ruling the state.  Contrary to tropes of “the 1%,” most rich people are reasonable enough.  The problem is that the few evil, sometimes downright psychopathic, rich—the Kochs, Mercers, Princes, Trumps, and their ilk—are highly motivated to seek power.  When they get it, they use it vindictively.  They do not merely increase their wealth; they attack the rest of us.


Evil ideology in the United States perfectly tracks economic evils.  The slave-based plantation world began it.  Continued decline of the rural south has made it more toxic.  It has spread first into other declining rural areas, then into declining manufacturing ones.  The situation appears to be comparable in other countries.  The ties to giant-corporate primary production are clear.  Exxtreme hierarchy of power and wealth, and economic and social stagnation, are endemic to such systems.

The political conversion of the border south, Idaho, Montana, and the Dakotas came with the decline of labor unions and small farms and the rise of giant primary-production firms in those states.

Republican leaders today combine greed, power madness, psychopathy, and hate to a degree almost unique in human experience.  One must go back to Hitler and Stalin to find anything like it.  It results in insane cruelty—deliberately going after not only the poor and weak, but everything that helps people: education, medical care, sustainable resource use, etc.  These new leaders support and are supported by the war and gun industry and the fossil fuels producers, the mega-polluters, and almost no one else.  They remind me of he schoolyard bullies of my childhood: stupid but strong, and thus using their strength to hurt the smart and weak.

Current problems in the United States include a full-scale frontal attack on democracy: on free press, voting rights, civil rights, civility, and equal protection under the law.  Brian Klaas, in his book The Despot’s Apprentice (2017), provides a thorough account of these attacks, with many important and thought-provoking comparisons to tyrannies and despotisms around the world.  This attack is supported by the Big Lie technique, by exploiting religious and racial bigotry, by attacks on the poor, and by anti-scientific lies and misrepresentations.  Huge subsidies and special favors for giant corporations are now the rule, in a climate of corurption.  Clearly, American democracy and freedom are doomed unless Americans unite to save their best traditions (see Klaas 2017).

The few giant firms that support right-wing politics to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year now control the United States, through the Republican Party.  Measures like the tax bill—opposed by 75% of voters and only appealing to the super-rich—show this dominance clearly.

At current rates of descent into fascism, the Republican administration will crack down arund 2020, declare a state of emergency, suspend the Constitution, and begin full-scale genocide.  The Republicans, like Hitler (and possibly copying him), have engaged in indiscriminate hatred.  Trump, in campaigning and in tweets, has attacked Muslims, Mexicans, Jews, African-Americans, Native Americans, liberals, poor people, feminists, and others beyond counting.  Followers have added their voices, sometimes advocating extermination of gays (as preacher Kevin Swanson has done).  An economic downturn or fear of losing the 2020 elections could precipitate dictatorship and its inevitable result.  The centrists, liberals, and moderate-conservatives of the United States have very little time to unite and stop this.  Without unity, it is unstoppable.

The longer back story is that we have a new mode of production, that unites China, North Korea, and Venezuela with the United States despite alleged differences between “communism” and “capitalism.”

The new mode is one in which giant primary-production corporations, especially oil, coal, and agribusiness, control the economy and are either tied closely to government (by subsidies and special favors and rules as well as by bribery and corruption) or are actually a part of government.  Big oil and big coal—the reactionary energy-suppliers that should now be displaced by solar and wind power—have an especially distorting effect, because they are in such desperate need of maintaining political reaction and fighting environmental protection.  Their role is interestingly similar to that of slavery and the slave trade in past times, not only the Atlantic trade of the 18th and 19th centuries but also the Byzantine and Genoese slave trade from the Black Sea region in the Middle Ages.  All these had enormous distorting effects on politics and culture, driving reactionary and anti-Enlightenment views and policies.  The thousand-year cultural stagnation of the Byzantine Empire seems due to this.  Relying on reactionary and harmful methods of getting basic energy is culturally fatal.

Capitalism in the narrow sense (control of society by capitalists) is dead.  If “neoliberalism” ever existed, it does so no more.  (The term has been used so loosely that it has no established meaning; it once meant the extreme free-market view.)  Giant firms working through tyrannical governments are the future, or at least the foreseeable future.  Since the rapid growth of these extractive industries cannot go on much longer, a hard limit will be set within 100 years (and probably within 50), leading probably to mass starvation, hopefully to some search for solutions.

In the future, worldwide, concentration of power and wealth will go on, while resources diminish and global warming runs on apace—unless the human race sees fit to stop fighting and hating and start working for the common good.  The economy remains one of throughput, as opposed to efficiency and recycling.  It remains dominated by dinosaur firms: the companies that produce oil, coal, and other commodities that should be sunsetting.  The Enlightenment, that product of trade and commerce, is rapidly being forgotten, as primary production becomes more and more dominant in a resource-short world.  It will be replaced by negative-sum gaming: people fighting to maintain their shares of a shrinking pie, usually by trying to take from others’ pieces.


Towards a New Moral Order


The relevant teaching of the religions that care is to be as good as possible to sinners and lure them into a warm, supportive, nice community.

Practical concerns and economic adjustments are not going to help in the short run.  Economics has followed culture and ideology in the past, and will no doubt continue to follow.  Obviously, in the future, we will have to set up a society based on sustainable use of the earth, equality of opportunity, substantial public sector, and controls on inequality, but the immediate need is to unify behind a set of principles that will stop fascism and restart progress in those directions.

The first order of business is to create a society as free as possible from bullying, and its adult forms: genocide, intimate partner violence, cold bureaucratic displacement of people, and senseless war.

The first step, since the root problem is hatred (in the broad sense—including deliberate dismissal), is to shore up civil and personal rights to provide maximal protection from abuse of minorities, women, children, and other vulnerable groups, and maximal recourse for those groups in case of injury.  Hate crimes (to say nothing of genocide) must be condignly suppressed.  That includes deliberate incitement to hate crime.

Pursuant to observations on childrearing, all authorities seem to agree that raising children with at least minimal civility, decency, and understanding is the second step. The need for control is the only human need that is never satisfied.  Since understanding is the only form of control that is good in large quantities, the wise will seek understanding instead of other forms.

From there, we need to reach out and create a new social morality.  This should be embedded in real communities—physical neighborhoods held together by strands of mutual aid, cowork on projects, mutual responsibility, and general neighborliness.  Virtual and dispersed communities are also valuable and need all the encouragement they can get, but there is no substitute for face-to-face contact and mutual aid.  However, this should not be expected to work by itself; all traditional small communities had their experiences of intolerance and violence.

The traditional way of convincing people to live by prosocial values has been religion, but it has a spotty record.  We need to make our current values far clearer, but we also need to combine them with emotional and personal appeals, as religions do.  This takes us back to education and the media.  It also requires some resolutions, at the political level, about what kind of society we want.  The rapid descent of the Republicans from a party of business to a party of hate has been terrifying to watch.  It is similar enough to the evolution of fascism in Europe, and communism in the USSR and China, to imply a harsh future.

The economic system needs to be opened to provide more opportunities for more people, but the old ideas of “economic determinism” do not work.  We have now seen genocide and other evils arising in every type of economic situation and every type of economic regime.  The classic modes of production are not helpful.  “Socialism” covers everything from Denmark and Norway to North Korea to Venezuela.  “Capitalism” covers everything from Germany to Equatorial Guinea.  This does not get us far.

We have, in fact, seen genocide arise in every type of system except true democracy with equality before the law and full equal rights for everyone.  And even true democracy has proved unable to get rid of war, violence, gangsterism, and everyday crime.  Obviously, we need all the laws we can have, to outlaw harming others gratuitously, but laws exist in a moral shell, and we have to work on that as well as on making the laws apply to all equally.


I believe we need a new moral order (Anderson 2010), based on keeping the good wolves fed and the bad ones starved.  Morality is about society, not individual behavior.  It exists because people are compulsively and necessarily social, and yet get offended and angry and then hateful and aggressive.  In this case, it has to be the opposite of hatred, callousness, and irrationally violent response to perceived threat.


The first rule of morality is to take all people, and ultimately all beings, as important.  As Kant said: they must be subjects of concern, not objects to be used.

This is one of the messages of epics like the Iliad, of the classic Scots ballads, and of great literature the world over.  The extreme opposite of the typical Hollywood “action movie,” in which cardboard characters are killed by dozens without concern.  The slide from traditional literature to Hollywood thrillers is clearly related to the rise in genocide and violence; the latter tracks the former (and other pop cultural forms) better than it tracks anything else.  The rise of inequality, especially the rise in power of giant multinational firms, is a much more obvious driver of indifference to people and of taking them as Kantian objects.

The second rule is:  we’re all in this together.  People are fellow travelers on a lifeboat that has limited supplies and that is easily upset by fighting.


That implies a morality of helping, caring, and stopping gratuitous harm.  Accept people as they are.  No rejection for being what they are—only for actual evil behavior.  The main pillars of that are caring, charity, and peace.  These can take us on to active help: feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and the other standard social goods.  The contrast set is hatred, selfish greed, and violent aggression.  As social values, rather than individual pathologies, those are the classic defining features of the medieval state—the constantly warring small states that had to grow or die, and could grow only at the expense of neighboring states playing the same game.

Long-term, wide-flung interests should prevail above short-term, narrow ones.  In the real world, the short term must be considered, because failure to attend to immediate threats and concerns can kill before the long term is reached.  However, the world is now sacrificing more and more long-term interest to shorter and shorter benefits.  A classic case is overfishing.  At current rates of fishing, there will be no wild fish by 2050 (Worm 2016; Worm et al. 2006).  This occurs largely because of overcompetition among fishers.  Another problem is the opposite: overplanning and top-down control.  This is seen in big dams, which not only displace people but destroy fisheries.  The long-term benefits of farmland, fisheries, and stable communities are sacrificed for the short-term benefits of hydropower for urban consumers, and sometimes some flood control and water management; these are short-term because reservoirs silt up very rapidly, and become useless.

Most (say 80%) of the population must be more generous, self-sacrificing, helpful, community-oriented, and moral than they “need,” to balance out the 10-20% who are utterly evil.  Self-sacrifice needs to be a high good, so long as it does not turn into suicide bombing.


Within this moral shell, the most important thing to do is avoiding hatred and rejection of people or any other beings on the basis of prejudice: imagined “essence” that is somehow bad.  Tolerance and valuing diversity are essential.  (The costs of prejudice are substantial.  Subtly foregrounding “maleness” made Black boys do better on tests, while foregrounding “blackness” made them do worse, because of internalized stereotypes [Cohen et al. 2006].  Similar results have turned up over a wide range of stereotypes, e.g. foregrounding “Asian” vs. “women” makes Asian-American women do better or do worse, respectively, on math tests; Clark et al. 2015.)

Direct action should be to help, not harm unnecessarily; work for a living and some material comforts, but, beyond minimal personal comforts, only to share with others and help others in the world; constantly work to learn more, find more truths, and abandon more wrong views; defend, but only against real direct threats, not imagined or trivial social slights or indirect or potential enemies.  Morals thus cover social interaction, self-efficacy and self-control, learning, and public values.

All these result in ability to be socially responsible, and to carry out mutual aid, which I take to be a highly desirable end-state.  Basic to this are what I would consider the leading interpersonal moral needs:  caring, compassion, considerateness and civility, reasonableness, respect, and responsibility (4 C’s and 3 R’s).  It includes the values that create peace and unity in society: solidarity, tolerance, valuing diversity, mutual aid, and empowerment; thus, for society, peace, justice, fairness, equality, truth, and inquiry.

Learning, knowledge, and wisdom are obviously necessary, and critical, for this enterprise.  That involves keeping an open mind about new findings, but no open mind about hatred or cruelty.  It also requires self-control (including giving up the attempt to overcontrol others), patience, and courage, but above all the ability to work hard, in focused and thorough way, for the common good.  Hypocrisy and toxic conformity are banished.  Education must follow accordingly.


The Trump moral order is strong-man politics and bullying above all, then bigotry, then hatred of all learning, education, knowledge, science, and truth, then anti-environmentalism.  Strong-man politics involves wielding naked power by those who have it, and using it to crush those below.  The old idea of paternalism—the idea that the rich and powerful should help those below—has been completely replaced by strong-man politics.  Society is played as a negative-sum game.

This moral order produces hatred of weaker persons (women, kids, minorities, poor), violence, brutality, war, anti-health and anti-medical rules and laws, and fawning adulation of the rich and powerful.

The driver of all this is the combination of the dinosauric rich interests, especially oil and coal, with the desperate attempts of less educated older white males to maintain their control of society.  They have the advantage that the overwhelming majority of Congress is older white males with considerable power.  Both these blocs have vested interest in blocking or reversing change.

The counter-view is based on the theory that my rights stop where yours start.  If people recognize the need for equality before the law and equal opportunity under law, they must work from this principle above all.  Then, the clear moral order for the world is saving nature, promoting responsibility and mutual aid (with the more fortunate or strong helping those less so), promoting learning and truth, and nonviolence.

It is important to understand that both these moral views can go with economic growth, wealth accumulation, and the other things that developers currently consider “good.”  There is no reason to pick one over the other except for common human decency.  In the long run, the Trumpian view is unsustainable, because it leads to dinosaur interests pushing the system into collapse, but in the short run, we have seen the lack of any real break from Obama’s growth economy to Trump’s.  “Capitalism,” whatever it is, can be range from rather benign to utterly malignant.  The socialist alternative is equally ambiguous; Norway and Venezuela are both “socialist” in some ways, but Norway has a morality based on social decency, Venezuela has a moral order based on Trump-style dictatorial violence and bullying.

For having a decent world, and for having a future for the world, we have to make moral choices, not simply economic ones.  We must make a moral choice to help people rather than hurt them.  That involves honesty with ourselves about the ways that weakness, resentment, overreaction to trivial or imagined slights, and overreaction to trivial harms combine to feed the bad wolf and thus feed displacing resentment onto weaker people and onto the natural world. 

            Then we must work to feed the good wolves, all of them, everywhere, out in the world.  The food of good wolves is caring and consideration for all, especially as shown through empowerment by decent, supportive, respectful behavior.


Within the ultimate objective of increasing help and decreasing harm, there are many goals.

Process goals are goals that can never be fully reached, but that make the world better the closer we approach to them.  The classic example is health.  Perfect health is impossible in this flawed world.  We could always be a little better off.  But striving for better and better health is obviously worth doing.  Similarly, we will never be able to feed everyone, but the FAO’s goal of secure, healthy, nourishing, accessible food for everyone in the world is a goal worth striving for; the closer we get to it, the better off we are.  Other such goals include learning, appreciation of diversity and beauty, and cooperation.  We might even list cleaning, fixing, and maintenance.

Freedom, tolerance, and wealth all stop at moderation.  Freedom stops when my rights run up against yours; freedom to bully, intimidate, and oppress others is evil.  Tolerance must stop before it reaches tolerance for rape, murder, and theft.  One should never be intolerant of persons as such, but certainly we must be intolerant of evil acts.  We must also frequently oppose actual enemies, even though they are persons and deserve respect and fair treatment as such.  Inequality and excessive wealth are notorious social evils.


This gives us morals in pairs:  Caring vs indifference; courage vs. cowardice; peace vs. hate and hostility; proactive help vs. laziness; responsibility vs. irresponsibility; reason vs. irrationautyl; carefulness vs. carelessness; respect vs. scorn.  Courage comes before hate, though hate is the Problem, because hate comes from fear and thus courage is a prior and more basic virtue.

To feed the good wolf, we need to feed the irenic and full-person sides of human nature.  The best food for good wolf is reflecting that every being is important, and every human deserves consideration.  No one is essentially worthless or bad.  Feeding the bad wolf invoves feeding the cowardice, hatred, and indifference that are so much a part of our species.  The bad wolf is fed by holding grudges and overreacting to slights, often imagined ones.  The prime food for bad wolf is allowing oneself to be corrupted by the insidious thought that some people don’t matter.  Hostility and aggression are the real problems in cases of hatred.  One can hate and be a relatively good human being, if one hides the hatred.  This, however, never seems to work.  All haters seem to come out with evil behavior if they go on long enough.


Very few ways of feeding the good wolf have worked in the past, but those few have worked very well.

By far the best way has been guaranteeing civil and human rights, equal for all, before the law, and enforced strictly by executive and court action.  This has eroded disastrously in the United States, but grown steadily in much of western Europe.

Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela exemplify the most important: appealing to solidarity and natural human social goodness in the face of oppression.  Next most important and effective has been empowerment.  Doing scientific research to find out what improves the human condition is a strong third.  Forthrightly opposing evil is a long fourth, but still needs to be done.  Simply cheering people up is at least something.

Group hatred has traditionally been addressed by getting the groups together in positive situations, giving them common goals or working with the common goals they already have, affirming irenic and tolerant values, stressing the advantages of diversity, looking for common ground, striving to make groups as equal as possible (at least in opportunity and before the law), stoutly defending civil rights and explaining why those are beneficial to all, and other well-known methods.

All this does work, but not perfectly.  The most notorious case of failure was the heroic attempt made in Yugoslavia to get the various nationalities in that “united Slav” country to get along.  Unfortunately, it was counterproductive; the well-meaning majority tried too hard, alienated a vicious and noisy minority, and faced breakup, war, and genocide when Yugoslavia threw over communism.  “Multiculturalism” in the United States has had some similar problems; when it emphases the classic American e pluribus unum, it works, but far too often it emphasizes differences and even antagonisms without emphasizing the common ground and common goals. It often fostered the deadly mistake of seeing subcultures and ethnic communities as closed, steel-walled spheres, completely cut off from each other.  That view directly causes and fosters ethnic hatred.

Worst of all is unifying a population by uniting it against a common enemy—the hatreds are all merged into hating the enemy.  This is especially deadly if it is an internal minority that is defined as the enemy, as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao did.  That way lies genocide and social breakdown.

In sharp contrast, some traditional societies have dealt with potential religious conflicts for centuries, and managed them by a number of social rules and strategies.  The people of Gondar, an Ethiopian city that is a traditional stronghold of Christianity but has a large Muslim population, have learned to get along, and have taken ISIS in stride (partly by casting it as non-Muslim or otherwise aberrant; Dulin 2017).  Similar accommodations have worked until recently in many countries, but the breakdown of very old and long-established ones in Iraq, Syria, and China bodes ill for the future.

The standard methods of increasing happiness—gratitude, good thoughts, reaffirming values, and other mindfulnesses (Lyubomirsky 2007)—are also of some use, but never transformed a society.  The world needs cures for evil more than it needs helps to happiness.

Only uniting economic incentives, charismatic leaders, and common morality ever works to improve conditions.  We need positive and inclusive dialogue that is factual yet hopeful.  We need healing and rejuvenation.

Wayne Te Brake (2017), studying the decline of religious war in Europe, found that nation-states had to facilitate the process of getting people to live in harmony.  The bottom line was that people who were neighbors had to get along.  Where the cuius regio, eius religio rule held, the country had only one religion, and intolerance kept right on, but in areas where pluralism was established, governments finally realized they had to guarantee rights to religious minorities—ushering in the Enlightenment, by slow degrees.  It appears that government peacemaking led to philosophers and politicians coming up with ideas of religious freedom, which eventually led to ideas of liberty of conscience.  Something similar happened with civil rights in the modern United States in the 1950s and 1960s, but the results have been less satisfactory so far.  State and local governments have dragged their feet.  Still, the model is there.

Specifics include better parenting and better advice and counseling on it.  Schools need to change profoundly, to teach civility and ordinary decency and to deal with values.  Today, schools have come increasingly to drill students mindlessly in basic skills, to be assessed by endless standardized tests that kill thought and destroy creativity.  I have talked to young students who wrote essays and poems surreptitiously because the schools discouraged such behavior.  We need to go back to older ideals: the most important thing to teach is civil behavior, not STEM skills.  On the other hand, teaching students how to learn, how to do research or at least find out accurate information, is vital also.  Teaching truth is important, teaching how to tell truth from lies is even more so, but teaching students how to find out for themselves and improve their knowledge and accuracy of knowledge is most important of all.  Teaching students that hatred and unprovoked aggression are unacceptable—morally wrong and socially destructive—is obviously necessary.  Common decency and honesty would be enough to keep the good wolf fed and the bad one at bay.   Surely schools, media, and public life can teach that much.

Another specific is getting people to choose more reasonably what groups to join and what groups to prioritize.  Joining extremist political groups is the order of the day.  We need centrist groups, community organizations, aid associations, and other groups that will bring people together to help and to meet each other—groups that will be unifying rather than divisive.

In the wider society, the media have an obvious role to play in continuing this process of fighting hate and lies by promoting civility and truth.

All this requires continual learning and improving one’s knowledge, but not necessarily keeping an open mind.  The ills I am addressing in this essay—genocide and its small-scale correlates such as bullying, callousness, and domestic violence—do not deserve “open minded” assessment.  They must be stopped.







Thanks to Chris Chase-Dunn, Peter Grimes, Jennifer Skornik, and Andrea Wilson for ever-valuable comments.




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Genocide and Political Mass Killing in the World since 1900: Summary of Major Events

May 23rd, 2017

Genocide and Political Mass Killing in the World since 1900: Summary of Major Events


Genocide here refers to mass killing of citizens or subjects of a country, simply on the basis of their “race,” ethnicity, language, religion, or similar “essentialized” group identity.  It grades into politicide: mass killing based on political ideology or other broad and general identification with opposing factions (as opposed to actual participation in such factions).

Sources:  Otherwise unattributed figures are from Stanton 2010.  Further notes from Anderson and Anderson 2014; figures in that book were based largely on Rummel 1998 but with much updating from later sources.  Rummel is cited below where he is the last or best authority.  Some updating from general media since 2014.  Stanton’s figures are consistently higher than Rummel’s, reflecting better historical scholarship on these topics, and also more killing in many countries, since Rummel’s count, which ended in 1987.

N=100 countries, ca. 115 cases ranging from low-level ongoing politicide to full genocide.  These include 13 major genocides.  Many cases are ongoing murder with occasional  over long periods, notably settler wars in 19th-century US and 19th and 20th century Brazil.

Not all that is below is genocide.  Some cases, notably in the Middle East, are currently unclear.  We have no idea how much killing is cold-blooded murder by government of its own peaceable subjects (i.e. genocide) and how much is wartime massacre.  This makes comparison of the extent of genocide impossible in many, even most, cases.  Clear genocide blends into war.  To start with our first case, Afghanistan saw clear genocide of the Hazaras under the Taliban; mass killing of civilians for various reasons by them and by warlords; and a great deal of indiscriminate murder of anyone in the way of battle during the endemic wars.  Indonesia in 1965-66 saw genocide, rebellion, civil war, and mob violence, all going on in different places at the same time, or in the same place at different times, but with actual genocide clearly the major killer.  Sorting out numbers in such cases is impossible.  The same applies to other failed-state cases, including Libya, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, and many more.

Many had multiple cases of murderous autocracies, especially when fascist (or, in the USSR case, repressive tsarist) countries transitioned to communism, with murderous regimes both times (n=11; China, Cuba, USSR, east Europe).

Interesting is that the few Communist regimes remaining have proved the most durable and the most genocidal of the classes of dictatorship.  A close second is the theocracies.  These are currently all Muslim but have not always been so.  Christians carried out genocide in Lebanon in its civil war, and Christian genocide of Muslims was nipped in the bud in the Central African Republic in 2014.  Fascism is much less durable; there are currently no really genocidal fascist regimes, in spite of several elected fascist governments (including that of the US as well as Turkey, India, Hungary, and perhaps a few other cases).  These regimes may turn genocidal in time, however.  Military dictatorships are especially prone to fade away.  Myanmar’s is tenacious, but civic action led to the end of military rule in South Korea, Taiwan, and many other countries, and a rather chaotic alternation of militarism and civic government in Thailand.

“Democratically” elected regimes are starred.  Usually the democracy was far from perfect.  N=19.  Some of these, most famously Germany under Hitler and Italy under Mussolini (and also Philippines under Marcos), declared dictatorship before starting the actual genocide.  Most, however, did not; they killed in spite of constitutional prohibitions.  They are sometimes called “imperfect” or otherwise suspect, but Hollie Nyseth Brehm (2015, 2017) points out that they may be especially high-risk simply because they are democracies—the government being insecure and subject to defeat in elections.  If they are consumed by exclusionary passions, they may move to killing.

Several brief episodes of terror in small nations are omitted here.

Major conclusion:  In all cases, regimes took power through conflict, or rarely through democratic election, but often directly and solely through whipping up hate.  Economic factors such as poverty, downward mobility, and local inequalities sometimes appear to be causative, but not reliably enough to predict anything.  Extremist political ideology is predictive.  So is chaotic conflict.


Afghanistan: 1978-present: “tens of thousands” when kingdom fell to communist government and it consolidated in and after 1978 (Totten and Bartrop 4); 228,000 by 1987 (Rummel); countless since.  Impossible to sort out genocide from ordinary war or to get accurate counts, but well over a million people have died violently, most of them noncombatants.  Massive persecution of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Monguors, and other specific groups at least sometimes count as genocidal, especially Taliban killings.  (The Taliban are largely Pashtun/Afghan.)  These include killing of 50,000 in 1996-2001 with apparent intent to exterminate the Hazaras or at least destroy their culture.

Albania: 1941-1945, ca. 50,000, during the fascist-dominated period, Jews and religious leaders, during wartime; later another 50,000 or more, under communism (especially during consolidation, but then ongoing under Enver Hoxha), when any and all dissidents were targeted.

Algeria: 1953-1963, French genocidal repression of independence movement, 160,000 (civil war as excuse, but mass terror quite typical);  subsequent genocide of secular elements by militant Islam 1991-2005 (largely in two separate episodes), 200,000 (some real combat here, and war deaths are included in this total, so actual genocide is substantially less though still serious).

Angola: 1961-1962: suppression of independence movements; 40,000, especially Kongo ethnics.  1975-2002, civil war for independence followed by random killing; about 500,000 Umbundu-Ovumbundu in genocidal suppression campaigns.  Civil wars with attendant genocides.

Argentina:  During the rule by the “Colonels,” 1976-1983: at least 20,000, probably 30,000; Jews, Communists, leftists, dissidents.  Ongoing and increasing repression characterized the period until the “Colonels” lost power.

Armenia: thousands of killings in war with Azerbaijan, 1988-1994; marginally genocide (largely ordinary warfare).  For the great Armenian genocide, see Turkey.

*Australia:  Aboriginals; small and uncertain numbers, but, as proportion of total, an enormous genocide.  Deliberate destruction of culture (banning of language, destroying hunting and foraging grounds, etc.) much more prevalent than killing, but plenty of killing in early decades.  This largely ended by 1930, but Aboriginals were not legally citizens till the 1970s.  Cultural destruction continues, but worse now is ecocide (Short 2016:127-158), though using Aboriginal lands as outright sacrifice zones is far less easy than once.

Austria: fascism in WWII; Jews and others; wartime; generally counted under the “six million” of the Nazi genocide, since Austria was part of Germany at the time.

Azerbaijan: 1988-1994:  some tens of thousands of Armenians; Armenian army reciprocated with some thousands of killings.  War situation, so the number of innocents killed solely for their identity is unknown.

Bangladesh: 1971-1975; non-Bengali Muslims, Hindus.  At least 25,000 (a very low estimate) in what was otherwise a war of independence for Bangladesh.  Many non-Bengali Muslims were driven out of the new nation in “ethnic cleansing” operations; many of these died of disease and malnutrition in refugee camps.  1980s (and to some extent ongoing), near-genocidal killings by the government of local hill peoples, largely to open their areas to wider exploitation (Levene 2010), making these a modern-day case of settler genocide.

Belgium:  Largely before our time frame but overlapping with it, King Leopold II oversaw the killing of perhaps as many as 8,000,000 in his empire from 1886 to 1908.

*Bosnia:  1992-1998: Ca. 100,000 killed, largely by Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbian government, also massacres by Croatians and Bosnians.  Muslims were singled out for “ethnic cleansing,” the euphemism (for genocide or expulsion) that was used in this case.  However, Catholics and other religious minorities (as opposed to the Eastern Orthodox dominant in Serbia) were also subjected to mass killing.  Related were thousands of deaths in Croatia, Serbia, and Macedonia as part of general conflict and Milosevic government action.  Situation of regime consolidation, but then simply genocide without any real trigger—a rather rare case.

*Brazil: throughout history, and ongoing, anti-Native American bias leads to regular genocide or genocidal treatment of Native American groups.  Sometimes expanded to local mixed-“race” people, as in the genocidal repression of the “backlands” rebellion of the late 19th century. Many separate episodes; about 300,000 killed in 1945-1964 under repressive military regimes.  Totals otherwise unknown and obscure, but many Indigenous tribes have simply vanished over the years.  Ecocide—massive deforestation, dam-building, and the like—has led to mass displacements and frequent deaths.

Bulgaria: 222,000 (Rummel).  Most deaths due to fascism in WWII.  There were, later, reactive massacres of Germans and others 1945-1948; Communism after that, largely during consolidation period.  Total probably too small.

Burundi: Tutsi purges of Hutu; 1959-62, 50,000; 1972, 150,000; 1988, 25,000; 1993-1995, 100,000, but this time the Hutus were strong enough to kill 50,000 Tutsi; 1996-present, continued unrest, 100,000 or more further deaths (both groups).  Regime consolidation and then simply continuing genocide.

Cambodia:  especially Khmer Rouge, from 1968, especially 1975-1979; a massive, almost indiscriminate genocide targeting all educated people, Vietnamese, Cham, opponents or suspected or conceivable opponents of the regime, and Buddhist clergy (90-95% killed by Khmer Rouge admission; Totten and Bartrop 2008:53); total of at least 1.75-2 million killed.  Before 1975, a few thousand Communists and Vietnamese had been eliminated.  After 1979, anti-Communists, Pol Pot loyalists, conceived opponents, few thousand (plus several tens of thousands in civil war 1979-80 and some following action).  Total deaths in Cambodia during the whole period probably 3,000,000, but some of that is war death, not genocide.  See details in Kiernan (2007) and sources cited there.  Consolidation moving into wartime situation.

Central African Republic: Under the Bokassa military dictatorship (“Central African Empire”): real and imagined opponents including whole local groups were targeted.  This was ongoing for some years.  “Not even approximate figures exist” (Anderson and Anderson 2015:162).  Much more recently (2010-2013), escalating conflict between Christians and Muslims was beginning to lead toward genocide, but was stopped by prompt action of other African states and international observers, in a very rare case of preventing genocide (Brown 2013).

Chad: 1965-1996, ca. 10,000 deaths in civil wars.  More serious genocide 2005-2010 from Sudanese army incursions and their Chadian collaborators, targeting Darfuri and related groups; several thousand; totals uncertain.

Chile:  Dictatorship of Pinochet, 1973-1989: 3000-10,000+ leftists, dissidents, protestors.  Consolidation, then ongoing repression.  Though small compared to most genocides, this one was cruel, bloody, and without even the pretense of excuse in rebellion or civil unrest, so it has become notorious.  Also, CIA involvement (Feierstein 2010), and support by conservative economists (such as Milton Freeman and Friedrich Hayek) for Augusto Pinochet, make it particularly embarrassing to the US on an international scale. Pinochet was forced out as dictator in 1989 but remained in control of the army until 1998.  Attempts to bring him to justice were beginning to look hopeful, but he died in 2006.

China:  Uncounted political murders in the troubled times of 1911-1937.  Then Japanese occupation and widespread genocide.  (In parts of China under full Japanese control, this was not war in a foreign country but simple genocide).  Possibly 4 to 6 million dead; 300,000 in the rape of Nanking (1937) alone (Totten and Bartrop 2008:69).  1948-present:  non-Communists, dissidents, protestors; religious persons, Uighur, Tibetans (at least 1,200,000 Tibetans, probably more); to some extent other non-Han.  Also religious repression; under Mao, all religions; more recently, only Falun Gong and locally Christians, but totals many thousand.  Several separate episodes.  Consolidation of the regime at first involved 3 million deaths (Totten and Bartrop 2008:269).  Famine in the Great Leap Forward killed another 45,000,000 (Dikotter 2010).  The Great Cultural Revolution, and further savage racist repression under Xi Jinping, killed perhaps as many again; numbers are dubious.  The full total from 1948 to 1976, under Mao, is unclear, but well over 50 million.  Since then deaths are uncounted and hard to classify, but at least many thousand.  See details in Anderson and Anderson 2014:163-164.

*Colombia:  Civil war, especially 1948-1958, but continuous since, flaring up after 1975, with peace finally achieved in 2016; totals at least 200,000, but impossible to sort out genocide, civil war, and sheer crime, since drug gangs did much of the killing and were often fused with government or anti-government militias.  Rummel (1998) est. 152,000 genocidal.  See Arturo Escobar’s great work Territories of Difference (2008) for an unexcelled account of the back story.

Congo (D. R.): Belgian cruelty and mass murder, especially under King Leopold in the early 20th century, led to complete chaos and almost continual mass killing since independence, but most is by local militias, not the government.  It is basically about ethnic hatreds potentiated by conflict for mineral resources such as col-tan (columbium and tantalum ore).  Around 5,000,000 dead in last 30 years; impossible to sort out genocide from civil war and simple massacre.  Relatively few deaths from classic genocide (government killing of peaceful people); most deaths from militia and foreign-army massacres of civilians, especially in the east.  (See McDoom 2010.)

Congo (Republic):  Violence around the continuing power of Denis Sassou-Nguesso has killed uncertain but small numbers of people since 1997.

Cote d’Ivoire:  few thousand over decades, political repression by strongman government, possibly not qualifying as genocide.  Most recently, political killings of a few dozen in 2013-2014 (World Almanac 2017:767).

*Croatia:  1991-1995: Milosevich era: some mass murder of Serbian Orthodox communities in reaction to Milosevich’s killings; genocide of Muslim communities in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina; killing of dissidents.  See under Serbia below.

Cuba: both the Bautista dictatorship and Castro’s Communist regime engaged in massive politicide.  Totals hard to find; estimates range from 73,000 to 141,000 for Castro (Anderson and Anderson 2014:164).  Full genocide only in early Castro regime (consolidation) against anti-Communists and supposed allies thereof.  Political hatreds of right and left the only real hate ideology here, but sufficient to produce much bloodshed, even in diaspora communities.

Czechoslovakia: Usual genocides in WWII under Hitler. Fascist to Communist transition period led to consolidation killings.  Totals perhaps 197,000, ranging from Jews killed by fascists, to Germans killed in the postwar era by Czechs, to dissidents of all sorts killed by Communists.

Dominican Republic: brutal dictatorship in mid-20th century; few thousand in political repression campaigns.  Haitian refugees/immigrants singled out for genocidal killing in the 1930s.

Egypt: regular purging of dissidents and political opponents through all modern history, but no actual genocide (several episodes, none by itself really huge, came close to turning genocidal).  The current military government is accused of many killings, but estimates diverge widely.

*El Salvador:  under Roberto d’Aubuisson, 1980-1992, some 75,000 leftists, centrists, any and all dissidents and protestors, and suspected personal enemies were eliminated.  This is a huge number for such a small country.  It involved regime consolidation and later repression.  Many more disappeared.  Merged into this were further massive killings—thousands—by drug gangs, which often were allied politically with one side or another.  Today El Salvador is run to a gtreat extent by these gangs, with murder routine in consequence.

Eritrea:  In war for independence, 1961-1991, some 750,000 Eritreans were killed by Ethiopia, largely in genocidal attacks.  Since independence, about 125,000 dead in constant wars with Ethiopia, but this seems to be ordinary war, not genocide, though there are the usual wartime massacres.

Equatorial Guinea:  1958-1979, ca. 50,000, by various governments suppressing dissidents; politicide, dubiously true genocide.

Ethiopia:  Under Emperor Haile Selassie, about 150,000 Oromo, Eritreans, and others killed in pacification campaigns that came close to, or were, genocide.  Under the Dergue, purge of anyone suspected of dissidence, including Oromo groups and Tigre; 750,000 in full-scale genocide.  Hundreds of thousands of additional deaths in government-caused famine then (and to a lesser extent since).  Since 2001, about 50,000 killed in pacification campaigns; again Oromo singled out, but Anuak and other groups hit hard.  Ethiopia has a violent history, and killings based on ethnicity go on almost continually (see review in de Waal 2010).  Famine is once again widespread as of 2017, with doubts about political management of aid and food relief.

Fiji: torture and killings after nativist coup in 2006; democracy returned in 2014 but killings still reported by human rights organizations.

France:  70,000 Jews and anti-fascists under the Vichy government, 1940-1944.  Later (1950s-1960s), murders of Algerian nationalists in Algeria’s war of independence reached genocidal levels.  France has a long history as one of the major developers and perpetrators of early genocide, from the Catharist crusade to Philip the Fair’s butchery of Catholic groups he claimed were “opposing” him.  Witchcraft and heretic trials, mass murder of Protestants (and some back-killing by Protestants in rare moments of power), and the Terror during the Revolution followed.  In 1793-1794 the Revolutionary government dealt with opposition from the Vendée region by genocidal murder and rapine there, leading to thousands of casualties.

*Germany, also involving Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Rumania, Greece, Yugoslavia, Italy, France, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Finland, etc.: 1933-1945, Nazi killings.  The Dachau concentration camp was already in business in 1933 (Totten and Bartrop 2008:83).  Mass murder of Jews and others was well under way by 1938; a detailed history of the genocides is provided by Timothy Snyder in Black Earth (2015).   Hate propaganda was largely against Jews, but genocide involved Roma (including Sinti; at least a quarter million; Totten and Bartrop 2008:338), Slavs, handicapped persons of all sorts, homosexuals, dissidents, religious objectors to Nazism, and other groups, even to modern artists (“degenerate” art).  The main genocides were from 1941 to 1945, especially after Hitler began to realize the war was turning against him, in 1943. 1945-1949, subsequent revenge killings often turned into genocide of Germans and others in eastern Europe, especially Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary (many episodes).  The classic “six million” figure for outright genocide stands, for the 1933-1945 period.  There was more genocidal political killing in East Germany with Communist consolidation.  Rummel lists an oddly “accurate” figure of 20,946,000 for the whole period, but does not break it down very clearly.

Religious dissidents often saved Jews.  “In the Netherlands, where catholics were predominant in some disctricts and Protestants were in others, the Catholics tended to rescue Jews where Catholics were the minority, and Protestants tended to rescue Jews where Protestants were the minority” (Snyder 2015:290).

Germany had a long history of exterminating Jews and other religious dissidents, including burning witches, especially in the 15th and 16th centuries.  Germany was, of course, the origin point and main battleground in the Reformation religious wars that ultimately led an exhausted Europe to the formula cuius regio, eius religio (whoever rules, his religion) and then to religious freedom as concept and, soon, practice.  Many Germans were never comfortable with this.  Many others in the world, of course, are still uncomfortable with it.

Also, the Germans had perfected their genocide techniques in the Herero genocide of 1904-1907, a classic settler genocide.  The Herero rebelled against German rule; the Germans decided to exterminate them, by driving them into the desert and poisoning wells, or, significantly, by confining them to camps where they died of ill-treatment.  Some 60,000 or more noncombatant Herero and Nama died—80% of the Herero and 50% of the Nama (Totten and Bartrop 2008:266-267).

Germans suffered considerable revenge massacre in Poland, Hungary, and neighboring countries after WWII.  At least some of this should count as genocide.

Greece: 1922: Turkish communities, refugees; conflict with Turkey and consolidation of Greek authoritarian regime.  1941-45, Jews and other Nazi-targeted groups, under wartime fascist domination; killings forced by Hitler with little Greek support.   (Two separate episodes.)

*Guatemala: Rios Montt and followers, especially 1980s: Maya groups (especially Ixil), leftists, dissidents, randomly selected communities, teachers and professors, aid workers, political liberals, religious minorities, etc.  At least 200,000 in outright genocide, in consolidation and civil strife.  Otherwise, since 1950, countless killings in civil strife and local massacres.

Guinea:  Since 1958, many thousand deaths, totals unavailable, from various civil wars and guerrilla actions.  The only real genocide was spillover from Liberia-Sierra Leone conflicts in 2000-2003; several thousand deaths.

Haiti: dictatorships, often genocidal, most of 20th century, especially under “Papa Doc” Duvalier.

Honduras: political murders fairly numerous in 1980s; then few, but now reaching almost to genocide level since 2009

Hungary: fascism; Communism; *hypernationalist government currently in power has not carried out killing so far, but genocide is to be expected.  About 67,000 known deaths 1945-1987 (Rummel), but this does not count German occupation, and probably undercounts Communist killings.

*India: 1947-9: Muslims, some others; considerable random killing since; in recent with tacit government approval.  Hundreds of thousands; exact numbers hard to find; civil unrest more than actual genocide.

Indonesia:  1965-66, about 1,000,000 (some estimates run higher) following repression under Suharto until ca 2000: Chinese, Communists, leftists, traditionalists (locally), militant Islamists, breakaway groups in general, religious dissidents, foreigners in general (at times), ecological-environmental activists (many episodes).  Since 2000, several local massacres by Muslim extremists or by government pursuing them; few thousand.  (See Anderson and Anderson 2014:166-167 for details.)  Also uncounted thousands in West Irian, taken by Indonesia in a straightforward colonialist move, with the native inhabitants subjected to mass murder and expropriation (Deutsch 2008).  The failed attempt to take East Timor (Timor Leste) led to genocidal murder of perhaps 183,000 people (Deutsch 2008), some 20-25% of the total population.

Iran: 1953-1979:  26,000; Communists, leftists, dissidents.  Post-1979, 60,000, with truly genocidal targeting of Baha’i and Zoroastrians; mass killing of royalists and other dissidents; much targeting of Sunnis, lax Shi’a Muslims, and “moral” deviants.

Iraq: Saddam, 1963-2003, ca. 190,000, any dissident groups, but especially Kurds (“between fifty thousand and one hundred eight thousand” according to Totten and Bartrop 2008:198—an all too typical bit of uncertainty about genocidal killing) and the Ma’dan marsh Arabs (numbers unclear; Totten and Bartrop 2008:270).  Since then, chaos with mass killings routine (two regimes, several episodes), about 100,000 outside of actual war, but impossible to sort out war, genocide, and general violence, and figures vary greatly as to total deaths.

ISIS (Daesh):  Genocide of Yazidis, Christians, and to a lesser extent Shi’a Muslims in territories under their control, especially in and around Mosul; unknown total but certainly many tens of thousands.  The Anne Frank Center reports 5000 Yazidis killed as of 2017 (Facebook post, May 2017).  Fazil Moradi and Kjell Anderson (2017) have analyzed this case.  It was made worse by international indifference.  The world simply neglected the Yazidis.  Hannibal Travis (2017) has analyzed this horrible neglect in great detail, providing a model account of how the world allows genocide to happen simply because the group in question is obscure and receives little media attention.  It is oddly foreshadowed by the equally horrific and equally ignored fate of the Syriac Christians (see below, Turkey).

*Israel: slowly escalating attacks on Palestinians; outright genocidal threats and some actions under the government of Benjamin Netanyahu.  Threats of total extermination have been made by some of Netanyahu’s cabinet members.  Killings usually small and in retaliation for Palestinian or other action, but Israeli government massacres and specific targeting of civilians bring this close to genocide.  Back story: militant ethnicist Israeli politics was the creation of a small group of Polish Jews who emigrated to Israel in the 1930s, including Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin.  They had grown up in the nationalist environment of the day.  Netanyahu is the first of this group whose native language is not Polish (Snyder 2015:336).

*Italy: 1922-1945: political opponents, later Jews.  About 100,000 killed in Libya by the colonial regime in the 1920s when Libya was an Italian colony (Totten and Bartrop 2008:259).

Japan:  Imperial militarism, 1920s-1940; in Japan, Taiwan, Korea, China; leftists, dissidents, Koreans, Chinese, outsiders in general.  Rummel estimates 5,964,000-10,595,000.  Real figures may be far higher.  The Rape of Nanking (1937-1938) alone killed over 300,000 (Totten and Bartrop 2008:299).

Korea, North:  1,663,000 (Rummel est), 1948-1987.  Some since.  Political dissidents. 1949-1953 war led to about two million deaths, many of them government killings of own peaceful but dissident subjects; subsequent killings more obviously genocidal; one million died in government-caused famine in 1995-1997; uncounted thousands of other deaths.

Korea, South:  1946-53, 150,000, Communists and regime opponents; much war killing; genocidal killing hard to sort out.

Kyrgyzstan: post-USSR autocracy: regime opponents.  Few thousand deaths estimated.

Laos: 1945-60, French repression and civil war, few thousand; Pathet Lao, 1960-1975, 100,000, opponents and dissidents; since 1975, few thousand further dissidents.

*Lebanon: civil war:  1974-1991, 55,000, Christian-Muslim-Druze conflict, Christians guilty of most outright genocidal massacres.  Considerable subsequent killing, not clearly genocide.

Liberia: 1990-2003, 200,000 in massacres, genocides, and some actual war; especially under Sergeant Doe, then under Charles Taylor.

Libya: Murder of opponents, suspects, unfriendly tribals under Gaddafi; total chaos after Gaddafi.  Precise totals seem impossible to find.

Madagascar: 1947-1948, repression of independence movement by French, around 50,000; 2009-present, coup and subsequent murders of opponents, few thousand, but apparently not true genocide.

*Malaysia:  1950s-1960s, mass killing of Chinese and Communists—actually most of the Communists were ethnically Chinese in civil war.  1970-1972, thousands of deaths in tacitly-government-backed rioting.  1972-1980, some killing of ethnic Chinese and Communists—but, uniquely in this set, no genocide.

Mali:  1990-1993:  Tuareg, few thousand.  Some killing and civil strife since.

Mexico:  Occasional genocides of Native American groups had gone on since the Conquest.  Under the Porfirio Diaz government (the Porfiriato), 1890-1910, there was genocidal killing of Native American groups, protestors, dissidents;  some groups like the Seri and Yaqui were targeted for total extermination in the late 19th century, but, amazingly, outfought the Mexican army and survived.  1910-1921, civil war and general out-of-control killing—chaotic war rather than real genocide.  1,417,00 (Rummel), mostly war deaths.  Some killing of Native Americans has gone on throughout Mexico’s history, though now minor.

Mongolia: communism; political and religious repression.  Numbers unclear but small.

Mozambique: 194-1975, repression; independence faction fights, 1975-1994; over 1,000,000 killed in independence war, largely in outright massacres (genocide) by Portuguese forces and South Africans (of the old apartheid regime) sympathetic to white dominance, but also by leftist resistance (Finnegan 1992; Nordstrom 1997, 2004).

Myanmar: 1962-present:  Any and all minority groups, especially Chinese, Muslims; also hill tribes such as Shan; also political dissidents; well over 100,000 (Rummel counted 53,000 by 1987).  The military regime has been continually genocidal, targeting almost any minority.  Recently, the Rohingya Muslim community has been targeted.  Killings are numerous but uncounted; some 50,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh (Bengali 2017).

Nepal, 1990s, few thousand, government repression of Communists and suspected Communist/Maoists

Nicaragua: 1970-79, about 30,000, killing of leftists (Sandinistas) and opponents under Somoza; *civil war and political killings after that (several episodes, though none very large), esp. 1980-1989, again ca. 30,000, largely Somoza loyalists.

Nigeria: genocide in Biafra War, 1966-1970, about 1,000,000 dead, largely Igbo (Ibo); 2010-on, genocidal killings by Boku Haram in northern Nigeria, where they have enough power since 2010 to count as the de facto government for purposes of classifying the killings as genocide; several thousands by direct murder, probably tens (possibly hundreds) of thousands by disruption of life leading to starvation and death from easily preventable disease; they have profoundly disrupted aid and medical care (Roberts 2017).  Estimates of total deaths run up to a million; reliable counts are hard to find.

Pakistan: 1948-9, non-Muslims; subsequently, non-Muslims and “deviant” Muslims; ca. 61,000.  Killing of breakaway Bengalis in the future Bengladesh by the Pakistani army, 1971, 1,500,000.  1973-present, local suppression of non-Muslims and non-Sunni, few thousand, not systematic; since 2003, repression of extremist Muslim groups, few thousands or tens of thousands; politicide rather than true genocide.

Paraguay:  1954-1989: Stroessner dictatorship: leftists, real and imagined opponents even to suspected possible opponents, Native Americans; uncounted thousands (at least 4000; Feierman 2010:493).  Some killings since.

*Peru: 1980-1992, especially under Fujimori:  Shining Path radicals, Quechua and other Indigenous activists; leftists; protestors; 69,000

*Philippines:  After Ferdinand Marcos was elected in 1965, he declared authoritarian rule in 1971 and began a genocidal campaign to eliminate Communists, protestors. Local massacres and killings at all times.  He fell from power in 1986.  Currently, again after free elections in 2016, Rodrigo Duterte began an extermination campaign of drug dealers and users (only small fry; big ones escape) which had killed 6000 as of the end of 2016.

Poland:  fascism, communism, recent hypernationalist right-wing dominance (from recent government, no killing reported), 1,585,000 1941-1944; 22,000 1948-1987 (Rummel).

Portugal: Under Antonio Salazar, fascist dictator from 1932 to 1968: leftists and similar elements.  Compared to other fascists he was a mild ruler.

Rumania: fascism; later, communism, 435,000 in the 1948-1987 period (Rummel); Communism from 1949 brought consolidation genocide; the dictatorship N. Ceaucescu (ruler 1967-1989) involved particularly bloody suppression.  All these regimes targeted Hungarian and German minorities, political dissidents, religious figures.

*Russia:  Under the Vladimir Putin regime since 1994: Muslims, especially Caucasus groups; 75,000 Chechen, several thousand Ingush.  Some, but very little, of this was in actual war.

Rwanda: 1959-1963, 1993, general killing of Tutsi (Straus 2006).  Then full genocide under the Interahamwe, 1994: over 800,000 Tutsi and suspected sympathizers, ultimately uncontrolled mass killing, with elimination of imagined opponents, general settling of scores, etc.  Since then, continual violence, often displaced into neighboring Congo; few thousand killed by militias.

Saudi Arabia: repression of dissidents and non-Wahhabi Muslims since 18th century.  Enough religious murders to count as what might be called a slow-motion genocide.

*Serbia:  Under Slobodan Milośevič (r. 1989-2000): Catholics/Croatians, Muslims.  200,000-225,000, combined figure for Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Sierra Leone: 1991-2003, 200,000: chaotic civil war, mostly spillover from Liberia, with massacres and government or de facto government involvement enough to meet the criteria for genocide

Somalia: total chaos since 1990s.  Since 1988, clan militias have killed around 100,000 people.  About 40,000 have died in chaotic fighting between extremist Islamist militias and government forces as well as Ethiopian armed units.  (See details in de Waal 2010.)

*South Africa:  mass murder of opponents to apartheid regime until its overthrow, esp . 1987-1996; several thousand at least; Rummel est. 6000 1934-1987.

South Sudan: Formerly part of Sudan; genocide, rebellion, and civil war killed some 2,000,000 (est.); independence in 2011 merely made things worse.  Killings are ongoing; totals unknown at present.

Spain: Francisco Franco regime, 1939-1975:  275,000 (Rummel). Communists, leftists, dissidents, minority activists.  Michael Mann counts only “over 100,000 people in cold blood” (Mann 2004:44; see also 343-344), the rest of the 275,000 being war deaths.

Sri Lanka: 1983-2009: civil war between government and Tamil Tigers led to outright genocide of Tamils by the government, at least 60,000 noncombatant Tamil being killed.  The civil war of which this was part killed somewhere between 100,000 and 318,000 (Short 2016:93), the spread indicating how poorly known was this bloody war.  Most deaths appear to be government massacre of noncombatants rather than actual conflict deaths.  Of interest is the point that this is one of the rare Buddhist genocides.  Buddhist prohibition against taking life has had some effect.  The Cambodian genociders were militantly atheistic; the Myanmar military dictators are not notably serious Buddhists; Sri Lanka is unique in that Buddhism was the essentialized ideology of the killers.  After peace was declared, Sinhalese have continued to appropriate Tamil land and resources (Short 2016:114-126).

Sudan: 1956-1972, “around 500,000” (Pinker 2011:340).  1980s-2000s: genocide in Darfur, ongoing (Anderson and Anderson 2012); genocidal war in South Sudan led to its breakaway (several episodes).  Total over 2,000,000 in South Sudan before and after its independence; 250,000+, possibly 400,000 (Totten and Bartrop 2008:97) in Darfur.  Some killing continues there.  The Nuba peoples of the Nuba Mountains were also subjected to genocide by Sudan, from the 1980s to 2005, numbers killed seem obscure (de Waal 2010; Totten and Bartrop 2008:310).  Sudan’s bloody history makes genocides only relatively worse than business as usual for the rival ethnic groups; the war between Dinka and Nuer in what is now South Sudan is a traditional enmity.

Syria:  Killing of dissidents and minorities since 1981 (and many episodes long before that, outside our time frame).  Total chaos since 2010. Basic conflict is Shi’a vs Sunni, complicated by ‘Alwaite, Christian, Druze, and other factions, and the extreme violence of the Salafi Sunnis.  Actual genocide—government mass killing of noncombatants—has certainly reached many thousands.  Totals unknown, let alone what percentage of total deaths fall into the genocide category.  The country has produced five million refugees, probably unparalleled in recent history as a percentage of the population.

Tajikstan: Post-USSR autocracy, 1991-1997: regime opponents; virtual civil war. Ca. 50,000.

Thailand: several cycles of authoritarian military governments since explicitly pro-Axis government in the 1930s began a militaristic tradition.  These alternate with democracy on a loosely cyclic basis.  The current government as of 2016-17 is military and autocratic.  When in power, the fascistic governments carry out considerable killing of dissidents (several episodes)

Timor Leste: 1965-2000, 200,000 locals killed, theoretically part of war—Indonesia tried to conquer and take Timor Leste—but largely in genocidal massacres by Indonesian army.  Some subsequent elimination of dissidents, especially 2007-2009.

Turkmenistan: post-USSR communism/autocracy: regime opponents.

Turkey: Under dying Empire (1894-1914, especially 1894-96) and especially under the Young Turks (1908-1916) and aftermath (1916-1918, with violence continuing to 1923), two to three million or more (see discussion in Anderson and Anderson 2014:172-173).  Most were Armenians, Greeks (some 350,000 in northern and western Turkey, possibly 950,000 in total over the whole period), Syriac Christians (a.k.a. Chaldeans, Assyrians; 250,000-275,000 killed; Atto 2017; Totten and Bartrop 2008:26; higher and lower figures have been quoted), other Christians; locally other groups; any and all dissidents.  The non-Armenian victims are little remembered, the Syriac Christians being a “forgotten genocide” (Atto 2017).  There were several episodes, but overwhelming majority of killings were under the Young Turks in 1915-16.  Current *Erdogan regime hate-based and looking genocidal, with many killings of Kurds.  Since 1984 some tens of thousands of Kurds have been killed by government action, with the Kurdish nationalist PKK party doing its share of revenge, but as often the government kills so many more, typically noncombatants, that the term genocide can be applied.

Uganda: Idi Amin, 1972-1979: almost randomly selected groups—any and all suspected opponents—but Acholi, Lango, Karimoja singled out; at least 300,000 dead, possibly 500,000 (Totten and Bartrop 2008:12).  Following regime killed about 250,000 Baganda, Banyarwanda, and others, 1980-1986.  Milton Obote, 1966-1971 and again 1980-1985:  Many more killed; confused period, numbers hard to find.  Joseph Komy’s lunatic-fringe “Lord’s Resistance Army” has operated since 1986, killing tens of thousands, displacing millions, and using child soldiers and slaves.  It has been shattered in Uganda but survives in Congo (DR).  (See McDoom 2010.)

*United Kingdom:  Northern Ireland, several thousand deaths in “Time of Troubles,” mostly 1964-2001; mutual massacres by Protestants and Catholics do not count as genocide, but British troops shot down many Catholics in what comes close to, if not actually being, genocide.

*USA:  Genocides of Native groups in 19th century, reaching into 20th.  Genocidal killing stopped when Native Americans became citizens in 1924, but cultural repression and occasional killing continued, and continues today, though much less than formerly.  US-backed, US-trained military men carried out the genocides in Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, and other places noted above.

USSR:  1917-ca. 1954: non-Communists, kulaks, Jews, Cossacks, Siberian minorities, religious practitioners, white Russian loyalists, German ethnics, Tatars, Kalmyks, dissidents in general, repatriated Russians after 1945, countless other groups (multiple episodes over decades). Among notable events were the extermination of 300,000-500,000 Cossacks and rich peasants in 1919-1920 (Totten and Bartrop 2008:89; ironically, the Cossacks had been among the worst murderers of Jews and Tatars), the anti-kulak and collectivization campaigns of the 1927-1931 period that killed perhaps six million (Totten and Bartrop 2008:105),  and the deliberately created famine in Ukraine 1932-1933 that killed 3.3 million (Snyder 2015:53).   The Great Terror under Stalin in the 1930s killed another half million (Totten and Bartrop 2008:174).  Also, in suppression of Polish identity in later-Polish parts of the USSR, “[m]ore than a hundred thousand [ethnically Polish] Soviet citizens were shot as ostensible Polish spies.  This was the largest peacetime ethnic shooting campaign in history” up to that point (Snyder 2015:57).   Throughout, the Soviets killed anyone dissident or “other” that the Germans missed, and vice versa.  It was in the stateless realms after Poland and the Baltics were destroyed and much of the USSR was taken by the Germans that genocide was worst (Snyder 2015).  1945-1989, estimated toll around 23,000,000.  Rummel’s spread of totals for the entire period 1917-1987 was 61,911,000-126,891,000, indicating a great deal remains unknown.

Part of the back story is the longstanding habit of massacring unpopular minorities, especially but not only Jews, as in the Chmielnicki Cossack rising of the 1600s and the Ukraine pogroms of the 19th and 20th century, including mass killings, apparently by all sides, in the civil war leading to Bolshevik takeover.  Russia and USSR had the expected high levels of settler genocides as the state moved to take and then consolidate hold over Siberia, though no sizable groups were actually exterminated.  Cultural repression (“cultural genocide,” “culturocide”) was extreme at times under the USSR; at other times the USSR supported local cultures.

Uzbekistan:  Since 1991, post-USSR autocracy: regime opponents; few thousand.

*Venezuela: various regimes, killing of political opponents in general, and genocide of Native American groups, throughout 20th century though much less after 1970; in first half of century, government explicitly wanted to exterminate Native American groups, or winked at or colluded with settler massacres.  Yanomami, Bari, and others targeted.

Vietnam, repression under French, several thousand; later, South Vietnam, 1954-1975, ca. 90,000 regime opponents; North Vietnam, 1954-1975, Communist:  non-Communists, to some extent Cambodians, tribal groups, dissidents, etc.; one million.  Unified Vietnam since 1975: several thousand regime opponents.

Yemen: frequent chaotic episodes, with genocidal killing in North/South Yemen wars, and since Houthi Rebellion (many episodes). 1962-1970, 150,000 in miscellaneous actions; 2014-present, Houthi and Saudi Arabian masssacres reaching locally genocidal levels, totals uncertain at this point.

Yugoslavia:  1941-1945, 750,000 in fascist genocides, ultimately part of Hitler’s program but carried out by local, largely Croatian, fascists.  1945-1987, est. 1,000,000 purged by Tito and Communists.

*Zimbabwe:  Robert Mugabe: 1982-1984, 20,000 Matabele and others; 1998-ca. 2014, few thousand general opponents of various groups—opponent families, groups, communities



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— 2004. Shadows of War: Violence, Power, and International Profiteering in the Twenty-First Century. Berkeley: University of California Press.


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Genocide in the United States: Probability and Prevention

May 23rd, 2017


Genocide in the United States: Probability and Prevention



  1. Trump and Fascism
  2. Fascism and the Republican Agenda
  3. Genocide Defined
  4. Historical Insights into Genocide
  5. Warnings: Leading Edges of Genocide
  6. Exclusionary Culture
  7. Psychology and Genocide
  8. Trump and…
  9. Stopping Genocide
  10. Reaffirming American Values




This is the first draft of a book that my wife Barbara Anderson and I are writing.  We need to get this draft out in hopes of saving the country.  The final draft should take several months.


The United States is facing the possibility of genocide.

Thanks to advances in social science in the last 10 years, it is possible to predict quite accurately when and how genocide occurs.  It occurs when a highly exclusionary, negative ideology finds a charismatic leader who can win popular support, take over, and slowly erode democracy (or whatever traditional form he faced).  With autocracy—dictatorship or corrupted and compromised democracy—the leader will begin by consolidating his power through political killings.  Then, especially but not only if he is challenged by economic chaos or civil unrest or international war, he will resort to full-scale genocide.  This is the pattern seen in the rise of Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Suharto in Indonesia, and dozens of other genocidal heads of state.  It is confirmed by independent analyses by several scholars working with different data.

The United States has now elected a classic charismatic “populist” on a platform consisting almost entirely of ethnic, class, and religious attacks.  Trump ran against Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants, poor people, students, refugees, China, NATO, liberals, feminists, and many other groups.  He had no positive planks in his platform at all, except the reasonable but hard-to-achieve goal of keeping jobs in America.  His cabinet and his performance as president fit perfectly with this platform.  This is a level of exclusionary ideology rarely seen even in genocidal leaders.

He is currently moving in ways that resemble the early behavior of Hitler, Mussolini, and others who took total power.  If he takes power, his economic policies will certainly bring major economic dislocation, and his foreign policies are not reassuring.  With consolidation of power in his hands, genocide becomes more and more probable.

At present, the likelihood appears to be about 25%.  If Trump (or someone following him) seizes autocratic power, the likelihood rises to 100%.  This is a prediction as confident as predicting the sun will rise in the morning.  There is no case in our database of well over 100 cases of a situation like this failing to lead to mass murder.

Thus, we need to unite to make sure that Trump or his followers do not take full power, and that the exclusionary ideology identified with his rise is repudiated by Americans.





The Trump Election


We have to spend the next four years (or more) working as hard as we can on unity, solidarity, and reconciliation.

Donald Trump was elected president by a considerable minority of voters, but a majority of the Electoral College.  With him came Republican dominance of the House of Representatives, majority in the Senate, and governorship and control of the legislatures in most states.

Several studies confirm the obvious point that racism and sexism account for much more of the Trump vote than any economic factors do (Lopez 2017).  In general, traditional Republicans and many former Democrats voted for Trump.

There are more, and sadder, factors.  The counties that switched from voting Democratic to voting for Trump are, in most cases, also counties that have rapidly rising rates of suicide, drug addiction, and alcoholism among less educated whites (see Case and Deaton 2015).  There are now over 33,000 deaths a year from opioid overdoses, an estimated 467,000 heroin addicts, and rapid increases in opioid abuse and death (Weir 2017).  Methamphetamines and related hard drugs are also a huge problem.  All these are heavily concentrated in poor rural areas.  Decline of good jobs is the biggest problem, but declines of environment, folk society and community, and local supportive religion (as opposed to faceless radio shows and vast, bland storefront churches) make life much harsher and less rewarding and encouraging.

Bitter alienation, despair, and resentment characterize these regions.  The modern economy has passed them by.  This modern economy—globalization, hi-tech, and all—is identified to a substantial degree with the Democrats.  The Republicans are more identified with the old economy: industrial agribusiness, oil, coal, and other mining, and to an extent the oldest forms of manufacturing.  Older and less educated workers, being more identified with this older world than with the modern (or postmodern) one, resentfully vote Republican.  Indeed, the modern hi-tech economy directly threatens oil and coal, and leads to loss of old-time manufacturing jobs via automation (which is more important than job exporting).  The Democrats have, by and large, responded by appealing to educated, urban citizens rather than finding out how to reach the disaffected.

Ever since World War II, there has been a widening gap between the more backward-looking primary production sectors, especially oil, and the increasingly hi-tech, high-research, high-skill sectors, especially communications and electronics.  Giant industrial firms usually side with the dinosaurs, out of tradition or out of immediate self-interest (the long run is not so hopeful for them).  This split has affected voting and policy in the obvious ways.  As oil and coal see the threat from solar and wind power, the great oil and coal billionaires wax ever more extreme, anti-change, and anti-democratic, whether in the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia, or Sudan.

Trump exploited a form of defiance typical of alienated working-class white culture.  Traditionally, the segments of that demographic that upper-class people call “rednecks” and “poor white trash” (Isenberg 2016) talk about public events in the way Trump does: in exaggerated, confrontational style, with overstatements, outright lies, militant attacks, deliberately provocative racist and sexist rhetoric, and denial of uncomfortable truths.  Above all, this discourse style forbids admitting one’s own weakness or wrongness, and forbids giving any credit to opponents.  Any opponent has to be utterly contemptible.  Bullying, showing off, and being tough are high virtues.

This is a way of dealing with personal weakness.  The people that act this way are often on the bottom, and they know it.  The louder the noise, the more obviously they are trying to deal with both their own weakness and bottom-dog status.  Trump appealed with surgical precision to these voters, using their classic rhetorical styles.  Hillary Clinton and her core voters—highly educated, genteel, and often snobbish toward rural workers—had no clue how to deal with it.

The working-class whites, and most political observers, were fooled.  The real power has gone not to Trump or the workers, but to the giant oil corporations, lobbyists, and right-wing campaign donors.  Also, Trump is also in league with, and apparently to some extent a pawn, of, Vladimir Putin, who is using fascistic politics to weaken the west and especially to weaken NATO and other anti-Russian organizing (see thorough account in Foer 2016).

The success of voter suppression, without which the Republicans would not have won the presidency, may have emboldened them (Wolf 2017).  Attempts to block taking office by the Democratic governor-elect of North Carolina were followed by Trump’s rushing through Cabinet appointments on the day that Obama gave his farewell address.  The Republicans attempted to shut down the independent House ethics investigative body.  Republicans have shut down videotaping in Congress.  They have threatened Planned Parenthood workers at local and national levels.  They have threatened widespread use of the dangerously ill-defined label “terrorist organization”; there is nothing to keep them from labeling the Sierra Club or Planned Parenthood as terrorist organizations.  (One recalls that about ten years ago one George W. Bush appointee semi-seriously referred to the National Education Association as a terrorist organization.)


The New Administration


The “REINS” act, introduced in Congress as soon as Trump was inaugurated, proposes to make Congress vote on all federal regulations, even on rules blocking poisonous substances in the food supply (Pope 2017).  Several other moves indicate a direct program of undermining standard democratic (small-d) institutions.  The Senate has suspended filibustering on appointments, including the designation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court; this suspension of democratic (small-d) traditions indicates that the Republicans expect to have their way, and will ignore any ordinary procedures.  Their willingness to spend huge sums for security for Trump and his family and his hotels is part of that picture.

On the economic side, most Americans do not realize the enormous scale of direct and indirect subsidies, tax breaks, and other giveaways that go to big oil and other giant firms.  Direct subsidies to oil firms alone run over $37 billion a year.

Class still does matter.  Poverty in America is increasing, as wealth concentrates at the top.  In the 2% worst-off counties in the US (heavily nonwhite, outside of Appalachia where they are heavily white), median household income is $24,960.  In the richest 2% it is $89,723.  Smoking is twice as common in the poor ones, obesity 50% more prevalent.  Life expectancy for women is 75.9 years, for mean 69.8; corresponding figures for rich counties, 83 and 79.3.  Fortunately, relatively few people are in the poor counties: only 14,000, vs. 362,000 in the richest 2% (Kaplan 2016.)  All these poor counties are rural: Black in the deep south, Native American in the northern plains, Hispanic on the border, and lily white in Appalachia, where the very poorest and least healthy are concentrated.  Those Appalachian counties voted about 90% for Trump; the other poor counties were largely for Clinton.

An anonymous teacher calling herself “bkamr” (2017) writes from Kentucky about the desperation and pain in this heaviest of Trump-voting areas.  She points out, among other things, that no Democrats—not even the state legislator from the area—ever come near the place to help.  People desperately need the services that even the poor get in cities.  She explains the self-destructive anger born of hopelessness.

A related problem is the attack on labor.  The Republicans have long pushed for “right-to-work laws” that would make it hard to unionize.  They are now trying for a nationwide right-to-work law, as they have many times before.  They will probably refuse to recognize unions of federal workers and contractor firms.

The Republicans not only refuse to acknowledge or do anything about global warming; they now have weighed in to oppose regulating pesticides and pollutants.  They are trying to repeal the Wilderness Protection Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and the rest, and to sell off or give away the national lands.  The movement to privatize national lands is particularly long-lasting and powerful, including things like the “Sagebrush Rebellion” that has been ongoing since the 1970s.  Trump imposed a ban on speaking to the public by the EPA and USDA.  Fortunately, this attracted so much criticism that it was soon rescinded (but it may come again in more insidious form).  Most chilling of all is the long-standing Republican attempt to ban, or at least reduce to the vanishing point, class-action suits.

In the United States, white right-wingers are hoping they will take down nonwhites, women, and liberals such that white right-wingers will prosper, or at least go downhill less rapidly than they would otherwise.  In fact, Trump’s policies will ruin almost everyone except oil billionaires.  The reality is that the Trump voters, especially the less educated rural and working-class ones who really put him in, will almost all be terribly hurt financially and physically.  Their real hope appears to be to make the “others” hurt even worse.  (For full details on Trump and his cabinet, see John Bellamy Foster, “Neofascism in the White House,” 2017; it covers the new administration so well that we can be summary here.  See also Gerber 2017 for small clues that add up, showing Trump is moving rapidly toward autocracy.)

Trump ran an extremist campaign, and has picked the most extreme right-wingers in the United States for his cabinet.

Rex Tillerson, Trump’s Secretary of State, not only deals heavily with the Russians, but was CEO of ExxonMobil during its long period of denying there was any link between human action and greenhouse gases, while its own internal memos showed it knew perfectly well about the links.  Decisions made under Tillotson were clearly based on knowing that the world would warm.  Many deal with issues like the rapid decrease of ice in the Arctic Ocean, and similar global-warming issues.  Yet, through it all, ExxonMobil funded organizations denying climate change and attacking legitmate science (Wasserman 2017).

Jeff Sessions, Trump’s Attorney General, was regarded in his Senate years as to the right of any other senator.  He has a long record of racism, opposition to civil rights and to civil rights laws, and connection with extreme right-wing white-supremacist organizations.  His first moves as Attorney General were to stop six-year-long legal proceedings against Texas’ openly discriminatory voter suppression laws, and to stop all investigations of police killings of unarmed persons.

Full details of his personal closeness to Stephen Bannon, Trump’s openly neo-Nazi head of staff, are reported by Baker (2017).  Bannon and Sessions have expressed mutual admiration on many occasions, and Sessions has granted several exclusive interviews and other favors to Breitbart’s, later Bannon’s, Breitbart News.  These have involved expectable enthusiasm for Breitbart’s racist and anti-feminist reporting.

Scott Pruitt, now head of EPA, is an oil publicist.

Julie Kirchner, Trump’s head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, was executive director of the white-supremacist and anti-immigrant group FAIR, which opposed all immigration but especially “nonwhite” immigrants as inferior and prone to outbreed “whites” (Piggott 2017).

Elimination of public education and the defunding of a lot of science will cripple the US economically for the long term.  The new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos (Tabachnik 2011) is the most visible of the extreme critics of public education—those that want to eliminate it completely.  It is probably safe to say that only a few Republicans actually want to eliminate public education entirely.  But she is not only opposed to public education, but is committed to a “Christian” education that countenances anti-evolutionist, anti-science, racist, anti-gay and similar teachings.  She advocates vouchers so parents can send children to private schools, but voucher-funded private schools provide very inferior education—much worse than public schools—where this program has been tried on any scale (Hiltzik 2017).  She is married to the heir of the classic pyramid scheme Amway, and her brother was the head of the notorious Blackwater firm that indulged in large-scale torture, killing of civilians, and other war crimes in Iraq in the Iraq War (see Edwards 2016).  Clearly she is connected to much more than just opposition to education.  Yet the future of the American economy over the long term may depend on her.

Trump’s voters were less educated than Clinton voters, and his cabinet is much less educated than Obama’s—only Ben Carson has a doctoral degree, and that in a field irrelevant to his charge. Formidably important in Trump’s victory was the plummeting level of public and popular culture in the last few decades.  Trump won and Clinton lost partly because he was a reality TV star and she was a policy wonk.


The Changing Republican Party


Part of the background is the shift of the Republican Party from one of small local businessmen and to a party based on a few big firms, largely representing what may be called the dinosaur economy—big oil, big coal, big agrochemical, and similar sunsetting industries.  They fight to prevent change and progress, since it would plow them under.  They thus oppose science and education across the board, as well as environmental protection.  They protect the enormous subsidies that keep them alive.  They get votes by ever more strident appeals to racism and religious bigotry.   This was the product of the “Southern Strategy,” developed by Lee Atwater and Karl Rove under Richard Nixon, and used with full success by Ronald Reagan.  Slowly, the racists and bigots took over, partly because small businesses and local firms declined relative to the power of giant centralized corporations.   The small businessman—often community-spirited, and pro-education—was replaced by dinosauric corporations appealing to a “base” of bigots.

Spending on education is a good tracker.  California built up its world-class university system under Republican governors.  Some Republican-dominated states still spend considerable money per student: Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, and (to a lesser extent) a few other high-plains and western states.  Most, however, have devastated educational spending.  Kansas is the most extreme case (as of 2017).  In transition from Democratic to Republican governors, Kansas cut its education spending by an enormous amount.  Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and several other marginal-south states spend very little.  Others never spent much in the first place.

This shift on education can stand as a good proxy for attention to minorities, handicapped people, veterans, women—any population that can use some assistance.  Old-time Republicans took some care of these.  New ones cut assistance to the bone, or into the bone.

The US has shifted far to the right since the 1940s, especially since Nixon’s victory in 1968.  This has been reflected, for example, in falling or stagnant real wages, and steadily increasing tax cuts to the rich, many of whom (apparently including Trump) now pay no taxes at all.  Bill Clinton’s, and now Hillary Clinton’s, policies greatly resembled Eisenhower’s and Nixon’s; Trump’s are to the right even of Joseph McCarthy, Strom Thurmond, and other extreme right-wingers of the 1950s.

The Obama presidency brought out racism, which led to election of openly racist Republicans and drift toward racism of the whole party.  Finally, Trump’s campaign—based on racial, religious, nationalist, and gender hatred—was successful, and the rest of the Republicans quickly came to his support, with the exception of a few traditional conservatives such as John McCain.  The racism of Trump’s campaign greatly exacerbated by his campaign advisor and later chief of staff Stephen Bannon, openly neo-Nazi.  The combination of the Trump-Bannon campaign agenda with the party’s increasing drift toward corporatism has now produced full-scale fascism.

One major part of it is a shift from class politics—the old poor-Democrats, rich-Republicans model—to race, religion, and gender politics.  The center and left has, unfortunately, become narrowly focused on the racialization of politics, increasingly seeing politics as a fight between “whites” and others and between heterosexual males and others.  Of course, in the immediate future, we have to fight hatred and bigotry above all things, but we also have to get back to politics based on actual economic, environmental, and social issues, before politics in the US reaches the stage of actual race war and genocide.

The oldest stratagem in politics is to win by dividing the opposition.  The Republican oligarchy used that trick well in the election, and the Democrats and the left fell for it.  Sanders vs. Clinton, black vs. white, women vs. men, every imaginable division was exploited by the Republican high donorship.

The Sanders vs. Clinton war, waged largely by its followers (Sanders and Clinton remained solid in mutual support), was the worst.  There is a Chinese story of a heron that seized a clam.  The clam clamped its shell on the heron and trapped him.  Neither would let the other go.  A fisherman came and took them both.  That was the 2016 election.

The right is always solidary.  They closed ranks immediately and almost totally behind Trump the minute he was nominated.  The left never could get behind Clinton, and thus helped Trump instead.  The best advice now is to reach out to anybody and anybody, particularly if they are in the crosshairs of the right wing—gay, Muslim, black, transgender, or otherwise directly and immediately menaced.

Johan Galtung, a sociologist who coined the term “structural violence” and who correctly predicted the collapse of the USSR and other states from his research on empires, predicts the US will collapse now that Trump has won and begun his program (Galtung 2009; Gettys 2016 for his latest views).


World Rightward Shifts


Parallels from elsewhere continue to accumulate.  Hungary elected a fascist government recently, under the Trump-like Viktor Orbán.  Hostility to refugees, Muslims, Jews, Roma, and others has increased.  The government is now engaged in a massive suppression of the media, most recently a shutdown of the left-wing paper Nepszabadsag (Johnson 2016) and an attack on the Central European University funded by George Soros.  This follows Turkey’s increasingly savage crackdowns on media and academics, including firing of thousands of academics after a failed coup in 2016.  Turkey under Recep Erdogan has also been moving in a more and more openly fascist direction, whipping up more and more hatred against Kurds and non-Muslims.  As Ana Friedman (2016) put it after traveling in Europe recently, “popular support for liberal dermocracies around the world is on the decline—and support for autocratic alternatives is rising, even in many stable Western nations long thought to be beacons of freedom.”

Causes include dissatisfaction with globalization, but there is obviously much more to it.  Increasing devotion to extremist ideologies, from Chinese Communism to violent right-wing Islam and Narendra Modi’s reactionary Hinduism in India, is clearly involved.

The current wave of extremist right-wing electoral victories is very consistent.  Elected extremist regimes now rule the Philippines, India, Turkey, Hungary, Poland, England (and its Brexit vote), Venezuela, and a few other countries.  The elections were like those in the US: the rural, less educated, and economically backward sections of the populace elected the extremists, often with a plurality rather than a majority.  Moreover, in every case, the dinosauric sectors of the economy—oil, coal, mining, chemical-based large-scale agriculture—funded the extremists.

What is happening is a worldwide change from “progress” to ratfight.  In technical terms, we are seeing people shift from seeing politics and economics as at least potentially a positive-sum game to seeing them as a negative-sum game.  A positive-sum game is one in which everyone can win—in this case, political economy can produce a situation in which everyone gets better off.  A zero-sum game is a typical “game”:  One person or team wins, one loses.  A negative-sum game is one in which everyone loses.

Worldwide, it seems that negative-sum gaming is now the rule.  With populations rapidly rising and resources rapidly shrinking, this makes all too much sense.  It is, however, a strategy that will do nothing but destroy.


We—the rest of us, from radicals to conservatives—can deal with this only by having a clear vision of the alternative and a united front.  It is time for any real conservatives left in the US—that is, people who actually want small government, patriotism, and individual responsibility—to join with liberals against big government used to crush the weak, suspiciously close cooperation with Vladimir Putin, and refusal to take any responsibility or face any accountability.  Many factors lost the election for Clinton, but certainly one of the biggest was the failure of Sanders and Clinton partisans to unite, while the Republicans, after much initial resistance to Trump, united solidly and enthusiastically behind him.







Fascism Defined


Fascism is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.”  Wikipedia (, retrieved Jan. 7, 2017) gives dozens of definitions, by fascists, Marxists, humanists, and others.  Benito Mussolini coined the term (at least for its modern use), and variously defined it; one classic definition reads “Fascism includes supremacy of the military, the need for perpetual war and a disdain for pacifism, a  merging of corporate and state power, dismantling the unions, indirect control of the media, national security and patriotism as a motivational tool for the masses, government corruption, candidates appointed by the party command, and an erosion of voter rights.” (Quoted by Rainer Bussmann on Facebook, 2016.)  Several amplifications are provided by Wikipedia.   Anti-woman and anti-gay bias is also characteristic.  It is anti-individual and devoted to the state, again in contrast to classic conservatism.  It practices strong, dominating, often totalitarian government as opposed to the small government of earlier conservative thinking in the United States.

The Republicans in the United States show this shift clearly.  The GOP was always “patriotic” and statist more than individualist, but now patriotism in the old sense is shifting toward creation of new autocratic governance, and sheer obedience to an autocratic leadership is demanded.  Trump demands, and the whole Republican establishment agrees, that he should be above the law—not accountable to laws, traditions, or rules.

Fascism is an authoritarian and anti-democratic system.  Over time, in Italy, Germany, and later other countries, it fused government with giant corporations.  Everywhere, it used ethnic and religious hate to persuade the masses to go along.  It could count on militant bigots to supply its goon squads, usually essential to its operation.  These are represented in the US by the Ku Klux Klan and similar organizations.  Fascist government acts through heavy subsidies and special favors from government to corporations, while the corporations set the policies on industry (including such issues as pollution and labor) for the government.

Fascism draws much more on ethnic, gender, and religious hate, much less on classism, than either conservatism (which favored the upper classes) or Marxism (which favored the working classes).  It is also characterised by militarism and war, strict and highly unequal law enforcement, and restriction of targeted minorities.  It is one expression of capitalism (many have seen it as a natural consequence thereof), but it differs from classic capitalism in that it is the antithesis of a free market.  Instead, it colludes with giant firms to dominate the economy.  This was the outcome of Hitler’s “national socialism” (national sozialismus).  Neoliberalism has an uneasy relationship with fascism; neoliberalism is supposed to be “free market” oriented, but its founder Ludwig von Mises supported Hitler, his disciple F. Hayek supported Pinochet in Chile, and Hayek’s definition of fascism (see Wikipedia, “Definitions of Fascism”) is notably sympathetic.

Hitler’s Nazi variant was extreme, but still an example of a general tendency in culture:  “National Socialism has no faith in society and partidularly not in its good will…. This is the first principle of National Socialist social organization.  The second principle is the atomization of the individual.  Such groups as the family and church, the solidarity arising from common work in plants, shops and offices and deliberately broken down” (Neumann 1944:400).

The word “fascism” derives from the Latin word for a bundle of sticks bound together.  Hiter attacked not only Jews but also Slavs, Roma, gays, liberals, socialists, and others, even to science done by Jews such as Einstein (“Jew physics”), and modern art (“degenerate”).  The dominance of hatred in the fascist ideology has persisted, with modern fascists and neo-Nazis generally identifying it with racism and religious exclusion.


Republican Fascism

The combination of indiscriminate hatred and giant-firm domination of government makes the new Republican Party fascist by this or almost any definition.  The alliance with giant primary-production firms is now well out into the open with Trump’s designation of oil millionaires and oil-related businesspersons for his cabinet.

Republicans in states that the party dominates have indulged in massive voter suppression, gerrymandering, commandism in such matters as reproductive health, and other anti-democratic acts, as well as massive favoring of large firms.  Republican states have posted many cases of police shootings of unarmed African-Americans who were doing no harm, the police being praised or at least let off unchallenged.  Legislation against women’s health has been general and has gone far beyond issues of abortion.

The real fascist nature of modern Republicanism, however, is shown in the combination of Trump’s campaign—little beyond hatred of minorities, Jews, gays, feminists, and many other categories—and the domination of the Republican Party by giant firms, largely oil, and especially the Koch brothers.  Trump ran against minorities, China, Mexico, and Islam; his stated plans to ‘make America great again” were largely limited to breaking the power of those groups.

Also classic fascist is the rapid defunding of anything and everything that could possibly improve lives—health care, arts, education, food stamps, public radio, museums, and all–and shifting the funds to war and to brutal crackdown on undocumented immigrants.  Deliberately singling out aid workers, teachers, and other doers of good was an earmark of the CIA-backed fascists in Guatemala and El Salvador in the 1980s, as well as of fascists from Hitler to the Argentine colonels.  It also characterized the Communist crackdowns by Stalin, Mao, and the Khmer Rouge.  It seems to be a well-known aspect of genocide, apparently taught deliberately at the School of the Americas (where the butchers of Guatemala, El Salvador, and other Latin American regimes of the 1980s were trained; cf. Stoll 1993, Timerman 2002).

Trump’s administration has actually been more extreme than any other regime outside of Hitler’s and Mao’s, in turning against science (all science) as well as the United Nations, international treaties, and the usual list of good things.  Trump’s deliberately conspicuous diversion of money to fund his getaways at Mar-a-Lago is in the grand tradition set by Roman emperors and perfected by Louis XIV:  crush the populace by rubbing into them the fact that the ruler is using their money for his personal glory.

The most reactionary of the giant corporations are always the real architects and backers of authoritarianism.  In the US, that means especially big oil.  “The big oil companies made over $135 billion in profits last year” (Storm Is Coming, Nov. 30, 2016).  The brothers Charles and David Koch, oilmen at heart though Koch Industries has become diversified, have recently been the most consistent and important leaders of the farthest right in the United States.  Other oil, coal, and chemical corporations are on board, as well as some financial and gambling interests.  Bernie Sanders revealed on his Facebook page that the top 25 hedge-fund CEO’s made 11.6 billion last year, while the total pay of all the kindergarten teachers in the US was 8.5 billion.

The rich backers of Republican fascism include, most notably, the right-wing billionaire Robert Merton as well as the Kochs.  High Country News looked at 236 leading early appointments and transition-team members and found 72 of them had ties to the Koch brothers, including most of the Cabinet appointees as well as Vice-President Pence (Gilpin 2017).  The Kochs are well known for their background; their father carried out major projects for Hitler, they were raised by a pro-Hitler nurse, and their agenda all their lives has been straight from that playbook (see Jane Mayer, Dark Money, 2016).  Their policies are allegedly free-market and libertarian, but actually they have backed (strategically or tactically) every right-wing extremist agenda from opposition to birth control and abortion to suppression of minority voting.  Their deepest interest, however, is in removing regulations that affect big oil—notably pollution controls—and winning support for government subsidy and backing of giant firms, especially oil firms.  Via the Tea Party, and their ALEC project, the Kochs have supported voter suppression, massively attacked labor unions, amd fought against all environmental protection and other restrictions on large-scale primary production.

The Koch brothers started the Tea Party, ALEC, and several other organizations, and became dominant in funding several more traditionally conservative venues.  George Monbiot (2016) has revealed the web of liars and lying thinktanks, mostly funded by the Koch brothers, behind the Republican political machine.  The article is sobering, to put it mildly.

In old-time fascism, there was always a split between militarists, who focused on a strong military and frequent deployment in local wars, and traditionalists, who were concerned with legislating morality in ways not always popular with other conservatives.  It is not solely the media stereotype of anti-Semitism and micromanaging.  This is no longer the case; today the militarists and bigots have fused, and traditionalists are either swept along or exiled from the movement.

The Republican administration is following a well-known, well-trodden path.  Trump started his presidency with an inaugural address written by two racists with strong neo-Nazi connections, Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller.  It included the phrase “America First,” which was the slogan of pro-Hitler Americans in the 1930s and 1940s.  Trump’s group also made use of the phrase “lying press,” the same as Hitler’s lugenpresse.  Trump’s publicity director Kellyanne Conway retitled lies as “alternative facts,” giving a new name to Joseph Goebbels’ Big Lie.  Trump said he was in a “war” with the press: “As you know, I have a running war with the media” (Memoli and Bennett 2017:A1).  In this, he follows authoritarians from Hitler to Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in declaring war on the media.  In all cases, this rhetoric from a head of state has been met with increasing suppression of the press, and indeed Trump has banished reporters from the White House and pulled back from press conferences.  Similarities to China’s dictatorship are evident (Langfitt 2017).  Even the right-wing obsession with eliminating birth control and banning abortion is shared with Hitler and the Nazis (Neumann 1944:148), not with Christianity, in spite of the claimed religious background.

This comes after far more sinister rhetoric in Trump’s campaign.  He demonized a wide range of group and nations: Muslims, liberals, gays and other LGBTQ people, the disabled, the poor, Mexico and Mexicans, Latinos in general, African-Americans, China, and many more.    Many of them—ranging from the Muslims to Mexicans to China—were blamed directly for the problems.  Since election, he has, among other things, blamed the Jews for the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and the burning of synagogues—they are supposedly “false flag” operations to get sympathy.  This is exactly Hitler’s tactic in the 1930s, and seems to be case of outright copying.

Republicans have shut down filibustering on more and more issues, and are trying to cut debate on issues to eight hours maximum.  Republican states are moving to ban public protests—clearly unconstitutional bans, but probably enforceable anyway, given the climate of the times.

The new Republicans “base” of far-right business interests, overwhelmingly dominated by Big Oil and their financiers, white supremacists; and the far-right-wing “Christian” elements has put the Republican leadership in a difficult position.  The white supremacists and religious extremists do not necessarily love big business.  The businessmen are aware that rule by the other two groups would ruin the economy, and as businessmen they are not enthusiastic about that.  The result seems to be, so far, accommodating all by giving in to their most extreme and damaging wants.  Since the most extreme wants of the racists and bigots are literal genocide, we are in danger.

Each group has a different opponent group: giant firms want to shut down opposition, especially scientific challenges; racists want to eliminate minorities (or at least minority leadership); right-wing religious groups have proposed exterminating gays, and giving the death penalty to doctors that perform abortion and even to the women themselves; these religious groups also oppose Islam, atheism, and other challengers, and have made threats.  The choice is clear:  big government crushing minorities and women, with minimal concern for the economy, and opposed to small government and economic priorities (see e.g. Michael 2016).

America’s fascist streak comes largely from the deep south, an area where support for Hitler was strong in the 1930s.  It traces back to the plantation system: rent-seeking owners using slave labor.  Southern fascist and racist politics expanded nationwide from the 1970s as actual business (including actually working for one’s money) was replaced by monopolies or oligopolies, and by rent-seeking in the form of lobbying for subsidies, tax cuts, and exemptions from laws and rules.  This change is the real driver of the whole shift to racial politics and the rise of fascism that led to Trump.

The eagerness of the Republican Party to embrace genocide is proved by their attitude to health care.  They are repealing the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”).  They plan to repeal or drastically scale back Medicare and Medicaid.  Finally, Trump, reinstating the famous “gag rule” that forbids US funding for NGO’s that talk about abortion, vastly expanded it, to extend not only to reproductive-health NGO’s but to all NGO’s—including, for instance, those that advise on HIV-AIDS (Goldberg 2017).  This expansion will lead to large increases in deaths from AIDS and from reproductive disorders and pathologies.  There will probably be more deaths than all the abortions that would have resulted from unfettered advice.  Also, Trump (though not all his appointees) has said he plans to bring back torture, hidden prisons, and the deaths involved in those war crimes.  Taken together, the Republican Party under Trump is already verging on genocidal.

As one case in point, Texas’ maternal mortality rate increased from around 17-18 to 33 per 100,000 births as a result of defunding pregnancy clinics as part of a war on abortion and birth control.  Most of the clinics providing pregnancy clinics in the state were forced to close.  Nationwide, not counting California (which reduced its rate) or Texas, the US rate increased from 18.8 to 23.8 from 2000 to 2014.  Texas shared in the national rate, around 18, until 2010, after which it closed the clinics and the maternal mortality rate soared.  Texas now has the highest rate in the developed world, comparable to some African states (Redden 2016).  By contrast, Iceland has had no maternal mortalities for decades.  Rates across Scandinavia are around 1 to 3.

The far-right Breitbart News has emerged as the voice of the Trump administration.  Ironically, the service nests in Westwood, a liberal part of a liberal urban area (Ng 2016).


Fascist Economics


The giant firms that back the Republicans depend heavily on direct and indirect subsidies.  From the average American’s taxes, $4000 go to subsidies, tax breaks, and giveaways, largely for primary-production corporations.  As noted above, big oil gets over $37 billion in subsidies, including money spent by the US government to clear up oil spills, and for roads, ports, rail, pipelines, etc., for big oil.  These firms also obtain tax writeoffs and special tax breaks, such as the oil depletion allowance, which are far greater than the direct subsidies.  The total cost of food stamps and US government welfare for the poor is $7.4 billion (American NewsX, Dec. 15, 2016).

The enormous profits earned with the help of these heavy subsidies are to a great extent either invested overseas, or simply hoarded there—banked in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Switzerland, and similar gopher holes for finance.  Most of this wandering money is not invested in the United States, if it is invested at all.  A great deal of it simply disappeared—taken out of circulation for the indefinite future, which is in practice the same as burning stacks of bills.

This is “low-velocity money”—in fact, it may have zero velocity.  Giant corporations are incentivized to invest in increasing efficiency, productivity, and even in production only when hoarding is taxed heavily.  Otherwise, they will be forced by immediate financial considerations to jack up prices for quick high profit, keep production minimal, and hoard the profits.  This freezes the money in numbered bank accounts, where it rarely, if ever, moves to productive investments.

By contrast, the fastest-velocity money—that which is most immediately spent and put in circulation in the economy—is money given to poor people for survival needs.  They have to spend it right away.  The places they spend it usually spend it immediately themselves—for instance, stores have to re-stock.  Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, food stamps, all such income goes out into circulation and recirculation right away, or even before it arrives (thanks to buying on credit).  Much government transfer payment money goes to active workers who simply do not make enough to live on.  So it is a productive investment, even to those cold-blooded souls who do not see keeping old people and young children alive as productive.

The Republicans plan to give enormous tax cuts to the rich.  They plan to end whole categories of tax (such as inheritance taxes).  They plan to cut corporate taxes to effectively zero—to a level so low that normal deductions will bring effective rates to zero.  They plan to cut income taxes such that few rich would pay.  This will be made up for—partially—by ending the transfer payments.  Social Security taxes will go to the general fund.  Also, the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities are proposed for elimination—saving the average taxpayer $0.46 each per year.  The Corporation for Public Broadcasting—best known for NPR—is also slated to be defunded, saving the taxpayer $1.37.  Trump’s projected cuts to these and environmental, civil rights, and arts programs would save the average taxpayer only $22.36 per year; ending the home-ownership mortgage deduction, also proposed, would at least save more—some $296.29 (Tepper 2017).  And of course cutting oil subsidies would save another $11, and cutting waste by the Pentagon (which takes well over $500 of the average person’s taxes) would save hundreds.

Anyone doubting the effects may examine the recent history of oil-dominated countries from Saudi Arabia and Equatorial Guinea to Bahrain and Brunei.  Wealth is amassed and hoarded by the tiny oil-rich and rentier elite, while the people do poorly, and investment stagnates except in increasing oil production.  The governments are also free to indulge in harsh and cruel repression of whole sectors of their population, in ways that would be economically suicidal in a country that needed skilled labor.  Saudi Arabia, for instance, virtually removes women from the work force.

As has often been pointed out, racism, sexism, and similar bigotries are luxuries.  A working economy cannot afford them.  They are found where a rentier elite needs to keep large sections of the population crushed in order to maintain its own predation.  Slave economies like the old cotton south and sugar Caribbean, oil economies, and a few economies based on heavy industry are the economies that succeed that way.

The Republican “right-to-work” and other laws would virtually eliminate labor unions as significant forces.  Republicans are also moving to end workers’ protection of all sorts, from anti-discrimination to health and safety rules.  All this would reduce wages across the board.

Meanwhile, housing prices are rising in most of the US, insurance and health costs are rising, and people are being forced by current economic realities to buy all manner of electronic gadgets.  It is no longer possible to find public phones, so for emergencies we have to carry cellphones.  A house without a home computer is seriously handicapped in many ways.  Expenses for everyone are thus rising fast.  All this impacts consumption of all the goods and services that are not absolutely necessary.

The effect of falling wages, disappearing transfer payments, and “necessity creep” in a consumption-driven economy can easily be imagined: depression.

The Republicans will probably respond like most economically-illiterate regimes challenged with the bad results of their experiments: by printing money.  The resulting inflation will finish the job of wrecking the US economy.  It will never be able to recover; commitment to primary production in a world of rapidly depleting resources and rapidly rising temperatures is suicidal.

In short, we may be in for genocide in the service of an agenda more murderous than any genocide.  The Republicans will exterminate their oppoinents to allow them to pursue the repeal of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, all food aid, all environmental protection, and all support to science.  This would lead to literally hundreds of millions of deaths, since the effects of measures like permitting unlimited carbon emissions would spill over into the rest of the world.

Henry Giroux, in a very important article in Truthout (2017b), lists several characteristics of totalitarian regimes that are all visible in the Trump administration’s policies: a rhetoric of irresponsibility and violence; “survival-of-the-fittest discourse [that] provides a breeding ground for…hypermasculine behaviors and hypercompetitiveness”; alternative realities, the famous “alternative facts”; labeling whole groups as dispensible, criminal, and dangerous; ignorance and a positive value, with anti-intellectualism written into school policies; regarding the weak as worthless losers; a “language of borders and walls”; violence as the prime solution, with police and arrest as the solution for homelessness, drug addiction, and misfortune.; rejection of democracy (Trump avoids the word) and democratic institutions; opposition to public education and to everything that leads people to “think critically and act responsibly”; fears of others within society as an alternative to personal responsibility; ending of the welfare state and safety nets; increasing inequality; ultranationalism and militarism; oppression of mainstream media and control of them when possible.  One might add that any and all beauty and loveliness, from art to nature, is utter anathema, to be destroyed when possible.

Giroux has written several books on America’s problems, the latest being America at War with Itself (2017a).  This book recounts the Trump campaign with full details on its racist ideology, then contexts it in the history of racism, racist violence, and structural violence in general.  Giroux also looks at the militarism and idealization of guns in American culture.  The book is an excellent analysis of the whole background of right-wing hatred, violence, and hate ideology that permeates the current political climate.  Unfortuantely, like many others who examine such issues, he has little to say about cures.  He recommends teaching with “critical pedagogy.”  This is certainly a desirable thing (as he describes it: combatting lies and hate with facts and critical analysis, rather than with more lies and hate, as is too often the case).  But it is only one needed thing among many.


Wider Perspectives


A foretaste of the US under conservatives is provided by Guatemala and El Salvador.  The CIA installed dictators trained at the School of the Americas, the CIA’s secret school for autocratic rulers.  The leading ones were Efrain Rios Montt in Guatemala, who was responsible for a genocide that claimed 200,000 innocent lives, and Roberto d’Aubuisson in El Salvador, responsible for politicide that killed several tens of thousands.  A subsequent coup in Honduras in 2009 has added it to the club.  Since these regimes were installed, constant repression and countless further deaths have led to stalled economies with extreme poverty and unemployment, and domination of society by drug gangs, which now rule El Salvador almost totally.  This is the result of regimes installed by American conservatives and faithfully carrying out American conservative policies, including repression, closing of quality public education, repression of private education as well, reducing health care to the bare minimum, pulling back on law enforcement and civil society, and above all allowing giant multinational firms a free hand.

Recent histories of fascism, such as Michael Mann’s Fascists (Cambridge University Press, 2004) and Robert Paxton’s The Anatomy of Fascism (Knopf, 2004), provide background.  Both books define fascism very narrowly—basically as popular, militaristic movements with wide support across classes, and with paramilitary organizations that glorify, and use, violence.  This restricts the term to Germany, Italy, and a few neighboring countries in the 1930s and 1940s, though the authors are quick to see similarities with modern movements like Milosevic’s in Serbia in the 1990s.  Mussolini himself had a wider definition, emphasizing the corporate connections.  Hitler and Mussolini came rather slowly to make these, but depended on them once they were fully in power.

The rise of Mussolini and Hitler was exactly like the rise of Trump, with one major exception—so far:  The Republicans have not (yet) mobilized the KKK and other paramilitary groups to create violence.  Mussolini’s Blackshirts and Hitler’s Brownshirts were critically important to the rise of fascism in Europe, and were widely imitated.  Ironically, the KKK was the world’s first right-wing uniformed paramilitary group.  It could be—and may be starting to be—the source of a militia arm of the Republicans.

Yet these books also provide hope. Fascist movements did not win except when orthodox politicians were disunited.  Civil society in countries like Hungary and France prevented the rise of fascism until Hitler actually took them over.  Civil, peaceful protests have brought down many military and even fascist regimes since.







Genocide may be the defining crime of the 20th century, and is maintaining itself in the 21st.   Not only genocide itself, but indifference to it by the international community, remains a huge problem for the world (Apsel and Verdeja 2013; Hinton 2005; Hirsch 2014; Power 2002; Totten 2012, 2014).

Recently Barbara Harff (2012) and E. N. Anderson and  Barbara A. Anderson constructed models for predicting genocide (see Anderson and Anderson 2012; Doughty 2015; Harff 2012; Heying 2013).  The Andersons’ book followed the original definition by Raphael Lemkin: “the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group” (Lemkin 1944:79; see Lemkin 2013).  He included cultural destruction through forced assimilation, and also partial or attempted genocide that did not totally succeed.  (Indeed, few totally succeed.)   He further defined genocide as murder by a government of its own citizens or subjects, when they are accused of nothing consequential other than belong to a particular demographic category.

Subsequent research on Lemkin’s papers, including the beginnings of a history of genocide (unfinished), show that he expanded his definition to include other defined groups, and came more and more to stress cultural destruction as well as physical, seeing them as part of the same process (Short 2016:20).  His stress on culture, and his concept of it, came from anthropology, especially from the writings of his fellow Pole, Bronislaw Malinowski (Moses 2010:24-25).

As he wrote. “genocide…is intended to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of the essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves.  The objectses of suh a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups…” (Lemkin 1944;79; also quoted and discussed in Short 2016:23-24; Short’s is, at this writing, the most recent of many detailed and thoughtful discussions of the definition of genocide).  However, political extermination—genocide of “liberals” or “conservatives” or some other politically defined group—is now usually counted as genocide also, though it does not really aim at cultural extermination.  It is now often called “politicide.”

By Lemkin’s definition, at least 100 million and possibly more than 200 million people were killed by genocide in the 20th and early 21st centuries, in at least 67 countries (Anderson and Anderson 2012; De Dreu et al. 2010; Rummel 1994, 1998; Tilly 2003:55).  This makes it as potent a killer as malaria or tuberculosis.  Genocides and related mass murders “killed more than 210 million people during the twentieth century alone and since 2000 more than thirty thousand people have been killed by terrorists” (De Dreu et al. 2010:1408).  Wars probably killed about as many (de Waal 2005:5; Pinker 2011).

The category can be a religion or sect, a political philosophy, a “race” (however defined by the genociders), an ethnic group, or any other essentialized cultural category.  It is usually an existing one, but genociders have been known to invent categories.  They use their power to impose their definitions on the victims—often extending the “Jews” or “Tutsi” or “Indians” far beyond normal use of such labels (Short 2016:14).

Killing of actual enemies in declared war, however general and ruthless, does not count.  This means that Lemkin (at first) and we are using a quite different definition from some authors.  However, Lemkin later came to use the term for any mass murder of noncombatants, even enemy noncombatants in an active war (Moses 2010:26).  Since virtually all wars involve this, he studied war in general, throughout all history.

Ben Kiernan, in his magistral work Blood and Soil (2007), defines it as broadly.  He found that most involved “blood and soil”—descent groups, and land to appropriate, conquer, or loot.  Martin Shaw, in his recent book Genocide and International Relations (2013), also critiques much of the usage of the term for being too restrictive; like Kiernan, he would expand it to include almost any violence against defined groups, and also sees  it as typically an ongoing process.  Shaw provides an excellent and thoughtful discussion of the whole concept.

However, Kiernan’s and Shaw’s usages makes genocide virtually universal.  It eliminates the close link between genuine mass violence and dictatorial regimes based on exclusionary ideologies.  It eliminates the vitally important distinction between killing of enemy-side noncombatants in actual international war and killing of one’s own minorities.  The term “genocide” has also been loosely used for all manner of small-scale, though usually serious, killings and abuses (see Totten and Bartrop 2008:167).

These authors, and most of those in The Oxford Handbook of Genocide Studies (Bloxham and Moses 2010), give us two broad definitions of genocide that go well beyond Lemkin’s original one.  First, it can mean any mass killing of enemy civilians in time of war, in which case it is synonymous with war, since every consequential war in history—everything beyond the Soccer War and the War of Jenkin’s Ear—involves that.  For instance, the oft-cited Roman destruction of Carthage was simply normal warfare as practiced in the day.  By this standard, the US carpet-bombing of Dresden and Munich was as bad as—indeed, no different from—Hitler’s genocides.  A few pacifists and rather more neo-Nazis maintain that, but the vast majority of scholars see a basic difference.

Second, it can mean specific killing in wartime of enemy troops, prisoners, and civilians, with a deliberate intention of exterminating their ethnic or religious group.  This clearly blends into genocide by the stricter definition.  When a nation conquers an enemy and subjects the enemy population, what at first is simply killing enemies soon becomes killing one’s own (newly-acquired) subjects.  Then, it is impossible to draw a clear line between actual wartime killing and deliberate peacetime genocide.

This happened in many early religious wars, especially the various crusades.  In those wars, the intent was typically to exterminate as many of the “others” as possible, and mass murder of innocents—even in thoroughly conquered territory—was routine (see Runciman 1987; von Wees 2010).  The same thing happened very frequently in early American history when Native American tribes were conquered.  The Cherokee, for instance, put up a hot fight, but by the time Andrew Jackson sent them on the Trail of Tears, they were a conquered and subject population (Brown 1971; Debo 2013), and his policies were genocidal by the strictest definition.

These and the third, narrowly defined, type of genocide all have different predictors.  War is generally over land and resources or over ideology (religion or politics), less often over traditional ethnic animosity—hence Kiernan’s title Blood and Soil.   War with attendant massacre of civilians caught in the crossfire is almost universal among human societies.  Violence almost endless in many of them; the United States has been at war almost continually since 1776.  England, France, Spain and other countries have been at war more often than not.  Humans are violent animals.

Genocide of conquered enemies is frequently a matter of getting rid of them to clear the land for the conquerors, who want to take it and settle it; this is also a very important factor in peacetime genocides.  It motivated genocides as diverse as  Hitler’s clearances in Eastern Europe and the Anglo- and Latin-American extermination of Native Americans.  Sometimes such genocide is simply an extension of wartime hatreds.

Restricting genocide to murder of a government’s own, peaceful subjects is a different thing.  It indicates some degree of serious fear or hatred, or both.  A large, apparently inoffensive group of citizens or subjects has somehow scared the government into full-scale eradication.  It cannot be explained by need for land if the government already has the land.

Ideology remains a factor, and ethnicity or comparable identity is a factor by definition.  It is often precipitated by war, but often takes place in peacetime, sometimes out of what seems to be a clear blue sky.  As Michael Mann says: “Murderous cleansing has been modern. In earlier times it sometimes resulted when conquerors seized the land but did not require the labor of the natives, while monotheistic salvation religions later attempted forced conversions.  But the pace of murderous ethnic cleansing quickened greatly when modern people sought to establish rule by the people in bi-ethnic environments” (Mann 2005:502).  Indigenous people worldwide would surely object to the “sometimes”—they know settler genocides were more rule than exception—but Mann is broadly correct:  mass murder of one’s own peaceful subjects is largely a modern phenomenon.

The important thing here is that we can take steps to end this type of genocide.  Ending war is probably hopeless, but ending mass murder of innocent subjects is possible.

The strict definition eliminates most of Kiernan’s cases and many of Shaw’s.  It leaves us with two quite different types of genocide (both discussed by Kiernan, but a minor part of his huge sample):  Settler genocides (Wolfe 2006), and modern total genocide.  In the former, an ethnic group takes over an area and clears the land, once the people are subjected, by methodically exterminating them.  This occurred in the New World with many Native American groups (see e.g. Madley 2016), and in Australia with Aboriginal groups (Short 2016).  It differs from simple extermination of conquered people in that the people in question have already been conquered, made subjects, and frequently already deprived of their land.  They are killed out of desire to finish the land-clearance work permanently, or fear that they might rebel, or revenge for actual rebellion, or sheer hate.  These are invariably coupled with discrimination, often including dehumanization.

In modern total genocide, a government picks on long-established citizen or subject groups and exterminates them for what appear to outsiders to be arbitrary or inadequate reasons.  The classic case is Hitler’s extermination of Jews, Roma, homosexuals, handicapped and mentally ill persons, political dissenters, modern artists, and other categories.  Other well-studied examples include the massacre of Armenians and other Christian communities by the “Young Turk” government of Turkey (Akçam 2012) and the genocide in Cambodia in the 1970s (Frye 1989; Hinton 2002a, 2002b, 2005; Kiernan 2007).

It is critical to recognize that the victims are very often subjects who are not citizens.  Genocide of Native Americans in the United States was done when they were not citizens.  Citizen groups were spared.  Genocide stopped just about the time they became official citizens, in 1924.  Hitler killed many Germans, but the vast majority of his six million were in occupied lands in eastern Europe; here he had effectively destroyed the states or ceased recognizing state governments in occupied lands.  Anyone with a passport of an existing country could often escape, and faking passports was frequent.  Many other genocides are similar; people lose citizenship rights and can be killed at will (Snyder 2015:339).

Lemkin’s (initial) definition rules out, for instance, most of the extermination campaigns against Native Americans in the United States.  Most were either actual wars against genuinely combative enemies not under control of the United States Government, or were informal massacres carried out by local people without government authority.  Relatively few actual genocidal massacres had official government blessing.  Those few included the Cherokee Long March, a number of local campaigns in the 1850s, the Shoshone-Bannock “war” of the 1870s, the Sioux campaigns of the 1890s (Mooney 1896), and several other cases, but not, for instance, the mass murders committed in missionization and later de-missionization in California (which have often been called genocide).  Throughout the western hemisphere, the vast majority of deaths were from disease, and these were normally not intentional—indeed they were often much regretted.  However, sometimes the settlers deliberately infected Native populations with disease, or denied them aid and care during epidemics, and this blended into true genocide (Madley 2016; Robins 2010).

Intermittent campaigns that were genuinely genocidal did occur (Cameron et al. 2015; Robins 2010).  For instance, in California in the 19th century, Benajmin Madley finds that there were at least 3,000 killings in government campaigns of extermination, and 6,840 murders by unofficial but often covertly government-accepted settler groups bent on eliminating Native Americans (Madley 2012, 2016).  There were many more killings that were part of actual wars or were simply ordinary crimes; Madley, using the strict definition of genocide, does not count these.  Desperate attempts by Indigenous or enslaved people to fight back have been called “genocidal” (Robins 2010), but this clearly does not meet our definition here.  Random massacres by disorganized, and doomed, people driven to suicidal action is not even remotely comparable to systematically planned annihilation of the powerless by the powerful.

These settler genocides occur when an area occupied by one group is newly settled by another more powerful one.  They are common throughout history, but far more common since the rise of seaborne empires in the 16th century.

Slavery, too, is a different matter.  The slaving wars of the 17th and 18th centuries may have killed more people than all the genocides of the 20th century, but they were not about exterminating groups—quite the reverse.  The killings were an unfortunate by-product of the desperate attempts by colonial powers to get more people to work in their new lands.  On the other hand, slave-taking was an almost universal part of premodern genocides: the able-bodied men and the “useless” old people were killed, while the women and children were enslaved and forcibly acculturated into the conqueror’s society.  Slavery thus presents an ambiguous case (Johnassohn and Björnson 1998:20-22).  Significantly, no one proposed eliminating slavery until the 18th century, and significant moves to eliminate it appeared only in the 19th (Davis 1966,  1971; Pinker 2011).  Before that, it was accepted as part of life.  Christians pointed to Biblical acceptance, until the Quakers protested.

Lemkin was defining a real and extremely important type of killing, and one that vastly and explosively increased in the 20th century, making it exceedingly important as a factor in world history.  Overgeneralizing his term loses us a category that needs serious study.  The other forms of mass destruction, from ordinary international war to California missionization, deserve their own explanations and studies.  This is not to belittle them, but simply to say that they are different phenomena.  Genocide—murder of peaceful subjects by government, without any reason that would convince a bystander—is a special phenomenon, highly predictable as to occurrence, course, and results.

Genocide does include “wars” in which a vastly disproportionate percent of the killing was government extermination of innocent noncombatants, such as the Guatemalan terror of the 1980s, in which over 200,000 people died.  War (including civil war) is often defined as armed conflict with 1000 or more deaths, between recognizable sides, the sides being at least remotely close to equal and thus with at least five percent of deaths on each side (Collier 2007:18).  In Guatemala, the government called this a civil war, but the government was responsible for at least 95% and possibly 97% of the killings, and virtually none of those were combat deaths (see e.g. Stoll 1993, 1999).  Of course this means that there will always be boundary phenomena: things such as civil or national wars with killing just one-sided enough to be debatable as to whether they constitute genocides, and hot pursuit of hated ethnic groups across national boundaries (like the continuing Hutu-Tutsi war in Congo after Rwanda and Burundi are relatively pacified).

Taking people’s land and resources—what Amartya Sen calls “affordances”—without directly killing the people in question must also be seen as genocidal if it clearly leads directly to the death of the people in question.  Here again there are boundary phenomena: where does all-too-ordinary bureaucratic callousness—memorably termed “structural violence” by Johan Galtung (1969)—grade into deliberate mass murder?  In such cases, what matters is clear governmental intent to exterminate defined groups of peaceable people.  This is what we have examined from the point of view of prediction.

Damien Short (2016) links genocide and ecocide.  Ecocide usually means destroying nature or ecosystems, but Short is here referring to scorched-earth methods of destroying people.  He points out that this has been done by Israel in Palestine, with more than 1.5 million trees destroyed, most of them profitable olive trees that were the mainstay of the rural Palestinian economy, and with major damage to water resources (Short 2016:69-92).  Sri Lanka also devastated Tamil agriculture in its long war with its Tamil minority (Short 2016:93-126), and there are many attacks on Indigenus ecologies.  The destruction of the buffalo by white Americans in the 19th century was done partly to destroy Native American cultures and economies.

Governments invoke genocides, often coldly and with advance planning, but depend on mobilized citizenry to carry them out.  This requires creating a mood of extreme fear and/or hate of the people to be eliminated.  People after a genocide often recall feeling out of their minds—either crazed with blood lust or feeling like automatons (Anderson and Anderson 2012 review a long literature; see also Staub 1989, 2011).  From a considerable literature on evil and human hate, especially valuable are Scott Atran’s Talking to the Enemy (2010), Roy Baumeister’s Evil (1997), Aaron Beck’s Prisoners of Hate (1999), and Erwin Staub’s The Roots of Evil (1989).

An important point is made by S. I. Wilkinson, as quoted by Martin Shaw (2013:160):  “’…the constructivist insight that individuals have many ethnic and nonethnic identities with which they might identify politically.  The challenge for politicians is to ensure that the one that most favours their party is the one that is most salient in the minds of the majority of voters…in the run-up to an election’ (Wilkinson 2006:4).”  Shaw adds:  “By the same token, the challenge for activists mobilizing riots and other…violence is to stigmatize the ‘enemy’ through the most lethal combination of identities that can be ascribed to it” (Shaw 2013:160).  Trump in the United States appealed to white women who might otherwise have voted for a fellow woman (Clinton) and appealed to working-class whites who clearly voted against their economic self-interest.





Genocidal Origins


Genocide on a vast, nationwide scale is relatively new, really beginning with the Turkish genocides of 1895 and 1915.  However, genocide has a long history.  Tribal groups throughout history exterminated each other.  That was usually done in war and was done to people eager to do the same to their opponents, so it is outside our definition here.  Sometimes, however, cold-blooded extermination of a group was carried out simply to get their land or to take slaves.

Empires routinely involved killing by the emperor or his group of anyone that opposed them, especially open rebels.  Typically, not only the individuals in question but their entire families were exterminated, since kinship loyalty forced any surviving family members to try for revenge.  Empires often suffered from succession wars, also.  In these, heirs fought each other for the throne, or one heir preemptively killed all the others (a practice routinized in the Turkish Empire).  These events were kin-structured, not ethnically or religiously or ideologically structured, and so are only somewhat comparable with modern genocides.

More comparable are the conflicts in old China between advocates of conflicting policies.  Sometimes the winning faction would persuade the Emperor to execute the membership of the opposing one, thus presaging modern politicide.

Small-scale massacres of one’s own, for religious and similar reasons, are recorded from early times.  The Bible includes several horrific descriptions of genocide, mostly in wartime but done to already-conquered people (for these and other cases see von Wees 2010).  The one most often cited is particularly notorious because God ordered the Israelites to be so cruel that they could not go through with it.  He ordered Saul to smite the Amalekites, not only all the humans but all the livestock.  The Israelites smote most of the humans, but kept the better livestock, for which God punished Saul (1 Samuel 15:2-28).

Closer to a modern genocide was the episode that made “shibboleth” a watchword today.  The word means “ear of grain,” but its significance here is that it was hard to pronounce for an unfortunate group who did not use the sh sound.  Jephthah, judge of Israel, and his Gileadites were at war with Ammon.  The Ephraimites refused to help, so Jephthah conquered them too, after which “…the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay; Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right.  Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand” (Judges 12:5-6; the number of slain is surely exaggerated).

In later times, Roman repression of Christians comes to mind, but was not as constant and serious as Christian traditions often allege (Gibbon 1995; Jonassohn and Björnson 1998:191-195).  In Rome and other early empires, only rarely was genocide in the modern sense practiced, though there were settler genocides and occasional exterminations of enemy populations.


Religion, Exclusion, and Genocide


Serious mass extermination campaigns of one’s own peaceful citizens may be said to begin with the rise of monotheistic religions, with their notorious intolerance of “heresy.”  Jews were targeted by Christians from the very first, with huge expulsion and extermination campaigns punctuating European history, especially in the west—the region that now, ironically, prides itself on being the birthplace of the Enlightenment.  It is doubly ironic that much of the thinking that led to the Enlightenment was done by Jews such as Spinoza.  Central and East Europe was usually more tolerant, except for pogrom-ridden Russia.  The Islamic world was far more tolerant, serving as the great refuge area for Jews expelled from Europe.  (Islamic intolerance and European tolerance are both relatively recent.)

The wars and suppression campaigns against heretics involved true genocide on modern scales.  The Catharist crusade in France in the 13th century became particularly famous for this, partly because at the siege of Béziers in 1209, the conquering French general, Simon de Montfort, wished to spare as many people as he could, and asked his Cistercian field chaplain Arnaut Amaury how to tell the heretics from the faithful.  Amaury reportedly replied caedete eos, novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius (Totten and Bartrop 2008:11), memorably translated as “kill ‘em all, let God sort ‘em out” (or in French, tuez les tous, Dieu reconnaîtra les siens).  It is not certain if those were his exact words, but in any case that is what happened, and the city was put to the sword (Anderson and Anderson 2012:91; O’Shea 2002:269; Roux-Perino and Brenon 2006).  Since it had fiercely resisted, this was more an act of war than actual genocide, but what matters here is that Amaury’s instructions were taken far beyond Béziers, and the Cathars were exterminated, even those who were peaceable shepherds and farmers.

After that, not only were other groups wiped out, but the witch craze gathered momentum in the 15th  and 16th centuries, and at least 40,000 to 60,000 innocent people—some estimates run as high as 100,000 to 200,000—were put to death as witches (Totten and Bartrop 2008:54).  Meanwhile, the Spanish Reconquista became more and more bloody, leading to outright genocide after the final fall of the last Muslim stronghold in 1492.  The Spanish crown consolidated power by driving out hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Jews, but then cracked down on survivors, and especially converts suspect of being insincere .  Thousands were killed, often by burning at the stake.  This was true genocide by the narrowest definition.  Techniques of genocide, from systematic insults, cultural destruction, child removal, and forced humiliation to torture, terrorization, and mass murder—were perfected in the Spanish Inquisition.  For one example, Jews and Muslims were forced to convert or die (or leave Spain) and were then forced to eat pork and were called marranos, “swine.”  Betrayal was encouraged and rewarded; goods were seized from suspected backsliders and sometimes given to the betrayers.

The Protestant Reformation and subsequent wars of religion in the 16th and 17th centuries led to hundreds of thousands of deaths of innocent noncombatants.  Also at this time, anti-Jewish pogroms spun out of control in Russia and east Europe.  The historic massacre of some 100,000 Jews under Bogdan Chmielnicki in the 1640s and 1650s (see Totten and Bartrop 2008:70) set the tone and became immortalized in Jewish lore.  (Isaac Bashevis Singer’s novel Satan in Goray, frequently reprinted, gives a dramatic picture of the period).  The Russian state winked at such massacres, if it was not in collusion, and thus set the stage for modern genocides.

The Treaty of Westphalia was signed in 1648, ending the age of religious wars and of dominance by the Pope over much of European politics.  Nation-states took their modern form.  The nation-state then set about insuring loyalty by force.  A final religious war but also a birthing war of the nation-state was the English civil war of 1642-1649, involving genocidal murder of Catholic Irish and of religious dissidents in general.

Other countries had their own religious massacres, including India’s multisided warfare of Vaishnavites, Shaivites, Sikhs, Muslims, Jains (Jonassohn and Björnson 1998:219), and others.  These gave rise to the ironic Indian story of the blind men and the elephant; the blind men are the religions of India, the elephant is God.  The fight between the blind men over their ridiculous misunderstandings of the elephant, and the acute embarrassment of the sighted spectators, was the wise thinker’s comment on religious war.  The Chinese had occasional campaigns against Buddhism and Daoism, but these were more political and economic than religious.  Some at least were shamelessly open ploys to seize the monasteries’ wealth.


Ethnic and Political Murder


By contrast to religion, extermination of ethnic groups was apparently rare until recently, except in settler genocides or actual wars.  The Mongols killed countless thousands of people, but (in most cases) only actual enemies.  They would often decimate conquered cities to prevent or punish rebellion.  Still, their bloody reputation has been exaggerated.  This was largely because they used a tactic known from ancient Mesopotamia to Inca Peru: they sent agents out to circulate vastly inflated stories of punishments to cities that resisted, scaring many cities into submitting without a fight (Buell 2008; Weatherford 2004).

Politicides were common, but usually structured along kinship lines.  Emperors and kings killed their individual enemies and the families thereof.  Princes killed each other—brother against brother, cousin against cousin—in succession wars, but such episodes are not genocide.  Now and then a paranoid or psychopathic leader of a successful revolution might kill vast numbers of conquered subjects without real cause, and this should count as genocide; in China, Zhu Yuanzhang at the start of Ming in the 1300s was one striking case (Mote 1999:576-578).  This was a true consolidation genocide, a type of genocide very common since 1900.

Tamerlane, the Mongol-Turkic warlord of the 15th century, was more murderous and cruel, obliterating whole populations with little excuse; his campaigns certainly verge on the genocidal by even the strictest defintion.  China’s expansion to the south and into central Asia often involved settler massacres of minority groups in the same way that Europeans overwhelmed and eliminated Indigenous peoples in the New World (see e.g. Perdue 2005 for western China; Wiens 1954 for the south).  Thai clearances of Cambodians from much of what is now east-central Thailand was at best “ethnic cleansing,” at worst genocidal.  There were many other cases of settler genocides; few expansions into previously occupied territory have ever been merciful.  Massacres by governments of their own established minorities are considerably fewer in the record.

Settler genocides accompanied the rise of modern seaborne colonial empires, which had really begun with the Portuguese and Spanish conquests in the 15th and 16th centuries.  England, the Netherlands, and France weighed in.  Seaborne empires exacerbated the age-old problem.  Especially in the New World, settlers cleared the land of Indigenous peoples.  Disease did most of the killing, but far from all of it; massacres were routine and appalling (see Anderson and Anderson 2012:95-100; Cameron et al. 2015; Hemming 1978; Las Casas 1992).  The Spanish, English, Dutch, and later other colonial powers unleashed mass extermination campaigns to clear the land (Kiernan 2007).  The Chinese in central Asia ocasionally did this too (Perdue 2007).

Labor shortage thus developed in newly conquered lands, driving the slave trade.  Colonial wars were at first about control of trade, especially the slave trade, which led to tens of millions of deaths over 300 years.  It was slowly shut down (though incompletely) in the 19th century.  It was not true genocide—the slaves were not from the slaver nations’ citizenry—but it certainly was mass murder of innocent people.  Treatment of enslaved people in the Colonies, and of escaped groups (“Maroons”), did reach genocidal levels on many occasions.  In the 18th century, planters were accused of not bothering to keep enslaved workers alive because it was cheaper to buy new ones (Watts 1990).

The lands and especially the home countries soon filled up, and by the 20th century the problem was excess labor power, not labor shortage.  This excess did not cause, but did allow, genocide.  In earlier centuries, no sane ruler would have killed millions of his own people without good reason; he could not have afforded the loss of workers and soldiers.  In the 20th century, with public health and high birth rates, finding jobs for the rapidly increasing workforce has been the key and chronic problem.  There is no incentive for a ruler to preserve all his subjects.  If he can consolidate his power by whipping up hate of one or another group, nothing stops him from doing it, and eventually acting on the hate.


The Rise of Exclusionary Ideologies


This, however, does not happen in most countries; it happens under only very specific circumstances.  One of them is the extremist exclusionary ideology mentioned earlier.  Very often, rich elites whip up hatred in order to consolidate their own position.  Often the hatred takes over, and the elites are harmed or even destroyed (along with many others) when the leaders of the hate agenda take over.  This happened most conspicuously in the case of Hitler’s Germany.  Hitler was put in power by the conservative political and economic elite of Germany.  They were ruined along with him.  The most motivated and emotionally driven will often win, in political battles, and in times of extremism that means the leaders of hate.  Hugh Gusterson (2007) pointed out that genocides tend to take on a life of their own, drifting from targeted groups to wider and wider circles of victims.

The long and sorry history of genocide in the 20th century has been told so often that there is no need to recapitulate it here (see especially Jones 2011, Kiernan 2007, and Mann 2005 for comparative analytic histories; also, among specially interesting and distinctive analyses are Charny 1994; Kuper 1983; Levene 2005; Rummel 1998; Semelis 207; Totten et al. 1997; many others).  The first genocide on a vast scale was that carried out by the Turkish government against the Armenians and other religious minorities, especially in 1915 (see Akçam 2012; G. Balakian 2009; P. Balakian 2007; Mann 2005; Hofmann 2015; Kaiser 2010; Smith 2015, introducing a whole journal issue on this genocide; other sources cited in Anderson and Anderson 2012).

Hitler’s Holocaust has been the subject of tens of thousands of books and articles, and the standard of scholarship has been high, from Franz Neumann’s great Behemoth (1944) and The Democratic and Authoritarian State (1957) through William Shirer’s classic The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960) to Timothy Snyder’s brilliant Black Earth (2015).  Many have pointed out that the initial appeal of Hitler and Mussolini was surprisingly wide—not just the small businesspeople and better-off workers.  Many intellectuals and perhaps most academics were pro-fascist.  Poets from e.e. cummings to T. S. Eliot and William Butler Yeats were early sympathizers; Ezra Pound remained pro-Nazi all his life (on the wide appeal of fascism, see Mann 2004, 2005; Paxton 2004).  So did Martin Heidegger, the Nazi’s pet philosopher (Bourdieu 1991).  His philosophy of individual, will, and somewhat solipsistic perception of the world fit all too well with the thought of Hitler and Carl Schmitt.  D. H. Lawrence’s novel Kangaroo describes his flirtation with a fascist movement in Australia.

Stalin’s purges in the USSR have received less attention, but are still well covered, as are the major later genocides.  He resorted to deliberate starvation—at least three million died in the Ukraine famine of 1932-33 (Mann 2004)—as well as imprisonment in death camps, along with more ordinary methods of extermination.  Mao’s appalling death campaigns in China have received attention (e.g. Dikötter 2010, 2013, 2016).  Cambodia has inspired a particularly extensive and excellent literature (especially the work of Alexander Hinton 2005—an exemplary work—and Ben Kiernan 2004, 2008).  There seems little need to go over the detailed history of these well-documented cases.  These are only the most extreme of the Communist genocides; in fact all Communist regimes have resorted to mass murder in consolidating and maintaining control.  Communism adds itself to fascism as the two truly great exclusionary ideologies.

Since these early and enormous mass murders, genocide has become a routine tool of statecraft in authoritarian nations.  Among major ones are such disparate countries as Guatemala (Stoll 1993) , India (during the break with Pakistan), Indonesia, Nigeria, Rwanda (Dallaire 2003; Prunier 1995, 2007; Straus 2006), Serbia, and Sudan (Prunier 2007).  Dozens of smaller campaigns have occurred (see Appendix).

The effects of genocide on culture are permanent.  Christians still remember the persecution under the Romans.  Our Maya friends talk of the Spanish Conquest and the psychopathic murders by Bishop Diego de Landa as if these had happened last year instead of 500 years ago.  Other Native Americans have similar memories, and of course memories of slave days are fresh and bitter among formerly enslaved populations.  Armenians remain deeply traumatized by the Turkish genocide of 1915 (see Whitehorn n.d. for some particularly evocative evidence).  Jews have certainly not forgotten the Holocaust.  We need every memorial, book, and symbol that we can find, to remind people how terrible genocide is.  Never again is a watchword that has, alas, not worked so far.  We need to take that charge seriously.




Genocide Preconditions


As we have seen, modern genocide was predicted by 1) authoritarian government; 2) a major challenging situation to it, almost always either consolidation after it just seized power, or civil or international war in which loss by the government was very likely.  Often there is a “trigger” (Totten and Bartrop 2008:429): a single event that sets off, or provides an excuse for, government crackdown and genocide.  This can be an assassination, a coup attempt, or an external or internal attack.  The great genocides of the Young Turks, Pol Pot, and others emerged in wartime conditions.  Minor civil war or unrest triggered others, as in Guatemala, Sudan, and Peru.  On the other hand, the great genocides of Stalin in the USSR and Mao in China, and many lesser genocides, came out of a fairly clear sky with little triggering.  Mao’s Great Leap Forward and Great Cultural Revolution, in particular, were without real provoking incidents. Hitler’s genocide began by 1938 (Snyder 2015), though it grew much worse after he went to war in 1939.

The oft-mentioned link of genocide and war is based on the wide definition of genocide, which makes it universal in wartime.  By our narrow definitions, genocide occurs in peacetime or only slightly disturbed times as often as it does during war.  Communist regimes usually do it in peacetime, to consolidate control.  The genocides under Milosevic in former Yugoslavia, under the Interahamwe in Rwanda, under the Dergue in Ethiopia, and universally in Latin America in the bloody 1970s and 1980s (Feierstein 2010), all came in peacetime or in times of trivial civil disturbance.

Settler genocides, and conquest genocides if they are similar, are not so dependent on triggers, though they often follow killings by target (victim) populations.  Settler genocides are always expected when a government of settlers (conquerors) is consolidating control, and has reduced the conquered people to subjects but is still afraid of rebellion or outbreak.

Barbara Harff (2012), a student of conflict and civil unrest, developed this model, and it was independently found by Anderson and Anderson (2012) and later Hollie Nyseth Brehm (2017).  Harff and her husband Ted Gurr were leading authorities on conflict and on risk assessment for conflict (Harff and Gurr 2005).  Gurr had identified “risk factors” for conflict in general, including “salience of group identity…group incentives for collective action…group capacity for collective action…domestic opportunities…and international opportunities” (Totten and Bartrop 2008:369).  Summing up, Timothy Snyder noted that “social scientists have shown that ethnic cleansing and genocide tend to follow state collapse, regime changes, and civil war” (Snyder 2015:339).

Harff used Lemkin’s definition.  She followed the United Nations definition, elaborated from (and partly by) Lemkin (but she and we follow Lemkin and not the UN where they differ, basically in Lemkin’s inclusion of political-ideological massacres).  She defines genocide as governmental attempt “to destroy, in whole or in part, a communal, political, or politicized ethnic group” (Harff 2003:58, her italics).  She does not make a point of noncombatant status, but she sympathetically cites others who do; she does not deal with the possibility that religion, gender identity, or modern art could be definers, but they sometimes or often are.  She specifically includes politics, thus including “politicide,” a term she coined (see also Tilly 2003).  Her sample in 2003 was genocides from 1955 to 1997 (Anderson and Anderson’s was 1900 to 2007).

In her predictive model of genocide, Harff (2003, 2012) summarized the direct correlates of genocide succinctly: “almost all genocides of the last half-century occurred during or in the immediate aftermath of internal wars, revolutions, and regime collapse”  (2003:57).  Ben Kiernan, in spite of his far wider definition of genocide, is aware of the same phenomenon:  “By 1910…a new phenomenon emerged: genocides perpetrated by national chauvinist dictatorships that had seized control of tottering, shrinking, or new empires…” (Kiernan 2007:393)—difficult to define but similar to Harff’s findings.

Consolidation of power by a totalitarian regime almost always includes political killing, and often goes into full-scale genocide almost immediately, as in Cambodia, Rwanda, and other modern cases.  Otherwise, wars and political unrest are often precipitating events.  Economic disruptions can be triggers also.  However, many genocides have no obvious triggers.  Timothy Snyder’s recent history, Black Earth (2015), painstakingly records the rise of murder of Jews, Poles and other Slavs, Roma, disabled persons, and other categories; murders began by 1938, and were moving into six-figure totals by the time Hitler was fully engaged in war in 1939.  Similar rapid onset of mass murder is seen in many other cases.  In China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, in spite of a lack of trigger event, mass murder broke out almost immediately once the campaign was under way.

Harff also, and perhaps more importantly, identified the critical role of exclusionary ideologies (Harff  2003, 2012).  Hollie Nyseth Brehm, in a major recent paper (2015), uses this term and finds it inseparable from genocide.  Gregory Stanton (2013) and others write of progressive dehumanization, and others (Anderson and Anderson 2012; Beck 1999; Staub 1989, 2003, 2011) talk more bluntly of  hate ideologies, hatred, and evil.  Helen Fein, another leading theorist and generalist in this field, has referred to more extreme forms of such ideologies as “ideological genocide”; this refers to the extreme case in which “religious traditions of contempt and collective defamation, stereotypes, and derogatory metaphor” treat subjects as “inferior, sub-human (animals, insects, germs, viruses),..Satanic,…” and so on (Fein 1990:27).  Fein has also evaluated revolutionary and antirevolutionary ideologies as frequent contributors to genocide.  Ideological genocide would certainly include Donald Trump’s continual outpourings on the subjects of Muslims and Mexicans, especially if he does indeed begin mass killing, as seems likely.

The key principle of exclusionary ideology is rejection of some groups on the basis of imagined essential badness.  They are differentially judged; they are inferior, unworthy, beneath consideration (see Sen 1982, 1984, 1992).  In a relatively mild form, this is seen when certain populations are displaced to make way for projects that benefit other, “more deserving” populations; the classic case is displacing poor rural people to make way for dams and reservoirs that benefit rich urban people (Scudder 2005).   Far more serious is denial of health care to the poor, and the subsequent “death gap” (Angell 2017).  As such exclusionary ideology becomes more serious and hateful, it leads to killing, and eventually, at worst, to genocide.

The progress is the same: regimes that come to power through exclusionary ideology get trapped by their own rhetoric and forced to deliver.  When they face serious challenge, they respond by launching mass killings of targeted groups.

Ideologies of this type, however, are not confined to genocides or genocidal leaders.  They are widespread, and create much killing outside of actual wars or genocides.  Harff points out that all genocides must have, underlying them, some ideology that not only legitimates mass murder, but makes it seem like a noble cause.  Leaders manipulate existing hatreds, and must make the murders seem necessary and virtuous.  (This will be examined in the following chapter.)

Broadly similar ideas have recently surfaced in genocide scholarship (see e.g. Aijmer and Abbink 2000;  Charny 2016; Jones 2011; Lewy 2012; Mann 2005; Meierhenrich 2014; Stanton 2013; an anonymous posting on Motherboard, 2015, notes that the use of words like “cockroaches,” long known to be associated with genocide, are actually predictive of it).

Harff stresses the role of autocratic governments, and also “political upheaval” (Harff 2003:62; her italics) as the near-invariable immediate cause.  She emphasizes the frequency of prior genocides in a nation’s record.  Anderson and Anderson did not find this, due to working with a larger sample over a longer period of time, which washed out this variable by including almost all the period of modern genocides.  She discusses the existence of “ethnic and religious cleavages” Harff 2003:63) and found no correlation; all nations have diversity but only some have genocide.

“Low economic development” (Harff 2003:64; cf. Harff 2005, 2008) also bought her little variance, and again the Andersons’ wider sample confirms this, indeed to the point of destroying any correlation.  Major genociders included Germany at a time when it was one of the three or four richest countries in the world, and within her time frame there were genocides in middle-income Argentina, Chile, China, Serbia, and elsewhere, as she notes.  More recently, Israel has engaged in genocidal activities in Palestine (Short 2016:68-92), with calls by major government figures for outright extermination of Palestinians (Robinson 2014; Short 2016:75).  Several other affluent nations have hovered on the brink.

There is no correlation between genocide and environmental problems and very little relationship with poverty (Anderson and Anderson 2012; Harff 2012).  Even today, claims that genocide follows geography are not unknown.  Alexis Alvarez has recently analyzed possible genocide due to climate change in the future, when  some 200 to 700 million people may be refugees from climate change.  He notes that conflict over resources is inevitable and conflict typically accompanies genocide: “In point of fact, genocide scholars have long identified tough times as one common factor leading up to the genocidal impulse” (Alvarez 2016:31).  However, the tough times accompanying genocide are civil or international war, not resource conflicts, which—if not exacerbated by pre-existing political tensions—are generally resolved by negotiation and treaties, not war (see e.g. Wolf 2007).  Several other false leads in explaining genocide have been address by Anderson and Anderson (2012:67-78).  Warlike nations are at no special risk; “agrarianism” is totally unrelated; many other “causes” are genociders’ excuses, not actual causes.

An important recent article by Hollie Nyseth Brehm (2017), based on a study of fully 150 nations, finds that “economic upheaval…does not influence the odds of genocide.  Instead, political upheaval that enables a repressive leader to come to power (including coups, assassinations, civil wars, and successful revolutions) and political upheaval that directly threatens those in power (including coup attempts, campaigns against the state, unsuccessful revolutions and civil wars that do not coincide with regime change) have the strongest influence on the onset of genocide.”  Her research also “highlights the role of discrimination and exclusion” (Nyseth Brehm 2017:61), but notably fails to find other risk factors important.  This all fits perfectly with the Harff and Anderson models.

Ecological damage is not closely correlated.  Poverty is closely tied to civil war (Collier 2003; Collier and Sambanis 2005), and thus has some link to genocide, which often results from civil war.  Yet poverty is not predictive of genocide.  Rich nations kill too.

Wealth derived from primary commodities, especially fossil fuels, minerals, and plantation agriculture, is associated with violence, mass killing, and genocide, though it is not predictive.  The reasons have been well analyzed.  Basic is the fact that these primary-production industries involve simple extraction of crude materials from a generally rural context.  This makes them easy to control.  Dictators tend to emerge in such situations, and maintain their power by rent-seeking coupled with brutality (see Anderson and Anderson 2012:79-82; Bunker and Cicantell 2005, an excellent review; Collier 2007, 2010; Collier and Bannon 2003; Juhasz 2008; Ross 2012).  Wealth from such sources is also associated with hate ideologies, ranging from militant Islam to fascism, and thus contributes indirectly to genocide.  Wealth from oil, gems, and other minerals naturally fits well with kleptocratic or frankly psychopathic dictators, contributing to genocides in Chile, China, Congo (D. R.), Indonesia, Iraq, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and many other countries.  This has led to references to the “resource curse” and the “oil curse” (Ross 2012).  This said, many genocides took place in countries with diversified and modernized economies.

Daniel Chirot and Clark McCauley (2006) showed in detail that trade, capitalism, and mercantile action are not preventive or even particularly related.  The great bugaboos of modern leftists, “capitalism” and “neoliberalism,” are problematically related.  The greatest genocides—those of Stalin and Mao—took place under communism.  The greatest genocide in terms of percentage of population killed—that in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge—did also.  Hitler’s fascism was a distinctive economic form, “national socialism,” that was capitalist in a very inclusive sense, but not in a strict one.  (The state controlled too much of the means of production to make it fit Marx’ model of capitalism.)  Conversely, many genocides were carried out by militant champions of capitalism and neoliberalism, attempting to exterminate socialists; this was the case in Chile, Guatemala, Indonesia, Peru, and many other countries.  One can only conclude that a hate-driven dictator will use any economic excuse that presents itself.  Thus fixing “capitalism,” whatever it is, will not stop genocide.  Nor is capitalism exonerated from blame for genocide.  It was involved as a key ideological claim in many of them.  But so were fascism, communism, religion, and any other available ideology that could be commandeered for hate.  Exclusion, not specific philosophy, is what matters.

Harff found that recent genocides are more likely in countries that were relatively isolated or independent of the world-system (Harff 2003:65).  Again this does not hold for older genocides.  Even in her sample, it is difficult to defend.  For instance, China’s genocides have recently been in remote western areas (Tibet, Xinjiang), but China was thoroughly open to the world at the time (Harff 2003:69).

Her final result (2003:66) was that autocratic government and prior genocides were both correlated at .9 with genocides that occurred.  Autocracy has also existed in countries without genocide, but only very rarely in the last 100 years; most autocratic governments kill.  Prior genocide is somewhat predictive, but Germany is only the most obvious of a large number of exceptions.  Other political upheaval correlated only .47, but “exclusionary ideologies” and rule by members of a self-conscious ethnic minority both correlated .69.  Openness to trade, a proxy for world-system incorporation, correlated .7.  She admits that the model did not predict genocides in rich, trade-involved countries (e.g. Chile), or even poor but trade-involved ones (Philippines, El Salvador, several others).

In 2012 she reaffirmed her risk factors, and predicted serious troubles in several countries.  First on the list was Myanmar, which in fact has had genocidal attacks on Rohingya Muslims since she wrote.  As she pointed out, it was rather a simple prediction, since the country was a military dictatorship with almost continual war against minorities.  Second was Syria, and we know what has happened there.  Third was China, and indeed the Uighur genocide has come up since she wrote.  Fourth was Sudan, but the breakaway of South Sudan damaged the government so much that it has not had the energy to do much more than harass Darfur and Nuba, though that long-running bloody action continues.  Meanwhile, South Sudan has had genocides of its own.  Less successful predictions were the next few:  Pakistan, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Iran, though the first two have had a great deal of violence and repression.  Then comes a partial hit, D. R. Congo; violence was already ongoing there when she wrote, and the rampant ethnic killings there have not been government-sanctioned.  A number of lower-risk countries follow, of which only Central African Republic has had a genocide, and there—for once—the international community moved fast to damp it down (Brown 2013).  The others include very stable countries like Saudi Arabia.

Anderson and Anderson’s and Nyseth Brehm’s models have the advantage of breaking regime consolidation out from response to disruption, and also noting that economic and military disruptions are causative and predictive.  One may also add that the presence of specific militias or guard units for carrying out the exclusionary ideology are a very significant warning sign (see Paxton 2004 on European fascism).

Harff and others have independently come to stress more and more the ideological side.  Governments that live and maintain themselves by mobilizing hatreds are almost always forced sooner or later to exterminate the people they say they hate.

The level and indiscriminateness of hatred is highly predictive of the level of genocide.  The extreme hatred ideology of Hitler was associated with far greater killing than the much less hate-driven fascism of Franco or Mussolini.  Pinochet in Chile was brutal enough, but did not single out whole groups; Efrain Rios Montt in Guatemala killed far more people, in a smaller country, because he targeted whole groups, ranging from aid workers to Mayan Indigenous groups.  Fidel Castro in Cuba displayed less hateful rhetoric than Stalin, and accordingly killed fewer people.  Great genociders are men of their word in one way:  they promise to exterminate their citizens on a vast scale, and they do it.

In one well-studied case, exclusionary rhetoric did not lead to genocide: Mahathir bin Muhamad’s Malaysia in the 1970s (see Mahathir bin Muhamad 1970—a particularly neat and concise statement of extreme exclusionary ideology).  That case may be instructive.  Mahathir was elected Prime Minister on a ticket of hatred and suppression of the Chinese, after several years of ethnic rioting and violence in which Bumiputera (Malays) and Chinese battled (E. N. Anderson, personal research and observation during and after residence in Malaysia in 1970-71).  Under Mahathir, the Chinese gave as little cause as they could for actual repression, tolerated a great deal of impact, and meanwhile they and other Malaysians worked terribly hard to build up the economy and make sure Mahathir and his group were beneficiaries of this.  His position softened in direct proportion to his own and his political group’s economic success.  Thus hate ideologies are real and dangerous, but enough economic success may convince haters to be more quiet.  Critical was Mahathir’s failure to close down democracy.  Malaysia remained relatively democratic through it all, inhibiting any killing that Mahathir might have intended.

It is noteworthy that the neighboring nations of Thailand and Singapore were also free from genocide, in spite of multiethnic populations and fairly authoritarian regimes.  Similarly, in Africa, multinational countries with histories of communal violence, such as Cote d’Ivoire and Mali, avoided genocide by avoiding extreme exclusionary rhetoric and ideology in government (Straus 2015).

A list of steps toward genocide is found in “The Ten Stages of Genocide,” posted by Gregory Stanton (2013) on his Genocide Watch website—a very useful resource.  The ten stages are classification, symbolization, discrimination, dehumanization, organization, polarization, preparation, persecution, extermination and denial.  They are indeed stages to watch for, and Stanton gives quick definitions and suggests countermeasures, including things for governments and the United Nations to do.  Dr. Stanton maintains on his website a list and map of countries that are genocidal or threatening to become so:  The assessments are similar to Barbara Harff’s (whom he cites).  His earlier posting, “Twelve Ways to Deny a Genocide” (2005), neatly summarizes that unpleasant aspect of mass murder.

With Harff and Stanton actively predicting risks and advocating preventive measures, and with other new work summarized below, knowledge about genocide prevention has been revolutionized.  One hopes that this will translate into action, but continued fecklessness of the world community in the face of ISIS and Boku Haram indicate that the lessons are not being learned.

Umberto Eco listed 14 points that, to him, identified a fascist leader; as an Italian, his experience was largely Mussolini.  The fourteen, as recently listed in AlterNet, include:  cult of tradition; rejection of modernism; cult of action for action’s sake; opposition to analytical criticism—disagreement is treason; exacerbating natural fear of difference; appeal to frustrated middle class; obsession with plots; permanent warfare as natural; sexual aggressiveness.  All fourteen seem relevant to Trump (Holloway 2016).

Samuel Totten, veteran student of genocide and especially of mass murder of Indigenous minorities, has added his own more immediate warning signs—signs that genocide is ongoing, not just that it is potential:

–A specific groups is “demeaned, ostracized, marginalized, segregated, excluded, or isolated”;

–“mass deportations and forcible transfer”;

–Government forces “kill unarmed civilians at will” [hardly a warning sign—it is really the genocide itself!];

–“test massacres are carried out”;

–“mass rape and enforced pregnancy are taking place.”  (Totten 2014:24).

Totten takes a long view, stressing hatred and ideology.  He states: “There is no single set of preconditions that always and definitely leads to the perpetration of genocide” (Totten and Bartrop 2008:340).  But he is referring only to the ideological back story, not to a direct set of triggers such as Harff and others identified.  This entry continues with a discussion of “radical racist ideology…cleavages…extreme nationalism…a group targeted…tribal power…struggles for power; and consolidation of despotic power.”  These do form the back story to genocide, but indeed do not predict it.  When they combine, however—when extreme ethnic hate leads to a regime based on hatred and exclusionary ideology taking totalitarian power and consolidating it under challenge—they always lead to genocide.  There are no exceptions in recorded history.

Ambiguity occurs when a regime is only partly hate-based, or has autocratic but not totalitarian power; such regimes may or may not commit genocide, based on contingent factors, especially the level of hate among the leaders at the time.

This is perhaps most clearly shown in the erratic genocides of Native Americans in the 19th century in the United States.  A theoretically “democratic” government—but one in which the Native Americans were not citizens and were governed in an autocratic manner, without real civil rights—committed genocide when the President (Andrew Jackson, for one) or the state governors or the generals (notably under Grant’s presidency) had extreme racial views.  Mexico had a similarly mixed record, but the worst genocides were under Porfirio Diaz’ dictatorship.


Genocide Typologies and Questions

Helen Fein has created some typologies of genocide (Fein 1990, 2007).  She recognized “developmental,” i.e. settler genocide; “despotic,” basically political; “ideological”; and “retributive,” going after perceived enemies.  Most modern genocides could well be fitted under all the last four heads.

Some other typologies of genocide are listed in Samuel Totten and Paul Bartrop’s Dictionary of Genocide (2008:433-434).  They report that Leo Kuper noted ethnic, terrorizing, and ideological genocides, with decolonialization and secession or independence as frequent factors.  Roger Smith recognized ideological, monopolistic, institutional, and utilitarian (settler) genocides.  Vahakn Dadrian noted cultural, retributive and, again, utilitarian, as well as what he sardonically called “optimal,” i.e. total extermination.  Again, it is hard to imagine classifying the great genocides (Germany, Turkey, Cambodia, and so on) under only one or even two or three heads.  A concept of “utopian genocide” has been added (Totten and Bartrop 2008:452), for the perverse grand visions of men like Hitler and Pol Pot.  Most genocides have a utopian component, if only the notorious desire to “purify” that runs through almost all of them.

Kristin Doughty (2015) identified several needs for future work.  These include “the political and moral economy in which violence and humanitarianism occur,” and looking more at “recent anthropological work on violence, the state, collective belonging, and human rights” (Doughty 2015:175).  She notes that when genocide is defined as state murder of its own citizens, there may also be genocidal pursuit of people across national boundaries.  (This is also noted by Martin Shaw, 2013).  This occurred most notably in Hitler’s massacre of the Jews and others; he murdered all he found in any country under his control.  It is seen more recently in the hot pursuit by Tutsi and Hutu of each other into the D.R. Congo.  She asks “how the act of labeling violence is political and…mobilized within specific historical trajectories of global configurations of power” (Doughty 2015:175).  Ben Kiernan, Taner Aksam, and others have dealt with this issue at length.

Much more serious is her other question: “What are the warning signs that the human tendency toward group hate is being exploited by powerful people for violent ends?”  (Doughty 2015:175).  The appalling failure of the world at large to spot this in Hitler’s early speeches, the Koch brothers’ manipulation of the Tea Party (Mayer 2016), the Saudi Arabian manipulation of extremist Islam over many decades, the oil industry’s machinations in Nigeria, Sudan, and several other countries (Juhasz 2008; Ross 2012), and many other individuals’ and governments’ exploitation of hate shows this is indeed a particularly pressing problem.  It remains the most troubling question for the future.

Civil war is quite different from genocide, epidemiologically and otherwise.  Economics is clearly associated with civil war (Collier and Sambanis 2005).  In contrast, genocide is countereconomic; eliminating a large percentage of one’s workers and taxpayers cannot really be beneficial.  Civil war usually occurs when a region feels oppressed and wishes to break away, or when a huge rebellion seriously threatens a regime (Collier and Sambanis 2005); genocide occurs when the regime preempts such situations by exterminating the groups that might so act.  A link with newly independent nations that arise from the collapse of empires has been traced for civil war (Wimmer and Min 2006), and holds for genocide also; the two tend to merge into each other in such situations.


The Progress of Genocides


In modern genocides, the progress is typical:  A leader seizes total power, abolishing or suspending the constitution or equivalent, and almost immediately begins killing those who opposed him.  (All genocidal leaders in our sample are male.)  Consolidation genocides are well recognized in scholarship, and are essentially universal in totalitarian societies.  They have a long history; political killing of potential opponents was normal when new dynasties took over in the Roman Empire, imperial China, the Ottoman Empire, and other early societies.

If the leader was democratically elected—as Hitler and Mussolini were, and later many other genociders—he always starts by demonizing the free media and the political opposition, and cracks down increasingly on them.  He also demonizes minority groups that are vulnerable and unpopular.  He then begins arresting leaders in the media and in the minority groups.  By this time, his policies—generally ill-conceived—have hurt the economy or at least failed to grow it, and he escalates blame of his political foes.  Hitler’s increasingly strident demonization of the Jews, whom he blamed for everything from communism to diseases, is only the best-known case of a universal practice.  Stalin blamed the rich peasants (among others), Mao blamed the landlords and intellectuals, the Interahamwe in Rwanda blamed the Tutsi, Slobodan Milośevič in Serbia blamed the Muslims, and so it went, throughout history.

Once in power, a totalitarian leader will almost invariably launch a genocide when threatened seriously by civil war, rebellion, or international war.  Sometimes, mere economic and social problems are enough.  Then the level of killing is dependent on several factors, but the most important one seems to be the level of indiscriminate hatreds the leader invoked in his campaigns.  Leaders like Trump, who attack any and every available group, are rare in the historical record.  Particularly dangerous is a situation in which the leader is backed into a corner by inability to deliver on promises of economic progress or military might.  At this point he increases his rhetoric against the “others,” seizes dictatorial power, and begins killing opponents.  If challenged by violent conflict, he escalates the killing into large-scale mass murder.

The key moment is the time when an autocratic rulers sees his best chance of getting or consolidating rule as coming through whipping up fear and hate.

Once in office, the persons who deployed the campaign consolidate power by promising security and prosperity if repression of the hated groups is increased.  Often the regime consolidates power at this point by massive political killings.  Finally, a crisis—economic or military or both—makes it impossible to deliver on that promise.  Very often, this is a civil war, since the temptation to exterminate the “other” side is great; civil wars and local guerrilla outbreaks have been the breeding grounds of many modern genocides (Anderson and Anderson 2012; Totten and Bartrop 2008:73).

The regime seizes total power and begins genocide as the only way they see clear to maintain power and deliver on their promises.  It makes little or no difference whether the regime was democratically elected (like Hitler in Germany and Efrain Rios Montt in Guatemala) or seized power in a coup (like Pinochet in Chile) or won a war or revolution (like Franco in Spain and Mao in China).  A serious hate-based ideology, combined with autocratic power, always leads to genocide.


A final note on cause is another epidemiological one: how genocide spreads.  Rudolph Rummel (1998) documented in great detail how it spread with Leninist-Stalinist Communism, occurring in essentially all countries that adopted that particular form of Marxism. (Marx himself did not, of course, advise any such thing, however much he may have counseled the elimination of ruling-class elements.)  Rummel also documented the spread of genocide under fascism, especially, of course, Hitler’s particular form of fascist doctrine.

A point somewhat missed by Rummel was the degree to which the United States spread genocide, via its CIA operations in Latin America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.  How much this was foreseen—let alone deliberately planned—is controversial.  However, genocide followed CIA-backed takeovers in Chile, El Salvador, and Guatemala.  Mass killing of dissident followed coups by covertly CIA-supported military men in Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, and several other countries (Feierstein 2010).  Worst of all was the true genocide committed under Argentina’s military dictatorship  from 1976 to 1983, which eliminated at least 30,000 people and probably more.  It was, however, less directly related to United States initiatives.

Often, the genociders had been trained at the School of the Americas operated by the U.S. Department of Defense.  It began in Panama in 1946, but was ejected from there as a destabilizing force, and relocated in Fort Benning, Georgia.  It was renamed as “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation” in 2000, and its mandate reduced, but it continues.  This school trained Rios Montt of Guatemala and Roberto D’Aubuisson of El Salvador, as well as participants in the genocides in Haiti and Argentina (AlJazeera 2012; Feierstein 2010). It taught a range of techniques and established a values system based on exterminating perceived enemies of military regimes.

The Guatemalan and Argentine armies it trained and allied with had long-standing relationships with Hitlerian fascism; the Guatemalan army had been trained in the 1930s and 1940s by pro-Hitler Germans, and Mein Kampf was required reading for Argentine military officers in the years before the genocide of the 1970s there (see e.g. Lewis 2001; Timerman 2002).  In some countries, including Paraguay, actual ex-Nazis who had served under Hitler were recruited to organize mass murder (Feierstein 2010).  Thus, many of the 20th century genocides can be traced to three origin points and to a very few men.






Back Story: The Rise of Exclusionary Ideology


“Genocide has two phases, one, the destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor” (Lemkin 1944:xi, quoted by Shaw 2013:55).

This quote reminds us that genocide is definitely about culture; it is about the elimination of a lifeway as well as a people.  The most extreme form of exclusionary ideology, when open extermination of the group is advocated, has been called “eliminationism” in Daniel Goldhagen’s intense history of genocide (2009).  Jacques Sémelin has written a very sensitive history of extreme ideology, using Foucault among other sources, under the significant title Purify and Destroy (2007).

Exclusionary ideologies are those that teach that society is a bundle of contending groups, in conflict or competition with each other, such that one group benefits only by keeping another down or forcing it down.  Society becomes a zero-sum or negative-sum game.  This is not a rational matter: it is inevitably highly emotional.  It mobilizes people’s deepest fears and hates.

The common exclusionary ideologies are extremist religion, fascism (Neumann 1944, 1957), racism (Sussman 2014), and the more extreme and radical forms of communism.  These ideologies are defined simply: they all advocate indiscriminate violence to eliminate or terrify by mass killing some particular large group of people, defined such that men, women, children, old people, the sick, and noncombatants in general are all equally targeted.  The roots of all these in religious killings have been explored (Rubinstein 2004).

Exclusionary ideological movements are generally splinter movements within splinter movements.  Radical terrorist Islam, for instance, is an extreme offshoot of Wahhabism and Salafism, themselves extreme offshoots of Hanbali Sunni, which is itself the most rigid and narrowly legalistic of the Muslim law interpretation schools.  The terrorist form is almost universally condemned by Muslims and Muslim scholars and religious figures (see e.g. Schewitz 2015); even the arch-advocate of Salafism, Sayyid Qutb, repeatedly condemned murder of noncombatant women, children, and old people (Sayyid Qutb 2007, passim).

The extremist Christianity that leads to murdering abortion clinic workers, gays, and Muslims is similarly far from the teachings of Jesus.  Stalinist-Maoist communism is extreme by communist standards.  Fascism, by definition, is a murderous hate ideology, but there has been considerable variation in how bloody the fascist regimes have been.  Hitler was far more murderous than Franco, for instance.  Much more general ideologies, like “socialism,” “religion” (in general), and “capitalism,” are even less relevant.  Blaming such grand generalities for the murderous behavior of ISIS or the anti-abortion bombers and murderers is no more accurate than blaming democracy, or, for that matter, blaming bread (the staple food of the relevant groups).

Hollie Nyseth Brehm (2015) studied the history of 159 nations from 1955 to 2009 to find correlates of the rise of exclusionary ideologies—ethnic privileging (as in South Africa under apartheid), Stalin-Maoism, radical Islam, and similar movements.  She scored 1537 country-years as having been spent under such rules.  “Irregular regime change”—coups and revolutions—was particularly dangerous.  Exclusionary ideologues rise to the top in violently unsettled times, following the common principle that in a ratfight the most vicious rat wins.  Alternatively, a civil war often precipitates not only genocide but the rise of exclusionary ideologies on all sides.

Decolonialization was also dangerous, specifically in countries where the colonial powers had resorted to divide-and-rule strategies, favoring some groups over others to maintain control.  The longer a country was a colony, the worse the odds.  This, of course, works for the United States in its much earlier case, as well as for post-1955 cases like Indonesia.

Oddly, and paralleling Mann’s (2005) findings on earlier regimes, democratization was dangerous; the transition from authority to democracy was often aborted by an exclusionary group taking over, or an autocratic-leaning “democratic” regime showing its true colors.  Even so, democracy is usually protective, and even exclusionary ideologues may be softened and neutralized by democracy, as in Malaysia.  Large drops in income can be dangerous.

In general, these countries took off-the-shelf ideologies: Stalin-Mao communism, Hitlerian fascism, extreme Wahhabi or similar Islam, or military dictatorship (albeit sometimes “democratic” on paper) based on ethnicity or political crackdown.  Working out new ideologies seems rare.  On the other hand, working out particularly violent and ruthless variants of the traditional ones is seen in Khmer Rouge Cambodia, Rwanda under the Interahamwe, and a few other cases.  Iran’s murderous regime is based on Shi’a Islam, rather than the Hanbali Sunni of Wahhabism, and represents an extreme form of Shi’a militance. Venezuela’s current unique brand of “socialism” is now moving toward genocide, as is Duterte’s Philippines, and these might represent relatively original forms of exclusionary thought.

            The clear theme in all this is direct threat to a shaky but autocratic regime.

An important point made by surprisingly few students of such movements is that they cannot promise only hate (or exclusion) and gratification of hate.  They cannot succeed if they simply call for indiscriminate mass murder.  They need some professed high ideals.  Most often, these are the most exalted ideals of all: those of world religions.  Secular ideologies, however, must have equivalents.  Fascism and racism promise purity, prosperity, and safety from hordes of criminal and inferior minorities. Communism professed ideals of equality, progress, social justice, and welfare that it did indeed deliver in some of its milder manifestations, but failed to deliver when it drifted into genocidal extremism, as in Stalin’s USSR and Mao’s China.  Genocidal movements in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and elsewhere promised prosperity, peace, homogenous societies, and similar benefits if the enemy ethnic groups were eliminated (Shaw 2012).  These were essentially the same promises Trump made in connection with deporting Mexican immigrants and preventing Muslim immigration.  He would “make America great again” by crushing Latinos, Chinese, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, gays, liberals, and on through a long list.

This provides the key step in developing exclusionary ideology: it makes it moral to hate.  Normal people in normal life have plenty of angers, frustrations, and even hatreds, but they know that acting on those always brings trouble and rarely brings benefit.  They know that “a house divided against itself cannot stand”—turning a nation into a mutual-destruction game hurts everyone.  If, however, they are convinced by their leaders that hatred of certain groups is a moral duty, they will usually accommodate.  Many otherwise decent human beings in the United States hate homosexuals simply because preachers tell them to and they believe it to be a genuine religious duty.  British and French felt it necessary to hate, or at least scorn, each other for hundreds of years, because of national rivalry and “patriotism.”  Studies of terrorism routinely show that terrorists are usually fairly ordinary people swept up in a moral but violent cause (Atran 2003, 2010; Horgan and Kazak 2017, passim).  They may be more often disturbed psychologically than the general population, but the difference is not striking (Gill and Corner 2007).

Morality not only justifies the hate; it makes it worse.  It lays guilt on individuals, making them feel they should be ever more hateful.  It makes them hate opponent groups for being “immoral” as well as different or competitive.  It makes people feel good about themselves when they do the moral act of taking down an opponent-group member.

This provides a simple, direct place to attack potential genocide:  Exclusionary ideology.  If it is shot down, ordinary social controls—cultural conventions for normal civility—will take care of ordinary hatreds.

As pointed out by Ben Kiernan in Blood and Soil (2007), similar ideologies animated settlers taking over land from Indigenous peoples; they would have peace and prosperity if they could take over the land, eliminating its rightful owners in the process.  Concepts like “Manifest Destiny” were created to justify this.  However warped and twisted all these benefits may seem in retrospect, they provided excuses for eliminating or decimating vast numbers of ethnic groups worldwide.

Thus, a hate ideology must have more than hate going for it.  Even Hitler managed to promise progress, purity, virtue, superiority, and other goods, promises still associated with fascist leanings in some parts of German society (Voigtländer and Voth 2015).

Rios Montt’s fascist rule in Guatemala may have failed to eliminate the targeted groups partly because of his failure to tell a convincing story.  In spite of his deployment of evangelical Christianity, he provided thin promises.  Christians in Guatemala were not convinced that mass murder of innocent people is a Christian act; the evangelical churches there are not (on average at least) as right-wing as United States ones.  Partly because of this, Rios Montt and other rulers of the country could not mount as effective a genocide as they apparently wanted (Shepherd 2016).  He has been judged guilty of genocide (Fausset 2014; Sanford 2013) but the judgment was annulled, and many Guatemalans still yearn for a mano dura (“firm hand”) rule (Torres 2016).

By contrast, ISIS sells itself by offering the revival of the Caliphate and the glories of Islam.  Its publicists can sound downright utopian.  Scott Atran and other investigators have found that it is these utopian calls, not the murder and bloodshed, that attract young Muslims, especially those facing prejudice and discrimination in Europe and America (Atran 2015a, 2015b).

On the other hand, direct, unsubtle hate appears to be necessary to make people torture and kill.  Subtlety does not work well in hate ideologies when they play out on the ground.  Kteily, Bruneau et al. (2015) found that hate ideologies tend to compare people either to disgusting animals (rats, cockroaches) or to unfeeling machines (robots).  These can be ideologically represented, and always seem to be in hate ideologies, especially the animal comparisons.  The authors noted a tendency for richer groups to be “robots,” poorer minorities to be compared to animals, but there was substantial overlap, especially in the animal insults.  Following up on this, Kteily, Hodson and Bruneau (2016) found that these stereotypes get mutually applied: stigmatized groups return the favor by dehumanizing their oppressors, and a vicious cycle emerges in which groups demonize each other more and more.  This has occurred over the years in the Israeli-Palestine conflict.  It now appears in the widespread mutual dehumanization of each other by Muslims and right-wing Europeans and Americans.   It leads to escalation of terrorist bombing by extremist Muslim groups, and that in turn leads to indiscriminate air strikes by European powers and the United States in Iraq and Syria.

Dehumanization, however, is only one part of a continuum that extends from simple dislike and devaluing to contempt, callousness, deliberate irresponsibility, bigotry, and ultimately real hatred.  The common theme is rejecting people as people.  Structural violence (Galtung 1969) can be as bloody and total as genocide.  Corporations that simply take no notice of pollution-caused deaths, dam-builders that do not plan to resettle displaced persons, and oil companies that allow local militias to “protect” company operations by indiscriminate violence are on a very slippery slope toward genocide (Anderson 2010; Ross 2012).  It is possible that this type of murder-by-neglect has actually killed as many people as genocide in the last 100 years, since famines are now essentially all due to government action, not to natural disasters (Sen 1982).  The Bengal famine of 1942-43, the Chinese famine of the Great Leap Forward, the Ethiopian famine of the 1970s, and other such government-created events each killed tens of millions.

Hatred ideologies win over countries through military coups, elections (Hitler was democratically elected—by a bare plurality; see also Nyseth Brehm 2017), or outright revolutions.  Sometimes an already authoritarian state turning suddenly more extreme, almost always when challenged by stresses, but sometimes simply through normal succession practices that happen to bring a brutal ruler to power, as has happened today in Xi Jinping’s China.


Funding Exclusion


Someone has to fund extremist ideology.  Hitler had his giant corporations: Krupp, Volkswagen, I. G. Farben and others.  Farben, Krupp, and Bayer (of aspirin fame) used Nazi prisoners as slave labor (Totten and Bartrop 2008:396-397).  Elie Wiesel, among others, was incarcerated in the Monowitz concentration camp and forced to work for Farben (Totten and Bartrop 2008:143, 289).  Mussolini had corporate backing. ISIS lives by selling oil on black or gray markets, with added income from looting anquities and from selling Yazidis and Christians into slavery.  Fascism and similar military dictatorship in many African countries, from Sudan to Nigeria (in the 1970s) to Equatorial Guinea, has been funded and supported by the giant multinational oil corporations.  The right-wing genociders in Guatemala were beholden to United Fruit.

Of course, big firms do not explain communist genocides, or such ethnic outbreaks as the genocides in Rwanda and Burundi.  Nor—contra a widespread belief—was Hitler actually put in power partly by the giant firms (Mann 2004, Paxton 2004).  Mussolini, similarly, got the giant firms on his side only after seizing power and shifting well to the right in his politics (Mann 2004).  Both leaders were economically and ideologically eclectic, glorying in individualism and arbitrary responses.

On the other hand, Hitler and Mussolini quickly formed close links with giant firms.  Hitler developed a whole fascist economics, based on government collaboration with cartels, which Neumann (1944:261) described as “totalitarian monopoly capitalism.”  The extremely authoritarian structure of giant conglomerate corporations was eminently friendly to fascism (Neumann 1944:284-288).  The government interfered in the economy, but not with the thoroughness and care that the United States government does via subsidies and tax breaks.  Government promises of free market were highly qualified by government linkage with, or even creation of, giant oil firms and the like.

Neumann translates an editorial from a 1941 source on the oil economy (Neumann 1944:356-358) which is chillingly close to current oil policies in the United States, especially when one remenbers that the father of the oil millionaires Charles and David Koch was a contractor for Hitler at the time.  Neumann’s summary is:  “Four distinct groups are thus represented in the German ruling class: big industry, the party, the bureaucracy, and the armed forces” (Neumann 1944:361).  These were theoretically fused, but the situation was evolving rapidly when war struck.  Fascism created monopoly capitalism, in which law was almost irrelevant, partly because of the concentration of power, partly because the regime simply acted arbitrarily.  “The…legal system is nothing but a technique of mass manipulation by terror” (Neumann 1944:458).  The US Supreme Court under Trump appears to be moving in that direction.

Neumann’s description of this economy remains necessary to an understanding of fascism.  It is ominous for the United States, since the fusion of giant oil and banking firms with government, and the primacy of the military within government, under Donald Trump have re-created Hitler’s economy.  The Nazi background of the Koch brothers make it highly unlikely that this resemblance is merely fortuitous.

Also, the US subsidy and tax structure has been carefully engineered by the giant oil, coal, chemical, and agribusiness firms (among others) to benefit them at the expense of their competition.  This is a major factor in American politics, since these firms donate heavily to politicians who support them and keep the subsidies high, while working against politicians who in any way inhibit oil, coal, agribusiness, and other older industries.  These firms are primary producers of bulk commodities, often those rendered obsolete by modern research and development.  They are what we may call the paleoeconomy, as opposed to a neoeconomy of sustainable farming, renewable energy, hi-tech, high efficiency, and the like.

The psychological effects of increasing domination by giant firms are profound.  They not only dominate economic life; they control most congresspersons, they control much of Trump’s white house, and they control the media and thus popular culture.  The steady and rapid deterioration of popular culture. from Mozart to gangsta rap over the last couple of centuries, is hard to miss, and of clear origin.  Psychologically, people are weakened and infantilized by the sheer lack of control and the aridity of popular cultural forms.

In the last analysis, exclusionary ideologies, not giant firms, make genocide, but giant firms are all too often happy to have their critics and challengers exterminated, so firms can almost always be found to back genocide.

The costs of genocide are enormous.  Wars—mostly genocidal—cost Africa an estimated $284 billion from 1990 to 2006 (Bengali 2007).  One can only imagine the costs of greater genocides.  One aspect of this is that educated people are often singled out for elimination, as in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge and Guatemala under Rios Montt.

The linkage of giant firms and hate ideologies must be broken.  We need laws to prevent corporations from deliberately stirring up hate.  We need to be vigilant and always call them on it, never allowing it to hide in the shadows.  Hate plus greed cause genocide—always, if they are both strong. Greed can serve good causes; we need to convince the corporate elites that they can only lose, in the end, from fascism.

In particular, the paleoeconomy—the dying, unsustainable economy of fossil fuels, industrial farming, big mining, and deforestation, with cooperation from certain financial firms—has been the major source of funding and political effort for the extreme right.  This economy must be cut adrift to die, rather than subsidized and supported.  Above all, its influence in politics must be countered by all legal means.  It is the real root source of our trouble.

We have to strengthen and enforce antitrust laws.  Tax and financial laws must be changed to end subsidies to giant corporations, to tax them at full and fair rates without special breaks or favors, and to ban them utterly and completely from offshoring capital in tax havens or designating headquarters outside the United States.  Doing those things must be criminalized, with the CEOs and CFOs jailed for such behavior.  Also, pollution laws must be strengthened and enforced, with—again—CEOs bearing full responsibility for endangering public health by massive release of dangerous pollutants.  As long as giant firms are rewarded for antisocial and dangerous behavior, they will fund fascism.  The economic order of fascism must be broken.  Evil firms always reinvent it otherwise.  Simply dealing with hatred is not enough.

Everybody except the right-wing rich seems to agree that their tax breaks and special favors are a bad thing.  Extreme inequality is bad enough in itself, but it also gives very disproportionate political power to the rich, especially in this post-Citizens-United world.  Indeed, overturning the Citizens United ruling and getting sane regulations on campaign spending should be another immediate priority.

            “Neoliberalism,” in the United States, is a misleading term.  It originally referred to the extreme laissez-faire economic teachings of Ludwig von Mises, Franz Hayek, and Milton Friedman, especially as applied by autocratic politicians in the 1980s.  Those three economists already flirted with fascism.  True neoliberalism persists as basic policy in the UK, where it regularly denounced by The Guardian.  It flourishes in some other countries.

It is part of Trump’s economic agenda.  However, it has been largely replaced in the United States by fully fascist economics: government cooperation to the point of fusion with giant right-wing firms, and repression or discriminatory policies against other businesses.  The Trump administration is basically ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs, Koch Industries, and the Mercer combine writ large, along with Trump’s own business empire and a few collaborators.  These firms have become part of government.  Koch Industries dominates politics in several states, including Wisconsin and Kansas.  All these firms are de facto parastatals.  They run the government for their benefit, via subsidies, tax breaks, giveaways, and special policies.  Innovative technologies are targeted for demolition, and small business is cut adrift.  This is the extreme antithesis of laissez-faire.  Even communist economies (except perhaps North Korea’s) are less driven by government interference and autocratic meddling.  China, for instance, has giant state firms very comparable to our government-favored firms, and a good deal of government meddling in other firms, but apparently not the extreme distortion of the economy that we see here.  At least, their private sector continues to flourish.

David Harvey has recognized the general phenomenon, and redefined neoliberalism in his recent works (see Harvey 2007), to include government collusion.  However, this and other redefinitions have left the word so general that it lacks meaning.   Attacking neoliberalism deflects attention from the real problems.

The ideal mix of government and free enterprise has not yet been found (nor is it likely to be), but a very good mix has been achieved by Scandinavian countries, as shown by their stunning economic and social success.  Compared to the United States, they have single-payer government-managed health care, more investment in public education, higher taxes on corporations, and other trappings of “socialism,” but the real difference from the US seems to be that their free-enterprise sector actually is free enterprise, rather than a creation of intense government meddling to favor a few giant firms at the expense of everyone else.






Human Unreason


The challenge to social science in these models is clear.  Social science has overwhelmingly assumed that people were rational, and acted in their rational self-interest.  Such is clearly not the case; humans are often creatures of irrational hate (on emotion, including fear and hate in politics, see Marcus 2002; Westen 2007).  Many are psychopaths, out of the reach of normal economic or social restraints.

The Harff, Totten, and other models have extremely high success in predicting and explaining behavior based on two assumptions–implicit in Harff and Gurr, explicit in the Anderson model.  First humans are primarily social.  Second, they are primarily creatures of emotion, not reason; in the words of David Hume, “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them”  (A Treatise of Human Nature, p. 462).  Third, since ignoring a threat can be deadly, the emotion of fear tends to get priority.

Fear, if not dealt with by rational means, often leads to hate.  When it does, and fear and hatred combine, there is no amount of self-interest that people will not abandon to kill their rivals, and even their friends and neighbors.  The entire history of war and suicidal terrorism proves that people will happily sacrifice their lives if they can take a few enemies with them.

Fear comes most often and most seriously from social threat—from attacks by valued members of one’s social world.  Fear also comes from threats to life and livelihood, to future benefits, and to well-being.  Many people fear more for their loved ones than for themselves; extremist leaders often find that followers who refuse to kill for their own benefit will do anything in defense of family, home, and community.

Social science will have to start over from the ground up.  Rational material self-interest has very little explanatory power—certainly nothing like the explanatory power granted to it in most social science models.  Fear and hate are far more prevalent.  Love and solidarity also occur, to say nothing of unreasonable levels of greed, power-madness, and desperate need for control.  Rational self-interest certainly does occur, but usually in the service of one of these emotions.  People are wholly rational about their war planning, suicide bombing, and genociding.  As Captain Ahab put it, “all my means are sane, my motive and my object mad” (Melville 2001:202).

One other area of exploration is the connection of genocidal ideology with individual crises.  Loss of personal control—self-efficacy in a broad sense—is evidently associated in many cases with individuals taking up extreme and hateful belief systems (Baumeister 1997; Beck 1999; cf. Bandura 1982, 1986 on self-efficacy in general).  On the other hand, too much can be made of this.  Scott Atran’s work shows that many reasonably well-adjusted young people can be captured by radical suicide-bomber ideologies, especially if they have lost family members or otherwise been traumatized.  It would appear, however, that such traumatization manifests the sort of uncontrolled situation that might lead to individuals falling into a psychological space of the sort that precipitates hate and violence.

Fascism and genocide in the 20th and 21st centuries tracked conflict between highly traditional societies (including their authority structures) and new ones: democratic, postcolonial, technocratic, and other new and rising social fractions.  Traditional social fractions facing rapid change and erosion were the sponsors:  old white males in today’s US; comparable groups in 1930s Europe; farmers and aristocrats in 1930s Japan; ethnic groups losing from decolonialization in 1970s-2000s Africa; fast-changing traditional fractions in today’s India and Turkey; etc.  The traditional fractions are both losing their former stability and cohesiveness, and losing out economically and politically to newer fractions.  National cycles, immediate crises, and other possible alternative structural causes do not predict fascist movements or genocidal ideation.


Basic Psychology of Mass Killing


This allows us to examine the back story in human psychology.  Israel Charny, a veteran psychologist of genocide, lists the foundations as projection and scapegoating, need for power and addiction to it, dehumanizing others, doing what is expected or what everyone does, “going with the flow,” being a bystander, conforming for acceptance or adulation, enjoying a controlling role, “total commitment to a divine call of ideology,” sacrificing others, denial, and self-delusion (Charny 2016:32-33).  He is particularly thorough and analytic in dissecting the role of going along with others—conforming, getting caught up in a collective agenda, and being passive in the face of horror (Charny 2016:71-103).

These are too often minimized or unconsidered in analyses of genocide.  Genocidal policies are usually invoked by a single leader or a small extreme movement; they use extreme exclusionary ideologies to whip up mob hate; but then the enormous force of social conformity, going along with it all, passivity, and fear of being different take over.

Timothy Snyder documents this at length in Black Earth (2015).  The vast majority not only of Germans but of Poles, Hungarians, Russians, Lithuanians, and every other nationality went along with exterminating Jews and also killing their own co-ethnics over trivial political matters.  The Nazis ordered it; the people did it.  The few exceptions, Snyder notes, were typically nonconformists (Snyder 2015:250-297).  Similar findings are virtually universal in genocide research.  The Hutu in Rwanda described being caught up in national hysteria.  Otherwise mild, tolerant Cambodians and Indonesians reported the same thing after genocides.  Indeed, it seems likely that the ordinary perpetrators of genocide are usually brought into it by conformity and obedience to authority, and then by communal hysteria or breakdown, rather than by sheer hatred (Anderson and Anderson 2012; Charny 2016; Shaw 2013; many other sources).

The famous experiments of Philip Zimbardo, which had to be terminated after only a few days, involved students playing prison guard and others playing prisoner.  Even in a tightly supervised role-playing situation, violence and cruelty got out of hand within days (Zimbardo 2008).  Zimbardo, a normally decent person, was horrified, and has spent years trying to deal personally and professionally with what he found.

Charny reports the same thing on a mass scale: prison guards who were perfectly decent people and still are when not in their role, doctors who do what they are told even when it involves torture, soldiers who are at first literally nauseated by their killing and later find it “just a job.”  All accounts of genocide agree that these are the typical genociders; they do what their leaders tell them, even when the leaders are clearly demented.

This is especially true if there are real dangers in nonconformity.  Being denounced and given over to the torturers and death camps is a feature of all the more extreme genocidal societies.  Speaking out requires more and more courage as the process accelerates.  Today, many commentators after Trump’s election warned of the danger of “normalizing” him.

We have already noted that all well-reported genocides were presaged and accompanied by a great deal of name-calling.  The victims are “cockroaches” (this seems the favorite worldwide), “germs,” “cancers,” “insects,” “savages,” and so on for pages of documentation (Charny 2016:64; Totten and Bartrop 2008:103-104).  Ethnic slur terms are routinely used.  Victim groups are accused of being liars, cheats, criminals, thugs, rapists, and so on.  Trump in his campaign used a whole dictionary-worth of such terms to describe Mexicans and Muslims.  Conversely, genociders refer to their own activities with euphemisms (Totten and Bartrop 2008:137-138).

Another important point Charny makes is the degree to which people get sucked into these extreme movements by emotional appeals, charismatic leaders, media hype, and general social pressure (Charny 2016:112-124).  Many of these movements are specifically religious, incliuding, of course, the original genocides—persecution of heretics and dissidents in ancient and medieval times.  Today, extremist Muslim terrorism, Buddhist persecution of Hindus in Sri Lanka (Short 2016) and Muslims in Myanmar, Jewish calls for genocide of Palestinians, and Trump’s evangelical “Christian” support indicate that religion is far from dead as a factor.

However, they are put in the shade by the religion-like ideologies of fascism and Leninist Communism.  As Charny says:  “many scholars regard Nazism as a secular religion with ‘religious’ pinciples that included blood, race, land, and nation.  At least three Communist regimes (Soviet, Chinese, and Cambodian) adopted similarly quasi-religious forms.  Interestingly, although all three of these regimes were Communist, they did not necessarily emulate one another.  Rather, each underwent individual processes that developed ideologies that were like religions in their totality and absolutism” (Charny 2016:116).

The resemblances to religion are the total commitment required, the degree to which these are total social forms and ideologies with their own moral codes, and the degree to which they whip up emotions to get the public involved in the ideology.

Just as people get swept up into killing, they get more and more swept up into extremist ideologies.  Trump’s movement grew like a snowball.  He eventually convinced virtually all Republicans, as well as many Democrats and independents, to vote for him—in spite of early doubts.  Accounts of full genocides, such as in Rwanda and China, regularly involve long quotes from people who were initially cold to the movement but got increasingly caught up in it and eventually committed violence.

We are also all too familiar with the phenomenon of the sweet old lady who loves her pet cat and her porcelain figurines but who wound up voting for Trump—or, earlier, for Hitler, or Mussolini, or Rios Montt, or other elected genociders—because she feared the “others.”  People who are otherwise not only good, but exceptionally good, are not at all immune to the rhetoric, because they are fearful.  Their very goodness may make them especially worried about their loved ones, or their country, or their faith.

There is a sad record (noted above) of literary and cultural figures who espouse extremism.  Fascism in Europe was viewed with favor, and even enthusiasm, by people such as T. S. Eliot and W. B. Yeats, though they quickly cooled.  Stalwarts like Ezra Pound and Martin Heidegger remained fascists all their lives.  Similar support for communism  by leading figures is well known.

Perhaps the most horrifying, in retrospect, were the truly dedicated and devoted social activists who wound up defending genocidal regimes.  Stalin had diehard defenders in the west. Another example is found in the “two-hundred-percenters”:  The foreign non-Chinese apologists for Mao’s Communism, who wrote passionately in favor of it even when it drifted into genocide that was insane and uncontrolled even by other genocides’ standards.  The peaceable, socially idealistic New Zealanders Rewi Alley and H. W Youren (a politically moderate farmer) make fascinating cases—they were model citizens, lovers of social justice  They supported the early Mao for the best of reasons, and got caught up in denial once Mao turned pathological (Beattie and Bullen 2014).  They, like many others, were ultimately disillusioned and regretful.

Few, if any, good people sympathized with Rios Montt or the Rwanda Interahamwe, but the point is made:  even the best people can get swept up in even the worst genocide.

Denial is also well known.  We still have countless Americans that deny the Holocaust happened.  Turkey still denies the Armenian genocide.  This being the case, it is easy to see how Trump supporters can walk back on his inflammatory remarks, and how Republicans can deny the mass murder implicit in their across-the-board repeal of health care, food for the poor, and even Meals on Wheels and similar programs.

Hate is fed by lies, the bigger and more obvious the better.  This is Joseph Goebbels’ famous Big Lie technique, not his invention but certainly perfected by him, and used by many since.  Trump has fed white racism, and also a wider white backlash against “political correctness” and perceived favoring of nonwhites by media and liberal Democrats (see e.g Kaleem 2016).

Exclusionary ideologies everywhere depend on divide-and-conquer strategies, splitting people by race, ethnicity, language, religion, class, occupation, place of origin, political opinions, anything—if one divider fails, exclusionists will simply turn to another set.  There is no way to combat all these hatreds one by one.  We have to preach overall tolerance.  Exclusionists also love violence, oppression and bullying, so violent protests tend to bring a more violent return, and merely make things worse.


Human Innate Aggression?
To this psychological back story, there is an even further back story: the question of how violent and hateful humans are.  This has been debated since long before history (see, again, Pinker 2011).  The most obvious point is that humans vary from incredibly murderous to incredibly peaceful.  There are societies where killing is almost unknown, and societies that almost or quite exterminated themselves through violence.  There are people who seem irredeemably violent—psychopaths—and others who never hurt a fly.  Over history, there seems a tendency for alternating peace and war in most societies, but this is often due to one or two warlike societies (such as the Germans in Europe, the Turks in Asia) forcing others societies to defend themselves.  The vast majority of societies have faced war rather often (Bowles 2008, 2009; Guilaine and Zammit 2001; Keeley 1996; LeBlanc and Register 2002), but there is plenty of evidence for usual peacefulness and preference for peace; the Hobbesian picture of humans does not stand (Dentan 1966, 2008; Gusterson 2007; Robarchek 1989a, 1989b; Robarchek and Robarchek 1998; Roscoe 2007).

Humans are naturally cooperative (Bowles and Gintis 2011), with altruism and mutual aid typical.  Such traits, rare in nature, evolved in a world of shared hunting and defense.  This usually makes for peace, but when the group is threatened, violence in its defense is common.   Humans probably evolved in groups of 50 to 150 (see e.g. Dunbar 1993, 2004; Van Vugt  et al. 2008).  These may have warred from the start (Bowles 2006).  In any case, they compete.  Within the group, people usually display loyalty and solidarity, but large groups are apt to break up.  Both contingencies can set the stage for tribal massacres, and in modern times—when groups are far larger—for genocide.

In particular, segmentary bonding and segmentary breakdown is a continual source of problems.  It is captured in the Arab proverb “I against my brother, my brother and I against our cousin, our cousin, brother and I against the village, and our village against the world.”  (Scott Atran, 2010:256, gives an Afghan variant.)  Classically, uniting against a common enemy has been the easiest way to unite people (Arrow, 2007; Bowles 2006; Choi and Bowles 2007; Nowak 2006).

People also routinely misperceive risks (Beck 1992; Douglas and Wildavsky 1982).  They overemphasize large, dramatic risks over ordinary ones.  They displace fears, especially social fears, onto inappropriate topics—such as harmless minority groups.  They scapegoat these.

Violence, in general, is controllable, is getting less (over the long term), and is not a universal trait of humans (not even of young men).  Genocide is not explained by human nature.  It is explained, to some degree, but the tendency of psychopaths to rise in the system.  They lead; people follow in so far as the psychopathic leaders are charismatic, persuasive, and good at touching on deep fears.  Leaders of genocidal regimes seem to fall into four types: outright psychopaths, religious zealots, Communist extremists, and cold, brutal, bullying military men.  However, more studies of actual leaders are needed; no one seems to have stepped forward to evaluate them comparatively.

Aggression, when it occurs, is always socially controlled and manipulated (Geen and Donnerstein 1998).  It is not some free-floating, inevitable part of human nature.  It is structured and culturally managed.  Young men tend to be relatively violent, but it is older men and women that instigate genocide, and, usually, war.  Genocide, above all, is a calculated policy, not a random outbreak (Anderson and Anderson 2012).

We can thus assume that people are basically “good,” in the sense that they want warm, supportive sociability as well as some independence and control of their lives.  The problems come when those two basic drives come into conflict—when sociability causes stress and fear of rejection and ostracism, or when the need for control makes people too independent and defiant.  Fear, weakness, and threat then produce defensiveness.  Defensiveness with still further fear typically makes people lash out irrationally.  Alternatively, it can scare them into passivity and conformity, including following orders to exterminate “threats.”

In war, it is reported that four out of five soldiers in combat never fire their weapons (Pinker 2011).  Steven Pinker (2011) holds that people have been getting progressively less violent over time, as civilization moves to higher moral levels.  This has been strongly questioned (Fry 2013); Pinker exaggerated the levels of pre-civilization war, and certainly understates the extent of killing in the last century.  Still, Pinker seems to have the best of it: the diminution has been much less than he thought, but it is there.

However, the biggest reason he is close to wrong is, in fact, genocide.  This crime has exploded in the last century and a half—from extermination of small local groups to get their land to extermination of entire populations for no sane reason at all.  Pinker counts the openly violent genocides, but ignores the structural violence that killed hundreds of millions of people over the last century through deliberately-invoked famines, displacement, denial of medical care, and the like.  When these were targeted at specific populations (like the Ukrainian famine of 1933 which killed 3.3 million people) they were genocidal.  Even when not so targeted, if food supplies or resettlement or medical care were deliberately withheld from one segment of the citizenry, we can talk of genocide.  The Great Leap Forward, for instance, led to about 45,000,000 excess deaths in China (Dikotter 2010).

On the other hand, the killing in the last century or two has been rather localized.  It has been common in empires—from imperialist and colonialist regimes to the USSR empire of 1917-1989.  Temporally, it had a huge peak from 1914 to 1945.  Clearly, people are not born killers, or we would not see the secular decline and local fluctuations.  Most people today, at least outside the Middle East, go through life without seeing much in the way of violence.  The truly violent are often obviously abnormal psychologically, in the sense that they are well outside the usual distribution of mental traits.  They are psychopaths or have trouble controlling aggression.

Unfortunately, they function all too well in society; studies hold that a very disproportionately high number of CEOs and politicians are psychopathic.  This makes society as a whole more violent.  The reason is simple: cutthroat competitiveness usually succeeds.  Rare is the competitive situation where one loses through having no morals and no conscience.  More typical is the success of fighting dirtier than anyone else.  It works poorly in marriage, but well in politics.

This is especially true when competition is zero-sum or negative-sum.  A positive-sum game, as business is supposed to be in a growing economy, can attract better souls and weed out the hard cases.  Politics is usually zero-sum: one party loses when another wins.  War is, of course, negative-sum in most cases; even if “we” win “their” land, we lost so many men and women and so much money in the process that we are worse off.  This is truer all the time, as wars get more expensive, and is one reason for international wars becoming less common.

Destructive competition feeds and fuels genocide.  Dominant groups must feel seriously threatened by the “others” for genocide to be truly popular.  Hitler had to work hard to make Germans believe that the Jews were keeping the Germans down and making them poor; the Great Depression helped Hitler in this.  The Interahamwe in Rwanda had a similar task convincing the Hutu that the Tutsi were the villains.  Mao could convince many Chinese that landlord elements were ruining the whole country.  Trump convinced millions of Americans that it was Mexicans, Asians, and gays that were causing America to suffer from a purely-imaginary crime wave and an equally unreal economic decline.


Basic Evil


There is a small but excellent literature on human evil.  The major titles are Simon Baron-Cohen,  Zero Degrees of Empathy (2011); Stephen Bartlett’s The Psychology of Man (2005); Roy Baumeister, Evil:  Inside Human Cruelty and Violence (1997); Aaron Beck, Prisoners of Hate (1999); Zimbardo’s book already noted; and above all Erwin Staub’s great trilogy The Roots of Evil (1989), The Psychology of Good and Evil  (2003); and Overcoming Evil (2011).  Amartya Sen’s Identity and Violence (2006) is important for showing how hate is copuled with identity.  Carolyn Nordstrom (1997) has applied many of these ideas to genocide and mass killing.  We have already discussed the psychological backgrounds of genocide in some detail elsewhere (Anderson and Anderson 2012).  All define evil more or less the same way: as gratuitous physical harm to people.

The main conclusion of these works is that anyone, anywhere, can be induced to be evil—to do perfectly horrible things in an indefensible cause.  All agree that the typical evil-doer is an ordinary person coerced by his military superiors, or genocidal government, or criminal gang, or religious body, or other such unit.

All these sources also agree that domestic violence, sexual abuse, torture, criminal gang activity, and genocide are all linked.  The exact nature of the links is unclear, but all are related to need for control in situations where loss of control is feared.  Men beat their wives because they fear being abandoned or cheated on; governments exterminate their minorities because they fear minority cultural power.

However, these are followers, coerced or ordered.  The actual instigators are a different case.  Some are psychopaths.  Some appear to have started as ordinary rabble-rousers and then gotten carried away with their own rhetoric.  Some are merciless military men whose training led to callousness and a belief that dealing with “enemies” meant extermination.  Some were motivated by hatred from the beginning; Hitler’s hysterical hate of Jews is evident from his earliest writings.  Many, however—possibly most—were swept away by hateful rhetoric, those “exclusionary ideologies” in their most direct manifestation.   We still lack full biographies of most genociders.

Also relevant is the literature on domestic violence (see B. Anderson et al. 2004), which shows striking similarities to genocide—it is, almost, genocide miniaturized, or, more accurately, genocide is domestic violence on a huge scale.  Domestic violence has everything to do with maintaining control when the perpetrator feels a desperate need to control family members and yet feels threatened and inadequate.  Dictators in similar situations act similarly, on a vast scale.  Challenges to one’s reference group brings out even worse behavior (Atran 2003).

Psychologists have long known that being raised in erratic, unpredictable, violent surroundings makes troubled children, as opposed to children raised in warm, stable homes (Werner 1989; Werner and Smith 1982).  Data on genociders is inadequate to tell whether leaders had problematic backgrounds.

One conclusion from all these works is that the concept of “dehumanization,” so often cited in regard to genocide, needs considerable unpacking.  Baumeister points out at length that victims of the worst evil are tortured psychologically and physically in ways that make sense only if the torturers realize the victims’ fully human nature, and know exactly how to make a human being suffer.  Calling people “lice,” “cockroaches,” “rats,” and other terms distances them somewhat, but no one designs extreme and carefully calculated tortures to kill insects or rodents.  One simply squashes them or traps them.  Barroom brawlers call each other “son of a bitch” to insult them, not dehumanize them; nobody calls a male dog a son of a bitch, though it would be the literal truth.  Works like David Livingston Smith’s Less Than Human (2011) undermine their own case.  Smith, and others, describe horrible tortures done to people who were first called by humiliating names.  However, the tortures are exactly and specifically those used by domestic abusers and brutal bullies on their victims, not things anyone would really do to a cockroach or rat.

On the other hand, structural violence—allowing millions to die simply out of bureaucratic callousness—does involve dehumanization.  However, the victims are not called cockroaches or rats; they are called “collateral damage” or “displaced” or are simply not mentioned at all.  The people displaced by large dam projects are notoriously invisible to developers, bureaucrats, aid workers, and others, though they die by the tens of thousands (Scudder 2005).  The same is true of victims of preventable famines and epidemics (Angell 2017).  These people are victims of genocide by many definitions.  However, within our narrow definition, genocide victims are fully human, and their oppressors know it.


Grounding All This in Common Humanity


Particularly valuable for understanding both good and less ideal human behavior is Albert Bandura’s Social Foundations of Thought and Action (1986).  Bandura has shown over decades that people’s sense of self-efficacy is basic to their psychological functioning.  Knowing one can control one’s life, or at least some of it, is critically important to humans.  Knowing what can be done, especially about fears and threats, is most important of all.  People need a sense of control over their lives and surroundings (Langer 1983; Schulz 1976), and challenge to their control is one of the surest ways to make people violent.

From these and the sources on genocide we can construct a theory of hate and killing.   We have seen (with Israel Charny) that most perpetrators are driven by society and culture, but someone has to start the ball rolling.  Someone has to devise the hate ideology, declare the dictatorship, start the murders.

In short, weakness, or—more accurately and generally—perceived lack of self-efficacy in a situation, lead to overnegativism and overreaction.

Fear is critical in all this.  Fear is a normal human emotion (LeDoux 1996).  It must be prioritized, because threats can be deadly if not addressed immediately.  Fear leads to a fight-flight-freeze reaction that can easily slide over into violence.  Among mammals, humans seem particularly prone to violence when threatened or stressed.  Even humans are usually peaceable, solving problems as reasonably as possible, but can easily be moved to violent outbreaks.  This is especially true in social situations where the group is stressed.  When a majority is afraid of a minority, disaster is likely.  This is why genocides are often against minorities perceived as “rich” and “powerful”:  Jews in Germany, Tutsi in Rwanda, landlords in China.  On the other hand, most genocides, especially settler genocides, target the weak; this is often scapegoating and displacement.

Hatred is due to fear, threat, and stress—to real or dreaded harms.  There are many ways to deal with fear and threat; one can take rational steps, or run away, or fight directly against it.  Group hate and exclusionary ideologies are usually the result of a fourth coping strategy: displacing the anger onto a weak, vulnerable group.  In the 2016 elections, millions of genuinely suffering working people gave up trying to vote their class interest and simply voted against weaker groups: Latinos, Muslims, the poor.  There was a perception that these groups were “causing the problems,” but there was also a clear tendency to try to take down rival groups.

It is natural for people to defend their group; defend their place in the group; and defend their standing in the group.  If they are ordinarily strong and resilient, they will usually do that without resorting to hate crimes.  We can be proud of our groups and identities without cutting others down.  We can feel entitled to get what we deserve from society without letting entitlement turn into “white privilege” or other privilege or special favors.  However, vulnerable people with low self-efficacy often feel driven to desperation.  This emerges strongly from, for example, Scott Atran’s recorded narratives of Islamic terrorists.

At some level, taking this bully option requires a certain sense of one’s own weakness and vulnerability, and consequent defensiveness.  Abuse, hatred, and genocide are a weak person’s ways of defending his or her social place.  If one feels that control over one’s life is slipping away, one often becomes desperate.  This is where understanding of domestic violence becomes useful, since that is the key finding of domestic violence studies; typically, men very unsure of their worth and social position will try to control women by violence.

Another useful individual-level model is the extreme concern with personal “honor” found in certain societies (notably including the rural and southern United States; see Baumeister 1997; Henry 2009).  Individiuals are so concerned about their social standing that the slightest hint of disrespect will cause outbreaks of verbal or physical aggression.  Family “honor” leads to “honor killings” in many societies around the world.  As these grow in number during bad times, they begin to look more and more like genocide (on gender violence and genocide, see Totten 2008).

Prejudice (Allport 1954) and group hatred stem from these emotions.  Displacement of anger, prickly “honor,” fear of superiors, excessive concern for social place, and other aspects of social weakness and fear support hatred.  People hate opponent groups within their own societies.  They also worry about anyone within their own groups that is conspicuously “different” in thought or behavior (Pinto et al. 2010).  Even conspicuously good people are disliked (Parks and Stone 2010).  Envy of their goodness is part of it, just as envy of success is a problem for successful minorities such as the Jews in Europe.


The ultimate common sink of all these evils is essential rejection: regarding certain humans as beneath consideration simply because of what they are, rather than because of what they do.  Certain people are worthy only of being shoved out of the way: displaced, exiled, rounded up in reservations, and, ultimately, eliminated completely.  They are not so treated because they have done anything, but because they are poor, or different-looking, or different in religion, or different in lifestyle, or different in politics.  Simply being poor or rich, black or brown, Muslim or Christian means that they are to be moved out of the way by the most expedient means.

Feelings of entitlement often make this worse.  White supremacists feel threatened by the very existence of African-Americans, let alone their success.  Muslims and Christians each claim to have the exclusive truth, and see each other as a challenge to that.

This essential rejection—rejection because of essence, not because of action or behavior—usually comes from one of four things: weak fear, psychopathic hatred, sheer distancing (especially bureaucratic callousness), or longstanding enmity.  Usually “longstanding” here refers to many generations, not just a few years.  German anti-Semitism and Japanese antagonism toward China surfaced in WWII, but had a long prior history.

All four can be culturally constructed.  Weak fear is the most apt to be turned over time into a cultural thing.  It is the result of being genuinely frightened when one is in a position of low self-efficacy: personal weakness or loss of control.  Fear of Jews in Germany, African-Americans in the southern United States, Tibetans in China, Armenians in Turkey, and so on through the long list is coupled with guilt about how those groups were treated over time.  They are frightening because of what they might do, with full justification, if they could.  Guilt, shame, and regret can be mutated into scapegoating and bullying.  “I’m better than you” and “I’m worse than you” are bad enough, but the worst is “I’m worse than you so have to pretend I’m better, and if in power I have to bully you.”

Often revealing is the hatred of beauty, enjoyment, and good that we have noted before as a telltale sign of genocidal mentality in some autocrats.  Thus the decline of folk society with its traditional art forms, and the decline of arts in the schools and universities in recent years, are dangerous and unfortunate.

The opposite of rejection is acceptance—specifically, the moral decision to accept the world as it is, enjoy it as much as possible, and deal coolly and rationally with the rest.  Never just “bear”; if one cannot fix a problem, one can at least analyze it, try to understand it, and figure out what should be done if opportunity permits.

Cowardly defensiveness and cowardly aggression are behind the barroom-brawl attitude that seems so general among genociders, hateful leaders, and participants in cultures of exclusionary ideology.  Other corollaries of weak fear are failure to take or show responsibility, and failure to oppose leaders who are clearly on a wrong track. Most serious is a tendency to react negatively and irrationally to challenge or perceived threat.  Weak fear goes with unreason, and coolly rational response to challenge is the focal way to cope with it.  One explanation is that even small slights and personal cuts can be deadly to a weak person.  They not only hurt feelings, but can go with real threats that a weak person cannot handle.

On the other hand, weak fear is hard to combine with genocidal leadership, although the deep insecurities of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and others have been the subjects of much speculation.  Leaders have managed to turn what fears they have into open, vocal hate.  They are also apt to be more directly motivated by lust for power, self-absorption, culturally learned hatreds (like Hitler’s Austrian hate of Jews), and even outright psychopathy.

People can see that we are all in this together, and that long-term, wide-flung calculations of good must be invoked if we are to survive.  However, they naturally tend to more short-term, narrow calculus (see e.g. Kahneman 2011).  This can, and often does, lead to playing the world as a negative-sum game.


Hate Comes to Government


A government that claims total power, but is really facing a crisis that brings out its weaknesses, resorts to extreme violence.  Mass murderers who lasted long in office, such as Stalin and Mao, constantly reiterated their fears for the Revolution.  Always, some huge number of innocent people had to die, because the Revolution was under imminent threat from dark and frequently unknown forces.  On the right, Rios Montt in Guatemala constantly reiterated his claims that the nation was under constant attack from all manner of leftist elements that had to be utterly eradicated to preserve even mininal order.  The extreme intolerance of ISIS for even the most trivial differences within Islam, let alone for other religions, verges on (if it does not actually become) paranoia.

This frightened negativity is reflected also in the opposition to general humanistic values that characterize so many totalitarian regimes.  They outlaw or at best de-fund the arts.  They drastically curtail medical care.  They eliminate famine relief.  They deny science and invent their own “facts.”  Such regimes are characterized by a general fear, and consequent hate, of the creations of the human spirit.

Violence is especially likely if that is the one thing that the leaders are reasonably certain that they control.  Again, domestic violence is strikingly informative:  physical abusers tend to be those who are physically powerful and/or trained to fight using weapons, but who fear they are at a disadvantage in other ways.  Experience with schoolyard bullies is the same: physical abusers are “big kids” who have little but strength going for them; verbal abusers are physically less impressive but verbally fluent; and so it goes.  At the national scale, an elite confident of its ability to solve economic crises will not invoke genocide if the economy turns sour; that recourse is left to regimes that have military strength but no economic competence.

This leads to the prediction that totalitarian societies with poor perceived control over their citizens’ violence will be the most genocidal.  On the whole, this is the case.  It explains why genocides are so concentrated just after dictators take over and, again, when civil or international war occur.  Peacetime genocides are, however, common, and one must have recourse to the apparent paranoia of the dictators in those cases, with Stalin and Mao coming to mind once again.

Thus the real conflict in society is always tolerance, harmony, and getting along versus hate, intolerance, and rejection.  The extreme form of the latter is seen not only in Hitler’s Nazism, but in the bigotry and hysterical mob hate that dominated the 2016 election (and was not confined to the right wing).  Class differences are difficult enough, economics and rational economic concerns are serious enough and motivating enough—we cannot ignore them—but we have to work on them from an underlying platform of unity, solidarity, cooperation, accommodation, and mutual aid.






Donald Trump was elected by a coalition of three groups: Big Oil and their cooperating interests, the racist and sexist right, and the right-wing “Christians.”  The latter two are motivated by extreme hate, Big Oil only by ordinary everyday self-interest (“greed”).  If history holds, the racists and religious extremists will take over, and start a campaign of genocide that will devastate capitalist interests, including Big Oil.

In all history, very few political campaigns have consisted so strictly as Trump’s of demonizing so many opponents.  Those few always ended in huge genocides.  Hitler’s Germany is the obvious case, but the USSR under Stalin, China under Mao Zedong, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, Turkey under the Young Turks in 1915-1916, Ethiopia under the Dergue in the 1970s, and Indonesia under military rule in the 1960s provide other examples.  Even targeted hate campaigning, with only one or two groups demonized, has led to mass genocide in countries such as Serbia, Rwanda, and Burundi in the 1990s and Sudan in the 2000s.

How much Trump is consciously following the playbook is not clear, but Stephen Bannon at least is known to be well aware of Hitler’s steps to power, and appears to be copying them quite faithfully.

However, there is hope in the current situation.  Constant peaceful protest, and exposure of lies, will succeed against Trump if pressure is kept on but no violence is allowed in the process.  There are several cases of successful peaceful resistance—though disturbingly few—in the international record of the last century (Chenoweth and Stephan 2012).  There are even a few cases were autocratic regimes—generally relatively mild ones, but some quite murderous ones—were turned out by massive continued protest and international pressure, as in Chile, the Philippines (under Marcos), South Africa, South Korea, and Taiwan.  Depressingly, the great genocidal regimes usually ended only when forced out by war, though the most murderous country of all, the Soviet Union, slowly declined into relatively peaceful mildness in the 1950s, before collapsing completely in 1989.

Thus, applying prior experience to the United States, we can specify the especially frightening possibilities ahead.  First, armed militias—the Black Shirts and Brown Shirts—were instrumental in the rise of fascism in Italy and Germany, and comparable militias or armed groups (from the Red Guards to the Interahamwe) arose in virtually all other major genocides.  The United States has the Ku Klux Klan, the White Aryan Nation, and other groups, all of which militantly supported Trump and are ready to serve him.  If they are put into service, the risk of genocide goes sharply up.  Second, attacks on the mainstream media and academics are already daily events.  If they lead to actual imprisonment or other suppression, the risk is again much higher.  Third, demonization of the opposition by the hard-right is constant and becoming more strident.  Fourth, the current rush by the Republican Party to abolish or avoid traditional democratic institutions and balances appears to be a deliberate move toward authoritarian control.  Fifth, economic problems, threats of terrorism, and serious multifront war (currently focused in Syria) are providing excuses for crackdowns.  Finally, an actual coup, or suspension of the Constituion in a “state of emergency,” would make genocide virtually certain.

In short, all the danger signs that foretold prior genocides are already visible, but in early forms.  This progression can still be nipped in the bud.

The best way to predict a genocidal future is to see what was done by dictators trained, put in place, and instructed by the American right wing.  These range from Rios Montt in Guatemala to Pinochet in Chile.  Pinochet was relatively moderate, and confronted a well-developed civil society that eventually prevailed and forced him out; he killed a large number of opponents and suspected opponents, but no more than ten to twenty thousand.  Rios Montt took over a more troubled country with less civil society, and began a campaign of mass murder that targeted Maya Indigenous communities, teachers, aid workers, community organizers, and other good-doers, as well as political opponents.  His genocide claimed 200,000 lives—2% of the total population.

Given the extreme levels of hatred that the Republicans have aroused, a Republican genocide would probably kill at least 2%, six and a half million people.  This would be in a consolidation genocide: the initial campaign to insure control once dictatorship has been declared.  The next steps would lead to more.  A Republican government would eliminate corporate and estate taxes and cut all taxes for the rich.  If present trends are any indication, the resulting enormous infusion of cash to the rich would be banked in offshore accounts or invested in other countries—not invested in the United States.  It would be a huge drain on the economy.  Also, the Republicans currently propose to eliminate Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and indeed all transfer-payment programs, leading to extreme poverty in the US.  The resulting decline in consumer spending would devasstate the economy.  Resulting unemployment and disruption would lead to a further genocide to suppress dissent, probably eliminating another 2%.  Targeted groups of these genocides would be political opponents and Democrat leadership in general; minority leadership; feminist leadership; gays in general (many Republicans have called for exterminating them); and probably other groups.  Republicans are also proposing a new constitution for the United States, to eliminate the measure making any child a citizen if born in the US; such a new constitution would certainly eliminate the Bill of Rights (except the second amendment), the 14th Amendment, and other protections.

All historical genocides have moved very rapidly once started.  Killing escalates within months or days.  We will have no time to stop it if we do not start now.

A scenario for permanently eliminating Democrats from power is clearly taking shape in the GOP:  National right-to-work law and other measures to destroy labor unions, plus gerrymandering and voter suppression.  Unions are not only the biggest single source of Democrat funding and the way to mobilize the working class; they are also the main counterbalance to the rich urban liberals who want to restrict politics to debating “neoliberalism” and “intersectionality.”  We have to get back to uniting for economic justice and stop dividing over meaningless verbiage.  Only the workers can keep the Democrats on that track.

The United States, before Trump, was well placed to stop genocide, because it had evolved the exact opposite: a system based on liberal democracy.  Guaranteeing basic human and civil rights expanded fairly steadily up until 2016, and in spite of many obvious problems, the US had worked out a solid, well-constructed plan for fair treatment, justice, and inclusion.  That plan is now in ruins.  It can and must be restored and strengthened.

Our enemy is hate. It was the reason for the Trump vote—the sole real issue in his campaign.  It takes the forms of bigotry, bias, intolerance, exclusionary ideology, cowardly and fearful resistance, and irrational anger.  The outrageous amoral greed of Trump and his cronies succeeds only because their supporters and voters are motivated by hate to vote and act against their own self-interest.  Most of the hate was directed downward socioeconomically—to the pooor and to poor minorities—but intellectual elites and the Washington “establishment” came in for their share.

Trump supporters apparently think of the United States not as one country where people work together to move forward, but as a set of hopelessly antagonistic blocs, fighting each other in a declining economy, each one surviving only by taking down the others.  Unfortunately, this view is not confined to Republicans; many disaffected leftists hold it.

The counter is not to be angry or hateful toward Republicans.  The only counter is solidarity, reasonableness, mutual respect, and personal responsibility.

Trump’s victory shows that, unfortunately, people vote their hate—not really news to many political scientists, but apparently news to the Democratic Party.  Hatred is a far more important motive than any other, at least in politics.  There is a worldwide context, rooted in increasing resistance to democracy because it is associated with globalization and rising inequality everywhere (Fukuyama 2016).

This led to the sad fact that millions of otherwise perfectly good, decent, honorable people voted for Trump, simply because he tweaked their one spot and got them to vote against not only their economic self-interest but also against the 90% of their moral and emotional compass that was not hateful.  Democrats, and especially intolerant liberals, should remember this.  Hatred is no nicer in a liberal who rejects any and all Trump voters than in a “redneck” racist.

Hatred is also the cause of motivated belief in lies.  The astounding propagation of blatant, obvious lies—there is no global warming, all Muslims are terrorists, and so on, things that anyone could see were false—is explained by people believing anything that justifies and shores up their hates.  There is also cognitive dissonance to consider; the more one has personally invested in a belief, the more one believes it when it is disproved.  This will lead many to become even more hateful to minorities and Muslims when Trump’s presidency fails to deliver (as it certainly will).

We thus need a specific attack on the Great Lies—the ones that just go on and on and are apparently universally believed by the right wing:  Racism, religious bigotry (especially against Jews and Muslims), the nonexistence of global warming, and the unworthiness of the poor (the idea that the poor are all lazy—not working, and that because of laziness and stupidity).  Fake news, lies in general, and the Republican acceptance of lies is bad enough, but these four are really especially awful, and they never go away.







The most ambitious plan for curing hate and genocide is Ervin Staub’s life work, epitomized in Overcoming Evil (2011).  This book summarizes all the causes of genocide and terrorism.  It then gives an extremely comprehensive and detailed account of what can be done by ordinary people to damp down the vicious cycles of hate and violence that lead to mass murder.  The methods range from getting people from the different sides to talk to each other and work out their problems (the classic group therapy techniques) to active-bystander intervention, and on up to political, media, and educational approaches.  The latter will certainly be needed, since encounter groups can never be comprehensive and widespread enough to do the job—though they are surely desirable, even necessary.  Staub emphasizes the need to see others as ourselves—to see that we are all in the same boat, all humans together (see summary point, p. 515).

Ultimately, and especially for those individuals low in self-efficacy who might otherwise be tempted by violence, the only cure is tolerance.  We must teach that, including valuing diversity and valuing solidarity and community.  This cannot be expected to do all the work, however.  Yugoslavia had a good program of teaching mutual tolerance and appreciation, because of the country’s bitter past of genocides and ethnic hatreds.  The program was not enough; the nation dissolved into warring and genocidal splinter countries in the 1990s.  Relative peace has now come, at the cost of tens of thousands dead, millions with shattered lives, and whole nations ruined.

Above all, we have to make hatred socially unacceptable, and confront hatred and bigotry directly.  Hate is an emotion that hugely dominates the human animal when it is aroused, and it can be dealt with only by patient, rational discourse kept up with constant pressure.  We have to teach ordinary egalitarian civility and politeness—not showing dislike of others, simply as a matter of decency.

That said, no really effective campaign of fighting hate has worked without giving people something to unify them.  Conquest worked in the bad old days, but the Mongol hordes are not an ideal model for today.  Defense sometimes works in a threatened country, as it did for the United States in WWII, but surprisingly often it fails to unify people against a common enemy.  Uniting to fix an economic mess saved the United States in the 1930s.  A charismatic, visionary leader is often necessary.

An ethic of helping people, not hurting them, is obviously an essential component to all the above.

Another, quite different, agenda is addressing the claims that the country, or the world, is getting steadily worse off, and that the Jews, gays, Latinos, Chinese, or other entities are to blame.  The surest cure to genocide may be convincing people that we are all getting better off, or could get better off, and that the way to do this is for us all to pull together.

In short, the cure for genocide is the realization that we are all in this together, and that we progress in so far as we all work for the good of all.

A major part of this is remembering the old American watchword:  My rights stop where yours start.  “Your freedom to swing your arm ends at my nose,” as folklore puts it.  One of the most deadly rhetorics in the modern United States is the idea that “religious freedom” means freedom for right-wing “Christians” to bully, oppress, and brutalize those who do not follow that faith.

Prevention of genocide and bringing genociders to justice have moved forward.  Governments are more aware of international sanctions.  Some years ago, John Heidenreich (2001) gave us a number of ways that diplomacy and political resolve could stop genocide.  Leo Kuper (1985) suggested a number of cultural methods and diplomatric initiatives to stop genocide.  Unfortunately, time has not been kind to these.  Laws, diplomacy, international courts, and other due process means have been unable to stop genocide or bring more than a very few genociders to justice.  Typically, the mills of justice grind so slowly that genociders die of old age before they can be convicted.  Notable cases include Slobodan Milosevic and August Pinochet.

Thus, Alex Bellamy (2010), among others, forthrightly states that only superior military force can stop genocide, at least once it is in progress.  Since he wrote, this has indeed been successfully done in the Central African Republic, where religious war between Muslims and Christians was nipped in the bud by an international force.  Conversely, genocides in Myanmar and elsewhere have gone on, unstopped by diplomacy in spite of international protests.  ISIS continues to exterminate Yazidis without much notice (Travis 2016), though liberation of some ISIS areas has occurred as of 2017.

On the other hand, we have seen that Mali and Cote d’Ivoire avoided genocide in spite of communal violence, by avoiding exclusionary ideology (Straus 2015).

These and subsequent additions are conveniently summarized by Samuel Totten and Paul Bartrop (2008:342):  “conflict resolution efforts…mediation…diplomacy…sanctions…radio/television jamming…signing of peace agreements…peace-enforcement troops; establishment of effective safe havens…no-fly zones…outright combat by outside forces to prevent genocide from being carried out.”  Of these, safe zones, and troops on the ground, have proved effective.  Little else has.  Economic sanctions, for instance, have no detectable effect at all, positive or negative (Krain 2017).  Calling out hate speech and propaganda is obviously necessary and important, but more to alert good people than to stop the evil ones.  It awakens the world to the problem, but usually merely hardens the evildoers in their ways.  One remembers the astonishing resistance of Trump supporters to every proof that Trump and his backers had lied outright.  However, calling out hatred sometimes persuades the undecided to decide against evil.  Immediate international diplomatic sanctions against hate-based political action is clearly warranted.  In the end, prediction followed by troop deployment is probably necessary for serious threats.


Confronting Prevention


We will all have to confront the crimes of genocide and mass murder at national and international levels, and throw the whole weight of citizenry behind ways to reverse vicious spirals and get people to see each other as all in the same lifeboat, and not fighting over the provisions on it.

One other essential thing, however, is to have real, unified, dedicated counterleadership, to give the vast mass of reasonably well-meaning people some leaders to follow and conform to. If conformity and morality are indeed the overwhelmingly most important drivers in the followers of genocide, as appears to be the case, then having a higher and more moral counter-standard to conform to is obviously basic.  As noted above, we need to attack exclusionary ideologies, above all the moralizing of hatred and exclusion.  We can do this only if we also advocate replacing them with ideologies of inclusion, tolerance, mutual aid, and solidarity.

This would involve, most obviously, insistence on tolerance and truth: no “alternative facts” or fake news or racism or climate change denial.

That would require some serious changes to American educational systems.  We too often teach falsehoods.  Worse, we do not teach critical thinking and analysis.  There is also a wider concern: unless we teach genuine appreciation of people, cultures, arts, nature, and the world in general, the gullible and passive will still be seduced by the psychopathic.  Only positive good can truly counteract positive evil.

From the above, it is obvious that at any point, a concerted movement could stop genocide, except in cases where an extremist government had taken total power in war.

All that is required is for ordinary citizens to face what is going on, and refuse to play.  But this means keeping a clear vision in mind of human good, and of the really good people in the world.

Treating fear is clearly a priority.  Fear, and above all irrational behavior due to fear, is due in large part of loss of feelings of self-control, self-efficacy, and control over one’s life (Bandura 1982; Beck 1999; Kemper 2006; LeDoux 1996; many others).  It also involves giving up on controlling that which one cannot control; the Serenity Prayer remains a key ideal to strive for, however hard to reach in practice.  More directly, comprehensive medical care, assurance of food in times of want, reasonable hope of jobs for workers, and above all security of life, identity, and property are essential.  Genocidal leaders thrive on whipping up fear for livelihood.  On the other hand, they are adept at whipping up hatreds even among the affluent and self-assured, so security is ancillary to direct opposition to hate and its ideologies.

Again, there is a back story.  We in the United States have been beneficiaries of the Enlightenment—the visionary program devised in the 18th century that invented such new ideas as participatory democracy, liberty of conscience, a slavery-free society, equal justice for all, and equal opportunities for people of all classes.  These were completely new ideas at the time—as strange to most people as computers and the Internet were to my generation.  They rode a wave of exploration, trade, commerce, prosperity, and adventure.  Unfortunately, it was also a wave of colonialism, war, slavery, oppression, and, of course, genocide.  The Enlightenment leaders were largely reacting against this, but one must remember that some of them profited from it, directly or indirectly.

In any case, we now live on the basis of a program that proved not only very good for people but also stunningly good for the economy.  Democracy and freedom of opportunity paid off, at least as well as any investment in history.  Steven Pinker (2011) argues that the Enlightenment reduced both interpersonal violence and international war.  The jury is out.  In any case, we are now seeing a massive turning away from the Enlightenment program—in the United States, in China, in Turkey, in India, in Hungary, and indeed worldwide.  We need to save the old Enlightenment ideals, and add to them now ones targeted at mass killing.

Human rights remain the key. The rights developed in the Enlightenment—freedom of speech, assembly, religion, and conscience; freedom from torture, oppression, arbitrary “justice”—remain necessary for the world if we are not to fall into mutual destruction.  The governments that deny these and regard them as mere western constructions pay the price in evrything from lost wealth (through destroying their most thoughtful and productive citizens) to total war.  There will always be those who defend genocide as a good thing, but they are basing their vision on hatred and on lust for power, not on any beneficial results.

We need to work on a morality based on helping others, not hurting them.  One would think this was simple and straightforward, but common experience shows otherwise.  We now live in a world where religious leaders preach hatred and mass murder, and sometimes nothing else.

Next comes countering hatred.  This basically requires education, not only in school but in public media.  Clearly dishonest claims of racial difference and of religions that call for murder of innocent people need to be continually refuted at all levels and by all media.  More ambiguous propaganda requires more nuanced approaches.  Meeting extremist Islam (Salafism) with even more extremist intolerant Christianity merely makes things worse.  Meeting racism with generic attacks on white people is no help (though sensible, reasonable critique of white privilege is sorely needed in this day and age).

Economics courses should teach about the link of genocide with special breaks for giant firms.  History courses should include material on how Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin got whole nations to go along with them in missions of hatred and mass murder. Philosophy, psychology,, literature all have their role.  Science courses should not only debunk lies, but also teach how to evaluate claims in the media.  And there certainly should be comparative religion courses, including the full story of the corruption of religion by demagogues for evil ends.

Child-rearing should focus very solicitously on raising children to be civil, polite, and considerate to everyone, and to talk out their problems with parents, siblings, and peers.  Children need to be taught to take responsiblity for everything from daily chores to their own feelings.  They need to respect others, but not give in to others.  A correlation of harsh, repressive child-rearing and genocide has been raised in much of the literature (see the cited works on Evil, above); it does not hold up robustly, but has some support.  Empowerment should be a major goal. In this imperfect world, sensitivity and self-confidence from actual support by parents and others should be combined with actual testing and developing self-efficacy.

In the wider society, we need to unite economic policies that bring fairness with media arguments for decent treatment of all and a wider morality of tolerance and mutual aid.  Failed, vacillating, or grossly unfair economic policies are a genocider’s dream.  Even more closely connected, usually providing the actual economic base of genocide, are paleoeconomic forms: obsolete industries, crude extractive industries (especially oil), highly traditional sectors (agriculture is notorious), and other basic industries challenged by new, higher-technology sectors.

Again, responsibility is vitally important.  This seems rarely stressed in the literature, but reading accounts of hate ideologies and resulting genocides makes it clear that progressive shrinking from responsible behavior is one common theme.

By far the worst problem is deliberate circulation of all manner of hate propaganda, from flat racist lies to carefully nuanced and disguised bigotry, by the giant firms and super-rich business owners.  The Koch brothers and Robert Mercer have carved out a special niche in funding hate propaganda (see detailed analysis of the Mercer empire, which includes Stephen Bannon; Gertz 2017).  They are not the only ones.  This needs to be continually daylighted.

Of course, most obvious of all is the need to teach that the combination of autocratic government, hate ideology, and economic or violent disruption is almost inevitably deadly.  One therefore hopes for more effort to prevent situations that bring out the worst in people.  Steven Pinker said it well:  “The decline of genocide over the last third of a century…may be traced to the upswing of some of the same factors that drove down interstate and civil wars: stable government, democracy, openness to trade, and humanistic ruling philosophies that elevate the interests of individuals over struggles among groups” (Pinker 2011:342).  Of course we have seen genocides among societies with those traits.  The Weimar Republic that nourished Hitler had them all.  Conversely, conspicuously lacking them all has not brought genocide to a few of the smaller dictatorships like Qatar or Bahrein.  In general, though, they stand up under scrutiny.  Rudolph Rummel was right: autocracy kills, and the more oppressive it is, the more deaths follow when any disruption perturbs the system.

International scrutiny of autocratic states in troubled times must therefore take a high priority, with threat of direct multinational intervention made very real.  Experience suggests that nothing else works when genocide is under way, and even armed intervention does not always have any effect, since dictators may simply keep killing until they themselves are forcibly removed from office.

Attacking hatred in general and the specific correlates of genocide are thus both equally necessary.  Generic attacks on intolerance have never been enough.

Finally, the worst failing of the international community has been in condemning genocide and bringing genociders to justice.  Accountability is absolutely necessary.  The mills of trial and sentencing move so slowly that genociders brought to trial often die of old age before final sentencing.  The international community has been far too comfortable with genocide, human rights abuses, and oppression of minorities.  (For much more detail on all these issues, see Anderson and Anderson 2012:127-156 and Staub 2011.)









Immediate Basics


We need to get people to stop seeing American politics as a negative-sum game, in which “my” group hurts itself just to do worse damage to “their” group.  This is clearest and worst in race and gender politics, but is unfortunately common.  Obama did an amazing, though far from perfect, job of bringing us together to work together to build.  Trump, Sanders, and Clinton unfortunately ran quite divisive campaigns; Trump made no pretense otherwise.  Trump, Fox News, and the far-right media whipped up a level of hatred not seen in the United States for decades, possibly not since the Civil War.  A huge anti-hatred civic action movement is absolutely necessary.  But, also, since hate comes from fear, we need to encourage people in the literal sense of the word:  Give them courage.  Fear, and weakness caused by facing the giant corporations in all their power, is the ultimate source of the outbreak of hatred, now so cynically manipulated by the most reactionary of those corporations.

The real problem now is developing solidarity among those opposed to Trumpism.  One way is uniting people around classic conservative virtues—patriotism, loyalty, respect for the Constitution, honesty, personal honor, and courage—as well as the liberal ones of tolerance, fairness, and justice.  Above all, we need simple acceptance.  Love is not the opposite of hate; the opposite of hate is acceptance of people as they are.  Tolerance, valuing diversity, and above all mutual respect are the basic values.  This does not mean tolerating or accepting evil behavior; it means evaluating people as human beings, not as representatives of groups.  In particular, they are not merely parts of imagined, invented, or socially constructed groups.  They are not mere fragments of their religion or their ethnicity or their political party.  They are human beings.

We need a program that has wide support but sharply defines the sane majority against the extremists (see Mounck 2016).  Having no program beyond opposition to Trump and his administration will not work.  Neither will having an extreme or exclusionist “progressive” program.  We have to have clear goals.  These should be both immediate and for the farther future.  Immediate goals should be steps toward utopia.  Any progress in that direction helps, and if we do not have a clear vision of the good society, we will not know where to start or how to evaluate what efforts we make.

The longer-term issues are health and environment.  American life expectancy, infant mortality, and maternal mortality are a disgrace—far worse than in any other developed country, and down with much poorer countries like Cuba, Costa Rica, and China.  Our environmental situation is deteriorating fast.  Global warming threatens to get out of control and devastate the planet.  We have to fight anti-scientific nonsense on all these fronts.

We want an economy that produces jobs but not subsidies, breaks, giveaways, and getting rich through crime, corruption, and cheating.

We want collective goods like free public education, a functioning infrastructure, and a beautiful and healthy environment as well as a sustainably productive one.

We have to have good public health.  One thing conservatives forget is that we cannot have individual good health; it has to be public or nothing.  Epidemics do not know about race, religion, or, on the whole, gender.  They are worse for the poor but the rich do not escape them. The health gap between rural and urban America is increasing, with death rates declining less rapidly or actually rising in the rural areas (Frostenson 2017).  This is directly due to rural choice: they have been voting more and more consistently for Republicans and against health care.  The greatest gap is in maternal and child mortality, because of the rural bias against abortion and indeed against women’s health care in general.

Above all, we want, or should want, a society where civil rights and voting rights are real, equal, and enforced.  We want a society where collective goods allow individual “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”


One thing to do right away is to document everything we can.  We may have to make sure that documentation in stored out of the United States to be protected in other countries.  We will probably face suppression of the press and legitimate radio and TV.  Trump has already started it.  His admired friend Vladimir Putin has killed many reporters, as well as shutting down opposition media.  We can expect that.  The legitimate media are already weak enough in this world of Twitter and Fox News.  They will collapse, leaving us without honest news, if real suppression happens.  So, we have to get the word out, by conventional media, social media, word of mouth.  Let the light shine.

Robert Reich identifies four syndromes to avoid:  normalizing, outrage-numbness, cynicism, and giving up (AlterNet, Dec. 20, 2016,

Loss also comes from having too broad and vague an agenda—something people cannot relate to.  Supporting “capitalism” or “socialism,” in this day and age when those words are defined any which way, will not work.  We have to be specific.

The civil rights struggle is perhaps the most relevant, if only because many of the same people—the same individuals—that are backing Trump now were leaders of the anti-civil-rights forces, or were coming of age under them.  Jerry Falwell, for instance, was a vocal opponent of civil rights.  His son is still with us, backing Trump.  Guns, attack dogs, tear gas, water cannons, and the whole force the south could muster was thrown against the civil rights activists.

Another very relevant case was the labor movement.  From the 1870s and even earlier, workers fought bosses for minimal pay and rights.  Labor largely lost until the 1930s, but the workers kept up the fight, against incredible odds and with many martyrdoms.  “Solidarity forever” was the watchword, and almost 100% of the variance as far as success went, though having a clear and not too unreachable agenda (the eight-hour day, for instance) was also important.  It really is time to revive the old song “Solidarity forever.”

We need activists who know exactly what we’re in for:  fighting over the long term, against a full-scale, merciless fascist movement.

On the other hand, all polls agree that the vast majority of Americans, including most Republicans, are not on board with Trumpism.  We have to have an actual platform, or at least solid ideas of what we want, and it has to be based on saving America—maintaining democracy and freedom, stopping and reversing the rapid trend toward inequality not only in wealth but also before the law.  We have to get back to demanding real public education, medical care available to all, voting rights for all adult citizens, protection of life and liberty, and other obvious matters on which there is broad agreement.

So, first, unite against hate.   Vote!  Organize! “The best solution is old-fashioned organizing, focused on the issues of the most pressing concern to voters: healthcare, jobs and wage” (Zimmerman 2017).

Second, recognize the level and depth of the threat, especially the way that cynical and evil people are deliberately whipping up the hate to get votes and support for their side and to divide our side.

Third, stop ignoring working-class and rural whites.  Stay with the real grassroots, anywhere and everywhere.  Find out what is happening there.

Fourth, do everything possible to maintain solidarity, including steady advocacy for civil rights and equality before the law.

Fifth, support legitimate media!  Anyone against Trump should subscribe to a (real) newspaper, support networks that carry real news, support websites that carry real news and expose lies.  The honest media are our best hope, and, if the Trump regime is consistent with other fascist regimes, will be the first target.  The first and hardest battle will be to maintain civil rights and access to truth.  Trump will surely attempt to follow the examples of Hitler, Putin, Erdogan and others, and shut down “hostile” media, i.e. those that report truth.  By the same token, avoid and call out the lying media that exist only to serve evil bosses:  Fox News, Breitbart, and the like.

Sixth, join the major civil rights groups and send them money when possible.  In the end, they are probably our next best hope.  The most stalwart and persistently rights-defending groups in the US are the ACLU, Amnesty International, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.  There are other worthy organizations.  Similarly for the environment, where the Sierra Club clearly has the best track record.  Natural Resources Defense Council has also done a consistently fine job.  Beware of “astroturf organizations” (phony grassroots organizations). Do not waste money on hopeful startups too small to accomplish anything consequential.

Seventh, hold Republicans’ feet to the fire.  Stop using euphemisms.  This is fascism and hatred, not politics as usual.  The extreme and pervasive anti-Jewish hate speech of Trump, Stephen Bannon, and others makes clear the fascist roots of it all.  It is not “white nationalism” or “populism.”  Confront that.  Force every Republican in Congress to defend or cut loose the anti-Jewish hatred of people like Bannon.  Stop crediting the Republicans with wanting “small government”; they are instituting tyranny.  (Look at voter suppression, the crushing of women’s reproductive rights and other rights, and indeed almost everything the Republicans currently favor.)  Stop saying they want the “free market”; they want subsidies and government/giant firm cronyism.  They give us not free enterprise, but fusion of government and big business, as seen in Trump’s cabinet.   Stop crediting them with wanting to help the poor or the working people or the sick; they want to hold those groups down or cut them adrift.  They know perfectly well that their plans to “help” actually harm.  We have hundreds of years of evidence on the effects of lowering wages, breaking unions, and eliminating public health care.  Democrats and ordinary Republican voters may be fooled, but no congressperson or cabinet member could possibly be under the illusion that such measures do anything but harm.  If they seriously try to repeal Medicare and Medicaid, call them mass murderers.  If they eliminate regulations on banking and finance, tell them they know perfectly well that that leads to depression.  And so on down the list.

Eighth, protest unendingly and noisily.  Phone and write your representatives.

Ninth, work to change attitudes.  Michael Shermer (2017) has provided simple rules for this:  “1.  Keep emotions out of the exchange, 2 discuss, don’t attack…, 3 listen carefully and try to articulate the other position acurately, 4 show respect, 5 acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that opinion and 6 try to show how changing facts does not necessarily mean changing worldviews.”

So, get the word out, by conventional media, social media, word of mouth, anything.  Let the light shine.  We need to document everything, especially deaths from refusal of health care, suppression of the press and media, and job losses from Trumpist policies.  We desperately need good reporters and media.

We need a serious leader,  or leaders, with a clear, consistent ideology, the opposite of Trump’s.


Reaffirming Values


One thing is sure:  the United States must go either up or down.  Continuing on the path of Trump and the Republican Party leads to fascist dictatorship, genocide, and national destruction.  The only alternative is to create a better, more fair, more honest, better educated society than we have had before.  Going back to the days of Clinton and Obama is impossible.  In any case, it would almost certainly lead to a repeat of what happened before: set the United States up for fascism.

The only good that can come of the Trump administration would be forcing Americans of the left, center, and traditional right to get together, reaffirm classic values, and fight these fascists down.  That would, however, be a monumentally good thing.  It happened in the Depression.  It could happen now.  Germany, Italy, Japan, and several other genocidal countires emerged from fascism with far more democratic and free regimes than the ones they had before.  On the other hand, de-communisation did not notably help Russia or most of the former USSR (with the conspicuous exceptions of the Baltics).  Only lack of will makes the difference.

We will have to start over from scratch with the classic American project of creating a fair society, with justice consisting of equality before the law and rights consisting of freedom to act in so far as it does not inhibit another’s welfare or freedom.  Under Trump, the rich, the white, and the fundamentalist-Christian have enormous special privileges before the law and in economic and rights-based terms.  The whole idea of “we’re all in this together” has been lost; the Trump administration, including the Republican congress, are engaged in a single-minded war on weaker Americans.

For the future, the key is to learn and rationally understand instead of hating; act and fight on instead of giving up and falling into passivity; be independent instead of conformist!  These self-disciplines have to underlie and be the foundation for restored tolerance, civility, and solidarity in American life.  It will take hard work for all of us to buck the system and do this.  Just do it.  America and all of us Americans are fighting for our lives now.

Psychologists inform us that values clarification makes one happier, healthier, and more successful in everything from exam-taking to courtship.  We need to get serious about restoring American values of liberty, equality, solidarity, and democracy.

Recently, the United States has been losing its traditional values.  Both the right—now ruling—and the more extreme and vocal end of the left have abandoned a good deal of what most Americans agreed on until recently.

Civil rights have priority, since they are most essential to the American vision and they are most under attack.

Freedom of speech is most at risk.  The Trump administration is attacking the media in exactly the way Hitler did in the 1930s.  Unfortunately, some of the misguided “progressive” camp is going after the media too, in the name of suppressing “hate speech.”  There are classic problems with this, all identified by the Founding Fathers, and also by Tom Paine and John Stuart Mill:

Hate speech is in the eye of the beholder.  No definition can be tight enough to stop people from insisting that what they say is not hate speech, and what their opponents say is always hate speech no matter how nicely phrased.  (Politeness can be a way of subtly maintaining white privilege, for instance.)

Hate speech can be educative–if not the speech itself, then from the fact that people say it, believe it, and act on it.

Suppressing speech drives it underground, where it spreads like wildfire—as censored things always do—and is attractive simply because it was suppressed.  There is an Arab saying that “if you forbid people from rolling camel dung into little balls with their fingers, they would do it, because if it is forbidden there must be something good about it.”  Moreover, suppressing speech makes the suppressed people into instant martyrs, no matter how unsavory they seemed before.

Since the people in power will naturally be the ones doing the censoring, all opposition to those in power will soon be censored, and everything that supports them will be permitted, no matter how vile it is.  This is, in practice, the greatest reason why censorship is generally bad.

Last, it is immoral to shut other people up because you happen to dislike what they say.  They have a right to their opinions and their mouths.

If what they say is downright libel, or a direct call to violence, or a lie that directly leads to physical harm to people (like the anti-vaxx lies), that is something else.  Freedom is not a matter of absolute freedom; it is a matter of considering others’ rights.  Speech that actually and directly causes physical harmful is not defensible.  However, the wise activist errs on the side of liberty.

All this we learned in the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley in the 1960s, but it has all been said before, ever since Voltaire and Jefferson.

On the other hand, there are limits.  Libel is properly outlawed.  Yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre is too, and inciting to riot is dicey; some hate speech falls into that category.  Above all, lying under oath is properly forbidden.  It has been suggested that campaign speech should be sworn testimony, at least when facts are stated, and thus lies like Trump’s would be illegal.

Similar conclusions apply to freedom of press, assembly, and religion.  However, religion has now been so thoroughly abused as a cover for political campaigning and even for money-laundering and profiteering that it will have to be protected from these abuses.  Taxing the churches seems an inescapable necessity if the US is to flourish.  Politics is probably protected speech, up to a point, but outright campaigning—with donations of laundered or illegally-gained money—must be stopped.  Preachers who are clearly in it for the money rather than the souls are all too common, and tax laws have to recognize this.  The problem is not just one of politics; the rapidly escalating religious hate that has swept the world, and notably the United States, in the last generation is to a very large degree a product of preaching for money.  Corrupt and evil men posing as preachers find that the easiest way to make it pay is to preach hate and right-wing politics.  This is the story of ISIS and the Taliban as well as of Trump’s preacher claque.

Thus, cleaning up the institution of religion would seem to be a part of assuring liberty of conscience.  Above all, though, liberty of conscience must be preserved.


Second is tolerance, which is also under an astonishing amount of attack from the left as well as the right.

It really should need no defense.  Many of the same considerations as those above will apply.

If you do not tolerate others, they will not tolerate you.  They may not even if you do tolerate them, but, in general, hate breeds hate, acceptance breeds acceptance.

We are all in this together.  A functioning society has to grow, change, and build, and can do that only by unified effort, mutual aid, and solidarity.  The alternative is mutual destruction.  The dominant group may win for a while by doing others down, but it merely hurts itself—first by losing those other groups and whatever they have to offer, but second by starting a spirit of hate and rivalry that inevitably tears up the dominant group itself, in due course of time.

As usual, there are limits.  Obviously, we do not want to tolerate rape, murder, or robbery.  The argument is for tolerating people as individuals—the essential personhood behind whatever unacceptable behavior they may sometimes present.  They deserve fairness and consideration.  If they are acting to harm others, they have to be stopped.  Toleration of ideas is a good, but we need to argue and negotiate and work them out.  Toleration of particular behaviors is allowable only in so far as those behaviors do not actively and unnecessarily harm people.  Not all harm to people is bad—Plato and Aristotle were already pointing out 2400 years ago that surgeons “harm” people for their own good.  One wants to minimize hurt, but some pain is necessary.

In short, tolerance is a major goal, but has to be qualified by common sense.  None of this affects tolerating people as human beings, or, for that matter, tolerating other life forms.  Essential acceptance of living beings, simply on the basis of being fellow travelers on the planet, is the basic and essential need of a functioning society.

It is therefore unacceptable to hate or reject anyone on the basis of skin color, ethnicity, language, history, or the like.  No morality can justify that.  Total personal rejection of anyone for any reason is unacceptable.  We may have to kill a person in self-defense, but we are not given license to hate that individual simply for being.  We know that “races” are not biological entities, and that all human groups are pretty much identical in potential, but even if we did find a group that was—say—less intelligent by some measure than the average, we would morally have to pay them the same respect and treatment as everyone else.

This is the real underpinning of the classic Enlightenment virtues: liberty, equality, fairness, justice as fairness, and civil behavior in civil society.  Never mind that the Enlightenment was financed by slavery and colonialism.  The point is that much of its content was explicitly directed against slavery and class discrimination.  No one in the history of the world had opposed slavery in general until 18th-century religious thinkers, largely Quakers, did so.   Fairness has to mean serious attention to disadvantaged groups, not just even-handed treatment of all.  Equality before the law has been in sorry shape under Trump, with flagrant favoring of whites and rich people ove the rest.  With the Attorney General an open racist, nothing but trouble can be expected.  That way lies genocide and nothing else.


This brings us to solidarity:  Mutual aid, mutual support, mutual empowerment and strengthening.             It worked for the labor movement and for the old-time Democrats; disunion, carefully nurtured by the right wing, has led to the decline of both those institutions.  The war between Clinton and Sanders supporters took down Clinton in 2016, and will guarantee a Republican gain in the congressional elections of 2018 if it is not resolved.

A major part of this is civility.  We are getting farther and farther from civil discourse.  The right wing is usually the leader and always the most successful in extreme, exaggerated, intemperate, and insulting remarks, and we should leave that to them.  We always lose if we try that tactic.

We can move on to the four C’s—civility, caring, compassion, and considerateness—and the three R’s: Respect, reasonableness, responsibility.  Those last three alone would fix the US’ problems if applied consistently. Thus there is some need to be beyond tolerance.  Compassion and caring for others is a learned skill that should be taught.  They too do not just happen, nor does modern life encourage them.  They have to be taught in schools, workplaces, and elsewhere.

Another value in extreme danger under the Trump administration is education.  His Secretary of Education opposes the whole idea of education, in the usual sense, and totally opposes public education.  She is systematically planning to minimize schooling and turn it into indoctrination in right-wing views.  We need the exact opposite: education to produce genuinely better people—people who are not hateful bullies, but who actually want to help others.

Americans are not getting the type of education they need.  This would be one that 1) teaches civics, including the Constitution and a non-whitewashed US history; 2) teaches actual science and how one can tell falsehoods and investigate truth; 3) actually teach the young about the depth and complexity of human emotions.  Humanistic education these days runs too heavily to comic books and other media that may be well enough in themselves, but do not have the sustained engagement with human feelings and thoughts that one gets from Shakespeare, Cao Xueqin, Dostoievsky, Mann, or Toni Morrison.  Serious music seems to have disappeared from most people’s lives; again, whatever is true or not about “quality,” music of Victoria or Beethoven engages much more deep and complex emotions than the popular stuff.  Whatever one likes or feels is appropriate, people need more insights into humanity than they get from American popular culture.  A reasonable order of teaching children would be starting them with civil behavior (considerate, respectful, sharing; responsible reasonable), then going on to teach compassion and helpfulness because we are all in this together and must follow something like the Golden Rule.  This really has to be done along with reading, writing, history, and math, if we are to survive.


This brings up science and environment.  The Trump administration, including the Republicans in Congress, have launched a full-scale war against both.  They do not stop with dismissing science that is embarrassing to their corporate donors, such as research on climate change and pollution.  They have attacked everything from conservation science to Darwinian evolution.  This is perhaps the area where the Republican base—giant primary-production firms, racists, and right-wing religious extremists—shows itself most clearly.  “Scientific” racism and creationism are now supported; the genuine science that disproves these is attacked.  Budget cuts to basic science and to science education are planned; they are serious enough to virtually destroy both.  Republicans realize that promoting such a wide anti-scientific agenda—climate change denial, claims that pesticides are harmless to humans, anti-vaccination propaganda, anti-evolutionism, racism, and so on—can only succeed if the entire enterprise of science is attacked.  The whole concept of truth is a casualty, with the calls for “alternative facts.”  Ideas of proof, evidence, data, and expertise are regarded as basically hostile to Republicanism.

Clearly, it will be national suicide ot allow this to go on.  Not only is further scientific research necessary to progress; a government that makes policy in defiance of the facts of the case will not survive.  We have already been afflicted with Zika, MRSA, and a host of other germs because of indifferent attention to public health.  Rising sea levels are eating away at coastlines.  Bees and other critically important insects are disappearing.  Foreign policy made in a fact-free environment has devastated the Middle East.  The future will be incalculably worse.  Attention to science education, moral education, and humanistic education remains small.

Part of this is environmental concern, and there we need to draw on traditional moralities.  Most cultures, worldwide, have solved the problems of sustainability—usually by teaching respect for all beings.  Children absorb this at a very young age.  They go on to remember that trees, fish, grass, and future humans all need to be regarded as worthy of consideration—to be used only as necessary and to be protected for future uses or simply to keep them alive.  The western world has long been an outlier, worldwide, by treating resources as things to destroy without a second thought.

With a proper spirit of respect, we will be able to preserve species and environments and to avoid destroying the environment with pollutants and excessive construction.  In the short run, we will have to fall back on laws.  The framework existing as of 2016 was inadequate but was a good start; it is now lost, and we will have to start from scratch, hopefully with better laws to be designed in future.  There are countless books on solving the environmental crisis, and to go further into it here would be tedious.  What matters is recognizing that we have to think of sustainability and respect.


All the above are what may be called “process goals.”  These are goals that we will never fully achieve, but should keep trying for, because any progress in that direction is pure good.  We will never be perfectly healthy, but any progress toward health is good.  Sustainability is another such case, though this one has to be qualified with the point that achieving sustainability by drastically reducing incomes and welfare would not be good.  Justice, fairness, truth in politics and public life, and civility are all process goals.  Fairness means giving everyone a fair chance, not making everybody equal in a mindless, mechanical way.

We can go on to plan Utopia, but we have to reaffirm and restore the classic American values first, at least as a platform to build on.


The key is to learn and rationally understand instead of hating; act and fight on instead of giving up and falling into passivity; be independent instead of conformist!  These self-disciplines have to underlie and be the foundation for restored tolerance, civility, and solidarity in American life.  It will take hard work for all of us to buck the system and do this.  Just do it.  America and all of us Americans are fighting for our lives now.  Choose life.









Appendix 1.  Background, Data on the Election, 2016


It is fairly easy to see what most mattered in Trump’s victory, by looking at which counties flipped from voting for Obama in 2012 to voting for Trump in 2016.  They were largely small-town and rural counties.  They were concentrated in the northern Midwest, but there were quite a few in the rural northeast and border south.  This is the pattern expected if Trump held the Republicans and added most of the formerly Democratic working-class whites—including women—in those areas.

If Clinton’s main problem had been left-wing defections, the difference would have showed up in the cities, not the rural areas.  Her weak campaigning was clearly a factor, but if it had been deadly there would have been a decline in voting overall.  There was a slight decline, due to general lukewarmness and more specific voter suppression.  However, the overwhelming main difference between 2012 and 2016 was in the votes cast by the rural and small-town interior of America.  Trump appealed most of all to the white male working-class voters who have seen their lives steadily eroding in recent decades.  He also appealed to the women; white women voted for Trump, and many who did not were supporters of Sanders or Stein.  Feminism did not make many vote for Hillary.

The problems have been offshoring of jobs, automation, and giant corporations forcing speedups and other exploitative moves, but it proved very easy for Trump to shift the blame to the weak:  Minorities, “illegal aliens,” the poor, women, gays, anybody that seemed weaker than the white males.  Given rising population, shrinking opportunities, rapidly increasing inegality, and above all a sense of losing control over their lives, the working class voted against their self-interest.  Even the Republican middle class clearly voted against themselves.  No one benefits from the Trump presidency except the giant primary-production corporations—the most reactionary, dinosauric segment of society.

In 2012, Obama got about as many votes as Hillary did in 2016, Romney got about as many as Trump.  And about 125,000,000 eligible voters did not turn out at all.   Only 55.6% the eligible voters turned out, and Democrats suffered far more than Republicans, as usual.  That means that the 20% of voters who were hateful represent only a bit over 10% of the general population.  (Accusations of illegals, dead people, and duplicate-voters for Clinton have not turned up a single case.  On the other hand, many faked votes for Trump have been disclosed.)  Clinton won fewer than 500 counties, but they included almost all the large urban ones; Trump won the rest of the 3141 counties in the US, but these were overwhelmingly rural.

Men and women were almost mirror image: Men broke 53-41 for Trump, women 42-54.  People under 30 voted 37-55, over 30 52-43.  (Other votes went to third party people, with little effect on overall results.)  Whites broke an amazing 58-37, probably a record.  Hispanics were 29-65, blacks 8-88 (!).  College-educated people, especially women, broke for Clinton; less educated whites broke very heavily for Trump.  The most economically productive counties in the US voted overwhelmingly for Clinton, giving her 64% of the economy (going by counties); of rich, economically active counties, Trump won only Maricopa County, AZ (Phoenix and suburbs) and Tarrant County, TX (Fort Worth area) (Tankersley 2016).  The economically less successful counties Clinton carried were almost all minority-dominated.  This economic breakdown is rare at best, and unique in Democrat history.

Evangelicals broke 81 to 16% for Trump, a record.  In all, the GOP constituency turned out in force and was loyal.  There was also a reversal of the recent trend for rich to vote Democratic.  Most of the press and many giant corporations supported Clinton, but the traditional Republican constituency—well-to-do whites, suburbanites, farmers—went as heavily Republican as they did in the 1980s, unlike their shift toward Obama in 2008 and 2012.  The poorer whites broke for Trump, slightly, but overall 52 to 53% of less affluent voters went for Clinton—largely because the number of minorities is so high in that income category.  Even so, Trump got 15% more of the less educated and less affluent (under $30,000/year) white vote than Romney got in 2012.  People under 30 broke heavily for Clinton, but not so heavily as they had broken for Obama.  In all, the pattern was a return to the George W. Bush years.

Trump voters tend to believe that whites are more discriminated against than blacks, Hispanics, or Muslims—in contrast to the US average and especially Clinton voters.  A Huffington Post-YouGov poll revealed that 10% of Clinton voters and 45% of Trump voters thought there was” a lot of discrimination” against whites (the US average was 24%).  Clinton voters were far more prone than average to see more discrimination against the other named groups, reaching a high of 88% for Muslims (Edwards-Levy 2016).

Interesting are the huge changes in the last 50 years, even in the last 30.  The cities are now so heavily Democratic that, for instance, the whole Los Angeles Basin was a sea of blue when the precincts were counted, with only a few tiny pink (not red—the pink districts were barely carried by Trump) spots in the most traditionally rich and conservative areas.  Even San Marino, former home of the John Birch Society and a city that went approximately 90% for Reagan in 1980 and 1984, was split into a pale pink ward and a blue one.  Pasadena and La Canada-Flintridge, formerly major Republican strongholds, were deep blue.  So were millionaire strongholds like Malibu and the Westside.  Other cities all over the state, and indeed all over the country, showed the same trajectory.

By contrast, rural areas that were solidly Democratic as recently as 1980, and in some cases even 2012, were solidly red all over the country, including California.  The only exceptions were rural counties that are overwhelmingly minority-populated.  Idaho was the most liberal-voting state in the country in the 1960s.  It is now the second most Republican, after Wyoming.  The Dakotas and Montana were solidly Democrat then; they are now Republican strongholds. Of course the deep south switched because the Republicans replaced the southern Democrats as the party of racism, but the border south was generally liberal Democrat through the 1960s; it is now second only to the northern interior west in Republican dominance.  Among other things, this thoroughly disproves theories of “innate” and “genetically determined” politics and party affiliation—bits of nonsense that reappear every election.

The result was that Clinton carried 88 of the most populous 100 counties in the US, but lost virtually all the rural and suburban counties—essentially all of the ones that were not dominated by nonwhite minority populations.

Voter suppression since 2010 had a huge amount of effect in this, and several other games were played.  Russian hacking of voting machines clearly benefited Trump, to an uncertain degree.  Republican voter suppression and intimidation cost Clinton Wisconsin, North Carolina and Ohio, and possibly Arizona,.  Some 1,100,000 voters, mostly poor and nonwhite, were disqualified, or their ballots somehow disappeared; reporter Greg Palast traced the story and found out how Republicans had managed it (Palast 2016a, 2016b).  Google counted voter incidents reported to them, and found a clear and enormous pattern of repression and corruption of many kinds, from rigged machines to long wait times, often from closed polling places (Garland 2016). There was also apparent gaming of voting machines.

Bill Palmer has noted that there was an astonishing decline in Black turnout even from the primaries, let alone 2012.  There were other mysterious declines of minority voters, in states with voter suppression laws.  He also noted that Clinton carried the early vote in Florida, where most people voted early, but then Trump won the state—requiring a vote of 70% for Trump by the election-day voters.  Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan turned in late-breaking Trump wins with 1% or less of the vote—consistently.  Polls were mysteriously far wrong (with one or two exceptions).  Voter turnout was surprisingly light, and mysteriously much lighter than expected in precisely the states where suppression was already ongoing and registration therefore down.  Any one or two of these anomalies could be chance, or late-breaking changes of mind by the voters, but all of the anomalies put together look highly suspicious.  Further detailed analysis of the numbers by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman (2016) and Greg Palast (2016a, 2016b) prove Palmer right, and reveal many other suspicious matters.

Of course the Koch brothers were intensely involved at all levels.  They did not like Trump and refused to support him directly, but poured over $750 million dollars into Senate and other races and general build-up of Republican agendas.  They are now poised to tell the solidly Republican congress exactly what to do (Skocpol et al. 2016).  It took them no time to accept Trump and work with him.  Their operator Marc Short is now Trump’s liaison to Congress (Eskow 2017)—a group he knows well from prior work for the Kochs, who are huge donors to the most right-wing congresspersons.


Many of the Democrat nonvoters were disaffected supporters of Bernie Sanders.  They refused to vote for Clinton, and that was one of the things that cost her the election.

Democrats often fail to turn out large percentages of their typical “base demographics.”  Democrats did better in 2008 and 2012, but their turnouts in 2010 and 2014 were derisory.  Only a very small percentage of registered Democrats turned out in those midterm years.

So, there were many causes of Clinton’s loss.  The biggest was clearly the failure of turnout, especially the disaffected voters.  Clinton’s lack of charisma and personal touch, and Trump’s abundant endowment with both, was clearly and heavily decisive.  These two together led to massive loss of working-class white votes (see e.g. Maslin 2016).  Possibly even more important was Clinton’s establishment ties and her inability to escape them.  She always embodied the Washington establishment so clearly and unmistakably that voters weary of that enterprise voted against her, no matter what they thought of Trump.

Clinton’s one really hateful remark—calling the most racist of Trump supporters “a basket of deplorables”—may have cost her the election, but Trump’s hundreds of hateful remarks merely fed his supporters.  They came on top of decades of Republicans deliberately whipping up racial, gender, and religious hatred, to divide the voters and set them against each other.  Lies (especially on talk radio and Fox News) and dirty tricks did the rest.  The Clinton campaign blamed especially the tricks played by James Comey, head of the FBI and a Trump Republican, in the last month of the campaign.  He apparently timed email investigations and his letters about them to do maximal damage.

Part of the back story included progressive distancing of the Democrats from working-class and rural voters over three decades.  This has thrown an increasingly desperate and miserable group of people to the wolves (as “bkamr” 2017 notes, Democrat representatives did not show up in desperately troubled eastern Kentucky).  An excellent account of their problems and the exploitation thereof by the hate-merchants is given by Chris Hedges (2016).  Part of the problem is a hard-to-define but easy-to-see difference between traditional American rural and working-class culture—defiant, independent, but loyal to charismatic leaders—and the urban intellectual culture that dominates the Democratic Party today.

Even worse was the rapid decline of newspapers and serious news magazines, and their replacement by biased and “clickbait” sites, hate propaganda, non-print media (especially on talk radio and Fox News), and trash entertainment.  The media both eliminated serious coverage of news and set people up to believe any story or to disbelieve all stories, including climate science and other vitally important truths.

Reversal of any one of these many causes would have meant a win for Clinton.

In the days after the election, everybody seized on his or her pet cause as “the” cause, and flayed anyone who thought differently—guaranteeing problems with fixing the situation in future.  The leftists and liberals revealed their fondness for what many refer to as their typical “circular firing squad.”

The basic fact, though, is that people voted their hate—or hatred of all the alternatives led the  not to vote.  Trump and Clinton had the lowest approval ratings of any candidates in the history of polling—Trump was the worst ever, Clinton second.  Trump’s savage hatemongering gave him this reputation; Clinton was the victim of a huge and systematic Republican smear campaign, but if she had been more personable and less connected with big banks and big business she could have blown that off, as Obama did and as her own husband did when they were subjected to similar treatment.  She appeared elitist; that made her connection with the banks and firms seem deadly serious rather than mere ordinary politics.


This election is unique in the history of the US, and rare in the history of the world.  In most elections, the candidates at least pretend to discuss real issues.  This one was entirely about hate, from Trump’s side—even his “positive” proposals were all things to be done by getting rid of Mexicans, Chinese, Muslims, anyone.  Sanders avoided hate, but his followers did not; they circulated lies about Clinton, often recycled from the Trump propaganda mill.  (Some “pro-Sanders” lies may have been Russian hack jobs, however.)  Clinton did not run a very positive or hopeful campaign either.  One kept hoping and expecting her to give a clarion call for national unity and solidarity—everyone standing and working together.  She never did.  She appealed to every demographic in the country except white males.  It didn’t work.  She had no real proposals for major change; she ran far too much on Obama’s record.  It was a record of global trade deals, support for hi-tech, and other moves that proved anathema to rural and working-class whites, who felt left out by the latter and genuinely harmed by the former.  They understandably felt that the new economy was being constructed at their expense.  Almost all commentators since the election have agreed that Clinton should have appealed to this traditionally Democratic group of voteres by promising economic reforms that would benefit them.  Instead, what little she promised in the way of economic reform was of interest largely to affluent urban voters.  Part of the context is the decline in manufacturing jobs in the US from 17 million as recently as 2000 (after already huge job flight) to 11 million at the depth of the 2008-9 recession.  It recovered to over 12 million by 2016, but one can certainly see why blue-collar America is disaffected.  The Clinton wing blames automation, but exporting jobs to low-wage, labor-suppressing countries may be the real problem.  It was certainly the problem salient to the white working class, and to many other workers too.

Previous US elections—all of them—highlighted solidarity and national unity (even while working cynically against it, as many presidents did).  Even Calvin Coolidge, previously the most right-wing president, ran more upbeat campaigns and made more solid contributions than Trump.  Earlier campaigns also invariably included numerous proposals for change and growth—again, often to betray them all later, but the promise was important.  Most of our elections have matched one pleasant stuffed suit against another, with no vast outpouring of hateful rhetoric and no huge difference in programs.  Not in 2016.

Worldwide, elections with this breadth and depth of hate on the part of the winner have been confined to fascist takeovers, especially Germany in 1932-33, of course, but also Mussolini’s victories, and hard-right victories in various Latin American countries over the decades.  Modi’s win in India involved much hatred, but had many promises too (still to be fulfilled).

Several studies confirm the obvious point that racism and sexism account for much more of the Trump vote than any economic factors do (Lopez 2017).  In general, traditional Republicans and also racist and sexist former Democrats voted for Trump.

The Los Angeles Times (Lauter 2016) reports that the clearest demographic difference between Trump and Clinton was education: whites without college education broke overwhelmingly for Trump.  No other demographic did.  Young people, as usual, did not vote in large numbers, and given their well-documented support for Clinton, that low turnout itself doomed her.  Blue-collar white voters and counties that went for Obama in 2008 and 2012 went heavily for Trump; conversely, relatively conservative educated whites flipped the other way.  The biggest change was in the northern midwest, formerly a solid Democratic stronghold, now—and not only in the presidential race—almost as right-wing as the deep south.

One reason the final result—Trump’s solid win nationwide—was so surprising was last-minute voters breaking for Trump.  These seem to have been partly Republicans who had trouble stomaching the man, and partly independents and traditional Democrats who both disliked Hillary and wanted a more aggressive change agenda.

A long, excellent article in the Washington Post (Hofmann 2016) describes Shannon Monnat’s research on 3106 counties.  Trump’s vote surpassed Romney’s by 10% in downwardly mobile, largely white counties with high rates of drug, alcohol, and suicide deaths, especially if such deaths have been increasing.  These are counties where farming, manufacturing, and mining formerly provided good livings, but have declined or died out.  Trump did worse by 3% in better-off counties.  Typical was Scioto Co., Ohio: Trump ran 33% better than Romney—and drug, alcohol, and suicide death rates have doubled in that time, as pill-pushing clinics came in and manufacturing went out.  Mingo Co., WV, the drug, alcohol and suicide death rate rose from 53.6 to 161.1 in the years 1999-2014.  In Coos County, NH, Manufacturing shrank from 38% of jobs to 7%, and pay for it from 49% to 9%, from the 1980s.  It went heavily for Trump.  All across the northern Midwest, Trump did better than Romney, especially in rural and small-town counties.

Clinton should have opposed hatred from the start—hatred in general, across the board.  Instead, she joined in (with her infamous “deplorables” remark) or, at best, protested against hatred of specific groups, notably women.  Clinton could have and should have talked more to economic issues, especially those that concern less educated workers.  Derek Thompson (2016) points out that she did in fact focus on those matters.  However, she did not highlight it.  The media did not cover it, which is yet another proof that the media were hypnotized by Trump and thus did much to elect him.

Clinton ran far worse than Obama did in 2012.  Trump also ran worse than Romney in most places.  The World Almanac for 2017 gives county-by-county totals, making research easy. For a random example, Shawnee County, Kansas, returned 33,074 votes for Clinton, 35,260 for Trump, as opposed to 36,975 and 97,782 for Obama and Romney respectively.  Leslie County, KY, one of the most pro-Trump counties in the US, returned 400 and 4,015 vs. 433 and 4,439.  (This county, with which I am quite familiar, is one of the poorest in the US, with extremely high unemployment, mortality, and substance abuse rates.)  The state of Mississippi ran 457,569/668,987 vs. 562,949/710,748 (reflecting a tendency of Black voters—almost the only Democrats in the state—to stay home in 2016).

Notable was that, as James Hohmann (2016) reports, Trump did best in the counties with the highest alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide rates.  These are the areas of white working-class hopelessness: worked-out coal-mining areas, ruined industrial cities, small towns ruined by big agribusiness.

Part of the reason was voter suppression.  The shift in Wisconsin was about 300,000 total, and that is exactly the estimated number of votrs forced off the rolls by Governor Scott Walker’s policies.  In Michigan, the Clinton shortfall almost exactly equaled the mysteriously missing or misrecorded 75,000 votes from Detroit, apparently uncounted for very dubious reasons (Palast 2016).

Sometimes,Trump picked up many votes that must earlier have gone to Obama.  To pick a random but typical county, Buchanan County, Iowa, reported 3,966 votes for Clinton, 5504 for Trump, vs. in 2012 5,911 for Obama and 4450 for Romney.  This was a very typical pattern across the northern midwest—the Rust Belt and especially its rural environs.  Even Minnesota, which Clinton carried handily, had voted far more strongly for Obama.  It seems more than unlikely that all these Trump voters were racist, since so many had gone for Obama only four years earlier.  A few urban areas reported more votes for Clinton than Obama, but the increase reflects population increase fairly accurately.

Overall, rural areas, especially in the Appalachians and Plains (where many counties went over 10-1 for Trump), reported lopsided wins for Trump; many urban areas reported lopsided wins for Clinton (Berkeley, CA, reported 3% for Trump—even Jill Stein got more).  In Oregon, Multnomah County (Portland) went 4-1 for Clinton (and both candidates got fewer votes than Obama and Romney, respectively, got in 2012); Harney County, in the remote ranching east, more than 4-1 for Trump.  There is an extreme split in the US.

The Democrats will never win again unless they reverse the rapid swing of rural and small-town areas away from them.

More and more evidence shows a full-scale conspiracy involving James Comey, head of the FBI, and Clinton’s emails (Abramson 2017).

However, Trump most certainly lost the total vote.  The final count was 62,979,879 for him, 65,854,954 for Clinton, and several million for others, totaling 74,074,037 against him. The final count shows Clinton got 2,864,974 more votes than Trump, without rechecking states like Florida and Michigan.


In state-by-state breakdowns (World Almanac 2017):

Clinton won more votes than Obama, Trump more than Romney in

FL, IA, NV, TX—basically only in states with large population increases, except for Iowa.

Clinton more than Obama, Trump less than Romney:


Clinton less than Obama, Trump more than Romney

AL, AR, CT, DL, HI, IN, KY, LA, MN, MI, MN, MO, NB, NH, NJ, NY, NC, ND, OH, PA, RI, SD, TN, VT, WV, WY—note this includes most of the old Democratic strongholds, which should absolutely terrify Democrats.  Even New York and Vermont.

Clinton less than Obama, Trump less than Romney:

AK (quite huge difference), AZ, CA (but not all votes had been counted when the World Almanac was published), CO, DC, ID, IL, KS, MD, MS, MT, NM, OK, SC, UT (huge drop from Romney to Trump vote because of the popularity of Evan McMillan and Gary Johnson as alternate right-wing candidates), VA, WA, WI.  Note many of these are solid Red states, where disgust for Trump was widespread, but also several Democrat strongholds.


For the future, minimally, the Democrats must:

Fight hate.  Preach unity, solidarity, tolerance, valuing diversity, civil behavior, politeness, responsibility.

Deal with an economy that has been incresaingly distorted and corrupted by giant firms and their enormous subsidies and tax breaks.

Stress classic American values, especially egality, genuine freedom (as opposed to the freedom to bully weaker people), opportunity, and public goods.

Attack corruption, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and violence.

Tactically, first, stop trying to win by mobilizing demographics that don’t vote!  There is no hope of getting the turnout of Latinos, Asian-Americans, or, above all, young people up to the point where they can turn an election.

Go for grassroots.  Ask ordinary people what they want.

Attack dark money and everything connected with it.  Daylight it.





Pierce Salguero

In the wake of the 2016 election, the core values I hold as an individual and that I believe are emblematic of the academic professions (e.g., multicultural inclusion, critical inquiry, and pursuit of truth) have come under direct attack. I believe that this situation necessitates a coherent and strategic response from any of us who are in a position to speak out. Below is my own personal action plan for the post-election era. I have arranged these ideas, compiled with the goal of maximizing my impact within the limitations of my power, from the personal to the community to the national level:

  2. SELF-EDUCATION. At the personal and individual level, I plan to educate myself about the deep historical roots as well as the more recent factors that have led to the rise of right wing populism in the US and around the world. I plan to reach out to colleagues in history, political science, economics, sociology, and other fields, to ask for help identifying readings and resources. Although this critical inquiry does not necessarily relate directly to my own academic field, I plan to make time for this and to integrate it into my weekly schedule.
  3. INTERROGATING PRIVILEGE. I plan to continue to understand, reflect on, and critically interrogate my own privilege as a white, straight, cisgendered, able-bodied male. I need to identify and work to break down my own inherent biases. Where I can, I should leverage my privilege in order to intervene on behalf of those who do not share it. I plan to keep reading, attending workshops at conferences and on campus, and learning from colleagues in who are engaged in this field of study. While these conversations may sometimes be uncomfortable, I need to remain open, engaged, and moving forward in this area.
  4. RESPONSIBLE USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA. Part of my surprise about the results of this election was no doubt due to my being comfortably ensconced in a heavily left-leaning social media bubble. I plan to break out by reading more widely and seeking out a more diverse circle of contacts. Responsible use of social media also means recognizing its limitations. I need to know when to set down the computer and engage in the real world.
  5. SELF-CARE. I’ve noticed that this crisis has weighed more heavily on me than I would have anticipated. Stress, anxiety, and depression are not productive for critical inquiry. I am also finding myself in a very judgmental space right now. I need to be able to cultivate empathy in order to understand other people — especially when I strongly disagree with them. For all of these reasons, I need to continue to tap into my spiritual community, and to engage in activities for physical and mental wellbeing. Although it feels like copping out, knowing when to step away to care for myself will make me a stronger advocate in the long tun.
  7. CAMPUS ORGANIZATIONS & EVENTS. In addition to my own private life and personal space, I also know I can be an agent for diversity, equity, and inclusion within the communities of which I am a part. On campus, I have the opportunity to engage with these issues through committees and faculty senate. I can also continue to be involved in mentoring for student clubs, organizing or attending multicultural celebrations, and participating in other opportunities that bring me into regular contact with our diverse student body. I can also organize reading groups, small discussion groups, or public lectures on related issues, both on campus and locally where I live.
  8. PUBLIC STATEMENTS. I can draft a declaration opposing hate and bigotry, and propose this to my campus administrators and my faculty senate. I can also work to introduce a similar statement as legislation in the townships where live and where my workplace is located, as well as in organizations with which I have a connection. (Note that I must engage in this activity as a private citizen and not as a representative of the college where I work, cognizant of my employer’s policies regarding engagement in politics or media.)
  9. PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS. I was pleasantly surprised with the proactive stance on dealing with post-election climate taken by several of the professional associations I am affiliated with. Where such efforts are being made, I can support them, and I can utilize the resources and community that such associations provide in order to expand my circle, connect with people who have expertise I need to tap into, and keep myself informed. Where such efforts are not already being made, I can advocate for these issues to be taken up by writing letters to association officers.
  10. BECOMING A BETTER ALLY. I need to challenge myself to learn more about being a trustworthy ally for my most vulnerable friends, colleagues, students, and community members. I need to continue to read up on this, to reach out to colleagues who are more knowledgable than me, and to engage with the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on my campus. I can also prioritize mentoring underrepresented faculty, staff, and students on campus, through my professional associations, at conferences, and in other professional settings.
  11. PEDAGOGICAL DEVELOPMENT. As my courses do not focus on the modern period, I do not often have the opportunity to directly engage in classroom discussions related to contemporary politics. When I do, I need to focus on the analytical tools my discipline brings to the discussion, taking pains not to present an unbalanced account or to state my own opinions as fact. I also need to remain cognizant that students have varying viewpoints and backgrounds, and not abuse my position of power at the front of the classroom. I need to continue to develop inclusive pedagogical methods that actively bring all students into the conversation. An openness to all perspectives is especially important since I want my classroom to be a safe space for dialogue and growth — both for students and myself. I need to seek out knowledgable colleagues who can help me to develop pedagogical methods that ensure I am doing this well and responsibly.
  13. ENGAGE IN POLITICS. It’s in this arena where I feel the most helpless, but I am recommitting to supporting organizations that promote higher education, multicultural inclusion, civil liberties, and investigative journalism, as well as public academic and cultural institutions. I need to stay involved at the local, state, and national level, and not let myself get complacent in the interim between elections. My support cannot be limited to social media posts, online petitions, and private conversations; I need to contribute materially to the causes I believe in. I am unlikely to be able to support all of these causes financially, but I should do so where I can and seek out other means of supporting where I cannot.
  14. PRIORITIZE PUBLIC SCHOLARSHIP. Finally, as a professor, scholar, and author who cares about critical inquiry, multiculturalism, and the future of higher education, I need to reach more diverse audiences, across disciplines, both inside the academy and beyond. In this “post-truth” and anti-intellectual climate, the burden is on me to demonstrate why what I do is relevant and important. With this goal in mind, I can write up my methods and findings in accessible ways in blogs, websites, popular magazines, and other outlets with further reach than scholarly journals. I can contribute to the circulation of academic humanities and social science research more widely, which in the long run may lead to deeper public understanding of critical thinking, the role of education, and the importance of the academic professions for civic life in the US.

I am an interdisciplinary humanities scholar interested in the role of Buddhism in the crosscultural exchange of medical ideas. See more at

Appendix 3.


Timothy Snyder’s twenty lessons, from On Tyranny (Snyder 2017).

  1. Do not obey in advance.
  2. Defend institutions.
  3. Beware the one-party state.
  4. Take responsibiloity for the face of the world.
  5. Remember professional ethics.
  6. Be wary of paramilitaries.
  7. Be reflective if you must be armed.
  8. Stand out.
  9. Be kind to our language.
  10. Believe in truth.
  11. Investigate.
  12. Make eye contact and small talk.
  13. Practice corporeal politics.
  14. Establish a private life.
  15. Contribute to good causes.
  16. Learn from peers in other countries.
  17. Listen for dangerous words.
  18. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.
  19. Be a patriot.
  20. Be as courageous as you can.


Appendix 4. A constitution for a united world:

FIRST, the standard freedoms, including all human and civil rights, guarantee of impartial justice (especially impartial to dollars) and rights to organize.  Explicitly, money is not speech.

Next, full rights to a decent environment—minimal pollution and waste, no subsidies for primary production, preservation of as much of nature as possible given the need to maintain a decent standard of living.

Next, no offensive war; war only to defend the country from direct attack, but that can cover going after terrorists abroad.

Then, firm graduated tax rate, written into the constitution  No tax exemptions except for legitimate business and work expenses, and actual, effective charities. No exceptions for churches, for “charities” that do not spend >80% of their incomes on actual charity work, or political outfits masquerading as “non-profits.”  Offshore tax havens, offshore headquarters of firms with 98% of their activities far from the headquarters country, and the like absolutely illegal, with extreme penalties.

No subsidies, no favoring particular businesses, minimal restriction of business and trade, but firm regulations such that harm and cheating don’t happen.

Free universal health care (free up to a point—small deductibles possible, and no free plastic surgery to conform to fashion).

Free universal liberal-arts education.  National educational policy guaranteeing accurate content, attention to differentially abled students, strict equality of opportunity, and quality literature and arts.  Private schools allowed, but not doctrinaire religious schools.  Content of education strictly monitored; disproved or effectively disproved material not allowed.

Savage penalties for corruption, including for donating campaign funds beyond a set limit.  Campaign fund regulations, especially in sensitive things like judicial elections.

Universal national service: a year in the military, a year doing environmental work, then a year of social work.  Lifetime emergency call-up, as in Switzerland.

Discouragement of hate and hate speech.  Citizens see their duty as opposing it and damping it down.  No penalties, but extreme, savage penalties for violating civil rights and for hate crimes.

Aesthetics encouraged; national conservation in natural and historic sites, museums, galleries, and the like; art, music and literature important in schools.












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Bibliography of E. N. Anderson

May 21st, 2017




Just about an even 7500 pages as of 2016 (after bk 27, article 47, chap 56, and splitting the difference on coauthored books).




Books and Monographs


  1. 1970.  The Floating World of Castle Peak Bay.  Washington, DC:  American Anthropological Association, Anthropological Studies Series, Vol. 3, 274 pages.


  1. 1972.  Essays on South China’s Boat People.  Taipei: Orient Cultural Service.  146 pages.


  1. 1973.  Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson.  Mountains and Water.  Taipei:  Orient Cultural Service.  179 pages.


  1. 1978.  Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson.  Fishing in Troubled Waters: Research on the Chinese Fishing Industry in West Malaysia.  346 pages.  Taipei: Orient Cultural Service.


  1. 1978.  A Revised, Annotated Bibliography of the Chumash and Their Predecessors.  Socorro, New Mexico:  Ballena Press.  82 pp.


  1. 1983. Coyote Space.  Shelter Cove, CA: Holmgangers Press.  26 pp.  (Poetry.)


  1. 1988. The Food of China.  New Haven: Yale University Press.  263 pp.


7a.  1997.  One chapter, “Traditional Medical Values of Food,” reprinted (from above) in a book of readings in nutritional anthropology: Counihan, Carole, and Penny Van Esterik (eds.): Food and Culture: A Reader.  New York and London: Routledge.  Pp. 80-91.


  1. 1996. Ecologies of the Heart.  New York: Oxford University Press.  xiii + 256 pp.


8a.  1999.  One chapter, “Chinese Nutritional Therapy” (pp. 29-54), reprinted in a book of readings in nutritional anthropology: Alan Goodman, Darna Dufour and Getel Pelto (eds.), Nutritional Anthropology:  Biocultural Perspectives on Food and Nutrition.  Mountain View, CA:  Mayfield.  Pp. 198-211.


  1. 1996. Ed./introduction to:  Duff, Wilson: Bird of Paradox, the Unpublished Writings of Wilson Duff.  Surrey, B.C.: Hancock House.  (Introductory material, pp. 1-117, and editorial matter, pp. 281-313, plus overall editing, of posthumous work by a leading Canadian anthropologist.)


  1. 1997. Coyote Way. Pleasant Hills, CA:  Small Poetry Press.  100 pp.  (Poetry.)


  1. 2000. A Soup for the Qan.  By Paul D. Buell and E. N. Anderson.  London:  Kegan Paul International.  715 pp.  (Chinese text [ca. 160 pp.], translation, and book-length editorial matter, scholarly commentary, and annotations.)

Second edition, 2010.  Xviii, 662 pp.  Leiden:  Brill.


  1. 2003. Those Who Bring the Flowers:  Maya Ethnobotany in Quintana Roo, Mexico.  By E. N. Anderson with José Cauich Canul, Aurora Dzib, Salvador Flores Guido, Gerald Islebe, Felix Medina Tzuc, Odilón Sánchez Sánchez, and Pastor Valdez Chale.  Chetumal, Quintana Roo:  ECOSUR.  323 pp.

Spanish edition:  Las Plantas de los Mayas:  Etnobotánica en Quintana Roo, México.  Tr. Gerald Islebe and Odilón Sánchez Sánchez.  Chetumal:  Colegio de la Frontera Sur (successor to ECOSUR).


  1. 2004. Introduction to Cultural Ecology, by Mark Q. Sutton and E. N. Anderson.  Walnut Creek:  AltaMira (division of Rowman and Littlefield).  Xiii + 385 pp.

Second edition, 2009.

Third edition, 2013.


  1. 2004. Rights, Resources, Culture, and Conservation in the Land of the Maya.  Ed. by Betty B. Faust, E. N. Anderson, and John G. Frazier.  Westport, CT:  Greenwood.


  1. 2005. Everyone Eats.  New York:  New York University Press.  Viii + 294 pp.

2nd edn., 2014.


  1. Chase-Dunn, Christopher, and E. N. Anderson, eds. 2005. The Historical Evolution of World-Systems.  New York:  Palgrave MacMillan.


  1. 2005. Animals and the Maya in Southeast Mexico, by E. N. Anderson and Felix Medina Tzuc.  Tucson:  University of Arizona Press.  Xviii + 251 pp.


  1. 2005. Political Ecology in a Yucatec Maya Community.  Tucson:  University of Arizona Press.  Xx + 275 pp.


  1. 2007. Floating World Lost:  A Hong Kong Fishing Community.  New Orleans:  University Press of the South. Ix + 206 pp.


  1. 2008. Mayaland Cuisine: The Food of Maya Mexico.  St. Louis: Mira Publishing Co.

2nd edn., 2013, 213 pp.


  1. 2010. The Pursuit of Ecotopia:  Lessons from Indigeonous and Traditional Societies for the Human Ecology of Our Modern World.  Santa Barbara, CA:  Praeger (imprint of ABC-Clio).  Xiii + 251 pp.


  1. 2011 Ethnobiology, ed. by E. N. Anderson, Deborah M. Pearsall, Eugene S. Hunn, and Nancy J. Turner.  Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.  Viii + 399 pp.


  1. 2013 Warning Signs of Genocide, by Eugene N. Anderson and Barbara A. Anderson.  Lanham, MD: Lexington Books (division of Rowman and Littlefield).  Xiii + 213 pp.


  1. 2014. Caring for Place.  Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.  305 pp.  (Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Book for 2014; about 1/10 of books they review, and thus about 2.5% of all academic books, make this cut)


  1. 2014. Food and Environment in Early and Medieval China.  Philadelphia:  University of Pennsylvania Press. 338 pp.

Reviews: Robert Hart, Economic Botany 70:94; Kaori O’Connor, Journal of Anthropological Research 72:1,


  1. 2016 Barbara Anderson and Gene Anderson:  A Power of Good: Language of a Midwestern Childhood.  Chesterfield, MO: Mira Publishing.  95 pp.  (Popular booklet.)


  1. 2017 K’oben: 3,000 Years of the Maya Hearth.  Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.  203 pp.


Refereed/Scholarly Journal Articles


  1. 1963    “Tahitian Bonito Fishing,” Kroeber Anthropological Society Papers 28:87-113.


  1. 1964    “A Bibliography of the Chumash and Their Predecessors,” University of California Archaeological Survey Reports 61:25-74.


  1. 1967    “Prejudice and Ethnic Stereotypes in Rural Hong Kong,” Kroeber Anthropological Society Papers 37:90-107.


  1. 1967    “The Folksongs of the Hong Kong Boat People,” Journal of American Folklore 80:285-296.  Reprinted in Essays on South China’s Boat People, 1972.


  1. 1968    “Changing Patterns of Land Use in Rural Hong Kong,” Pacific Viewpoint 9:1:33-50.  Reprinted in Mountains and Water, 1973.


  1. 1969    Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson.  “Folk Medicine in Rural Hong Kong.”  Ethnoiatria II:I.  Reprinted in Mountains and Water, 1973.


  1. 1969    Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson.  “Cantonese Ethnohoptology.”  Ethnos, pp. 107-117.  Reprinted in Mountains and Water, 1973.


  1. 1969    “Sacred Fish,” Man 4:3:443-449.  Reprinted in Essays on South China’s Boat People, 1972.


  1. 1970    “The Boat People of South China,”  Anthropos 65:248-256. Reprinted in Essays on South China’s Boat People, 1972.


  1. 1970 “Traditional Aquaculture in Hong Kong,” Journal of Tropical Geography 30:11-16.


  1. 1970 “Reflexions sue la cuisine.”  L’Homme 10:2:122-124.


  1. 1970 Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson.  “The Social Context of a Local Lingo.”  Western Folklore XXXIX:153-165.


  1. 1971 “Beginnings of a Radical Ecology Movement.”  Biological Conservation 3:4:1-2.


  1. 1972 “Radical Ecology:  Notes on a Conservation Movement.”  Biological Conservation 4:4:285-291.


  1. 1972 Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson.  “Penang Hokkien Ethnohoptology.”  Ethnos 1-4:134-147.


  1. 1972 “Some Chinese Methods of Dealing with Crowding.”  Urban Anthropology 1:2:141-150.  Reprinted in Mountains and Water, 1973.


  1. 1972 “On the Folk Art of Landscaping”  Western Folklore  XXXI:3:179-188.


  1. 1973 “A Case Study in Conservation Politics:  California’s Coastline Initiative.”   Biological Conservation 5:3:160-162.


  1. 1974 “On the Need for Studies of Food Consumption Ideas.”  Journal of the New Alchemists 2:128-132.


  1. 1975 “Songs of the Hong Kong Boat People.”  Chinoperl News 5:8-ll4.


  1. 1977 “The Changing Tastes of the Gods.” Asian Folklore 36:1:19-30.


  1. 1980 “’Heating’ and ‘Cooling’ Foods in Hong Kong and Taiwan.” Social Science Information 19:2:237-268.


  1. 1984 “`Heating’ and `Cooling’ Foods Re-examined.”  Social Science Information 23:4/5:755-773.


  1. 1985 “The Complex Causation of South Chinese Foodways.”  Annals of the Chinese Historical Society of the Pacific Northwest, pp. 147-158.


  1. 1985 “Two Chinese Birds Among the Golden Mountains.”  Annals of the Chinese Historical Society of the Pacific Northwest for 1984, pp. 257-259.


  1. 1987 “Why is Humoral Medicine So Popular?”  Social Science and Medicine, 25:4:331-337.


  1. 1987 Eugene N. Anderson and Chun-Hua Wang. “Changing Foodways of Chinese Immigrants in Southern California.”  In Annals of the Chinese Historical Society of the Pacific Northwest, 1985-86, pp. 63-69.


  1. 1990 “Up Against Famine:  Chinese Diet in the Early Twentieth Century.”  Crossroads 1:1:11-24.


  1. 1991  “Chinese Folk Classification of Food Plants.”  Crossroads 1:2:51-67.


  1. 1992  “Chinese Fisher Families: Variations on Chinese Themes.”  Comparative Family Studies 23:2:231-247.


  1. 1992 “A Healing Place: Ethnographic Notes on a Treatment Center.”  Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly 9:3/4:1-21.


  1. 1993 “Gardens in Tropical America and Tropical Asia.” Biotica n.e. 1:81-102.


  1. 1993 “Southeast Asian Gardens: Nutrition, Cash and Ethnicity.”  Biotica n.e. 1:1-12.


  1. 1998 Teresa Wang and E. N. Anderson.  “Ni Tsan and His ‘Cloud Forest Hall collection of Rules for Drinking and Eating.’”  Petits Propos Culinaires 60:24-41.


34a.  Reprinted with additions and corrections by Victor Mair and ENA:  Eugene N. Anderson, Teresa Wang, and Victor Mair.  2005.  “Ni Zan, Cloud Forest Hall Collection of Rules for Drinking and Eating.”  In Victor Mair, Nancy Steinhardt and Paul R. Goldin (eds.), Hawai’i Reader in Traditional Chinese Culture.  Honolulu, HI:  University of Hawaii Press.  Pp. 444-455.


  1. 1999 “Child-raising among Hong Kong Fisherfolk: Variations on Chinese Themes.”  Bulletin of the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, 86:121-155.


  1. 2000 E. N. Anderson, Teik Aun Wong and Lynn Thomas.  “Good and Bad Persons: The Construction of Ethical Discourse in a Chinese Fishing Community.” Bulletin of the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, 87:129-167.


  1. 2000 “Maya Knowledge and ‘Science Wars.’”  Journal of Ethnobiology 20:129-158.


  1. 2002 “Some Preliminary Observations on the California Black Walnut (Juglans californica).  Fremontia 30:12-19.  (Nonrefereed  scholarly journal of the California Native Plant Society).


  1. 2004 Barbara A. Anderson, E. N. Anderson, Tracy Franklin, and Aurora Dzib-Xihum de Cen.  “Pathways of Decision Making among Yucatan Mayan Traditional Birth Attendants.”  Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health 49:4:312-319.


  1. 2007 “Malaysian Foodways:  Confluence and Separation.”  Ecology of Food and Nutrition 46:205-220 (Special Issue:  Tribute to Christine S. Wilson (1919-2005), ed. by Barrett P. Brenton, Miriam Chaiken, and Leslie Sue Lieberman.)


  1. 2011 “Yucatec Maya Botany and the ‘Nature’ of Science.”  Journal of Ecological Anthropology 14:67-73.


  1. 2012  E. N. Anderson and Barbara Anderson: “Development and the Yucatec Maya in Quintana Roo: Some Successes and Failures.”  Journal of Political Ecology 18:51-65.


  1. 2012 “Anthropology of Religion and Environment: A Skeletal History to 1970.”  Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 6:9-36.


  1. 2012 Hiroko Inoue, Alexis Alvarez, Kirk Lawrence, Anthony Roberts, E. N. Anderson and Christopher Chase-Dunn.  “Polity Scale Shifts in World-Systems Since the Bronze Age: A Comparative Inventory of Upsweeps and Collapses.” International Journal of Comparative Sociology 53:210-229.  (I contributed only about 1% of this.)


  1. 2012 “Religion in Conservation and Management:  A Durkheimian View.”  Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 6:398-420.


  1. 2013 “Conquest, Migration and Food in Mongol China: Yuan Food in Chinese Context.”  Journal of Chinese Dietary Culture 9:1-51.


  1. 2016. “Birds of the Mongol Empire.”  Ethnobiology Letters 7:1:67-73.



Invited Book Chapters and Working Papers


  1. 1972 “The Life and Culture of Ecotopia,”  in Reinventing Anthropology, edited by Dell Hymes.  New York: Pantheon Press, pp. 264-283.  Reprinted in paperback, Vintage, 1973.


  1. 1975 “Chinese Fishermen in Hong Kong and Malaysia,” in Maritime Adaptations in the Pacific, edited by Richard Casteel and George I. Quimby, pp. 231-246.  Hague:      Mouton.  (In “World Anthropology” series.)


  1. 1975 Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson.  “Folk Dietetics in Two Chinese Communities and its implications for the Study of Chinese Medicine.”  In Medicine in Chinese Cultures, edited by Arthur Kleinman, Peter Kunstadter, E. Russell         Alexander, and James E. Gale.  USHEW, pp. 143-176.


  1. 1977 Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson.  “Modern China: South.”  In Food in Chinese Culture, edited by K.C. Chang, Yale University Press, 1977, pp. 319-382.


  1. 1978 Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson and John H.C. Ho.  “Environmental Background of Young Chinese Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma Patients.”  In Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma: Etiology and Control, edited by G. Dethe and Y. Ito.  Lyon, France:  WHO, International Agency for Research on Cancer.  Pp. 231-240.


  1. 1979 “Social History of Hong Kong Boat Folk Songs” in Legend, Lore and Religion in China: Essays in Honor of Wolfram Eberhard on His Seventieth Birthday,” edited by Sarah Allen and Alvin Cohen, CMC Asian Library Series No. 13. San Francisco: Chinese Materials Center, pp. 155-175.


  1. 1981 “The Changing Social Context of Hong Kong Fishermen’s Songs.”  Proceedings of the 30th International Congress of Human Sciences in Asia and North Africa: China, Vol. I.  Mexico City: El Colegio de Mexico.  15 pp.


  1. 1982 “Cuisine,” invited article for The Cambridge Encyclopedia of China.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 382-390.

Reprinted with some revisions in the second edition of the encyclopedia, 1991, pp. 368-377.


  1. 1983 “A View from the Bottom: The Rise and Decline of a Malaysian Chinese Town.”  In The Chinese in Southeast Asia, Vol. 2, Peter Gosling and Linda Lim, eds., pp. 147-169.  Singapore: Maruzen Asia.


  1. 1984 “Ecologies of the Heart.”  In Proceedings, International Chinese Conference, Michael W. Gandy, Mason Shen and Effram Korngold, eds., pp. 205-230.  Oakland: Michael Gandy.


  1. 1985 “A Mosaic of Two Food Systems on Penang Island, Malaysia.”  In Food Energy in Tropical Systems, Dorothy Cattle and Karl Schwerin, eds.  Food and Nutrition in History and Anthropology Series, Vol. l4, pp. 83-104.  New York: Gordon and Breach.


  1. 1987 “A Malaysian Tragedy of the Commons.”  In The Question of the Commons, McCay, Bonnie, and James Acheson, eds.  Tucson: University of Arizona Press.  Pp. 327-343.


  1. 1987 Eugene N. Anderson and Harry Lawton.  “Chinese Religion, Temples and Festivals in the San Bernardino Valley.  In Wong Ho Leun: An American Chinatown.  The Great Basin Foundation, editors. San Diego: The Great Basin Foundation.  Vol. 2, pp. 25-44.


  1. 1989 “The First Green Revolution:  Chinese Agriculture in the Han Dynasty.”  Food and Farm, Christina Gladwin and Kathleen Truman, eds.  New York:  University Press of America and Society for Economic Anthropology, pp. 135-151.


  1. 1994 “Food and Health at the Mongol Court.”  In: Kaplan, Edward H., and Donald W. Whisenhunt (eds.): Opuscula Altaica: Essays Presented in Honor of Henry Schwarz.  Bellingham: Western Washington University, pp. 17-43.


  1. 1994 “Fish as Gods and Kin.”  In: Dyer, Christopher, and James R. McGoodwin (eds.): Folk Management in the World’s Fisheries.  Niwot, CO: University Press of Colorado,  pp. 139-160.


  1. 1994 “Food.”  In: Wu Dingbo and Patrick Murphy (eds.): Handbook of Chinese Popular Culture.  Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, pp. 35-54.


  1. 1995 “Prinz Wen Huis Koch–Einfuhrung in die chinesische Nahrungs-Therapie.”  In: Keller, Frank Beat (ed.):  Krank Warum?  Ostfildern, Germany: Cantz (for Swiss Ethnological Museum), pp. 3-22.


  1. 1995 “Natural Resource Use in a Maya Village.”  In: Fedick, Scott, and Karl Taube (eds.): The View from Yalahau.  Riverside: Latin American Studies Program Field Report Series #2.  Pp. 139-148.


  1. 1996 “Gardens of Chunhuhub.”  In: Hostetler, Ueli (ed.): Los Mayas de Quintana Roo: Investigaciones antropologicas recientes.  Universitat Bern, Institut fur Ethnologie, Arbeitsblatter, #14.  Pp. 64-76.

20a.  1998.  Republished in slightly different form in Tercer Congreso Internacional de Mayistas, Memoria.  Mexico City: Universidad Autónoma de México and Universidad de Quintana Roo.  Pp. 291-310.


  1. 2001 “Flowering Apricot:  Environmental Practice, Folk Religion, and Daoism.”  In: N. J. Girardot, James Miller, and Liu Xiaogan (eds.):  Daoism and Ecology: Ways within a Cosmic Landscape.  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University, Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School.  Pp. 157-184.

Translated into Chinese for Chinese edition of this book, Beijing, 2008.


  1. 2001 “Comments.”  In: Richard Ford (ed.), Ethnobiology at the Millennium.  Ann Arbor, MI:  Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan.  Anthropological papers No. 91.  Pp. 175-186.  (Comments on a series of papers from the Society of Ethnobiology annual conference, 2000, published here in book form.)


  1. 2002 “Biodiversity Conservation: A New View from Mexico.”   In:  John R. Stepp, Felice S. Wyndham, and Rebecca K. Zarger (eds.):  Ethnobiology and Biocultural Diversity.  Athens, GA:   University of Georgia Press.   Pp. 113-122.


  1. 2003 “Traditional Knowledge of Plant Resources.”  In:  A. Gomez-Pompa, M. F. Allen, Scott Fedick, and Juan J. Jimenez-Osornio (eds.): The Lowland Maya Area: Three Millennia at the Human-Wildland Interface.  New York:  Haworth Press.  Pp. 533-550.


  1. 2003 “Caffeine and Culture.”  In:  William Jankowiak and Daniel Bradburd (eds.):  Drugs, Labor, and Colonial Expansion.  Tucson: University of Arizona Press.  Pp. 159-176.


  1. 2003 “China,” subentries “Ancient and Dynastic China,” “Beijing (Peking) Cuisine,” “Guangzhou (Canton) Cuisine,” “Sichuan (Szechuan) Cuisine,” “Zhejiang (Chekiang) Cuisine,” Encyclopedia of Food and Culture, ed. by Solomon Katz and William Woys Weaver.  New York:  Charles Scribners’ Sons.  Pp. 379–396.


  1. 2003 “Ess- und Trinkkultur.”  Das Grosse China-Lexikon, ed. by Brunhild Staiger, Stefan Friedrich und Hans-Wilm Schütte.  Darmstadt, Germany:  Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.  Pp. 194-197.  (Encyclopedia entry.)


  1. 2004  E. N. Anderson, Betty B. Faust, John G. Frazier.  “Introduction:  An Environmental and Cultural History of Maya Communities in the Yucatan Peninsula.”  In:  Betty B. Faust, E. N. Anderson, and John G. Frazier (eds.):  Rights Resources, Culture, and Conservation in the Land of the Maya.   Westport, CT:  Praeger.  Pp. 1-30.


  1. 2004  “Valuing the Maya Forests.”  In:  Betty B. Faust, E. N. Anderson, and John G. Frazier (eds.):  Rights Resources, Culture, and Conservation in the Land of the Maya.   Westport, CT:  Praeger.  Pp.  117-130.


  1. 2004  “Heating and Cooling Qi and Modern American Dietary Guidelines:  Personal Thoughts on Cultural Convergence.”  In Jacqueline Newman and Roberta Halperin (eds.):  Chinese Cuisine, American Palate.  New York:  Center for Thanatology Research and Education, Inc.  Pp. 26-33.


  1. 2004 Barbara Anderson, E. N. Anderson, and Roseanne Rushing:  “Violence:  Assault on Personhood.”  In Barbara A. Anderson:  Reproductive Health:  Women and Men’s Shared Responsibility.  Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.  Pp. 163-204.


  1. 2005 E. N. Anderson and Christopher Chase-Dunn: “The Rise and Fall of Great Powers.”  In Christopher Chase-Dunn and E. N. Anderson (eds.):  The Historical Evolution of World-Systems.  New York:  Palgrave MacMillan.  Pp. 1-19.


  1. 2005 “Lamb, Rice, and Hegemonic Decline:  The Mongol Empire in the Fourteenth Century.”  In Christopher Chase-Dunn and E. N. Anderson (eds.):  The Historical Evolution of World-Systems.  New York:  Palgrave MacMillan.  Pp. 113-121.


  1. 2007 E. N. Anderson and Lisa Raphals: “Taoism and Animals.”  In Paul Waldau and Kimberley Patton (eds.):  A Communion of Subjects:  Animals in Religion, Science, and Ethics.  New York:  Columbia University Press.  Pp. 275-290.


  1. 2009 “Northwest Chinese Cuisine and the Central Asian Connection.”  In David Holm (ed.), Regionalism and Globalism in Chinese Culinary Culture.  Taipei:  Foundation of Chinese Dietary Culture.  Pp. 49-78.


  1. 2009 “Cuisines” and “Health, Nutrition, and Food,” Berkshire Encyclopedia of China (online), pp. 529-535 and 1010-1012.


  1. 2010 “Indigenous Traditions:  Asia.”  Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability, vol. 1, The Spirit of Sustainability.  Pp. 216-221.


  1. 2010 “Food and Feasting in the Zona Maya of Quintana Roo.”  In John Staller and Michael Carrasco (eds.), Pre-Columbian Foodways:  Interdisciplinary Approaches to Food, Culture, and Markets in Ancient Mesoamerica.  New York:  Springer.  Pp. 441-465.


  1. 2010  “Managing Maya Landscapes:  Quintana Roo, Mexico.”  In Leslie Main Johnson and Eugene S. Hunn (eds.), Landscape Ethnoecology:  Concepts of Biotic and Physical Space.  New York:  Berghahn.  Pp. 255-276.


  1. 2010 “Food Cultures:  Linking People to Landscapes.”  In Sarah Pilgrim and Jules Pretty (eds.),  Nature and Culture: Rebuilding Lost Connections.  London:  Earthscan.  Pp. 185-196.


  1. 2011 “Emotions, Motivation, and Behavior in Cognitive Anthropology.”  In David Kronenfeld, Giovanni Bennardo, Victor C. de Munck, and Michael D. Fischer (eds.), A Companion to Cognitive Anthropology.  New York: Wiley-Blackwell.  Pp. 331-354.


  1. 2011 “Introduction.”  In E. N. Anderson, Deborah Pearsall, Eugene Hunn and Nancy Turner (eds.),  Ethnobiology.  Hoboken, NJ:  Wiley-Blackwell.  Pp. 1-14.


  1. 2011 “Ethnobiology and Agroecology.” In E. N. Anderson, Deborah Pearsall, Eugene Hunn and Nancy Turner (eds.),  Ethnobiology.  Hoboken, NJ:  Wiley-Blackwell.  Pp. 305-318.


  1. 2011 “Drawing from Traditional and ‘Indigenous’ Socioecological Theories.”  In Helen Kopnina and Eleanor Shoreman-Ouimet, Environmental Anthropology Today.  London:  Routledge.  Pp. 56-74.


  1. 2011 “War, Migration, and Food in Mongol China:  Yuan Dynasty Food and Medicine.”  In Proceedings of the 12th Symposium on Chinese Dietary Culture.  Taiwan:  Foundation for Chinese Dietary Culture.  Pp. 1-32.


  1. 2011 “China.”  In Food Cultures of the World:  Encyclopedia.  Vol.:  Asia, Ken Albala, ed.  Santa Barbara, CA:  ABC-Clio.  Pp. 61-72.

Access electronically: User B5342E, password abccomp.


  1. 2013 “Culture and the Wild.”  In The Rediscovery of the Wild, Peter H. Kahn, Jr., and Patricia H. Hasbach, eds.  Cambridge, MA:  MIT Press.  Pp. 157-180.


  1. 2013  “What Shapes Cognition?  Traditional Sciences and Modern International Science.”  In Explorations in Ethnobiology: The Legacy of Amadeo Rea, Marsha Wquinland and Dana Lepofsky, eds.  Denton, TX:  Society of Ethnobiology.  Pp. 47-77.


  1. 2013  “Foreword.”  In Environmental Anthropology Engaging Ecotopia: Bioregionalism, Permaculture, and Ecovillages, Joshua Lockyer and James Veteto, eds.  New York: Berghahn.  Pp. xi-xviii.


  1. 2013 “Learning Is Like Chicken Feet: Assembling the Chinese Food System.”  In International Conference on Foodways and Heritage, Conference Proceedings, Sidney C. H. Cheung and Chau Hing-wah, eds.  Hong Kong: Government of Hong Kong, Leisure and Cultural Services Dept.  Pp. 3-20.


  1. 2013 Stand Straight and Never Bend:  How China Fed Millions of People for Thousands of Years.  Working Paper #1, Dept. of Anthropology, Sun Yat-sen University [Zhongshan University], Guangdong, China.  24 pp.


  1. 2013 “Tales Best Told Out of School:  Traditional Life-Skills Education Meets Modern Science Education.”  In Anthropology of Environmental Education, Helen Kopnina, ed.  New York: Novinka.  Pp. 1-24.


  1.  2014  “China.”  In Food in Time and Place: The American Historical Association Companion to Food History.  Berkeley: University of California Press.  Pp. 41-67.


  1. 2016 “Agriculture, Population, and Environment in Late Imperial China.” In Environment, Modernization and Development in East Asia: Perspectives from Environmental History, Ts’ui-jung Liu and James Beattie, eds.  Houndsmill, Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave MacMillan.  Pp. 31-58.


  1. 2017 “Ethnobiology and the New Environmental Anthropology.”  In Routledge Handbook of Environmental Anthropology, Helen Kpnina and Eleanor Shoreman-Oiuimet, eds.  Abingdon (Oxford) and New York:  Pp. 31-43.


  1. 2017 “Traditional and Nontraditional Medicine in a Yucatec Maya Community.”  In Plants and Health: New Perspectives on the Health-Environment-Plant Nexus, Elizabeth Olson and Richard Stepp, eds.  New York: Springer.  Pp. 1-16.



Electronic Publications


  1. 1998  “Managing Maya Commons: Chunhuhub, Quintana Roo.”  Proceedings of the International Association for the Study of Common Property, annual conference, Vancouver, Canada.  One of several papers selected by the organizers of the conference for electronic publication.   (Book chapter 35 above is a greatly expanded and rewritten version.)


  1. 2015 China’s Water Problems.  Nottingham University, China Policy Institute, Policy Paper Series, issue 6.





  1. 1966 “Coyote Song,” Coyote’s Journal, #4.  (Refereed, poem)


  1. 1966 “Bird Selling in San Hui,” Hong Kong Bird Report, 1965 pp. 49-51.


  1. 1968 “The Chumash Indians of Southern California,” Malki Museum Brochure #4.  Malki Museum Press.  (Popular writing) Reprinted 1975.


  1. 1969 “The Kingfishers” and “The Duck Farm,” In Transit: The Gary Snyder Issue, pp. 24-25.  (Two poems)


  1. 1969 “The Social Factors Have Been Ignored,” Harvard Educational Review, 39:3:581-585.  (Commentary, unrefereed, in major journal.)


  1. 1969 “Caucasian Genes in American Negroes,” in Science, 166:3911:1353.  Reprinted in Human Population, Genetic Variation and Evolution, by Laura Newell Morris.  1971, pp. 446-447.  (Letter, reprinted in reader on human genetics.)


  1. 1970 “Lineage Atrophy in Chinese Society,” American Anthropologist 72:363-365.   Reprinted in Mountains and Water, 1973.  (Unrefereed research note in major journal)


  1. 1970 Invited Comment on: “Mannerism and Cultural Change: An Ethnomusicological Example,” by Ruth Katz, Current Anthropology, XI:469.  (Note)


  1. 1970 “Hoklo Boat People,” Urgent Anthropology, Current Anthropology, XI:I:82-83.  (Brief comment in major journal.)


  1. 1970 “Toward a Planner’s Guide to Ecology,” Ecology: The Journal of Cultural Transformation, 1:6-11.  (Popular writing)


  1. 1970 “Notes for the Biosphere,” Ecology: The Journal of Cultural Transformation, 1:2-5.  (Popular writing)


  1. 1971 “A Food Tract,” Ecology: The Journal of Cultural Transformation, 1:3:5-18 and 1:4:6-13.  (Popular writing)


  1. 1971 “A Design for the Tropical Center,” The New Alchemy Institute Spring Bulletin, pp. 16-20.  (Scholarly but unrefereed journal.)


  1. 1971 “A Design for the Tropical Center” (in Spanish).  Leaflet distributed by The New Alchemy Institute.  6 pages.  (Largely a translation of the previous item.)


  1. 1972 Western Riverside County: A Natural History Guide, E. N. Anderson, Riverside.  33 pages.  (Popular writing, booklet)


  1. 1972 Man on the Santa Ana.  Tri-County Conservation League Riverside.  10 pages.  (Popular writing, booklet)


  1. 1972 The Living Santa Ana River.  Edited and majority written by E.N. Anderson.  Tri-County Conservation League, Riverside.  3l pages.  (Popular writing, booklet)


  1. 1972 Herbs.  Jurupa Cultural Center, Riverside.  32 pages. (Popular writing, booklet)


  1. 1973 The Edible Forest.  Jurupa Cultural Center, Riverside. 26 pages.  (Popular writing, booklet)


  1. 1973 Vegetables.  Jurupa Cultural Center, Riverside.  26 pages.  (Popular writing, booklet)


  1. 1977 Comment on Marvin Harris’ “Cultural Ecology of India’s Sacred Cattle.”  Current Anthropology 18:3:552.


  1. 1977 Comment on R. Winzeler.  Current Anthropology 18:3:552.


  1. 1977 Will Staple, Gene Anderson, Lowell Levant.  Coyote Run: Poems by Will Staple, Gene Anderson, Lowell Levant.  Anderson Publications, Riverside.  (Book; my poems, pp. 27-56)


  1. 1978 “Sea Birds Off Tahiti” Western Tanager.  Journal of Los Angeles Audubon Soceity, p. 6.  (Popular.)


  1. 1978 Invited Comment on Paul Diener and Eugene Robkin, “Ecology, Evolution, and the Search for Cultural Origins: The Question of Islamic Pig Prohibition.” Current Anthropology 19:3:509.


  1. 1979 “Chinese Food: First Million Years.”  Wok Talk III:5:1, 8.  (Popular.)


  1. 1979 “Beijing and Delhi.”  Western Tanager 45:10:6.  (Popular.  Reprinted in Bird Watcher’s Digest.)


  1. 1980 Invited comment on Paul Diener, “Quantum Adjustment, Macroevolution, and the Social Field: Some Comments on Evolution and Culture.”  Cultural Anthropology 21:4:431-432.


  1. 1980 Comment on Daniel E. Moerman, “On the Anthropology of Symbolic Healing.”  Current Anthropology 22:1:107.


  1. 1980 “Food and Philosophy in Ancient China.”  Wok Talk IV:3:1-7.  (Popular.)


  1. 1980 “A Closer Look at Hakka Cooking.”  Wok Talk IV:5:1-7. (Popular.)


  1. 1980 “Teochiu Cuisine.”  Wok Talk IV:4:1 and 8.  (Popular.)


  1. 1980 Eugene N. Anderson and Dexter Kelley.  “Birding in Nearer Baja.”  Western Tanager 47:4:1-3.  (Popular.)


  1. 1981 “On Preserving Seafood.”  Wok Talk V:3:2-7.  (Popular.)


  1. 1981 “The Foods of China’s Golden Age.”  Wok Talk VI:1:9-10.  (Popular.)


  1. 1982 “Wisdom Literature as Prayers to Coyote.”  Coyote’s Journal, P. 64.  (Poem; major journal of poetry and literature)


  1. 1983 The Inland Empire: A Natural History Guide.  Jurupa Cultural Center, Riverside.  (Booklet, 62 quarto pp.)


  1. 1983 Nunez, Christina; Michael Hogan; E. N. Anderson.  Food Banks and the Anthropology of Voluntary Organizations.  California Anthropology 13:2:23-39.  (Minor unrefereed journal.  I was responsible for about 1/3 of this article.  The other two authors were students here.  Item missing from previous files, because the senior author published it without telling me.)


  1. 1984 “Plant Communities and Bird Habitats in Southern California, Part II: The Chaparral.”  Western Tanager 52:3:1-4.  (Popular.)


  1. 1985 Three poems in Reflections, Iain Prattis, ed. Washington: American Anthropological Association.  (Collection of poetry by anthropologists about anthropological themes) pp. 211-217.


  1. 1985 Invited comment on Cecil Brown, “Mode of Subsistence and Folk Biological Taxonomy.”  Current Anthropology 26:1:53-54.


  1. 1986 Invited comment on Cecil Brown, “The Growth of Ethnobiological Nomenclature.”  Current Anthropology 27:1:11-12.


  1. 1986 Comment on “The Social Context of Early Food Production”  Current Anthropology 27:3:262-263.


  1. 1988 Jean Gilbert, Claudia Fishman, Neil Tashima and Barbara Pillsbury, Fred Hess, Elvin Hatch, Barbara Frankel and Gene Anderson.  “National Association of Practicing Anthropologists’ Ethical Guidelines for Practitioners.”  American Anthropological Association Newsletter 29:8:8-9.


  1. 1992 Invited comment “On Training and Certification,” CommuNiCator (Newsletter of the Council on Nutritional Anthropology), 16:1:1-2.


  1. 1992 “Can Ancient Maya Wisdom Save Our Favorite Birds from the Cows?”  Western Tanager March 1992, pp. 1-4.  (Popular.)


  1. 1992  “Four Fields in Ecological Anthropology,” long contribution to ongoing debate on the “Four Fields in Anthropology,” Anthropology Newsletter (official newsletter of the American Anthropological Assn.), Nov. 1992, p. 3.


  1. 1993 “Teaching Philosophy,” statement to accompany Honorable Mention for Distinguished Teaching award from National Association of Student Anthropologists, Anthropology Newsletter, Feb. 1993, p. 18.


  1. 1993 “A ‘Blue-Headed’ Solitary Vireo from Baja California,” The Euphonia 2:1:22.  (Brief note)


  1. 1993 “How Much Should We Privilege ‘Native’ Accounts?”  American Anthropologist 95:706-707.  (Commentary, unrefereed, in major journal.)


  1. 1994 “Caught in the Flood of Urbanization.”  Western Tanager 61:4:1-3.  (Popular.)


  1. 1995 “After the Fire: Bird Use of a New Burn.”  Western Tanager 61:7:1-3.  (Popular.)


  1. 1995 “On Objectivity vs. Militancy.”  Current Anthropology 36:820-821.  (Commentary.)


  1. 1997 “Vegetables, Roots, and Wisdom in Old China.”  Journal of Ethnobiology 17:1:147-148 (Short Communication).


  1. 2000 “On an Antiessential Political Ecology.”  Current Anthropology 41:105-106.


  1. 2000 “On ‘Are East African Pastoralists Truly Conservationists?’”  Current Anthropology 41:626-627.


  1. 2000 “Brief Notes on Observations in Spain.”  Anthropology Newsletter 41:9:41-42.


  1. 2001 Folk song text (collected and translated by myself), five photographs I took, and summary of my research writings on Hong Kong, published in Elizabeth Johnson:  Recording a Rich Heritage: Research on Hong Kong’s ‘New Territories.’  Hong Kong Heritage Museum, Hong Kong.  Pp. 82-88.


  1. 2001 “Psychology and a Sustainable Future.”  American Psychologist 56:5:457-458.  (Comment on a series of articles on psychology and the environment.)


  1. 2001 “Tropical Forest Game Conservation.”  Conservation Biology 15:791-792.  (Edited comment; major journal.)


  1. 2002 Comment on “Maya Medicine in the Biomedical Gaze” by Ronald Nigh.  Current Anthropology 43:789-790.


  1. 2003 “Tropical Multiple Use.”  Journal of Conservation Ecology 7:14.  (Comment on earlier article:  Victor Toledo, B. Ortiz-Espejel, L. Cortes, P. Moguel, M. D. J. Ordonez, 2003, “The Multiple Use of Torpical Forests by Indigenous Peoples in Mexico:  A Case of Adaptive Management,” Journal of Conservation Ecology 7:article 9 online.)


  1. 2008 Comment on “Reason and Reenchantment in Cultural Change:  Sustainability in Higher Education” by Peggy Barlett (Current Anthropology 49:1077-1098).  Current Anthropology 49:1090.


  1. 2009 Comment on “Cultural Relativity 2.0” by Michael Brown (Current Anthropology 49:363-383).  Current Anthropology 50:251.


  1. 2010 Comment on “Attachment and Cooperation in Religious Groups” by Carol Popp Weingarten and James S. Chisholm.  Current Anthropology 51:421-422.


  1. 2010 “Ancient and Modern Foods from the Tarim Basin.”  Expedition 52:3:5-6.


  1. 2011 “AAA Long-Range Plan.”  (Letter.)  Anthropology News, Feb., p. 3.


  1. 2011 “Salt Water Songs of Hong Kong.”   In The Columbia Anthology of Chinese Folk and Popular Literature, Victor H. Mair and Mark Bender (eds.).  New York:  Columbia University Press.  Pp. 145-147.


  1. 2012 “Cooking with Kublai Khan.”  Flavor and Fortune 19:4:13-14.


  1. 2013 “Folk Nutritional Therapy in Modern China.”  In Chinese Medicine and Healing: An Illustrated History, TJ Hinrichs and Linda Barnes, eds.  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press.  Pp. 259-260.


  1. 2013 “Are Minds Modular?”  (Letter, with answer by Michael Shermer and comment by Steven Pinker.)  Scientific American, May, 8-9.


  1. 2-13 “Happiness Now or Later.”  (Letter, with answer by editors.)  Scientific American Mind, July/August, p. 4.


  1. 2013 “Foreword.”  In Environmental Anthropology Engaging Ecotopia:  Bioregionalism, Permaculture, and Ecovillages, Joshua Lockyer and James R. Veteto, eds.  New York:  Berghahn.  Pp. xi-xviii.


  1. 2013. Preface and two poems, “Desert in Fall” and “Nocturne.”  In A Poet Drives a Truck: Poems by and for Lowell Levant, Ronald Levant, Carol Slatter and Caren Levant, eds.  Copley, OH:  Truck Stop Press.


  1. 2016 “Foreword.”  In Shen Nong Bencao Jing: The Divine Farmer’s Classic of Materia Medica, translated and edited by Sabine Wilms.  Corbett, OR:  Happy Goat Productions.  Pp. xxiii-xxx.




  1. 1967    “The Ethnoichthyology of the Hong Kong Boat People,” Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley. Printed in Essays on South China’s Boat People, 1972. 105 pp.


  1. 1987 Eugene N. Anderson and Evelyn Pinkerton.  “The Kakawis Experience.”  Kakawis Family Development Centre, 68 pp. + appendices.  (Contracted technical study and report to Kakawis Family Development Centre.)


  1. 2007 Sun Simiao.  Recipes Worth a Thousand Gold:  The Food Sections.  Tr. Sumei Yi, ed. E. N. Anderson.  Ms circulated electronically.  56 pp.


  1. 2007 The Tropical Food Security Garden.  On website,


  1. 2015 Sycamore Canyon Natural History.  A report to the Riverside Municipal Museum.  Available on website,




Review Articles


  1. 1977 The Chinese by C. Osgood.  Reviews in Anthropology 4:1:17-24.


  1. 1981 Review article of Arthur Kleinman: Patients and Healers in the Context of Culture: An Exploration of the Borderland between Anthropology, Medicine and Psychiatry, and Margaret Lock, East Asian Medicine in Urban Japan.  Reviews in Anthropology 8:1:45-58.


  1. 1984 Cooking, Cuisine and Class by Jack Goody.  Reviews in Anthropology 10:2:89-95.


  1. 1994 Islands, Plants and Polynesians ed. by Paul Alan Cox and Sandra Anne Banack, and Traditional Plant Foods of Canadian Indigenous Peoples: Nutrition, Botany and Use by Harriet Kuhnlein and Nancy J. Turner.  Reviews in Anthropology 23:97-104.


  1. 1995 Human Ecology as Human Behavior by John Bennett, and Radical Ecology by Carolyn Merchant.  Reviews in Anthropology 24:113-122.


  1. 1999 “Native American Cultural Representations of Flora and Fauna.”   Ethnohistory 46:373-382


  1. 2000 The Ecological Indian by Shepard Krech.  Journal of Ethnobiology 20:37-42.


  1. 2002 “ New Textbooks Show Ecological Anthropology Is Flourishing.”  Reviews in Anthropology 33:231-242.


  1. 2007 Behavioral Ecology and the Transition to Agriculture, ed. by Douglas Kennett and Bruce Winterhalder.  Journal of Ethnobiology 27:277-280.


  1. 2009 Trying Leviathan:  The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case that Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature, by D. Graham Burnett.  Journal of Ethnobiology 29:362-365.


  1. 2014 E. N. Anderson and Seth Abrutyn:  “Robert Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution.”  Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 8:111-127.



Short Reviews

(Probably not a complete list, since I think I have missed some announcements from Choice that my short reviews for them were published)


  1. 1966    “La peche au grand filet a Tahiti,” by Paul Ottino. Journal of Polynesian Society 75:1:130-131.


  1. 1967    The Sea Nomads, by David E. Sopher.  Oceania 37:4:313-314.


  1. 1974    Tai Yu Shan: Traditional Ecological Adaptation in a South Chinese Island, by Armando de Silva and The Men and Women of Chung Ho Ch’ang, by Mary B. Treudley.  American Anthropologist 76:3:610-611.


  1. 1975    December’s Child, by Thomas Blackburn.  Journal of California Anthropology 2:2:241-244.


  1. 1975    Chinese Symbols and Superstitions by H. T. Morgan, Journal of American Folklore.  Spring 1975.


  1. 1976    California: Five Centuries of Cultural Contrasts by J. Nava and B. Barger.  Journal of California Anthropology 3:3:100-102.


  1. 1977    The Eye of the Flute by T. Hudson et al. Journal of California Anthropology 4:1:1-141-142.


  1. 1977    Migrants of the Mountains by W.R. Geddes  Ethnopharmacology Society Newsletter 1:1:5-6.


  1. 1977    Fig Tree John: An Indian in Fact and Fiction by P. Beidler, Journal of California Anthropology 4:2:322.


  1. 1978 Food in Chinese Culture by Charles W. Hayford, Journal of Asian Studies XXXVII:4:738-40.


  1. 1978 Edible and Useful Plants of California by Charlotte Clarke, Journal of California Anthropology 5:1:139-140.


  1. 1981 Chinese Village Politics in the Malaysian State by Judith Strauch, Newsletter of the Association for Political and Legal Anthropology 5:3:17-19.


  1. 1981 Manna: An Historical Geography by R.A. Donkin, Journal of Historical Geography 7:3:329-330.


  1. 1983 “Cities in China” film series (three films: “Xian,” “Suzhou,” Biejing”).  American Anthropologist 85:2:491-492.


  1. 1984 Shenfan by William Hinton, American Anthropologist 1986:1002.


  1. 1984 Nourishment of Life by Linda Koo, Social Science and Medicine 20:3:350-354.


  1. 1985 Living the Fishing by Paul Thompson, et al, Urban Life 14:3:350-354.


  1. 1987 Wives and Midwives by Carol Laderman, Medical Anthropology Newsletter.


  1. 1987 Man and Land in Chinese History by Kang Chao, American Asian Review V:3:105-107.


  1. 1987 Medicine in China History, Vol. 1: A History of Ideas.  Vol. 2: A History of Pharmaceutics.  Vol. 3: Nan-Ching: The Classic of Difficult Issues by Paul Unschuld, American Asian Review V:3:115-118.


  1. 1988 The Cambridge History of China, vol. I: The Ch’in and Han Empires, ed. by Denis Twitchett and Michael Loewe, American Asian Review VI:1:78-82.


  1. 1990 Disputers of the Tao by A. C. Graham.  American Asian Review 8:4:135-139.


  1. 1991 Cannibalism in China by Key Ray Chong.  American Asian Review 9:2:109-112.


  1. 1991 Native North American Interaction Patterns by Regna Darnell and Michael K. Foster, eds.  Culture: Journal of the Canadian Anthropological Society, pp. 92-94.


  1. 1991 Nch’i Wana: The Big River by Eugene Hunn.  American Anthropologist 93:4:1002-1003.


  1. 1991 With Bitter Herbs They Shall Eat It by Timothy Johns.  Journal of Ethnobiology 11:2:184-186.


  1. 1992 Origins of Agriculture and Settled Life by Richard S. MacNeish.  Journal of Ethnobiology 12:198-26.


  1. 1993 Coyote Stories and A Salishan Autobiography by Mourning Dove.  Anthropology and Humanism Quarterly 18:2:84-85.


  1. 1993 Tangweera by C. Napier Bell.  Anthropology and Humanism Quarterly 18:2:85-86.


  1. 1994 The Flowering of Man by Dennis Breedlove and Robert Laughlin.  Economic Botany 48:1:101-102.


  1. 1995 The Cuba Commission Report: A Hidden History of the Chinese in Cuba ed. by Dennis Helly.  Journal of Caribbean Studies 10:99-101.


  1. 1995 Chumash Healing by Phillip L. Walker and Travis Hudson.  Journal of Ethnobiology 14:184.


  1. 1995 Environmental Values in American Culture by Willett Kempton, James S. Boster, and Jennifer A. Hartley.  Choice 33.2.


  1. 1995 Prophets of Agroforestry:  Guaraní Communities and Commercial Gathering by Richard K. Reed.  Choice 33:3.


  1. 1995 Memoirs of an Indo Woman: Twentieth-Century Life in the East Indies and Abroad by Marguerite Schenkhuizen, ed. and trans. by Lizelot Stout van Balgooy.  Anthropology and Humanism 20:172-173.


  1. 1996 Earth’s Insights by J. Baird Callicott.  Journal of Ethnobiology 16:130-131.


  1. 1996 Eat Not This Flesh (2nd edn.) by Frederick Simoons.  Journal of Ethnobiology 16:128-130.


  1. 1996 Guest People: Hakka Identity in China and Abroad ed. by Nicole Constable.  Choice 34:4.


  1. 1997 Green Guerrillas ed. by Helen Collinson.  Choice 34:6.


  1. 1997 Humanity’s Descent by Rick Potts.  Choice 35:1.


  1. 1997 Hunting the Wren by Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence.  Journal of Ethnobiology 17:67-68.


  1. 1997 The Animal World of the Pharaohs by Patrick F. Houlihan.  Journal of Ethnobiology 17:135-136.


  1. 1997 Wild Men in the Looking Glass and The Artificial Savage by Roger Bartra.  Journal of Ethnobiology 17:136-138.


  1. 1997 Eco Homo by Noel T. Boaz.  Choice 35:4.


  1. 1997 Greenlanders, Whales, and Whaling by Richard Caulfield.  Choice 35:4.


  1. 1998 Shamanic Songs and Myths of Tuva by Mihaly Hoppal.  Choice 35:5.


  1. 1998 Bhutan: Mountain Fortress of the Gods ed. by Christian Schicklgruber and Francoise Pommaret.  Choice 35:7.


  1. 1998 Uncommon Ground by Victoria Strang.  Choice 35:7.


  1. 1998 Knowledges: Culture, Counterculture, Subculture by Peter Worsley.  Choice 35:10.


  1. 1998 Contested Arctic ed. by Eric Alden Smith and Joan McCarter.  Choice 35:10.


  1. 1998 Natural Premises:  Ecology and Peasant Life in the Western Himalaya, 1800-1950 by Chetan Singh.  Choice 36:5.


  1. 1998 Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent, by Meredith Small.  Choice 36:2.


  1. 1999 Golden Arches East:  McDonald’s in East Asia, edited by James L. Watson.  Anth rpos 94:307-310.


  1. 1999 Wisdom from a Rainforest, by Stuart Schlegel.  Choice 36:8.


  1. 1999 Siren Feasts, by Andrew Dalby.  Journal of Ethnobiology 18:2:188.


  1. 1999 Building a New Biocultural Synthesis, ed. by Alan Goodman and Thomas Leatherman.  Choice 36:10.


  1. 1999 Rebuilding the Local Landscape:  Environmental Management in Burkina Faso,

by Chris Howorth.  Choice 37:3.


  1. 2000 That Complex Whole:  Culture and the Evolution of Human Behavior, by Lee Cronk.  Choice 37:5.


  1. 2000 Anthropology of Food: The Social Dynamics of Food Scarcity by Johan Pottier.  Anthropos 95:1:296-298.


  1. 2000 Plants for Food and Medicine  ed. by H. D. V. Prendergast, N. L. Etkin, D. R. Harris, and P. J. Houghton.  American Anthropologist 102:50-51.


  1. 2000 Ruins of Identity: Ethnogenesis in the Japanese Islands by Mark J. Hudson.  Choice 37:7.


  1. 2000 Sustaining the Forest, the People, and the Spirit by Thomas Davis.  Choice 37:10.


  1. 2000 Las Plantas de la Milpa entre los Maya by Silvia Teran and Christian Rasmussen.  Journal of Ethnobiology 19:219-220.


  1. 2000 The Ambonese Curiosity Cabinet, by Georgius Everhardus Rumphius.   Journal of Ethnobiology 19:258-259.


  1. 2000 The Great Maya Droughts, by Richardson Gill.  Choice 38:3.


  1. 2001 In One’s Own Shadow: An Ethnographic Account of the Condition of Post-Reform Rural China, by Xin Liu.  Choice 38:3.


  1. 2001 Indigenous Environmental Knowledge and Its Trasnformations: Critical Anthropological Perspectives, ed. by Roy Ellen, Peter Parkes, and Alan Bicker.  Choice 38:10.


  1. 2001 Portraits of “Primitives”:  Ordering Human Kinds in the Chinese Nation, by Susan Blum. Choice 38:10.


  1. 2001 Between Mecca and Beijing:  Modernization and Consumption among Urban Chinese Muslims, by Maris Boyd Gillette.  Choice 38:10.


  1. 2001 Feeding the World, by Vaclav Smil.  Journal of Ethnobiology 20:217-221.


  1. 2001 El Bosque Mediterráneo en el Norte de África, by Jesús Charco.  Journal of Ethnobiology 20:237-238.


  1. 2001 The Age of Wild Ghosts:  Memory, Violence, and Place in Southwest China, by Erik Mueggler. Choice 39:02.


  1. 2001 Environmental Anthropology:  From Pigs to Politics, by Patricia Townsend.  Choice 39:1.


  1. 2001 New Directions in Anthropology and Environment: Intersections, ed. by Carole Crumley.  Choice 39:4.


  1. 2001 Imperfect Balance: Landscape Transformations in the Precolumbian Americas, ed. by David Lentz.  Journal of Ethnobiology 21:53-55.


  1. 2001 The Ecological Indian:  Myth and Reality, by Shepard Krech III.  Journal of Ethnobiology 20:37-42.


76a.        2002  A Society without Fathers or Husbands, by Hua Cai.  Choice 39:5.


  1. 2002 The Hmong of China: Context, Agency, and the Imaginary, by Nicholas Tapp.  Choice 39:5.


  1. 2002 Cocina indigena y popular, by CONACULTA.  Petits Propos Culinaires 69:124-125.


  1. 2002 Chinese Gleams of Sufi Light, by Sachiko Murata.  Philosophy East and West 52:257-260.


  1. 2002 Hosts and Guests Revisited: Tourism Issues of the 21st Century, ed. by Valene Smith and Maryann Brent.   Choice 39:08.


  1. 2002 Black Rice, by Judith A. Carney.  Journal of Ethnobiology 21:53-54.


  1. 2002 Changing Chinese Foodways in Asia, ed. by David Wu and Tan Chee-Beng.  Journal of Asian Studies 61:2:689-691.


  1. 2002 Mayo Ethnobotany, by David Yetman and Thomas VanDevender.  Choice 39:11.


  1. 2002 Feasts: Archaeological and Ethnographic Perspectives on Food, Politics, and Power, ed. by Michael Dietler and Brian Hayden.  Anthropos 97:573-574.


  1. 2002 The Cambridge World History of Food, ed. by Kenneth Kiple and Kriemhild Ornelas.  Journal of Ethnobiology 22:163-164.


  1. 2002 Ways of Being Ethnic in Southwest China by Stevan Harrell.  Choice 40:03.


  1. 2002 Culture, Environment, and Conservation in the Appalachian South, ed. by Benita J. Howell.  Choice 40:3.


  1. 2002 Appetites:  Food and Sex in Postsocialist China, by Judith Farquhar.  Choice 40:04.


  1. 2003 When Culture and Biology Collide, by E. O. Smith.  Choice 40:3479.


  1. 2003 The World and the Wild, ed. by David Rothenberg and Marta Ulvaeus.  Pacific Affairs 75:4:588.


  1. 2003  China to Chinatown:  Chinese Food in the West, by J. A. G. Roberts.  Journal of Asian Studies 62:569-571.


  1. 2003 Changing Chinese Foodways in Asia, ed. by David Wu and Tan Chee-beng.  Anthropos 98:620-622.


  1. 2003 Crafting Tradition, by Michael Chibnik.  Choice 41-1618.


  1. 2003 New Year Celebrations in Central China in Late Imperial Times, by Goran Aijmer.  Choice 41-2554.


  1. 2004 Moral Politics in a South Chinese Village:  Responsibility, Reciprocity and Resistance, by Hok-Bun Ku.  Choice 41-5442.


  1.      2004  Indus Ethnobiology, ed. by Steven A Weber and William R. Belcher.  Choice 41-5993.


  1. 2004 Food in the Ancient World from A to Z, by Andrew Dalby.  Journal of Ethnobiology 24:163-164.


  1.      2004  Political Ecology:  An Integrative Approach to Geography and Evnironment-Development Studies, ed. by Karl Zimmerer and Thomas J. Bassett.  Choice 41-6682.


  1.       2004  Social History and African Environments, ed. by William Beinart and JoAnn McGregor.  Choice 41-6689.


  1. 2004 The Nehalem Tillamook:  An Ethnography, by Elizabeth Derr Jacobs.  Choice 41-1026.


  1. 2004 The Retreat of the Elephants, by Mark Elvin.  Journal of Ethnobiology 24:352-354.


  1. 2004 Anthropology of the Performing Arts, by Anya Royce.  Choice 42:3518.


  1. 2004 Miniature Crafts and Their Makers:  Palm Weaving in a Mexican Town.  Choice 42:6669.


  1. 2005 Political Ecology, by Paul Robbins.  Choice 42-5341.


  1. 2005 Miniature Crafts and Their Makers:  Palm Weaving in a Mexican Town, by Katrin S. Flechsig.  Choice 2004:10393.


  1. 2005 Collapse:  How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond.  Journal of Ethnobiology 25:143-145.


  1. 2005 The Origin and Evolution of Cultures, by Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson.  Choice 43:1027.


  1. 2005 Facing the Wild:  Ecotourism, Conservation and Animal Encounters, by Chilla Bulbeck.  Choice 43:1641.


  1. 2005 Intelligence in Nature:  An Inquiry in Knowledge, by Jeremy Narby.  Choice 43:2765.


  1. 2006 Tending the Wild:  Native American Knowledge and the Management of Calfornia’s Natural Resources, by Kat Anderson.  Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 25:255-258.


  1. 2006 Survival Skills of Native California, by Paul D. Campbell.  Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 25:262-263.


  1. 2006 Food Plants of China, by Hu Shiu-Ying.  Journal of Ethnobiology 26:165-167.


  1. 2006. Where Rivers and Mountains Sing:  Sound, Music and Nomadism in Tuva and Beyond, by Theodore Levin.  Choice 44:0226.


  1. 2006 Miraculous Response:  Doing Popular Religion in Contemporary China, by Adam Yuet Chau.  Choice 44-0394.


  1. 2006  People and Nature: An Introduction to Human Ecological Relations, by Emilio Moran.  Choice 44:2770.


  1. 2006 As Days Go By:  Our History, Our Land, and Our People—The Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla, ed. by Jennifer Karson.  Choice 45-1077


  1. 2007 Be of Good Mind:  Essays on the Coast Salish, ed. by Bruce Granville Miller.  Choice 45:2204.


  1. 2007 The Earth Only Endures:  On Reconnecting with Nature and Our Place in It, by Jules Pretty.  Choice 45:4461.


  1. 2007 Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Natural Resource Management, ed. by Charles R. Menzies.  American Anthropologist 109:571-572.


  1. 2008 “An Anthropology of Chocolate.”  Review article on Chocolate in Mesoamerica:  A Cultural History of Cacao, ed. by Cameron McNeil.  American Anthropologist 110:71-73.


  1. 2008 Chumash Ethnobotany:  Plant Knowledge among the Chumash People of Southern California, by Jan Timbrook.  Choice 45-6271.


  1. 2008 Chumash Ethnobotany:  Plant Knowledge among the Chumash People of Southern California, by Jan Timbrook.  Journal of Ethnobiology 28:136-138.


  1. 2008 Animals the Ancestors Hunted:  An Account of the Wil Mammals of the Kalam Area, Papua-new Guinea, by Ian Saem Majnep and Ralph Bulmer.  Journal of Ethnobiology 28j:134-136.


  1. 2008 Wild Harvest in the Heartland:  Ethnobotany in Missouri’s Little Dixie, by Justin Nolan.   Journal of Ethnobiology 28:139-140.


  1. 2008  Life in a Kam Village in Southwest China, 1930-1949, by Ou Chaoquan, tr. by D. Norman Geary.  Brill, 2007.


  1. 2008 Kinship and Food in South East Asia, ed. by Monica Janowski and Fiona Kerlogue.  Copenhagen:  NIAS press, 2007.  Anthropos 103:2:598-599.


  1. 2008 The Nature of an Ancient Maya City:  Resources, Interaction and Power at Blue Creek, Belize, by Thomas Guderjan.  Choice 46-1659.


  1. 2008 Environmental Anthropology: a historical reader, ed. by Michael R. Dove and Carol Carpenter.  Choice 46-1566.


  1. 2008 Koekboya (and) Nomads in Anatolia, by Harald Bőhmer.  Journal of Ethnobiology 28:318-319.


  1. 2009 The Fishermen’s Frontier:  People and Salmon in Southeast Alaska, by David F. Arnold.  Choice 46-4615.


  1. 2009 State and Ethnicity in China’s Southwest, by Xiaolin Guo.  Choice 46-5188.


  1. 2009 Christmas Island:  An Anthropological Study, by Simone Dennis.  Choice 46-6282.


  1. 2009 Against the Grain, ed. by Bradley Walters, Bonnie J. McCay, Paige West and Susan Lees.  Journal of Ethnobiology 29:360-362.


  1. 2010 Spirits of the Air:  Birds and American Indians in the South, by Shepard Krech.  Choice 47-3251.


  1. 2010  California Indians and the Environment:  An Introduction (2nd edn.), by Kent Lightfoot and Otis Parrish.  Choice 47-3252.


  1. 2010 Biocultural diversity and indigenous ways of knowing: human ecology in the Arctic, by Karim-Aly Kassam.  University of Calgary Press,  2009.  Choice 47-5105.


  1. 2010 Terres de Vanoise:  Agriculture en Montagne Savoyarde, by Brien Meilleur.  Journal of Ethnobiology 30:173-174.


  1. 2010 Material Choices:  Refashioning Bast and Leaf Fibres in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, edited by Roy Hamilton and Lynne Milgram.  Ethnobiology Letters 1:3.


  1. 2010 Trying Leviathan, by D. Graham Burnett.  Ethnobiology Letters 1:4-6.


  1. 2010 Grass Roots:  African Origins of an American Art, edited by Dale Rosengarten, Theodore Rosengarten, and Enid Schildkrout.  Ethnobiology Letters 1:7-8.


  1. 2010. Spirits of the Air:  Birds and American Indians in the South, by Shepard Krech III.  Ethnobiology Letters 1:16-17.


  1. 2010. Naming Nature:  The Clash between Instinct and Science, by Carol Kaesuk Yoon.  Ethnobiology Letters 1:30-32.


  1. 2010 After the first full moon in April: a sourcebook of herbal medicine from a California Indian elder, by Josephine Grant Peters and Beverly R. Ortiz.  Choice 48-1558.


  1. 2010 Jungle laboratories: Mexican peasants, national projects, and the making of the pill, by Gabriela Soto Laveaga.  Choice 48-2255.


  1. 2011 Different truths: ethnomedicine in early postcards, by Peter A. G. M. de Smet.  Kit Publishers, 2010.  Choice 48-2759.


  1. 2011 Biocultural diversity conservation: a global sourcebook, by Luisa Maffi and Ellen Woodley.    Earthscan Publications Ltd., 2010.  Choice 48-2767.


  1. 2011 Indigenous Knowledge, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, by Raymond Pierotti.  Ethnobiology Letters 2:3-5.


  1. 2011 Feeding the People, Feeding the Spirit:  Revitalizing Northwest Coastal Indian Food, ed. by Elise Krohn and Valerie Segrest.  Ethnobiology Letters 2:45.


  1. 2011 Dark Green Religion, by Bron Taylor.  Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Cultue 5:2:244-245.


  1. 2012 The Banana Tree at the Gate, by Michael Dove.  Ethnobiology Letters 3:13.


  1. 2012 From the Hands of the Weaver, ed. by Jacilee Wray.  Choice 50-2152


  1. 2013 Spiritual Ecology, by Leslie Sponsel.  Current Anthropology 54:245-247.


  1. 2014 Environmental Winds, by Michael Hathaway.  Choice 51-2805.


  1. 2014. How Forests Think, by Eduardo Kohn.  Choice 51-2744.


  1. 2014 Uses of Plants by the Hidatsas of the Northern Plains, by Gilbert Wilson.  Choice 52-2068.


  1. 2015 Tikal: Paleoecology of an Ancient Maya City, by David L. Lentz, Nicholas Dunning and Vernon Scarborough (eds.).  Choice 53-1796.


  1. 2016  The Relative Native: Essays on Conceptual Worlds, by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro.  Ethnobiology Letters 7:1:42-44,


  1. 2016 The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution, by David Wootton.  Ethnobiology Letters 7:1:55-58,


  1. 2016 The Ecology of the Barí: Rainforest Horticulturalists of South America, by Stephen Beckerman and Roberto Lizarralde.  Human Ecology 44:393-394.


  1. 2017 Handbook on Ethnic Minorities of China, ed. by Xiaowei Zang.  Choice 54-4838.

Career Guide for Anthropologists: Student to Professor, and How to Publish

May 21st, 2017

Career Advice for Anthropologists:  Student to Professor, and How to Publish

  1. N. Anderson

Department of Anthropology

University of California, Riverside


My student Jenny Banh suggested I might write a book guiding graduate students on the academic path.  I don’t have a book’s worth of knowledge, but after 50 years teaching for the University of California system, I have some tips.


General Basics


The place to start is by recycling advice from Alex Lightman (web posting):  Figure out what you’re best at, what you like best to do, what you can do that actually helps people, and what you can actually making a living at.  If you are lucky, there will be a sweet spot that optimally fits all four.

For an academic, the item about actually helping people should have priority.  If you are not particularly interested in helping people, you’re in the wrong field; with your education, you could make much more money doing almost anything else.  The only reason to be an academic is that it’s your Calling, in the old sense.  You feel a need to do it to help the world, or at least your students.

Anthropology, in particular, is a fantastic field not only for understanding people, but also for helping people and understanding how to help them more.  It is great for dealing with those wonderful goals that are unachievable, but that really matter in the world: perfect peace, health, justice, environmental sanity, and the rest.  Ideally, it will allow a real predictive science of history, in which we can (within limits) predict troubles ahead and figure out how to solve them.

In my case, the sweet spot was the question of how humans and (the rest of) nature interact, and how we can fix that so people and nature can be one functioning system instead of a continuing fight.  I found the right places to study this, too:  China, Southeast Asia, the Northwest Coast of North America, and the Yucatec Maya world of southeast Mexico.  In all these areas, people coexisted for thousands of years with the rest of creation without totally trashing it—until the modern colonial world intruded and messed everything up, usually without helping the local people in the process.

Your sweet spot may be kinship theory, or classic films, or amoeba behavior.  Just find it.  At worst, if there isn’t an overlap between all four of the above, make the best accommodation you can.

Of course you won’t get to do your favorite thing all the time.  Definitely do it for your grad work including Ph.D. thesis, but don’t expect it in a first job.  Keep working at it and progressing toward it.

Do your best at what you do best.  Don’t waste your time on anything else unless you have to.  Life is too short.  For most of us, that means focusing on one thing.  There are true renaissance figures out there who can do great jobs at several different demanding fields—I have known some—but such people are so rare that unless you know you are one, don’t try it.  Stick to your best shot and work it to death.  (This does not mean that you should stick to one theory or subject.  Some of us—myself included—are best at generalizing and integrating across fields rather than at laser-like focus on one idea or thing.  If what you do best is integrate across theory-fields, go for it.)

On the other hand, if you are a renaissance scholar, go for that too.  One of my colleagues is a first-rate biological anthropologist and a first-rate concert pianist.  And the ethnomusicologist and ethnographer Steve Feld is also a professional jazz musician. But they focus awfully hard on their fields.  Still fewer people can handle three or four.  I doubt if anyone ever handled five.  Incidentally, it occurs to me that in almost all cases I know where someone is a genius in two or three fields, one of those fields is music.  Must be a theory there….

Third, once you’ve found the ideal research focus, know everything about it.  Become the world’s expert.  But also maintain a broad knowledge of your whole field.  Scan the major journals, go to the main conferences and check things out, keep on top of what’s currently considered “hot stuff” even if it’s just faddish nonsense.  In other words, laser focus on your specialty and very broad overview of your whole discipline.  Often you will be doing interdisciplinary work, and need to keep some competence in another field too.

This is difficult, but possible.  However, you can’t spend too much time outside work.  Academic scholarship is an 80-hour-a-week job.

Finally, recent psychological studies show that a very good way to get yourself out of a funk and get something done is to reaffirm your core values.  Several experiments, for instance, involve students writing short essays on their core values—they then do better on tests, and shed test anxiety.  At least meditate on your core values if you don’t actually write an essay.



Few comments are needed here.  You know how to study and learn or you wouldn’t be reading this.

First, almost all grad students who wash out do so because of failure of will.  No grad program admits incompetent students (unless somebody on the intake committee was asleep).  Conversely, many (many, many) of the very best students give up because they just can’t take the pressure or because they get irrationally discouraged.  Saddest is giving up when ABD (all but dissertation).  Don’t give up—you have important things to tell the world.  If you want to switch fields, or find anthro unsatisfying, fine, but don’t just waste ten years of work because you hit a depressed spell.  Carry on!

On the other hand, if you find anthro isn’t for you, get out quickly, before you run up a huge debt and/or waste years of your life on it.  Most students do this—they recognize within a year that they’d rather do something else—but a few will stick it out.  Still, it’s worth repeating: my considerable experience with “permanent students” and students who drop out ABD is that they all had the intelligence, the calling, and the research competence.  They just got despondent.  This is a tragedy, and it’s preventable, if you have a sympathetic advisor and a sympathetic counselor—professional or friend-and-family.

Second, find a sociable advisor.  An advisor who knows nothing about your area but loves to talk and share about the field in general is better than an expert in your area who won’t talk to you!  If you have a non-responsive advisor, change advisors if at all possible.  I have some real horror stories in my files—careers set back for years by a nonresponsive advisor.  Get someone who will talk and be responsible and be on time with paperwork and actually give you good advice.  Be careful in picking a committee, also.  You have to be able to work with these people, often under tense circumstances (deadlines, etc.), for years, often for a lifetime.  Pick people who are friendly, available, prompt, and interested in your stuff.  This seems obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how much of my professional time has been taken up dealing with problems between students and advisors, or giving the advice that their advisors were supposed to give but weren’t giving.  Conversely, I remember one famous biologist telling how much he had learned while going fishing with his advisor; they apparently talked shop more than they fished.  You may not get that kind of relationship, but at least try.


Never ignore good advice, even if it sounds trivial.  One of the best tips I got from my grad advisor was to carry 3 x 5 index cards at all times, to write down whatever happens.  I did this in the field and I keep doing it—I write down thoughts on my pocket cards every day of my life.


The lone-wolf anthropologist is an extinct species.  All work is now collaborative at some level.  You depend on fellow scholars, and/or your field contacts: subjects, consultants, assistants, friends.  Getting along with people is basic, and interpersonal skills matter.  You do not need to be suave and charismatic (though it does help) but you need to be aware of the need to get along with all sorts of people.  Being able to work with others is now more important than sheer brilliance.

Also, more and more projects are interdisciplinary (a very good trend), so prepare to work with people from other fields.  If in environmental anthro you’ll have to work with biologists; in medical, with medical experts; in psychological anthro, with psychologists; and so on.  To do this you have to know enough about those fields to be an “informed consumer” (as Dave Kronenfeld puts it), though not necessarily any more than that.

Form as many close bonds with your fellow students as you possibly can.  This may be the best advice in my whole set.  A cohort is a wonderful thing.  Student cohorts often stick together for life and form mutual support and back-scratching networks—citing each other, writing about each other’s work, etc.  I still depend on my undergrad network for a lot of career help, and this is after more than 50 years.

Go to meetings and keep networking there.

Networking is NOT all the game, and NOT a substitute for your own hard intellectual work, but it is VERY important and is typically essential to success in the field.  Brilliant loners make it, but not-so-brilliant loners rarely if ever do.


My only comment on actual learning is that students in anthro these days are not always well taught (to put it mildly) in the area of theory.  Read on your own.  The one critical necessity is to read THOROUGHLY the theory you do read—whole books and articles, not bits and pieces and short takes.  Short excerpts from the classics are not enough.  Worse:  many of the secondary sources and canned history-and-theory books are just plain wrong.  Core or “boot camp” courses are often terrible (mine at Berkeley was) and are sometimes not given at all.  You absolutely have to learn basic theory, and you may be on your own.  Read, and find someone to ask about it.

Anthropological theory is derived, directly or indirectly, from the writings of Kant, Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Boas, and a very few other people.  (At a much more distant remove, it goes back to Plato and Aristotle, like the rest of western thought; there are still clearly identifiable Aristotelian and Platonic traditions in the field.)  It really pays to know where anthro theory started, so you might read at least one book by each of those seven.  Note, among other things, that Kant enormously influenced the other four—they all read him in detail in the original German.  His influence survives accordingly.

Durkheim and Boas, especially, have suffered from gross misrepresentation in the secondary sources.  Don’t believe the textbooks!  READ the original work!

Of more recent major influences, Foucault is another notably worthwhile thinker who has suffered a lot of inaccurate summarizing.

One endless problem is separating a brief fad from a real trend.  Use your judgment.  If a guy is clearly an airhead but writes sententiously and impressively, he’s sure to be popular, but only for a while:  a fad.  If a guy writes well and gets popular but ALSO has surprising, exciting, evidence-based things to say, he’s got staying power.  Some recent cases would be Deleuze and Derrida in the fad set, Latour and Sahlins in the set with staying power.

On field work, including ethics, read my “Methodology” post on my website, It has citations to the literature.  The one indispensable reference is H. Russell Bernard, Research Methods in Anthropology (latest edition—new editions appear regularly).  Take a copy to the field.


On writing:  Every area has its styles.  Read the journals for your area and see how they do it.  Many have specific directions.  The only general advice is write clearly and concisely—but even this is wrong for certain theory journals that require contorted, jargon-laden, postmodernist prose.

Grant writing, though, is an art that has to be learned.  Most grant agencies are interested primarily in why they should give you money rather than your competitors for the very limited funding now available.  This means you have to have a clearly stated problem that can be solved in finite time—ideally a problem that you can show is genuinely important to the field.  Fard, far more important, though, you have to prove that you know the best way to solve that problem, and can explain it clearly.  In the lab sciences, including lab anthro, this means you even have to list the brand names of the equipment and reagents you will be using.  Field anthro usually isn’t that demanding, but if you intend to make films or record music you have to state what equipment you will use!

In general, minimally:

–you have to cite the major current literature that actually contributes to the question (as opposed to general stuff that merely mentions it)

–you have to know the methods currently used in this area

–you have to show that you know exactly which methods are best for your particular case (this is in italics because it tends to be the make-or-break ingredient in a grant proposal)

–you have to explain how you will interpret results (data) to prove your case.

Agencies now typically require you to explain how you will work with people on the ground, share results with them, and credit them properly.  This is important, and is required because people on the ground—over the decades—have insisted on it.  Read Vine Deloria in extenso if you wonder why.

Most rejections of grant applications are based on either (1) the problem is not stated clearly, (2) the problem can’t be addressed in the real world in finite time (so don’t ask for funding to bring peace on earth or to solve the question of where culture came from), or (3) the methods are not shown conclusively in the writeup to be state-of-the-art, adequate, and pertinent.  #3 is the real killer.

Be as concise as possible and don’t waste much time doing anything other than the above.

IRB’s are usually not a terrible problem for anthropologists; see my Methodology writeup.


Job Hunting

You will notice that in what follows I am not lamenting the awful job market or telling you that you have a one-in-a-million chance at a job.  We at UCR have an excellent placement record, because we are still a four-field department that teaches basic theory, professional skills, and a range of courses, and because we have good advisors.  We also feature applied fields and research!  If you want to be one of those bitter grad students who can’t get a job, go to a university or department or advisor that specializes only in a currently faddish area of anthro.  Especially if it’s High Theory.  By the time you get your Ph.D., that fad will be over and done, and you’ll be left on the beach by the receding tide.

Most of these guidelines are for people seeking jobs as university professors, because that is the only work world I know well, but today most anthropologists find jobs outside of academia.  More and more areas of work are finding that anthropologists—if adequately trained—have several particularly valuable and distinctive skills:

–they know how to ask questions—not just questionnaires but depth interviewing, etc.

–they know how to listen

–they have learned as second nature to attend to differences in people’s outlooks, backgrounds, and viewpoints

–they know what culture, ethnicity, and religion are and aren’t.  They don’t believe everybody has the same “rational choice” behavior, but they also don’t assume that all Hispanics like hot sauce or all Generation X’ers are selfish or all Chinese are “collectivist”

–they can, as a corollary, get along with different types of people

–they can usually write well; they can write research papers, grant applications, do comprehensive plans, do research statements, etc.  If you aren’t trained in these things in your grad program, complain loudly and find training in those areas somehow! All major universities have workshops on grant applying.

–they are good evaluators and program critics

–they are comfortable in the field, and adjust to even quite rough situations

–and so on.

Because of this, anthropologists are now in demand—in fact, in rather desperate demand—in health care and medicine.  This includes, most importantly, public and global health, maternal and child health and care, and environmental health.  Also golden are environmental planning, development work of all kinds, and any and all international enterprises.  Anthropologists are in demand in personnel and marketing departments.  They are in extreme demand for grant-writing and field work for small NGO’s and such.  All these take some special training beyond anthro, but usually not much.  My anthropologist daughter got a master’s in public health and promptly got six job offers.  (She went on to a nursing degree and research nursing work.)

The standard places to look for jobs are ads in the journals and newsletters, but note that listservs routinely post job openings.  The Eanth-L listserv in environmental anthro, for example, posts pretty much every environmental anthro job opportunity.  There are medical, agricultural, and nutritional anthro listservs that routinely post job openings in those fields.  I assume the same is true for other sub-sub-fields.


One major problem that has to be faced is that products of the snob schools already have a leg up.  Partly it’s the name—a Harvard or Chicago product will almost always be hired over a UCR product with comparable brilliance and knowledge.  Partly it’s the contacts and the inside knowledge; the snob school kids are more apt to know that Richard Roe has just replaced John Doe as the Big Fad in your field.  So, get to conferences, pick people’s brains, don’t be left in the dust—know who’s the big name and what’s the “happenin’” theory.  But, more to the point, the snob schools actually do, on average, a good job of teaching.  I have certainly known plenty of exceptions—people who got through Berkeley or Chicago or wherever without learning a thing, presumably by playing political games.  But usually the Ph.D.s from those schools really are well trained.

Given those realities, FACE IT: YOU HAVE TO BE BETTER THAN THEY ARE, AND THAT TAKES A TERRIFIC AMOUNT OF WORK.  And you have to make sure you get the theory training and find out who the latest big names are.


On the market, my cynical but absolutely essential advice is: sell yourself shamelessly but appear to be modest.  Write a good CV with detail but not too much detail.

Get out publications—it is now almost impossible to get a tenure-track job in archaeology or biological anthro without publications, and even cultural anthro is getting there.  One of my students was told it now takes 5 publications to have a shot at a job.  That would be true only at major research universities, and not always at them.  One or two is enough for most places.  But the more the better.

More serious is grant-getting.  I have heard people in the lab sciences cut to the chase on hiring committees with the coldest of cold lines: “How much money is he bringing with him?”  Anthro is not so crass, but any grants sure do help, and the more—and more prestigious—the better.  Universities today survive on grant money, and if you aren’t going to contribute….

In your application letters and in interviewing, your whole game is to explain, very deferentially and politely, why the people offering the job need YOU rather than your competitors.  The surest way to NOT get the job is to ask what they can do for you (salary, leaves, etc.)  The only way TO get the job, usually, is to read the job description with obsessive interest, and pounce on every detail.  If they emphasize teaching, stress your qualifications as a teacher.  If research, talk up your research.  If there is a line in there about potatoes, highlight your knowledge of potatoes and your fascination with them.  If there is a line about critical theory, read up on it and comment intelligently on it.  If the ad is for a North Americanist with special interest in spruce trees, become an instant expert on that.  Also, and this is absolutely critical, study up on the members of the department, and talk about how well you would relate to their interests and how much you want to work with them.  You have to know who they are and what they do.

Then be careful not to get your letters mixed up.  It is all too easy on a computer to recycle a form letter for every application.  Then we who are hiring can get some hilarious amusement when—as one applicant actually did—you start out addressing UCR and talking about UCR’s concerns, but slip in the middle of the letter into talking about how well you’d relate to the profs at UC Irvine and how much you want to work with them.  We all understand—this poor soul just forgot to change the application letter—but, alas, such an application goes straight into the circular file (or “file 13” as the Mexicans call it).  Sorry.  If you’re that careless, we don’t want you.  Yes, that sounds cold, and it is, but it’s reality.

You will be required to get three people to write letters of reference for you.  These should, other things being equal, be your dissertation committee, or your major professor plus some employers who know your teaching record.  Obviously, the former is generally the better set for a research job, the latter for a teaching or nonacademic job.  It should also be obvious, but for some reason never is, that you should solicit letters only from people who know your work, can comment intelligently on it, and—this is critical—are known to be prompt with letters.  Only a very few professors are dilatory about writing these letters, but they can ruin you.

Being a “freeway flier” or temp for years is generally not a good place to be, unless you were a temp at one place and did well there; if that is the case, they are morally bound to give you a good opportunity at any job that comes along.  Outright “insider hiring” is illegal.  By law, the place has to advertise widely.  But in fact a well-qualified temp will often be hired over a more or less equally qualified outsider.  If you are the outsider in this case, it hurts like hell—but you must understand it and realize that it is fair and even necessary.

On the other hand, laws now prohibit discrimination on the basis of “race,” ethnicity, age, and everything else not directly related to job performance.  Religious schools can give preference to people of their religion, at least for teaching theology and the like, but otherwise you can expect fairness, and sue the socks off anybody that doesn’t deliver it.

My general experience is that of 100 applicants for a position, only about 20 actually fit the ad; 15 of them don’t talk about how they would relate to the faculty; 1 or 2 of the rest are obviously a bit out of the loop; so our short list of 3 or 4 people is very easy to generate.  Then, usually, only one of those 3 or 4 interviews well.


If you make it to a job interview, again tailor your interview presentation (normally an hour-long talk) to the audience.  If it is a teaching school, focus on giving a vibrant, exciting presentation, with beautiful visuals and clear explanations.  If a research place, focus on your present and future plans and projects (remember, they want to know what you will do for them).  Subtly but very, very clearly emphasize any grants you got, and, above all, what major grants you plan to go for and expect you will actually get.

Be polite.  Be prepared for anything.  I recall one job candidate whose talk was interrupted by an earthquake.  She fell apart and couldn’t go on.  She did not get the job (but luckily got a better one).  Things like that really do happen.  Be prepared, above all, for hard questions; most hiring committees just happily listen to anything, but there are those that really test you by asking searching questions.

A minor point, very annoying to me personally, is that the more prestigious eastern schools essentially require women to dress in very expensive, stylish clothes for interviews.  No such thing for the men.  This bit of sexism and classism makes me sick, but you have to deal with it if you are female and apply to one of those schools.


Otherwise, if your application letter and subsequent interview and interview talk have a lot of really interesting detail about your research, and a lot of serious thinking about how you would mesh with the department you’re applying to, you have a very good chance of being hired.  My experience is that no more than one or two candidates per job opening do this.  If your letter is short and lacking detail and doesn’t speak at length to the department and people you’re applying to, you don’t stand much chance.


When starting a new job, expect to have to teach (or do) the stuff nobody wants to teach or do.  Bear it.  This phase ends quickly.


Money and other nonsense

I can’t advise much here, except to think seriously before running up a huge debt.  You won’t make much with an anthro degree, even in the best possible job.  You will never have a house and may never have a kid if you get too deep in debt.

If you do get a job and have some money, get a house as near work as possible.  Commutes are death.  Also, get a small house, in good repair, with a small yard.  House repairs and “fixing up,” and yard work, are far more deadly to careers than anything else outside of a bad marriage.  Think maintenance.

Otherwise, usual consumer advice.



FIRST rule:  Respect the students.

First corollary: Spare us the crap about this new generation of students being history’s worst, dumbest, least prepared, and—above all—the most disrespectful of professors.  The oldest documents in ancient Egyptian, Sumerian, Chinese, and Greek all have this stuff already, and the crap hasn’t changed since.  Many of the people I hear saying this stuff are people I knew as students, and I remember their professors (sometimes including me) saying the same things about them!  For the record, the best class I ever had, in terms of overall performance, was in 2000, and one of the best was my very last class, in 2006.  Some of the worst classes I ever had were back in the mythical 1960s—yes, everybody was thinking, but up to half of them were too stoned for it to matter.

Second rule:  Go where the students are if you want to find them.  This should be elementary advice, especially for anthropologists, but few of my colleagues think about this.  There is, for instance, the fact that most of our students at UCR come from families without much college background.  A large percentage of our students are the first members of their families to go to college.  Also, virtually all our students at UCR and local colleges come from “minority” or immigrant backgrounds.  The traditional student—white, middle or upper class, from an educated family—practically doesn’t exist here.  Thus you can’t expect students to act like the “proper university student” of old-time novels and movies.

Remember that students are individual human beings (not mere representatives of an ethnic group, let alone of a worthless generation) and have their human concerns and their very different personalities and experiences.  Use your ethnographic skills to find out where they are.  I recently read an “education expert” airily dismissing the existence of different learning styles.  I wondered what planet he was on—certainly not this one.

Therefore, third rule:  Learn basic counseling techniques!  You’ll have plenty of students sobbing in your office, over everything from flunking a quiz to being beaten up and deserted by Significant Other.  You will certainly encounter suicidal students and will probably face mentally ill ones, some of whom might be threatening.  Know how to deal with these problems!  Ask the counseling center and read a book or manual on crisis counseling.  Know when to stop:  it is NOT appropriate, safe, or legal for you to deal with genuinely hard cases like mentally ill or severely troubled students.  Get to know people in the counseling center so you will know where to refer such cases.


Students, especially graduate students, do most of their learning outside of class.  It is absolutely essential for good teaching to have a lot of out-of-class contact, including social contact.  So much for MOOCs and such.

As to the nuts and bolts:  Common sense should tell you to organize lectures in advance, write up notes, and post them online.  Also, if you use PowerPoint or other visuals, don’t make them so crowded that students can’t read them.  I once saw a grad student do this and actually say “I realize you can’t read this slide….”  So why on earth did he show it?  Needless to say, his committee did not love his presentation.

Worst of all is giving a “lecture” by just reading off your PowerPoints.  If you ever do that, my ghost will haunt you and drive you to madness and death.

It is far better to put your course notes on line and/or hand them out than to give dismal text-only PowerPoints.  In fact, many of us always put our course notes online.

Most anthropology departments have serious problems planning curricula, because the field (and often the department too) is so diverse and disunited.  Think very seriously about this.  Plan your dream sequence of courses and options for the students, and talk it out with the department.  Hopefully, the department will come up with some sort of plan.  We had a model schedule and selection of options in the 1970s through early 90s.  Unfortunately, we let it fall apart after that.  This was an enormous disservice to the students.  Finally things got so bad that courses that had been dropped (and were never taught any more) were still listed in the university catalogue, because nobody was bothering to take them out.

A department plan or curriculum has to change as new people are hired, old ones retire, or middle-career ones change their focus.  Such changes should be made fast and cleanly.  Planning is really make-or-break for a department.


Student evaluations are now routinely used to evaluate professors.  Don’t be lulled into being a crowd-pleaser.  Promotion committees know all about this, and may distrust a prof with all-good evaluations.  She may be a true Great Teacher—there really are such—but she may be a crowd-pleaser and easy grader.  To paraphrase the old movie cliché, promotion committees have ways of finding out which you are.  Promotion committees like to see a prof with good evaluations in literate, judicious style and BAD evaluations in stupid, nasty style.  Confucius was once asked:  “If everyone likes a person, does that mean he’s a good person?”  Confucius answered “Of course not.  If the good people like him and the bad people hate him, then he’s probably a good person.”  Promotion committees generally have a similar idea.  Personal confession: my all-time favorite eval said, simply, “Too much work for too little grade.”  YES!  I was not an easy grader and I did require college-level work.  I’d infinitely rather have that eval than be stroked for giving crowd-pleasing lectures and easy A’s.



When I was a grad student at Berkeley, there was a sign by the grad office with a quote from A. L. Kroeber, who founded the department and ran it for more than half a century.  He advised scholars to publish anything they had to say as soon as possible, so people could “shoot at it.”  In other words, don’t be a perfectionist.  This was dynamite advice, and I have always followed it.  Kroeber got hit by plenty of shots, many deserved, but he got a lot of wonderful and accurate data out too, and the debates triggered by his mistakes greatly advanced the field. (Remember what Darwin said about “false views” greatly advancing science because everyone takes such pleasure in proving them wrong.)  I admit, I have published a lot less than Kroeber and been a bit more careful, but still that advice truly made my career.

Writer’s block is the classic worst problem for academics.  It is purely psychological, but horribly annoying.  I once gave it up for Lent.  To my surprise, this worked.  At the end of Lent I figured, Why should I let it back in?  I’ve never had serious writer’s block since.  Basically, the lesson is, you can get out of the writer’s block trap by devoting yourself to whatever you believe will let you transcend it.

Procrastination is closely related and almost equally crippling.  Same advice.  Just do it.  As a friend of mine who wrote a book on procrastination pointed out to me, there is no easy answer, since—if there is a perfect cure out there—a true procrastinator will put off trying it.  Watch out and don’t get trapped into this mind-set.

Search diligently for the ideal place to publish your stuff, and then write in their style with their format.  Find their style guide.  Every journal and publisher has one online now.  There is always some journal, often new or obscure, for which your paper on the left nostril of the red-backed vole is ideal.  Another one will yearn for your paper on the early films of Roy Rogers.  Not the same journal.  And probably neither of them the flagship journal of your field.  And there is almost always a book publisher for even the most arcane topic (though I never could publish my guide to gardening in the tropics). Just LOOK.  Go online, use keyword searches, and find every journal on earth that publishes your kind of work.  Check each one out (50 or 100 if you need to) and send off journal articles accordingly.  Be warned, though, that there are now countless fly-by-night journals that publish anything for pay.  Publishing in these is the kiss of death.  If a journal starts off by saying how much you have to pay to publish with them, promptly delete it from your list.

For a book, you have to write up a prospectus, and then send it off to all possible publishers.  This prospectus is a document with a set form, though each publisher has a slightly different version (posted online at their website).  You have to give the title, main theme, abstract (100 to 300 word summary), and a thorough account of who might buy it—what the target audience is—and where to advertise it.  The publisher wants to know what conventions to show it at, what journals to advertise it in, what journals to contact for reviewing it, what professional societies would be interested in it, and so on.  Some publishers want a table of contents and even chapter summaries, and most want a sample chapter.  They also want your short CV.

Think seriously about how you can reach the maximum number of readers.

You can NOT send a full ms of an article or book to more than one publisher at a time.  This is highly immoral, and if a publisher finds out you do it they will never deal with you again.  On the other hand, you are expected to saturate everybody with prospectuses.  The best way to do this is to go to your professional convention (the American Anthropological Association annual conference for anthropologists) and talk to the publishers’ representatives there, and drop off prospectuses with them.

Finally, there are those anonymous reviews.  All journal and book mss of any scholarly quality get sent out to 2 or 3 reviewers.  About 90% of the resulting reviews are helpful and fair—though often fairly harsh in the way they say it.  The other 10% are taking out on you their problems with their spouse or chair or substance abuse or something.  They will give you a mean and unfair reading.  Often they make it clear that they never read the ms.  For instance, they will attack you for things you didn’t say—even when you said the opposite.  The eminent psychologist Roy Baumeister got so fed up that he wrote a savage but hilariously funny screed about this: “Dear Journal Editor, It’s Me Again….”  You can probably find it online.  Look it up.  It’s consoling to know that even one of America’s leading psychologists gets this same treatment.

Do NOT take these reviews personally.  Think of all your written work as evolving and never perfect.  You can always use some critique.  If that critique is phrased civilly, be deeply thankful.  If it is uncivil, use what you can of it and disregard the rest.  Never protest to the editor or waste your time ranting.  Complaining to colleagues is merely annoying; they’ve all been through it too, and are apt to answer you the same way the old bear answered the young wolves in Kipling’s Jungle Book:  “We knew it ten seasons before.”


Getting Tenure

Little to say here, since every institution has its own wants and rules.  In general, there are teaching schools and research institutions.  Teaching schools want evidence of superior teaching, usually in the form of student evaluations plus peer observations.  Research schools want publications and grants.  They expect a major article in a refereed journal per year, plus a book for tenure (not just your thesis—unless you have massively rewritten and added to it).  Some expect even more.  The big ones most certainly expect funding—you have to get grants, if only small ones.  Small ones may lead to large ones, and show you are making progress.

Department and community service is theoretically taken into account, but in reality the best it can do is be decisive in a very close case.  If you are barely making it in teaching and research, good service can save you.  Normally, however, it does no good, and young professors are usually advised NOT to invest much time or effort in service when they could invest it in teaching and research.  A responsible department, department chair, or dean will place you on minimal-work committees so it looks like you are doing something but in fact you are not worked too hard.

Denying tenure if you do the above is VERY rare.  Now and then someone gets into serious political trouble.  There is recourse, if you were unfairly treated: the law, plus the American Association of University Professors—the latter has no legal authority to do anything, but can provide very bad publicity for a school.  Normally, if you don’t alienate people, and do publish, you’re OK.



            Just be nice to everybody and look for the good in everybody. Use your ethnographic skills: figure out where people are coming from, why they are there, and how to be nice to them and get along with them given those various standpoints.

Keep your office door open (see below), be available, keep your office hours.  Nothing ruins a college student’s experience like unavailable professors.  If you’re in the private sector, nothing ruins your work like being unavailable and unlocatable. Use the social media.

Being nice to people includes being as good as you possibly can to department and university staff: secretaries, administrative assistants, MSO’s, etc.  These people do everything for the school, usually work terribly hard at very long hours for terrible pay, and are almost invariably really good, dedicated individuals.  (Yes, I’ve known some exceptions, but really few.)  They also control all the minor but vital details, like access to the copier and instructions on how to use it, filling out forms for grants, and getting help scheduling.  So they can make your life wonderful if you’re good to them—or, if you aren’t…you get the idea.

Throw a lot of parties.  I used to have an open, informal party at the end of every quarter.  These were fondly remembered—much more so than my teaching.  Academics are sociable beings, and need to unwind and talk shop, but seem rarely to be party organizers.

Never believe gossip.  Most academic gossip reduces to one of two formulas: “X doesn’t like Y” or “X is screwing Y.”  Experience teaches that these claims, and other gossip, are wrong at least 90% of the time.  As to the other 10%, who the hell cares?  Stop worrying about it.

On the other hand, if you actually know something bad is going on,  do not trust or deal with said people, if possible.  If it’s actually illegal behavior, report it to the appropriate administrator.

Be aware of who might stab you in the back or screw you out of a good thing (very few colleagues really do this, but there is always someone).  Be nice anyway, but watch your back.  The way to spot such people is that they are always complaining about others.  Complaining about the sorrows and ills of the world is one thing—it can merely mean the complainer is an idealist.  But constant complaints about one’s family and work associates mean trouble.  Such people cannot be trusted.

Nothing is served by the endless squabbles and gossip that mess up universities and other workplaces.  This does NOT mean you should put up with everything.  If you need to state an opinion that differs from others’, do so.  Just do it civilly and politely.  I had to learn the hard way that 60s-style “confrontation” is purely bad and never does anything but harm.

Though the vast majority of academic conflicts are trivial personality issues, there are always a few—thankfully a very few—genuine skunks in any workplace, including universities.  They tend to rise in the system, too, because they love power and because they play games that honorable persons do not do.  Thus they get ahead at the expense of others.  Unless you are their department chair, or on a relevant committee such as Personnel, there is not usually much you can do about them except be unfailingly courteous, avoid them as much as possible, and wait them out.  They generally get fired or else move on.  (One species of skunk is the one who’s always looking for a better job, and thus never bothers to do anything for his or her university—s/he doesn’t expect to be there long.  And usually isn’t there long, thank God.)  Again, be warned, but do not think this is at all a norm.  Such people are rare and don’t usually last—though they do unfortunately take over the university in certain tragic cases.

Keep a detailed written record of events at your university or other workplace, and of your department.  Nobody seems to keep workplace histories.  In a university, where there is a complete turnover of students every 4 years or so, this leads to real disconnect.  Even if you’re not in the know, keep a record, for fun, for ultimate writeup as group history, for political improvement of it all, and other reasons.  Budgets especially need to be recorded.  You will find these records increasingly useful after several years at a place.

If you’re at a university, do everything you possibly can, politically and personally, to shore up the core academic functions: library, classes, professor contact time, remedial learning, research facilities including labs, and so on.  In the current economic climate, this means defending them against the administration’s desire to divert money to athletics, flashy projects, luxurious facililities (especially for the administration), and other nonacademic matters. This latter tendency is sometimes called the “business model” of administration, but any real business that neglects its core mission for flashy stuff promptly fails.

The worst problem currently, nationwide and at my university, is the library.  Administrations have found that the library is a long-term concern that can always be defunded “just for this year” without damaging much.  Librarians are politically weak at most schools, have few faculty advocates, and are regarded as “mere” support staff even if they are actually highly-trained professionals.  Most US universities have inadequate and declining libraries, even if they are otherwise rich.  We once had a chancellor at my university who one year redirected the library’s special book budget to redecorating his office.  At the University of Missouri they recently cut 100% of the library’s funds for the year—but the football coach makes over $2 million a year.  Libraries are the absolute basis of the research function of the university, and this is true for freshmen and Nobel prize winners alike.  As a student or professor or other academic, make helping the library your first priority.  If you aren’t an academic, you still depend on local university libraries for all kinds of public data functions, so you need to concern yourself very seriously with local academic libraries.

All places now have zero tolerance for sexually harassing students, or bullying.  This means you don’t dare do anything even remotely suspicious.  I always kept my office door open (unless I was napping in there) and my whole body visible from the corridor.  It has come to the point where a male does not dare compliment a female on her appearance.  Hugs are apparently taboo in some areas, though, thank God, not yet in California, where we hug all the time for no reason.



As with other matters, there is a first rule:  Consult with everybody, then do what you believe is right, then thank everyone for their advice—whether you took it or not.  If you didn’t use it, just thank them and tell them you found their advice helpful—no need to go on and point out that it helped you know what to avoid.  People in academia, and elsewhere, desperately want to be consulted, listened to, and recognized.  Nobody is more deservedly hated than an administrator who won’t consult and won’t thank.  But as to following their advice:  Get all opinions but then make your own judgment. Of course you have to go with the majority or the consensus if it’s a democratic situation, but very often you will have to make the choices, either because it’s your responsibility or because no one else will help or be decisive.

In my administrative positions, I always asked for input, then flew a trial decision, then followed the qui tacit consentit rule:  “Who stays silent has consented.” In other words, anyone who does not protest by a given deadline time is considered to have voted in favor of your choice.  This amazingly expedites decision-making.

Another rule is that whoever DOES protest has thereby volunteered to fix the situation or at least propose the solution.  Establish zero tolerance for whining-but-then-not-helping.  If somebody routinely doesn’t like your way of doing X, put him or her in charge of X forthwith (if it’s possible to do so).

Assume that all conflicts are the fault of ALL the contestants until PROVEN otherwise.  The “he started it” blame game is an invitation to lying and to dodging responsibility.  Get the parties in question to settle it.  Listen to the full stories of all sides, with care and sympathy, but don’t believe a word of it.  People in the midst of conflict almost invariably distort their stories.  Listen to all sides and note the differences.  Thus, when you’ve heard all sides, do what YOU think best.

Sexual harassment:  This is scary.  If it’s real, you as administrator have to get on it instantly with 100% attention, and immediately contact university counsel.  On the other hand, there are students who will make false accusations.  They can ruin a faculty member’s career.  Obviously there is no simple way to tell true from false, but if a clearly desperate student breaks down in your office, chances are almost 100% that it’s real; if, in contrast, a clearly angry and vicious student just takes a high moral ground on it without seeming very upset, you want to watch out.

Detail is the soul of good administration.  The best administrators have broad vision but are ALSO superb detail persons.  They keep track of every paper and file and data point.  They organize their information and USE it.  Think of health care, and the need to keep data available, and how frightening it is to you as a patient to discover that your HMO always loses your drug allergy data.  (They always used to lose mine, and of course this is life-threatening.)  Details matter.

All universities have a vast number of good, diligent, scholarly, caring faculty members; a few troublemakers; and a few manipulators.  The good, diligent ones rarely get any recognition.  They get taken for granted.  Always be sure to thank people like that for their good work, and do small things for them.  They usually hate the embarrassing public recognition that bad administrators love to get.  Quiet personal thank-yous and dinner invitations are much better.  The troublemakers, by contrast, can be endured, but don’t reinforce them.

The real problem is the manipulators.  Every university has a few people who never work but continually play politics instead.  Fortunately there are very few, but they always manage to rise rapidly in the system and often wind up running it.  Then they do incalculable damage. Manipulators can ruin the library, gut programs that are vitally important but not “flashy” enough, sell out the business school to corrupt businesses, and ultimately wreck the university.  These people start by getting themselves into all kinds of cushy positions that involve no responsibility, like running “centers” and being on committees that look important but don’t actually do much.

If you are running a department and have one of these people, fire him or her.  Period.  This can be done even if they’re tenured.  They always slip up and take another job on the side, or harass a student, or fake data in a study, or do something else for which firing over tenure is required.  I’ve had a role in firing several such people and I’m proud of it.  Wish I’d done it more.

Much more common are professors who are good scholars but also suave and sociable and thus successful at politics.  They can easily drift into playing politics more and more, and working less and less.  This will annoy you, but such people are valuable and can be salvaged.  Get them to do the scholarship, and also get them into useful, responsible political positions where their skills are used for good purposes:  things like the honors program, the library committee, or editorship of a journal.


Having It All

Many women are now concerned about “having it all,” which seems to mean having a demanding job, raising kids, keeping up on movies and TV, running a model home, and sometimes dressing stylishly too.  No, you can’t have all that.  Men long ago resigned themselves to having to work full time, and thus sacrifice some of the childrearing and home care, and all or most of the rest.  The realistic hope is a demanding job, some time with the kids, a sort-of-clean but not very orderly and decorative home, and not much else.

I was a single parent for five years, while managing some of the more difficult years of my career.  Everything went fine (though it was a rough ride).  But the house was a very small minimal-care place, and of course things like movies and vacations went over the wall.

In most fields it is perfectly possible to have a career AND have kids—I’ve done it—but in the lab sciences, where you may have to spend very long hours in the lab, there are special problems.  I often wonder why biologists, in particular, don’t read Darwin; they seem to take a perverse delight in wrecking their younger colleagues’ reproductive chances.  Still, with a cooperative partner and good local child care, a lab scientist can do perfectly fine as a parent.  Lots do it.

Finally, to repeat a line above, one of the most important things I have learned in life is that the greatest goals in a career are those where any progress is good, but absolute success is impossible:  World peace, perfect health for all, justice for everyone, a thoroughly protected yet profitably used environment, and so on down to a perfect marriage and perfectly raised kids.  Keep trying.  The journey truly is the end.

So, plan your life realistically.  Think what you really want.  Give up other things accordingly.


Thanks very much to Jenny Banh for suggesting this guide and helping with it.



In my years at UC Riverside, I have seen administrators come and go, and have learned a little about the world of higher-level university administration.  My own administrative duties have been low-level, but ongoing and educative.

Administrators tend to be of two types.  One hopes for dedicated, competent, academically trained administrators who can and will deal with crises and keep the system running well.  I have served under many such.  Unfortunately, one often encounters career administrators, many of them trained in business or educational administration rather than in an academic subject, who are neither competent managers nor interested in becoming so.  They are driven by ambition to rise in the system, not by desire to help it.

The two are easy to tell apart.  Administrators of the first type are rarely noticed by the wider public.  They show themselves through the coming of many new books in the libraries, new labs in the science buildings, new hires who win the Nobel Prize a few years later, new donations from rich alumni, and new computers in the  computer labs.  Above all, they show themselves through making sure that teaching and research faculties are paid decently and not worked impossibly hard (but are not allowed to laze on the job either).

Administrators of the second type are very visible.  They are seen in expensive suits and flashy ties, or female-equivalent garb, at every high-level meeting, major social event, and public photo-op.  They are featured on all the university’s publicity fliers.  They are seen at sports events and at the openings of new gyms, stadiums, sports fan facilities, and student unions.  However, a university run by them is singularly lacking in new books, new labs, new research, good new faculty, and new (or even old) instructional improvement projects.

Though some people are intermediate, administrators tend to cluster at one or the other pole of this continuum.  This is because a real scholar or scientist, even if also politically ambitious, finds it difficult to ignore the scholarly side of the university.  Only the academically hopeless or resentful will willingly trash the entire research and education functions of their universities.

Administrators of the first type manage the old way:  They allocate scarce resources for maximum overall benefit, and they inspire and encourage their workers, from senior professors to gardeners.

Administrators of the second type manage according to the latest fad.  Today, that is the “business model.”  The businesses used for a model are Enron, Madoff, and Wal-Mart, however, not Costco, Subway, or even Starbuck’s.  (Lest you think I am exaggerating…one of the people I am as a model for a Type II actually had us read a book on “successful” businesses that had become “great.”  By the time we finished the book, half the cases in the book were in court for illegal practices leading to financial disaster.)  Put another way, the businesses used are McDonald’s and Burger King rather than Chez Panisse and Spago; we are talking mass consumption with minimal nutritional (educational) value, not specialized top-quality experience.

The business model is a model in which the goal is to process more bodies cheaper.  We of the faculty are under continual pressure to teach more students and get them through the system faster, and at less cost.  This, of course, drastically impacts the quality of education—but that is not a concern.  The ultimate in efficiency is the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), in which thousands of students can tune in to a single course of lectures—ideally given by a world expert who is also a great teacher.  The rest of us are too inferior to be of use.

Of course, no one would use a MOOC to teach anything they actually wanted people to know.  No one would be mad enough to teach driving, or nursing, or brain surgery, or the all-important sports by way of a MOOC.  Even administrators know that those things require actual one-on-one teaching, practice, apprenticeship, hands-on training, and feedback.  MOOC’s, like standardized tests, are used only for things nobody cares about, such as literature, philosophy, and basic science.

Actually, in an ideal world the mindless rote side of driving, nursing, and so on would be taught by some such method, though with thoughtful essays rather than standardized tests as the evaluation tools.  This would leave real teachers free to concentrate on the hands-on side.  Some online courses and universities do teach this way, with great success.  But all that is far too expensive and complicated for the business model.

The business model, as applied to academic employees, means, first of all, less power and less pay for the teaching staff.  (Ironically, this has led to unionization in many public universities, including mine, and thus to more confrontation and management problems.  But there is really no alternative: without unions, our lower-level teaching staff would be so poorly paid and overworked that they would frequently have to drop out, leaving us with even worse staffing levels than we have now.)  Second, it means more and more highly paid administrators.  My university went from one vice-chancellor to six in a few years, and is moving on up.  UC’s systemwide administration absorbs as many resources as a major campus, but does little to earn it (they do provide useful legal services).  Third, it means not wasting money on such inconspicuous things as labs, computers, or libraries.  Money must go into something visible to the public.  We at my university in the early 2000’s had lots of beautiful new signs, a lovely student union, all manner of sports activities, and even new and very expensive uniforms for the students who help with orientation at the end of summer…but no new books, no new labs, no instructional improvement, worse and worse faculty/student ratios, fewer remedial courses, more overcrowded classes, fewer classes in total.  Fortunately, the scoundrel that chose all that went on—unfortunately, to bigger and better things.  We are now doing better.

This is not to say that universities can’t be cut, but the cutting should be entirely in upper-level management and their folly projects.  Spending on administration has soared in American universities in the last two decades—doubling in many—while everything else has been cut to the bone, and in the case of libraries even the bones are going fast.

For some reason, strange and unimaginable to most administrators, measures of quality such as student graduation rates (especially in the recommended four years instead of five or six) remain poor at most universities.  Cheating has increased.  The job market for graduates is not steller; students clearly know less than they used to, and their employment fates prove it.  In short, career administrators using the business model have succeeded as well as did their models in Enron and Lehman Brothers.  Like the latter, university administrators can always count on generous governments to bail them out.  Universities are “too big to fail,” and their administrators always make the case that higher-paid higher-level administrators are the only hope.  Legislators, being what they are, usually sympathize—especially those many legislators who depend on an ignorant and uninformed citizenry to stay in office.  Legislators love Big Men.  They do not love professors, still less students.

A sure sign of Type II administrators at work is the proliferation of “centers” that accomplish little.  The easiest way for an ambitious but incompetent academic to move up is by starting a center—say, for the investigation of research on centers.  UCR has countless centers that either do nothing or duplicate existing faculties.  (It also, in fairness, has a few real centers that actually do work.)  All the centers absorb considerable resources; they are supposed to get grants that more than offset the cost.  It would be interesting to see how many of our centers do that.

Type II administrators sometimes steal outright.  More often, they have final say over the budget, and can move funds according to discretion.  Thus, one of our chancellors once used the year’s book-buying budget to redecorate his office.  The library, and thus the university’s teaching and research mission, never recovered—but you should have seen the chancellor’s office door.

The problem, then, is not so much the business model as the type of administrator who invokes it.  They are the people who early-on decided that rising in power through social ability and political skill was the way to win in academia.  (A catty writer might say that they tend not to have the intellectual skills to rise any other way…but two of our very worst chancellors at UCR were actually quite eminent scientists.)

Probably the biggest problem with Type II administrators is not their laziness—though most of them indeed do little except posture in public—but their constant scheming to get ahead.  A second-string university like UCR is merely a place to polish their vitas and jockey for a better position.  Often, they show their competence the same way that bad CEO’s do: by cutting the work force and shrinking the budget, no matter how much it damages education.  Since they had already risen to their Peter Principle “level of incompetence,” we of the faculty have often wondered how they did in their later postings.  Sometimes we hear, and reflect that our gain is the later postings’ loss.  (Modern readers may not remember Lawrence Peters’ classic work [1969], in which he pointed out that managers tend to rise till they reach a job level they can’t handle, and then stick there—leaving the world mismanaged.)

Since Type II administrators spend their time playing social and political games, they, not the Type I administrators, are the ones that are visible to politicians and donors.  Those politicians and donors who love game-playing, fancy suits, and sports events will be impressed, and will steer some money to the university.  Unfortunately, politicians and donors who actually care about education and research will go somewhere else.  I would like to know how many hundreds of millions UCR has lost this way over the years.  I do know that one gift to UCLA’s medical school in 2012 was almost a third of our entire annual budget.  UCLA’s medical school has competent administration.  (Very fortunately, we have managed to get a medical school with an extremely competent Type I dean here at UCR.  Maybe we have a chance at last.)


Modern universities are incredibly complicated, and face diverse political and legal challenges.  Therefore, they actually do need administrators.  We do not need six or eight vice-chancellors, but we do need one, probably more than one.  We may not need as many deans as we have now, but we need several.  We do not need the “business model,” but we do need some genuine business management: cutting waste (i.e. high-level administrative spending), inviting comments from employees, constantly upgrading quality, allocating resources where they are needed (rather than where they make a show), and attending to the final product above all.

The problem, then, becomes one of finding Type I administrators.  Currently, university administration is so difficult and demanding that people who seriously want to work at it are daunted.  We at UCR used to have a hard time getting competent people to apply for chancellor and vice-chancellor positions.  We had to “wash” a vice-chancellor search a few years ago for sheer lack of qualified applicants.  With rising prestige, we are currently fortunate in having found a number of really good people.  Still, the problem continues, and the Chronicle of Higher Education reveals we are not alone in this.  One important step would be to give “service” a much higher place in promotion.  Encouraging people to rise through the ranks—where their capability can be judged—would produce a cadre of competent, decent administrators, rising within each school.  We could then dispense with the need to hire Type II people from other schools.

A competent administrator will, first of all, listen to what people say: students, faculty, staff, public, everyone.  He or she will then think seriously about what’s the best thing to do—not just take the most widely popular suggestion.  He or she will then thank everybody for their input, whether or not it was adopted!  Nothing is more valuable than input, and if people aren’t thanked they won’t provide it.

He or she will be perfectly clear about the core functions of a university:  Education and research.  These come first.  Other functions come last.  Sports are an unsavory, wasteful luxury—they do nothing for most universities except waste a lot of money.  (It has been repeatedly shown that only the places with major established programs make money off sports.)   Fine food, beautiful dorms, beautiful student union buildings, and the like have their place—but their place is elite private schools, not struggling public universities that have to starve the library and the computer bank even without such luxury spending.

He or she will recognize that faculty and staff are human beings, and deserve not only fair pay but also respect.  Even Type II administrators usually know enough to be civil to senior faculty, but they have a reflex need to cut pay and resources for teaching and research personnel, and to be arrogant about it whenever possible.  Type I administrators try to get fairer shares of the state’s money and the university’s money for the people who actually do the heavy lifting, especially the overworked and exploited temps, teaching assistants, and junior faculty.  But if they fail in getting more state money, they at least try to soften the blow by being respectful and listening to the faculty.

He or she will work seriously with the community, addressing local needs as well as possible and thus hopefully getting donations.  Type II administrators, if they work with the “town” at all, tend to work only with the high-level business community.

He or she will work with the state and other powers-that-be to focus on quality teaching and research, cut other expenses, and above all not allow universities to become top-heavy with highly paid administrators.

He or she will strategically build on the strengths of the campus, and will also try to fix obvious weaknesses.  Type II administrators, by contrast, often hate and fear strong units and programs.  The most insane thing done by administration in my 47 years at UCR was summarily terminating the agricultural research program and firing the entire research staff—because the chancellor in question “did not want UCR to be seen as a cow college.”  This gutted one of the three or four leading agricultural research programs in the world, a program that was making enormous differences in poorer nations.  Of course, the researchers were not cow tenders, but world-class geneticists, entomologists, plant pathologists, cell biologists, and soil and water scientists.  Quite apart from devastating the intellectual and academic life at UCR—it had depended heavily on the ag scientists—this move, and all too many similar cuts at other universities, contributed to millions of people starving to death in Africa and Asia.  Decline in agricultural research is one of the major reasons why one and a half billion people are hungry and about one to two million die of malnutrition every year.

Make no mistake:  Type II administrators kill.  At thousands of universities, they have run down cutting-edge medical research, agricultural research, environmental research, crime studies, war-and-peace research, and other life-and-death agendas—all to feed their egos by redirecting the money to sports, fancy nonacademic buildings, glossy brochures, country-club dorm facilities, and, above all, lavish parties for each other.  Their natural allies, the legislators and boards of directors who want only to save money in the short term, bear even more of the guilt.  In a world where forward knowledge is the most important way of saving lives, this mischief is murder.





Peter, Lawrence.  1969.  The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong.  New York: Bantam.


How to Get an Academic Book Published

I am frequently asked by young scholars how to start out in the publishing world.  Usually, the specific question is how to turn a Ph.D. thesis into a book.  The time has come to write down some tips.

First, the basics.  Publishers want a prospectus.  This is a summary of the book, with special attention to its main points and its distinctive findings and insights.  Different presses have slightly different requirements, which they conveniently specify on their websites.  The general formula is the same:  about four pages summarizing the basic message of the book; quick summaries of the specific chapters; and information on marketing it.

This last is basic and important—the publishers have to know the details.  First and most important is the target audience.  Who is actually going to read this book?  Interested “laypersons”?  All anthropologists?  Only experts in kinship?  Only experts in Chinese village studies?  What types of students will read it?  Will it be accessible to freshmen, or only to upper-level students, or only to Ph.D. candidates?  Should this book be in every bookstore, or only in specialized bookstores, or only offered online?

Publishers naturally want to reach the widest possible audience, and you should too, since you have really valuable and important findings to share. Write the book and the prospectus accordingly.

Your prospectus will have to include not only this information, but also the competition.  You will have to list other books with similar content, and often give details on who buys them and how many copies they sell, but the really important question is how your book is different from theirs—why people should buy yours instead of, or as well as, theirs.  Then you will be expected to say where the book should be marketed, what journals would be good places to advertise it, and so on.  This is really important.  My food book Everyone Eats was published by an academic press with little trade-book experience.  It did not occur to them to market it in cookbook stores, gourmet food stores (almost all of which carry books), and places like that, and it did not occur to me to tell them.  I lost probably 50% or more of my potential sales because of that.  If you write a book that potentially has wide appeal, you have to think TV and other media as well as print media.

The best thing is to write a generic prospectus—covering things that all the publishers’ webpages ask for—and send it out as widely as possible.  Saturate the publishing world.  However, so as not to waste effort, do your homework first on who actually publishes the sort of book you are writing.  Academic and trade presses are specializing more and more now.  If you’re writing about Mexico, look first to University of Arizona and University of Texas.  If political ecology, go for Duke University Press.  For Northwest Coast studies, University of British Columbia and University of Washington.  Commercial presses are often just as prestigious; Brill for history and social science, Elsevier for hard science, Routledge for general books, Edwin Mellen for specialized scholarly works, and so on.

Do not confine yourself to these—anybody may publish anything—but start with the most likely venue.  A corollary is: do not be discouraged if the first 50 publishers turn you down cold.  You may just not be within their specialized profiles.  The 51st may well see your ms as just what they’ve been desperately seeking for all these years.

Simon Batterbury adds that there are also book series to watch for, and other plans and programs.  Duke’s series in political ecology is now a particularly prestigious publishing venue for that area of research.  Series tend to appear and disappear, or change profile, without warning.

Increasingly, book deals are made at conferences.  All the major publishers have representatives at the American Anthropological Association meetings, and many send reps to SfAA, SAA, and other smaller associations.  If you seriously want to publish your book, you have to go to these meetings, bring copies of your prospectus, talk at length to the publishers’ reps about what they want, and drop off a copy of the prospectus with each one who shows any interest at all.  Forget all shame—sell yourself and be persuasive!  You have an ms that you invested a lot in, that you care about, and that you believe in (I hope and trust).  Say so.

If you have a choice, always go with the largest and most prestigious press!  Beware of excessively small presses.  One-man outfits are often desperate for mss. and will cut good deals, but then you get poor marketing—or worse.  A coworker and I once had a book accepted by a good but tiny press—basically a one-man operation.  Things were going well till we started getting strange emails.  Finally one said (roughly) “Are you aliens from another galaxy?”  We had no idea what to make of this until we got a letter saying (more or less), “We are the receivers for ***.  The editor has unfortunately suffered a nervous breakdown and is resting in a mental hospital.  We plan to bring out the books accepted by this press…”—which they did, in a timely and professional manner, but we quickly brought out a second edition with a large, reliable publisher!  I’ve had small publishers go broke on me, editors die or change jobs, and so on.  Be warned.  (Of course, it goes without saying that you do not publish it yourself.  Self-publishing is great for family cookbooks and memoirs, but gets you nowhere in academic publishing.)

Publishers currently want books in the 70,000-100,000 word range.  Anything much over 100,000 to 120,000 words has to be a Blockbuster (capital B) to get much traction.  Such books do, however, exist, and are not even all that rare, so feel free if you have really important data.

Illustrations are now very cheap to produce, so use lots of them.  But getting permission for commercial ones is another matter, so take good photographs.

One final issue: anything major and important that goes in a published book has to be there with the full permission of the people you are writing about.  You have to get their signed permission, after seriously explaining what you are going to do with the material (i.e., publish it).  Then you should provide the people in question with the fruits of your labor.  Bring copies of the book back to them when it’s published.  I worked hard to get my main work on the Quintana Roo Maya published in Quintana Roo and in both English and Spanish (I would have done it in Maya too if I had found a good translator).  Think seriously about coauthorship and other means of insuring that intellectual property rights are respected.  And—this really should not be necessary, but unfortunately it is necessary, to spell out—anything confidential, or anything that could endanger your consultants, should NOT be published.  I once wound up in an unexpectedly very hairy situation that prevented me from publishing anything for 7 years and prevented me from ever publishing a great deal of the data I got!  Remember, the various anthropological codes of ethics emphasize that your first duty is to the people you work with—not to serve them or argue for them, necessarily, but certainly to protect them by not publishing highly sensitive material, or ripping off material that they want to keep for themselves.

Simon Batterbury has very usefully added that Australia has somewhat different rules (no “tenure,” but same requirements for publishing if you want promotions) and that there is a whole world of e-books I have not mentioned.  I don’t know the differences between that universe and regular publishing.  Clearly, it helps sales to have your publisher do both e-book and print versions.

So much for the grubby business side.  Now to the serious stuff.

First, believe in your work.  If it isn’t what you deeply feel and care about, change it.

Some thesis committees, with the best will in the world (I hope), really insist on having their personal views, ideas, and citations represented at enormous length in the thesis.  Others insist that you cover the entire history of anthropological theory (or whatever branch of it you are using).  Publishers dread this, and the larger academic presses actually say right out on their website that if you are submitting a thesis book be sure and take out all that stuff first!  So, the main thing to do in turning a thesis into a book is usually trimming down the stuff the committee made you put in, and focusing on what YOU want to put in.

Alternatively, some students are shy about putting their deeply held views and their favorite facts and stories into academic books.  Forget that.  A book is SUPPOSED to be about your deeply held and valued material.  Obviously you have to confine your views to reasonable statements for which you have evidence, and you have to be properly dignified and civil in writing style.  No strong statements about the evils of this or that.  But you need to have enough passion for your work to motivate you to write it and then sell the ms.

That said, the next step is to write for the widest possible audience.  If you are doing the cognitive aspects of mother’s brother’s daughter marriage on the Upper Nowhere River, this may be only 20 people worldwide, but at least write for all 20 of them.  The horrible jargon that polluted anthro in the 1990s is mercifully gone, and not lamented.  Stick to normal English words in their normal English meaning.  (No, “imaginary” is NOT an English noun!  And cultures do not hybridize, they naturally blend; “hybridity” used for cultural matters is a racist term that should be absolutely unacceptable.)  Use six-syllable words only if they are genuine technical terms, not cover terms for ignorance and sloppiness.  (Prime examples of the latter: “neoliberalism” and “globalization.”)  Write in clear English and try to reach all the people who would naturally be interested in your findings.

Actually, even the Upper Nowhere River marriage lore may be of very wide interest.  Ideally, a piece of scientific or humanistic research is intended to provide the key finding that will unlock a whole area of knowledge, or the key insight that solves a very wide problem.  Maybe the Upper Nowhere case is the criterial case that shows the entire field of anthropology needs to rethink everything.  At the very least, it may confirm one view and disconfirm a rival view.  Such dramatic findings are rare, but they do happen.  One recent case in anthropology was the serendipitous discovery of the Denisovan lineage of humans.  Another was the finding of Göbekli in Turkey, a large, complex site with monumental architecture several thousand years older than such sites were supposed to exist.

However, general, “popular,” Jared Diamond type books are not the way to go unless you’re a Famous Senior Scholar.  Pop books are not respected, and there are reasons for that (see any review of Diamond).  However, they can be perfectly good if done by a seasoned scholar with a lot of perspective on the field.  In general, for a beginning academic, the way to go is a thorough case study, but one with very wide implications that you trace out and spell out in detail, with full awareness of and citation of the relevant wider theoretical and practical literature.  It is also quite possible to do a good short overview book on a specific field or area, like Don Joralemon’s Exploring Medical Anthropology (2004).  We need more books like that.


So, think about what you found, and see just how big a deal it is in the wider picture.  Chances are that it is a very big deal indeed, and you should be seeing it and writing it as a major breakthrough in a large field, not a humble “thesis book.”  Do a good deal of original thinking about this.  Professors often do not teach students to see how important their stuff is.  Alas, some thesis committees seem dedicated to preventing that; they think of students as followers and helpers, mere contributors of bricks to the great building that the full profs are putting together. I am the opposite—I can think of nothing I like better than having my students succeed right off and eclipse me in the field.  It gets my good ideas out in ways I never could have done by myself.  Also it makes me pretty proud of having done well at teaching!


How much of your own experiences and feelings should go into the book?  That depends on the book and what is necessary for it.  There are reasonable limits.  Saying nothing about your experiences in the field is not a good idea; we readers seriously need to know what you actually did, whether it worked out, and how you dealt with issues of objectivity, privacy, confidentiality, intellectual propery rights, sensitivity, and so on.  At the other extreme, an anthropology book is supposed to be about the people studied, not about the ethnographer—unless it’s a deliberate autobiography.  Telling stories about your naïve early field experiences is particularly unworthy; every anthropologist knows about that and has gone through it, and there is no profit in saying it again.  I am always reminded of what the old wolves say to the young wolves in Kipling’s Jungle Book:  “We knew it three seasons before.”

In short, write what you feel is necessary, and no more; but if you have to err, err on the side of inclusion, because matters of rapport maintenance, intellectual property rights, and so on need more discussion than they have had heretofore.


In lieu of more extended discussion, let me list a few books (randomly selected—not a complete list!) that I think exemplify the best in anthropological writing—i.e., that are clear, decently written, and make extremely important general points on the basis of thorough but narrowly focused case studies.  (This list runs heavily to ecological anthro, because that’s what I do, but I try for a mix of humanistic, political, and biological studies, and of old as well as new ones.)


Cruikshank, Julie.  2005.  Do Glaciers Listen?  Local Knowledge, Colonial Encouinters, and Social Imagination.  Vancouver:  University of British Columbia Press.


Dove, Michael.  2011.  The Banana Tree at the Gate:  A History of Marginal Peoples and Global Markets in Borneo.  New Haven:  Yale University Press.


Feld, Steven.  1982.  Sound and Sentiment.  Princeton:  Princeton University Press.


Firth, Raymond.  1936.  We the Tikopia.  London:  George Allen & Unwin.


Gonzalez, Roberto.  2001.  Zapotec Science:  Farming and Food in the Northern Sierra of Oaxaca. Austin:  University of Texas Press.


Greenfield, Patricia Marks.  2004.  Weaving Generations Together:  Evolving Creativity in the Maya of Chiapas.  Santa Fe:  School of American Research.


Hunn, Eugene.  1991.  N’Chi-Wana, The Big River.  Seattle:  University of Washington Press.


Lansing, Stephen.  1984.  Priests and Programmers.  Princeton:  Princeton University Press.


Li, Tania Murray.  2007.  The Will to Improve:  Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics.  Durham:  Duke University Press.


McCabe, J. Terrence.  2004.  Cattle Bring Us to Our Enemies:  Turkna Ecology, Politics, and Raiding in a Disequilibrium System.  Ann Arbor:  University of Michigan Press.


McCay, Bonnie.  1998.  Oyster Wars and the Public Trust:  Property Law, and Ecology in New Jersey History.  Tucson:  University of Arizona Press.


Mooney, James.  1991.  The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890.  Lincoln:  University of Nebraska Press.  Originally appeared in the Bureau of American Ethnology annual report #14, for 1892-93, published in 1896.


Netting, Robert.  1991.  Balancing on an Alp:  Ecological Change and Continuity in a Swiss Mountain Community.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press.


Rose, Deborah.  2000.  Dingo Makes Us Human:  Life and Land in an Australian Aboriginal Culture.  New York:  Cambridge University Press.


West, Paige.  2012.  From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive: The Social World of Coffee from Papua-New Guinea.  Durham:  Duke University Press.





Climate and China’s Dynastic Cycles

November 6th, 2016


Climate and China’s Dynastic Cycles


  1. N. Anderson

Dept. of Anthropology

University of California, Riverside




With climate change very much in the news, historians have sought correlations between climate change and the rise and fall of Chinese dynasties.

This contrasts with traditional explanations by Chinese historians of those eras, who explain rise and fall as the result of human decisions and actions.  Resolving these two reasonable, but inevitably partial, explanations requires looking at the ways people respond to large-scale stressors.  Climate change is indeed one source of problems that rulers and masses must consider—along with wars, diseases, population changes, and other large-scale phenomena.  Climate change does not “cause” dynastic change, but it does force people to respond in ways that may produce dynastic change.


Climate change is much in the news these days.  Given the exaggeration and polarization of debate, it is no surprise to find that the role of climate change in Chinese history has come in for its share of debate (on environment in imperial times, management, see Anderson 2014a; Elvin 2004, but Elvin considerably too harsh on the traditional system; Marks 1998, 2009, 2012; Menzies 1994).

Climate change significant enough to make major differences in human affairs is now well understood.  Climate after the last Ice Age quickly became warmer than today, up to a very few degrees C, and stayed very warm from about 7000 BCE to about 3000.  For instance, in the loess plateau around 4200-3600 BCE, conditions were more than 1 degree C warmer than now, and precipitation comparable to current conditions in nearby mountains (Sun et al. 2016).  Warm climates make China wetter, because they not only make the monsoon more powerful, but they shift northward the intertropical convergence zone, meaning that the monsoon starts closer to China.  The same move takes it farther from tropical Asia, and thus is associated with droughts in southeast Asia.  China derives almost all its rain from the summer monsoon, though the cold, dry winter monsoon can pick up enough moisture over China to bring drizzling, chilling rain to the south.  Warmer weather dries up central Asia and brings warmer and thus more drying conditions to Tibet, but only western Xinjiang and the highlands of Tibet are much affected by this.

Following the cooling after 3000 BCE, conditions were rather like today, until a very sharp drying trend hit central Asia in 1500-500 BCE.  It does not seem to have affected China greatly.  (What follows is synthesized from Brooke 2014; Kidder et al. 2016; Lin et al. 2016; Wei et al. 2015; Yin et al. 2016; D. Zhang et al. 2007; P. Zhang et al. 2008; Y. Zhang et al. 2016; Zhao et al. 2016)  Then a pleasant, warm, moist period, known in the west as the Roman optimum, helped both the Roman Republic and Roman Empire and the Chinese Empire between 200 BCE and 200 CE.  This gave way to cooler conditions, and then a sharp cold and dry period from 550 to 650.  This modified to conditions much like today’s, or a bit more warm and wet, in Tang.  A weak monsoon 910-930 seems to have occurred (P. Zhang et al. 2008).  In 950 to 1300 came the Medieval Warm Period, also known as the Medieval Climatic Anomaly.  It brought warmer and wetter conditions to China, but with sharp fluctuations, especially in the 11th and 12th centuries, when sudden returns to more average (i.e. colder) conditions hit China hard.  The early 12th century seems to have been especially cool.  After 1300, the Little Ice Age slowly came on, producing extremely cold, dry conditions, especially at certain times in the 1400s, 1600s, and 1700s.  This was followed by a slow warming after 1800 or 1850, which gave way after 1900 to more steady warming as human-released greenhouse gases added themselves to natural warming and eventually took over the major warming role.  (Human-caused global warming appears clearly only about 1850.  Alleged human-caused warming by rice agriculture in dynastic times is not credible.  Among other things, the allegers forgot that the rice largely replaced marshes and wetlands that already released methane.)

Otherwise, minor to substantial fluctuations in the record appear, but are largely in the category of “weather” rather than “climate.”  Also, the magnitude of these climate changes should not be overestimated; a few degrees C was the greatest amplitude.

The major confounder in studying the effect of climate change on dynastic cycling is the well-known fact that China exacerbated or even created its own problems.  Walter Mallory’s classic study China: Land of Famine (1926) stressed the role of deforestation, erosion, badly managed river dykes, wetlands drainage, and other environmental ills on China’s horrific history of droughts and floods.  Recent studies have gone on to confirm this (Elvin 2004; Marks 2012).  Shiba Yoshinobu has made this point, most recently for the Song Dynasty (McDermott and Yoshinobu 2015), which engaged in massive deforestation for iron smelting, ceramics making, and printing (pines were burned for ink), with the result that enormous and uncontrollable floods devastated the country and threatened the dynasty.  Like so many modern disasters in China and elsewhere (Muir-Wood 2016), these were not acts of God but acts of man; they do not show that dynasties fell because of climate change, they show that the environment was stressed and dynasties fell because of human mismanagement.


The dynasties in question are as follows:

Xia Dynasty (assumed equivalent to the Erlitou culture on the middle Yellow River): ca. 2000-ca. 1500 BCE.

Shang Dynasty: ca. 1500-ca. 1050 BCE.

Zhou Dynasty:  ca. 1050-250 BCE, the last 500 years being a time of disunion when the Zhou had control over only a tiny area; the rest of China was divided into “warring states.”

Qin Dynasty:  221-207 BCE.

Han Dynasty:  206 BCE-220 CE, with a break 9-23 CE when an affine of the royal family briefly took over after a series of child-emperors, to be overthrown in a countercoup by the Han dynasts; major rebellion ca. 180.

Time of disunion: 220-581.

Sui Dynasty: 581-618.

Tang Dynasty: 620-907.  Once again, the fall of Tang saw several weak or child emperors.  Very important rebellions in 754 and 880 almost brought down the dynasty, forcing major changes in government.

Time of disunion: 907-960.

Song Dynasty: 960-1279, interrupted by loss of the entire north, including the capital, in 1127, with capture of the Emperor; the dynasty had to re-form in the south.  It collapsed, again under very young boys, and after savage factional fighting and corrupt ministers, in the 1270s.

Liao Dynasty:  Began ca. 960 in far north, took over most of north China after 1000, fell 1126.

Jin Dynasty:  Conquered Liao in 1126, took the rest of north China from Song in 1127, fell to Mongols in 1234.

Yuan Dynasty (Mongol Empire): 1279-1368.  Last few emperors accused of alcoholism.

Ming Dynasty: 1368-1644.  Major corruption and imperial failure at the end.

Qing Dynasty: 1644-1911, with major near-fatal rebellion 1844; once again with child-emperors at the helm toward the end.


All the longer dynasties suffered from coups, countercoups, major rebellions, and the like, as well as constant palace intrigues and jockeying between candidates for royal succession.

This brings us to other destabilizing factors besides climate.  A dynasty is subject to several well-known problems.  First is foreign invasion.  China was so much the biggest power in the east that it rarely had to worry about that, but the medieval period saw the rise of powers—Liao, Jin, and above all the Mongols—that overwhelmed China.  This was partly due to climate, as will appear.  Second is bad luck in imperial demography.  Often an emperor died childless, or left a young child as the only heir.  Child emperors had to have regents—often mothers or grandmothers, sometimes an uncle or high court official.  The results were usually poor and often disastrous.  Other problems with palace politics included extremely powerful but corrupt officials, irresponsible or downright deranged emperors, and overly powerful generals who thought they could do a better job of running the empire.  A weak emperor following an unpopular one was a particularly fatal combination, directly responsible for the falls of Qin and Sui.

Over all this play the great cycles of resilience theory, Ibn Khaldun’s theory, and Peter Turchin’s work.  These all postulate a rising phase when a population or system grows and increases its power (the r phase of resilience theory), a high (K) phase when it consolidates control and may have a golden age, a downward (omega) phase when it loses coherence and falls apart, and a down (alpha) phase when it is depopulated, ruinous, but regrouping for the next rise.  Resilience theory does not suggest a time frame, since it is meant to apply to everything from bacteria to whales.  Ibn Khaldun (1958) saw the cycle in human dynasties playing over three or four generations, about 100 years.  Turchin (Turchin and Zefedov 2006) saw longer cycles of up[ to 200-300 years: the time frame of Chinese dynasties.  Ibn Khaldun’s theory predicts major crises; coups or rebellions that shook the dynasty profoundly happened about every 60 years within the great dynasties (Han through Qing).

The dynasties, even the short-lived ones, conform to Ibn Khaldun’s classic scenario.  A charismatic military leader, not only bold and intrepid but charismatic and generous enough to inspire genuine loyalty and affection (‘asabiyah in Ibn Khaldun’s Arabic), becomes what the Chinese call the High or Great Emperor, founding the dynasty.  He is followed by a brilliant age—often started or marked by coup and coutercoup—when the dynasty is powerful, expanding, and rich.  The economy grows through conquest, settlement of abandoned or thinly populated lands, rising production, and positive feedback loops—the more economic activity, the more production, the more crafts and trade, the more innovation and intensification.  Then follows a period in which the land is filled up and heavily populated but innovation is stalling, leading to Malthusian squeeze.  Often, previous economic activity is now demanding that costs be paid.  Deforestation and erosion lead to devastating floods.  Levees and dykes have confined the rivers too much, so they aggrade their beds with silt.  The floods make them burst their beds and drown the area, inevitably densely populated because of the ease of river access.  Overcultivation makes every dry summer a drought.  Taxes keep rising, or at best stay steady, but there is now no economic growth, so the taxes bite hard.  Discontent leads to banditry.  Neighbor states start raiding.  All this forces more and more military buildup, but there is now no conquest to provide more land and loot.  The resulting feedback loops of increasing environmental damage, increasing military spending, and increasing tax bite lead to, or at least are associated with, corruption, factional fighting, and paralysis in the high levels of government.  Collapse is by now inevitable.  What Tristram Kidder et al. say of the Han Dynasty is perfectly typical of all: the collapse of a dynasty occurs when “the disjunction between rules and resources reaches a threshold so stark that agents at all social levels stood to gain more by challenging the status quo than they did by conforming to it” (Kidder et al. 2016:86).

It is astonishing to see how perfectly the Chinese dynasties recapitulate this formula.  The Chinese knew it, too.  By the Han Dynasty they already recognized the cyclic nature of dynasties, the necessary charisma of the founder, and the inevitable degeneration of governance at the end.  Not having a worldwide perspective, they naturally saw it in terms of the morality of the individual actors, but they recognized that floods, droughts, invasions, and other catastrophes exacerbated the problems.

Our next step is to correlate climate change with dynastic events.  The prediction (mine and that of Yin et al. 2016) is that better times—warmer and wetter, with stronger monsoons—will predate or accompany the rise of dynasties, while worse times—colder and drier—will predate their fall.

The Xia, Shang, and Zhou Dynasties are too poorly known and dated for meaningful correlations.

The rise of Qin and Han accompanies the Roman Republic/Empire Optimum.  The interregnum of 9-23 CE followed some bad years that may partially explain it (Kidder et al. 2016).  The fall of Han tracks the beginning of the end of the Roman Optimum.  This fits our prediction well.  But then the spectacular rise and Sui and Tang, and the beginning of Tang’s glory days, coincide with a sharp deterioration in climate.  Yet, not only did China rise, but the conquest by the founders of Sui and Tang came from the hardest-hit area, the northwest edge of China where it fringes into Central Asia.  The fall of Tang accompanies drought and heat associated with the very uneven beginning of the Medieval Warm Period.

The rise of Song is somewhat associated with a more strong and reliable monsoon.  The Liao, Jin, and Yuan (Mongol) Dynasties rose during the Medieval Warm Period, which made it far easier for these originally nomadic, horse-riding peoples to increase their herds and manpower, increase their food supply, and conquer outward.  There is now no question that this took place in the Mongol case (Anderson 2014b).  But the reduction of Song and its eventual fall took place in relatively cool times, which should have weakened the northern regimes in relation to Song.

However, Song was facing another problem: the devastation caused by centuries of deforestation and overgrazing.  This is a classic point, often made, and more recently extended and elaborated by Ling Zhang (2016) in a brilliant recent study drawing on earlier work by George Cressey (1955), Robert Hartwell, and others.  She focuses on the Yellow River and its steadily rising ability to produce devastating floods.  The rise of iron smelting, printing, and other industries created a huge demand for fuel, thus causing massive deforestation, even on slopes too steep to farm and therefore very susceptible to erosion.

This reminds us of the obvious fact—notably stressed by Jared Diamond in Collapse (2011)—that people create their fates and landscapes.  Climate does not act on a blank, empty world.  It acts on a world people have built, for better or worse.

Yuan took power when the Medieval Warm Period was still in its favor, but it declined as that good age gave way.  The succeeding Ming Dynasty had a horrible situation to face: running the empire during a period of unprecedented cold and dry conditions.  It succeeded astonishingly well, not losing power for centuries.  Even worse cold and drought probably hastened its fall (Brooke 2014; Parker 2013), but we are left needing to explain the long run of Ming.

Then comes the strangest thing of all.  Ming was conquered not by a powerful regime, not by internal unrest, but by the tiny Manchu state—a state that was based in China’s frigid and snowy northeast, an area that sufferend inconceivable miseries from the exacerbation of the Little Ice Age in the early 1600s.  Outside of traditional ascriptions of success to the personalities of the early Qing emperors, there is no way to explain this.  In fact, we have many writings by the Kangxi Emperor, the real architect of Qing power, and he was exactly the type of leader calculated to maximize ‘asabiyah—a brilliant, driving, single-minded man, able to be generous to allies and utterly ruthless to enemies (Spence 1974).

Similarly, the decline and fall of Qing took place during a period of steadily ameliorating climate, though it must be admitted that this warming trend both produced more floods (the monsoon strengthened) and more droughts (heat exacerbated dry weather when that occurred).

Several recent groups have attempted to synthesize these data.  Recent books by John Brooke (2014) and Geoffrey Parker (2013) marginally discuss China, largely its hard times.  These authors write as if climate directly caused events—people were mere machines, programmed to do what climate told them.  This greatly underestimates human agency.

Yin et al (2016) looked at imperial China from Qin on through Qing.  They find that social rise was associated with warming (which normally meant wetting too) 57% of the time, and decline with cooling and drying 66.6%.  (The very few warm-dry and cool-wet periods did not correlate with anything in particular, but they were exceedingly rare and short.)  This is not compelling; the first is not statistically much better than chance.  We shall have to look for other explanations here.  They gathered 1586 data points from the standard histories of China (saving me a lot of work), and parceled out even such things as particularly dynamic reign periods when China expanded its power, e.g. under Han Wu Di (140-87 BCE), who conquered neighboring areas during a relatively warm period.  They miss the fact that the warm period should have, and in fact did, benefit his enemies as much as it benefited him, forcing him to fight hard and spend the empire’s wealth.  (They also find that records of good and bad times are particularly good for Han, bad for the Tang-Song interregnum and the Song Dynasty—fitting the history of war and conquest in the latter cases.)  They find that China was peaceful 68.4% of the time, turbulent otherwise.

Chen Qiang, on the other hand, thinks drought and cold did it.  Cold was associated with more wars—a claim that does not explain the violent Medieval Warm Period or the long, peaceful Ming Dynasty.  He finds that the main correlates were age of dynasty (older ones were weaker; that is true of nomad regimes too) and drought.  This does not check with the warlike but pleasantly warm period from 220 to 581, though it does coincide with the rise of Sui and Tang.  It does not work for the Mongols.  It works for the Manchus, in that they came in during a cold dry period, but the people of the Manchu state were largely settled agriculturalists and not nomadic (in spite of frequent mistaken claims).  Warfare shows correlation with cold periods (Zhang et al. 2007).  Shortly after the start of cold periods came the falls of Northern Song, Southern Song, Yuan, and Ming, as well as the Taiping rebellions.  Early Ming was still warm—the Little Ice Age became serious in the 1400s and then made the 1600s one of the worst periods in China’s history, with (resulting?) war and chaos.

Wei et al (2015) find that climate events are related to dynastic cycles.  They provide a careful, methodologically interesting assessment of troubles, with a very full bibliography.  They use Holling’s resilience cycle.  They find a fair correlation of moist warm periods with good times, and vice versa, but note the obvious Ming exception.  They do find a major crash in post-1420 Ming, though with a fairly quick recovery.  They, like Kidder et al, focus on the Xin Dynasty interregnum in the Han Dynasty, this attaching more importance to it than do most historians.

Another approach is to look at local regions, which often had quite different climate histories from the rest of China.  Harry Lee and his colleagues looked at dry and drought-prone northwest China (Lee and Zhang 2010; Lee et al. 2015, 2016).  They found that wild fluctuations in rainfall characterized the Little Ice Age, with many droughts, but that the famously peaceful period of the middle Qing Dynasty from 1700 to 1820 saw a lack of famines and a rise in population, because of successful land management and the coming of New World crops (Lee et al. 2016).  In far northwestern China, westerlies and north winds dominated, totally decoupling that region from the rest of China and making its climate countercyclic (Y. Zhang et al. 2016).

In northeastern China, it was the Medieval Warm Period that was problematic, causing many floods, often alternating with horrific droughts in wild swings (Lee et al. 2015; L. Zhang 2016).  Ling Zhang (2016) has written a brilliant, major work about the consequences:  progressive breakdown in management of the Yellow River and other water sources and wetlands.  Her work interestingly fits with Peter Turchin’s findings on cycles; during the disintegration cycle of Northern Song, politics got more and more polarized and acerbic, and one result was failure to come up with coherent, consistent policies for the Yellow River. As Turchin says, “During the disintegrative phases…it is very difficult to generate the cooperative action needed to win a major war” (Turchin 2016:106).  That was true of Song’s war with the conquest dynasties, and it was also true of Song’s war with the Yellow River.

One could, of course, come up with contrived post-hoc explanations for the perverse rises of Sui, Tang, and Qing, and the perverse weakness of Song, but I fear there is no way to save climatic change as a really necessary or always-important driving variable.  Warming certainly helped the Mongols, at first, and cooling hurt them later.  Warming almost certainly helped Qin and Han initially and cooling hurt Han later.  Cooling days contributed to the woes of Song and Ming.  On the other hand, the rise of Sui and Tang, the rise and long continuance of Ming, and the whole course of Qing go directly contrary to predictions.  Thus we can conclude with Kidder et al. (2016) and Wei et al. (2015) that climate can help or harm, but does not make or break.  Charismatic leaders, well-trained armies, and plain luck are the direct incident causes of dynastic rises.  Weak leaders, child-emperors, rampant corruption, unstoppable invasions, and factional fighting are direct incident causes of dynastic fall.

So here we have several theories of dynastic rise and fall.  The Chinese saw the Mandate of Heaven—either actual heavenly decisions, or their incarnations in floods and droughts, or the result of factional fighting, dynastic politics, bad luck (childless emperors or child emperors or mad emperors), and the like.  Cycle theorists see a general trend toward rise and fall, or a more specific one driven by shifting loyalties—from the dynastic head to one’s own group or faction or to one’s own self.  Marxian and other economic and political-economic structural determinists had their own theories (not considered here for reasons of space).  Now climate change has added itself to the mix.  No doubt all these theories have their value.

In fact, climate acts indirectly.  It is one cause—along with human idiocy and incompetence, among other things—of floods, droughts, and other catastrophes.  These catastrophes put major stresses on the dynastic government.  A strong, upwardly moving government can directly address these matters with relief measures and remedies.  Also, it commands the loyalty and support of the people.  The weaker and more incompetent the government, the less it can directly address problems, and the less it can get the broad masses to help.  Weakness and incompetence of government, in turn, depends on the emperor personally, his family, his ministers, and the rest of the high elites.  If the emperor is a boy in the care of a corrupt chief minister, the empire is in trouble.  If the appalling infant mortality rates of the time leave the emperor childless, as often happened, intra-elite feuding over the succession is sure to occur, and sure to weaken the dynasty. China grew steadily more autocratic over time, which meant the emperor’s person was more a factor as time went on.

I might add a comparison with the Maya at this point.  Maya civilization grew and achieved greatness in the rather optimal climate between 500 BCE and 500 CE,  It survived with a hitch—a noticeable pause—the cold, dry period from 550 to 650.  It then collapsed in the Medieval Warm Period, which brought massive and long-lasting droughts to the area.  These droughts not only devastated agriculture, they even removed drinking water; much of the Yucatan Peninsula and Maya Lowlands is without surface water.  People had to store water, dig wells, or find caves with permanent sources.  These all proved inadequate in drought times (Gill 2000).  Also, hotter weather led to more plant diseases, and probably more human diseases as well.

Warfare was also a factor.  Some areas had already been devastated by war, and collapsed before the droughts (Demarest 2004).  Not all the Maya world collapsed, only the central portions; the northern Yucatan Peninsula and the southern highlands continued to be urbanized and civilized, while cities, literacy, and high culture disappeared in the central lowlands.  The claim that the Maya collapsed because of sheer ecological folly (Diamond 2005) and the counterclaim that they did not collapse at all (McAnany and Gallareta N. 2010) do not bear close investigation.

Mayaland would have recovered with the return of cooler, moister weather in the 1300s, but by then the trade routes had shifted to the coast.  This is certainly one reason, possibly the only really important reason, why the central lowlands never recovered.  Trade, contact, and communication had focused around the geographical center of the lowland world.  After that center collapsed, trade shifted to the coasts, and stayed there, carried by canoes.

In this case, we cannot see the micropolitics—we have no way of knowing what went on in the cities, or what people said and thought as agriculture became increasingly unsuccessful.

Many other New World societies collapsed or suffered sharp setbacks during the Medieval Warm Period, which seems to have been dry very widely.  It devastated the Four Corners, hit the Mississippi Valley, ruined much of the Andes, and generally caused woe.  One major reason was maize.  Maize is exceedingly susceptible to drought and heat.  This contrasts rather dramatically with China’s grains: millets and rice love heat, while millets, wheat and barley can handle very appreciable drought.  China was thus relatively buffered, and could produce higher populations.

Causation is a complex topic, but simple principles underlies much of it.  First, all events have multiple causes.  Second, these can be big, broad, and indirect, or very specific and immediate; the big, broad causes can act only through specific, immediate ones.  In human affairs, big, broad causes act through individual decisions added up into collective decisions.  The special cases of northwest China in the long 18th century and northeast China in the star-crossed decline of Northern Song show how different adaptations can be.  In the one case, horrible weather was mitigated by political-economic action, and people flourished.  In the other, good but fluctuating weather led to nothing but problems, because of political-economic chaos.

From this I extract a core principle for diachronic social studies:  large-scale forces act indirectly, through people.  Direct causes of social events are personal decisions, and the resulting actions.  These do not always play out as the actors intend.  All manner of constraints prevent people from doing what they want. Government and economic necessity restrict behavior, or, more often, discourage people from trying.  Sheer chance, faction fighting, and amoral individual actions that mess the system can all intervene.  But, in the end, it is human decisions and actions that make cultures and societies.  Individual actions play out in interpersonal space, which generates both short-term and long-term social structures or interaction dynamics that add up to systems that take on a life of their own.  (I am using—and here briefly summarizing—Anthony Giddens’ “structuration”; Giddens 1984, which is fairly Weberian; see also Bourdieu 1977, 1990; Latour 2005.  The basic insight is that people do things—climate doesn’t, culture doesn’t, society doesn’t—but people do things in response to climate, culture and society.)  Climate and weather are simply some of the things those individuals and systems have to take into account.

In terms of cultural evolution, we may say that people’s most basic needs and wants are genetically enough “given” to pass as a biological substrate.  From them grow desires and intentions, which lead to actions, variously constrained.  We often find that people react in comparable ways to comparable stimuli.  We often, however, find they do not—they may react in violently conflicting ways, as the Song officials did to the environmental problems of the Medieval Warm Period.  Just as biological evolution often takes very unexpected ways to adapt, so do human societies.



This post was delivered as a paper at the California Sociological Association, annual meeting, Riverside, CA, Nov. 5, 2016.  Thanks to Christopher Chase-Dunn and Hiroko Inoue for advice and help.



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Developing Mexican Food: Globalization Early On

October 24th, 2016

Developing Mexican Food:

Globalization Early On

E. N. Anderson

University of California, Riverside



Mexican food today is extremely diverse, and has a complicated background.  My view is that of a Mayanist who has worked in southeast Mexico and traveled widely in the country.  Already long before Columbus, Native American foodways were spreading widely; the Maya were powerfully influenced by South American foods from chocolate to manioc.  The Spanish Colonial period brought not only Spanish foods but also Arab and African foodways, all diverse in themselves.  Modern influences have not been less complex.  This all tests current theories of “culture” and “appropriation,” and makes a world-systems approach to anthropology more useful and predictive.  Some comparative notes on folk music are added to show the extent of cultural borrowings, since they track foodways closely.



My work in Mexico has largely been with the Yucatec Maya of the Yucatan Peninsula, but I have traveled all over Mexico, visiting every state and major region.  I am a food anthropologist, so I have sampled everything from ant pupae at a fine upscale restaurant in Guanajuato to wasp larvae on a remote rainforest back road in Quintana Roo.  In two years of living and traveling in Mexico, spread over 40 years of my life, the only bad meals I recall were in United States-type restaurants.

Much of what follows is sourced from K’oben, forthcoming book by Amber O’Connor and myself (2017; see also Anderson 2010).  Much is from, or in, Jeffrey Pilcher’s classic Que vivan los tamales! (1998), which is by far the best, most thorough, and most authoritative work in English on Mexican food.  There are other good histories in Spanish.

The incredible richness and variety of Mexican folk culture never ceases to amaze me, and food is not the least of its manifestations.  Mexican culture today is a product of many Native American cultures interacting with Spanish culture.  It is much more than that, however.  Three things are not often appreciated about Mexican culture.  First, Mexican Indigenous cultures were extremely varied and were constantly influencing each other.  Second, Spain in the 1500s and 1600s was itself a region of cultural mixing.  Third, Spain was by no means the only Old World country that influenced Mexico.  Mexico has had very substantial immigration from Africa, Ireland, Lebanon, Syria, Philippines, China, France, Germany, and elsewhere, to say nothing of the United States and most parts of Latin America.  All these areas contributed to foodways.

The Native American heritage is the really basic one.  Mexico still depends on the classic maize, beans, chiles, and squash.  The commonest species of these are all Mexican domesticates.  Maize (Zeo mays) was domesticated about 7000 years ago in the Balsas River drainage; geneticists have run it down to an origin in the wild teosinte grass of middle elevations in that drainage area.  At least three species of beans were domesticated in central Mexico; these are frijol beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), teparies (P. acutifolius), and scarlet runner beans (P. coccineus).  The tepary bean is famously drought-resistant and has been used in drought-prone parts of Africa as well as Mexico.  The fourth common species, the lima bean (P. lunatus), was certainly domesticated in Peru, but a different form, the sieva bean, may have been independently domesticated in Mexico.  The sieva bean is now rare and little known, but my Maya friends in Quintana Roo grow several delicious varieties that seriously need saving and propagating.

Squash also come in many species.  Pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo) were domesticated in Mexico and probably independently in what is now the southern United States.  Winter sqush (C. maxima, C. moschata), chayote (Sechium edule) and spaghetti squash (C. ficifolia) also occur; C. maxima is probably South American, but got to Mexico early.  With bottle gourd (Lagenaria vulgaris), of uncertain origin, these gave Mexican Indigenous people plenty of choices.  I should point out that the tender leaves, vine tips, and flowers of the squash are also eaten and are incredibly good as well as vitamin-rich.

Chiles also come in multiple forms.  The common, ordinary varieties of chile, from which the non-hot bell pepper was recently developed, is Capsicum annuum and is native to Mexico.  It is a small annual plant.  The Tabasco chile (C. frutescens), by contrast, is a large perennial bush.  It is known by its Maya name of maax in southern Mexico, including Tabasco.  The habanero (C. chinense), as its name shows, came from Cuba to Mexico; it is originally South American. Yet another species, the most flavorful and meaty of all and one of the hottest, is the rocoto or manzano (C. pubescens), another South American.  It somehow got from Peru to Oaxaca and around there, probably after the Spanish conquest.  There are other species of chile in South America.  It is highly interesting that so many species were separately domesticated in different areas.  The reason is not just their delightful warmth; they are also highly antibiotic and antifungal.  They may have been domesticated for medicine or for use in preserving food—chile powder or crushed chile is a good preservative.

With these four species, you can live a happy life.  Maize provides basic calories, beans provide good protein, squash and chiles provide vitamins, and chiles in particular provide incredible quantities of vitamin C and the B complex.  One problem is that maize contains phytic acid, which bonds with mineral nutrients and with niacin (vitamin B3) making them unavailable to digestion.  So the Mexican people learned very early to process maize with limewater—not from limes, but CaO made by burning calcium carbonate—thus producing nixtamal.  The lime neutralizes the phytic acid.  The limewater processing was probably originally used to tenderize the maize, but then seen to help nutrition (Katz et al. 1974). The maize needs tenderizing in the first place because soft kernels get eaten by bruchid weevils.  So weevils cause civilization: they made people select for hard corn, but then the people had to tenderize it, which made it nutritionally adequate to support cities.

These many species were only the beginning.  Mexican Indigenous people domesticated so many plants that it would take me much of this hour just to read off the names.  One triumph was the avocado, a fantastic source of oil, protein and vitamins that grows like a weed in central Mexican mountain conditions.  The poverty diet of the central Mexican people at the time of Spanish conquest was noted as tortillas and guacamole, then made of just avocado, chile, and salt.  This is a perfect diet—it has all the essentials—and I think it’s the tastiest poverty diet I ever found.  (It beats the European equivalent of stale bread and water.)  Among the hundreds of other species are amaranth, chia sage, and millets.  Amaranth, chia, and chenopod species provided seed crops that were much more nutritious than maize.  They grow easily and were essential staples to many Indigenous groups.  In addition, chocolate, sweet potatoes, and manioc came up very early from South America.  There are proto-Maya words for them—at least the last two—which means the Maya had them 5000 years ago.

Domestic animals were few.  The dog came over the Bering Straits with the humans.  It was eaten by some groups.  The turkey was domesticated in Mexico.  The muscovy duck (Cairinia moschata), native from Mexico south but domesticated in Peru, seems to have come up fairly early.  Why Mexico never domesticated mountain sheep remains a mystery.  Javalis (known in English as peccaries) are locally tamed and farmed on a small scale, but they compete with humans for food—unlike pigs, they can’t eat garbage; they have to have maize and other quality fare.  So they were not domesticated, which is sad, because they are delightful pets (at least as smart as dogs) as well as very good eating.  If I were young I’d go domesticate them.

All this was only the beginning.  The Indigenous people developed great cuisines from the many domesticated and wild foods they had.  Early Maya paintings show vast amounts of tamales, evidently baked in earth ovens, as they still often are in Mayaland.  Also shown are fish, deer, and many other animal foods.  Chocolate was an elite drink; the Maya may very well be the people who developed it as a tasty drink by learning how to ferment the seeds.  The unfermented pulp and ground seeds are very pleasant, but fermenting is necessary to bring out the actual chocolate flavor.  It is fitting that our word “cacao” is taken straight from Maya.  Around many Classic Maya cups is written a line of Maya hieroglyphics.  When I was a student, we learned that the Maya were deeply religious, and this line must have been a powerful spell or sacred prayer.  Well, we can now read Maya writing, and that line turned out to mean “This is so-and-so’s chocolate cup.”  So much for romance.

The Aztecs and other central Mexican Indigenous people spoke Nahuatl, a beautiful and expressive language.  It is not related to Maya, but is related to the Indigenous languages of southern California.  Many of our familiar food words today are “Nahuatlismos”:  Chile, tamale, chocolate, tomato, chayote, achiote, camote (sweet potato), chia, jicama, and more.  In Nahuatl, there was a three-part division of the major foods:  tamalli (tamales), tlaxcalli (tortillas), and taballi (food to eat with the tortillas, such as beans and guacamole).  Other Indigenous languages of the Mexican realm gave us abalone (California Costanoan), and many more.

The Aztecs loved good food.  One story says it all.  Fray Diego Duran compiled a history in the mid-16th century, based on Azec accounts.  They told him of a war with a city named Coyoacan, which means “coyote place.”  The Aztecs besieged it but it would not yield, and had fierce warriors.  So the Aztec monarch said: “’Let the guards take ducks, waterfowl, fish, and other creatures from the lagoon that cannot be obtained in Coyoacan.  Let them be…cooked or toasted in such a way that their rich odor and the smoke that rises from these delicacies will penetrate the city….  Old men and old women will become feeble and die of longing for the food they cannot have.’  The king’s orders were carried out: they prepared many loaves of ezcahuitli, a type of small red worm….together with ducks, fish, and frogs….” They cooked these upwind of Coyoacan, and the scent drove the people there to distraction.  They made a desperate sally, were defeated, and their city was taken (Duran 1994:92).

Other sources tell of equally mouthwatering dishes made from acociles (crustaceans), axolotls (salamanders; the name literally means “water monsters”), and other aquatic foods.  The Aztecs grew all sorts of fruit, from all over Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, and had large botanical gardens (Duran 1994:205).  Duran also tells of Motecuhzoma (“Montezuma” to moderns) feasting on game, fish, chocolate, and so on, including flesh from human sacrifices, and then ending the feast with hallucinogenic mushrooms, which put them “out of their minds and…in a worse state than if they had drunk a great quantity of wine” (Duran 1994;407; take note and stick to wine and forget those Psilocybe mushrooms).  Bernardino de Sahagun and other early chroniclers also describe Aztec food.  Sahagun describes merchants feasting on turkey, dog, tomatoes, chiles, chocolate, and occasionally human sacrifices (Sahagun 1979:48, 67, 75).  However, it is clear that very little human flesh was eaten; it was not a significant protein source.  Sahagun also went into detail on all the incredible variety of foods available in markets and elite kitchens (1979:69) and on varieties of maize, beans, and other crops (1963:279-290; see also Sahagun 1959, 1961).   They all agree that it was an incredibly rich, varied diet, even for the relatively poor.  Some of the dishes described by Sahagun are “turkey with a sauce of small chilis, tomatoes, and ground squash seeds” (patzcalmolli, what we would now in Nahuatl call mole pipian); “white fish with yellow chili…newt with yellow chili…winged ants with savory herbs; locusts with chia; maguey grubs with a sauce of small chilis…a sauce of unripened plums with white fish….tamales stuffed with amaranth greens…small tuna cactus fruit with fish eggs…” and on for many pages (Sahagun 1979:37-38).  A major aspect Indigenous Mexican cuisine is the use of insects and other invertebrates.  Over 300 kinds of insects are eaten (Ramos-Elorduy 1991, 1998; Ramos Elorduy and Pino Moreno 1989).

Drinks, besides water, consisted largely of atoles of various sorts.  Atole (Nahuatl atolli) is finely ground seed meal beaten up in water.  It was usually made from maize, but also from beans, fruit, and so on.  Pinole (pinolli) was another seed meal drink, often made from wild seeds.  Atole could be flavored with chocolate, chile, honey, and other substances (Sahagun 1961:93).  It is still common.  Pozole (pozolli) was, in those days, probably just nixtamal beaten up in water, as it still is in Maya Mexico.  That wonderful pozole you get in restaurants now, with pork and hominy and chiles and more, is probably a recent invention from west Mexico, especially Jalisco.

It is said that a true civilization has to have its alcohol, and Mexico had various types of maize beers, as well as honey mead and combinations of the two.  Central Mexico had pulque, the fermented sap of the flower stalks of agaves (Agave spp. which are not cacti).  There is some chance that they had learned to distill alcohol.  Very simple stills are found in remote areas of west Mexico.  Some Mexican ethnobotanist friends of mine argue that the stills go back to pre-Columbian times.  However, they resemble Philippine stills, and most of us think they probably came over on the Manila galleon in the early days.  Sailors early learned in the Philippines to make these simple stills, and probably brought the technology with them.  Mezcal is distilled not from pulque, but from the juice extracted by slow-cooking the flowering stem bases of agave and related plants, and then fermenting and distilling that.  Tequila is mezcal made from the blue agave (Agave tequilana), originally from the Tequila area of Jalisco, but now widely planted, to the annoyance of residents of the actual Tequila area.  Incidentally, a word of warning:  Don’t try to drive in the town of Tequila.  The old, steep, cobblestone streets are filled with drivers who have been sampling pretty freely at the many distilleries in town.

Other parts of Mexico had their own Indigenous foods.  Heavy seafood dependence along the coast of the Gulf of California lives on in Sinaloa’s incomparable seafood cuisine.  Similar pre-Columbian traditions give us excellent seafood in Campeche and Veracruz.  In northeast Mexico, the Teenek Maya—called Huastec by the Nahuatl—baked very large tamales (as some Yucatec Maya do).  These Huasteca tamales were known as zacahuil, and still exist.  In this age of Guinness records, towns vie to produce ever larger ones, and some now weigh a hundred pounds.  They are one of the few dishes in the world to be immortalized in folksong; every traditional Huastecan singer can perform “Zacahuil,” often in the wonderful folk style of the region, influenced by Scots-Irish fiddling styles learned from nearby Texas.

A final Native American influence came from the Antilles, but it appeared mostly with the Spanish.  Outside of habanero peppers, the Spanish introduced few if any foods from the Antilles, but they brought several words from the Arawak language there: maize for corn, yuca for manioc, and a few others.  Our word “barbecue” comes from Arawak barbacoa, the frame on which meat was smoked for preserving it.  Hammock, tobacco, and cigar are also Arawak.

The Spanish were amazed at the productive maize fields.  They had read in the Bible about grain that returned a hundredfold on seed; they had never seen such a thing—Spanish wheat in the middle ages returned about three or four for one.  So when they saw maize literally returning a hundredfold, they were duly impressed.  Their diet back home had often been limited to bread, olives, wine, and cheese; now they could have game, fish, vegetables, spices, everything.  They soon began bringing the best New World foods back home.

Merchants in Spain tried hard to keep wheat, almonds, olives, wine, and other specialties from being produced in Mexico.  Wheat soon got away from them, since it grows extremely well in northern Mexico and in the Bajío (the high, beautiful center of Mexico).  In northwest Mexico, the Indigenous people either died out or mounted heroic resistance to the Spanish.  The Seri and Yaqui resistance movements against genocide stand as some of the most amazingly heroic stories in the entire history of humanity.  Maize was thus hard to get, so wheat became the staple.  In these areas the wheat tortilla—which, unlike the maize one, requires shortening—became staple food.

Olives, grapes, and almonds were hard to grow in central and south Mexico, and remained Spanish monopolies for a long time.  The main contribution of the Old World, in most of Mexico, was domestic livestock.  This proved a very mixed blessing.  It provided cheap and abundant meat and cheese, but the flocks multiplied, overran Indigenous cultivation, ate crops, caused horrific erosion, led to massive deforestation, and generally ruined much of the landscape, causing untold misery and environmental damage that is still getting worse all the time (Melville 1997; Painter and Durham 1995).  Those who deplore Native America’s lack of domestic livestock (e.g. Diamond 1997) need to explain why enormously reducing the food production and potential of Mexico is somehow a good thing.

Bread and domestic-animal meat soon became core parts of the Mexican diet, and grapes in the dried form of raisins became rather common.  Olives, almonds, capers, wine, and so on remained luxuries for the Spanish rich.  However, the real excitement came when converted Jews and Muslims were sent to Mexico.  The Spanish spent 800 years fighitng the Moors—Muslims of Arab and Berber ancestry—for control of Spain.  (“Moor” and “Morocco” both derive from Arabic maghrib, “sunset” or “far west,” because the area in question is the farthest west of the Arab lands.)  The Moors had developed an exceedingly elaborate and sophisticated cuisine.  They had also introduced oranges, sugar, dates, rice, and many other foods to Spain (Watson 2008).  The Romans had begun introducing spices, but the Moors really popularized them, especially the Arabic signature mix of cumin, coriander, black pepper, and (often) cinnamon.  Sesame seeds are also a Moorish item.  Also Moorish are the limes that are now so totally basic to Mexican food, and the bitter oranges that partially replace limes in Yucatan.

The Spanish finally conquered the last Moorish stronghold in 1492.  Yes, the date is significant, because it was the loot from conquest that financed Columbus, and the luxury of having finished the Reconquista that made possible a new conquest on a far larger scale.  But after the conquest the conquered Muslims and Jews persisted in rebelling, since they were subject to appalling oppression, brutality, and exploitation.  They were forced to become nominally Christian, but many held out in secret.  Those that would not convert were killed or forced to flee, finding refuge in Morocco, Tunisia, and Turkey.  Even conversos were not trusted, and vast numbers of them were sent to Mexico to get rid of them.  Here they were often sent to the more isolated areas, at first Puebla (it was isolated then!) and later New Mexico, where Moorish culture persisted until very recently.  Some years ago I noted a classic Mesopotamian Arab recipe in a traditional New Mexican cookbook by Cleofas Jaramillo (1981).  Gary Nabhan, an authority on these connections, found that the Jaramillo family did indeed have a Moorish converso background (Nabhan 2014).  As so often, foodways are mirrored in musical styles; New Mexico is a living museum of Moorish songs, even today after many centuries.  Older Hispanic singing styles are pure Moorish, and all the Hispanic traditions of the southwest are at least somewhat influenced, however indirectly, by that part of the heritage (see Robb 1980, but writing in the mid-20th century Robb did not realize the extent of Moorish influence in New Mexico, which was established largely in the 1980-2010 period).

One product of this was classic Puebla cooking.  The famous mole poblano is the perfect fusion of Aztec and Moorish haute cuisine.  It is basically a Moorish chicken dish fused with an Aztec turkey dish.  From the Moorish side we get the spices, sesame seeds, onions, and basic overall technique.  From the Aztec side we get the chocolate, tomato, and chile.  Stuffed chiles and stuffed squash simply classic Moorish stuffed vegetable dishes that use Mexican instead of Near Eastern vegetables.  They have gone home to Spain; you find them especially in Estremadura, the source of a large percentage of the original conquistadores and settlers.  Countless other Mexican dishes, including essentially all the ways of cooking lamb and mutton, are Moorish.

Another interesting Moorish dish is migas, basically stale bread soaked in broth, the tharid of Arab cuisine.  This is commoner in Spain than in Mexico, but it has found a home in Tepito, a rough working-class area of Mexico City.  The people there took to making cheap migas by salvaging bones from butchers and restaurants and cooking them into stock, then making migas with stale bread and tortillas.  With the inevitable Mexican (and especially Chilango) pride in making do, this got idealized as a marker of the tough, resourceful Tepitan, and thus called “vita-migas,” from vitaminas, Spanish for “vitamins” (Hernández 2009; he cites a wonderful Tepito saying that cannot be repeated in polite company but is all the better a life guide for that).

Another important derivative of Spanish and Moorish culture fusing with Native American culture was the belief that certain foods are heating to the body while others are cooling and still others are neutral.  Heating foods include high-calorie and spicy ones; cooling foods are low-calorie, often green vegetables, and tend to seem cool to the touch; neutral foods are basic starch staples.  This idea comes largely from ancient Greek medicine, but was developed largely by the Arab and Persian doctors in the early medieval period.  In Mexico it fused with similar Indigenous ideas.  One interesting and still locally important Indigenous idea is that wild areas, being cooler and moister than the hot sunny villages and fields, are cooling to the body and to foods produced there, while people and foods in the hot, dusty villages become hot.  Either way, chiles, strong alcohol, and fried foods are heating; green vegetables are cooling; tortillas and rice are neutral.  Many of you have encountered this belief.  It is fossilized in the English language in the term “to catch a cold.”  Within my lifetime, Americans almost all believed that colds came from experiencing cooling foods or from getting a chill or from similar cooling influences, not from catching a virus.  This is only one of many Mexican and New World beliefs that come from fusion of Spanish and Indigenous worldviews (or ontologies, as anthropologists say).

The Spanish favorite animal was the pig.  This stems from Celtic and Roman traditions.  The pig also found a happy home in Puebla, to the point where I heard there a bit of lousy poetry:  “Cuatro cosas come el Poblano:  Cerdo, cochinito, puerco, y marrano.”  “Pueblans eat four things: hog, pig, pork and boar.”  Notably exaggerated, but too good to leave out of this talk.

Anyway, the Spanish became the world’s master sausage makers (along with the Portuguese and Italians), and they introduced a pretty full range of it to the New World, where it thrives best in rather dry highland areas like Mexico City and the Altos de Chiapas.

Another influence at this time was African.  The Spanish imported an all too large number of enslaved Africans to the Caribbean and its coasts and shores, because the Native Americans died out from disease and overwork.  The entire Antilles were virtually depopulated within 50 years.  The biggest reasons included smallpox, malaria, and yellow fever, to which the Africans had some resistance.  The dreadful toll of disease hit Mexico more slowly and with less horrific effect, but by 1700 the Indigenous population had been reduced 90 to 95%, locally to 100%, and replaced in large party by people of African origin.   Unlike the situation in the United States and in Brazil, Africans did not enormously influence the actual dishes, but they introduced a range of foods: black-eyed peas, yams, okra, African rice, watermelons, and many more.  They made important foods out of the Native American peanut and sweet potato (both South American but introduced to Mexico before Columbus), which resemble African indigenous foods.  The most African-influenced regions are the area around Veracruz and the Costa Chica of Guerrero, both of which preserve highly African-influenced musical styles, including the amazing Jarocho music of Veracruz.  (“Jarocho,” originally a “racial” term for mixed African-Indigenous-Spanish locals, has become a general term of pride for Veracruzanos.)  Both areas preserve some minor but interesting African foodways, including a fondness for fried foods.             Meanwhile, the Manila Galleon kept Mexico in constant touch with the Philippines.  The galleon ran every year, going east on the trade winds in the tropics, then coming back on the westerlies, taking something like a great circle route through the north Pacific.  It coasted California on this run, and occasionally paused briefly.  It ran to Acapulco, which thus was influenced by Filipino culture.  Everything from distilling (see above) to the local names of some dishes (including black beans mixed with rice) came thus to Acapulco.  Chinese immigrants occasionally appeared.

Thus by the 18th century, Mexican food was, quite literally, a total melting pot.  Moving away from food a minute, we can learn from the story of Santiago de Murcia.  He was a musician to the Queen of Spain at the start of the 1700s, playing French and Spanish guitar music, but she died, and the new queen liked only Italian music.  So Santiago went to Mexico to seek his fortune, and there became fascinated with the local folk music, setting down many Native American and African dances (O’Dette 1998).  The African dances included the world’s first recorded cumbias (or “cumbas’)—predating the 1990s cumbia boom by 250 years.  All these were getting more and more Spanish-influenced, and vice versa.  Spain and Mexico were musical melting pots as well as literal ones.

The 19th century brought yet more influences.  The French arrived and briefly conquered Mexico before being expelled again (part of the process being the actually inconclusive battle celebrated on Cinco de Mayo—not a holiday in Mexico, which is much more concerned with its actual independence day, Sept. 16).  Even before French rule, the prestige of French food had influenced Mexico.  With French rule, it took the urban areas by storm, and the elites consumed little else for years.  French bread influenced the Mexican bolillo and other wheat flour items.  French cakes and pastries, French ways with meat and fish, French menus, and French table manners were general (Pilcher 1998).  Meanwhile, other European influences accumulated; beer, more German and United States-style than French or Spanish, slowly replaced pulque and other home brews as the alcoholic drink of choice, and now Mexico is one of the world’s major brewers and consumers of that beverage.  Otherwise, heavy German and Irish immigration in the 19th century has had surprisingly little obvious influence, but it certainly colors Mexican food and consumption habits.

After the French were expelled, but mostly in the 20th century, Indigenous Mexican food slowly came back into style.  However, in the meantime, another huge influence had appeared.  Chinese immigrants flooded into Mexico in the late 19th century, brought in as cheap labor on railroads, in mines, in new agribusiness plantations, and so on.  They formed local Chinatowns, where typical foods of the poorer rural parts of coastal Guangdong Province were found: chop suey, chow mein, egg fuyong, noodle soups, white rice, soy sauce, pickled vegetables, preserved eggs and fish, Chinese sausage, and stir-fried dishes using small bits of boneless chicken or pork stir-fried with vegetables cut into small cubes.  My generation remembers this well from California Chinatowns as well as from Chinatowns in Mexicali, Mexico City, and elsewhere.  The Chinatown in Mexicali, now about gone, was a fascinating time machine when I was young; you could visit it and go back to the early 1900s.  The Chinese had been brought in as laborers on the new fields created with large-scale irrigation, or had come as tradespeople and urban workers, and had remained fairly conservative in foods and other ways.  Chinese food is now widespread in Mexico, and has slowly diversified, so one can now find Sichuan food and other non-Cantonese specialties in the bigger cities.  One Chinese introduction that has become widely known in ordinary Mexican society are the little salted plums or apricots called saladitos in Mexican Spanish.

A bigger influence was a renewed burst of Arab food borrowing.  This was due to the sudden tide of repression that swept the previously tolerant Turkish Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The empire was dying, and looking for ways to shore up power; also, German advisors counseled more firm and culturally homogenizing policies.  The results included savage repression and local massacres of Christian Arabs and full-scale genocide of Armenians.  Today we think of Arabs as Muslims, but in 1900 about 10% were Christian, with a huge concentration in Syria (then including Lebanon) and Palestine.  Thousands of them fled to Latin America, especially if they were Catholic—whether Roman rite or Syrian rite.  They introduced the foods of their home region.  Possibly the most widely known now is the semita (Arabic simit), a ring-shaped bread covered with sesame seeds.  It is widely sold in Mexico as a street vendor snack.  Another food that caught on was kibi, ground meat and bulgur wheat combined in a pointed-ended meatball and fried.  These have now become a “traditional Maya” food, having spread from the Merida city market area.  A new boom in stuffed vegetables was also apparent.  Baklava, raw onions, Greek-type salads, and other foods became known.  Perhaps most interesting was the new form of tacos al pastor.  Previously probably just made with meat hung up to roast over a fire (the carne al pastor of old-time cookbooks), this now became the Greek- and Turkish-style gyro:  meat is sliced, marinated, and impaled on a vertical spit; bits are shaved off from the turning mass of meat and wrapped in a soft tortilla.  Many cities had Arab restaurants.  Merida used to have a range of incredibly wonderful Lebanese-style restaurants, ranging from very cheap to very expensive and luxurious, but I think only one is left now.  Gary Nabhan, who is Lebanese-American, has been increasingly involved in documenting Arab foods in New World folk traditions (Nabhan 2014).  Another huge influence came from the Arab immigrants starting supermarkets.  The two major Mexican supermarket chains, Chedraui and San Francisco de Asís, were both started by Christian Arab immigrants from the old Turkish Empire.  Mexico’s richest man, Carlos Slim, is also descended from Arab immigrants.

Smaller groups of immigrants had more local influence.  The extent to which Mexico is a melting pot, like the United States, is not always appreciated.  Huge numbers of Irish and large numbers of Germans went to Mexico in the 19th century.  The Irish left little trace, but the Germans included many Mennonites, from the German-Dutch border country, speaking a different language somewhere between German and Dutch.  They set up farming colonies in remote areas, and often live by selling cheese, including a high-fat white cheese that has come to be known as menonita.  Another fascinating group was made up of mascogos, descended from escaped African-American enslaved persons from Texas, who maintained a strikingly traditional lifestyle in remote parts of north Mexico well into the 20th century, combining Mexican rural foods with African and African-American foods like soski bread and tetapun, a Mexicanized spelling of ‘tater pone—sweet potato pie (del Moral and Siller 2000).  More generally, southern US cooking influenced other parts of Mexico.  Yucatan state, especially Merida, is fond of strictly southern-US-style pecan pies and cheese pies, called pie de nuez and pie de queso respectively; this leads to some puns, since pai is Maya for “skunk.”


As of 1900, and even 1950, village Mexico was still Indigenous as far as foodways went.  Maize, beans, squash and chiles remained the staples.  Tortillas, tamales, tacos, moles, and other pre—Colombian dishes were the norm.  Pulque and tepache or tiswin (homemade beers) were the alcoholic drinks.  All sorts of domestic and wild greens were eaten, under the old Nahuatl name of quelites (Nahuatl quilitl).  Most of them are very healthful, and they have been studied in detail by ethnobotanists recently.  An interesting case is verdolagas (purslane in English; Portulaca oleracea).  It is a domesticated crop with selected varieties in central Mexico, an enthusiastically consumed weed in the rest of Mexico, and a mere weed—pulled out when seen—in the United States.  Several other crops show this pattern of being appreciated in Mexico but ignored elsewhere.  Mexican culture is much more appreciative of the plant world than are many others.  A large percentage of our favorite domestic flowers were domesticated by Indigenous Mexicans, from marigolds and dahlias to zinnias and cosmos.

Many foodways are extremely health-promoting; many foods have medicinal values, and many herbal medicines have come from Mexico.  The most dramatic finding was the birth control pill, which was developed from wild yams used in local medicine.  The story of how the pill was developed, and how Mexico lost out on the financial bonanza, has been told in a superb book, Jungle Laboratories by Gabriela Soto Laveaga (2010).  Since then, Mexico has been very careful about letting anyone patent its plant medicines—far too careful, from a humanitarian point of view, since it will not allow much research.


My own experiences with Mexican food have been largely in Maya lands of southeastern Mexico.  I have done food ethnography in Yucatan and Quintana Roo, and fairly extensively in Tabasco, Campeche, and Chiapas.  They are culturally very different indeed from the Nahuatl-dominated center.  Tortillas are now basic, but they are a fairly recent introduction, probably becoming staple food within the last few centuries.  Before that, the Maya ate tamales, pit-roasted meats, and large maize breads baked in the pit oven (pib).  Also baked in the pit oven are whole pigs, cochinita pibil.  Many soups and stews were made.  They also ate manioc, sweet potatoes, and other root crops.  They eat an enormous range of tropical fruits and vegetables.  I piublished a long article on my work (Anderson 2010) and self-published a book of recipes (Anderson 2008, recipes available online at under the title “Mayaland Cuisine”), and I am currently finishing up a book with food ethnographer Amber O’Connor on Maya foodways (O’Connor and Anderson 2017).

Maya food also includes a range of ceremonial dishes for the many ceremonies to worship and thank spirits and gods for rain, harvests, game, and other blessings.  These would traditionally be based on the sacred maize, and include squash seed meal.  Humans were made of maize by the gods, and then animated by blood that the gods shed to give life to the maze dough.  The squash seed meal symbolizes the blood (at least to some traditional ritualists).  Turkey was the traditional meat; chicken is now used.  One set of stews made of turkey and maize (with vegtetables and chiles) is colored according to the four directions.  North is considered to associated with white, and the stew is colored with white maize flour.  South is yellow, colored with yellow maize and with a little achiote.  East is red, colored with more achiote.  West is black, and is colored with burned chiles.  The chiles are toasted black and then ground.  The center is green, the color of vegetation and life, symbolized on the traditional altars by green leaves rather than food.  Homemade cigarettes of native tobacco are also offered to the deities.  Many deities have been equated with Catholic saints, and in particular the all-important Maize God was early equated with Jesus.

Maya food was probably always influenced from central Mexico, but after the Spanish conquest there was more influence, including Nahuatl dishes like chilmole and pipian as well as tortillas.  Later, the usual Caribbean and Arab influences found their way in.


The 20th and 21st centuries have seen the floodgates open, in so far as they were not open already.  Most obvious has been the spectacular increase in Italian restaurants, especially since about 1960.  Pizza joints, spaghetti houses, sub sandwich spots, and more upscale Italian restaurants are now as common in Mexico as in the US.  The quality of food at these places is generally very low, I am sorry to say, but they provide cheap, quick, easy-to-eat meals for hurried working-class and middle-class people.

The United States has inevitably had an enormous influence, much of it highly negative from the point of view of health and food quality.   Mass production of low-nutrient breads and snack foods came early, and has only increased over the years.  Soft drinks are the most universal borrowing.  Coca-cola® is so universal that the Mexican idiom for utter remoteness is “where even the Coca truck doesn’t go.”  United States food companies have bought many Mexican ones.  United States soybeans, maize, and other bulk crops flood the market. NAFTA ensured that protected, heavily subsidized US agribusiness could flood the Mexican markets; less subsidized, the Mexican producers cannot compete.  This has ruined many dairy, maize, and bean farms.  More recently, United States chains, from McDonald’s to Pizza Hut, have become universal; even US pseudo-Mexican-food chains like Taco Bell are widespread, especially in tourist areas.

Not all the influence is bad (though finding the exceptions takes searching).  United States innovations in agricultural production have been largely beneficial to farmers, though with important recent problems.  US investment, especially in agricultural research and development, has often been valuable and sometimes decisive.  US culinary trends have spilled over into Mexico, leading to renewed interest in traditional, regional, and folk dishes and ingredients, and renewed interest in freshness and quality of ingredients.  Returning migrants to el norte, as well as tourists and other visitors, have made sure that any new styles in New York or Los Angeles or other centers are quickly tried out in Mexico

Meanwhile, not only has Mexican food continued to be popular in the United States, but also Mexicans have become the backbone of the US restaurant industry.  Fans of Anthony Bourdain will know that even in New York the kitchen staffs of fancy French restaurants are heavily immigrant Mexican (see e.g. Bourdain 2000).   There is a Chinese type of noodle that is stretched by swinging it out like a skipping rope, which really develops the gluten and makes a very chewy noodle.  The technique is incredibly difficult to master, but I have seen it done in Los Angeles by a Mexican cook.  Zacatecas in particular is the source for a slarge percentage of Los Angeles’ greatest chefs.

A food event worth major attention is the development of high-yield varieties of wheat and other grains at CIMMYT, the international research center in Texcoco, now celebrating its 50th birthday.  This center was set up by the Mexican government and Rockefeller Foundation, later getting help from various governments and foundations during the 1960s, when food shortages were common and world famine loomed.  Crash programs of research at CIMMYT and the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines produced high-yield, easy-to-grow grains that saved the world.  Other centers dealing with other crops have arisen since.  The resulting “Green Revolution” has had a bad reputation with scholars, because it tended to encourage overuse of pesticides and fertilizers, but that need not happen.  Recent varieties use much less chemical input.  About the only downside, really, is that the new wheats don’t taste as good as the old ones.  We used to stock up on bolillos when we went to Mexico, back when I was young, because the wheat (and therefore the bolillos) was so much better tasting than wheat in the US.  No longer.  It would be easy to breed back the taste into modern wheats, but no one seems to care.

CIMMYT did not make dramatic breakthroughs with maize, for the very good reason that the Mexican people had bred such incredibly tough, diverse, and high-yielding maizes that there was little they could do.  (I have this on direct authority from former CIMMYT personnel I have interviewed, notably Edgar Niederhouser, to whom thanks.)  In any case, the great success of CIMMYT was the high-yield, short-straw wheats developed by Norman Borlaug and his team; he won the Nobel Prize for this.  These wheats have the additional advantage of growing well in Mexico’s hot climate, unlike most high-yield wheats.  They totally revolutionized wheat-raising not only in Mexico, but in India and Pakistan.  Borlaug, in his Nobel Prize speech in 1970, warned that he and his colleagues had only bought the world some time to get population growth under control:  “There can be no permanent progress in the battle against hunger until the agencies that fight for increased food production and those that fight for population control unite in a common effort.” (Nobel Peace Prize speech, as quoted by Jeffrey D. Sachs, 2009, “Transgressing Planetary Boundaries,” Scientific American, Dec., p. 36.)

Alas, the world did not listen, and now is food-short again.  Worse, agricultural research has been run down and often left to pesticide companies (Pardey 2016).  The traditional, hardy, disease-resistant varieties and species of crops and animals are rapidly going extinct, though CIMMYT and other centers are desperately trying to save at least the seeds.  Recent GMO crops and other highly disruptive influences are coming into Mexico.  Mexico has banned GMO maize, but it has come via returning migrants to the US, and is now not uncommon.  This presents a huge danger to traditional varieties.  They could be genetically swamped by hybridization.  Some hybrids of wild and local maize with GMO varieties have turned up, but fortunately farmers have become more careful, and this is no longer being reported (information from my colleagues and students, especially Norman Ellstrand).  GMO’s also require more (and more, and more) chemical and mechanical inputs, thus getting increasingly out of range of local less affluent farmers, who are driven off the farm.  The ironic result of these new, very inferior “improved” crops is rural decline and the abandonment of millions of acres that were fertile and productive until recently. Once abaindoned, they do not even return to wilderness.  In fact, they often erode away, leaving a moonscape.  Or they become cattle range, increasing erosion and biological degradation as well as rural inequality.

Fortunately, Mexican farmers are tough and independent people, and this process of rural decline has not progressed so far as it has in many areas of the world.  Many parts of Mexico, including Quintana Roo where I do research, are strongholds of independent small farming by local families.  These and other traditional Indigenous farmers are very skill-intensive, and we really need to document the skills and knowledge before they are lost to modernization.

Even so, Mexico’s curse since the Spanish introduced giant estates has been huge-scale farms, either cattle ranches or agribusinesses, with landless laborers reduced to starvation wages and horrible living conditions.  This plantation-style agriculture came to Spain with the Romans.  It was later imposed by the Spanish on the Moors.  Then the Spanish from heavily Moorish parts of Spain used the same institutions to reduce the Indigenous population to serfdom.  This large-scale, landlord-dominated type of agriculture is increasingly a curse to rural Mexico, and now many of the plantations are owned by giant international agribusiness firms.  Dvera Saxton here can tell you more about it; she is one of the leading experts on this problem.

Today, unless there is a new effort comparable to CIMMYT’s, but dedicated to saving small farms and traditional varieties and to farming without deadly chemicals, you will probably all live to see mass starvation worldwide. 

All too predictably, another main event of the 21st century has been the swamping of Mexico by fast-food chains and giant food corporations.  Most are US-based, of course.  Even the iconic Bimbo bakery company has been taken over.

The result of this is horribly predictable.  Besides cutting the pleasure of eating, it has the more tangible and measurable effect of sending diabetes and other diet-related disease rates to unprecedented heights.  Native Americans are particularly susceptible genetically to diabetes and metabolic syndrome (see e.g. SIGMA Type 2 Diabetes Consortium 2014), but anyone would succumb to the mix of bleached white flour, refined white sugar, and soybean oil that is now the standard diet in much of Mexico.  Sugar in commercial soft drinks is now actually the main source of calories for Mexican children.  Worldwide, diabetes rates are soaring, and 422 million people now have this condition (Sonnenburg and Bāckhed 2016).

Traditional diets are protective.  In Mexico, nopales (cactus pads from Platyopuntia spp.) are known to reduce blood sugar and inflammation and alleviate diabetes, and buds of Cecropia spp. appear to, also.  Many other folk remedies are used, with varying effectiveness.  Certainly several Maya people I know have sent their diabetes into remission by using traditional remedies.  Diet is the best cure, though.  Refined carbohydrates, especially sugar, are notorious risk factotrs, but so is soybean oil, because the body quickly converts much of it into prostaglandins, which are inflammatory.  Obesity also causes diabetes directly, through inflammatory mechanisms.  It would be hard to imagine a better diet than the traditional Mexican one of whole grains, wild greens, seed atoles, nopales, avocados, fruit, beans, vegetables, and some lean meat and fish.  Unfortunately, contemporary supply chains and food marketing venues are set up to maximize the marketing of comida chatarra—“junk food.”  It would be perfectly easy to develop supply and marketing chains that would do the opposite; all it would take is going back to the old open markets, still flourishing in many areas.  (Don’t miss the one in Oaxaca.  It’s worth a special trip to the city.)


Mexican food may be especially complex and diverse in its origins, but it is fairly typical of food systems worldwide.  No food system developed without massive borrowing from others.  Borrowing goes on all the time.  No food system remains static for more than a generation or two.  Foods fall out of favor, come in from outside, get modified, get substituted.  Fads rise and decline.  The idea of stable, long-continued folkways is nonsense.  Mexico has had some astonishingly long-running food traditions, notably the ever-wonderful tortilla and its frequent accompaniment of boiled beans and chile sauce.  However, little else remains unchanged.

Even after 150 years of cultural anthropology, many people believe that “cultures” and “ethnicities” are steel-walled spheres that are completely independent of each other and do not affect each other except through aggression.  No.  Culture and ethnicity are abstract concepts that cover a realty of constantly shifting, changing practices.  People constantly borrow, negotiate and renegotiate (Bourdieu 1977), and decide to change.

This puts in a rather ironic light the recent protests against “white men,” meaning Anglo-American yanquis, cooking Mexican food.  I occuasionally have nightmares of trying to sort out the mess if we carried this principle to its logical conclusion.  Only Nahuatl speakers would be allowed to make tortillas.  Only Maya would be allowed to make chocolate.  And so on….

There is a huge difference between normal cultural borrowing and actual offensive appropriation.  If cultural appropriation is deliberately insulting (like stereotypic caricatures) or is outright ripoff for profit, it is as bad as any other insult or ripoff.  If it is done more creditable reasons, it’s not only normal, it’s inevitable and necessary.  Think if Norman Borlaug had refused to share those wheat varieties—as, in fact, modern seed companies do refuse to share theirs, insisting on purchase at very high profit rates.  Instead, the wheat was made freely available worldwide, saving tens of millions of lives.  Mexico today has thousands of species and varieties of useful plants and animals.  They could revolutionize farming worldwide.  We need to be able to get them into circulation and feed the world.  But abuse by giant firms and outdated, poorly formulated patent laws make this impossible at the present time.  Reform is seriously needed.

When Western medical researchers were looking for quinine in the forests of the Amazon Basin, they explained they needed it as a cure for malaria, a disease from the Old World.  One local assistant commented:  “God put the fever in Europe and the quinine in America in order to teadch us the solidarty that should prevail among all the peoples of the earth.”  (Quoted Whitaker 1954:58).  Whether God did it or it happened naturally, the point is made.  We all need each other’s knowledge.  We all need each other’s foods and foodways.  We all need each other.






This article is based on a talk given at California State University-Fresno, Oct. 19, 2016.  Thanks to Jen Banh and Dvera Saxton for initially seeking me out to give this talk.  Thanks to my coworkers in Mexico, especially Felix Medina Tzuc and Aurora Dzib Xihum de Cen, as well as colleagues and students too numerous to mention.


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Mayaland Cuisine: Campeche, Chiapas and Tabasco

October 10th, 2016



Recados, sauces, and minor snacks and market foods in Campeche are generally the same as in Yucatan, so refer to recipes in the previous chapter.





Black Rice Soup (a “dry soup”)


1/2 lb. rice

1 oz. lard or vegetable oil

2 garlic cloves

1 onion

2 quarts stock from cooking black beans (one could use the liquid from a few cans of black beans)

2 serrano chiles or other good green chiles

4 epazote leaves or a small branch of epazote

Salt to taste


Soak the rice; drain; fry in the lard or oil.  Add the garlic, onion and chiles (chopped), the bean stock, the epazote and the salt.  Cook over a very low flame.

Alternative method (not traditional but good): fry the onion and garlic first, then add the rice.  This requires more lard or oil.

This can be made with seafood—crab meat, shrimp, squid—in which case one can leave out the black bean liquid.

Compare the similar recipe in the Yucatan chapter.

(modified from Conaculta Oceano 2001a:24)



Bricklayer’s Dogfish (cazón de albañil)


1 roast dogfish

3 sprigs epazote


4 tomatoes

1 onion

2 xkatik chiles

Oil for frying


Boil the dogfish with the epazote.  Bone and shred.  Fry up the shreds with the vegetables (chopped).  Add the stock in which the dogfish was cooked–enough to make a sauce rather than a soup.

I admit I included this dish only because the name is irresistible.  Still, it’s great if you use a more palatable fish.  Actually, it is a version of a common Caribbean dish using salt cod (presoaked and washed to remove the salt), and I recommend cod—salted or not—for it.



Campeche Caviare


Roes from one esmedregal, a large mackerel-like fish with very good, large roe sacs

1 tbsp. oregano

8 garlic cloves, mashed

1/2 tsp. ground pepper

Salt to taste

2 onions

1 head of garlic

4 large tomatoes

1/2 cup olive oil


Boil the roes with some oregano, garlic and salt.  Chill.  Peel the membrane off the roes.  Roast the onion, garlic head, and tomatoes, blend them, and fry them in the olive oil.  Season.  Add the roes and boil 15-20 minutes.

Fish roes are widely used in mixed seafood dishes in eastern Mexico.



Fried Flaked Dogfish

If you are not into the cult of cazón, try this with any firm white-fleshed fish, such as cod.  It is then really excellent.


2 lb. fresh dogfish, in pieces

1 tbsp. salt

1/2 green onion



1 lb. tomatoes

1 chile habanero

1/2 regular onion



Cook the dogfish in water to cover, with the salt, green onion and epazote.

Bone and skin the dogfish.  Rinse and break up into small pieces.  Season with the lime, and with more salt and epazote.

Roast the tomatoes, chile and onion.  Blend up.  Fry this salsa in oil.

Add the dogfish to the salsa and fry till this sauce thickens.



Dogfish Bread (pan de cazón)

This universal Campeche delicacy is even more an acquired taste than its main ingredient.  I present a recipe purely for ethnographic interest.


2 lb. roasted dogfish

1 tbsp. salt

Epazote to taste

½ -1 lb. lard

1/2 onion

2 lb. tomatoes

About 1 cup refried black beans (boil the beans; mash; fry in lard)


4 habaneros

½ c bitter orange or lime juice


Wash and cut up the dogfish.  Boil with salt for thirty minutes, adding some epazote.  Remove skin and bones and fry.

Stir-fry the onion and the rest of the epazote, chopped, in lard.  Add the tomatoes, cut up, and the pieces of dogfish.

Cover and cook for fifteen minutes.  Retire from the flame.  Break up the fish into flakes and mix all ingredients thoroughly.

Heat the tortillas and the beans.  Moisten the tortillas in the dogfish sauce.  Cover with a layer of beans.  Cover this with the dogfish mix.  Then add another layer (tortilla, beans, sauce).  Keep building, by layers, as much as desired.  (About six layers is typical.)  Serve with the salsa.

Make habanero salsa:  chop up the habaneros, preferably with some onion or garlic, and marinate in the citrus juice.

Variants abound, but the basic model above is pretty standard.

This is more or less the national dish of Campeche.  If it is made (as it usually is) with the dogfish that has been sitting in the marketplace for a while, outsiders may find it reminiscent of school-cafeteria tuna casserole.



Esmedregal in Orange Juice

Esmedregal is a term for various large fish with firm white flesh.  Anything from albacore to red snapper works well for this one.


2 lb. esmedregal fillets, or other firm, juicy, white-fleshed fish

Parsley, 1 bunch

Garlic, 2-3 cloves

Oregano, about 1 tsp dried

Cumin seeds

Black pepper


1 cup bitter orange juice

1 cup olive oil

1/2 white onion

1 sweet chile

1 lb. tomatoes, sliced

1 hot chile

Juice of two sweet oranges


Cut the fish in small pieces.  Wash in water with a bit of lime juice added.

Blend the herbs and spices into a paste with the bitter orange juice (see substitutions in introduction).  Marinate the fish in half of this, for an hour or so.

Fry lightly.

Separately fry the vegetables, cut up.  Add the fish.  Cook, adding the rest of the herb paste, and finally the sweet orange juice.

(modified from Conaculta Oceano 2001a:36)



Fish casserole


2 lb. white, firm-fleshed fish

Juice of 2 limes

1/2 cup oil

1 onion, in thin slices

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1/4 lb. bell pepper, chopped

1 lb. tomato, blended

2 peppercorns, crushed

1 tsp. cumin seeds

1/2 tbsp. fresh oregano (dried oregano can be substituted, in which case use less, about 1 tsp.)

1 tbsp. parsley, chopped

1 tsp. nutmeg

Salt and pepper to taste


Wash the fish, cut in medium-sized pieces, and marinate in the lime juice for 15 minutes.  Heat the oil.  Fry in it the onion and garlic.  Then add the bell pepper, blended tomato, pepper, cumin seeds, oregano, nutmeg, parsley and salt.  When this has cooked a short time, add the fish and cook till done.



Fish Makum

A classic favorite, also very popular in Yucatan.

Cherry Hamman explains:  “The words mak, ‘to close’ and kum ‘cooking pot,’ explain the title of this ancient hearthrite.”  (Hamman 1998:251; her recipe is for a meat makum, also an excellent dish).


6 garlic cloves

2 roasted onions

1/2 tbsp. cumin seeds

1/2 tsp. or more of oregano

1 tbsp. achiote paste

5 cloves

8 black peppercorns

1/2 cup vinegar

1/2 cup oil

Juice of 2 limes

Salt to taste

Oil for oiling the dish

1 banana leaf

2 lb. fish fillets (snapper, pompano or the like)

3 tomatoes, sliced

4 whole güero chiles (medium-sized, hot, yellow chiles) or comparable chiles

1 red bell pepper or 1-2 fresh red chiles, roasted, peeled and sliced


Blend the garlic, one of the onions, and the cumin seeds, oregano, achiotes, cloves, and peppercorns.  Mix with the vinegar, some oil, and the salt and lime juice.  Alternatively, you can just use a cube of red recado dissolved in lime or bitter orange juice.

Oil a casserole dish and line with the banana leaf.  Put on some of the sauce (above), then the fish, then the rest of the sauce, well rubbed onto all the fish.

Decorate with the tomatoes and the other onion, sliced; the whole chiles; and the strips of bell peppers or chiles.

Bend the banana leaf around to cover all.  Bake, or cook over slow fire, till done.

Parsley or cilantro for garnish is allowed.

Serve with white rice and black beans.

Variant: Nutmeg (pinch) and bay leaves are sometimes added.  More tomatoes can be used.

(modified from Conaculta Oceano 2001a:34 on the basis of a good deal of field experience)



Pampano in Escabeche

Pampano is a medium-sized, roundish fish with firm white flesh and a very delicate flavor.  Red snapper would work (but the real thing is better). I  can even imagine doing this dish with trout.


1 grilled or fried pampano

1 large onion

1 carrot

1 jalapeno pepper

2 bay leaves

1 tsp. cumin seeds

Few black peppercorns

1/2 cup vinegar

Salt and other spices to taste



Chop and fry the onion.  Add the other vegetables and spices.  Cook briefly (a few minutes).  Pour this sauce over the pampano.



Pampano in Green Sauce

The medieval Arab-Andalusian green sauce appears yet again.  This is a particularly good form of it.


2 lb. pampano fillets


1 bunch parsley

1 bunch cilantro

1 green chile (xkatik preferable)

Black pepper

Oregano to taste (about 1 tsp.)

1/2 tsp. cumin seeds


Vinegar to taste (a small amount)

6 cloves garlic

Lard for frying

1 small onion

2 tomatoes

2 mild yellow chiles


Wash the fish and rub with lime.

Blend the parsley, cilantro, green chile, oregano, pepper, cumin seeds, salt, vinegar and garlic.

Marinate the fish in this sauce.

Fry all in lard (or oil).  One way to do this is to put the fish in, then cover with the sauce.  Another way is to fry the sauce first, then put the fish in (this works only with quite thin fish, or fillets).

Then add the onion and tomatoes, chopped, and the chiles, chopped or whole.  When all has fried somewhat, add water and cook till sauce is thick.

Variants:  One can dispense with either the parsley or the cilantro, or even the green chile, and use instead hojasanta leaves, or tomatillos (green husk-tomatoes).  In fact, any combination of green, flavorful herbs is good.



Pampano Pohchuk


1 pampano, ca. 1 lb.

1 tbsp. achiote paste

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. oregano

1/2 tsp. cumin seeds

24 garlic cloves

2 tbsp. olive oil



Oil, for frying

1 lb. cooked small shrimp

1 lb. chopped octopus

3 garlic cloves

2 chopped tomatoes

2 laurel leaves

Salt and pepper

Banana leaves


Wash the fish and marinate for two hours in a marinade of the achiote, pepper, oregano, cumin seeds, garlic and olive oil (plus enough water to make a thin paste).

For the stuffing, stir-fry the onion, chopped.  Add the shrimp and octopus.  Then add the rest and boil briefly.

Stuff the fish with this.  Wrap all in banana leaves, put in a casserole dish and bake in a moderate oven for 25 minutes.

The stuffing can be varied according to what is available; stuffing without any seafood at all is not unknown.

(modified from Conaculta Oceano 2001a:33



Panuchos, Campeche style


2 lb. masa

4 oz. flour

Salt to taste

1 lb. cooked black beans

1 lb. fried dogfish (see above in introduction to section)

1 onion, quartered

2 bitter oranges

Habanero chile, to taste


Mix the masa, flour and salt with enough water to make a dough.  Make small tortillas (two for each panucho).  For a panucho, cover one tortilla with beans, one with shark meat, put them together (beans and fish inside), and seal around the edges.  Fry (either deep fat or in a bit of oil in skillet).

Chop the onion and habanero and mix into the juice of the bitter oranges.  Eat as topping for the panuchos.



Seafood Rice


1 onion

1 garlic clove

1 tomato

1 lb. rice

2 bay leaves

Sprig of thyme

Sprig of oregano

Mixed seafood: shrimps, clams or other shellfish, cut-up octopus, and bits of fish

Fish stock

2 oz. peas


Salt and pepper to taste


Chop the onion and garlic.  Fry in a bit of oil.  Add the tomato, chopped.  Add the rice and herbs.  Fry till rice begins to stick.  Add the seafood.  Then add enough fish stock to cover all to a depth of 1/2 to 3/4″.  Add peas and cook.

Chopped peppers can be added too.  In fact, almost anything can be added.  This dish naturally calls for improvisation and substitution.  You can use any odd bits of seafood available.  Important is to achieve a contrast of textures, such as that produced by fish, clams, and octopus bits.



Seafood Salad


Shrimp, conch, octopus, bits of fish, shredded carrot, chopped onion, cilantro, sliced cucumber, sliced tomato, sliced avocado, salt, and pepper, in lime juice.


Basically a glorified fish cocktail.  As with the foregoing, the critical thing is to achieve a contrast of textures as well as tastes.



Snook in Mole Sauce

The snook is a large silver fish of warm Caribbean and Atlantic waters.  It has white flesh and a unique, rich taste that can become addictive.  A snook cooked this way is truly unique and unsurpassed, but, lacking a snook, you can use any white-fleshed fish.  Relatively firm, oily ones work best.


1 snook, ca. 3 lb.


4 tbsp. lard

8 ancho chiles (dried)

2 cups water

1/2 lb. cooked potatoes, cut up

Sprig of epazote


Clean the fish.  Rub with lard.  Roast on a grill.

Soak the chiles to rehydrate them.  Then blend and fry in lard.  Add salt to taste.

Add in the water, the fish (cut in pieces), and the potatoes and epazote.  Cook till flavors blend.

(modified from Conaculta Oceano 2001a:37)








Pork Loin with Black-eyed Peas

A rather striking recipe with a distinctly Cuban flavor.  I suspect Campeche’s long, close trade connections with Cuba are behind this dish somewhere.


2 garlic cloves

10 black peppercorns

1 onion

1 tbsp. achiote seeds

1/2 lb. tomato, chopped

10 sprigs epazote

1 1/2 lb. pork loin, cut in small pieces

1 quart water

Salt to taste

3/4 lb. black-eyed peas

2 lb. masa

1 habanero chile, green (unripe)

1/3 lb. lard, melted

1 banana leaf


Grind the spices.  Miix with the tomato, epazote and meat.  Make a soup with the water and salt, and cook till meat is done.  Cook the peas separately.

Mix the chile (cut up) and the lard into the masa.  Add the meat stew and the beans.  Cook till it forms a solid paste.  Grease a baking dish and line with banana leaf.  Add in the paste and bake at 350o till golden.



Tamales, Campeche feast style


4 lb. masa

4 quarts water

Salt to taste

3/4 lb. lard

3 sprigs of epazote

10 banana leaves



1 lb. jowl of pork (or other relatively firm, meaty cut)

1 1/2 lb. pork loin

1 chicken

Salt to taste

8 cloves garlic, roasted

10 black peppercorns

1/4 tsp. cumin seeds

1 tsp. achiote seeds

1 quart broth

1 1/2 lb. tomato, chopped

6 leaves or sprigs of epazote, chopped


Mix the masa with water.  Add salt, lard and epazote (chopped).  Simmer, stirring constantly, till thick.  Turn off flame and let stand 15 minutes.

Cook the meats in the stock, cut into small pieces, and add salt and garlic.  Grind the peppercorns, cumin seeds and achiote seeds.  Add to the stock.  Mix in the chopped meat and boil again till reduced.  Add the tomato and epazote.  Retire from the flame when cooked fairly dry.

Toast lightly the banana leaves and cut in quarters.  (Of course, you can always use foil, kitchen paper, or corn husks.)  Cover with a layer of masa dough.  Put on a chunk of stuffing and roll up.  Steam for half an hour.




Black Rice Soup (a “dry soup”)


1/2 lb. rice

1 oz. lard or vegetable oil

2 garlic cloves

1 onion

2 quarts stock from cooking black beans (one could use the liquid from a few cans of black beans)

2 serrano chiles

4 epazote leaves

Salt to taste


Soak the rice; drain; fry in the lard or oil.  Add the garlic, onion and chiles (chopped), the bean stock, the epazote and the salt.  Cook over a very low flame.

Alternative method: fry the onion and garlic first, then add the rice.  This requires more lard or oil.

This can be made with seafood—crab meat, shrimp, squid—in which case one can leave out the black bean liquid.  Chopped tomatoes, various herbs, and other vegetation can all be used.

Compare the similar recipe in the Yucatan chapter.



Campeche Salad


1/2 lb. chickpeas, cooked

1/2 lb. green beans

3 carrots

2 turnips

3 potatoes

2 tomatoes, chopped

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste


Boil the carrots and turnips.  Boil the potatoes separately.  Do not overcook–they should be firm.  Cool.  Chop and mix with the tomato and seasonings.

A very standard restaurant dish, and thus subject to infinite variation.  It is possible to add cooked rice to this.  It is also possible to add almost anything else interesting; corn kernels are particularly welcome.  The creative cook will want to experiment with herbs, chiles, and even flaked fish (this salad often accompanies fish, and there seems no reason not to add some fish in).



Vegetables in Marinade



1 cauliflower

1/2 lb. green beans

4 summer squash

4 carrots

1 red onion

4 small potatoes

Jalapeno chile (optional)

2 tbsp. olive oil



Oregano, salt, and pepper to taste


Cut up the vegetables.  Blanch them by putting in boiling water, turning it off and leaving for 15 minutes (i.e., till the vegetables soften a bit but do not actually cook).  Wash them and put in vinegar to cover.  Add in the other ingredients and marinate at least 12 hours.

The herbs would typically be powdered thyme, marjoram and perhaps others.  One can easily use fresh herbs instead.  Be creative.  The irrepressible will no doubt want to add a habanero.

Cooked sea foods, especially shellfish and octopus, can be added.




Preserved ciricotes

The ciricote is the small fruit of a tree (Cordia sebestina) also noted for its incredibly beautiful wood.  The value of the wood leads to cutting many a ciricote tree, and the fruit is correspondingly rare.  Tough and even woody, like small quinces, ciricotes have to be cooked.


4 lb. ciricotes

Juice of 4 limes

1 lb. sugar

2 quarts water

3 fig leaves


Cook the ciricotes.  If tough, use some baking soda–or, to be really traditional, ashes–to tenderize and sweeten.

When the ciricotes are cool, peel and put in water and lime juice.  Wash, soak and drain.

Make a syrup with the sugar, water and a bit more lime juice. Add the ciricotes and fig leaves, and boil half an hour.  Bottle.

Campeche is famous for its fruit preserves and liqueurs.  This recipe will have to stand for all of them.  The recipe is standard, except for the fig leaves, which are used only when their tenderizing and thickening action is desirable, as with the tough ciricote.

Ciricote wood is yellow and brown, with a richly figured grain.  There is a great future for this tree.  If the better varieties were propagated, they could produce fruit until the tree was mature; the tree could then be harvested for its wood.






An important plant in Chiapas is chipilín (Crotalaria longirostrata), an alfalfa-like plant grown for its edible, mild-flavored leaves.  Alfalfa sprouts make a reasonable (though not terribly close) substitute.  One could even use pea tendrils (available at Asian markets).  These are similar in texture and flavor, though not looking much like chipilín, and are in fact often used in Chiapas.

Arrayán leaves are called for in several recipes; the arrayan is a bush endemic to the area.  The name means “myrtle” in Spanish, but the Chiapas arrayan is not much like a Spanish myrtle.  Bay leaves make a good substitute.  Another useful flavoring herb is avocado leaf.  I have seen a kettle of chile and beef simmering with a whole branch of avocado leaves thrust in. Mexican mountain avocado leaves have a wonderful spicy taste.  Closely related to bay leaves, they have a similar flavor and culinary use, but must be used fresh rather than dried–hence their absence from markets.  In the United States, most California avocados have spicy-flavored leaves, but Florida and Gulf Coast avocadoes are derived from Caribbean ancestry with virtually tasteless leaves.  If you don’t live near a Californian or Mexican avocado orchard, use bay leaves.  Conversely, if you do have access to such avocado leaves, try them in the following recipes.






Green Corn Tamales


20 ears of green corn

1 1/2 lb. sugar

1 lb. butter

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt


Shuck the ears, but be careful not to damage the shucks.  Grind the corn.  Beat in the other ingredients.  Wash the corn shucks, trim off the tips, and make tamales–two tablespoons of mix per leaf of shuck.  Steam for 45 minutes.

The corn in question would be regular eating corn: firmer and less sweet than United States sweet corn.  If using sweet corn, cut down the sugar considerably, and the butter somewhat.




Green Corn Tamales, II


18 ears of sweet corn

1/2 lb. cream (get Mexican-style sour cream if you can find it)

8 eggs

1/2 lb. butter

Sugar to taste


Mexican white cheese

Salt to taste


Make as above.

A common variant saves you from so much cholesterol: leave out the eggs and butter, cut down on the cinnamon, and use fairly soft cheese.  This produces, basically, a cheese tamale.

Both forms are common market fare, and excellent.




Rice Tamales


2 lb. rice

1 lb. butter

1 lb. sugar

1 quart water

2 tsp. baking powder

Corn leaves


Cook the rice.  Dry it out and grind it.  Beat the butter until creaemy.  Beat in the rice powder and baking powder.  When it is thoroughly beaten up, add a bit of warm water, and then beat in the sugar.  Meanwhile, soak the corn leaves to soften.

Put two or three tablespoonfuls of mixture on each corn leaf, wrap, and steam 3/4 hour.



Tamales with Saffron


4 lb. masa

2 lb. lard

2 lb. chicken meat, shredded

1 tsp. pepper

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

15 highland Chiapas chiles (or less, or even more, to taste)

2 pieces of French bread, toasted (optional)

6 garlic cloves, chopped

1 onion, chopped

2 lb. tomatoes, chopped very fine

20 saffron threads

1/2 tsp. ground clove

Almonds, plums and/or pimento strips (optional)

Salt to taste

Banana leaves


Grind all the spices (together with the toasted bread, if wanted).  Fry the onion and garlic in a few ounces of the lard; take out and discard if you want.  In the oil, fry the tomatoes, then add the spices and cook down to a sauce.  Add in the chicken.  Some sugar can be added if desired.

Mix the masa with the rest of the lard.  Add the salt.  Anoint the leaves with this.  If wanted, add to each tamale an almond, a plum, and/or a pimento strip.  Then add the sauce and cook as usual.



Tamales with Hojasanta (hojasanta is generally called “mumu” or “momo” in Chiapas)


2 lb. masa

1 lb. lard

1 lb. beans, cooked, mashed and fried

20 small highland chiles–seeded, fried and ground

2 tbsp. dried shrimps, ground

2 tbsp. ground squash seeds (sikil)

30 hojasanta leaves

6 bunches of maize leaves

Salt to taste


Mix the masa with the lard and salt.  Mix the beans, shrimp, squash seed meal and chiles.  Soak the corn leaves.  Make tamales on the hojasanta leaves, wrap up, and wrap these in turn in the corn leaves.  Steam half an hour.

A variant recipe uses far more squash seeds–two cups.  This makes a much richer tamale.  Suit yourself.



Vegetable Tamales


4 lb. masa

2 chicken breasts, shredded

3 carrots

3 summer squash

2 lb. tomatoes

1/2 cup chickpeas (cooked)

1 onion

2 garlic cloves

1 tsp. pepper

2 tsp. baking powder

2 lb. lard

Salt to taste

Corn leaves


Mix the lard, baking powder and salt with the masa.  Fr the garlic and onion, cut up, then add the other vegetables, all chopped finely.  Then add the meat and spices.  Then make and cook tamales in the usual way, steaming for an hour.








Bread Soup

A thoroughly Spanish recipe, but too popular in Chiapas to leave out.


6 sweet rolls (any kind of Chiapan-style sweet bread: rolls with a little sugar and shortening)

4 French rolls

2 carrots

Handful of green beans

6 baby summer squash

2 hard-boiled eggs

1/4 cup cooked chickpeas

1/2 onion

2 tomatoes

1 sprig thyme

sprig oregano

4 tbsp. lard

2 quarts chicken stock

2 plantains, sliced (and fried if you want)

3 oz. raisins

3 tbsp. sugar

A few threads of saffron, and/or a cinnamon stick

A few peppercorns

Salt to taste


Cut the breads into small slices and toast.  Cut up and cook the vegetables separately.  Grease a saucepan.  Alternate slices of bread with cooked vegetables; scatter in the herbs and raisins.  The last layer should be bread, with slices of egg on top to decorate.  Then pour on the stock and cook just enough to make the whole dish piping hot.

The stock should be just enough to cover the bread and be more or less absorbed by it.  This is one of those “soups” in which the spoon will often stand up by itself.  It is interesting in that it is the only soup I know from south Mexico that resembles the migas (crumbled bread) dry-soups so extremely common and important in southern Spain.  These migas are yet another class of dishes with a Moorish heritage; they are related to the tharid of Arabic cooking.

Variants exist with other spicing; with parsley, mint, or epazote; with wine; with different vegetable mixes; etc.  Creativity is the watchword.



Chipilín Soup

What would Chiapas do without chipilín?  It’s a vital source of vitamins and minerals in the diet.  A simpler form (without the dumplings) of this superb soup is particularly popular–more or less a daily food.


2 quarts water

1 green or maturing onion with stem

1 green chile such as xkatik

Grains from two ears of sweet corn

1 large bunch young, tender chipilín

1 lb. masa

3 oz. lard

1/2 lb. fresh Mexican white cheese, crumbled

2 avocadoes

2 limes


Cut up the vegetables and put in the water.

Mix the masa, lard, and salt.

Make dumplings of this, stuffed with the cheese.  Add to the soup.  Boil all, quickly.

Serve with slices of avocado, more cheese, and lime wedges.



Cream of Chipilín Soup

A basic soup in south Mexico.  Many great minds have expended noble energies in creating variants, some of which are listed below.


2 cups chipilín leaves

1 tbsp. butter

4 very young, tender summer squash

Grains from 4 ears of sweet corn

1/2 cup cream

1/2 quart boiled milk

1 small onion, cut in quarters

Salt and pepper to taste


Start the soup by cooking the leaves in water.

Meanwhile, fry in butter the onion (chopped).  Take out when golden.  Put the cut-up summer squash and fresh corn into the oil and fry quickly.

Add in the milk, pepper and salt.  Cook a minute or less.

Turn off the flame, and add the cream, stirring constantly.

The really traditional, indigenous form of this soup leaves out the butter and milk.  Fry the onion in oil or lard.  Use corn meal, or toasted corn meal (atole), instead of milk.  In this case, mix the corn meal into the water first. Then add the leaves, and proceed otherwise as above.  Add some white cheese, crumbled or in chunks.

Variant:  The fresh corn is left out when not in season.

Variant (upscale):  To the basic soup, add maize dumplings.  Cook.  Near the end, add white Mexican cheese squares.  Serve with a dollop of Mexican sour cream poured in.  Variant of the variant:  put the cheese in the dumplings—i.e., make a half-inch-thick ball of corn meal with a bit of cheese in the center.

Variant, or closely related soup (“squashvine soup”):  Add the tender tips of squash vines–butternut squash is a good pick for this.  The tendrils at the end, plus the very smallest leaves (under an inch wide), are used.  Reduce the chipilín accordingly, or eliminate it altogether and just use squashvine tips.  Good, garden-fresh, tender squashvine tips are among the most delightful of all vegetables.



Covered Rice

A “soup” although the rice absorbs all the liquid.  Such dishes are sopas secas, “dry soups,” in Spanish.  This is not oxymoronic; no one expects sopas to be soups in the English sense.

This is a rather elaborate restaurant dish.


1/2 lb. rice

1 chicken breast, shredded

4 eggs: two raw, two hardboiled

2 large chorizos, sliced and fried

1 onion

1 tomato

3 large summer squash

33 carrots

1 can chickpeas

1 tbsp. flour

1/2 stick butter

3 oz. sugar

1 1/2 oz. capers




Oil or lard

Salt and pepper to taste


Like Chinese fried rice, this dish is better with leftover rice–cook the rice well in advance.

Cook the rice with the saffron and, by preference, some of the raisins, almonds and capers.  Chop the vegetables and cook briefly with salt.  Take out and fry with the chicken.  Butter a casserole dish.  Layer rice with almonds, raisins, capers, slices of hard-boiled egg, and chorizo slices.  Then top with the vegetables and chicken, then a last layer of rice.

Separately, beat the whites of the other two eggs till they form peaks.  Add the yolks, flour and sugar.  Cover the casserole with this and bake till all is thoroughly heated.

Naturally, simpler variants or relatives exist, grading downward into rice refried with vegetables and whatever bits of meat are available.



Dried Shrimp Soup

In contrast to the preceding, this is a typical household recipe.


2 lb. large dried shrimp

4 chilpotle chiles

3 guijillo chiles

1 1/2 lb. tomatoes


2 carrots (optional)

2 potatoes (optional)

2 garlic cloves

Salt to taste



Soak the shrimps in hot water, shell, and clean.  Boil the shells for stock; strain.  Add the shrimp to this–a total of 1 1/2 quarts water–with the chiles (seeded), garlic and onions.

Roast the tomatoes and grind.  Add to the soup, along with vegetables as desired.

Variant:  add a small can of pimento strips and grind these with the tomatoes.



Flower and Shoot Soup


2/3 lb. squash flowers

1/3 lb. tender tips of squash vines

2 ears sweet corn

2 large summer squash

1 tomato

1 serrano chile

1 quart water

Oil or lard

Salt and pepper to taste


Cut the grains off the corn ears.  Separately, blend the tomato with the chile and fry the paste.  Add the water, then the squash (cut up in thin slices), then the rest of the ingredients.  Cook till vegetables just begin to soften.

It would be hard to imagine a more refreshing summer soup.  For an even lower-calorie variant, don’t fry the tomato.

Young pea tendrils are also popular in Chiapas, and are even better than squash vine-tips.  They should be stir-fried or steamed.



Green Rice (another and particularly good “dry soup”)


1 cup rice

4 poblano chiles

2 cooked eggs

1 piece (size according to taste) of onion

1 sprig of parsley, and/or any other green herbs, such as cilantro or chipilín

1/3 lb. lard or oil

2 cups milk

2 cups water

2 garlic cloves

Salt to taste


Wash the rice and dry in the sun.  Seed the chiles.  Toast them and wrap in plastic or towel, then peel them.  Grind them in the milk.  In the lard, fry the rice.  When it begins to color, add the onion and garlic, chopped.  When these are transparent, add water, parsley, and salt; cover and boil.  When it begins to boil, turn down flame to a very low simmer.  Add the milk-chile mix toward the end and simmer till it is absorbed.  Decorate with slices of cooked eggs.

A more folk variant leaves out the milk and eggs.



Juliana Soup


2 quarts chicken stock

1 chayote

3 summer squash

2 carrots

3 potatoes

Slice of cabbage, or few leaves of kale

1/2 cup cooked chickpeas

1 threads saffron (optional)

6 French rolls, sliced

Oil, if wanted

Salt to taste


Chop the vegetables finely and put to boil.  Fry or toast the bread slices and put in bowl.  Serve the soup over these.

A local version of standard French or Spanish vegetable soup.  Kale and mustard greens are at least as typical of Chiapas as cabbage; try it with them.  Naturally, this is another dish of a basically “open city” sort, and any seasonal vegetable can be used.



Shuti Soup

“Shuti” is an Indian name for large river snails, popular in Chiapas.  This soup is included mainly for ethnographic interest, but it would be good with more or less any seafood.



1/2 lb. tomato

2 quarts water

1 onion

1 hojasanta leaf

l/2 lb. toasted squash seeds

2 ancho chiles, seeded and soaked


Quickly cook and trim the snail.  Cook all for 15 minutes.”

(translated from Conaculta Oceano 2000a:17)



Soup to Raise the Dead (Caldo Levanta-muertos)


1 tongue (veal or beef; whole tongue, untrimmed)

1 brain (ditto)

1 oxtail

1 chicken

3 large tomatoes

1 large onion

1 head garlic

1 large sprig thyme

1 large sprig oregano


Small highland chiles

Salt to taste



Boil and skin the tongue.  Cook the brains briefly with salt.  Cut up the chicken and boil.  Separately, fry the achiote, then add in the tomato, onion, garlic, thyme and oregano (the vegetables being chopped).  Add these into the pot with the brains; then add the meat, cut up.  Cook till done.  Fry the chiles and blend; add at the last minute.

This may or may not raise the dead, but at the worst it will do as well as anything else for the purpose.  It is the sort of thing people love to recommend for a cold or a hangover; I think this is the source of the name.



Squash-flower Soup


1/2 cup cream

1/2 lb. squash flowers (trimmed of stems)

8 summer squash

4 poblano chiles

2 sweet corn ears

1 tbsp. chopped onion

1 tbsp. epazote, cut up

1 quart boiled bilk

1/2 stick butter

Salt to taste


Fry the onion in the butter.  Cut the flowers into 3-4 pieces each and add.  Seed, roast and peel the chiles; cut up and add.  Then add the grains from the corn ears; then the squash, cut up.  Stir-fry all.  Season and cover.  Boil for a few minutes, then add the milk and the epazote and simmer briefly.  Finally add the cream.



Sweet Corn Soup


8 cobs sweet corn

3 tomatoes

1 1/2 oz. butter

1 onion

1/2 tsp. pepper

Salt to taste



Cut the corn off the cobs.  Blend up some of the grains and add to some water.  Blend up the tomato and fry in the butter with the rest of the corn, the pepper and the onion (chopped).  Combine all and cook very briefly.



Tapachula Soup

Tapachula, the market city of far southeast Chiapas, has its own cuisine.


1 lb. squash flowers

2 tbsp. lard

1 onion

Grains from 2 ears sweet corn

2 quarts milk

2 oz. butter

2 tbsp. flour

1/2 cup cream

2 summer squash

3 tbsp. flour

2 eggs

Salt and pepper to taste


Wash the flowers and remove stems.  Cut up and fry in lard.  Separately fry the onion (cut up).  Add the corn.  Add half the milk and combine all the above.

Blend all.  Add the rest of the milk.

Fry the flour in butter.  Mix in some milk (i.e., make a standard white sauce).  Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, separately, cook the squash; cut up; fry quickly.  Then dip these slices in a flour-egg batter and deep-fry.

Put the cream in a soup tureen.  Pour in the soup.  Add the fried squash and serve immediately.



Tortilla Soup

A Chiapan variant of a universal Mexican staple.


1/2 cup cream

18 tortillas, toasted and cut into wedges

2 oz. grated Mexican white cheese

1 tomato

1 small chile (fresh, or, if dried, seeded and soaked)

3 cups chicken stock

Sprig of mint

2 garlic cloves

Pinch of black pepper

Salt to taste


Peel the tomato (after immersing in boiling water for a minute to make this possible) and blend up with the chile and garlic.  Combine this with the other ingredients and bring to boil.

Here, too, anything and everything goes.  Leaving out the cream; adding some of the chicken meat; using other herbs; adding more vegetables–No two soups need be alike.








2 lb. meat (pork or lamb, preferably)

4 ancho chiles

2 garlic cloves

1/2 tsp. pepper

Sprig of thyme

Sprig of oregano

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

2 bay leaves

2 arrayán leaves (a local Chiapas plant, rather similar to bay, so just use more bay leaves if you are not near a Chiapas market)

1 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. vinegar

1 oz. lard

Salt to taste


Seed the chiles and fry.  Blend up.  Separately, grind the garlic, thyme, and oregano.  Cut up the meat and fry it in the lard.  When it is half done, add the other ingredients and cook another 20 minutes.

Variants on this theme involve marinating beef or pork steaks in the recado and cooking them in a pan, etc.




Chiapas version of a classic Iberian dish.


2 lb. sheep tripe and/or assorted variety meats of sheep or goat

Piece of sheep’s liver

2 tomatoes or 1/3 lb. tomatillos

1 ancho chile

1 small French roll, toasted

1 sprig parsley

1/2 tsp. achiote

1/2 tsp. pepper

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon


Salt to taste


Wash the tripe and cool with salt.  Separately, blend the tomatoes, chile (soaked and seeded), toast, liver, pepper and cinamon.  Fry the achiote and then add in the blended vegetables.  Then add the tripes and parsley, all cut up.  Boil.



Chanfaina a la Chiapa de Corzo

Chiapa de Corzo is an old, tranquil market town in central Chiapas.


1 1/2 lb. beef variety meats: liver, heart, tripes, kidneys

1 tomato

1 onion

Sprig of thyme

2 cinnamon sticks

2 cloves

2 black peppercorns

1 tbsp. breadcrumbs

1/2 cup liver paste (homemade; cook and grind the liver)

2 tbsp. achiote


2 tbsp. vinegar

Salt to taste


Cook the beef parts in salted water.  Take out the meat; save the stock. Cut up the meat.

Chop the tomato and onion and fry in lard.  Add the cut-up meat and stir-fry.  Then add the stock from the meat.  Dissolve the ground liver and breadcrumbs in some of the stock.  Add the vinegar, achiote, and spices.   Combine all and cook ten minutes.



Chojen Salad

A common Highland Maya dish with a Maya name.


1/2 lb. cold roast beef

1 onion

2 tomatoes

3 bunches of radishes, cut up

Juice of 2 limes or bitter oranges

Green chiles

Salt to tasste


Cut up all ingredients finely.  Mix.

A standard variant uses a beef stomach, cooked, cooled, and cut up.  This may not be to the taste of all readers.  Like the Yucatan counterpart, this dish used to be made with deer meat.





1 lb. beef, cooked and cut up

1 lb. pork ribs, ditto

1 lb. pork back meat, ditto

1 lb. beef brisket, ditto

2 tomatoes

1 onion

1 garlic clove

1 bunch cilantro

11 tsp. achiote

Longaniza, sliced

3 chayotes

Handful of green beans

6 small potatoes

4 carrots, cut up

1 small cabbage, cut up in chunks

2 corn ears in chunks

1 quince, cut up and cored

3 small sour apples, whole

6 peaches (fairly hard ones)

1 plantain

6 summer squash


Salt to taste


Put in a large pot enough water.  Add salt, onion, garlic and tomato.  Separately, fry the achiote; throw out the seeds and add the oil to the pot.  Then add the meats and vegetables.  Simmer for about half and hour.



Cold Pork Leg

Another of the cold meat dishes so popular for lunch in Chiapas.


1 pork leg

Sprig of thyme

Sprig of oregano

2 bay leaves

2 arrayan leaves (or 2 more bay leaves)

2 limes


Salt to taste


Spice mix:

2 ancho chiles

1 tomato

Sprig of thyme

Sprig of oregano

2 bay leaves

2 arrayan (or bay) leaves

2 garlic cloves

1 tbsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. pepper


Salt to taste


Marinate the leg in the lime juice with water and salt for 3 hours.  Then take out of this liquid and boil in water to which the herbs are added.

Meanwhile, seed and fry the chiles.  Blend with the other ingredients (except the leaves).  Fry the resulting mix quickly, adding the whole leaves.

Cover the leg with this, bake half an hour, chill, and serve sliced.

Variant: Make more recado, slash the leg, and rub the extra recado into the slashes.  This is less authentic but spicier.



Grilled Ham


1 smoked ham (Virginia ham will do)

5 onions

4 heads garlic

Sprig of thyme

Sprig of oregano

6 laurel leaves

5 arrayan leaves

1/2 lb. brown sugar

1 large piece of pineapple

1 stalk of fennel (finocchio)

7 quarts or more of water


Boil the ham for two hours or more with all the ingredients except the sugar.  Cool and skin it.  Slice.  Sprinkle the slices with sugar and grill them.





Fiambres just means “cold cuts” in Spanish.


1 veal tongue

1 chicken

8 pig’s feet (that is, 8 feet, not the feet of 8 pigs)

1 lettuce head

6 tomatoes

6 onions

3 avocados

8 radishes

2 oranges

3 tbsp. vinegar

1/2 cup oil

Salt to taste


Boil the meats.  Make a salad with the lettuce (cut up), tomatoes (in strips), onions, oil and vinegar.  Cut up the meats and mix into the salad.  Garnish with radishes, orange slices and wedges of avocado.

It is good to make this in two parts: first mix the meat and dressing, then leave it to marinate for a few hours, then add the vegetables just before serving.

As the name suggests, you can really use any cold boiled meat for this.



Mixed Meats with Beans

Variant of the pork-and-beans dish (probably of Celtic ancestry) known everywhere in the Hispanic/Iberian world.


2 lb. black beans

6 oz. salted meat

6 oz. chicharron (fried pork rinds)

6 oz. longaniza sausage

6 oz. pork short ribs

1 onion

1 head garlic

Pickled serrano chiles

Salt to taste


Wash and soak beans.  Cook with garlic and onion.  After half and hour, take them off the fire and add in the meats.  Cook another half hour.  Add the chiles and cook ten minutes.

We recommend that the salt meat be soaked and drained first, and the sausage fried to get rid of excess oil.



Mole Chiapas Style

A local variant of the Mexican staple.


1/2 lb. mulato chiles (dried)

1/2 lb. ancho chiles (dried)


Chicken or turkey boiled with an onion; save the stock

1 plantain

3 oz. raisins

5 oz. sesame seeds, toasted

3 pieces of sweet bread, toasted or fried

1 tortilla, toasted or fried

1/4 onion, cut up and fried

2 lb. tomatoes, cut up and fried

Salt and pepper to taste


Seed and fry the chiles.  Soak in the stock.

Fry the onion, then the tomato.

Blend the chiles and stock; separately, the onion and tomato; then the other ingredients, all in the stock.

Cook till the mix thickens.  Pour over the fowl.

Variants: cinnamon and garlic can be added to good advantage.  Other spices are possible but less traditional.  (Chocolate is not used in Chiapas moles.)

(modified from Conaculta Oceano 2000a:44)




Interesting for the indigenous name, from Zoque.


1 lb. pork chops

1 lb. pork loin meat

2 tbsp. lard

2 tomatoes

3 garlic cloves

Hot chile to taste

2 tbsp. achiote paste

Juice of 2 limes

3/4 cup masa

Salt to taste


Cut up the meat, removing bones.  Cook in a little water till getting done.  Then fry in lard.

Blend the tomato, garlic, chile and achiote.  Add to the meat.  Add the stock, beating in the masa and lime juice.  Cook briefly.

(modified from Conaculta Oceano 2000a:45




1/2 lb. beef

1/2 lb. pork leg

3 potatoes

1 tomato

1 chayote

2 carrots

2 ears of sweet corn

4 oz. string beans

1 quince

Large sprig of mint

1 lb. cabbage

1 tsp. achiote

3 garlic cloves

1 quart water


Salt to taste


Cut the meat up finely.  Chop the onion and garlic.  Fry in oil in the saucepan.  Add the tomato, finely chopped.  Then add the water, salt and achiote.  (If you use the grains, not the paste, fry separately and take the seds out.)  When it begins boiling, add the meat, then the quince, then the vegetables–the sweet corn last, toward the end.  Finally add the leaves from the mint, just before serving.



Pork and Sausage with Scarlet Runner Beans

Another variant on the pork-and-beans dish.  See above, Mixed Meats with Beans.


2 lb. scarlet runner beans (or any dried bean)

2 ancho chiles

1 slice of bread

1 tomato

2 chorizos

1/2 lb. short ribs of pork, cut up

1/2 lb. longaniza sausage

Sprig of thyme

Sprig of oregano

Salt to taste


Wash, soak and cook the beans till tender (if dry, they will take a couple of hours or more).  Seed and fry the chiles.  Grind the bread and fry it up with the cut-up sausages and meat.  Combine all and simmer.  Arrayán or bay leaves make a very good addition.

Pretty much the same thing is made with lentils, which take much less time to cook and thus can be cooked with the meat.



Pork Leg


1 bone-in pork leg (3 to 5 lb.)

1 onion

1 bunch parsley

2 chorizo sausages

2 garlic cloves

3 oz. ham

3 oz. butter

3 large tomatoes

Juice of 5 oranges

1 tsp. pepper

1 cup water

Salt to taste


Rub the leg with butter, salt and pepper, and the juice of the oranges.  Marinate in the orange juice overnight.

Bone the leg and stuff the resulting hollow:

Chop the ham, onion, parsley, chorizos and one tomato finely. Fry all.  Drain thoroughly and stuff into the pork leg.

Add the water and the other two tomatoes, blended up, to the marinade.  Bake the pork in this, basting occasionally.  Serve decorated with lettuce leaves and other garnishes.




Puchero with Chaya


2 lb. pork chops

1/4 lb. rice


6 peppercorns

Sprig of thyme

3 tomatoes

1 onion

3 garlic cloves

1 large bunch chaya leaves


Cook the chops in 2 quarts of water with the onion and one garlic clove.  Separately, roast and peel the tomatoes, and blend with another garlic clove.

Fry to color a strip on onion and the last garlic clove.  Add the rice, fry golden, and add in the tomatoes.  Add the spices.  Precook the chaya if it is tough.

Cook quickly, add 3/4 cup water, and then the pork and chaya.  Cook til rice is done.

(modified from Conaculta Oceano 2000a:28)




An indigenous dish, originally made with game.  Also known as “siguamonte.”  Any meat with bone in can be used.


2 lb. meat

1 tomato

1 onion

6 small potatoes

3 carrots

2 garlic cloves

1 tsp. achiote

1 sprig epazote

10 small highland chiles

2 tbsp. oil

Salt to taste


Cut up the meat and roast it.  Then cook in salted water for an hour if using  venison–otherwise, omit or reduce this step.  Fry the achiote; then, in the oil, the garlic, onion, and tomato, all chopped.  Add all to a baking dish with potatoes, carrots (cut up), chiles (toasted and ground), the epazote and the salt.  Cook 15-20 minutes.

Variants exist; any game can be used, and the vegetables can be adapted as you wish.



Stuffed Chiles


1 lb. pork

10 poblano chiles

2 small onions

5 tomatoes

1 carrot

2 summer squash

1 1/2 oz flour

Few raisins

4 eggs, separated

1 tsp. pepper

4 garlic cloves

Sprig of thyme

Sprig of oregano


Salt to taste


Seed the chiles, fry, leave in a towel for a while, and peel.

Cook the meat with the garlic, onion and tomato.  Cool and cut up.  Fry the onion and tomato.  Cut up the other vegetables and add in, along with the meat, raisins and seasoning.

Cut up the rest of the tomatoes, onion, garlic and herbs.  Fry and blend.

Stuff the chiles; powder with flour.   Beat the whites of the eggs to peaks.  Add in the yolks and a tablespoon of flour.  Cover the chiles with this and fry in hot oil, then add the sauce and simmer.



Stuffed Onions


6 oz. cooked pork leg

3 large onions

2 oz. flour

3 tomatoes

3 eggs, separated

Sprig of thyme

Sprig of oregano

1/2 tsp. pepper

2 garlic cloves


Salt to taste


Cook the onions with salt for 15 minutes (or less).  Take out and carefully remove centers.  Chop these.

Cook the pork and chop finely.  Fry with the onion centers, one garlic clove (mashed) and one tomato (chopped).

Beat the egg whites to peaks. Add in the yolks and flour.  Cap the onions with this and fry them in a good deal of oil.  Set on paper towels to blot up excess oil.

Meanwhile, roast, peel, chop and fry the other tomatoes, with the other garlic clove and the herbs.  Blend all.

Put the stuffed onions into this sauce and simmer 10-15 minutes.



Stuffed Pork Loin

One of the most popular dishes, existing in countless variants.


1 pork loin

1/2 lb. ground pork

1/2 lb. ground beef

2 eggs

4 summer squash

1 strip of pineapple

4 carrots

1 oz. lard

2 lb. tomato

3 oranges

1 head of lettuce

2 tbsp. chopped parsley

3 pickled jalapeno chiles

3 garlic cloves

1 tsp. pepper

Salt to taste


Open out and flatten the loin.

Mix the salt, pepper, garlic (crushed), ground meat, orange juice and beaten eggs.  Cover the flattened loin with the ground meat.  Put on this slices of the vegetables; then roll up the loin in such a manner that every slice of the final roll will be slightly different. Tie it into a log shape, with the stuffing in the center.

Fry it, adding the tomato (roasted and blended), pepper, parsley, juice of one orange, and salt.  Cover and simmer for an hour.

Chill.  Serve cold, adorned with its sauce and with lettuce leaves and jalapenos.

Variants are mostly in regard to the vegetables used in the stuffing and the manner of their display.  For instance, they can be cut into long thin strips, such that they go all the way through the loin, making each slice the same.  Of course, various herbs and seasonings are used to create other variations.

Also, one can oven-roast the loin instead of frying and then simmering.  This isn’t quite as good, but may be necessary if the loin is very large.




A Chiapa de Corzo dish, traditional in festivals.


2 lb. tasajo

2 heaping tbsp. rice, soaked

1/4 cup achiote

1/3 lb. squash seeds, toasted and ground (sikil)

2 tomatoes

1/4 onion

4 oz. lard


Cook the meat a long time in a lot of water.

Then grind the rice with the achiote, in water, for a thick sauce.

Blend the tomato and onion.  Fry in lard.  Add the rice and achiote.  Then stir in the sikil, dissolved in stock.  Cook, stirring.

Serve as sauce on the meat.  (Or—untraditional—cut up the meat and finish cooking in the sauce.)


Tzotzil Radish Salad



Freshly made chicharrones (fried pork rinds) in 1″ squares

Cut up equal amounts of the above.

Season with chopped mint and parsley, and enough lime juice to thoroughly wet all.






Chicken in the Pot

A relatively Spanish-style dish.


1 chicken

4 potatoes

4 chayotes

1/2 cup olives, optional (very Spanish, but I prefer without)

3 tomatoes, cut up

1 onion, cut up

1/2 tsp. ground thyme

1/2 tsp. ground oregano

3 cloves

3 peppercorns

2 bay leaves

2 arrayan leaves (or two more bay leaves)

1 tbsp. ground cinnamon

1 pinch saffron

Salt to taste

1 Spanish canned pimento, cut up, or some pimento strips (optional)

1 cup cooked chickpeas (optional)

1 cup vinegar

1 cup white wine


Cut up the chicken.  Peel and slice the vegetables.  Combine all except the pimento and chickpeas.  Cover the pot and cook in the oven.  Adorn with the pimento and chickpeas at the end.

(Conaculta Oceano 2000a:40)



Chicken with Chorizo


1 chicken

4 chorizos

1 onion

2 garlic cloves

1/2 lb. potatoes

1 quart chicken stock


Salt to taste


Chop and fry the garlic and onion.  Add the chorizo meat (taken out of the skins).  Drain.  Fry well, then add the stock.

Cut the chicken into pieces.  Add to the stock with the potatoes and cook all.



Pressed Turkey

Otherwise known as “stuffed turkey.”  Another passionate favorite.


1 turkey (8-10 lb.)

3 lb. ground pork

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1/2 tsp. pepper

1 small can of chopped pimento

3-4 oz. almonds, finely chopped

1/4 cup vinegar

1 cup sweet wine

1 green onion with stem, cut up

Sprig of thyme

Sprig of oregano

1 head of garlic

Salt to taste


Cook and bone the turkey.  Wash and rub with salt and pepper.

To the ground meat, add the other ingredients, except the herbs.  Mix well.  Stuff the turkey and sew it up.  Cook in a large pot with the herbs and salt.  Take out and press by wrapping it in a towel and leaving a heavy object on it; leave all night in the refrigerator to chill, thus weighted down.  Serve cold, sliced, with lettuce leaves and radish for garnish, and red sauce.



Rabbit a la Zihuamonte


1 rabbit

2 potatoes

5 cloves

2 green chiles

3 tbsp. oil

2 garlic cloves

1 onion

2 tomatoes

1 ancho chile

1/4 cup masa

Sprig of epazote

6 peppercorns


Cut up the rabbit.  Bake till golden.  Then put in a pot with water.  Add the potatoes, cloves and green chiles.

Cut up and fry the garlic and onion.  When colored, add the tomato and the rabbit.  Fry separately the dried chiles (seeded and ground).  Add some of the stock, thickened with the masa.  Stir.  Add the epazote and peppercorns.  Then add to the rabbit.

This dish is perfectly good made with chicken.

(modified from Conaculta Oceano 2000a:38)






If you are totally compulsive, here’s how to smoke meat Chiapas style: Build a box about 5′ square with a grill at the bottom.  Suspend hams and sausages within.  Put hot charcoal on the grill and cover with damp sawdust of pine and/or oak.  Leave till the meats take on the color of old gold.  This is a minimalist description.  I haven’t tried it.  Only someone who knows the tricks of the trade should make the attempt.  Naturally, the charcutiers have more elaborate equipment.





4 lb. pork leg

6 ancho chiles

Sprig of thyme

Sprig of oregano

2 tsp. pepper

1 head of garlic, peeled and mashed

Small cup vinegar

Salt to taste (a good deal is necessary)

Sausage skins


Grind the meat fine.  Seed and soak the chiles; blend and add.   Add the herbs and garlic, all ground, and the salt and vinegar.  Stuff the sausage skins thoroughly, making sure there are no air pockets or loosely filled places.  Dry or smoke the sausages.

As usual, you can just fry up the mix instead of making sausages with it.





4 lb. pork

3 heads garlic

2 tbsp. pepper

2 large tomatoes

Salt to taste (a good deal is necessary)

Sausage skins


Separate lean and fat pieces of pork.  Chop up.  Peel and mash the garlic; chop the tomatoes fine.  Mix all and stuff the sausage skins, making sure they are thoroughly stuffed (no air pockets or loose places).  Dry or smoke.





2 quarts blood

1 large onion

2 tomatoes

1 piece of pork fat, ground

1/2 cut cooked rice

Fresh chile, to taste

Mint leaves

Salt to taste (a good deal is necessary)

Sausage skins


Heat the blood.  When thoroughly hot, add the other ingredients, all chopped fine or ground.  Stuff the sausage skins.  Boil the sausages half an hour.  Dry (best done in slow oven).  Even without drying, they will keep, refrigerated, for a long time.  Do not store unrefrigerated (even if dried).



Simple Paté


1/2 lb. liver

1/2 lb. pork

1/2 lb. beef

2 chicken breasts

1/2 cup milk

2 eggs

1 bread roll

4 oz. lard

Salt and pepper to taste


Cook and grind the meats.  Fry the bread in the butter and soak in the milk; grind up.  Beat the eggs.  Mix all the ingredients and put into a greased mold that can be fitted into a bain-marie arrangement (easily jury-rigged with a couple of nesting saucepans).  Cover and simmer till cooked solid.  Chill, unmold, and serve sliced.





Baked Chayote


Scoop out the meat of a cooked chayote.  Mash with sugar, cinnamon, allspice and raisins.  Return to own shell.



Chiles in Escabeche

The same basic recipe is wonderful for wild mushrooms and other vegetables.  For these others (and even for the chiles, if you prefer), leave out the ginger and perhaps the cloves and cinnamon, and add more aromatic herbs and leaves.


2 lb. serrano chiles

1 quart vinegar

1 onion, cut up

1 oz. salt

10 cloves

1 stick cinnamon

10 peppercorns

Sprig of thyme

Sprig of oregano

Small piece of ginger

5 garlic cloves

4 bay leaves

5 tbsp. olive oil, preferably extra virgin (though that is rare indeed in Chiapas)


Wash the chiles and pierce them with a fork.  Boil the vinegar with the spices, adding the chiles when the liquid begins to boil.  Cook till they are olive-colored.

Fry the onion, garlic and bay leaves in the oil.

Put this in a jar and add the chiles and vinegar.

If this is to be sealed and stored, sterilize as with any canned vegetables; but it’s a great deal easier to leave it in the refrigerator.  Covered, it keeps indefinitely.



Scarlet Runner Beans

“Botil” to the Tzotzil Maya, for whom these beans are an important food.  These are large, mottled beans with a distinctive flavor.  Ordinary beans or dried limas can be substituted.  Use large beans that cook up soft but not mushy.


1 lb. scarlet runner beans

1 onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves

2 tbsp. flour

10 highland Chiapas chiles

5 tbsp. oil

Salt to taste


Wash the beans and soak overnight.  Cook for an hour.  Separately, fry the garlic and onion.  Separately (again), fry the chiles, adding the flour slowly.  Then combine all with the beans and simmer 15 minutes.

Any good dried chile will do.  The highland ones are small and hot, so adjust quantities (one really big New Mexico chile can equal to ten highland ones) and hotness.



Vegetables in Escabeche


1/2 lb. fresh chiles

1/2 lb. carrots

1/2 lb. summer squash

1/2 lb. onions

1 cauliflower

Sprig of thyme

Sprig oregano

4 bay leaves (or 2 bay leaves and 2 arrayan leaves)

1 quart vinegar

1 cup water

1 tbsp. sugar

5 tbsp. olive oil

15 black peppercorns

5 cloves garlic

Salt to taste


Cut the garlic and onion into strips and fry.  Cut up the other vegetables.  When the garlic and onion are fried golden, add the vinegar and herbs.  When this begins to boil, add the other vegetables.  Cook briefly; stop when vegetables are still firm.

This dish can be eaten as is, or kept to marinate.

Any mix of vegetables can be used.  Wild mushrooms are marinated the same way, and it is perfectly good for cultivated mushrooms as well.



White Beans

A nice vegetarian dish.


1 lb. white beans

1 ancho chile

1 small French bread roll

2 tomatoes

1 onion

3-5 serrano chiles, canned or fresh

1 small head of garlic

12 tsp. pepper

1/2 tsp. ground oregano

1/2 tsp. ground thyme

Oil and salt as needed


Wash beans and soak overnight.  Cook with the garlic and onion for 45 minutes.  Break up the bread and fry it with the chile (seeded and soaked), the onion and the tomato.  Add these to the beans, then add the spices.  Cook 15 minutes more.



Wild Mushrooms


2 lb. wild mushrooms

1/2 onion

2 lb. tomato

2 bell peppers

1 jalapeno chile, seeded

1 plantain, peeled and cut up


2 hojasanta leaves

Salt to taste


Wash the mushrooms and take off tough or spoiled parts.  Chop the ingredients.  Mix with lard and salt.

Lightly toast a banana leaf and lay the other ingredients on it.  Wrap all in a sheet of aluminum foil and steam 45 minutes.

The original recipe specified the local cusuche mushroom, but any flavorful mushroom does fine.  One can also leave out the plantain.

(based on Conaculta Oceano 2000a:49)





Fruit Cheese

Peaches, apples, quinces, guavas and other fruit are preserved thus.  See Guava Paste recipe in Yucatan section.


Cut up, peel, core or seed and bring to boil.

Put in a colander and leave overnight.

Weigh the pulp.  Mix in sugar, equal to 2/3 of the weight.  (Use the remaining juice, strained out, for making jelly–or just drink it.)

Cook down, stirring constantly, till it begins to separate from the sides of the pot.  (Do this is a Teflon pot with a wooden spoon, unless you want  a fearful mess.)  Turn out into a pan, plate or dish, and cool till solid.



Sandy Cookies a la Chiapas


1 lb. flour

3/4 lb. sugar

3/4 lb. butter

6 eggs

1/4 cup lime juice

1 tbsp. lime zest

11/4 cup milk

1/2 tbsp. baking soda


Cream the butter, mixing in the sugar and then the flour.  Beat in the eggs, one by one.  After this, add the lime juice and zest, and, finally, the baking soda dissolved in the milk.

Butter a cookie dish or a mold and bake till golden.  This recipe is for little cakes made in molds, but is fine for cookies.






The favorite local drink is raw rum, known as aguardiente (“burning water”) in Spanish, and in Highland Maya as pox, which means “medicine.”  (As in Yucatec, x is pronounced sh.)  It has the color and taste of water and the kick of a team of Chiapas mules.  Alcoholism is a problem, so some of the Maya communities have been shifting from pox to cola drinks for ceremonial occasions.  A myth has been duly elaborated that cola has magic powers.  This has led to a new political tension: competition between suppliers of rival cola brands.

One of the great delights of San Cristobal is the punch, locally pronounced bonche, sold piping hot around the cathedral in the evening.  It dispels the mountain cold.  It consists of fruit cooked in water with spices, with pox added to taste.   Bonche may be basically hot pox with a bit of fruit, or a whole lavish fruit cocktail with just a splash of hot pox, or anything in between.

A mescal is made around Comitan from the local agaves; it is something of an acquired taste, being reminiscent of soap.





1 quart aguardiente (vodka will do)

1 lb. sugar

1 oz. anise seeds

Heaping tbsp. fennel seeds

Ten drops of anise essence

1 tsp. nutmeg


Mix and leave three days (more if you want it stronger, but it gets bitter).  Strain and rebottle.

This makes a traditionally sweet, syrupy product.  There is no reason not to cut the sugar way down, to make it bearable to those with a less sweet tooth.


All of Chiapas’ many wonderful fruits are made into liqueurs by similar methods.  Take any fruit, macerate a bit if necessary, and steep in rum or vodka for a few days with a lot of sugar.



Bonche de Piña


1 pineapple

1/2 lb. sugar

1 stick cinnamon

1 piece ginger

10 allspice berries

2 1/2 quarts water


Mash the pineapple with water.  Add the other ingredients and cook.

Lace well with pox (or equivalent–any sort of rum is great).  Serve hot.

It is traditional to crumble up panque–pound-cake–into this, but the result is possibly a bit much for most non-Chiapans.



Bonche de Frutas

This is the fitting end of a Chiapan meal!  There is nothing like warming up with bonche on a cold, drizzly night in front of the Cathedral in San Cristobal.


As above, but instead of pineapple, use finely cut up fresh apple, guava, pear, and perhaps a peach; also prunes, raisins, and bits of sugarcane.

The fruits and spices vary a lot.  A cinnamon stick and some apple, guava and prunes are basic.



Chocolate with Egg


2 lb. cacao beans

2 lb. sugar

2 egg yolks

1 tbsp. ground cinnamon


Toast the beans on a comal till golden.  Take off the skins.  Grind in a metate with the sugar and cinnamon.  When finely ground, add the yolks, mix well, form into cakes and store.

If you aren’t cooking with a comal over an open fire, oven-roast the beans and grind them fine in a food processor (blenders don’t work for this).

Many people add finely ground almonds along with, or instead of, the yolks.



Sour atole

A Maya ritual drink.


2 lb. maize

1/2 lb. sugar

8 cloves

Cinnamon to taste



Soak maize in water for three days, enough to produce some souring.  Then drain, grind, and mix with 3 quarts water.  Add the spices and cook, stirring constantly, till the atole thickens.





This is the traditional chocolate drink of south Mexico.  It is my personal favorite way to absorb chocolate.


Mix toasted corn meal, chocolate, achiote paste, and chile powder or cinnamon, to taste, in water.  Drink hot or cold.

This can be sweetened with honey or sugar, but traditionalists (among whom I number myself) prefer it with only the sweetness of the toasted corn meal.  Usually, the chile is used in the unsweetened version, the cinnamon in the sweetened.


Local pozole (maize drink) is made with chocolate and is similar.  (Pozole in the southeast is usually just cornmeal and water–not a rich stew as it is in north and west Mexico.)








Pozol or “Chorote”

The staple food of much of Tabasco.  This recipe is given here for ethnographic interest, since few readers will be likely to prepare it.


2 lb. dried corn kernels

1/2 lb. cacao seeds, toasted and peeled


Cook the corn with lime (calcium oxide, not the citrus fruit) for a few minutes.  Try a grain to see if it peels easily by rubbing in the hands.  If not, continue cooking.  If so, take the corn and wash it several times, then return to flame and simmer.  This corn is known in most of Mexico as “nixtamal” (a Nahuatl word) but in Tabasco as “chegua.”

Grind the chegua.  Grind the chocolate very fine.  Add both to water.  Strain, using the strainer to beat the mix at the same time to make it foam up.  Cook, stirring constantly.  This can be flavored with achiote, vanilla, and the like.  Various tree flowers are used in Tabasco and neighboring regions.  In Tabasco and Chiapas there are flowers that create a marvelous foam when beaten with the chocolate.



Tostones de Platano


Boil plantains, mash, add some flour to hold together.  Let stand 20 minutes.  Flatten into potato-chip-thin cakes and deep-fry.

This makes a great appetizer, used like tortilla chips to spoon up dips.





A large corn cake.  Shape masa into a cake a foot across and a finger thick, and grill.  This is a staple food.






Chaya Dumpling Soup


1/2 lb. chaya leaves

2 oz. bacon

1 small onion

1 egg (or 2 egg whites, if watching cholesterol)

1 small bread rolls or 2 slices bread, soaked in milk or water

Grated cheese

1 tbsp tomato paste


Parsley, and other herbs as desired (thyme and oregano recommended)

Stock (chicken or meat)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups cooked rice


Chop the chaya and the onion.  Save some of the onion.  Fry the rest, with the chaya, till soft.

Grind up the bacon, bread, herbs, and the rest of the onion.  Mix with the egg, cheese, tomato paste and chaya-onion mix.  Season and form into balls.

Set the soup stock to boil.  Add the rice and chaya balls.  Warm up.  Or, even better to my taste, you can serve the soup over the rice.

Simpler, commoner variant:  just mix the chaya-onion mix with nixtamal or bread crumbs to make the dumplings.



Chipilín Tamales (simple folk form)


2 lb. masa

1 bunch chipilín

1/2 lb. lard


Banana leaves


Prepare the masa as in the other recipes.  Wash, chop and mix in the chipilín leaves.  Proceed as in other recipes, cooking the masa-chipilín mix first (stirring constantly), then making tamales and steaming them for an hour.



Chipilín Tamales (festive form)


1 lb. masa

1/2 lb. chipilín leaves

1/4 lb. lard

Banana leaves (or functional equivalent)

1 lb. pork

2 tomatoes

1 bunch chives

1 small onion


Cook the pork in a little water, chop, and fry with the tomato, chives and onions, finely chopped.

Take the pork stock, stir in the masa, chipilín leaves and lard, with salt to taste.  Cook over low heat.  When thick, stir in the fried ingredients.

Wrap pieces of this mixture in banana leaves.  Steam ca. 20 min.

Serve with tomato sauce.



Garfish Tacos


1 roast garfish (or 1-2 lb. cod, baked till not quite done)

1/2 lb. tomatoes

1/2 lb. onions

Lime or bitter orange, cilantro and tabasco chile to taste.



Flake the fish and fry with the chopped tomato and onion.  Frying here means stir-frying or sautéing, not battering and deep-frying as for the Baja California fish tacos that have recently become popular in the United States.

Make tacos, adding the other ingredients to taste.  (The above are the Tabasco traditional add-ins, but of course you can add whatever you find necessary in a fish taco.)



Garfish Tamales, I


1 small roast garfish (2 lb.; or substitute 2 pounds of cod or similar fish)

1 onion


1/2 lb. tomatoes

1 chile güero (a hot yellow fresh chile), or other hot chile, chopped

1 large sprig of epazote

Salt to taste

4 1/2 lb. masa

2 lb. lard

3 bunches of banana leaves (or substitute)

Oil for frying


To roast a gar in the true Tabasco manner, pass a stick through the mouth and out the cleaning slit, and roast over a fire.  Failing that, grill or bake.

Flake the fish.

Chop the onion; marinate in the vinegar.  Add the tomato, flaked fish, chile, and epazote sprig.  Season with salt and leave to marinate.

Mix the lard (melted) into the masa.  Add enough water to make a rather thin paste.

Cook this, stirring constantly, until a drop of it put on a banana leaf holds together and flows down the leaf.

Make small tamales: spread a tablespoon of masa on a leaf, add a tablespoon of the fish mix, roll up, tie or fold to seal.  (If lazy, make bigger tamales.)

Steam the tamales for an hour.



Garfish Tamales, II


1 medium-sized garfish

1 lb. tomatoes

2 bell peppers

2 green onions or bunches of chives

1/2 tsp. oregano

2 lb. masa

1/2 lb. lard

2 tbsp. achiote paste

Salt and pepper to taste

Leaves for wrapping

Tabasco chiles (if you can stand them; mild chiles if you can’t)


Roast the garfish over charcoal or wood fire.  Skin and bone it.  Chop up a tomato, a bell pepper, and some of the green onion or chives.  Mix the salt, pepper, 1 tbsp. achiote and oregano with this.  Fry all, then add the fish and fry till all is integrated.

Mix the masa with lard and the rest of the achiote, and some salt and soup stock, till it makes a soft, smooth paste.

Carefully add in the fish mixture.  Wrap.

Steam for about two hours.

Make a salsa by chopping together the rest of the tomato, onion, bell pepper, and green onion and the Tabasco chiles.



Pork mone

Mone is a type of steamed meatball.  This one is traditional in wakes for the dead in the area of Torno Largo.


1 lb. ground or well-chopped pork

1 large tomato

1 small onion

1 mild chile

2 hojasanta leaves

Banana leaf

Salt to taste

Lard and water for cooking


Cut up the vegetables and one hojasanta leaf.  Mix with the meat and a little lard.

Lay out the other hojasanta leaf on the banana leaf.  Spread the mixture on it, roll up, and tie.

Put in water and simmer for an hour and a half.

Serve with roasted plantains.

Variants can be made using beef, variety meats, etc.

(Several other mone recipes are in Conaculta Oceano 2001c:18.)



Tamales in the Pot


1 lb. pork chops

1 chicken

1 tortilla

3 chiles

3 cloves garlic

4 tomatoes

1 onion

8 or 9 leaves epazote

Oregano, cumin seeds and achiote to taste

3 lb. masa

1 lb. lard

1 bell pepper

6 Tabasco peppers

1/2 lb. pepitas (pumpkin seeds)



Cut the meat into 10 portions.  Boil, putting in the pork first, later the chicken, till almost done.

Brown the tortilla.  Seed and roast the chiles and soak in hot water.  Cut up the garlic, two tomatoes, and half an onion and fry them with the seasonings.  Add the tortilla and chiles and blend, using some of the broth.

Cook the meats a bit more in this soup.

Mix the masa with the rest of the broth, the lard, and some salt.  Cook, stirring constantly.

Roast and peel the bell pepper, roast the rest of the onion, toast the Tabasco peppers, and blend with the rest of the tomatoes, for a salsa.

Toast and grind the pepitas, i.e. make sikil.

Take ten small pots.  Put in each a banana leaf.  Add a bit of the masa.  Put on this the meat mixture.

Bake for 20 minutes.

To serve, turn out on a plate, remove the leaf, and cover with the sauce and ground seeds.






Cowboys’ Stew

This uses the dried and salted beef of Tabasco, which cowboys carry for rations while riding the range.  The hot, humid climate depletes the body’s salt in short order, hence the need for extremely salty food.


2 lb. tasajo (dried salt beef, like jerky but saltier and a bit moister)

2 plantains

1/4 small winter squash

10 chaya leaves

1 mild green chile

1/4 onion

1 tomato

Parsley, chives, salt to taste


Boil the meat till tender.

Add the plantain (peeled and cut up), the squash (in pieces) and the chaya leaves (separately, and in that order, letting them cook a bit before adding the next item).

Roast the chile, onion and tomato.  Peel.

When all is cooked, add the chile, onion, tomato, parsley and chives.  Cook very briefly.

Those not riding the Tabasco range will want to soak the salt out of the meat first–or just substitute fresh meat.



Fish Soup with Hojasanta, I


In rich fish stock, cook a chunk of snook belly meat with one hojasanta leaf.

Tomatoes and Tabasco parsley make good additions.



Fish Soup with Hojasanta, II

“Mojarra” can be used for this, but it’s better with belly meat or steak of snook.  Any good firm white-fleshed fish will do.


1 tomato

1 bell pepper

1 xkatik chile

3 lb. white fish (whole, or fillet with bone and skin)

4 tender hojasanta leaves

6 black peppercorns

Oregano, salt and oil to taste (the oil is optional)


Chop very fine, or blend, the tomato and peppers.  Fry for sofrito.  Add water, the fish and hojasanta leaves and the other ingredients.  Boil till fish is just done.



Fish Soup with Hojasanta, III

Ingredients as above, plus one more tomato and an onion


Chop and fry the tomatoes, onion and peppers.  Put with fish in 3 cups water.  Add the spices.  Cut up the leaves and add.


This is especially recommended as a truly incomparable and extremely simple dish.  Almost any fish will do; a mixture of seafood is wonderful.  This is a recipe in which hojasanta can be readily replaced by finocchio, in which case you have something similar to Italo-Californian cioppino.



Fish Stew


2 lb. whole fish

3 cloves garlic

1 laurel leaf

3 carrots

3 small summer squash, preferably Mexican gray sq uash

1 tomato

6 small potatoes

1 chayote

1 small head cabbage

1 medium-sized onion

1 bunch cilantro

4 or more chaya leaves

2 small ears sweet corn

Salt to taste



Fillet the fish.  Make a stock by cooking the heads and bones for 20 minutes in water, with salt to taste.  Strain.

Chop the garlic and fry in 2 tablespoons oil.  Mash the tomato (in a blender or the like) and add.

Add in the vegetables, cut into chunks except for the potatoes, which should be whole and unskinned.  Cook till getting soft.

Add the fish fillets; cook for ten more minutes.  Mix in the mashed garlic and tomato.

Serve with white rice.  On the side, serve chopped green chiles, cilantro and onion.

(modified from Conaculta Oceano 2001c:22)



Garfish soup


l large garfish

1 bitter orange

2 plantains

1 tomato

1 onion

1 bell pepper

2 garlic cloves

Oregano, cilantro, achiote, salt and oil to taste


Scrub the fish with the bitter orange, squeezing the juice out as you do so.

Set the plantains (peeled and chunked) to boil.  When almost done, add the fish, the tomato (cut up and fried in the oil), and the other ingredients.  Simmer till fish is done.



Plantain Soup


3 plantains

1 tbsp. vinegar

1 tomato

1 bell pepper

2 green onions (scallions)

10 peppercorns

Lard or oil


Chicken stock

1 small ranch cheese (a fresh, white, rather dry and salty cheese.  Look for queso ranchero at a Hispanic market, or substitute feta)


Boil the plantains and mash.

Blend the vinegar, tomato, bell pepper, and onions, and fry.  Grind the peppercorns and add in.

Mix in the plantain and salt.  Fry the paste again.

Mix in a bit of chicken stock to make a thick creamy texture.

Cut up the cheese and top the soup with it.

Variant: By using a vegetable stock, this becomes one of the few really good vegetarian dishes in the Tabasco file.



Seafood Soup


1/2 lb. tomatoes

1 onion

1/2 head garlic

1/2 lb. snook

1/2 lb. crabs in shell

1/2 lb. raw shrimp

1/2 lb. clams

1 tsp. oregano

1 1/2 quarts water

2 bay leaves (or more)

5 tbsp. olive oil

5 white peppercorns

Few capers and green olives


Blend the tomato, onion and garlic. Fry in the oil.

Add the water and boil.

Add the sea food and seasonings.  Cook till done.

When cooked, add in the capers and olives.

Serve hot with quartered limes on the side.

(It would be possible to shell the shrimp and crab first and make a stock with the shells.)



Shrimp Soup


In stock made by boiling many shrimps and shrimp shells, etc., cook shrimp, bits of chile, summer squash, and herbs (parsley, Tabasco parsley, cilantro, others to taste).



Snook Stew


4 large steaks of snook

4 garlic cloves

Oil or lard as necessary

1 small onion

1 bell pepper

1 tomato

2 hardboiled eggs (optional)

2 leaves of Tabasco parsley

1 tbsp. vinegar

Croutons (made from 8 slices of bread, cut up, toasted; optional)

Salt and pepper to taste


Boil a quart and a half of water.  Add the fish; cook for five minutes, take it out, remove bones and skin.

Cut up, and fry, the garlic, onion, bell pepper, and tomato.

Add these to the water and boil.  Return the fish and seasonings to same and cook five more minutes.  Slice the eggs, add, cook five more minutes.  Serve with the croutons.



Soup for the Bridegroom


The Moors brought pilaf to Spain.  In Spanish it became known as a “sopa seca,” literally “dry soup.”  This is a Mexican development of the recipe.  The Moorish flavor–chicken with clove, cinnamon, pepper and so on–has been supplemented by characteristic Tabasco ingredients.


1 lb. rice

Breast meat, and (if you want) liver and gizzard, from 1 chicken

1 large tomato, cut up

1 bell pepper, cut up

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tbsp. cilantro, cut up

1 tbsp. Tabasco parsley, cut up fine

1 clove

10 peppercorns

1 stick cinnamon

1 sprig oregano (or 1 tsp.)

1 tbsp. achiote paste

1 tbsp. vinegar


Lard or oil

Salt to taste


Wash and soak the rice.

Boil the other ingredients and chop fine.

Fry all with the soaked (but uncooked) rice.  Add stock, to 1″ above the level of the rice mix.  Simmer till rice is done.








“Choco” dialect for “catfish.”


1 large catfish

1 lime

2 leaves of hojasanta

4 leaves chaya

3 shallots

1 tomato

3 Tabasco chiles

1 garlic clove


Leaves of banana or the like, to wrap


Clean the catfish.  Rub with salt and lime.  Put on the hojasanta leaves.  Chop finely the chaya.  Blend the garlic, shallots, tomato and chiles.  Wrap all in the hojasanta leaves, rub with some lard, and wrap in the banana leaves.  Bake in moderate oven (350-375o) for half an hour.





2 lb. freshly caught fish (raw)

4 limes

1 tbsp salt

2 tomatoes

1 onion

1/4 cup cilantro

1 Serrano chile

1 tbsp olive oil

10 olives

2 avocados, sliced


Cut up the fish.  Cover with the lime juice and salt and let stand in a cool place for 4 or 5 hours.  Chop the vegetables finely.  Mix them and the other ingredients.

Ceviche is, of course, a universal Mexican delicacy; this is a Tabasco variant.  Any fresh sea food can be used (the more the better–a contrast in textures is desirable).  However, be absolutely certain the sea food is really fresh and from uncontaminated water.  Pollution has rendered Mexican seafood very dangerous when raw.  Sadly, Tabasco is one of the worst-polluted areas.



Drunken Fish


1 tomato

2 Serrano chiles (remove seeds and membrane)

4 allspice berries, powdered

Oregano to taste

2 or more bay leaves

1 glass of sherry

3 tablespoons vinegar

1/2 stick butter

1 onion

3 garlic cloves

Salt to taste

1 large snook or other fish (whole or in steaks)


Blend the vegetables.  Add the wine, vinegar, bay leaves and spices, and a little butter.  Marinate the fish in this for half an hour.  Then add the rest of the butter, and the fish, and simmer (or bake) in a covered dish till sauce is mostly absorbed.



Fish in Adobo

Any firm but delicate white-fleshed fish is good for this.

“Adobo” is cognate with French “daube.”  It refers to a cooking process in which pieces of meat or fish are highly spiced and then simmered, or cooked in a casserole.


1 bream or similar fish, ca. 2-3 lb.

3 limes

1 onion

6 garlic cloves

10 cumin seeds

1 piece achiote (cube of paste or small bag of powder)

2 cloves

1/2 tsp oregano

8 peppercorns

2 oz. vinegar

1/2 cup oil


Clean the fish.  Slash diagonally.  Marinate for an hour in water with juice of one lime.  Then scrub the fish.  Blend the onion and garlic; add the achiote, and the spices, powdered.  Mix these with the oil and juice of the other 2 limes, and enough vinegar to make a paste.  Rub this over the fish.  Let stand one hour, then bake at 350o, basting with the sauce occasionally.



Fish in Hojasanta Leaves


2 lb. seabass or similar fish

1 tomato

2 (or more) laurel leaves

1 onion

1 bell pepper

2 tsp. oil

Parsley leaves

Cilantro leaves

Tabasco parsley leaves

Chipilín leaves

Hojasanta leaves

Pepper, oregano and salt to taste


Rub the fish with the pepper, oregano and salt.  Add the tomato, bell pepper, and onion, all cut into strips.  Add the chipilín, chopped, and the oil.

Wrap in the hojasanta leaves.  Wrap the whole bundle in foil.   Bake at 350o till done (20-30 min.).



Fish in Paper (a simpler variant of the above)


For six persons:

6 pieces fish

6 cloves garlic

6 leaves of hojasanta

Salt and pepper to taste

10 green chiles

1 further clove garlic

1 slice of onion


Crush the garlic and spread it on the fish.

Roast the chiles and blend with the garlic clove and onion slice.  Briefly fry the mix in a little oil.  Spread this too on the fish.

Wrap each fillet in an hojasanta leaf, wrap the result in aluminum foil (or cooking paper), and bake at 350o.


Fish with Tabasco Parsley


1 fish or fillet, ca. 2 lb.

1 lime


1 large bunch of Tabasco parsley

3 peppercorns

1 garlic clove

1 cinnamon stick

1 slice of breaad

Salt and pepper to taste

Water to cook


Wash the fish and rub with lime, salt and pepper.  Cook in moderate oven, covering with the Tabasco parsley, pepper, garlic, cinnamon and moistened bread, blended, and fried in a little oil.

This dish is perfectly good with ordinary parsley.  Indeed, it is similar to dishes of Spain and other parts of Mexico that use ordinary parsley.

(Conaculta Oceano 2001c:31


Garfish in Chirmol

If you can’t get a garfish–or maybe even if you can–you might try this with any other firm-fleshed fish, whole or filleted.


1 garfish of ca. 3 lb.

3 thin tortillas

4 garlic cloves

1 large tomato

5 shallots

3 dried chiles

1 piece achiote (small cake or cube, or a small bag of achiote powder)

5 allspice berries

1/2 lb. masa

1/4 cup lard or oil

1 bunch epazote

A little oregano



Wash and clean the fish.

Toast the chiles; remove seeds and membranes.  Toast and crush the tortillas.  Roast the tomato, onion and garlic.  Fry and mash these together.  Grind the chiles and spices, and mix in.  Simmer to thicken.  Add the fish and enough water to cover.  Thicken the soup with the masa, add the lard, epazote, and oregano, and cook.

(Conaculta Oceano 2001c:32)


Fish with Tabasco Parsley


1 fish or fillet, ca. 2 lb.

1 lime


1 large bunch of Tabasco parsley

3 peppercorns

1 garlic clove

1 cinnamon stick

1 slice bread, moistened

Salt and pepper to taste

Water to cook


Wash the fish and rub with lime, salt and pepper.  Cook in moderate oven, covering with the Tabasco parsley, pepper, garlic, cinnamon and moistened bread, blended, and fried in a little oil.

This dish is perfectly good with ordinary parsley.  Indeed, it is similar to dishes of Spain and other parts of Mexico that use ordinary parsley.

(modified from Conaculta Oceano 2001c:31


Garfish in Chirmol

If you can’t get a garfish–or maybe even if you can–you might try this with any other firm-fleshed fish, whole or filleted.


1 garfish of ca. 3 lb.

3 thin tortillas

4 garlic cloves

1 large tomato

5 shallots

3 dried chiles

1 small cube achiote, or achiote powder made up into paste

1 tsp allspice

1/2 lb. masa

1/4 cup lard or oil

1 bunch epazote

A little oregano



Wash and clean the fish.

Toast the chiles; remove seeds and membranes.  Toast and crush the tortillas.  Roast the tomato, onion and garlic.  Fry and mash these together.  Grind the chiles and spices, and mix in.  Simmer to thicken.  Add the fish and enough water to cover.  Thicken the soup with the masa, add the lard, epazote, and oregano, and cook.



Garfish in green sauce


1 garfish, ca. 3 lb.–or any other fish; this will work for anything, and almost any firm white-fleshed fish is better than a garfish unless you are a loyal Tabasqueño.

This recipe is a much-transformed descendent of a medieval Hispano-Moorish delicacy (see Introduction).  One wonders what the refined gourmets of old Grenada or Cordova would have made of a garfish—a living fossil biologically, and looks and tastes like it.


4 oz. chipilín leaves

4 oz. chaya leaves

2 oz. Tabasco chile leaves

1 chile xkatik

1 onion

5 cloves garlic

4 tsp. lard or oil


1/2 lb. masa


Wash the gar and cut in pieces.

Blanch and blend the leaves.  Take a slice off the onion and one from the chile; reserve for a minute.  Blend the remainder of these two items with the leaves.  Put the blended vegetables in pot with the gar, add salt (and water if necessary), and cook over a fairly low fire.

Fry the slice of onion and the slice of bell pepper.  Add to the rest.

Stir in the masa.  Cook till the whole turns from green to yellow; this should indicate doneness.

Tabasco chile leaves are widely but uncommonly used as a vegetable in Mexico.  (I have also seen them as a vegetable in parts of East Asia.)



Garfish Roasted

Possibly not the world’s most sophisticated recipe, but one of the very commonest in use in Tabasco.


1 garfish

5 shallots or onions

20 Tabasco chiles


2 limes


Roast the gar over coals.  Make a salsa of the other ingredients.



Piguas roasted

Recall that piguas are giant crayfish-like prawns.


2 lb. piguas, peeled

Juice of bitter orange

Salt, tabasco chiles, garlic, pepper.


Blend the condiments.  Paint the piguas with it; leave half an hour.  Cook in a covered pan or casserole dish till they become dry and golden.



Piguas with Garlic

See note on piguas, above.


4 large piguas

10 garlic cloves

10 ground peppercorns

2 limes

Salt to taste


Shell the piguas.  Mix the other ingredients and marinate the piguas half an hour.  Proceed as in previous recipe.  Cook very quickly.

This should be intensely garlicky.

Any large prawn or langostino will do as substitute.



Shrimp in Escabeche


2 lb. fresh shrimp

1/2 cup olive oil

4 tomatillos or tomatoes

6 yellow chiles, chopped

1 large onion

10 black peppercorns

6 laurel leaves

6 allspice leaves (if you can’t find any, use some ground allspice)

1/2 tbsp oregano

1 cup vinegar

10 garlic cloves


Peel the shrimp.  Fry in a bit of oil.  Add the other ingredients (except the vinegar), the spices ground, the leaves and vegetables chopped fine or less so according to taste.  Fry a bit more, then add the vinegar and boil till seasoned (a very brief time).



Shrimp in Green Sauce

That medieval green sauce again.


2 lb. shrimps

30 chaya leaves

4 garlic cloves

1 small onion

1 lb. masa

1/2 lb. lard

Leaves of chipilín

Salt to taste


Shell and clean the shrimp.

Blend the vegetables and cook with the shrimp.

Meanwhile, mix the masa with water to make a paste.  Mix into the shrimp.  Then mix in the lard and salt.  Cook.



Snook Casserole


Large snook (6 lb.)

1 laurel leaves

1 lime


2 onions

10 allspice berries

2 cloves

2 tomatoes

6 tbsp olive oil

Parsley, 1 bunch, chopped

1 jalapeno chile, cut up

2 tbsp lard


Boil the fish briefly with one laurel leaf, half a lime, salt, onion, allspice and cloves.  Pour off and save the water.  Fry the fish in a little oil in the same dish.  In a separate pan, take 4 tsbp oil, a chopped onion, then add the tomato, roasted and mashed.  When fried, add chopped parsley and 2 tbsp of the fish broth.  Add the fish and chile.  Put in a pan greased with butter.  Breadcrumbs can be added on top.  Bake for 10 minutes.



Snook steaks


2 lb. snook steaks

2 limes

1 1/2 tomatoes

2 sweet red peppers or, better, mild and flavorful red chiles

1 onion


Olive oil

Bottled chile pepper sauce (Mexican or Caribbean) if you can stand it


Oil for frying


Season the steaks with lemon and salt.  Fry briefly in a little oil.

Slice the vegetables.  Fry in oil with chile sauce and ground allspice to taste.

Cover the steaks with this, wrap in aluminum foil and bake for 7 minutes.



Snook Stew


2 onions, sliced

3 garlic cloves, chopped

2 cups tomato, blended

1 bunch parsley, chopped

1 bunch oregano

1 bunch marjoram

Salt and pepper

2 cups water

2 lb. snook


Blend the vegetables and herbs, and fry.  Add to the water.  When they have boiled five minutes, add the snook, cut in pieces.  Cover and simmer 15 minutes.





1 sole, ca. 1 lb

3 tomatoes

1 onion


2 habanero chiles

Juice of 2 bitter oranges



Clean the sole, rub with salt and pepper, and grill.  Make the other ingredients into a sauce by chopping finely and adding the salt and orange juice.



Stuffed Snook Fillet

Wrap a thin snook fillet around shrimp, octopus bits, parsley.  Cover with local white cheese, crumbled.  Mask with a sauce of onion, tomato and chile, chopped and fried.







Barbecued Ribs a la Tabasco


2 lb. pork rib slab

2 bitter oranges

Salt to taste

4 oz. black pepper

1 head garlic

1 onion

1 clove (or more)

1 pinch oregano (or more)


Marinate the slab in the juice of the oranges, and salt, for 8 hours.

Then mix in the other ingredients and marinate overnight.

Bake in oven till done.

Traditionally a dish of Jalapa, Tabasco, served with thick corn cakes of green corn.

(modified from Conaculta Oceano 2001c:40)




Tabasco variant of a traditional Maya dish (Ts’anchak; see Yucatan section) made with deer when available.


2 lb. stewing beef or venison

2 oz. chives

2 oz. cilantro

2 oz. Tabasco parsley (or ordinary parsley)

1 small onion

1 bell pepper or mild chile

2 garlic cloves

3-5 whole allspice berries (or more to taste)


Cut the meat into cubes, for soup, and boil till meat is tender.  Chop the vegetables.  Add these and the seasonings to the soup and cook till just done.  Eat with relish of chopped cilantro, onion and hot chile marinated in lime juice.



Chile pepper stuffed with meat


1 lb. lean pork

2 garlic cloves

6 cloves

2 onions

2 oz. oil

15 black peppercorns, ground

1 stick cinnamon

3 tbsp vinegar

1/2 tsp sugar

2 oz. raisins

5 egg whites, beaten to meringue

Ca. 5 bell peppers to stuff

1 bell pepper or mild large chile

1 large tomato

1/2 tsp oregano

Small bit of achiote


Boil the meat with one of the garlic cloves and the 6 cloves.  Take out, saving the water.  Mince the meat fine.  Chop the other garlic clove, and one onion, very fine and fry.  Add in the meat.  Grind the spices and add, along with the vinegar and sugar.  Mix these and the raisins into the meat.

Roast, peel and seed the stuffing peppers.  Stuff them, roll in the egg white and a bit of flour, and fry.

Meanwhile, make a soup of the water by blending up some onion, bell pepper, tomato and oregano, frying, adding to the water, and seasoning to taste with achiote or the like.  If desired, add masa to thicken.

Pour this sauce over the peppers and finish cooking (very briefly; just warm them up together).

If you don’t want to fry these, you can treat these as they would be treated in the Near East: leave off the egg whites and bake these in a casserole dish.

(In this case, they are baked in the sauce.)  This is healthier and, to our taste, better.

This is originally a Near Eastern dish, made with Mediterranean vegetables.  The Spanish brought it to Mexico and adapted it to local ingredients.  Variants of it are found all over Mexico.





Meat (beef, pork, deer…), marinated in bitter orange juice, garlic and salt 2 hours

5 dried ancho chiles

2 tomatoes

1 onion

1 piece achiote

8 allspice kernels

10 black peppercorns

1 pinch oregano

5 toasted tortillas

6 tbsp lard

1 spring epazote

8 roasted garlic cloves


Briefly roast the meat over charcoal or flame.  Then add to water and boil.

Vein and seed the chiles.  Roast these, the tomato and the onion; peel.  Blend.  Fry these in the lard.  Grind up the other ingredients.  Add these and the boiling stock from the meat.  Add the epazote.  Simmer till somewhat thick.  Add the meat and serve.

The Tabasco version of a Maya classic.  No doubt some form of it—without the black pepper and garlic—was central to feasts in Palenque and Yaxchilan in their glory days.

(modified from Conaculta Oceano 2001c:43)




“Choco lomo” is a “mestiza-Maya” name: choko means “hot” in Maya, while “lomo” is the Spanish for “loin roast.”  This is basically a Yucatan dish (see Yucatan section), but has spread all over southeast Mexico.


2 lb. beef, cut up

1 beef heart, cut up

1 beef brain

1 beef kidney, prepared (see below)

2 garlic cloves

1 purple onion

1 bell pepper

20 black peppercorns

1 tsp. oregano

2 tsp. vinegar

1 tomato


For salsa:

1 bunch radishes


White onion

Bitter orange juice (or lime juice or vinegar)


Prepare the kidney: soak overnight in refrigerator; discard water; cut up the kidney, trimming off and discarding all membranes and white fibrous parts.

Boil the meats with the garlic, onion (quartered), bell pepper, tomato, and peppercorns.  When meat is close to done, add the oregano and vinegar.

Add the brains toward the very end of the cooking process, and simmer a while.  (If cooked too long or on too hot a fire, they fall apart.)

For the salsa: cut the ingredients fine.  Add the juice.

Kidneys are hard to get and rarely prepared now, in Mexico or the United States.  This is a pity; they are very good if prepared correctly.



Green Sauce (for use on any boiled meat)



Chipilín (or alfalfa sprouts or pea tendrils)

Chile leaves

Tender hojasanta leaves

1 onion

2 tomatillos

1 bell pepper

2 garlic cloves


Masa to thicken


Use equal quantities of all the leaves–weight of each about equal to the weight of the onion.  Blend all the ingredients.  Add to the broth of whatever meat is being used.  Cook, stirring to prevent sticking and burning.  Cut up the meat and add, allowing it to boil once more.  Serve immediately, or it may lose the green color.

Tabasco or regular parsley can be added, or other green leaves that work well.

It is desirable to blanch the chipilin before blending up.





2 lb. beef

1 lb. pork

1 tomato

1 onion

l bell pepper

2 garlic cloves

2 eggs

4 leaves of Tabasco parsley

1 ball of masa (i.e. about half a cup)

1 piece of achiote (cube of paste, or small bag of powder)

1 tbsp viinegar

Salt and pepper to taste


Grind the meats (or just use ground meat from the store) and mix with the garlic, pepper, salt and vinegar.  Leave a while.  Meanwhile, blend the tomato, onion, bell pepper, garlic and salt.  Fry this in lard or oil.  Add a pint of water to form a broth.  Add the achiote and masa.  When boiling, mix two raw eggs with the meat mixture and forming the meatballs.  Add these to the broth, with the parsley leaves (whole, separate).  Boil about half an hour.



Planked Pork Leg


1 pork leg (fresh ham), ca. 6 lb.

1/2 lb. Spanish-style ham

1/4 lb. prunes, soaked and mashed

1/4 glass vinegar

1 pint red wine

1 tomato

1 onion

1 bell pepper

1/2 head garlic

10 black peppercorns

1 spring thyme (or a good deal of powdered thyme)

1 bay leaf

8 allspice berries, or 1 tsp allspice powder

Marjoram, salt, and cinnamon to taste


Remove fat from the leg.  Chop or blend up the other ingredients and rub into the leg, sticking it with a fork to allow the spices to penetrate.  Bake.  Then sprinkle with sugar and roast in a hot fire.

The original recipe called for sodium nitrate to preserve the pork in Tabasco’s tropical climate.  No need for that now.




Tabasco Stew


1 lb. stewing beef

1 lb. beef ribs

1 lb. soup bones

1/2 head of garlic

1 bunch fresh oregano

1 tomato

1 bell pepper

1 onion

1 bunch cilantro

2 ears of sweet corn

2 chayotes

2 macal tubers

1 manioc tuber

1 summer squash

2 plantains

6 chaya leaves



Cut the meat in pieces.  Put in plenty of water and boil.  Add salt and garlic.  Skim the broth.  When the meat is tender, chop and fry up the garlic, oregano, tomato, bell pepper and onion; peel and cut up the other vegetables; add all to the soup.  Cook till nearly done, then add the cilantro and simmer a bit longer.  Serve with white rice.

Macal is a Maya root crop similar to taro.  Potatoes are perfectly good in this in place of macal and manioc.



Tasajo with Chaya and Plantains


1 lb. tasajo (dried salted meat)

4 oz. chaya

2 plantains, peeled and chunked

3 tomatoes

1 bell pepper

1 small onion

1 bitter orange

Oil for frying



Soak the meat in several changes of water.  Then boil it till it softens.

Separately boil the chaya and plantains.

Cut the meat finely, as for hash, and fry till browning.  Add the tomato, pepper and onion, all finely cut up, and then the chaya and plantain, also finely cut up.

Add the juice of the bitter orange.  Cook a little longer.  (The earlier in the process you add the orange juice, the less orange flavor it retains but the more it adds sourness to the whole.  Thus, you can vary the final product to taste.)







Black-bellied Whistling-duck


2 ducks

2 garlic cloves, mashed

1 tomato

1 onion

1 Tabasco chile

10 peppercorns

1 cloves


Salt to taste

1 cube achiote

Juice of 1 bitter orange

3 tbsp lard


Boil the ducks with salt and garlic till they become slightly tender.

Chop the vegetables and grind the spices.  In a casserole dish, heat the achiote till it softens, then add the orange juice.  Add the lard, fry the other ingredients.  Add the ducks; cover and simmer till they are golden.

As noted above, use ordinary duckling for this.



Polish chicken

A festival dish in Tabasco.  The connection with Poland seems pure fantasy, though a tenuous connection via the cabbage and tomato sauce may be implied.


2 chicken breasts

A quarter of a cabbage head, chopped fine

1 garlic clove, chopped


3 tomatoes

2 peppercorns

2 cloves

1 (or more) laurel leaf

1 sprig of thyme, or 1 tsp ground or crushed thyme

1 small can of chipotle chiles

1/2 onion, sliced

Salt to taste

Tomato sauce–just blend up a tomato and spice it


Fry the chicken, cabbage and garlic until lightly browned.

Blend the tomato, spices, and chipotle.  Add to the chicken.  Add the onion, and salt to taste.  Cook dry, then add the tomato puree and cook till done.  Serve with tortilla chips.







Chaya Salad


2 lb. chaya

1/4 onion, sliced

Salt, pepper and lime to taste.


Boil and cut up the chaya.  Mix with the other ingredients.

One can add other vegetables, and/or herbs.



Chaya with Squash

Special recognition for a superior vegetarian dish.


1 lb. chaya

1 lb. Mexican summer squash

1 chopped onion

3 chopped tomatoes

1 cup sweet corn kernels

Salt, pepper and chile to taste


Cook the chaya and chop.  Cut up the squash.  Fry the chaya, squash, onion, tomato and corn for about 20 minutes or till well cooked.

(modified from Conaculta Oceano 2001c:48)



Chayote Stew


3 chayotes

1/2 onion

1 garlic clove

1 tomato

1 chile

Bunch of cilantro



Wash and peel the chayotes.  Cut in quarters.

Heat oil in a pan.  Add the onion, garlic and tomato.  Fry a while, then add the chayote.

Cover and cook till the chayote is done, then add the chopped chile and cilantro.



Chaya with Plantain


1 lb. pork rib roast or other cut, for boiling

Chaya to taste (1/2 to 1 lb.)

4 plantains

3 tomatoes

1/2 onion

Achiote to taste (1-2 tbsp. recommended)


Cook the pork.  When tender, add the chaya and plantain (cut up).

Cut up the onion and tomato and fry, adding in the achiote.  Then add to the meat and boil.

A rib slab is good for this dish in south Mexico, where pork is meaty and not always tender.  Americans will probably want to save the rib slab for barbecue and use a tougher, more boiling-oriented cut here.



Chayote Torta


10 chayotes

5 eggs

2 oz. raisins

2 tbsp. butter

1 cup lard (this can be cut down, or even left out, for a low-fat version)

2 cups sugar

Salt to taste


Boil, peel and mash the chayotes.

Mix the other ingredients into this paste.

Bake in a greased mold at 350o for about 20 minutes (until browning on top).

“Torta” is cognate with French “torte,” but the Spanish word means several quite different things: sandwiches, omelets, and baked egg dishes like the following.  These egg dishes are of Moorish origin (compare the Persian kuku dishes).



Guacamole a la Tabasco


2 avocados

4 hot chiles

Juice of 1 bitter orange or 2 limes

2 tbsp olive oil (optional)

1 onion, chopped fine

6 peppercorns, ground


Peel and slice the avocados.  Roast, peel, seed and mash the chiles.  Mix these with the bitter orange juice, and then mix in all the other ingredients.  Serve, garnished with raw onion rings and the like.







A version of the standard Mexican corn drink.  Various atoles and pozoles are the staple food of much of Tabasco.


1 lb. masa

3 pints milk, scalded

3 pints water

Pinch of cinnamon or anise

Sugar to taste


Dissolve the masa in the water.  Strain through a colander.  Add the milk and spices.  Simmer, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes.  If too thick, add water to dilute.

This can be made with chocolate also: dissolve one tablet of Tabasco chocolate in the atole as it cooks.

Variants can be made with cooked corn meal or sweet corn.





1/2 lb. masa

3 pints water

1/2 lb. brown sugar

4 oz. chocolate


Make as for atole.



Chaya and Plantain Upside-Down Cake


1 1/2 cups butter

2 1/2 cups sugar

2 plantains

8 pitted prunes

5 eggs

2 cups flour

3 tsp. baking powder

1 can evaporated milk


3 cups cooked and chopped chaya


In a cake mold, put 1/2 cup butter, 1 cup sugar, slices of plantain, and prunes.

Beat a cup of butter with the rest of the sugar, mixing in the eggs one by one.

Mix the flour and baking powder.  Mix this into the above.  While mixing it in, add slowly the milk (mix the vanilla into the milk) and the chaya.

Turn the mix into the mold.

Bake at 325o for 1 hour.  Let stand till cool.  Turn out onto a plate.

If worried about cholesterol, you can use half as much butter, and 7-8 egg whites (discarding the yolks).  Do not, however, use margarine or oil instead of butter.  It won’t work.



Chocolate Made at Home

This recipe is offered for interest.  It’s too much work for a result that is inevitably inferior to good commercial chocolate (unless you have industrial equipment).  It would almost be easier, and certainly more fun, to go to Tabasco and get chocolate there.  It is sold there in many forms, from raw seeds to pure bitter chocolate to the elaborate, spiced chocolate tablets described here.  I prefer the straight bitter chocolate.

This recipe is a standard way to make the chocolate tablets typical of Tabasco.  However, for real chocolate tablets, you have to ferment the beans, and that is an expert technical job out of the reach of the ordinary cook.  You can get raw beans in Central American markets and try this yourself, roasting the beans like almonds in an oven, till they are just brown.  Raw beans are hard to work with–the line between too raw and too burnt is a fine one, and only an expert can roast them properly.  Also, they have a different taste from processed chocolate.


2 lb. cacao beans (seeds of the cacao tree)

1 lb. English-style biscuits (similar to nonsalty crackers or not-very-sweet cookies)

4 oz. almonds

1 1/2 lb. sugar

4 oz. cinnamon sticks

5 egg yolks


Heat a griddle.  On this, heat the cinnamon and then pulverize it.  Then toast the cacao beans until browned.  Peel and grind up.  Soak the almonds in hot water, peel, and toast till golden.

Blend the yolks, almonds, sugar and biscuits.

Mix all the above and pass through mill again.

Form into the characteristic Mexican chocolate tablets: flat disks 2″ to 3″ across and about 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick.

Break up one of these and mix with hot water, for cocoa.



Cocoyol fruits

The hard, sour fruits of a local palm tree.  They are only marginally edible even after this treatment, but they were often the only fruit around; they crop in the worst droughts, and were a famine staple in the old days.  They remain popular.  This product is thus of solely local appeal, but is added for ethnographic interest.


50 cocoyoles

4 cones of raw sugar (i.e. about 2 lb.)


Wash the cocoyoles a long time.  Cook in water.  Add the sugar and cook down to a thick syrup.



Grapefruit Conserve


6 lb. grapefruit

3 or more lb. sugar


Grate the peel, separating the white inner part.  Remove, but save, the membranes, seeds, etc., saving the pulp and juice.  Mix these latter with the sugar.

Boil these.  Put the white peel, membranes and seeds in a cheesecloth bag and cook with the rest until the syrup starts to thicken.  Then take out this bag and squeeze the juice out of it, back into the pot.

Add the peel and cook 10 minutes.

Put into jars, seal and label.

If properly canned (check that the seal is tight) this will last three months.  Of course, you can store it in the refrigerator for quite a long time without an airtight seal.



Guava ears


2 lb. lemon guavas (guayavas)

2 lb. sugar

Juice of 3 limes

1-3 fig leaves


Cut the guavas in half and remove the seeds.  As this is done, put each guava half in the lime juice, to prevent browning and add flavor.

Meanwhile, prepare a syrup: boil a quart of water with the fig leaves.  (These make the syrup thicker and stickier, but can be dispensed with.)  Then add the sugar.

When this syrup thickens, add the guava halves.  Cook down till syrup is thick, stirring frequently.

(cf. Conaculta Oceano 2001c:52, which adds 4 cinnamon sticks)



Monkey Ears


Same recipe as above, but using small wild papayas instead of guavas, and panela (Mexican brown sugar) instead of white sugar.  The fig leaves provide an enzyme that tenderizes the papayas.  The cinnamon can be omitted.  This is a very characteristic Tabasco sweet.  The wild papayas are sharp and sour, counteracting the sweetness of the syrup.



Orange Cake


1 lb. cake flour

Grated peel (zest) from 1 orange

Zest of 1 lime

2 tsp baking powder

10 oz. butter

6 oz. sugar

4 eggs + 4 egg whites

1/4 tsp salt

6 oz orange juice

Orange marmelade

1 packet of confectioners powdered sugar


Mix the flour, zests and baking powder.

Separately, beat the butter and sugar until creamy.  Add in the whole eggs one by one.

Beat in the flour, salt, and orange juice, adding alternately, little by little.

Grease two cake molds and pour in the batter.  Bake 45 minutes at 350o.

Use the orange marmelade between the two layers.

Top with meringue of the beaten egg whites and powdered sugar (or any other frosting desired).





3 large tortillas, without salt

2 tablets of Tabasco chocolate

Cinamon stick


Small amount of achiote powder or dissolved paste (optional, but usual)

Sugar or chile powder to taste


Toast the tortillas in low heat until very crisp but not brown.  (Beware–they go from moist to burned with almost no intermediate stage.  Watch them like a hawk.  In South Mexico they are often just sun-dried.)  Then crush them with the chocolate and cinnamon.  Add to water and sweeten to taste.  This can be drunk as is, but is better cooked a minute and cooled.

An easier variant, universal in Chiapas and southwest Mexico, uses toasted corn meal.

The combination of chocolate and chile is traditional, and I much prefer chile powder to sugar in this recipe.  Tascalate is a very refreshing drink, and making it too sweet ruins it.





Mayaland Cuisine: Yucatan

October 10th, 2016




Dedicated to

Doña Elsi, Doña Zenaida, Doña Noemy

Doña Aurora, Doña Elide and Don Felix,

and all the other teachers



Table of Contents


Yucatan and Quintana Roo                               3


Campeche                                                       85


Chiapas                                                           97


Tabasco                                                           128





This work consists of the recipes lying behind the book K’oben by Amber O’Connor and E. N. Anderson (Rowman and Littlefield 2017).  Originally, the present work (Mayaland Cuisine) had a large component of regular text, introducing and explaining the Maya world and Maya food.  All that material was updated, fleshed out, and incorporated in K’oben.  The recipes, however, were very thinly represented, so here they all are together.  Enjoy!

Gene Anderson, Riverside, CA, 2016



Culinary Specifics

An important characteristic of Yucatecan cuisine is that onions and garlic often roasted.  The distinctive taste of thoroughly roasted and mashed onion or garlic is one of the real “signature flavors” of Yucatan.  Traditionally, they are roasted over an open flame till the skins begin to blacken and the inside begins to soften.  It should be soft enough to mash easily—no more than that.  In the kitchen, the broiler does the best job.  You can also bake them, or roast them in a covered frying pan.

The other recipe chapters of this book are arranged in a traditional cookbook fashion, but I have taken the liberty of arranging this chapter according to local thinking, since it makes the task of explaining everything a good deal easier.  I begin with basic maize staple foods.  Then follows a section for recados.  Then come relishes and salsas.  Then tamales and related foods.  Only then do I move on to the traditional soups, fish, flesh, fowl, desserts, and drinks.

Critical to Yucatecan food are recados (from Spanish recaudo, “collection”), called xak’, “mix,” in Maya.  These are homemade or bought in the market in bulk or in cubes.  These cubes are sometimes found in North American markets that have a Caribbean clientele, but should be avoided unless you know your spices well.  In the United States, cubes of recado and of achiote paste are sometimes adulterated or stale.  Thus, in the following recipes, when the recipe calls for a cube, use a cubic inch of homemade recado.

A special section of the following is devoted to recados.


One recipe needs to be here, as it is basic to tamales and much else that follows:


Maya Lard

Take fat cuts of pork.  Chop fine and fry over low heat, adding some water.  Stir to avoid sticking.  Or: cut into larger chunks and bake (adding water) in moderate oven till the drippings are rendered out and the meat is quite dry.  In either case, enough water must be added so that the meat juices do not cook out or dry up.  The goal is a mix of fat and meat juices, not just fat.





Bread of the Milpa


This is a ritual dish for the Food of the Milpa (janlikool) and Praying for Rain (ch’a’ chaak) ceremonies.  The number 13, the masa, and the sikil were all sacred to the ancient Maya.  The thirteen layers represent the thirteen layers of the cosmos.  These breads are sometimes marked with sacred designs in achiote-colored oil or stock, as well as with sikil.

The dish is included here for ethnographic interest.  The culinary interest is slight.


2 lb. masa

2 cups cooked beans (black-eyed peas or black beans) (optional)

6 oz. sikil


Banana leaves


Make thick tortillas of the masa.  Stack them with layers of sikil and beans in between, till they are seven tortillas high (13 layers in all).  Wrap in banana leaves and cook in pib.


Variant:  Piim waj

Maya for “thick corncake.”  Sometimes reduplicated (pimpim) or translated into Spanish as gordita.


Make a giant tortilla: 1 foot across and 1/4″ thick.  Wrap in leaves and bake in pib.  Or it can be cooked, unwrapped, on a griddle.

This is much better if the masa is mixed with lard, as for tamales, especially if you are cooking it on the stovetop.

It is even better if mixed with cooked beans (black-eyed peas are the traditional ones), including their liquid.  In this case it has to be wrapped and baked (in oven, about 350o, if no pib is at hand).  It is then eaten with Tomato or Chile Sauce.



Is Waj (“Corncake of New Maize”)


Market version:

Grind up new maize (cut from ears of sweet corn) and leave standing for a few days until very slightly sour.  Add salt and make into very thin tortillas.  Cook till crisp.

More sophisticated version:

1 cup white flour

1/2 cup lard

Kernels from 3 roasting ears, cut off close

1/4 tsp. baking soda



Grind kernels.  Mix with other ingredients.  Make into very thin tortillas and cook on griddle.

Kernels from really young, tender sweet corn are really too soft for this; one needs kernels with some substance.  The Maya eat young corn at the stage that in my youth was called “roasting ears”—the kernels still tender, but somewhat more starchy than the sweet-corn stage.  One can use tender sweet corn kernels, however, by reducing the quantity somewhat, so the resulting dough is firm enough to make good tortillas.

Variant: common is a sweet version, using sugar instead of salt.



Saka’ (Sak ja’, “white water”: Corn gruel)

The other staple food–along with waj.

The ancient saka’ is just corn meal or mashed new corn in water.  Today, the word usually means pozole:  Wash nixtamal kernels (available in Mexican markets).  Boil till they break open.  Drain.  Grind and form into a ball the size of a tennis ball.

Variant:  Fry or toast the nixtamalized kernels before grinding.

For consumption, the ball is dissolved in water, stock, or soup.  The simple rural method is to dissolve in water with salt and chile.

To approximate saka’: Cook a small amount of “Maseca” or other prepared Mexican corn meal in good stock, stirring constantly.

Similar preparations are made by processing the maize in slightly different ways.  Sikil can be mixed in and the resulting atole cooked.

Fancy pozole or atole: Grind fresh green corn.  Mix with sugar.  Coconut cream can be mixed in if desired.

Ground toasted corn kernels, made into a drink, are pinole.  (Pozole, pinole and atole are Nahuatl words; saka’ is the basic Maya word.)






These are the soul of Yucatecan cooking.  It is essential to make your own recados, unless you can get to a major public market in Yucatan.

To make a recado, grind all the ingredients very fine, and moisten with enough vinegar or bitter orange juice to make a solid paste, adding salt to taste.  Failing bitter orange juice, use lime juice or a mix of orange and grapefruit juice (do not use bottled bitter orange juice preparations).

In Yucatan, you can get a spice mix called xak’. (This just means “mix” in Maya, and is also used for the recados themselves.)  The pre-made spice mix typically involves a cinnamon stick, 1 tsp. cloves, 1 tsp. pepper, 2 tsp. oregano, 1/4 tsp. cumin, and 1 tsp. allspice.  (Naturally, these ingredients are variable.)  All these are ground fine.  Then all you have to do is add achiote paste and you have your recado.



Achiote Paste


Bring achiote seeds to boil, in water.  Drain and soak overnight in vinegar, bitter orange juice or lime juice.  Blend.  It takes a tough blender to make these hard seeds into a paste.  A stone mortar and pestle is preferable, but then the preparation takes a strong arm and a lot of pounding.



Black Recado


2 ancho chiles or other dark dried chiles

1 tsp. allspice

1/2 tsp. cumin

1 tbsp. black pepper

1 tbsp. achiote paste

2 garlic cloves

2 tsp. oregano

Citrus juice or vinegar


Roast the garlic cloves.  Seed and toast the chiles.  They should darken enough to make the recado quite dark.  Grind all.  In Yucatan the chiles are actually burned to a glossy black, but this kills the taste of the chiles.  It also has to be done outdoors, standing upwind, since the vapors of burning chile peppers are seriously dangerous to eyes.

Variant: the garlic is not always roasted.



Hot Recado


2 tbsp. dry chile

4 allspice berries

8 epazote leaves

1/2 tsp. black pepper

2 garlic cloves

1 tbsp. achiote

Vinegar or bitter orange or lime juice to make thick paste



Mole Recado


2 ancho chiles

3 pasilla chiles

1 tbsp. black pepper

1 small piece of cinnamon stick

3 cloves

Half tbsp. sesame seeds

3 garlic cloves

Bitter orange or lime juice to make thick paste



Recado for cold meat


3 allspice berries

1/2 tsp. black pepper

3 cloves

1 small piece of cinnamon stick

1 roasted head of garlic

Pinch of saffron (optional)

Ground dry chile to taste

Vinegar, bitter orange juice, or lime juice to make paste


Spread on the meat or mix in with it.



Red Recado

This is the standard–the Universal Seasoning of Yucatan.


1 tbsp. achiote paste (more in Quintana Roo, often 3 tbsp.)

1 tsp. (or more, to taste) black pepper

1 tsp. dry oregano leaves, crushed

1/4 – 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds

2-4 cloves

1 small piece of cinnamon stick

3 garlic cloves, slowly roasted till soft

Bitter orange juice (or substitute) to make thick paste


Prepare as with above.  Variants:  Allspice is often added—about 4 berries.  Garlic can be unroasted.  Coriander seeds (very few) can be added, but are rare in Yucatan.  Naturally, everyone varies the amounts slightly.

A village recado would be heavier on the achiote, garlic, and oregano, which everyone grows in the yard, and much lighter on the expensive store-bought spices (cloves, cinnamon, cumin, pepper).



Roast Garlic Recado


20 large garlic cloves

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. cloves

2 tsp. oregano

Bitter orange or lime juice


Roast the garlic (broiling in oven, or over open flame).  Peel and mash. Grind the spices.  Mix with enough bitter orange juice or equivalent to make a paste.

Variant: use some unroasted garlic, and/or a roasted onion.



Steak Recado


1 tbsp. black pepper

3 garlic cloves

2 tsp. oregano

Vinegar (recommended for this one) or bitter orange juice or lime juice, to make thick paste


Some steak recados add allspice, cinnamon and cumin—very little of each, say about 1/4 tsp.



Spicy Recado


1 tbsp. pepper

1 small stick cinnamon

4 cloves

3 garlic cloves

1 tsp. oregano

1 pinch saffron

Bitter orange juice or lime juice, to make thick paste



Tamale Recado


1 tbsp. black pepper

3 allspice berries

5 epazote leaves

2 garlic cloves

1 tbsp. achiote

ground dry chile

Vinegar or bitter orange juice or lime juice to make thick paste



White Recado

Not called for in any of the following recipes, but great in soup or stew, especially with turkey.


1 tbsp. black pepper

3 garlic cloves

1 tsp. oregano

2 cloves

1 pinch cumin seeds

1 pinch saffron

1/4 tbsp. cilantro seeds

Coriander seeds (optional)

Vinegar (white vinegar is ideal here; citrus juice is not recommended for this one)





Basic relish to eat with Maya food:


1 bunch radishes

Few leaves cilantro

Chopped onion and/or garlic, to taste (optional)

1 fresh green chile or one habanero chile (if you can stand it–the taste is much better, but habaneros are almost unbearable to the uninitiated)

Salt and pepper to taste


Chop the radishes and other ingredients and marinate in bitter orange juice or lime juice.

Chopped tomatoes can be added.


Botanas (snacks to eat with drinks)

A typical selection might include:

onion, garlic and tomato stir-fried and then mixed with cilantro and sikil

Cucumbers, onions, cilantro, radishes, cut up, in vinegar

Boiled potato cubes with onion, cilantro, vinaigrette

Ceviche (raw fish and shellfish bits marinated in lime juice with cut-up chiles and tomatoes and onions, with salt and black pepper)



Ha’ Sikil P’ak (“Water, sikil and tomatoes”—a nice descriptive name)


2 tomatoes

1 red onion

Few sprigs cilantro

Juice of 1 bitter orange

1/2 cup sikil
Chile habanero to taste

Salt to taste


Roast and peel tomatoes.  Chop these with cilantro and onion.  Add the bitter orange juice.  Stir in the sikil, then the habanero.  This should be a thick paste.  Serve for dipping up with tortilla wedges.



Habanero Salsa


1 onion

5 garlic cloves

2 lb. tomatoes

1 habanero

1 tbsp. oil

1 pinch oregano

1 pinch salt


Chop all.  Fry the garlic and onions first, then the chile and finally the tomato, stirring constantly.  Add the oregano late in the process.



K’utbi Ik (Chile Sauce)


Seed and toast fresh chiles.  Wrap in cloth for a few minutes so skins steam loose, and then peel.  Blend or mash with similarly roasted tomato, and garlic or onion.  Herbs may be added.



K’utbi Ik, dry chile version


Toast and grind dry red chiles.  Roast garlic, green chiles, and onion.  Mash all with lime juice.



K’utbi p’ak (Tomato Sauce)


Same as above, but with little or no chile.

Or: Chop and fry onion or  garlic.  When colored, add chopped tomato, salt, and herbs (epazote, cilantro, oregano) if desired.  Bitter orange juice or lime juice can be mixed in.  Mash somewhat—it should be chunky, not a paste (see below).

Or: Roast and peel tomatoes.  Blend with some cilantro, salt, bitter orange juice and habanero chile.

It can also be yach’bij (mashed more thoroughly—to a paste—with a pestle in a molcajete—a small mortar), or suut’bij (the same, but with a revolving motion, not smashed down), or just licuado—blended in a blender!



Little Dogs’nose (Xni’-pek’)


This is the standard Maya salsa.  It gets its name because it makes your nose run and become cold and wet like a dog’s.


Seed and chop a habanero chile.  Add chopped onion, garlic, tomato, and any herbs, to taste.  Marinate in bitter orange juice or lime juice, with salt.

It is important that all the ingredients be absolutely fresh for this.  Xni’-pek’ can marinate for a day or so, but no more than that.



Marinated Onions

This is the universal accompaniment for many cooked meat dishes, including pok-chuk and turkey.


1 large red onion

10 peppercorns

3 allspice berries

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. oregano

1/4 cup bitter orange juice

As much habanero chile as you can stand

Salt to taste


Cut onion into slices.  Add the peppercorns and allspice.  Let stand very briefly in boiling water.  Drain.

Add garlic, oregano, orange juice and chile.  Let marinate briefly.

Variant: use vinegar and some water instead of bitter orange juice.  In this case, everything is combined, brought to a boil, and left to marinate for a day or more.



P’uybi Ik (Ground Chile)


Toast dried chiles till slightly colored.  Then (not before) seed them and grind fairly fine.



Rooster Beak (pico de gallo)


5 jicamas

5 sweet oranges

3 bitter oranges

Ground chile, to taste

Cilantro, to taste

Salt, to taste



Peel and cut up the jicamas and sweet oranges.  Mix with the juice of the bitter oranges and add the seasonings.

“Rooster beak” is a name generally given to salsas that have a bite like the peck of an angry rooster.  This is a mild one, somewhere between a salsa and a salad.  It need not be; you can use chopped fresh habanero chiles.

The pieces should be small and even, but definitely separate.  This is not a blended sauce.


Rooster Beak II


1 tomato

1 small white onion

1-2 cloves garlic

1 jalapeno chile (or whatever chile you prefer)

Bitter orange or lime juice


Chop first four ingredients into quite small but distinct pieces, and marinate in the juice.



Wasp Larvae


Toast wasp larvae and eat with relishes.

Or just smoke a wasp nest to drive away the adults and more or less cook the larvae, then open the nest and eat the smoked larvae from it.  They taste like smoked bacon (at best). (I have tried this one.)




A mixture of masa, cooked black-eyed peas, sikil, ground dried chile, chopped cilantro and chopped onion.  These are not mashed up—just mixed, so the peas and onions remain chunky.  The mixture is wrapped in hojasanta leaves, then in a second wrapping of banana leaves, and cooked in the pib or steamed to make tamales.

Without the masa, it is a standard quickly-improvised relish to put on tortillas or other corn cakes.  For this, take cooked black-eyed peas; drain; mix in the other ingredients, to taste.




The term just means “mixed,” but one standard “mix” is a salad of orange sections and chopped jicama with salt, chile, chopped cilantro, and lime juice.  This is traditionally served on the Day of the Dead, November 1.



Xub Ik (Superhot Chile Sauce)


30 dried chiles

2 lb. tomatoes

6 allspice berries

A few peppercorns

4 cloves garlic

8 or more oregano leaves

Branch of epazote


Seed the peppers.  Toast them (optional, but typical).  Boil.  When soft, add other ingredients.  Blend all.

Meat can be cooked in this, or it can used simply as a sauce.

Prepare with all windows open.  Use rubber gloves if your hands are sensitive.  Avoid touching eyes or other sensitive parts of the body.



Some other typical garnishes and relishes:

Tomato, sikil, coriander, garlic, onion, salt–chopped fine, fried and blended to a smooth paste

Cucumbers vinagreta (thin sliced with onion, cilantro, habanero chiles, garlic, vinegar, oil)

Potato slices vinagreta

Cabbage, chile and cilantro, chopped, vinagreta

White beans cooked with tomato, onion, spices, bits of ham and bacon

Chicharrones stewed with onion, tomato, chile




TAMALES AND RELATIVES (including antojitos—substantial snacks—and tortilla-based items)




Black-eyed Pea Tamales


A standard market snack.


1 lb. pork (shoulder is good; loin or other cuts perfectly all right)

Water to cover, 4-6 cups

6 tomatoes

1 clove garlic, roasted or not

1 chile, toasted

1 branch epazote

1 oz. masa

Juice of 1 bitter orange

1 cup cooked black-eyed peas

Masa for tamales


Put the pork in water with the tomatoes, garlic, chile, and epazote.  Cook till very tender.

Remove the pork from the broth.  Save the broth.  Shred the pork into small pieces; chop up the other items, leaving out and discarding the garlic and epazote.

Now cook the broth down with the 1 oz. masa and the bitter orange, till thickened, so it has a high percentage of fat.

Mix this and the black-eyed peas slowly into the masa.  Cook down very slowly till hot.  The result should be thick enough not to stick or collapse; it has to be the main substance of the tamales—a firm, solid mass, largely maize dough.

Let cool.  Then make tamales by putting a layer of masa about ¼” deep on a corn husk, banana leaf segment, piece of foil, or kitchen paper.  The big tough corn husks sold for this purpose in Mexican markets are best, but foil will very often have to do.  Put a heaping tablespoonful of pork filling on the masa and roll up into a tamale:  a sealed, stuffed corn-dough item some 4-6” long.

Steam.  The Maya traditionally seal them tightly in a closed vessel and bake them for anywhere from an hour on up in a pib.  The classic method otherwise—for those of us without a pib—is to crowd them vertically into a pot with an inch or so of water or stock at the bottom, and steam them on the stove top.  They also do fine in the oven, on a rack over water in a pan, the whole being sealed with tinfoil; or vertically in a casserole dish in the oven.

A very cheap version leaves out the pork, but in that case you still have to boil down a fatty cut of pork to get the “Maya lard” to make the tamales.



Chanchamitos (simple tamales)


Yucatecans love multiple diminutives.  “Chanchamitos” means “little little little ones”–Maya chan, “little,” is doubled, and the Spanish diminutive ending added for good measure.


1/2 lb. pork or chicken meat

1 spring epazote

1 1/2  lb. masa

1 square of recado rojo

1 tbsp. lard

Salt to taste

Corn shucks


Chop up the pork.  Boil with the epazote.  Then dissolve some masa in the stock to thicken it to thin sauce consistency.

Mix the rest of the masa with the recado, lard, and salt.

Using this masa, make tamales in the usual way, but only 1/4 to 1/3 the size of regular ones.

Variants:  These can be made with any sort of meat that will do for a filling, including leftovers.



Chaya Tamales (also called “Braza de Reina”—“Queen’s Arm”–or sometimes “Braza de India”)


Boil chaya leaves.  Roll any kind of tamale or similar food in them, using the same technique as for stuffing grape leaves or cabbage leaves.  Eat the whole thing, chaya leaves and all.

As the name implies, these are usually made long and rather slender, like a girl’s forearm.

One good filling mix: 1 kg chopped tomatoes

½ onion

3 small chiles or 1 chile xkatik, chopped

Oil for frying


Hardboiled eggs, chopped


Fry up the tomatoes, onions, and chiles (to a sofrito).  Mix with the eggs.  Use for stuffing the tamales.


Hojasanta is very often used instead of, or even with, chaya.  Chard leaves work perfectly well.



Chaya-stuffed Tamales (Ts’otobij Chay; “Dzotobichay” on restaurant menus)

As the name suggests, this very popular dish is thoroughly Maya, surely pre-Columbian.  The name means “chaya stuffing” or “chay with filling stuffed into it” (Maya ts’ot, “to stuff something into a hollow space”).


1 lb. chaya (swiss chard if you can’t get chaya)

3 lb. masa

1 lb. lard

8 eggs

¼ – 1/2 lb. sikil (ground squash seeds)

Salt and pepper to taste

Chaya leaves for wrapping

6 small tomatoes

1 onion

2 garlic cloves

Some chile, optional


Chop the chaya and mix with the masa, lard and salt.

Cook the eggs and chop finely.  Mix with the sikil.

Make tamales the usual way (the egg mix inside the chaya-masa mix), steaming for an hour.

Roast the tomatoes, onions and garlic.  Add whatever chile is desired.  Mash.  Serve as sauce for the tamales.

This recipe invites creative interpretation.  You can stuff it with anything, as long as the stuffing is not strong-flavored enough to kill the delicate chaya taste.



Chulibuul with sikil

Chulibuul means “stewed beans.”


2 lb. young fresh beans from the field (substitutes: frozen limas or black-eyed peas)

2 lb. masa

3 onions

Branch of epazote

4 garlic cloves

1 lb. sikil

Salt to taste


Cook the beans.  Mix the masa with a little water.  Chop finely the onions and epazote.  Grind the garlic.

Mix all, and cook slowly and carefully.  Add half the sikil.  Serve with the rest of the sikil sprinkled over it and with tomato sauce poured over it.

Fresh variant:  Use sweet corn kernels instead of masa.  Cook the beans first; add the corn and just bring to boil, no more.  The result bears a great resemblance to succotash, except for the sikil.

Toksel variant:  If this is made without any maize–just the beans and sikil–it is “toksel.”

Out in the fields, farm workers heat stones in the campfire and drop them into this stew to cook it.  Stone soup?




Another mestiza-Maya word: Kots’ (codz in the old spelling), “something rolled up,” with the Spanish diminutive ending added.  These are the simple, finger-food version of enchiladas.

Roll fresh or freshly-fried tortillas around tomato sauce with Mexican cheese or ground or shredded meat.

A fancy version I noted at the wonderful Hacienda Teya–a restaurant in a restored henequen estate east of Merida–rolls the codzitos around shredded boiled chicken, then covers them with k’utbi p’ak, then crumbles fresh white cheese over all.



Eggs a la Motul (Huevos Motuleños)

Motul is a large, historically important town in central Yucatan.  This dish is a standard breakfast all over the Peninsula.


2 tortillas


1 tomato

1/4 onion

2 oz. ham

2 eggs


Salt to taste

1-2 oz. refried black beans

Several green peas (necessarily canned in Yucatan, where peas don’t grow, but much better if fresh)

Tomato sauce


Fry (saute) the tortillas in the lard.

Cut up the tomatoes and onion in small pieces.  Fry.

Cut up the ham into small pieces.  It can be fried also (but usually isn’t).

Fry the eggs.

Now cover the tortillas with beans; the beans with the eggs; the eggs with the tomato, onion and ham; and the whole thing with tomato sauce.  Garnish with the peas (or mix them in with the tomato and onion, earlier step).

Chickpeas or other vegetables can be used.  Various garnishes exist.  Much of the quality of the dish depends on the ham; get the best.

Of course, the true Yucatecan eats this mammoth breakfast with habanero sauce–the perfect wake-up at seven in the morning!





Make small tortillas from masa.  Fold them around any filling—beans, chopped meat, chicken, k’utbi p’ak, etc., in any combination.  Moisten the edges to seal them.  Then shallow-fry (sauté) in a pan, or deep-fry in hot oil (but shallow-frying is better).  Serve with sliced cabbage, onions in lime juice, or other topping over them.



Enchiladas a la Quintana Roo


10 tortillas

1 cup shredded cooked spiced chicken

3 oz. Mexican sharp white cheese, crumbled

1 onion, chopped

2 ancho chiles

2 pasilla chiles

1 oz. almonds

1 oz. peanuts (optional)

1 cup chicken stock

1 tbsp. lard

Salt to taste


Shallow-fry the tortillas in lard (basically, just put them in some oil in the skillet and move them around till they soften and begin to toast at the edges).  Roll them around the chicken.  Top with cheese and onion.

Seed and toast the chiles.  Grind with the almonds and peanuts.  Blend with the stock and season.  Cook quickly to thicken and pour over enchiladas.



Fish Tamales


3 garlic cloves

1 tsp. cumin seeds

3 tbsp. achiote

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 lb. fish fillet

4 tbsp. lard

1/2 onion, chopped

2 tbsp. cilantro, finely chopped

1 tomato, chopped

1/2 cup bitter orange juice

2 lb. masa

Banana leaves


Grind up the garlic, cumin, and one tbsp. of the achiote with the salt and pepper.  Cut up the fish and rub this recado into it.

Heat half the lard.  Fry the vegetables in it.  Add the fish and then the bitter orange juice.

Mix the masa with the rest of the lard and achiote, and some salt.

Make tamales the usual way.



Green Corn Tamales with Chicken


Grains from 30 sweet corn ears

1/2 lb. lard

1 tbsp. sugar

1/2 cup milk

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1 lb. pork loin meat, cooked

Meat from 1 small chicken, cooked

5 chiles

1/2 tsp. black pepper

2 cloves

2 garlic cloves

1 small piece of cinnamon stick

Salt to taste


Grind the kernels.   Mix in the lard, sugar, salt, milk and soda.  Beat.

Shred or cut up the meat.  Seed and toast the chiles.  Grind all the flavorings.  Mix all, and make tamales in usual way.

Variant: red recado has been known to work its way into these, though it is a fairly strong flavor for green corn tamales, and tends to kill the delicate flavor of the green corn unless very small amounts are used.



Hojasanta Tamales


Make as for Chaya Tamales, above, or wrap any tamale in hojasanta (mak’ol or mak’olam in Yucatec Maya) and then in banana leaves.  Steam or bake in pib.  The hojasanta leaves are edible, but not the banana leaves.



Joloches (joroches)

From Maya jooloch, “corn shuck, dried corn leaf”–presumably from the appearance of the dumplings, like corncobs in the shuck.


1/2 lb. ground beef

1/2 lb. ground pork

1 lb. tomato

1 onion

1 bell pepper

3 garlic cloves

Red recado

1/2 cup vinegar or bitter orange juice

1 1/2 lb. masa

2 tbsp lard

Salt to taste

1 lb. cooked black beans

3 oz. sikil


Cook the meat with the tomato, a strip on onion, half the bell pepper, three garlic cloves, salt, some water and the recado diluted in vinegar or juice.

Mix the masa with lard and salt.  Form cones, and stuff them with the meat mix.  Close the tops with masa.

Chop and fry the rest of the onion and bell pepper.

Warm up the beans and add the fried vegetables.

Add in the cones and cook 15-20 minutes.

This is one of those common, standard recipes that is infinitely variable.  Almost any ingredient can be left out or decreased in quantity, and other common ingredients sometimes find their way in.

For instance:  A quick-and-easy village form of the above is simply:


Squash flowers





Boil the flowers with the onion and salt.  Form the masa into little cones and add in.  The cones should look like the flowers; presumably this is the original inspiration of the dish.

Or we can have:


Joloches with Longaniza


1/2 lb. longaniza

2 tomatoes

1 onion

1 xkatik chile

1 lb. masa


Salt to taste

Kabax beans


Cut up the longaniza and vegetables.  Fry the longaniza, and then the vegetables in its oil.  Make small masa dumplings filled with this mixture.  Flatten and fry.  Add to the beans and serve.





As popular as salbutes (for which see below).  A typical workers’ breakfast, using up the remains of dinner from the day before.


2 lb. masa

1 lb. mashed black beans (cooked with two branches of epazote; left over from yesterday)

3 red onions

Leftover breast meat from a turkey roasted in red recado

Juice of 4 bitter oranges (or 8 limes)

Tomato and chile sauces



Make small tortillas.  The Maya way is to put an ounce or so of masa on a banana leaf—or, today, a plastic sheet—and press the masa gently into a tortilla.  These have to be homemade and 3-4” across (about half as big as regular ones), so they will puff up.

Toast on griddle or frying pan.  Hopefully, they will puff up, leaving a hollow center (like pita bread or Indian puris).   This hollow center is known as saay in Maya.

Stuff the hollow with mashed beans.

Fry (sauté) the bean-stuffed tortillas in lard.

Shred the turkey meat and put on top.  Shredded lettuce or other vegetables can be added.  (Chicken or other meat can be used, though turkey is traditional and particularly good.)

Cut up the onion and marinate in the salt and orange juice.  Serve separately.  Also serve separately the k’utbi p’ak and chiles.  Panuchos are very much an eaters’-choice type of food.





Papa ts’uul means “rich people’s food.”  (Ts’uul, or “dzul,” is now used to mean “foreigner,” but seems originally to have meant “rich person.”)  This may, however, be a folk etymology; Cherry Hamman explains it as “papak’, to anoint or smear, and sul, to soak or drench” (Hamman 1998:94).  Either way, economic progress has come, and this is now a relatively humble staple dish, typically found on the breakfast menu.


1 egg

1 tomato

Bit of habanero chile

1 sprig epazote


4 tortillas

2 oz. sikil

Salt to taste


Hardboil the eggs.  Chop or mash up.

Boil the tomatoes, chiles and epazote.  Drain, but save the water.   Blend.  Fry in oil.

Dissolve the sikil in the reserved cooking water.  Mix half of this with the oil.  (This is what people generally do now, and I have watched it many a time, but Hamman tells you the ancient way: roast and grind the squash seeds yourself, mix with water, and knead till they produce some oil.  See Hamman 1998:94).  Spread on the tortillas.  Then spread on these the egg mix and roll up.

Pour over the roll-ups the rest of the sikil sauce, and the tomato sauce.

Variant: a much more elaborate version involves mixing the sikil with stock, epazote, onion, garlic and chile, and serving the whole with marinated onions:  red onions cut up, blanched, and marinated in vinegar or bitter orange juice with spices and chopped habanero chiles.

Another variant involves boiled chaya (or spinach, one bunch) and 3 tbsp of cut-up chives.





Maya pool kaan, “snake head,” with a Spanish plural.  The name comes from the resemblance between the opened-up dumplings and a snake’s head with mouth open.  Another common and cheap market snack.


2 lb. black-eyed peas (fresh or briefly cooked to soften)

1/2 lb. sikil

1 tsp. ground chile

1 lb. masa

3 tbsp. lard



Cook the beans.  Drain.  Mix with sikil and chile.

Mix the masa with the lard and salt.  Stuff with the beans.  (Or mix flour and masa, make a thin skin and stuff like ravioli.)

Steam or pib-bake in corn husks like tamales, or deep-fry like hush-puppies.

For eating, split and fill with tomato sauce.





Something of a national dish of Yucatan.  The name is from Maya tsajil but’, “fried minced meat.”  As with such “small eats” the world over, the best place to get these is down at the marketplace in the morning, where the working people are stoking up for a hard day’s work.  Salbutes become a powerfully nostalgic flavor for those who regularly eat them in such circumstances.


Make small tortillas from fresh masa.  Deep-fry in very hot lard.  While these are still as hot as possible, pile on them shredded cooked chicken or turkey (preferably cooked in red recado), chopped cabbage or lettuce, marinated onion (see above), tomato slices, radish slices, and/or anything else desired.

This is often accompanied by the chicken or turkey stock; black beans; and lime slices.  As the Maya name implies, they are often topped with fried minced pork instead of poultry.  In fact, they are topped with just about anything: beans, tripe, chorizo, etc.  A good market stall will have alternatives, the eaters choosing what they want.





Fry small, thick tortillas.  Top with anything interesting.

Some toppings noted at Merida markets and fiestas include:

Nopal salad (prickly pear pads cooked, cut up, and marinated in oil and vinegar with spices)

Nopal cut up in chocolate mole (made by cooking and mixing chocolate tablets and ground chiles)

Any and all meat, preferably cooked in red recado, shredded

Beans or beans and meat, usually refried black beans

The sopes are then usually further topped off with lettuce or cabbage, various sauces, etc., over the meat.



To’obi joloch (Sweetbread Tamales)


Boil sweetbreads until tender.  Chop; eliminate tough membranes.  Mix in a handful of chopped shallots and 2 cups sikil.

Use to fill tamales in the usual way.



Vaporcitos (“little steamed ones”)

A very common, minimalist sort of snack.


Mix masa, lard and cooked black-eyed peas.  Make this mix into tamales—no filling added—and steam.  Eat with Tomato Sauce.

The same thing baked in a pib is called xnup’.



Wedding Tamales

This is the full-scale tamale of Yucatan.  The main ingredients can, of course, be varied, according to what is available.


1 chicken

1 lb. pork

1 cube red recado

1 tbsp. steak recado

2 lb. tomatoes

1 tbsp. ground allspice

1 small head of garlic, roasted and bashed

Branch of epazote

1 lb. lard

Chile and salt to taste



Cook the meats.  Dissolve the spices in vinegar and add.  Add other ingredients.  Bone the meats and make tamales in the usual way, using the stock, or grease skimmed from it, for the lard.







“Barriana” soup

Silvia Luz Carrillo Lara, in Cocina Yucateca (1995:17-18), reports that this is a true “mestiza” soup, found in many old cookbooks.  This is an adaptation of her recipe.  It is a relatively “Spanish” dish, preserving the flavors of the Spanish Colonial world.  Like all such recipes, it seems to be dying out in Yucatan, but variants of it can still be found.  The Spanish ancestors of this dish are still around in southern Spain, and use leftover bread instead of masa, the latter being an obvious Mexicanization.


1/2 lb. masa

1 tomato

1/2 red onion

1 bell pepper

1/4 cup lard (“Maya lard” recommended)

3 pints chicken or beef stock, freshly made

12 olives

2 tbsp. capers

2 tbsp. raisins

2 tbsp. chopped almonds

Salt and pepper to taste

Pinch of saffron (optional)


Break the masa into small pieces and fry them in the lard.  Chop the tomato, onion, and pepper, and fry them separately.  Add the masa.  Then add the stock and cook ca. 10 minutes.  Add the other ingredients and cook until all is heated.

Variants without the masa, often with different thickenings, exist.



Chaya Soup


8 or more fresh chaya leaves

1 chayote

1 summer squash

1 onion

3 garlic cloves

1 tsp. ground oregano

6 cups water

1 chipotle chile in vinegar or marinade (canned marinated chipotles are fine)

Salt to taste


Chop the chaya finely.  Cut up the other vegetables.  Cook all.

Obviously, this recipe can be varied at will.  The basic idea is chaya plus other vegetables—a mix of starchy and crunchy ones—and standard Yucatecan spicing.



Covered Soup

This is what Mexicans call a “sopa seca,” a “dry soup.”  This isn’t an oxymoron, just the standard term for a soup that includes enough starch to absorb all the free liquid.  Such dishes have a Moorish origin; they are related to pilaf.  This one is thoroughly Spanish, and thus out of place in a book about the true mestizo cookery, but it is far too typical of Yucatan to leave out.  It represents a large class of popular recipes transported from Spain to Yucatan virtually without change.  It also provides insight into what was imported from Spain in the old days: capers, saffron, oil, vinegar, wine, and olives were staples of trade.


For the “stuffing”:

A large chicken cut up, or any small poultry

3 garlic cloves

1/2 tsp. oregano

2 bay leaves

1/2 tsp. cumin seeds

1 stick cinnamon

2 cloves

6 allspice berries

1/4 cup vinegar


For the rice:

1/2 lb. rice

5 tbsp. oil

2 xkatik chiles

2/3 lb. tomatoes

1 onion

2 garlic cloves

1/2 tsp. saffron

1 bunch parsley

1 banana leaf

3 oz. lard


For the final assembly:

1 oz. lard

2/3 lb. tomatoes

1/2 cup stock

2 oz. bottled green olives, optional

1 tbsp. chopped parsley

4 tbsp. sherry

1 oz. capers

3 oz. Mexican white cheese


Cut up the poultry.  Grind the onions, garlic and spices, rub onto poultry, and marinate overnight.

Soak the rice for an hour or more.  Drain and fry in the oil.  Add chopped chiles.  Roast the tomatoes and blend with the onion and garlic.  Soak the saffron in 1 oz. water.  Add all these to the rice, cover, and simmer over very low heat for a while–not till fully done.

Spread the banana leaf with lard, in a baking dish.  Put half the rice mix on this.

Then fry the poultry in the final 1 oz. lard.  Add tomatoes (roasted and chopped) and stock.  Then add olives, parsley, sherry and capers.

Cover with the rest of the rice mix, fold the banana leaf over, and bake 10-20 minutes at 375o.

Sprinkle with broken-up white cheese for serving.


Much simpler variants exist, converging on the familiar “Spanish rice” of Mexican restaurants everywhere.  This is basically a pilaf with peppers and tomatoes instead of Moorish ingredients.  Rice is fried with chopped onion, then spices and other ingredients are added, then liquid to cover ½-1” deep, then all is simmered at the lowest possible heat till the liquid is absorbed.  Standard in Yucatan are simple “Spanish rices” with chicken cooked in red recado, or other variants, added to the tomato-onion-pepper basic formula.



Lentil Soup


1 lb. pork

1 tbsp oregano

2 cups lentils

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 onion, chopped

Red recardo, 1 oz.

2 mild chiles

1 carrot

1 chayote

1 platano

2 potatoes




Boil the pork and lentils till the lentils are tender but not quite thoroughly done.  Add other ingredients and finish cooking.



Sopa de Lima (Bitter Lime Soup)

This soup requires a strange lime-like citrus fruit, the lima agria, with a unique flavor.  Note that it is a lima, not a limón (lime or lemon).  It is fact the Thai lime, easy to find in any Oriental market.  (No one knows how it got to Yucatan.)  The Yucatecan bitter lime should be fresh for this soup, but I get acceptable results with dried Thai lime and a bit of fresh ordinary lime.  It is also possible to use ordinary lime only.  This is done even in Yucatan if bitter limes are not available. The real lima is preferable, though.

This is probably the most famous single Yucatecan dish, after cochinita pibil.  Yucatecan restaurants far from Yucatan all carry it.  They often can’t get the real lima agria, so don’t judge this soup by versions you may have had outside Yucatan.


For the stock and meat:

1 chicken

Salt and pepper, to taste

4 cloves

1 tbsp. dried oregano

4 garlic cloves

1 tsp. cumin seeds

Enough water to produce 8 cups stock


For the soup:

2 tomatoes

1 onion

1 xkatik chile (or other mild chile according to your preference)

1 tsp. vinegar

1 lb. tortillas, cut in strips or wedges and fried in lard

1 bitter lime


Cook the chicken with the other stock ingredients.  Eat the dark meat (cook’s privilege).  Shred the white meat.

Blend the tomatoes, onion, chiles (seeded and soaked), vinegar, and salt.

Combine all: into the stock, mix the blended vegetables; the shredded chicken; the fried tortilla strips; and the cut-up lime.  A few sqeezes of ordinary lime juice are good too.

Variants: Chicken cooked in red recado is often used, and adds to the flavor.

A couple of tablespoons of beer find their way into some versions.

The fried tortilla strips are dispensable.



Squash Soup


1 tomato

1 bell pepper

3 oz. butter

6 small summer squash

6 or more squash flowers

Salt and pepper to taste


In a saucepan, chop the tomato and pepper and fry in the butter.  Add water and the cut-up squash and flowers.

Variant:  a couple of ounces of chopped ham can be fried with the tomato and pepper.  I prefer the vegetarian form, however.



Tortilla Soup


1 lb. beans

6 tortillas

Oil for frying

1/2 onion, chopped

1 serrano chile, chopped

2 sprigs epazote

2 tomatoes, roasted and skinned

1/2 lb. chorizo, taken out of its casing and fried

Grated Mexican sharp white cheese

Salt and pepper to taste


Cook the beans in enough water for the final soup.

Cut the tortillas in wedges and fry.  Fry the onion, chiles, and epazote.  Add the beans and tortilla strips.

Blend the tomatoes with salt and pepper.

Combine all ingredients–sprinkling the chorizo and cheese over the top.



White Bean Soup (Yucatan form of a very popular Spanish dish)


1/2 lb. white beans (traditionally small white limas, but ordinary white beans will do)

1/2 white onion

2 tomatoes

1/3 lb. of chorizo sausage, or 1 small chorizo and 1 longaniza sausage

1/4 head of cabbage (optional)

1 green pepper

1/4 lb. Spanish, Virginia or similar flavorful ham

Salt and pepper to taste

Cayenne pepper to taste (optional)

1/2 lb. potatoes


Wash the beans.  Then soak, and boil in the same water until beginning to be tender.

Chop and fry the tomatoes, onions, pepper, cabbage, and ham.  Add seasonings.

Combine these and the sausages with the beans.  Cut up the potatoes, add, and cook all till the beans are tender.

A sprinkling of marjoram and oregano–fresh or dry—is good.  One can also decorate with chopped parsley, or even (untraditional but good) cilantro.






Baked Fish I


1 large fish (preferably fairly oily)

3 garlic cloves

1 onion

3 oregano leaves

5 bay leaves

1 glass white wine, optional (it’s good but the Maya would never have it)

1/2 tsp. pepper

1/2 tsp. cumin seeds

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt to taste


Marinate the fish in the other ingredients for an hour.  Bake.

This can also be done on the stove top in a heavy saucepan.  Try adding xkatik chiles.

The fish is often even better if rubbed with red recado or otherwise marinated beforehand.



Baked Fish II


1 large fish

3 oz. olive oil

1/2 lb. potatoes

1/2 cup vinegar

6 tomatoes

1 onion

2 xkatik chiles

1/2 tsp. ground cumin or cumin seeds

6 leaves oregano

4 bay leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

Chopped parsley


Grind the spices (except the bay leaves) and blend with vinegar and some oil.  Rub into fish.

Cut up the vegetables.  Put the fish on the bay leaves and cover with the vegetables mixed with the rest of the oil.  Bake.

Variant: Lard is used in the villages instead of olive oil.  Butter can be used.

This can be done on the stove top also, in a heavy saucepan.



Chiles Stuffed with Dogfish

See also following dish.


1 piece, ca. 1 lb., of roast dogfish

Branch of epazote

4 tomatoes

1 onion

6 xkatik chiles


1/2 lb. lard

1 cube red recado


Boil the dogfish with epazote.  Flake and fry with onion, tomato, and epazote (all cut up).  Separately fry some of the onion and tomatoes.

Roast the chiles, wrap in a cloth and leave for a while, then skin and seed.  Stuff with the dogfish mix.  Fry.

Add the rest of the onion and tomatoes, with the recado, to the boiling stock.  Cook down and pour this sauce over the chiles.

A much more elaborate version of this occurs in Patricia Quintana’s wonderful book The Taste of Mexico (pp. 274-275).

However, only a true dogfish addict would go to the trouble of making even the simple form with real dogfish, and I strongly recommmend using regular shark, or (still better) codfish, or some other firm white-fleshed fish.  I always do.  I admit it—I am not fanatical about dogfish.



Chiles Stuffed with Seafood

Quintana Roo variant of a universal Mexican dish.


6 large poblano chiles, or bell peppers

1 lb. mixed seafood: shrimps, crabmeat, fish, shellfish


2 cloves garlic, chopped

Oregano to taste

3 tbsp. cilantro, finely chopped

2 lb. tomatoes

1 onion

1 xkatik chile

1 habanero chile (if tolerated)


Sear the large chiles or bell peppers.  Seed.  They can be peeled also.

Cut up the seafood (the more variety the better).  Fry quickly with the spices.  Stuff the chiles.  Sauté and serve.

Separately, chop the tomatoes, onion and other chiles, roasting any or all if desired.  Fry quickly.  Serve this sauce over the chiles.

Tomatoes or other vegetables can be stuffed similarly.



Conch in Escabeche

Conch is, alas, getting rare due to overfishing and pollution, and this magnificent dish may not be with us long.  However, the loss is not total, for any seafood can be cooked this way.  Abalone or other relatively chewy sea food should be particularly good, but now abalones are rare too.  One reader suggests scallops—not very close, but perfectly acceptable.


1 lb. conch meat

Juice of 2 bitter oranges or 6 limes

1 onion

5 oz. oil

1/2 bottle vinegar

2 xkatik chiles, roasted and seeded

6 oregano leaves

1/2 tsp. toasted cumin seeds

1 roasted head of garlic

4 bay leaves

Pinch of nutmeg

Salt and pepper to taste


Boil conch till tender.  (For a conch, that can vary from several minutes to an hour, depending on the maturity of the conch, but for scallops a very few minutes is quite enough.  Small scallops need little more than being brought to the boil.)  Leave to cool in the orange or lime juice.  Cut up.

Fry the onion lightly in the oil.  Add the other ingredients.  Boil quickly.

Marinate the conch in this.



Dogfish Pudding


1 1/2 lb. dogfish

1/4 tsp. oregano

2 branches epazote

1 onion

2 large chiles in vnegar

1 lime

4 eggs

1 tbsp. lard

1 oz. breadcrumbs (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste



2/3 lb. tomatoes

1 onion

1 tbsp. lard

1/4 cup dogfish stock



2 avocados

1 head of lettuce, preferably buttercrunch or red leaf

1 bunch radishes


Boil the dogfish with the oregano and epazote; save the stock.  Shred the fish.  Chop and fry the onion.  Add the fish with the epazote leaves.  Chop and add the chiles.  Fry quickly.

Beat the eggs with some lime juice, salt and pepper.  Blend into the fish mix.  Put all in mold.  Top with breadcrumbs if desired.  Bake at 350o.

For the sauce, roast the tomatoes.  Blend with the onion.  Fry in the lard.  Add in the stock.  Put over the pudding.

Garnish with avocado and radish slices and lettuce leaves.

I have not brought myself to using dogfish (see Chapter 2) in this.  Use any white-fleshed fish, cod being probably best because it has enough flavor and texture to stand out in this pudding.



Fish a la Celestun


1 onion

1 bunch parsley

2 tomatoes

Fresh chile, to taste

1 red snapper or similar fish

4 cloves

1 tsp. pepper

Pinch saffron

Frozen peas (optional)

1/4 cup vinegar

Salt to taste


Chop the onion and parsley.  Fry.  Add the tomato and chile, roasted and blended.  Add the fish and spices and vinegar; cook in the sauce till nearly done, about 15 minutes.  Add the peas (if wanted) and finish cooking, 5-10 minutes.

In Celestun, a charming old fishing village famous for its flamingoes, the fish is usually fried first, sometimes grilled, and then covered with the sauce after it is cooked.  The Celestunians use canned peas, having no frozen ones available, but frozen ones are better.



Fish Fajitas


A creative response to the fajita craze.  This version is an elaboration of that created by the Faisan y Venado restaurant in Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Quintana Roo.


1 lb. white fish fillet (not too delicate a species), cut into strips

Salt and pepper

Juice of 2 limes

4 oregano leaves

Pinch of cumin powder

2 cloves

Ground dried chile

1 onion

1 green pepper

1 tomato


Marinate the fish in the spices.

Cut vegetables into strips.  Stir-fry with the fish.



Fish in Green Sauce

A classic Arabo-Spanish recipe, which has evolved into countless variations in southern Mexico.  Compare variants in Chapters 2 and 4.


1 large bunch parsley

1 sprig oregano

1 bunch green onions with tops (trim off the ends)

1 bunch cilantro

6 tomatillos

2 xkatik or other mild green chiles

2 garlic cloves

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

6 tbsp. vinegar

1 onion

Salt to taste


1 fish


Blend up the greens and flavorings in the vinegar.  Fry in oil.  Add the fish and cook.

Variants:  This may be the most variable dish in the Yucatan Peninsula.  Everybody has his or her own version of it.  You can use any mixture of the green ingredients, in any quantity.  You can vary the spicing at will.  You can fry, grill or boil the fish first.  Sometimes, people don’t fry the green sauce first, but just fry or bake the fish in the sauce.  In fact, you don’t even have to have a fish.  This sauce is used for other seafood and even for pork.

Here, for instance, is another version:

1 fish, ca. 2 lb.; or 2 lb. of fillets or fish steak

5 garlic cloves, roasted

1/2 tsp. cumin seeds

1/2 tsp. oregano

1/2 tsp. black pepper


4 tbsp. chopped Italian parsley

1/3 lb. tomatillos

2 xkatik chiles

2 green onions with the leaves except for the very tips

1/2 cup vinegar

1/2 cup oil


Clean the fish.  Grind the spices and rub into the fish.  Leave for an hour in cool place.  Blend the other ingredients (greens, vinegar and oil).  Put over fish.  Cook in a covered dish over a slow fire.

Note that in this version the green sauce is not fried.

Yet another version, almost unbearably good, uses some hojasanta leaf.



Octopus in Its Ink


3 large octopi

6 garlic cloves, chopped

2 lb. tomatoes, chopped

1/2 cup olive oil

2 large onions, chopped

2 serrano chiles, chopped


3 bay leaves

1/2 tsp. ground pepper

1 pinch ground cumin

1/2 tsp. ground oregano

1 tbsp. parsley, chopped

2 tbsp. vinegar

Salt to taste


Take out the ink (remove ink sacs from octopi) and save it.  Wash the octopi and rub with 1 clove of the garlic, mashed.  Simmer, with a tomato, one onion, and lard, till octopi are tender.  Then clean off membranes etc. and cut up.

Chop and fry the rest of the garlic, the chiles, and the other onion.  When colored, add the bay leaves, the rest of the tomato, the pepper, cumin, oregano, parsley and the octopus ink dissolved in vinegar.  When this begins to boil, add salt and the octopus. Boil a few minutes, till done.

Squid in its ink is made more or less the same way.

At this point I cannot resist mentioning a dish from Tampico’s great seafood restaurant, the Restaurante Diligencia:  seafood petrolera.  This is basically the above recipe with other seafoods–shrimp, fish roes, some fish, clams or oysters–cut up and added.  The name is a sick joke; Tampico has offshore oil, and thus oil spills at sea.  This dish looks exactly like the aftermath of an oil spill.  However, it tastes heavenly.  The roes in particular “make” the dish.



Rice with Seafood

Another of those infinitely variable recipes.  More typical of Campeche than Yucatan.


6 garlic cloves, chopped

1 onion, chopped


1 lb. seafood (mixed, or cut-up squid, or shrimp, or other)

1/4 cup vinegar

Several sprigs parsley, chopped

2 roasted tomatoes

2 cups rice

Salt and pepper to taste


Fry the garlic and onion in a little oil.  Add the seafood.  Add the vinegar.  If octopus or squid are among those present, mix in the ink.

Add the parsley and tomatoes, chopped finely.

Separately, fry the rice.  Add water and simmer over very low heat.  When almost done, add the seafood.

Variant:  This is the minimal recipe.  Most people would add bay leaf, oregano, green peas, and bell or chile peppers (chopped).  Many would add spices including clove, cinnamon, cumin and allspice–all in very small amounts.  Some would throw in a carrot, or summer squash, or chayote, or anything else interesting and available.



Salpicon de Chivitos

Tiny sea snails with shells like curled goat horns (hence their name—“chivitos” means “little goats”).  This is good with any shellfish.  I first encountered it in a tiny cafe on an isolated beach on the north coast of Yucatan.


Boil the shellfish.  Mix with their own weight (or a bit more) of raw chopped tomato, onion and cilantro.  Dress with salt, pepper, dried oregano, lime juice and a bit of oil.



Samak Mishwi


Arabic for “roast fish.”  I have seen it Yucatecanized to “samik mishul.”  This is one of the relatively recent Lebanese contributions to the Yucatan world.  It is as un-Maya a recipe as could be imagined, but I find fascinating the adoption of Lebanese culture in the Yucatan Peninsula.


2 fish

Olive oil

1 garlic clove

2 limes

4 oz. tahini (ground sesame seed paste)

6 sprigs parsley


Brush the fish with olive oil and grill.

Serve with sauce:  Mash the garlic cloves with salt and mix with the lime juice and sesame paste.  Thin this with water as needed.

Garnish with chopped parsley.

This sauce is a version of the famous taratur sauce of the Mediterranean,but substituting Mexican limes for lemon or vinegar.




Shrimps in Chirmole (or Chilmole)

Chilmole (Nahuatl for “chile sauce”) is a very widespread recipe type, deriving from central Mexico, and based on a rich sauce of ground dried chiles, usually thickened with masa.  In central Mexico there is a whole conoisseurship of dried chiles, but in Yucatan there is not much choice.


1 lb. fresh or dried shrimp

4 oz. dried chile (ancho, morron or the like)

1 onion

3 garlic cloves

3 Tabasco peppers

6 peppercorns

1/2 tsp. achiote

4 large oregano leaves (or 1 tsp. ground oregano)

2 cloves

1 lb. tomato, chopped

1 branch epazote

2 oz. masa

3 eggs

Salt to taste


Boil the shrimps, peel and clean.

Toast the chiles and grind with the onion, garlic and spices.  Combine with the shrimps, the stock they were boiled in, the tomato, the epazote and the salt.

Dissolve the masa and cook down the whole into a thick sauce.  Serve decorated with slices of hardboiled eggs or other garnishes.

Warning: note that this recipe uses lots of chile.

(modified from Conaculta Oceano 2000b:33)



Snook in Escabeche


As explained in the Introduction, robalo in southeast Mexico is what is called “snook” in the southern US.  It’s a flavorful, slightly oily, white-fleshed fish.  Any equivalent fish will do; even salmon works fine for this one (texture and richness being more important in this case than flavor and “white fish” qualities).


4 robalo steaks

1 tsp. steak recado

1/2 tsp. ground coriander

1 pinch ground oregano

1 pinch cinnamon

1 pinch ground allspice

2 garlic cloves

2 heads of roasted garlic

4 bay leaves


Salt to taste


Fry the steaks till not quite done.  Cool.

Dissolve the spices in the vinegar and some water.  Add the fish steaks.  Boil quickly.



Snook in Orange Juice



2 lb. snook fillets

Juice of 1 bitter orange or a few limes

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. oregano

Juice of 3-4 bitter oranges (or equivalent)



1/4 cup oil

2 cloves garlic

2 onions

2 bell peppers

2/3 lb. tomatoes

Salt and pepper to taste

1 sprig or more parsley


Marinate the fish in the orange juice, to which the ground spices are added.

Roll the fillets and fry very lightly.  Cover with bitter orange juice.  Bake at 350o.

Meanwhile, make the sauce:  Fry the garlic and onions, chopped, in the oil.  Add the chiles and tomatoes, roasted.  Add the salt and pepper.  Then add the chopped parsley.  Cook.

Serve the fish with the sauce poured over.




A very widespread traditional Maya fish dish.  Its ancestry must go back to ancient times.


1 fish (2-3 lb.)

3 garlic cloves

1/2 tsp. oregano

1/2 tsp. cumin seeds

Juice of 1 bitter orange or 2 limes

2-3 tsp. achiote

1 tomato, sliced

½ small white onion, sliced

1-2 xkatik chiles, seeded, roasted and cut in strips

Salt and pepper to taste

Hojasanta and/or banana leaves


Clean the fish and slash its sides.  Blend the spices, garlic, achiote and orange juice.  Rub this recado well into the fish.  Marinate for several minutes to overnight, according to preference.

Line a baking dish with banana leaves (or substitute).  Wrapping with hojasanta leaves and then banana leaves gives better flavor.  Put the tomato, onion and chile slices on it.  Wrap well in the leaves and bake in a slow over for 30 to 45 minutes.

Originally, of course, this would have been made in a pib, and you can still do this if you are very good at wrapping.  It is also made on the grill, which is easier.

Fish steaks marinated in the recado and simply grilled (without the wrapping) are also excellent.

If you can’t find banana leaves, wrap in any flavorful leaf, or put some fennel or bay leaves around the fish, and wrap all in aluminum foil.

Variants:  Cinnamon can be added to the recado.  All quantities can be, and are, varied according to what’s cheap, available, or preferred.  This is a notably variable dish; every restaurant has its own recipe.



Worker’s Shrimp


1 lb. tomato

1 onion

3 garlic cloves

1 tsp. achiote

1/2 tsp. cumin seeds

5 allspice berries

1 oz. bottled green olives

1 oz. capers

A few raisins

1 sprig parsley

6 tbsp. oil

2 bell peppers

2 xkatik chiles

4 summer squash

2 chayotes

1/2 lb. potato

2 platanos

3 tbsp. vinegar

1 1/2 lb. shrimp (shelled and cleaned)


Roast the tomatoes.  Blend with the onion, garlic, spices (ground), olives, capers, raisins, and parsley.  Fry this sauce in the oil.  Cut up and add the vegetables and cook ca. 20 minutes.  Add the shrimp and cook till done, about 10 min.

Workers have more appetite than money, so a great quantity of vegetables are used here to stretch the shrimp.

The olives, capers, and raisins were originally elite Spanish ingredients, and are optional here.  Leaving them out gives a more Maya dish—more like what workers really eat.



Fish in Vinegar

A variant of fish in escabeche—the classic Spanish sour sauce, from the Arabic as-sikbaj for a vinegared dish.


2 lb. fish, preferably robalo steaks but any firm-fleshed fish will do

4 bay leaves

1/2 bottle cider vinegar

1 onion

1 carrot

1 bell pepper or mild chile

4 potatoes


4 tomatoes


Few sprigs parsley, chopped

Pinch of nutmeg

Salt and pepper to taste


Set a bit of water to boil, with the spices.  Cook 10 minutes and take out fish.  Chop the vegetables and cook in the vinegar and stock.  Add a biot of olive oil.  Pour over the fish and serve.








Ajiaco, Yucatan style


A rather spectacular elaboration of a standard Mexican recipe.  This is another dish that stretches the meat with lots of vegetables.  It is thus notably healthy.


1 lb. pork loin

1 lb. pork short ribs

8 allspice berries

2 cloves

1 small cinnamon stick

1/2 tsp. coriander seed

1/2 tsp. oregano

3 garlic cloves

6 tsp. vinegar

1 onion

1 plantain

1/2 lb. tomatoes

2 bell peppers

3 xkatik chiles

1 chayote

1/2 lb. potatoes

1/2 lb. sweet potato

2 summer squash

1/3 cup rice

Pinch of saffron


Cut up the meat.  Grind the spices and garlic, mix with vinegar, and rub into the meat.  Cook for a few minutes.  Then add the vegetables, in the order listed.  The rice can be added with them or cooked and served separately.

Add the saffron at the very end (last 5 minutes of cooking).



Ajiaco, Quintana Roo style


2 lb. pork

4 leaves of oregano

4 garlic cloves

1 tbsp. black pepper

1 pinch cumin seeds

2 summer squash

2 carrots

2 chayotes

1 sweet potato

1 plantain

2 potatoes

1 cup rice

1 onion

2 tomatoes

1 green chile

4 oz. lard

Juice of 1 bitter orange

1 pinch saffron (optional; rare)

Salt and pepper to taste

One is tempted to add: 1 kitchen sink.


Boil the meat.  Add the spices.  As it cooks, cut up the vegetables and add them in.

Separately, chop up and fry the onion, tomatoes and chile.  Add the rice.  Add enough stock to cook and simmer slowly.  As it cooks, squeeze in the bitter orange juice.  Add the saffron at the very end.

Variant:  This is a typical Quintana Roo dish in that it is delicately spiced.  Most ajiacos use a great deal more chiles than this, with dried chiles being notably evident.  Adjust accordingly.

The saffron is an exotic touch; in the villages it would not be found.  But the other ingredients would.  Dishes like this are typical of Maya village cooking, because the dooryard garden is apt to produce, each day, one squash, a couple of tomatoes, a few chiles, and so on—not a lot of any one thing, but an awful lot of different things.



Balinche Salad

Compare the Chojen Salad of the Chiapas highlands.


Cold boiled meat—deer preferred, beef common.  It is shredded or chopped, with bitter orange (or lime) juice, chopped radish, cilantro, chile xkatik, and onion.  Half a bitter orange is served on the side to squeeze on it.

Other names are used, and ingredients are mixed and matched according to taste.

This is one of those simple dishes that vary according to the creativity of the maker.



Beef in Broth


2 lb. beef, cut up

3 tomatoes

1 bell pepper

1 xkatik chile

1 onion

Half of 1 bunch cilantro

1 tsp. oregano

3 leaves mint

1 head of garlic

1 tsp. black pepper

4 tbsp. red recado

2 chopped summer squash

2 chayotes, cut up



6 radishes

Rest of the cilantro

Juice of bitter orange


Habanero chile (optional)


Boil the meat.  Chop and fry the tomatoes, bell pepper, chiles and onion.  Add to the meat.  Late in the cooking, add the herbs.

Roast the garlic and add it in.

Dilute the recado in some of the stock, and add in.  Put in the squash and chayote.  Cook till done.

Meanwhile, chop up the radishes, cilantro and chile and marinate in bitter orange juice.  Eat as relish for the meat.




In spite of the name (which is, of course, “beefsteak”), this dish is usually made with pork in Yucatan and Quintana Roo.  However, it is made with beef too, especially rather tough cuts like flank steak.


2 lb meat, cut into thin steaks (1/8-1/4” thick)

Cinnamon stick

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp cloves

1 tbsp peppercorns

3 cloves garlic

Juice from 4 bitter oranges and 2 limes (or just 4-6 limes)

1 carrot

1 onion

2 tomatoes

1-2 potatoes

Salt to taste (traditionally this is an extremely salty dish, to restore salt lost in working in the blazing Yucatan sun)


Grind the spices together, and thin with the citrus juice.  Marinate the pork in this for an hour or two.  Fry in lard till done.

Meanwhile, peel the vegetables.  Boil with salt.  Serve the boiled vegetables separately from the bistec.

For sauce (separate):  Roast the habaneros.  Mash with salt.  Add cilantro and onion, and a bit of lime juice.  Or serve with limes, radishes and k’utbi p’ak.

Variants:  The vegetables can vary according to taste, except that the tomatoes, onion and potatoes must be there.



Bistec (Steak with Potatoes) II:  Urban Form


2 lb. tender beef or pork steak, cut thin

1 cube steak recado



3 tomatoes, sliced

1 onion, sliced

1 bell pepper, sliced

4 potatoes, sliced (in rounds)

Salt to taste


Dissolve the recado in a little vinegar and rub into the meat, with a lot of salt.  Put a little oil on the bottom of a casserole or saucepan.  Layer meat and vegetable slices.  Cook over low heat.

Variant: with more onion and some garlic, instead of the tomatoes and potatoes, this becomes “steak and onions.”





Maya for “minced meat” (not rump steak!).  But’ is translated into Spanish as relleno, “stuffing,” which is confusing when it is not being used to stuff anything.


1 lb. ground pork (ideally, finely minced meat of fresh leg)

1 tsp. steak recado

1 pinch ground clove

1 pinch ground cinnamon

1/4 cup vinegar

2 tsp. sugar

4 tomatoes

1/2 onion

1 green chile (or bell pepper)

12 or 15 olives

1 tsp. capers

Raisins to taste

Almonds (to taste; optional)

4 hardboiled eggs

Salt to taste


Mix the spices into the meat.  Chop the vegetables.  Chop the whites of the eggs (reserve the yolks for garnish).  Mix all ingredients and cook in a frying pan, stirring.

This is usually used as a topping or stuffing.  It is used to stuff turkey or to make meatballs cooked with cut-up turkey.  Either way, the turkey is often boiled in a richly spiced stock (see turkey recipes).  But’ is also used in tacos or on sopes, etc., and of course for stuffing vegetables.

A very characteristic use:  wrapped around hardboiled eggs and fried, like Scotch eggs.

Traditional village versions leave out some or all of the classic Spanish imports:  olives, capers, raisins, almonds.

In fact, the very traditional, all-local form of it is:


But’ Negro


2 lb. ground pork

1 cube red recado

1 cube black recado

1/2 cup vinegar

4 tomatoes

1/2 onion

1 xkatik chile


Proceed as for previous recipe.  The same comments apply.



8 tomatoes

1 xkatik chile

2 lb. ground pork

1/2 cube steak recado

1 cube achiote paste

1 pinch cumin

1 onion

3 garlic cloves


Roast and peel the tomatoes and chile.  Dissolve the spices in water.  Add to meat.    Cook all in a frying pan, stirring.  Chop the onion and garlic and add; they should fry up in the fat from the meat.  Eat with tortilla chips.




The name is “mestiza Maya”; choko is Maya for “hot,” lomo is Spanish for “loin.”  Supposedly, the name comes not from the heat of the cooked dish, but from the fact that this was, and is, the traditional way to cook a freshly-butchered animal whose meat is still warm.  The purpose of this dish is to use the more delicate parts of the animal—loin and innards—before they spoil.  It is the standard “variety meats” dish in much of south Mexico.


Pork or beef heart, and small pieces of tripe

1 lb. pork or beef loin

Liver, kidney

Brain (optional)

Soup bones

Cube of steak recado

1 head of garlic

Juice of 1/2 bitter orange

4 tomatoes

1 onion, cut up

Sprig of cilantro

Sprig of mint

Chiles to taste


Clean the various meats well.  Before cooking, the meat of the kidneys has to be trimmed of fat and thoroughly cut away from the tough white tubule system, and then soaked in water for a while.  Discard this water after soaking.  This process makes kidneys taste good instead of gross.

Cook the meat with the recados.  Start with the heart, tripe, bones, and any tough cuts.  Cook for an hour or more.  Add the loin and cook a while longer.  Then add the liver and kidney; cook for a little more.  Add the brain (it is very delicate and cooks fast), vegetables and herbs.  Serve with Basic Relish, lime wedges, xni-pek, and other garnishes; it is traditional to have a fairly full board of relishes and garnishes with this dish.

Variants:  People use whatever mix of “variety meats” is available.  If you don’t like the innards, it is perfectly possible to make this dish with just pork loin (as the name implies).

Cabbage, chayote, xkatik chiles, radishes, and other vegetables are added to this dish, according to taste.





2 lb. pork

1 tsp. pepper

5 allspice berries

1 glass sherry

1 cup vinegar


1 dried chile, seeded, toasted and ground


Grind the pork twice.  Grind the spices and add.  Mix all ingredients and knead well.  Let stand a while, then stuff into sausage skins.  Smoke over smoldering fire including aromatic leaves such as guava, allspice or avocado.

It is possible to make patties and cook directly, without the sausage skins and the smoking process.  In this case, try forming the patties around some aromatic leaves (bay leaves, herbs, etc.).



Cochinita Pibil

With this, we reach the crowning glory and fame of Yucatecan cuisine.   It goes back to pre-Columbian times; the pit barbecue, a worldwide cooking method, was sacred to the Maya–or at least was used to prepare the sacred foods.

Unfortunately, this is also the easiest Yucatecan dish to ruin.  I confess I have tried it only with pork roast, and only in the oven.  I have ruined a few roasts even with this simplified form.


This recipe is adapted to a very small piglet.  For a larger animal, you have to scale up the ingredients proportionately.


1 piglet, cleaned (ca. 10 lb., or up to 20), with all its innards, or a large pork roast (plus a pork liver, if you like liver)

3-4 cubes red recado, or mix equivalent amount of achiote with clove, cumin, black pepper, oregano, cinnamon and bitter orange juice to make up a paste.

Juice of 5 bitter oranges

Ground chile

Salt and pepper to taste (traditionally, a lot)

Mint leaves

2 xkatik chiles, cut up

Chives (or green onions)



Banana leaves, for wrapping



2 red onions, finely chopped

Juice of one bitter orange

Chopped chiles


Dilute the recado in the juice of 5 of the oranges.  Rub this well into the meat and let it marinate overnight.  If using a pork roast, slash it and rub the marinade into the cuts.

Now, dig a pit about 4′ by 4′ by 3′ or more.  Heat rocks as hot as you can get them in a fire of very hot-burning wood.  Transfer these into the pit.  Put over them a layer of wet leaves.

Put the pork in a large, high-sided roasting pan and wrap thoroughly with banana leaves.  (If none is available, use any flavorful, safe leaves and wrap the whole thing in aluminum foil.)

Separately wrap the brain (or leave it out).  The liver should be wrapped separately, with chopped-up mint, chives, green chile and salt.  (If liver is not liked, do this with some of the meat.)

For a really thorough job of using all the pig, chop up the fat, mix with the blood and some spices, and pack into the carefully-cleaned small intestines, thus making blood sausage.  Cook with the rest.

Put the pork in the pit.  Cover carefully with a fitting metal cover.  Bury under a good foot of dirt.

Leave overnight.  (Times range from four to twelve hours, but the longer the cooking, the better the result.)

Serve with the raw onions, chopped, marinated with chopped chile (and sometimes tomato) in the juice of the remaining bitter orange.  Naturally, fresh habaneros are the chile of choice, but milder forms can be substituted.

Tomato or chile sauce is also often served.

In the Chetumal market, where many stalls sell cochinita pibil, the accompanying sauce is quite different, and wonderful with the dish: a simple guacamole made by mixing avocado and xkatik chiles, about half and half.  (Some stalls use more avocado, some use more chile.)  These are mashed to a smooth paste.  Some lime juice can be added, to good effect.  This is a really outstanding sauce for cochinita.


Fortunately for apartment-dwellers (and lazy people like me), this dish is perfectly easy to make in a regular oven, though it never tastes quite so good as when made in a pib.  The secret is to wrap it thoroughly and cover it well, so that no liquid or steam escapes, and then cook it VERY SLOWLY–200o–for several hours, until the pork is very thoroughly done.  A lot of liquid should result.

It is possible to wrap it thinly and roast at regular temperature (375o).  Indeed, this is what almost all restaurants do, especially Yucatecan-style ones that are not in Yucatan!  This produces perfectly good roast pork, but it isn’t cochinita pibil, any more than orange soda is Dom Perignon.

The best cochinita pibil is found before dawn in the village marketplaces, where the farmers are getting a quick breakfast before going off to their milpas–cornfields–for a day’s work.  The cochinita, prepared by one of the country folk the night before, is freshly dug up and still hot and juicy.  The cool air, wood smoke scent, and quiet Maya conversation add much to the experience.




A traditional Maya dish.  So far, I haven’t tried it.  You are welcome to do the experimenting with this one.


Trap a gopher.  Roast (don’t skin, don’t clean, just roast).  Rub the carbonized hair off.  Take all the meat, innards included, off the bones.  Mix with salt, bitter orange or lime juice, and chile sauce (or use these as a garnish).  Make tacos of this with fresh tortillas.  (The true outback thing to do is to pick the meat off the bones with the tortilla pieces.)

This is sometimes referred to, with more rhyme than reverence, as baj yetel u taj, “gopher with its dung.”




K’ab ik (“Chile Stew”)


2 lb. beef with bones

2 cubes red recado, and a bit of extra achiote paste

1 cube steak recado

Pinch of allspice, or allspice berries

2 to 4 dried ancho chiles (I hope no one reads that as “24 dried chiles”)

2 sprigs epazote

Bitter oranges

1 head garlic

4 tomatoes

1 onion


Cut up and boil the meat.  Add the recados, with a pinch of allspice powder or a few allspice berries.

Seed, toast and soak the chiles.  Grind and add.

When the meat is soft, add epazote, juice of 1/2 bitter orange (or 1 lime), and a head of roasted garlic (peeled and mashed).

Add the tomatoes and onion, cut up, and finish cooking.

Serve with salsas.




This is by far the most popular of the Lebanese contributions to Yucatecan food.  Kibis are sold on every busy street corner.  They have become so thoroughly Yucatecan that they appear on the menus of Yucatecan restaurants in Mexico City and Los Angeles!

The standard street kibi is uninspiring: ground lamb, bulgur, chopped onion and mint, formed into a depth-bomb (fusiform) shape and deep-fried.  It is often served with a relish of chopped cabbage, chile and cilantro in vinegar.

A more authentic Yucatan Lebanese kibi recipe (from a booklet of Lebanese cooking in Yucatan, by Maria Manzur de Borge, that I have lost and that is no longer available) gives a better product:


2 lb. beef

2 lb. leg of lamb meat

1 lb. fine bulgur

Bunch of mint

3 onions

Handful of pine nuts (pinon nuts, pignolias)



Black pepper and chile, if wanted


Separate the fatter from the leaner bits of meat.  Mince the meat and the onions.  Soak the bulgur for an hour.

Mix the leaner meat with the bulgur and one of the chopped onions.  Fry the fatter meat with two of the chopped onions.  Add the pine nuts.

When the fat is fried out of the meat, drain and mix with the lean meat.  Form into depth-bomb shapes and deep-fry.  A lower fat alternative (perfectly traditional) is to bake in a baking tray.





2 lb. pork, cut up

1 cube red recado

Juice of 1 bitter orange

1 onion, chopped

2 tbsp. lard

1 lb. tomatoes

2 xkatik chiles (or other fresh chiles, even to habaneros)

1 roasted head of garlic


Rub the pork with the recado mixed with the juice.

Chop and fry the onion in the lard.  Add the tomato and chiles.  Put in the pork.  Add water and simmmer.  Add in the garlic and cook till done.



Old Rags

Ropa vieja–so named from its appearance, like old shredded rags–is a classic dish known throughout Mexico and the Spanish Caribbean.  This is the Yucatan version.


1 lb. leftover stewed pork or beef (if starting from scratch, stew the meat a LONG time, till it is “boiled to rags”)

1 onion

4 cloves garlic

5 tomatoes

1 bell pepper and/or 1 xkatik chile pepper

1-3 sprigs or small branches of epazote

1/2 cup bitter orange juice

1 cube red recado

2 tsp. black pepper

Salt to taste


Shred the meat into small fibres.

Chop up the vegetables and fry, starting with the onion and garlic.  Add the meat and fry all.

Many variants of this recipe exist.  Tomato sauce, other spicing, etc. can be tried.

In much of the Caribbean this dish is served with “Moors and Christians” (cooked black beans mixed with white rice).

The famous Cuban version of this dish is much spicier.  It uses much more garlic, and really hot chiles instead of mild ones.  You can vary this recipe accordingly.  3 dried ancho chiles, ground, is a good start.



Om Sikil (Pipian I)

This is a village recipe, extremely conservative–basically pre-Columbian (note lack of frying and lack of any nonnative ingredient except black pepper).

The Nahuatl word “pipian” has almost displaced the ancient Maya name om sikil, but the latter is still heard.


2 cups sikil

6-8 cups water

1/2 red onion, chopped

1 tomato, chopped

2 cloves garlic, mashed

1 tsp. ground pepper

2 achiote cubes dissolved in water

1 tsp. dried oregano leaves

2 red chiles

2 lb. meat or fowl

1 cup sour abal (Yucatan “plum”; substitute sour plums)

1 tbsp. lard

4 oz. masa


Mix the sikil with the water.  Strain.  Bring to boil and add the chopped vegetables.  Cook ten minutes.  Add in the meat and spices.  Cook till meat is tender, about 1 hour.  Toward the end, add the abal or sour plum fruits.

Take out 2 cups stock.  Slowly work into it 1 tbsp. lard and 4 oz. masa.  Return this to the soup to thicken it.

It is perfectly possible to dispense with this thickening step.




Compare Om Sikil, above.


4 oz. sikil

3 dried chiles

2 tbsp. achiote

2 garlic cloves

2 lb. meat (any sort), cut up

1 branch epazote

4 tomatillos

1 tbsp. masa

2 tbsp. lard if using lean meat (pan drippings here, definitely not commercial lard)

Salt and pepper to taste


Mix sikil with water and bring to boil.

Seed, toast and soak the chiles.  Grind them with pepper, achiote and garlic.  Add to the sikil.

Add the meat, epazote and salt.  Let boil.  Add the tomatoes, blended up.

Thicken the sauce with the masa.  Add the lard.  Cook till done.



Pok Chuk (Maya for “pork chop,” usually spelled “poc chuc”)

This dish was created by the restaurant Los Almendros of Ticul.  Los Almendros has an old Mérida branch, and now is developing branches elsewhere.  This dish is widely imitated and varied.  What it lacks in complexity, it more than makes up in popularity.  One of the reasons is the beautifully artistic arrangements that can be made with the separate sauces and beans on the plate.


Rub a thin-cut pork chop with steak recado or red recado.  Grill.

Serve with Tomato Sauce, K’utbi Ik, roast onion, cooked black beans, and bitter orange or lime quarters—each served separately in neat piles around the plate.  Avocado slices and other garnishes are often added as well.



Pork and Chaya


2 lb. pork

2 tsp. oregano

4 garlic cloves

1/2 tsp. cumin powder

20 chaya leaves (if no chaya is around, substitute 1 bunch Swiss chard)

1/2 cup rice, pre-soaked

1 pinch saffron



1 red onion, chopped

3 tbsp.