Cool quotations

Cool stuff

“Cool” is remarkably enduring as a word.  It comes from the West African concept, according to Robert Faris Thompson (Jessica Ogilvie, “You Know It,” LAT, Nov. 10, 2012, p.E7).  Chevere is South American Spanish for “cool.”

Traveling light….

The train done gone and the Greyhound bus don’t run

But walkin’ ain’t crowded and I won’t be here long.

                        Traditional blues verse

Got the key to the highway, I’m booked out and bound to go,

Gone to leave here runnin’ cause walkin’ is mo’ slow

                        Traditional blues verse


The Wolf You Feed

The Wolf You Feed

E. N. Anderson



            Studies of genocide find that once killing is started, almost everyone joins in.  People suddenly change from peace and order to violent murder, and often back to peace when the dictator falls.  This can be explained only by the existence of both potentialities within people.   Human evil is here defined as gratuitous harm to people and other lives.  It very often comes from simply following orders or doing a job, or from “greed” (gain by predatory taking from others), but most often it comes from hatred and defensiveness.  At worst—and very commonly—it causes people to hurt themselves simply to hurt disliked others.  At root, it can be traced to irrational, overemotional responses to fear and threat.  These are common among people abused as children and subsequently, and among people raised in disempowering, oppressive, intolerant environments.  They become resentful, frustrated, and personally weak—lacking in self-efficacy.  They often bully or scapegoat others, usually even weaker persons.  Social hate is especially damaging, seen in genocide, bigotry, warfare, allowing people to starve or die of disease when they could have been saved, and other mass destruction.  Empowerment, rational coping with stress, and comprehensive morality based on “we’re all in this together” are the major cures.  These general cures can be applied to specific social issues.


“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 ordinary people, perhaps most at one time or another, hurt themselves just to hurt others.  They ruin marriages and friendships because of imagined or trivial slights. They vote their own destruction by electing people who promise to crush “the others.”  They sacrifice their lives for violent and extremist causes.  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 rather 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, ignoring, and hurting. They are either working for and with people, or working against people.  We are constantly forced to decide.  As Pascal Boyer (2018:33) says, “Observers from outside our species would certainly be struck by two facts about humans.  They are extraordinarily good at forming groups, and they are just as good at fighting other groups.” 

            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),  Alan Fiske and Taj Rai’ Virtuous Violence (2014), 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), Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear (1997), Fiske and Rai’s Virtuous Violence (2014), Robert Sapolsky’s Behave (2017), and Kathleen Taylor’s Cruelty (2009) cover some important psychological terrain.  Zeki and Romaya (2008) review the physiology of hate.  Albert Bandura’s book Moral Disengagement (2016) exhaustively treats that aspect of evil. 

            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.

             By evil, I mean a very specific thing: deliberate harm to people simply because one wants to harm them, because of what they are or might be.  It is the state described by words like “murderous,” “malevolent,” and “cruel.”  Ordinary everyday selfishness is bad enough, but it is part of the human condition; most of us give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, cutting corners, being stingy, cutting ourselves some slack.  This is no doubt deplorable most of the time, but it is not what I am considering in this book; I have devoted two previous books (Anderson 2010, 2014) to the problem of overly narrow and short-term planning and acting, and need not go into it here.  Selfishness becomes more evil as it moves into violent robbery, gangsterism, and raiding.  There is obviously a transition zone.  Similarly, violence in defense of self and loved ones is not evil, and is often praiseworthy.  A transition zone exists between clearly necessary violence—resisting Hitler in 1941, for instance—and clearly excessive use of force, as when police gun down an unarmed boy and claim “defense.”  Transition zones make moral decisions difficult—“hard cases make bad law”—so I will confine this book to issues like genocide and intimate partner violence that are clearly unacceptable in functioning societies.


Part I.  Human Evil in Context

  1. Starting with Genocide

            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” (Rummel 1998, passim; 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, though he committed genocide only after taking total power.  Several other notorious genociders have been democratically elected.  They usually 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 find common themes. 

            When science reaches this stage—several teams working on a problem—one expects simultaneous discoveries, and they occurred in this case.  Barbara Harff (2012) and ourselves (Anderson and Anderson 2012, 2017), and shortly after us Hollie Nyseth-Brehm, developed broadly the same model of genocide, and James Waller, in his great work Confronting Evil (2016), has developed it further.  Gregory Stanton’s well-known list of traits (2013) is another independent invention of a similar, but more developed, model. 

It is quite a simple one.  A would-be leader wins by developing a whole ideology based on ethnic or ideological 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 often flourishes only when difficult and uncertain economic times give people economic incentives to look for radical solutions, but many such leaders take power in good times; mobilizing antagonism is always available as an easy and straightforward way to win in politics.  All that is required is that the existing administration is either fighting a war and not doing well (as in Russia when Lenin took power), or widely perceived as corrupt and incompetent.  People then work for change.  Most commonly, the country in question had a long record of ethnic and political killing, but this was not always the case.

Many dictators simply rode popular movements to victory, but many were installed by large economic interests, almost always rentiers—landlords, natural resource owners, and others who make their money from controlling primary production rather than from enterprise.  Oil has been the greatest single backer of modern autocratic states, from fascist (several in Africa and elsewhere) to feudal (Saudi Arabia) to socialist (Venezuela).  We will examine this link in due course.  In the early 20th century, most dictators were puppets installed by fascist or communist regimes when they conquered countries, and in the mid-20th the United States installed or backed several genocidal fascist regimes, most notably in Guatemala and Chile (on the history of 20th century genocides, see Anderson and Anderson 2012; Kiernan 2007; Rummel 1994, 1998; Shaw 2013).  Since then, however, genocidal and autocratic regimes have come to power through coups, local wars, or, very often, elections.  Corrupt and weak regimes create conditions where many will vote for strongmen.

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.  Oliver Hahl and collaborators (2018) have shown that “lying demagogues” succeed with disaffected voters who feel disrespected by elites and cultural brokers; lying, violating norms, openly expressing widely-held prejudices, and economic populism are a particularly successful (and deadly) combination.  Trump in the United States was only one of many leaders who triumphed in the early 21st century by using this technique.

            When he (such leaders are male, so far) takes over, he quickly moves to consolidate power. He can usually bring about a brief return of prosperity, by cracking down on crime and by “making the trains run on time” (as the proverb claims for Mussolini), but the prosperity may be illusory or short-lived.  Alternatively, the leader may take over during a war, in which case he may lead the people to victory—or may simply make things even worse, as in Cambodia.  He suspends whatever democratic or institutional checks exist, and becomes a dictator or functional equivalent.  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 constitute a prime example.

            A dictator begins by consolidating his power.  As Rudolph Rummel often reiterated, “power kills, and absolute power kills absolutely.”  Almost inevitably, 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 new order.  I term these “structural opponent groups.”  The savagery and scope of the killing sometimes depends 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.  The Khmer Rouge killings in Cambodia included people defined by ethnicity, education, foreign influence, and other broad variables.  The Rwandan genocide began with Tutsi, but quickly moved on to eliminate many Hutu (Nyseth Brehm 2017b).  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 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 often fall.  Frequently, they come to believe their own personality cult, think they are infallible and can do anything, and decline into something hard to tell from madness (Dikötter 2019).  Often, however, a leader meets the new challenge by another wave of mass murder.  The challenge is often external war, as in Hitler’s Germany and the Khmer Rouge’s 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.

            The most important thing to note is that the people go along.  Humans are prone to anger and hate, and even the most incompetent politician can whip up hatred and direct it against enemies. 

            This simple model—exclusionary ideology, dictatorship, consolidation, and challenge—turns out to be 100% predictive.  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.” 

There are four ways to hate: hate upward (hating the elites), down (hating the less fortunate, from the poor to the less abled to the minorities), laterally (real enemies or social rivals), or not at all.  Bad leaders, and often even relatively good ones, move more and more toward getting their followers to hate downward—to hate the weak, the powerless, the minorities.  Even those who took power by marshaling upward hate, such as the Communists, soon find it pays better to get their followers to hate downward.

            A marginal sort of genocide is “cold genocide”:  Slow and not very sure elimination of an ethnic group by selective killing over a long time, coupled with every effort to destroy the group as a distinguishable entity possessing its own culture or ideology.  The term “cold genocide” was coined by Kjell Anderson to describe the Indonesian pressure on West Irian (West Papua).  It has been applied to the far larger and bloodier repression of the Falun Gong movement in China since the late 1990s.  This movement, a spiritual discipline that by all accounts except the Chinese government’s was utterly inoffensive, seemed dangerous to the Communist leadership, because of its size and rapid growth.  Suppression included propaganda wars, but also mass torture, imprisonment (“reeducation” in “camps”), and killing by extracting body parts for transplantation or the international black market (Cheung et al. 2018, citing a huge literature).  The Falun Gong has become the major source of hearts, livers, and other vital organs in China, a practice that may seem even more ghoulish than most genocidal atrocities. 

            The Chinese government has now expanded its reach to include the Muslim Uighurs of Xinjiang.  Approximately a million have been placed in concentration camps (“vocational training centers”) and subjected to intense pressure to acculturate to Han majority norms (Byler 2018).  Children have been removed from homes and parents, and educated according to Han patterns.  Islam is attacked in particular.  The Uighurs’ sin appears to have been agitating for minority rights guaranteed by the Chinese constitution.  The Chinese government has accused them of ISIS-style terrorism because of a very few extreme individuals.  Recently, government agencies in Uighur territory have been ordering thousands of clubs, stock probes, tear gas canisters, spiked clubs, handcuffs, prison uniforms, and other instruments of suppression and torture (SBS News 2018).  This constitutes “culturocide,” the form of genocide that involves destruction of an entire culture by restriction of personal freedoms and forced removal and re-education of children—one of the forms of genocide specifically addressed by Lemkin.

            Most genocides have been propagated by elites: ruling governments or powerful groups that whip up hatred to consolidate their power.  However, these groups may have started as small popular movements, like the original fascists.  Moreover, settler genocides are largely bottom-up phenomena, and so are many small-scale religious massacres and revolutionary bloodlettings like the French Terror.

            Mobs, genocides, and wars do not just happen, and they are not the result of blind forces.  They are invoked by individuals.  People do not spontaneously go into orgies of murder, unless some leader or leaders are profiting in important ways.  Whipping up hatred in others is not confined to leaders—anyone can do it—but ordinary people doing it at grassroots levels can do only so much damage, though if they form a large organization like Hitler’s Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan they can have devastating effects.

            Further work since 2012 has extended the models backwards, to look at the factors behind the final extreme abuse of autocratic power.  From Waller’s Confronting Evil, Frank Dikötter’s How to Be a Dictator (2019), among other books (cited below), we learn that the vast widely-targeted genocides of modern times accompany the decline of traditional societies and communities and the rise of mass communication and mass top-down society.  Links evolve from networks of local people, only somewhat influenced by governments, to top-to-bottom chains of authority by huge governments that take more and more power, even in peaceful and democratic societies.   When a dictator seizes control in such a mass society, he can quickly draw on his power, on loyalty, and on the lack of countervailing horizontal forces.  He can rapidly turn a peaceful, orderly society into a killing machine. 

            He will do it only if he has not only public but also financial support, and many genocides are enabled by specific firms or economic interests.  These turn out to be primary-production interests—extractive, often rentier, often export-oriented—in most cases (see below, part 3).  Large agrarian interests—landlords—are often involved, and more recently the oil industry has been notorious (Auzanneau 2018).  Sometimes industries come on board, as in Nazi Germany.  Some communist genocides have taken place with support from peasants and workers rather than giant firms, but some others had the support of giant state-owned economic interests.

            The dictators who invoke genocides are also a special selection (Dikötter 2019).  Many genocidal leaders fall into two types.  Most are elites, often military, but a surprisingly large number of them are marginal—subalterns or regional-derived, educated in metropoles or big cities, and educated in contexts that are also somewhat marginal, ranging from military academies (very often) to extremist mentoring by other radicals or lovers of violence (for details, see, again, Anderson and Anderson 2012; Waller 2016; this has been noted before, e.g. Isaiah Berlin noted a correlation with origin in border regions; Rosenbaum 2019:7).  The range is from Napoleon (Corsican), Stalin (Georgian), and Hitler (Austrian) to Mao (educated in Japan) and the Cambodian genocide leaders (educated in Paris with mentoring by the Egyptian Samir Amin).  Very many of the genociders have been military men: Napoleon the corporal, the Argentine colonels, General Rios Montt in Guatemala, Idi Amin in Uganda, and many more.  Leading in mass killing is, of course, the job of military officers.

            Usually, the ideologues of these exclusionary ideologies are not themselves killers.  Karl Marx dreamed revolution, but actually spent his time studying and writing in the magnificent reading room of the British Museum.  Friedrich Nietzsche for Germany and Gabriele d’Annunzio for Italy were the major thinkers behind fascism, but they led scholarly lives.  It was left to lieutenants, and lieutenants of lieutenants, to become the hard-nosed opportunistic toughs that led the movements and were also the initial followers and fighters.  They were often animated more by hatred and ambition than by attention to doctrine.

            These leaders all shared a quite specific ideology of the purity and superiority of one group over the abysmal badness of another, with the further concept that all members of each group have those respective essences.  This can be broken up into 20 specific ideas, carefully extracted from an enormously extensive analysis of the rhetoric of genocide leaders in 20 of the major historic cases by Gerard Saucier and Laura Akers:  “tactics/excuses for violence, dispositionalism/essentialism, purity/cleansing language, dehumanization, dualistic/dichotomous thinking, internal enemies, crush-smash-exterminate-eliminate


, group or national unity, racialism in some form, xenophobia/foreign influence, uncivilized or uncivilizable, attachment/entitlement to land, body or disease metaphor, revenge or retaliation language, traitor talk (treason, treachery, etc.), conspiracy, subversion, something held sacred, nationalism/ethnonationalism, threat of annihilation of our people” (Saucier and Akers 2018:88). 

            They add some other frequent themes, including “placing national security above other goals,” wanting to move fast and thoroughly, and thinking “individuals must suffer for the good of the collective” (Saucier and Akers 2018:90). They find all of these in many cases, from Hitler’s and Stalin’s rhetoric to the less widely known writings of the Serbian and WWII-Japanese leadership and the propaganda of mass murderers of Indigenous people in Australia and the United States.  Dehumanizing terms like “rats,” “cockroaches,” and “insects” appear to be universal.  One can, for instance, note the Communist Chinese leadership’s invocations against Falun Gong and dissidents as “rats” and “subversives” (Cheung et al. 2018).

            The worst genocides are usually associated with extreme ideologies: Leninist communism, fascism, extremist religion, or nationalist and ethnic fanaticism.  Extremist ideologues must be a strange combination to succeed: ideologically zealous, yet utterly amoral and opportunist in the ways they take power (Dikötter 2019 provides valuable case studies).  More pragmatic military dictators like Egypt’s, and economic hardliners like Pinochet in Chile, usually kill their opponents and anyone suspected of opposition, but do not engage in the vast orgies of extermination that almost always follow from ideologues taking power.  They too are opportunist and amoral, but they usually make little secret of it.  

            On the other hand, the people must be susceptible.  As Mao Zedong used to say, “a spark can ignite a prairie fire,” but that depends on the availability of dry grass.  Humans are easily enough turned to evil to give any credible leader a chance.  Understanding such events involves working back from the event to the direct perpetrators and their mindsets, and then on to the back stories.  The casual tendency of modern historians and other scholars to attribute causes of historical events to abstractions (“the economy,” “politics,” “culture,” “climate”) is wrong.  Marx is often blamed for it, because of vulgarization of his theory of history, but he was careful to specify that real people must lead the revolution, even if it is “inevitable” sooner or later because of economic forces.  Marx was also aware that those economic forces were themselves caused by the choices of real people.  Other thinkers from Ibn Khaldun to Max Weber and Anthony Giddens (1984) have made the same general point: structures emerge from individual actions and interactions.

There is no definite link between genocide and any particular economic system, organization, interest, or condition.  Capitalist, socialist, and communist countries have all done it.  Claims that genocide is most likely during economic downturns or is associated with deprivation do not hold up (Anderson and Anderson 2012; Nyseth Brehm 2017a, 2017b).  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.

Genocides fall into three types: settler, consolidation, and crisis genocides (our classification, but see Waller 2016 for much fuller but similar typology).  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 (Kiernan 2007).  It 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.   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 Benjamin Madley’s study of California in the 19th century (Madley 2016). 

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, 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 initially fair fights with little quarter given by either side, and thus not genocide, but the extermination of the Yuki in California in the mid-19th century was genocidal massacre of helpless conquered people (Madley 2016; Miller 1979). 

Modern genocides fall into four categories: communist, 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.  One also recalls “blood diamonds,” blood coltan (columbium-tantalum ore, source of conflict in DR Congo), and other commodities deeply stained. 

Plantation slavery or serfdom is one back story.  Developed in ancient Mesopotamia, it was the first institution based on cruel treatment of disenfranchised multitudes by ruling elites.  It grew steadily, especially in the west, peaking in the Atlantic slave trade and the indentured-labor plantations of Asia in the 18th and 19th centuries. It led to a vast amount of murder. 

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 usuallyoccur 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 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 (where violence continues; Nelson 2019), 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 genocide killed 10% of the population—a million people—in only 100 days, a rate of killing calculated at 333.3 murders per hour, 5.5 per minute (Nyseth Brehm 2017b:5).  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.

            Recent attacks on “social media” for being platforms that amplify hatred (e.g. Zaki 2019:146-150) made me aware of an important and previously neglected fact: the greatest genocides, the ones in which whole nations seem to have gone mad and collapsed in orgies of blood, were propagated by print media and radio.  The first, the Turkish massacre of the Armenians and other Christian minorities, was even prior to radio.  The others—notably Germany and central Europe under Hitler, the USSR under Stalin, China under Mao, Nigeria in the Biafra War, and the Indonesian, Cambodian, and Rwanda-Burundi genocides—were driven by newspapers, radio, and public appearances.  Social media allow discussion, argument, persuasion, and grassroots movements.  Radio in totalitarian societies is the ultimate in faceless, top-down communication to people who have no way of answering or commenting on any scale. Public appearances by leaders, and propaganda pictures and films, are not much better: they show the leader in crisp uniform, from a distance, generally high above the masses.  It is surely significant that there have been no huge, out-of-control genocides in societies with good social media.  The worst recent genocide in terms of mass participation by ordinary people is that in Myanmar, where access to modern media is limited.  Even TV has the value of showing the leader up close, making him look less than respectable.  But the real value of Facebook, Twitter, and the like is that allow us to answer back.  They are often compared to face-to-face encounters, to the disadvantage of the social media, but the real comparison is with the passivizing and alienating radio and its cousins.

            Genocides have become much commoner and bloodier since 1900.  Earlier genocides were largely religious persecutions (such as the Inquisition) or settler genocides.  Since 1900, genocides have targeted wider groups, often huge segments of society.  This tracks the decline of community and the rise of mass hierarchic society, as we have noted.

            Through history, genocidal regimes just kept killing till conquered by outsiders or popular movements.  Then they often returned to bad ways unless they underwent decisive political changes—sometimes forced on them by conquest, as with Germany and Japan after WWII.                       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 notoriously bloody.

            Genocide and war always include far more than mere killing.  Victims are routinely tortured.  Women and girls are almost always raped.  People are burned or buried alive.  The deliberate sadism goes beyond anything an ordinary creative torturer could devise; there have been instruction books on torturing for centuries, and there are now websites on the “dark web.”  Ordinary people are as prone to do all this as the leaders themselves.  Similar findings are common in studies of warfare, criminal gangs, and perhaps above all the whole history of heresy persecution in religions.  Even domestic violence often involves unspeakable torture and humiliation of spouse, children, or other family members.

Ordinary people caught up in even the most mundane street gangs soon learn to commit unspeakable acts without second thoughts.  Psychological explanations of this range from direct explanations in terms of conformity, anger, learned hate, and social antipathy (Baron-Cohen 2011; Baumeister 1997) to the elaborate Freudian-Lacanian framework of Edward Weisband (2017, 2019).  Animal models (of which there are many in Clutton-Brock 2016, esp. chapters 8 and 13) suggest that competition for control of resources and of mates and mating bring out the worst in all mammal species, turning otherwise meek and inoffensive animals into demons.  Human domestic violence usually (if not always) turns on control and relative power issues (B. Anderson et al. 2004).  Rage over shakiness of control certainly lies behind much genocide and genocidal behavior.  Exploring the full scale of this phenomenon, and of other causes for rage, remains an urgent task for the future.

The universality of the phenomenon, especially perhaps in street gangs, suggests that it is all too normal a part of human potential, but many of Weisband’s cases (such as the Nazi death camp leaders) seem to be genuinely psychotic or brain-damaged.  Whatever the explanations, the performative sadism of human violence is a particularly horrific thing to find so universally.

            Genocide (aside from settler genocide) is a particularly interesting case because ethnic genocide is a relatively new form of evil.  Outside of religious persecutions—the real font of genocide–huge-scale elimination of vast numbers of peaceable fellow citizens, simply because they fall in some arbitrary category, is new enough that people have not adjusted to it as a matter of ordinary life since time immemorial (as slavery was considered to be).  Conforming to genociders is, or was in the early 20th century, a new way to be bad.

            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 not only on rapid expansion of trade, commerce, communication, and science, but also on the slavery and exploitation that 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, as almost everyone had done before 1800.  Often, either during war or instead of war, the modern leaders 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.  On the other hand, they may simply be “following orders” and “doing their job,” becoming callous to the whole enterprise (Paxton 2005, Snyder 2015). The genocidal leader or leaders mobilize an insecure or downward-mobile majority, or fraction of the majority, against the most salient or disliked minorities.

            Genocide seems to sum up the other forms of violence.  Like war, it is often about loot and land (Kiernan 2005).  Like intimate partner violence, it always involves some issues of control and insecurity about control and power.  Like civil war, it often begins with rebellion, driven by class or religious or ethnic conflict.  Finally, leaders of genocidal regimes are often classic bullies, a point elaborated below.

  •  Mass Killing in General

            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 (on famine as mass murder, see Howard-Hassman 2016).  Large-scale human sacrifice, once a major part of religion and kingship, has fortunately been eliminated, but sacrificing millions to the cults of guns, automobiles, and oil continues.  These form something of a continuum. Genocide sometimes grows from bureaucratic neglect.

            These all have different risk factors.  International war is hard to predict and almost always multicausal.  The War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739-1748) was not just about Jenkins’ ear.  Usually, desire to capture a neighbor’s territory and resources, a desire to support one’s own military machine and sometimes one’s armaments industry, pressure by hot-headed males hungry for glory and loot, claims of wounded national pride, and ideological differences with the enemy are all involved.  Traditional or manufactured hatreds are always conspicuous.  Small incidents are typically taken as excuses.  (In the case of Jenkins’ ear, the war was a complex fight between Britain and Spain over New World territories and other issues).  Nations such as the medieval Turks and Mongols may have war as their major economic activity and even their whole lifeway.  Rivalries within families forced rivals to compete to see who could amass the most loot and glory (Fletcher 1980:238). 

War seems to have been around forever, if one counts the local raids and small wars typical of small-scale societies.  War seems to have been especially common in chiefdoms and early states.  Population growth, rivalry for land and loot, and hierarchic institutions had run ahead of peace-keeping mechanisms.  Typically, neighbors come into conflict over land and resources, but such conflicts can almost always be settled by negotiation.  When they get out of control, however, traditional rivalries may develop, as between France and England through much of history.  Then, honor, nationalism, and eventually real hatred come into play, increasing the danger.  Specific histories are almost invariably complex and highly contingent on hard-to-predict events.

            With the state, maintenance of order slowly developed.  Even so, the incidence of violence and war varied widely within tribal and early state societies.  Just as there are violently aggressive people and saintly ones, there are bloodthirsty and pacific groups.  Particularly interesting are profound changes over time.  Scandinavians changed from Vikings to democratic socialists (Pinker 2011).  English changed from Shakespeare’s blood-drenched warriors to today’s peaceable folk.  Germany changed from the most demonic country in history to leader of a peaceful Europe in only one generation.  Most dramatic was Rwanda, where gradual increase in hate and violence built up to the genocide of 1994 that killed 1/10 of the population—but then ended suddenly and was followed by amazingly peaceful, tranquil, well-regulated recovery (as shown by brief research there by ourselves, and much more detailed ongoing research on the ground by Hollie Nyseth-Brehm). 

            Lies are universal in war; “truth is the first casualty,” and George Orwell’s analyses remain unsurpassed.  People believe lies against all evidence when their political beliefs are served thereby, as several modern studies have shown (Healy 2018).  Patiently pointing facts can work, but only when the truth is inescapable and unequivocal (Healy 2018).  The endless circulation of repeatedly discredited fictions about Jews and blacks is well known.

The ability of people to change dramatically from war mode to peace mode, from bad wolf to good wolf, is truly astounding.  Recent studies have shown that this is heavily contingent on social pressure.  Michal Bauer and coworkers (2018) found that in an experimental setting, Slavic high school students in Slovakia were twice as likely to play hostile toward Roma in a game than toward other Slavic students—but only if someone started it.  They would all play peacefully unless someone made a hostile move, but if that happened all the Slavic students generally joined in.  It was easy to flip the group from tolerant to ethnically discriminatory.

            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.  Civil wars stem from rebellion, revolution, or coup, or—very often—from breakaway movements by local regions, as in the United States’ Civil War (Collier and Sambanis 2005). 

Criminal gangs dominate whole countries; the governments of Honduras and El Salvador are particularly close to their gangs.  Gangs kill for loot, rivalry, “honor,” turf, women, and other usual causes.  Individual murder for gain, revenge, or hate blends into gang killings and then up into militias, armies, and nations; there is no clear separation.  A murder in a gang-dominated country like El Salvador may have individual, gang, and national overtones.

Finally, ordinary, everyday murders are usually over issues of control.  The commonest murders are within the family; next, within the neighborhood.  The mass murders of unknown (though usually local) victims that dominate the media are relatively rare, though much commoner in the United States than in most countries.

Genocide continues, in Myanmar, Sudan, South Sudan, and several other countries.  China is committing genocide against its Uyghur population; it has imprisoned a million and killed countless more (Byler 2018; Stavrou 2019).  China is also repressing Tibetans, Mongols, Kazakhs, and Hui, apparently for no reason other than a desire to crush religious and cultural minorities, since China’s world-leading security and surveillance system has surely established these minorities are not a security risk.  Turkish repression of Kurds and Brazilian massacres of Indigenous people have now reached genocidal proportions.  Violent, genocidal or potentially genocidal regimes now control about 1/6 of the world’s countries.  It is highly contingent.  In many cases, the dice could easily have rolled the other way.  Evil ranges in extent; Hitler had real power, his American imitators very little before 2017.  The degree of evilness is not well correlated with its success.

Today, with warfare constant and technologically sophisticated, militarism is on the increase, dictatorships are becoming common again (as in the mid-20th century), and whole societies are becoming militarized.  An important special issue of Current Anthropology, the leading anthropological journal, is devoted to this; an important introduction by the issue editors, Hugh Gusterson and Catherine Besteson (2019), details the rapid rise and current pervasiveness of the new hi-tech militaristic world and worldview.  Military bases around the world have led to virtual slavery of local hired workers, as well as dispossession of local farmers and others (see also Lutz 2019; Vine 2019).  Besteman’s article (2019) details the progressive conversion of the world into an armed camp, with the rich routinely attacking the poor nations—no new thing that, but more and more a worldwide unified effort, rather than a country-by-country issue.  Gusterson (2019) recounts the use of drones to create terror; there is no one to fight—only a strange, buzzing object that brings random death and chaos.  As Gusterson shows, drones are claimed to hit actual individual terrorists and military targets with pinpoint accuracy, but of course they do no such thing; they are used to terrorize whole populations with large-scale random strikes on soft targets.  Militarized cultures develop in zones of war and conflict, as they have throughout time (e.g. Fattal 2019; Hammami 2019).

            Another set of cases of people turning violent and destructive is provided by the well-known cycles of empire.  Every preindustrial state had cycles of rise and fall, usually at vaguely predictable intervals, with a 75-100 year period and a 200-300 year period being common.  The great Medieval Arab thinker Ibn Khaldun (1958) first isolated, described, and explained these.  Recently, Peter Turchin (2003, 2006, 2016; Turchin and Zefedov 2009) and I (Anderson 2019) have elaborated on Ibn Khaldun’s theory.  There is thus no reason to go into it here; suffice it to say that internal processes make dynastic crises inevitable, over the long run, in such societies.  At such times, rebellion, local wars, banditry, and sometimes international wars break out, and societies often dissolve into chaos.  Basically, it is a process in which a society based on positive-sum games (cooperation, law-abiding) dissolves into negative-sum games, in which groups and power brokers try to take each other out. 

On rare occasions, a whole empire may completely collapse, as Rome did in the 5th century.  This represents yet another society-wide set of cases of fairly rapid change from peace and order to violence and mass death.

  • Slavery

            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 indifferent to the subjects of their effort.  They were not singled out for being violent, or psychopathic, or intolerant; they were simply locals who happened to be available.  Anyone could do it.

            Mistreatment of enslaved people involves minimalizing them—not denying their humanity, but denying that it matters.  They can be treated brutally because they do not count.It is perhaps harder to imagine the mind-sets of people who worked in the slave trade, day after day, for a whole working lifetime, than to imagine the mind-sets of genociders.  Today, most people in developed countries are repelled 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 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, through 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.

            Slavery has cast a long shadow over America, influencing American politics profoundly to this day (Acharya et al. 2018).  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 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, but 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, everyday, routine brutality.  It simply never occurred to most people of the time that this was monstrous.

            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.

            Slavery in traditional societies (from the Northwest Coast of North America to pre-slave-trade Africa), was sometimes 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 Confucius, 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.  Enslavement of Europeans was basically over, outside the Turkish Empire, well before 1800.  Enslavement of Native Americans was theoretically banned in the Catholic countries, and was actually reduced to a rare and local phenomenon by 1800.  Enslavement of Africans continued well into the 19th century, being legally abolished between 1820 and the 1880s.

            Illegal slavery continues today.  The Council on Foreign Relations (2019) estimates that there are 40.3 million slaves in the world.  Few are chattel slaves like those in Zanzibar; most are forced prison laborers (e.g. in North Korea), persons enslaved for debt, or sex slaves (including forced marriage sufferers).  Sex slavery, with all the attendant horrors, is carried out in the familiar 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.  Some child-sex slavers are clearly psychopathic, but others simply drift into the life and do what they believe is necessary.  Many were sex slaves themselves. 

  • Structural Violence and Callousness

            Millions of deaths today come simply from the bureaucratic 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; one cannot write him off as biased..  The bureaucrat perpetrators are cut from the same cloth as the cold “doing my job” slavers and Nazi executioners.  There is a huge subsequent literature on dams and displacement; suffice it to cite Sunil Amrith’s Unruly Waters (2018), which puts India’s and China’s megadams in historical context while describing their social and ecological devastation.  Almost always, the displaced are poor, and often from minority groups, while the benefits go to the relatively rich: landlords, urban power-users, and the like. 

Similarly, pollution is generated by giant firms producing for the affluent, but the pollution is almost always dumped on the poor and vulnerable (Anderson 2010 covers this issue in detail).  The populations sacrificed for the greater good of the giant firms are the stigmatized ones; Erving Goffman’s classic work Stigma (1963) is highly relevant.

            Related are the horrific famines invoked by governments against their own people, as described in State Food Crimes by Rhoda Howard-Hassmann (2016) and for specific, particularly horrible cases by Anne Appelbaum (2017) for Ukraine in the 1930s and Hazel Cameron (2018) for Zimbabwe in 1984.  Not only totalitarian governments, but the British in 1840s Ireland and 1940s Bengal, and most settler societies in their campaigns to get rid of colonized peoples.  In the Irish potato famine, aid was denied although Ireland was exporting food and England was rich (Salaman 1985; Woodham-Smith 1962)  Many countries have deliberately invoked famine as a form of state policy.  The Holodomor in the Ukraine and Russia in the 1920s was an extreme case (Howard-Hassman 2016).  America’s 19th-century extermination of the buffalo was explicitly done to starve the Native Americans, and thus was genocidal. 

            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 bureaucratic displacement and refusal to provide famine relief.  Structural violence is usually a matter of passing public costs onto those held to deserve no better, usually poor and vulnerable people.  Again, ethnic and religious hate is very often involved.  The targeted victims—selected to pay the costs of industrial development, public works, crop failures, and the like—are almost always poor, and very often from minority groups.  Robert Nixon has used the term “slow violence” for this. 

            There is, however, a range from clearly and deliberately murderous and unnecessary structural violence, such as the Holodomor and the Ethiopian famine under the Derg, down to the tragic results of incompetent and irresponsible planning.  Famines before 1900 were usually due to genuine crop failures in societies that did not have adequate safety nets, and often could not have had.  The gradation from such tragedies to deliberate mass murder by starvation is not an easy one to unpack.  There will always be controversial cases.  Lillian Li’s classic Fighting Famine in North China (2007) goes into detail on a society that was desperately short of food but did have a well-developed safety net; the famines reflected a complex interaction of crop failures, local violence, and government success or failure at deploying their extensive but shaky relief infrastructure.  Such cases remain outside the scope of this book, which deals only with cases such as the Holodomor and the buffalo slaughter, in which famine was deliberately created for genocidal reasons.  On the other hand, massive displacement of people without preparation for resettlement or rehabilitation is herein considered intrinsically genocidal, even if done—or supposedly done—for good economic reasons.

            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.  It is quite different from greed; the bureaucrats are usually following orders or truckling to rich clients, rather than enriching themselves.  It does, however, merge into corporate murder-for-gain, which is done with similar cold-blooded indifference.  Tobacco companies continue to produce a product that causes up to ¼ of deaths worldwide, and no one in those companies seems to feel either genocidal hate or moral compunction.  Similarly, big oil and big coal preside not only over thousands of pollution-caused deaths per year, but over the creation of a global-warmed future that will lead to exponentially increasing deaths.  Unlike the innocent, uneducated rural American voters, oil executives know perfectly well that climate change is real, and what it will cost.  They read the journals and are trained in science.  Many documents, leaked or quite open, show they are aware.  They continue to produce oil and lie about its effects on health and the ecosystem.

  • Hate vs. Greed

            This alerts us to two very different kinds of harm.  Hatred causes genuinely gratuitious harm: no one benefits.  In fact, the hater usually harms himself or herself just to hurt others; suicide bombing is the purest case.  It is a negative-sum game: both sides lose.  Selfish greed, however, does benefit the doer; by the definition used here, it harms the other people in the transaction more than it benefits the doer or doers.  Big dams benefit the rich and urban, but usually hurt the displaced people and the total economy more.  The cost-benefit ratios of big dams are notoriously bad.  More pure cases of selfish greed, such as drug gang violence and medieval Viking raids, are even clearer: the thugs get some loot, but the entire polity suffers, especially but not only the looted victims.  Professional gambling is another case in point: the house always wins in the end, since it is there to make a profit.  Casino owners get rich.  They do it at the expense of victims, often nonaffluent and often compulsive, who are ruined and often commit suicide.  The total cost-benefit ratio is negative.  But the victims choose to gamble, so it is hard to stop the industry.  In this case, as in “the right to bear arms” and many others, individual liberty is traded off against social costs.

            Simple rationality—ordinary common sense—would stop hate as a motive for harm.  Stopping greed is more difficult, especially when the greedy have the power to force their will on the rest of society, as oil interests do today.  From a regulator’s point of view, there is also the problem of defining exactly where reasonable cost-benefit ratios turn to unreasonable ones.  Big dams do sometimes benefit the whole of society, or at least they have in the past.  Simple morality directs that displaced persons should be compensated, but other cases of “takings” are less clear.  If some suffer because they were selling poisons and the poisons are finally banned, should those sellers be compensated?  Or penalized for selling the poisons in the first place?  Much of politics is about such issues, which seriously problematize the whole issue of evil.

            In war, genocide, and murder that most harm is usually clear-cut.  So much, however, is due to greed—the entire tobacco economy, most of the oil economy, most of the dam-building, and so on—that looking far more seriously at cost-benefit accounting is a major need for the future.  On the other hand, the role of hate, or at least of infrahumanization, in even these cases cannot be underestimated.  The case of dams is, again, the best example: those displaced are almost always poor and rural, and thus “do not count.”  They can be ruined and even reduced to starving to death, without any of the rulers or engineers or construction bosses caring—sometimes without even noticing.  The oil industry, also, typically dumps its pollution on poor rural areas, such as rural Louisiana and the Indigenous communities of Canada.  When oil pollutes a well-to-do urban area, there are protests and political and legal action.  Moreover, oil, tobacco, and other harming industries have made it a practice to whip up hatred to get the public to oppose valid science, as will be discussed below.  Thus, hate, or at least discounting whole communities, is central to the wider and more general applications of greed. 

  • How Much Violence?

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; Mann 2018), but small-scale societies kill at a relatively high rate.  Many small-scale farming societies, especially chiefdoms, are particularly bloody.  The 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 lasting peace. 

            In a recent comparative study of war, Kissel and Kim (2018) define it as organized conflict between separate, independent groups.  They note that the terms “aggression” and “war” cover a vast range of very different behaviors.  “Coalitionary” killing of enemies is confined to ants and people and chimpanzees and maybe a few other mammals; only humans do it on any scale.  The genetics of aggression are as ambiguous as ever.  They note some archaeological massacres, including one in Kenya 10,000 years ago, and cannibalism evidence in many areas of the world—possibly during famines.  They see a big change after agriculture and settlement growth, but more in the size and organization of war than in the commonness of aggressive killing.  They see war as cultural.

            A recent study by Dean Falk and Charles Hildebolt (2017) finds a wide range, from small-scale societies that have essentially no violent killings to those where a 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 (Mann 2018).  In few societies is murder and war the norm; such a society would quickly self-destruct.  In fact, there are records of societies that did so.  Something very close happened to the Waorani, but they were persuaded by missionaries to become more peaceful (Robarchek and Robarchek 1998). There is a range in states from Afghanistan and ancient Assyria to relatively peaceful Tokugawa Japan and Yi Korea, or, today, Scandinavia and Switzerland.  Most states through history have been undemocratic and repressive, with many political murders. 

Among the Enga, one of the most violent societies in Falk and Hildebolt’s sample, powerful self-made leaders—“big men”—often whip up war for their own advantage, but may also make peace for the same reason; the oscillation from peace to extreme violence that has characterized Enga society is heavily determined by these self-aggrandizing maneuvers (Wiessner 2019).  Popular will often forces peace on disruptive young men or would-be leaders, however. 

An “average” is hard to calculate and probably meaningless, since most societies swing back and forth between war and peace, conflict and stability.  The average may be close to urban America’s less privileged neighborhoods.

            Since death is forever, the consequences of murder are irreparable, while good is easily undone.  (The same goes, in general, for environmental damage; it is rarely, if ever, fully reversible.)  A society requires countless small good acts to make up for a terminally bad one.  Human nature must average positive to keep societies functional. 

            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.  Probably most killing is done for “defense.”  Even aggression in war becomes “preemptive strikes.”  Genocide is occasioned by extreme fear of minorities. 

            Targets change over time.  In agrarian societies, the groups were very often rival branches of ruling families, clans, or lineages.  There was also, usually, an opposition of “us” versus “barbarians,” i.e. semiperipheral marcher states or semiperipheral invasive groups.  In the west, intolerant monotheist religions powered up hatred of other religions and of “heretics,” and this tended to spill over into hate of all “others.”  Opposition of men vs women, old vs young, and rich/powerful/elite vs poor always create tension points.  Toxic conformity takes over.

            Gavin de Becker (1997) provided many accounts of psychopaths and mass murderers.  All turn on the obsessive need of the killer to control someone—the woman he is stalking, the parents who have tortured him growing up, the owner of a valued good who has tried to protect it. 

            Killers in such situations either commit suicide or are fairly easily caught, but gangsters who kill randomly may not be.  In particular, many gangs in the United States and elsewhere require a new recruit to commit a murder, as a rite of passage.  Such initiates seek out homeless mentally ill individuals who will not be missed (or even identified, in many cases) and whose death will not be investigated seriously.  This murder-for-position leads to further crime.  In the United States, a killer usually is jailed eventually, but in much of Latin America he (or sometimes she) will often be accepted by society and escape the law. 

            As groups, humans 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 and genocide with the old Nazi phrase Blood and Soil (2007); he saw identity and land as the two great reasons for mass killing. Nationhood and religion, both sources of a fictive or socially constructed identity, are deadly, much more so than actual blood relationship.  I am far from the first to remark on the human tendency to kill real people in the service of vapid dreams.

            War for loot (portable wealth) seems largely limited to Viking raids, Turkic wars, Caucasus Mountain feuds, and banditry in general.  It is the moral norm, and often the livelihood, of classic “barbarians,” for whom it is a way of life rather than considered an evil or an exception. On the other hand, wars to acquire land and mineral resources, to help one’s national armaments industry, and to support its military, are universal throughout history.  Still, group hatred remains one 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.

  • People Almost All Join In

            One thing is common to all genocides and wars:  Some individual or individuals whip up hatred, and the public goes along.  Usually, the leaders are desperate for power and are not particularly restrained by morals.  The masses, however, can be almost anyone, anywhere, any time, though most sources agree that genuinely threatening and unsettled conditions make it easier for tyrants to whip up enmity.  There are on occasion mobs that spontaneously riot and destroy minority neighborhoods, but even these normally have a single instigator or small group of instigators. 

            Normally, this involves a flip from peaceful, economically rational behavior to behavior that is violent, destructive, and economically, personally, and morally irrational according to normal standards of the group and of humanity.  The bad wolf suddenly takes over.  Genocide leaders are men—they are almost all men—who are geniuses at making people do this psychological flip.  They can manipulate social fear, using a mix of charisma and exaggerated group rivalry.  They can whip up the hatred that is latent in people, and mobilize it.  They are masters of redefining groups to make them smaller, tighter, more defensive, more closed.  They can get people to circle the wagons.  They can make people see it is an “exception” when moral rules are broken to harm a rival group, something people all too often figure out without help (Sapolsky 2017, summarized p. 674).  The human ear and brain reduce their processing of ordinary peaceful messages, and become more sensitive to ominous messages and less sensitive to people or to rational considerations; people can be reduced to blind rage (Monbiot 2019).

            It is particularly clear that a certain type of narcissistic, cocksure, extremist leader can often manage to take advantage of human loyalty, religion, or ideology to reduce a whole nation to near-hypnotism, adulating him (he is always male—so far) with worshipful adoration.  Frank Dikötter (2019) has investigated this in the case of several 20th century dictators, including Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin, and found many common threads.  All consolidated power ruthlessly and came more and more to depend on a cult of personality.  They became strongmen, above the law, above tradition, above any restraint—even the restraints of their own claimed ideologies.  The more they did, the more the loyal citizens adored them, until they miscalculated and caused actual ruin through war or economic collapse.  The sad fact is that the tendency of humans to conform with society and follow its leaders—usually useful traits, preventing chaos—can be and often is misused in the most horrific ways.

            In all genocides, the mass of the population is susceptible to messages of hate.  It is astonishingly easy to make ordinary “decent” citizens into mass murderers.  People go 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.  It is often pointed out that Hitler killed only one person: himself.  It was the people “just following orders” that did the real work.

            This mass conformity is very extensively documented.  (Particularly good recent reviews of it are found in Paxton 2005, Snyder 2015, 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.  The same is true of criminal gangs, 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 (see esp. Baumeister 1997; Waller 2016).

            Finally, the testimony of many anthropologists (e.g. Atran 2010, 2015), psychologists (Baumeister 1997), criminologists (De Becker 1997), and other experts all confirm that perfectly normal people can and do become terrorists and murderers in any social situation that puts a high value on such behavior as serving the group.  Scott Atran’s accounts of Islamic terrorists are particularly revealing: the terrorists and suicide bombers are usually young persons who have experienced traumatic events in their own small worlds.  They are not particularly violent, certainly not psychotic.  They are very often recruited through intensive influence by leaders of local extremist organizations—leaders who rarely endanger themselves. 

            Otherwise, worldwide, accounts of recruits to violent gangs often speak of neighborhoods where the only alternative to membership in a violent gang is being killed by one.  Criminals who are not part of gangs are far more apt to be genuinely demented—usually psychopathic.  Even among such loners, however, writers like Roy Baumeister and Gavin De Becker stress the number who seem superficially normal.  For the record, the pirates, smugglers, and sometime killers I knew on Asian waterfronts in my youth were largely a perfectly normal lot; they got caught up in an ugly world and had few or no alternatives.  By contrast, the one American mass killer I have known was a deeply troubled individual, bullied and treated cruelly for his obvious mental issues until he finally snapped. 

            There are, in short, some people whose inner demons drive them out of control—though they can be identified and stopped (De Becker 1997).  Far more common are ordinary individuals: we normals who have within us the two wolves, waiting for food.  The relevant works are surprisingly silent on what makes one or the other wolf take over.  The old Victorian clichés—coming from bad seed or a broken home, falling in with bad company, taking to drink—are echoed to this day in one form or another.  They have much truth, and we now know more, but there is still much to learn.

            Older literature often described such behavior as regression to “animal” or “savage” behavior, but no other animal does anything remotely close.  Nonhuman animals fight and kill when threatened or when vying for mates or territory (Clutton-Brock 2016), but they rarely kill without those immediate motives, they rarely torture (though cats and many others will toy with prey, cruelly by our standards), and they certainly do not make social decisions to starve millions of their fellows to death.

 “Savages” in the old sense of the term do not exist and never have.  The small-scale societies of the world do about the same things that modern states do, but on a very much smaller scale, and they lack the technological ability to carry out the mass tortures and murders so common now.  They could not force mass starvation on their societies even if they wanted to.  Claims of greater violence among early, small-scale societies and early states, e.g. in Pinker (2011), are based on outrageous sampling bias (Fry 2013; Mann 2018).  Pinker compares the most warlike of documented small societies with the most peaceful modern ones, which does show we are capable of being better than we often are, but says nothing about what social levels are most murderous.

            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 provide extreme cases.  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.  The same endures today, as in the persecution of Shi’a by ISIS (Hawley 2018).

            Such phenomena raise the question of how and why normal, peaceable human beings can so easily flip into genocidal states, and then back into peaceful states after the genocide is stopped.  Many of the most horrible genocides were committed in countries long known for the tranquility, peacefulness, cooperativeness, and even tolerance of their citizenry.  Cambodia and Rwanda were particularly clear examples.  On the other hand, some genocidal countries 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.  They 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 Pol Pot’s Cambodia.  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).  Colin Tatz’ harrowing summary of settler genocides in Australia reveals the same (Tatz 2018).  Nor did more moral citizens do much to restrain the killers.  The “Indian lovers” like Helen Hunt Jackson and James Mooney who agitated to protect Native Americans in late 19th century America were few.

            Hollie Nyseth Brehm (2017b), in a particularly thorough analysis of the Rwandan genocide, found that killing was clearly top-down-directed, with a concentration around the capital and major cities and among well-educated (and thus elite) people, but also was commoner in areas with low marriage, high mobility, concentration of Tutsi, and political opposition—especially by Hutu themselves—at the grassroots.  The areas in and around the capital, Kigali, were far more deadly than areas at the northern margins of the country.  This is the opposite of the pattern seen in settler genocides, where murder was far commoner on borders where settler populations were expanding at the expense of Indigenous people. 

            Accounts from China’s Cultural Revolution indicate that people were swept up in mass hysteria, but were also afraid of appearing to be neutral, since lack of enthusiasm in persecuting victims led to substantial trouble, up to being made a victim oneself.  A few of the many memoirs indicate that the writers were unreconstructed Maoists, but the vast majority worked under orders, from fear or social pressure or conformity.  Many repented, and write agonizing stories of their internal sufferings as well as the sufferings they inflicted and endured.

  • Anyone, Anytime, Can Turn Evil

          The alternation between peace and rage is typical of animals, especially carnivores; we see it often in dogs and cats.  Chimpanzees show it too.  Humans are different in two ways.  First, many humans are always “on the fight” or “in your face,” seemingly looking for imagined slights, threats to their honor, and excuses for a fight.  This is both individual and cultural.

          Arguably the biggest cause of slights, anger and hate is ranking out: arrogance, putting others down, open insulting superiority. This is particularly touchy if A really does outrank B and has to show it, as in the military, in hierarchic business firms, and in traditional societies with hereditary nobility.  A display of modesty can go too far, but a display of arrogance is disastrous.  Soldiers and bureaucrats have to game this.  It is a minefield, even more than romance, let alone ordinary civility.  Every day brings new outrages by minorities insulted—sometimes unintentionally—by people in power.  The sheer advantage of the priviledged, in everyday discourse, makes even “niceness” seem a putdown.  As with other forms of slight and offense, the Scottish ballads and Shakespeare’s plays are full of this: people are outraged at failures to recognize superior status, but even more outraged at having their noses rubbed in someone else’s social superiority.   

Some cultures and subcultures teach violent response to offenses as normal behavior (Baumeister 1997).  Such “honor cultures” always track societies with a bloody, unsettled, poorly controlled past.  Killing, however, goes far beyond such societies.  Humans fall into rage states not only when fighting immediate rivals for food or territory or mates, as dogs and cats do, but also over issues that do not directly concern them: war with remote enemies, malfeasance in distant countries, terrorist attacks in far-off cities, political injustices to other groups of people.  Humans specialize in offense, outrage, antagonism, and hate, and will take any excuse. 

            Antagonism is the opposite pole to Agreeableness on the Agreeableness scale of the widely used Big Five personality test.  Worldwide, people range between the two extremes, and there is a substantial inherited component, though much (I believe most) of one’s level of agreeableness/antagonism is learned.  Highly antagonistic people are, of course, heavily overrepresented among doers of evil, and are very susceptible to inflammatory rhetoric (Kaufman 2018).

            People, even quite antagonistic ones, are usually peaceful in ordinary everyday life, 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 fact among Nazi survivors, psychologists experimented with students, seeing how easy it was to make them be cruel to other students.  Stanley Milgram’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 with a mock prison, at Stanford, had to be stopped within a week, because the students took their roles too seriously (Blum 2018 criticized this experiment, but has been effectively answered by Zimbardo, 2018).  This led to major reforms of experimental ethics, as well as to much soul-searching (Zimbardo 2008).  Contrary to published accounts, Zimbardo did not initially allow the “prisoners” to leave the experimental situation, and in any case privileged white and Asian young men (as these students were) hardly provide a realistic prison situation, given America’s racist and brutal prison system (Blum 2018).  However, Zimbardo’s main finding stands: people, even the “best” young men, can turn into evildoers with astonishing ease if they are following orders.

            People flip easily from a normal state—mild and peaceable—to an aroused state of anger, hatred, aggression, brutality, or rage.  There is a continuum, but phenomenologically it often feels as if we are dominated by either the good wolf or the bad one—not by an intermediate, neutral wolf.  Our enemies are not always external.  Suicide is the commonest homicide. Next most common is killing family members.

            We have a choice.  We must choose to be angered, and can always choose to “turn the other cheek.”  A punch in the face is hard to ignore (though some can manage it), but by far the most anger we feel is over trivial slights that can easily be ignored, or over social issues that may not concern us directly.  I am much more frequently angered by reading about injustice, murder, or war in places I have never been and involving people about whom I know nothing than I am by threats to myself.  Reading the political literature, one realizes that some people are outraged by the very existence of African-Americans somewhere, or by the fact that not everyone worships the same way.  An excellent column by Ron Rolheiser (2018) talks with some ironic detachment about the human proclivity to moral outrage.  Humans love to work themselves up into anger, or even hysteria, about perfectly trivial issues irrelevant to their own lives.  Most of us in the scholarly world know teachers who turn red in the face at such things as bad grammar in student papers. 

            Indeed, almost all the evil discussed herein is deliberately chosen because of outrage over something that does not directly or seriously concern the chooser.  The Jews were not really destroying Germany, nor were the Tutsi causing much trouble in Rwanda, nor were the victims of Mao’s purges doing anything remotely worthy of national outrage and mass murder.  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; Gordon 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.

            Peace came to Colombia after more than 50 years of conflict between the government—often via paramilitary gangs—and FARC, which began as a rebel organization but became largely a cocaine ring.  The paramilitary groups were little if any better.  Both sides accommodated to and dealt with the organized drug cartels.  Thousands of people were involved, and they committed the usual torture, rape, and murder associated with such activities.  With peace came rehabilitation.  Sara Reardon (2018) investigated the process.  She quotes one of the rehabilitation psychologists, Natalia Trujillo: “I realized not all of them are sociopaths. I realized most of them are also victims.”   In fact, it is obvious from Reardon’s account that the vast majority were closer to victimhood than to pathology.  They were local people, some originally idealistic, swept up in a nightmare.  Many were forced to fight to save themselves and their families.  Most of the combatants have returned to ordinary life with varying degrees of success; some have been killed by revengeful farmers and others who were devastated or had loved ones murdered. Unfortunately, but predictably, the peace did not hold.

The way that ordinary people can be caught up in senseless civil war is clearly shown.  Similar stories from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and other civil wars, back to the United States’ own, show this to be typical. 

            In short, the vast majority of killing and harming in the world is done by people “just following orders.”  They range from people mindlessly conforming, or even hating what they do, to enthusiastic perpetrators who needed only the excuse.  Especially successful are orders to kill or oppress minorities or to ignore their suffering when displaced.  Orders or requests to care for people and help them meet far more resistance.  The United States has faced continual protests and objections over its exiguous and miserable government safety nets, but no trouble finding soldiers for wars in the Middle East, and Trump had no trouble whipping many of his followers into frenzies of violence and hate.  For better or worse—usually for worse—people are easily mobilized by antagonism, but difficult to mobilize by religious teachings of love and care for fellow humans.  People are too apt to be spontaneously antagonistic and destructive, simply due to overreaction to the negative.  They hate trivial enemies, callously neglect valuable but less-noticed people, and take too little account of the good.

The average human is pleasant, smiling, friendly, and civil most of the time, but when threatened or stressed he or she becomes defensive.  This usually begins with verbal defense or with passive-aggressive sulking.  It escalates if the threat escalates—usually matching the threat level, but often going beyond it, in preemptive strike mode.  This is a necessary and valuable mechanism when genuine defense is needed. 

The differences between people and cultures then matter.  The average human seems easily persuaded to wad up all frustrations, irritations, threats, and hurts into a ball, and throw that ball at minorities and nonconformists.  This displacement and scapegoating comes up over and over again in all studies of human evil, especially genocide. 

            The world is far from perfect.  Wars, crimes, and genocides happen.  We must deal with them.  We are rarely equipped with perfect ways of doing this.  Cool, rational action in the face of hostility requires both courage and the knowledge of what to do. 

            Failing that, action is difficult.  The most available and simple option is to follow the orders of those who do know, or to conform with cultural norms that provide strategies for dealing with problems.  The next most available option is to maintain a front of hostility: to be touchy, aggressive, or fearful.  Ideally, one can seek out the knowledge to cope better, but this requires effort and time.  One can also flee, hide, become a hermit, act as virtuous as possible in the hopes that virtue will prevail, or simply die. 

            Recognizing this choice matrix makes the victory of the bad wolf more understandable.  Facing a hostile world, people are prone to let the bad wolf roam, or to follow the orders of those who do.

The model that emerges, then, is one of ordinary people dealing with ordinary everyday frustrations, slights, trivial hurts, and difficulties, who can easily be persuaded by extremist leaders to direct their frustration at scapegoats.  Scapegoating minorities to maintain control by venting diffuse anger is the food of the bad wolf.  Violence comes from directing diffuse hate to a specific target.  This is the common theme of the books on evil listed at the beginning of the present work. 

Such violence sums up into war and genocide when human agents with their own damaged agendas are swayed evil leaders who are willing to go beyond normal social rules.  This is the human response that evil leaders from Caligula to Hitler to Trump have whipped up.  The immediate cure is minimizing offense-taking, but the ultimate cure is finding enough good in the world to balance out the offenses.

Often, though not always, these leaders, in turn, are the creatures of landlord or rentier elites wishing to maintain control over income streams and resources.  The deadly combination of propertied interests, evil leaders, and frustrated masses is the common background of modern mass killings.

Part II.  Roots of Human Evil

1. Human Nature?

            Speculations on human nature have taken place throughout the ages.  The classic Christian and Buddhist views are that people everywhere are basically good; evil is a corruption of their nature by bad desires.  The problem, according to Buddhist theology, is giving way to greed, anger, and lust.  The Christian tradition is similar; “love of money is the root of all evil,” according to Paul (I Timothy 10).  Most Confucians follow the great Confucian teacher Mencius in seeing people as basically prosocial, corrupted by bad or inadequate education.  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 Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes and Sigmund Freud: people are basically evil, selfish, competitive, and out for themselves at the expense of others.  This view goes back to the ancient Greeks; Marshall Sahlins (2008) provides a full history of it.  Social behavior must 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 [1657]:104).  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 believed travelers’ tales rather than real descriptions, and thought “savages” were 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 about as peaceful and orderly as our own. 

These dark views come from traditional folk wisdom, which incorporates a good deal of cynicism based on the common observation of people hurting themselves to hurt others more.  A worldwide folktale tells of a man who is granted one wish (by an angel, godmother, or other being) but on the condition that his neighbor will get twice what he gets; if the man wishes for a thousand dollars, his neighbor gets two thousand.  The man thinks for a while, then says “Make me blind in one eye!” 

            Machiavelli, 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.  Joseph Henrich (2016), among many others, has pointed out that only an animal with cumulative culture, natural sociability, and an innate tendency to cooperate could have social norms and expect conformity to them.  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. 

            A serious cost of the Hobbesian view is that by assuming people are worse than they are, Hobbesians excuse their own tendencies to act worse than they otherwise would.  Hobbesian views have always been popular with hatemongers.

            The other classical and 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 in that restricted sense (see e.g. Kahneman 2011).   The “irrational” heuristics that people use can be highly useful as shortcuts, creating mental efficiency (Gigerenzer 2007; Gigerenzer et al. 1999), but they constantly cause trouble when cool reason is needed.  Human limits to rationality are now so well documented that they need no further notice here. 

            The rationalist view is a far more positive view of humanity than Hobbes’ or Freud’s.  It does not give much space to evil; evil would occur only when it really pays in material terms, which is not often.  Unfortunately, irrational evil appears much commoner in the real world.  Tyrants may often die in bed, but they often do not.  Suicide bombers and other front-line fighters for the wrong are obviously not advancing their rational self-interest.  Straightforward shortsighted but “rational” calculation does explain some bad acting, but does not explain people going far out of their way to be hateful and cruel, or the common human tendency to resist improving themselves and their surroundings.  Over the 5000 years of recorded history, countless people around the world have chosen, over and over, to suffer and work and make themselves miserable simply to hurt others.  Technology has often developed for war.  Rational choice could be believed as a general motive only because hate, vengefulness, overreaction to slights, and irrational hate of nature are so universal that they are not even noticed, or are considered “rational.” 

             The contrasting view also goes back to the ancient Greeks, who wrote of human abilities to love, cooperate, and found democracies.  Christianity later built on a view that people could love each other; the line “love thy neighbor as thyself” goes back to Moses.  However, few could see humanity as innately good, or believe in virtuous utopias.  There were always a few, but on the whole belief in a “noble savage” view is largely a straw man.  Rousseau did not believe any such thing (the phrase actually comes from John Dryden), nor do most of the others accused of having it.  In so far as it is taken seriously, it does not survive the many accounts of war in small-scale societies.  Even relatively “noble”-believing sources (e.g. Fry 2013) cannot gloss over the frequency of killing in almost all societies.

            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 believably, that the good comes from the immaterial “spirit” realm, evil from the flesh.  This view, which entered Christianity with St. Paul (see his Letter to the Romans), 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,” according to an 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 keeps resurfacing.   Yet, a great deal of human good comes via those “sins.”  Condemning these is regularly used to distract people from the real sins: cruelty, oppression, gratuitous harm, selfish greed, hatred.

            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.             This leaves us with the Native American folktale: the two wolves, like the “good and bad angels” that folk Christianity took over from Manichaean belief, are symbols of the prosocial and hostile sides of humanity, of working with people versus working against them.

In this sense, people are not bad or good; they are good to kin and culturally constructed fictive kin, bad to rivals, and neutral to everyone else.  There is a very slight positive bias, enough to have saved the human race so far.  But people will kill vast numbers of distant strangers without thinking much about it, as King Leopold of Belgium did—indirectly—in the Congo.

In general, people are far better than the savages of Hobbes and Freud, but not as good as idealists or rationalists assume.  The hopeful dreams of “positive psychology” and “humanistic psychology” have turned to dust.   Ordinary everyday human life is full of minor slights and disrespects, and of misfortunes interpreted as personal attacks when they were not meant as such.  It is also full of minor kindnesses and helpful moves.  From this constant low-level evil and good, it is easy to move suddenly and unexpectedly to much greater evil or good. We are always poised near the edge of flipping into violence or heroism.  Everyday hurt and disrespect can be exploited by evil leaders who whip up hate and deploy it against their victims—usually the weak.  Everyday good and care can be stimulated by situations or by moral suasion, and people can be heroic. Often the contrast is between “realism”—the cynical realism of evildoers—and hope, often the unrealistic idealism of the best. People must often choose the ideals or be lost to the cynics.

            At worst, intergroup competition leads to cruelty, viciousness, nastiness, greed (here defined, recall, as hurting others by taking their goods for oneself, without fairly 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.  Humans seem to have more of these innate cruel tendencies than do other animals, at least as far as “proactive” violence goes.  But real wolves—as opposed to the ones inside us—have their own fights; normally peaceful and calm, they erupt into violence when a new wolf threatens an established pack, or when a bear or human or other enemy attacks (Clutton-Brock 2016).  Dogs, domesticated descendants of wolves, still engage in “resource guarding”; an otherwise peaceful dog, especially if leashed, will attack anyone that seems to menace its owner.  We are a predatory mammal; we can be expected to act accordingly.

            We are gifted by our mammalian heritage with the ability to love, care, fear, hate, and fight.  These we share with all higher mammals.  We are also gifted with the uniquely human ability to form complex, diverse social and cultural systems that construct care, fear, aggression, and other natural drives in ways that can amplify both good and evil out of all bounds.

            People are abjectly dependent on their societies.  We live in stark terror of rejection and ostracism.  They therefore overreact, negatively, to any challenge to their social standing.  Therein lies the problem of the human condition.

2. Evolution?

            Any animal must divide its attention between avoiding threat and getting necessities of life.  Thus, all animals have a fight-flight-freeze response repertoire for dealing with the former, and ways of dealing with the latter to obtain food, shelter, territory, reproduction, and other needs with minimum danger.  They may be jealously protective of mates and homes.  Animals compete for these, and social animals compete for place in the group.  Humans, with far more complex social lives than other animals, add socially constructed identifications with groups, their basic principles, and their identifying flags (from skin color to religious beliefs). 

Overreaction to threat is selected for; thinking a poisonous snake is a rope is far less adaptive than thinking a rope is a snake (to use the classic Indian example).  Failure to find food in a day means a better hunt tomorrow, but failure to identify a deadly threat means no tomorrow ever again, for oneself and often for one’s genetic investment in young.  Even plants react with fear; a chainsaw can end in a few minutes a few centuries of investment in growth.  

This is the ultimate biological substrate of human reactions, including the human tendency to overreact to perceived (and even imagined) threat.   Humans seem about half dedicated to crushing opposition, from criticism to competition, and half dedicated to peacefully obtaining what they need and wish.  Feedback in perceived threat—deadly spirals—is made probable by the need to react to even mild threat as potentially serious.  Contingent variation in personal, situational, and cultural factors prevents better prediction than a rough 50-50.

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; Henrich 2016; Tomasello 2016, 2019.)  It is basically a rediscovery of what Mencius knew in the 4th century BCE.  People are naturally interested in the world and the other people in it.  More neutral are anger at real harms, and desire to satisfy basic wants, including a desire for pleasure and beauty.  Bad traits that appear universal, but possibly not inborn, include hatred of nonconformists and structural opponents, a tendency to grab desired stuff from others, a tendency to resent real or imagined slights, and above all weak fear. 

Excessive need for control is notably a part of the picture, especially in intersex violence.  In many species of mammals, will kill other males and even their own female companions to maintain it (Clutton-Brock 2016: Heid 2019 for applications to humans).  Intraspecific aggression and violence are universal in higher animals, highly structured, and shaped by evolution (Clutton-Brock 2016). Even meerkats, regarded by many humans as particularly cute, are murderous to rival groups; females will hunt out and kill pups of neighboring packs (Clutton-Brock 2016:303). The rapid transition from harmony, empathy, playfulness, and cooperation to cold-blooded murder of weaker “others” is not confined to humans, or even to large predators like wolves.

A few recent writers have made important contributions to the study of human nature as producing good (prosociality and cooperation) and evil.  Two stand out in particular for very recent work: Michael Tomasello and Richard Wrangham.

Michael Tomasello, in A Natural History of Human Morality, postulates that morals evolved in three steps.  First came natural sympathy, developed from the loving emotions that all higher mammals feel for their mothers and siblings; these are extended to other kin and ultimately to any close associate, in human society.  Infants display this from birth.  Second, as humans evolved cooperative hunting and foraging, they learned to respect, help, share with, and support their partners.  Apes do not do this; they may co-hunt but they do not share or cooperate more than minimally.  Wolves and meerkats do, however.  Third, and uniquely human, all social groups have cultural moral repertoires.  They have long lists of “oughts,” almost always said to be divinely sanctioned. 

Tomasello follows almost everyone in arguing that the human tendency to cooperate evolved in foraging.  Cooperative animals could hunt big game, find isolated honey trees and share the news, and work together to catch fish.  A bit of evidence he misses is the parallel with wolves.  Canids scaled up from fox-like animals to hunt big game.  However, their need to run fast denied them the chance to develop the formidable claws that allow cats to be solitary hunters of big animals.  Wolves thus learned to cooperate to chase and bring down large animals.  This skill is seen today in the incredible skills of herding dogs at coordinating their efforts.  They not only have to know exactly what each other dog is thinking and planning; they have to put themselves in the positions of the humans and the sheep.  I once watched two shepherds and some muttish sheepdogs negotiate a herd of sheep through a difficult traffic intersection in the Pyrennees.  The shepherds did almost nothing; the dogs had to work together, trusting each other to keep order in a deadly environment, while understanding what the shepherds wanted and what the sheep would do.  They managed this three-species balancing act perfectly. 

A good Kantian, Tomasello looks to abstract rules founded on basic principles of cooperation and mutualism.  Tomasello is fond of citing Christine Korsgaard for this approach, and she does indeed argue powerfully for the Kantian view (Korsgaard 1996).  Kantian “deontological” ethics deduce rules from basic principles.  In contrast, utilitarian “assertoric” ethics hold that ethics are practical solutions to everyday problems (see e.g. Brandt 1979).  It is fairly clear, ethnologically, that both these methods of creating moral rules happen in the real world, and every culture has a mix of high abstractions and pragmatic rules-of-thumb.  Moral philosophers tend to emphasize one or the other.

No other animals have anything remotely like cultural rules that regulate whole large groups that are not only not face-to-face but many involve millions of people who never meet at all.  As Tomasello points out, children raised in human families learn these rules very early, but family pets do not (Tomasello 2016:154, 2019; pets do learn to act differently in different cultures, but only through simple training).  Tomasello admits that he emphasizes conformity and cooperation and that people are frequently immoral (Tomasello 2016:161), but does not take into account the actual alternatives within moral systems that allow people to murder each other for purely moral reasons, from Aztec human sacrifice to capital punishment.  In a later publication (Tomasello 2018) he admits that conflict must have had something to do with shaping human moralities.  Tomasello’s Rousseauian view keeps him from addressing hatred, but one can assume, from his work, that nonhuman animals can’t really hate; it takes too much long-view and abstraction.

Tomasello sharply contrasts apes and human infants.  Even before they can talk, human infants show a vibrant sociability more complex than chimpanzees.  By the time they are three, children have reached not only a level of social sensitivity that outdoes the ape; they also can thnk morally, reason according to what they see others doing and thinking, and react on the basis of knowing that others will expect moral or conventional or socially appropriate responses.  Apes barely do anything like this; they show awareness of others’ thoughts and fear of punishment and domination, but they do not understand abstract social rules.  By the age of six, human children are rational, reasonable beings who know how to apply the moral and pragmatic rules of their cultures (Tomasello 2019).  

In fact, going Tomasello one better, those of us who have raised children in other cultural settings are aware that children know by three that there are other sets of social rules, and by six they are masters of language-shifting, rule-shifting, and norm-shifting depending on what group they are with.  It was almost spooky to watch my young children quickly learn that a mass of undifferentiated words must be separated into “Chinese” (tonal, rhythmic, spoken with those outside the family) and “English” (a very different-sounding language used with the family and a few friends). 

Tomasello continues to see humans as basically cooperative, helpful, generous, and moral (according to their societies’ codes, but never normalizing hurt or cruelty).  They show astonishing levels of fairness by three years of age, in contrast to apes, who simply grab anything they want from weaker apes.   He has plenty of evidence, and has shown that such virtues are universal among children.  However, much of his sample derives from child-care centers in college towns, and this gives it a rather irenic balance.  We who grew up in what my wife calls “the real world” are aware of less harmonious child environments.  They force children to choose right from the start between the two wolves.

            Recently, Richard Wrangham has brought this issue to the foreground in his book The Goodness Paradox (2019).  He contrasts reactive aggression—ordinary anger and rage leading to violence—with proactive aggression, which evidently started out as hunting, but was retooled far back in our evolution to become planned, deliberate, often cool-headed violence.  Compared to other primates, humans have much less reactive violence.  We are far less violent than chimpanzees, in particular.  Even the peaceable bonobos rival us.  On the other hand, we display far more proactive violence—our raids, wars, genocides, organized crimes, and the like are at least planned and premeditated, at worst truly cold-blooded rather than passionate. 

He then questions how we could have evolved to do this.  His answer lies in our ability to cooperate to take down excessively violent individuals.  Even chimpanzees do this to some extent.  Humans do it quite generally.  Anyone reading old ethnographies and accounts is aware of the extreme frequency of stories of a psychopathic or hyperaggressive man (it is almost always a man) being quietly eliminated.  Often, four men will go out hunting, three will return, and no questions are asked.  Wrangham follows Christopher Boehm (1999) in seeing this sort of take-down of a dominant or domineering individual as basic to traditional societies.

Wrangham hypothesizes that this happened enough to influence human evolution.  It selected against reactive aggression, but selected for proactive aggression.  Other factors, such as the needs of foraging and food preparation, selected for cooperation.  Once cooperation was established and used in proactive aggression, it was available to allow a group to devastate the neighboring group that shows less solidarity in war. 

This theory is neat, consistent, and plausible, but there is no real evidence for it.  No one has counted the number of males eliminated by cooperative execution.  Moreover, Wrangham weakens his argument by showing that cooperative execution is very often—perhaps usually—invoked against nonconformists, often meek and innocent ones, rather than against bullies and psychopaths.  In fact, it appears from the accounts that bullies and psychopaths very often invoke the violence themselves, and execute the weak—especially weak potential competitors.  This would select for violence, not against it.  It seems that we will have to get better data, and to explore other possibilities.

In any case, Wrangham seems to have at least some of the story.  Truly inborn is a strong tendency to form coalitions that act against each other and, in the end, against everyone’s best interests.  Samuel Bowles and others have explained this as developing in feedback with solidarity in war.  Those who stand together prevail, wipe out the less cooperative enemy groups, and leave more descendants (Bowles 2006, 2008, 2009; Boyer 2018; Choi and Bowles 2007).  This is known as “parochial altruism.”  Individuals may not be locked in “warre of each against all,” but groups very often are.  Richared Wrangham (2019:133-134) dismisses this, finding too little evidence of self-sacrifice for the group or large-scale pitched battles in hunter-gatherer warfare.  This is not exactly relevant.  The only requirement is for groups to be solidary and mutually supportive; individuals do not have to go out of their way to sacrifice themselves.  Moreover, Wrangham has not adequately covered the literature.  There is much evidence for large-scale raiding, small but bloody battles, and defensive aggression among hunter-gatherers (see e.g. Keeley 1996; Turney-High 1949).  Serious and dangerous war is found in all the well-studied sizable nonagricultural groups, such as the Northwest Coast, Plains, and California Native peoples.  Wrangham was apparently misled by his focus on tiny hunter-gatherer bands that do not have the manpower to support large wars.

A different view is provided by Samantha Lang and Blaine Flowers (2019).  They begin from the other extreme: the phenomenon of individuals caring for others who have terminal dementia and thus can never pay back any debts (material or psychological) to their caregivers.  The vast majority of such caregiving is within the family—60.5% from children, 18% from spouses, most of the rest from other relatives—but even this is “irrational” in economic terms, and even in biological terms, since it costs the caregivers and prevents them from investing more in their children.  Moreover, the residual 5% of care is often given by devoted volunteers, who simply want to help others.  They note that all this can simply be seen as an “exaptation” from inclusive fitness—if we are selected to care for kin, we have to care for all kin—but also note that no nonhuman animal is known to do this (though there are some anecdotal records of group-living predators supporting disabled members).

Yet another view comes from work of Oliver Curry, Daniel Mullins, and Harvey Whitehouse (2019).  They hold that people evolved through cooperation, and that cooperation was then constructed as morality.  In their “morality-as-cooperation” theory, there are seven basic values:  “Allocation of resources to kin (family values)…, coordination to mutual advantage (group loyalty)…, social exchange (reciprocity)…, contests between hawks (bravery) and doves (respect) [that is two things]…, division (fairness)…, possession (property rights).”   These they break down into a list of specific values that are very widely held; for instance, family values start with “being a loving mother, being a protective father, helping a brother, caring for a frail relative,” (Curry et al. 2019:54).  They look at 60 societies around the world, finding all that are well reported have some form of all these, except for fairness, which is spottily attested.

To a biologist, the only reasonable explanation is that selection originally operated as it does in all higher animals, through inclusive fitness:  mutual care is deployed among families to maximize genetic success over time.  This then can be extended along ever-wider kinship lines, and to increase in scope to include in-marrying spouses (typically women, in traditional human societies, though in many agricultural societies it is the men that move).  Then further increase of scope takes in whole communities, perhaps via in-laws and distant cousins.  The defining moment (or long period) in the history of humanity was when we extended kinship to include culturally constructed relatives.  This in turn derives, at least in critical part, from the need to marry out—not only to prevent inbreeding but to build solidarity with neighbor groups. 

By this time—the time in the past when kinship extended so widely—the link with genetics is essentially lost.  The huge groups characteristic of modern human societies can form.  We can freely adopt strangers’ children, marry people from other countries, and devote our lives to helping humanity.  However, perhaps the most universally known social fact is that we continue to privilege close family members, and to build solidarity by self-consciously using family terms: Bands of brothers, church fathers and mothers, sisterhoods, fellow children of Adam and Eve.  A very widely known proverb (I have heard and seen it in countless forms) summarizes the normal human strategic condition: “I against my brother; my brother and I against our cousin; my cousin, brother, and I against our village; and our village against the world!”  The closer we are to others, the more solidary we feel with them.  Aggregating along kinship lines allowed Genghis Khan and his followers to build world-conquering armies by widely extending kin claims and tolerance of difference.  On the other hand, the closer we are to others, the more they can hurt and anger us.  They are around us more, and we are psychologically involved with them.  Their opinions matter, and their help is necessary.

            Solidarity in the face of attack by an enemy group is a human norm.  It is probably an evolved behavior, selected for by that situation occurring frequently over the millions of years.  Samuel Bowles (2006, 2008) held that it came from the tendency of larger groups to kill out smaller ones.  Since these groups had cores of relatives, kin selection operated, and gradually wider and wider circles of kin would be solidary, as people evolved or learned the ability to demand loyalty, detect disloyal members, and punish them.  By that model, violence against outgroups would have evolved along with detection and punishment of nonreciprocity within groups.  So long as it is actual defense against an attacking enemy, group loyalty in violent confrontation is a matter of necessity. 

            Most groups are peaceful internally but often 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. 

            This makes evolutionary sense.  Groups need to exchange mates, to avoid inbreeding.  This means that selection cannot totally favor one’s own genetic investment all the time.  In fact, there is a paradox: one can maximize one’s own genetic advantage only by having children with a genetically quite different mate.  The classic arguments for genetic determination of selfishness all founder on this rock.  On the other hand, groups also compete for scarce resources, such as hunting grounds.  If there is enough food, larger groups will outcompete smaller ones, and will also have enough genetic diversity within themselves to allow endogamy.  The ideal group size seems to be around 50-100, which, in fact, is the size of the usual human face-to-face group (Dunbar 2010).  Such groups tend to be parts of larger associations, typically around 500, a figure consistent from the number of speakers of a given language in hunting-gathering societies to the number of Facebook friends that a moderately sociable person has; very often, the groups of 50 are exogamous, but the groups of 500 are largely endogamous (Dunbar 2010). 

            In modern societies, groups cross-cut each other, and an individual may have one reference group that is “neighbors,” another for “workmates,” another for “religious congregation,” another for “hobby,” and so on.  This makes it possible to shift groups and loyalties, a point highly relevant to genocide, where an individual can suddenly change from highlighting “neighbors” to highlighting “ethnicity” and killing such neighbors as are suddenly shifted from one to the other.  Such individuals often shift back after the genocide.  This is notably attested for Rwanda (see e.g. Nyseth Brehm 2017a, 2017b).

            Recently, Mauricio González-Forero and Andy Gardner (2018) set out to test what model fit best with what we know of the evolution of the human brain, which more than tripled in size in a mere 2 million years—incredible speed for the evolution of a basic organ.  These authors needed to take into account the origin and dispersal of humans from east Africa between 150,000 and 70,000 years ago.  Their enterprise was highly speculative, involving assumptions that may be wrong, but at least they had considerable data on the genetics, dispersal rates, and behavior of the humans in question.  They conclude that conflictual models of human evolution are not supported.  Conflict is too costly.  Animals that fight all the time would not develop large brains—in fact, they probably would not survive at all.  Human conflicts are indeed costly, reducing cooperation even against the others (Aalerding et al. 2018; see also De Dreu et al. 2016). 

            Simple sociability as a cause of complex behavior is even less well supported.  They found that highly social animals generally have smaller brains than closely related, less social species.  Care substitutes for thinking.  They conclude that only ecology can account for it.  A positive feedback loop exists between finding more and better food and having a bigger, better brain.  More brain enables us to find, select, and prepare highly nutritious food.  Humans have adapted increasingly over time to seek out rich patches of good food. 

            Graeber and Wengrow (2018) hold that humans probably evolved in larger and more complex groups than usually thought, and that problems of equality and conflict are endemic to such groups, which then develop ways to cope.  Such coping may be successful or may not be.   As I have pointed out (Anderson 2014), an animal that can find rich patches of food can support a large group.  Best of all, we can talk, and thus tell the group that there is a dead mammoth behind the red hill, or a lion in wait beyond the stream.

            González-Forero and Gardner have not explained how humans became so violent.  The obvious answer, avoiding the high costs of conflict, is that humans evolved to move rapidly into new habitats, displacing smaller groups they found in the way.  The resulting gains would outweigh the costs of conflict.  This has happened countless times in history; it surely happened countless times in prehistory.  Human hatred of opponent groups and disregard for nature must come in part from predatory expansion.

            People also have rather poor innate controls on killing off their food supply.  Most human groups have learned how to manage sustainably, but they often overshoot, and in any case the learning was originally done the hard way, if local myths and stories are any guide.  Traditional peoples usually have tales of overhunting and then starving.  Children are told such stories with the morals clearly spelled out.

            The nearest to a common thread in the evolution of human badness is “my group and I at the expense of others.”  One’s group usually comes first.  Cross-cutting and nested allegiances make groupiness problematic, however, affording hope for more solidarity.

The imperative human need for society—without which we cannot normally survive—makes ostracism and rejection the most frightening of possibilities.   People become defensive at the slightest hint of it.  Antagonism, aggression, and stark fear result.  Anger and insecurity lead to defensiveness and sour moods.

3. Human Variation

All humans must satisfy basic physiological needs, including genuine physical needs for security, control of our lives, and sociability.  Beyond that, people are highly variable.  They vary along the now-classic five dimensions of personality—extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neurosis—from total introverts to total extraverts, from rigid closure to expansive risk-taking, and so on.   Some of this is known to be highly heritable.  Much is caused by culture and environment.  Early trauma actually changes gene activity (epigenetics).  Even gut microbiota are credited for affecting behavior.

From what has been said above, one would expect the most relevant variation to be in weakness, insecurity, and tendency to anger, and that is what we find.  The combination makes people defensive.  They become the people who “have a chip on their shoulder” and “have an attitude.”  Being weak and insecure makes one highly reactive to threat or harm, and apt to be passive-aggressive about it.  Being insecure and angry leads to the barroom brawler and similar folk characters.  Being weak, insecure, and angry, whether dispositionally or situationally, leads to overreaction: escalation of defensive behavior, often to violence. Note that “situationally”; individuals can be very different at different levels of threat and harm.  Yet disposition always matters.  Some people have enough strength of character to stay unbroken in tyrants’ prisons.  At the other extreme, the tyrants themselves are often living proof that a weak, insecure, hostile person who has assumed total power will still be weak, insecure, and hostile.

Beyond that, whether they are violent are not depends on what they have learned—culturally, socially, and personally.  Individuals violently abused in childhood very often become violent adults.  Mass murderers and major bullies are virtually 100% certain to have been abused physically (see Batson 2011; Baumeister 1997; Zaki 2019; and other sources on the good).  Similarly, cultures constructed by people who have long been weak, insecure and subject to abuse (and thus anger) naturally put a high value on defensiveness and “honor.”  Such is the history of the border-warrior cultures at the fringes of old and oppressive civilizations, of oppressed subcultures within dominant cultures, and of subcultures of anomie and alienation. 

Conversely, the more people are self-confident, secure, and self-controlled, whether dispositionally or situationally, they can damp down responses to challenge, and react rationally and coolly.  The human average seems to be toward the more weak, insecure, and angry end, if only because we all start that way as infants.  Self-efficacy (Bandura 1982) must be learned and developed. 

Competitive distinction is challenged easily, and social disrespect and slighting become pretexts for revenge up to and including deadly force.  Anti-intellectualism follows when people insecure about their own lack of self-improvement and education are rendered really uncomfortable about it, either by direct insults or by seeing better-qualified but “inferior” people rise.  Much of America’s all too well-known anti-intellectualism and anti-“elitism” comes from people in dominant groups who see people from less prestigious groups moving up the educational and cultural ladders.

Deviation from the mythical-average person described above occurs because of cultural and social teachings, specific insecurities, general perceived level of threat, and personality traits such as openness, conscientiousness, and agreeableness.  More specific learned themes, such as how to show anger, how to be violent, and whom to hate, then come in as the final stage of shaping the bad and good wolves.  

            A few resist the pressures to kill during mass genocides.  They have strong internal controls on aggression.  Others are less constantly moral, but most humans have a great deal of innate empathy—abilities to feel others’ emotions and sensations, understand them, and act accordingly (Denworth 2017).

            Some few, on the other hand, seem genuinely evil.  They seem almost incapable of acting without harming someone.  These are generally called 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” (Denworth 2017:61; cf. Baskin-Sommers et al. 2016).  They may have anomalies in neural connections in the brain.  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 also 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 understand why betraying others brought outrage. On the other hand, one of the sociopaths I knew was a prominent politician, and—though rather notorious—has never been singled out as being worse than many colleagues. 

            Psychopaths and sociopaths are, in fact, notoriously successful in business and politics.  Published descriptions of genociders make many of them seem psychopathic, but tests are obviously lacking. 

            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.  

            Mass shooters are so common in the United States that profiles of them have been assembled by researchers.  The shooters are very often white supremacists targeting ethnic minorities (Cai et al. 2019).  Jillian Peterson and James Denaley (2019) report a more specific set of findings: “First, the vast majority of mass shooters in our study experienced trauma and exposure to violence at a young age.  The…exposure included parental suicide, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, domestic violence and/or severe bullying….Second, practically every mass shooter…had reached an identifiable crisis point in the weeks or months leading up to the shooting.”  This included things like job loss and relationship failure (often, I take it, related to progressive alienation of the shooter).  Third, most of the shooters had studied the actions of other shooters”—they were diligent students.  “Fourth, the shooters all had the means to carry out their plans.”  They could get guns, including illegal guns, though most simply bought guns at the store or used ones already in the home.  “Most mass public shooters are suicidal, and their crises are often well known ot others before the shooting occurs.  The vast majoirty of shooters leak their plans” but are not taken seriously, nor are they reported to authorities. 

            Most people, however, are peaceable, empathetic, and reasonable most of the time.  We can arbitrarily guess that at most 10% of humanity are deeply evil—not always acting badly, but doing evil on a regular enough basis to produce serious net harm to their communities.  This 10% figure is supported by crime rates, vote totals for extremist candidates, and common experience.  Others show social dominance orientation (see e.g. Altemeyer 2010; Guimond et al. 2013), looking favorably on high levels of social and economic inequality in society and to patriarchal social organization.  Dominance is not a human need, but certainly is a widespread want, and the simple desire for it is a major source of evil.  Most mammals have dominance hierarchies.  Humans are notably lacking in innate tendencies in that direction (Boehm 1999), but very often develop them anyway, especially via top-down hierarchic systems.

            These dubious actors can be balanced by the best 10% or so:  the 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 reasons for such variation in mentality are partly unknown, partly developmental.  The latter shall be discussed below.

            The other 80% (approximately) of us are the people within whom the two wolves constantly compete.  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.   There are continua from acceptance to rejection of groups, from positive to negative-sum gaming, from laudable ambition to power-madness, from necessary defense against enemies to defensiveness based on cowardly fear.  It is hard to cut these continua. 

Defensiveness attenuates as it moves up toward actual strength and reasonableness, the cures.  It also attenuates if people collapse into total fear.  It moves outward to callousness and then thoughtlessness.  The core mood is more or less that of a child’s temper tantrum:  a mix of violently negative emotions from which fear, anger, and rage slowly differentiate as the child grows or as the adult gets better control.

            The common ground is simple: wanting social and economic security, especially in social acceptance and position.  What matters is how rationally and cooperatively one seeks to satisfy those wants.

            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.  I have observed this continuum 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, as they range from passive to active and from weak to strong (the classic three dimensions of agentive evaluation; Osgood et al. 1957). 

            Common experience also teaches that those of us in the 80% tend to weasel good and bad.  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 skimp on public commitments.  We spend too much time giving nibbles to the bad wolf while trying to serve the good one.  We shirk, laze, dodge responsibilities, and commit the “deadly sin” of sloth.  We are, in short, frail and fallible humans—and require strong social standards backed up by law to keep us on the straight and narrow path (as discussed at length in Henrich 2016).  Religious and moral ideals must be enforced by social conventions.  Most of us have experienced life in communities where traffic laws were laxly enforced, and have seen ordinary “good” people slip into more and more dangerous driving until accidents make the police take better note. 

Allow that people are, on average, 50% good and 50% bad.  (Again, these are guesses.  We have no real measures.)   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.  Trump was elected by 25.7% of the voting public, with almost half of registered voters not bothering to vote at all.

Half good, half bad predicts the institutions we see in societies: they are meant to preserve the good, and to redirect the bad to fighting “the enemy” rather than the rest of us.  And they never work perfectly.

            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, reasonable vs. unreasonable, open-minded vs. closed, and charity vs. greed.  Behind these are deeper continua: Individual to group; weak to strong; attacking weak to attacking strong; courageous to cowardly; greed to defensiveness; rational to irrational.  People can hate those richer and more powerful, or—more usually—the weaker.  They can be cold and callous or savagely furious.

All these are related.  All are consistent with the “Big Five” and “Hexaco” personality theories.  The Big Five personality dimensions—extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neuroticness—are predictive: individuals low on agreeableness and high in neuroticness are more apt to do evil than those who are the reverse.  People very low in openness become conservatives, and thus often involved in fascism; those very high in openness may become left-wing rebels.  There are, however, good or evil persons who are at the best or at the worst ends on many or all measures.  Social pressures as well as personality are determinative.  The Big Five (or Six) do not directly predict levels of violence, aggression, competitiveness, or hatred.  Genocide and other extreme mass-level evils come from hatred, so it must be considered the worst of the lot, and though it is probably commoner among the less agreeable and more neurotic it is well distributed over the human species.  Degree of scapegoating, and targets of scapegoating, are also hard to predict from basic personality factors; they are social matters, largely learned, though the tendency to scapegoat others seems part of human nature.

            Greed is often regarded in the US as the worst of sins, a belief going back to Paul on love of money.  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 sacrifice their own self-interest out of intemperate hate.  We have seen this in every genocidal campaign in history, as well as in almost all wars, and many political and religious movements.

            Moreover, greed is often a social hatred issue; it is not really about material wealth, but about rivalry for power—for control of people and resources.  The normal expectation if one wants a material item (for itself) 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 or widely approved way to get goods.  Neither is crime, ordinary or white-collar.  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 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.

            In other words, people will kill in competition for goods, but more usually negotiate; they kill for land in wars, but tend to negotiate there too.  They kill in competition for power, which is more dangerous since positions of power are necessarily limited.  Above all, they kill for reasons of social standing and honor.

            Genocidal killing goes further: it is usually focused on religion or political ideology—givers of fundamental morals and of security.  Where ethnicity is more the source of basic values, ethnicity is the ostensible cause.  A pathological leader, or indeed almost any dictator, will be sure to stress the links, identifications, group memberships, and reference groups that provide the best opportunity for stirring up hatred and violence.  This is the secret to extremist leadership: make the most deadly links the most salient.  Recruiters for jihad, for instance, stress the Islamic, and specifically Wahhabist, identification of people who might otherwise see themselves as French, or Moroccan, or factory workers, or soccer players, or any of the other cross-cutting loyalties we all have.  A genocidal leader will also do best to appeal to a majority that feels itself threatened or downwardly mobile.

            The reasons for violence and evil are, in order, security, power, greed, prestige/standing, and psychopathy (or basic aggressiveness), plus the critical ingredient: violence and/or cruelty as preferred coping strategy.  Anger and hate are the mediators, and hatred is generally defensive.  Even callous bureaupathy has to start with someone who makes a deliberate choice to destroy poor people to give more money to rich people.

Personal factors involved are concerns of power, control, social place, and greed and other wants.  The social and cultural contexts are all-important, telling individuals whom and how much to hate.  The worst individuals seek out each other.  They also seek out the worst cultural and social values and attitudes.  This produces a strong multiplier effect, highly visible in right-wing social movements.  Cowardly defensiveness, gain (not just greed but even routine jobs), power and control needs, and innate aggression levels all play into such attitudes.

            The same individual who is an angel of help and mercy within his or her group can be a formidable soldier, a suicide bomber, or a crazed killer when group defense is involved.  In fact, the same individual can be alternately angel and devil to his or her own significant other, as many stories of domestic violence tell us. 

            Revenge is often the most terrible of motives.  People tend to be at their very worst when thinking they are revenging selves for slights, disrespect, or actual harms.  This is when they cheerfully torture and murder.  Thus all genociders wind up focusing on a story of their group being victimized by the opponent group or groups.  This is absolutely key to understanding genocide and extreme violence.

            Revenge is often for betrayal.  Betrayal is another common response of the human animal to threat and fear.  Suspected betrayal can bring about real violence.  A vicious cycle can be established, as in Shakespeare’s Othello.

            Finally, different forms of violence seem to accompany different personality profiles.  Mass shooters are typically alienated young males, usually right-wing.  Domestic violence is associated with high control need, as noted.  Bullying, as we have seen, is associated with glorification of physical strength and devaluing of intellectual qualities as well as weakness.  Sheer aggressiveness can be a separate personality trait, as can the closely related “oppositional personality disorder.”  Spread over these types are the general qualities of alienation, excessive control need, excessive antagonism, resort to violence as first resort, and brooding or ruminating about real and imagined wrongs.  These are the real foods of the bad wolf—the human qualities that we must address to give the good wolf a chance. 

4. Cultural Variation

            Cultures also vary.  “Culture” is a general term for learned, shared knowledge and behavior within social groups, above the family level.  Cultural knowledge is constructed over time by interaction between group members.  It can change rather fast, as when a particularly violent period such as WWII forces people to confront issues they often try to avoid. 

Since humans will inevitably compete for scarce resources, conflict is inevitable.  All societies know theft, violence, and treachery.  All condemn these and have mechanisms for coping with them.  Especially touchy are issues with affection, social support, and control.  These may or may not really be limited, but people often perceive them so.  Power is particularly problematical, since there is less and less “room at the top” as one ascends a hierarchy.  Conflicts, especially over power and control, tend to escalate, creating fear and stress.  These in turn make people defensive, leading to still more conflict.  We need not be Hobbesian to see that conflict is likely in the human condition. 

This being the case, all cultures include a great deal of shared and often widely-accepted knowledge about anger, violence, conflict, conflict resolution, and other relevant matters (Beals and Siegal 1966).  All cultures include canonical rules for dealing with conflict and violence.  All cultures have storylines and plans about these matters.  All cultures include stories people tell to provide models of how to deal with violent conflict.  Children are raised on stories explaining how to defuse a fight.  Adults go on to Homer’s Iliad, Shakespeare’s history plays, China’s Three Kingdoms Story, Japan’s Tale of the Heike, and on down, from these epic works to the latest Hollywood action movie.  People constantly refer back to these model cases.  Genocide stories, especially the story of Hitler’s Holocaust, have become part of the world’s knowledge pool. 

            Knowledge from one realm is freely adapted to others.  We draw on knowledge of ancient history to understand modern war.  We draw on knowledge of animal conflict to understand the deepest roots of our own.  Drawing with the best judgment on the widest set of data is an ideal to strive for, but biases—often culturally constructed—interfere.  Clearly, changing cultural plans for dealing with violence, dissent, and conflict is basic to understanding such processes (Beals and Siegal 1966).

A pattern broadly visible in eastern Asia is one in which both individuals and societies can flip from extremely peaceful to extremely violent and back to peace.  Chinese dynasties exhibit this pattern: during times of strong government, they were very peaceful and orderly, but in dynastic breakdown periods, violence became universal and appalling.  Japan had similar flips, for example from the rather calm Ashikaga shogunate to the civil wars of the 16th century and then the peaceful and orderly Tokugawa shogunate.  A modern case is Cambodia.  The Cambodians were famously peaceful.  They dropped rapidly back to peaceful behavior after the meltdown in the 1970s that killed some 25% of the population.  Rwandans moved from genocide to peace and order with surprising ease.  Like Cambodians, they are usually gentle and tolerant people, far from the western media stereotypes of “savage tribal Africans.”

            Still other societies have chronic low levels of violence, fluctuating but never very high.  Still others, especially in the Middle East and northern Africa, have fluctuated over time from constant low-level violence to major outbreaks.  Some few, such as the Waorani of South America, are or were almost continually violent.  Clayton and Carole Robarchek studied the Semai of Malaysia, among whom violence is condemned and virtually nonexistent, and then for comparison studied the Waorani, who were rapidly killing themselves out until missionaries persuaded them to be more peaceful (Robarchek 1989; Robarchek and Robarchek 1998).  The societies turned out to be strikingly similar in economy, child-rearing practices, and other behaviors; they differed in that the Semai dealt with conflict by flight and avoidance, the Waorani by almost immediately escalating to violence. 

            Mountainous borderlands tend to be famous for violence.  Think of the Caucasus and the Appalachians.  Fertile plains are more easily pacified, both because farmers have more to lose and because control is easier to exert.  People in any setting may change.  The Scottish borders that were once infamous for violence—immortalized in some of the world’s greatest ballads—are now among the most peaceable places on earth.  We have already noted the example of the Vikings, to say nothing of the now-peaceful Waorani.  When threats from stronger neighbors were constant, and internal problems could not be solved because of constant trouble, these societies were violent.  When security within and without was possible, they pacified.

A different way of looking at society and culture concerns the form of economy.  Overall, rentier societies, especially those with servile labor, produce right-wing politics; ones dominated by secondary and tertiary industries and hopeful workers often produce left-wing activity.  The United States has generally been hopeful, so votes progressive in bad times, but often right-wing in good times, to keep taxes low and industries growing.  The rise of southern-style politics in the United States, and its spread to the northern midwest, tracks the rise of primary production and declining but still powerful heavy industry, and the rise of giant firms vs decline of small ones. 

In short, cultures and societies, like individuals, respond to insecurity by becoming more defensive, and to physical threat by becoming more violent.  With confidence and security—from strength and from secure leadership—they can and will change rapidly in more peaceful directions.  Of course, such facts deal a death blow to the myth of “human nature.”  If Hobbesian devils can convert to Rousseauian angels in a few years, and if whole societies can suddenly become violent and as suddenly stop, where are the primal drives?

Societies must also find ways to deal with the formation of sub-societies with different rules: feuding, mafias, corruption, etc.  Then there are two variables: how well the society can enforce the rules, and how well its members want to.  The rich and powerful are above the law to some extent in most societies, and they may be perfectly happy to let mafias terrorize the general populace.  On the other hand, a society as totally at the mercy of gangs as El Salvador and Honduras are today, or as riven by religious and tribal conflicts as Afghanistan, cannot long survive with a crisis.

            Social differences are often in the cultural construction of bullying, power-jockeying, and hatred.  These can become idealized and culturally taught, via religion and other ideologies.  Nazism is the most obvious and extreme case of a culture constructed from such bases, but it is only the most extreme of many movements.  World religions eventually construct power via hierarchies, initiations, and other institutions.  All cultures construct aggression through ideas about war and defense.  Religion usually includes peace, harmony, and nonviolence among its ideals, but it is also the source of foundational beliefs and foundational morals for many or most societies, and the most important source of security for many believers.  Devout believers who depend on religion for both certainty and security often feel deeply and directly threatened by challenges to their faith.  The same goes for true believers in any comprehensive ideology, from communism to fascism.  Gods are usually either benign or a human-like mix of creative good with all-too-human foibles (like Zeus and Coyote), but all religions also postulate a vast host of evil spirits who mean nothing but harm: demons, devils, bad winds, ghosts, demiurges, and countless more.  These projections of human fear and hate into the supernatural realm fit Durkheim’s view of religion as the collective representation of the community (Durkheim 1995 [1912]); they are the community’s worst—and most often hidden—feelings, displaced outward.

            Many of the cultural groups that committed the worst genocides were famous for their obedience to authority: Cambodians, Rwandans, Chinese, Germans, Indonesians…the list is long.  Many warlike and independent groups also became genocidal, but the link with obedience is clear enough to be thought-provoking  The great genocides—ones in which the populace in general seems to have gone mad with blood—were generally in such societies, though the Turks and several other exceptions can be mentioned.

            Since overreaction to negatives is the general problem, it follows that culture can establish the idea that one should overreact.  This regularly occurs in cultures of “honor” (Baumeister 1997; Henrich 2016).  Defensiveness can seem moral in highly unstable societies.

            Cultures provide scripts and storylines and schemas for action.  These cultural models (to use the technical term) provide canonical ways to deal with or adapt to life.  Most of them are adaptive and valuable, but every bad type of action has its model too.  Hitler’s anti-Semitism drew on centuries of pogroms and massacres, well scripted and following a set of plotlines.  Contemporary Islam provides accessible models for suicide bombing.  In the United States, there is now an all too well-known cultural model for mass shooting, followed in one form or another by hundreds of alienated, angry, often sulking individuals—most of them young men and many of them white supremacists or similar right-wingers (Cai et al. 2019).  There is another cultural model for spouse abuse; similar models of mistreatment exist in most other cultures.  Other cultural models exist for criminal gang behavior, robbery, suicide, and other violent acts.  A desperate person needs only to activate the model.  He or she will learn what weapons to use, how to obtain them, how to deploy them, and what to do next.  Planning is simple and kept to a minimum.

            We have also seen above how social and cultural pressures act on everyone—even the least alienated, and indeed especially the most conformist and well-socialized—to get the vast mass of individuals to go along with genocide.  Here, direct social pressure, including threats of ostracism or worse, is added to the cultural models.

            In ordinary everyday violence, the bad wolf wins when a particularly susceptible individual—aggressive, alienated, or simply angered beyond bearing—is subjected to social pressure to act violently, and has an available cultural model of how to do it.  In war and genocide, everyone is expected to join in and do their bit, and almost everyone does.  In bullying, terrorism, and domestic violence, only some do; they are alienated or desperate for control, and they nurse their sorrows until an available cultural model becomes salient.  Terrorists are usually persuaded by intense pressure from their social group.  In all cases, violence depends on a prior development of anger, hate, and need to assert control.  Individuals get into a tighter and tighter spin of negative emotions.

5. Inevitable Conflicts

An agent-based approach (in the tradition of Ibn Khaldun and Max Weber) allows us to see that humans do not just reflect their culture.  They balance family, cultural group, subcultural group, father’s people, mother’s people, spouse’s people, immigrant neighbors, and last but not least their own interests as individuals.  People are constantly faced with moral choices of whom to go with and how much to cheat selfishly. 

The hardest problem is how to deal with social criticism and disrespect.  The descendant of territorial defensiveness in animals is human defensiveness about social place and social position—“honor,” “face,” etc.  (Humans are not territorial in the sense most mammals are.  We socially construct space in all manner of free-form ways; see Lefebvre 1992.) 

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, as in Scottish ballads and many Native American stories, the drama turns on 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 ordinary everyday conformity and reveals the bare human in full glory or vileness.  Greek tragedies do this.  So do Medieval epics, Chinese classical stories, and other great works.  Folk literature always contains such stories. 

They are critically important for understanding humanity.  First, they show that people are agents, not mindless slaves of genes or culture or society; everyone has to deal with and, hopefully, resolve such conflicts.  Second, they show that cultures are not homogeneous, and mindless conformity cannot work indefinitely.  There are cultural models of different loyalties: loyalties to different groups that often come into conflict.  There are tradeoffs between long-term and wide-flung interests and short-term narrow ones.  There are conflicts over allocating resources.

            An inevitable conflict often recorded in song and story is between security and advancement.  Advancing in society requires taking some risks.  People usually and naturally act to minimize risk for maximum advancement, but there are plenty of exceptions, and they are often the leading entrepreneurs and inventors.  Managing to try to make advancement opportunities more secure is a major part of economic behavior for many of us.  Cutthroat competition is thus stressful.

            The conflict most relevant to the present book is the one between loyalty and morality.  When dictators whip up their populations to commit genocide, this conflict becomes agonizing.  Most people choose loyalty, as we have seen.  Many are perfectly happy with it—they wanted to eliminate the minorities anyway—but many are not at all happy, and have to be steamrolled into it.  Already noted is the inevitable conflict over rank and the resulting problems with arrogance, humility, ranking out, and insult.

            These songs and stories turn on courage and on failure, on individuals against the world, and on opportunity and challenge.  They are the corrective to dismissing and devaluing people.  The hero powerful against the storm, especially if the hearer or reader can identify with that hero, is humanity in compelling form and inescapable predicament.

            In modern society, traditional folk and elite societies, communities, and cultures are thinned down or extirpated.  People are left to the tender mercies of vast, impersonal governments and firms.  This not only disempowers them; it also robs them of those canonical stories that once modeled behavior in conflicted times.

 This out-of-control inequality, and above all the sheer bigness, makes people feel weak, out of control of their lives, and lacking in self-efficacy.  They become timid, and succumb all the more easily to toxic conformity and obedience.  Lost are such empowering and strengthening cultural forms as great art and literature, and even ordinary civility and decency.  Weakness and fear makes people desperate for security, including material security; the result can look like greed, but is actually cowardice.

6. Explaining It:  Fight, Flight, Freeze

            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 (Bandura 1982, 1986; Langer 1983). 

            The fight-flight-freeze response is wired into the nervous systems (Sapolsky 2017, 2018).  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.  This response is mediated through the ancient limbic system in the lower back part of the brain.  A threat is first processed by the amygdala, which recognizes and catalogues it (the amgydala being also a center of memory, as well as the center of much emotionality).  A message goes to the hypothalamus, where the center of the fight-flight-freeze response occupies a small group of nuclei that release aggressive behavior, including speeding up the heart, raising blood pressure, and directing blood toward appropriate muscle and nerve systems (thus away from functions like digestion).  This area sends messages down to the pituitary gland, attached to the bottom of the hypothalamus.  Hormones are released from the anterior pituitary, and circulate through the body, stimulating—among other things—release of adrenaline and cortisol from the adrenal glands (Fields 2019).  Adrenalin and the bone-derived hormone osteocalcin drive the actual physiological responses that are the core of the fight-flight-freeze response (ScienceBeta 2019).

All this is under varying degrees of control from the frontal and prefrontal cortex—very little in a lizard, a great deal in a well-socialized human.  In a human, “the frontal cortex makes you do the harder thing when it’s the right thing to do” (Sapolsky 2017:45, emphasis his).  That can mean doing what is reasonable (foregoing a reward now for a bigger one later) or what is social (foregoing a theft because it is morally wrong).  Conversely, stress disorients.  Sustained stress and fear lead to chronic biologic responses that impair judgment and lead to heightened responses (Sapolsky 2017:130-1360).

Under such conditions, animals and people can flip almost instantly from peaceful, calm behavior to extreme violence.  This is the biological substrate of the change from good wolf to bad wolf. 

Humans have considerably complicated the response. We are faced, more than other animals, with a tradeoff between reacting emotionally and rationally.  The medial frontal cortex, home of social emotionality, dominates empathetic and sensitive choices, and—with other regions—cognitive empathy (Kluger et al. 2019; Lombardi 2019).  The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is more involved with “cool, utilitarian choices” (Kluger et al. 2019:12).  The ventromedial prefrontal cortex integrates many of these, and processes morality and its social applications, as well as cognitive interaction choices.  It is conspicuously absent in reaction of psychopaths to others’ pain (Lombardi 2019:20).  More interesting, in psychopaths, is their lack of connection between the reward processing center of the brain—the ventral striatum—and the center for examining outcomes and consequences, including emotional ones, in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (Lombardi 2019:29). A quite different situation is found in people on the autism spectrum, who may be socially challenged but are generally well-meaning, trying hard but often failing to be social; damage to the anterior cingulate cortex is suspected.  It seems that differences in brain regions and connections lie behind a great deal of human good and evil.  This does not explain why the same individual can transition so rapidly from one to the other.

In people, because of the necessity to prioritize dealing with threat, hate is all too often stronger than love, viciousness stronger than caring, defensive resistance to change stronger than greed or desire for self-improvement.  Chronic threat and stress crystallize the fight response into hatred, the flight response into escapism, and the freeze response into conformity or apathy.  One result is that polls often mispredict how people will act: people generally answer that they want more wages, or better health care, or other positive things, but then vote or act their hate.  This led to massive misprediction of the 2016 election results. 

Flight can thus 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; Gian Caprara [2002] has critiqued Beck’s model for being too narrow and not covering a wide enough range of situations and contexts, so the model is somewhat expanded here, following Caprara.)

            The most basic root of aggression 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, hunger, loss—can also make most animals more aggressive or fight-prone.  The order is:  Stressors; feeling of inadequacy or frustration; defensiveness; then, if the bad wolf wins, hatred and aggression.

            Grief can also be a source of stress and thus of violence.  The role of grieving in motivating suicide bombing has been addressed by Atran (2010).  In many cultures, from Appalachia to New Guinea, grief over previous killings leads to revenge, and is expected to do so.   

            The human difference is that humans are compulsively and complexly social (Henrich 2016).  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, socially constructed on the innate bases described above, 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 or to society’s most fundamental beliefs. The real problem is threat to social place and position, which can lead to anything partner abuse to international war, depending on the scale.  Threats to social beliefs lead to savage persecution of “heretics.”  Heretics and minority religions are the victims of many of the very worst massacres.  They usually live mixed in among the orthodox.  Perhaps the intimacy is related to the extreme violence of such persecutions.  Cognitive dissonance can make people act worse than they might.

            It is also universally known that people are most easily united by being confronted with a common threat, especially a human threat—an invading army, looting gangs, or simply those “heretics.”  Leaders and would-be leaders thus tend to seek or invent enemies.

            Existential threat—simple fear of death—also exacerbates hatred.  In a fascinating study, Park and Pyszczynski (2019) found that making fear of death salient to experimental subjects made them become more defensive about their group identification and core values, and more intolerant and antagonistic toward others.  They found, moreover, that mindful meditation could reduce this, and eliminate it in practiced meditators, providing a rather unexpected and potentially important weapon against hate.

            Thus, natural human tendencies to deal with fear by fighting or escaping can be mobilized by leaders.  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.  Typically, people will redirect anger they feel against targets unsafe to criticize, or even just anger from stubbing their toes or having problems with the house, into hatred.  Hate of the strong is unsafe to act out, so it is displaced onto the weak.  Scapegoating—hating people or groups through displacement—is the most cowardly of the defense mechanisms.  Intolerance is a close second.  Denial, rigidity, and low-level escapism are among others.  

            Doğan and collaborators (2018) have found, studying modern Ethiopian societies, that war is much less likely in egalitarian groups, because everyone is at risk and no one gets a huge chunk of the spoils.  In hierarchic societies, the leaders are less at risk (young men do the dying) and yet get disproportionate shares of the loot, as well as increased power.  So they are happy to invoke war.  The current world situation, where national leaders are not only safe from fighting but often have never served in the military, is an extreme case of this.

            There is a whole decision tree in the fight-flight response.  Responding to stress, people must decide—at some level, usually preattentive—to fear it or not.  They then decide which of the three possibilities to choose, and at what level of response—from verbal confrontation to murderous attack.  They must then decide where to direct their efforts.  If they fight, they can direct action against actual enemies, as in war and revolution, or displace action against weaker parties instead of against the actual threat.  This is a strikingly common response among some animals, notably baboons.  It is clearly related to human bullying, and thus to the hypertrophied bullying that is genocide. 

            The basic principles of a cognitive-emotional explanation of evil can be summarized as follows.  First (and in this case going back to Freud’s defense mechanisms), 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.  The root of much evil is the belief that we can fix our problems by controlling or eliminating other people, rather than by rational means.  This is particularly true of people who have weak confidence in their control of their lives and situations.  (See especially Bandura 1982 on self-efficacy, and the rational-emotional psychology of Albert Ellis, e.g. 1962; the cognitive-behavioral work on evil of Aaron Beck 1999; also Baumeister 1997; Maslow 1970.) 

            Antagonism is the general cover term for the usual sources of evil.  It is usually mindless, coming from culture, conformity, or orders.  Its natural basis is the normal “fight” response to threat, but it is increasingly distorted by weak fear, especially when weakness is part of cultural norms.  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.

Political anger—which appears to be the main anger in modern societies—is most certainly decided on: one learns who to hate and persecute and how angry to get, and one must decide to follow the leaders in this.  The steps one’s mind goes through in dealing with stress involve decisions at every point.  First, one must identify something as a threat.  Then one must decide whether to react with flight or fight.  One must decide how much flight or fight to apply. 

This requires attention to what is actually causing the threat.  If one is being chased by a bear, no questions need be asked, but dealing with widespread social problems is something quite different.  Reasonable alternatives include distancing oneself, resenting silently, turning the other cheek, being as pleasant or fearless as possible, and just bearing hardship.  From there, the next step is to actual caring: helping, enjoying, working.  

A more important realization is that we are dealing with two phenomenologically different kinds of emotionality.  The fight-flight-freeze response, and the fear and anger that are part of it, are normal.  Quite different is the weakness and consequent out-of-control fear that comes from personal lack of confidence, lack of support, and lack of courage.  Cowardly emotions differ from these normal equivalents.  Honest fear in the face of a real threat is not the same as irrational panic in the face of a trivial one.  Real anger—wrath at actual injury—is different from the fearful anger of a person who has no confidence in his or her ability to control a situation, and therefore hysterically overreacts.  Carelessness from sheer inattention to detail is not the same as defiant sloppiness or toxic irresponsibility.  Love is not the same as dependence and controlling clinginess, especially since the latter competes psychologically with real caring interest in the other person.

In violence in general, but especially in genocidal movements, these play out in different ways.  The initial leaders and revolutionaries are hard-nosed fighters, animated by hatred and opportunism but not scared of anything.  Very often they have been devalued through no fault of their own: they are poor, or from marginal regions (Napoleon’s Corsica, Hitler’s Austria, Stalin’s Georgia), or they are short or disfigured, or something of the sort (cf. Dikötter 2019 for several cases).  Far-right-wing acquaintances of mine (I have known hundreds, over a long life) follow a pattern: they arr males, from the dominant reference group (white in the US, land Cantonese in Hong Kong, and so on), but neither affluent nor well-educated nor very successful.  Accounts suggest that this is typical.  Such people, from Napoleon to my acquaintances, become resentful toward society, and make up in anger and oppositional stance what they lack in social prestige.  They are anything but weak and fearful.  (This compensation theory of problematic behavior has a long history and literature.  It has been abundantly qualified and nuanced; the simple form is not a total explanation.  See our usual sources, notably Baumeister 1997, Beck 1999.)

The vast majority of genociders and other killers, however, are weak and defensive—low in self-efficacy, in Albert Bandura’s terms.  (See the thorough and insightful discussion of such matters in Bandura 1982, 1986.)  They are the conformists who require only social pressure from the leaders to turn murderous.  Individual sense of weakness is much less of a problem if the self-doubting person feels he or she has family or community support.  This should be obvious, but requires some reflection.  The kind of support, the areas in which one is supported or not, and the people doing it (family or friends or the wide world), all matter greatly.  We all are weak at times, and defensive at times.  Most, perhaps all, of us feel weak and defensive in the face of overwhelming threat or stress.  It always sets a limit on our coping.

An important and thoughtful recent study by Robert Bornstein (2019) puts this in real-world situational perspective.  Studying domestic abuse (my prime model for genocide), Bornstein found sky-high rates in two mutual dependence situations.  First, when a man is dependent on a woman for personal validation and she is dependent on him for emotional and financial support, he feels a powerful need to control her and she finds it very hard to escape.  Second, when adult children are dependent for financial support on an elder who is dependent on them for physical care, elder abuse is highly likely.  In these cases, the problems of lack of control and desperate need to assert it become obvious.  

My sense is that the real back story of genocide and similar mass killing is precisely this weak defensiveness.  Ordinary fear and harm lead to the ordinary fight-flight-freeze responses.  Weak defensiveness leads to a quite different cluster of behaviors:  above all scapegoating and bullying, of which more below, but also to passive-aggression, taking extreme offense at trivial or imagined slights, extreme jealousy and envy, petulance, silent resentment, and similar mechanisms.  Brooding about these is the real food of the bad wolf.  If I am right, the back story of mass violence is the ability of strongman leaders who brag of being above the law to mobilize latent weak defensiveness, resentment, and frustration, and turn it against scapegoats.  They are the constituency that votes for such men, the passive citizens that allow coups by such men, and then the obedient subjects of such men. 

The worst of it is that the more overwhelming the situation, the more weak and defensive we all get.  Hard times and strongmen bring out the weakest and most defensive side of people.  This is the key reason why they are so easily mobilized to break from passivity to hatred of scapegoats. The break point where the good wolf gives way to the bad wolf, in every studied case of large-scale genocide and mass murder, comes when the leaders get enough power and social visibility to exploit weak defensiveness and other hatreds to flip the masses into genocidal mode.  As so often, Rwanda provides a particularly well-studied case (see Nyseth Brehm 2017a, 2017b, and references therein).

This explains the rarity of people like Oscar Schindler standing firm against genocide.  It requires a level of self-confidence, self-control, and community-supported morality that very few of us have.

This is one half of the explanation for political extremism.  The other will be discussed below: the conflict between groups that feel they are downwardly mobile and those that are moving up.  This classic Marxian conflict drives much of world politics today.

7. Power and Control

            It is notoriously easier to unite people against a perceived enemy than for a good cause (Bowles 2006; Henrich 2016).  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 attract 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.

People often unite more easily against good others than against evil ones, because it is easier to go after weaker and milder than against the powerful and brutal.  Moreover, being good tends to be a small-scale, personal activity, while hatred gets extended to whole classes of people.  The weaker, more salient, and more physically and socially close perceived enemies are, the easier to go after them.  So evil often starts with domestic violence.  Even more often, it starts with attacks on weaker neighbors or on oppressed minorities.  Actual enemies are often the last to be attacked, since they will fight back.  It is easy to unite people through conformity to exclusionary norms (Henrich 2016).  Tolerance and openness, however, are a bit of a psychological luxury; they sharply decline when people feel their mental energy is exhausted (Tadmor et al. 2018).  Still more of a luxury is actual enjoyment; one must be out of threat zone to relax enough to cultivate the arts of life.

            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 way, but nationalism, militarism, and communist and other revolutionary ideologies have done as well.   In the United States we have seen hatred justified by opposition to illegal immigrants, by appeals to law and security, and even by opposition to “hate speech,” which seems always defined as strong speech by one’s opponents. 

            The rich often want power and status, not money per se.  (What follows is a skeletal outline of material on power reviewed in Anderson and Anderson 2012, 2017; see also Traverso 2019.)  They thus will play zero-sum and negative-sum games with the rest of us, because they want relative positions.  They want to be powerful more than they want money (not that they mind having more of it also).  Critical is that Success, or Power and Control, or Wealth and Status, is their whole life involvement, not just one thing they want. 

            Thus we may say that evil is usually done for four reasons:  callousness toward people who “don’t count”; anger toward people who do count—very often loved ones and family that one wishes to control but cannot control; hatred toward specific groups, almost always scapegoated minorities; and hatred of actual enemies.  Greed as a factor may lie behind these, but it generally acts through them; the selfishly greedy dehumanize or disregard their victims.  This produces some ambiguity.  In a war, one must maximize killing of the opposition, including civilians and ordinary unfortunates drafted by evil but personally safe overlords.             

            Another major background factor in evil is negative-sum gaming.  This often involves seeing the world as steadily declining, such that one can do better only by taking from others.  It views resources as limited.  This view tends to come from a focus on social power and status, where positions really are limited and one is controlling or controlled; economic welfare is more easily spread or increased for all, but it too often involves competition over limited goods.  Often, people who feel the world is getting worse see themselves as hopelessly downward-bound; they see no way to slow this except by taking more and more from weaker people and groups.  This was visible in much of the voting for Donald Trump.  His backing was concentrated among people who saw their groups as downwardly mobile.  They saw their best hope in getting what they could, while they could, at the expense of other groups.  Fear is abundantly obvious in such cases.  The resulting policies are hardly helpful; taking oneself down to take others down even more—the suicide bombers’ logic—is ruinous in the long run.

            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.  The main generalization is that the more deeply important a social identification is, the more hatred it can mobilize.  Religion so often leads to especially irrational and extreme violence because it is about basic issues.  Yet, far less important matters can cause fighting; even sports team rivalries may lead to war (Anderson and Anderson 2012).

            The range of behaviors goes on to touchiness about “honor,” overattention to negativity, holding people to ridiculous standards, rage, overcontrolling, dominating, domineering, general antagonism, inimical attitude, and finally violence and murder.  Common or universal is an attitude that everyone’s bad traits are what count; their good does not.  People become rigid and judgmental.  Minor slights become cause for murder.  These can be at individual or group levels.  Mass shooters fit the profile: alienated, usually young, males, dealing with threats to personhood or social place by indiscriminate murder-suicide.  Ability to think rationally or morally suffers in proportion.  Ability to enjoy and love suffer too (Bandura 1982, 1986). 

            The common ground here is insecurity leading to irrational levels of harm to the “threatening group” or “the competition.”  The worst and commonest reason is direct threat to one’s personhood.  Following that come desire for wealth, power, control, prestige, status, lifestyle. 

Always, in group hate, there is either a massive devaluing of certain groups or a general defensiveness, and usually both.  The front story is actual evil or good; the mid story is the emotions and feelings that motivate; the real back story is destructive competition versus cooperation.  The ultimate back story is individual defensiveness, weakness, neurosis-psychosis, and other psychic factors.


The basic axioms of authoritarianism are:

Since I’m in power, I’m better than you.

My first need is to keep you under control.

Your differences from me—especially in such basic matters as religion and ethnicity—are bad: threatening, inferior, inappropriate, offensive.

You must be kept weak.

Since raw fear is the easiest and most straightforward way to do this, torture and cruelty are central elements of power and discipline.
But, since those attract resistance, in time they must be softened by an ideology of “good” and “ideals” plus development of a socio-political-economic structure that keeps the weak down. 

The rulers, or would-be rulers, are the Chosen People.  “Progressives” are often as bad in this regard as other bigots.

I’m more powerful than you, so I make the rules.  This holds all the way from “I’m the mom, that’s why” up to the dictator level.

            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 “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 and behaviors 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.  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.  Of course, as Robert Sapolsky points out, “You want to see a kid who’s really likely to be a mess as an adult? Find someone who both bullies and is bullied” (Sapolsky 2017:199).  That probably describes virtually all serious bullies.

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.”  The classic bully is resentful toward the world at large.  He attacks both the weak (“contemptible”) and those in authority; he revels in breaking laws and conventions (Sapolsky 2017:199).  Bullies resent civility; it interferes with their activities, and they brand it as “weakness.”  They resort to lying and “gaslighting” as routine methods of manipulating others, and to insults.  They tend to be violent and unpredictable.

            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—at least all those with a recorded history—do it.  Genocide is bullying writ large.

            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 irresistible, leading to a remark attributed to Henry Kissinger, “power is the best aphrodisiac.” 

            Evil people, from ancient Greek demagogues to Hitler and Trump, 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. 

            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, leaving only those who were either bullies or saw repression as simply a necessary job to do.

            Following, again, Baumeister (1996), Baron-Cohen (2011). Beck (1999) and others, we can identify several subtypes of persons who despise or hate downward.  The widest and most general category is those who simply believe in the necessity of hierarchies and of maintaining those hierarchies through keeping those below firmly in their place (as described by Haidt 2012, and argued, in effect, by Aladair MacIntyre 1984, 1988).  An extreme form is the strongman philosophy that argues for rulers being above the law, or being the law, and often acting outrageously simply to show they have the power; this was the classic attitude of European royalism, and is similar to the politics of modern strongmen.  At the other end of power distribution are the weak and timid souls who desperately try to maintain their position by keeping firmly down anyone that seems to be below them.

            Opposed to these views are two types of philosophy.  First comes abjuring all anger and negative judgment, as advocated by many religions.  The second is directing one’s anger against the powerful, especially the powerful and lawless or harming, as advocated by revolutionaries.  This latter allows anger to be directed upward rather than scapegoated downward in a social hierarchy.  This is not necessarily a good thing, as we know from the sad ending of many revolutions. 

            We have now come to the core of what feeds the wolves.  The bad wolf is fed by fear socially channeled into scapegoating and bullying; by culture and society based on top-down power that is poorly restrained; and by personal grievance and offense coming out in hate and irrational harm.  This may be deployed in the service of greed, sadism, defense, or “honor,” but the basic animal is the same.  The good wolf is fed by the opposite: dealing with problems as rationally and peacefully as possible, in a society where equality and tolerance are values.  This too may be deployed for gain or defense or any other purpose.  The rest of this book will be dedicated to unpacking that simple formula.

            Fear and fight lead to three overarching social vectors: ingroup versus rival group; general level of hostility; and minimizing.  These are called “othering” today, and often considered to be a part of human nature.  This is not correct.  The actual direct causes of evil appear to be cowardice, hostility, and minimizing or infrahumanization.  The first two are overreaction (overemotional reaction) to fear, threat, and hurt, with structural opponentship (not just difference) seen as a threat.  The common ground is seeing people, or some people, as bad or unworthy.  All or some people are to be bulldozed, dominated, or preyed oneven family and friends, let alone real opponents. (On discrimination, see Kteily, Bruneau, et al. 2015; Kteily, Hodson, and Bruneau 2016; Parks and Stone 2010; Rovenpor et al. 2019.) 

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

            Such minimizing 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 involves 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.  Usually, strangers and travelers are welcomed, often very warmly.  My wife and I have traveled the world and almost never run into hostile reactions, nor have our students of all backgrounds and economic situations.  Exceptions are neighboring groups, often traditional rivals for land and resources.  Hostility without much othering—without displacing it to an outgroup—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.         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 fantastically overstated lies: the people they hate are truly evil, subhuman, the sources of all ills.  Thus, to the totally other, evil is done from callousness: coldly planned aggressive war, bureaupathy.  There is then a continuum through “different” members of one’s own society—internal others—to family members.  The closer people are socially, the more hatred is necessary, or at least usual, before harm is done.

            The most clearly established fact is that infants are born with some degree of innate fear of strangers, and the more different those strangers look and act from the parents, the more the fear. Thus, some degree of “othering” on the basis of appearance and voice sound is normal.  On the other hand, infants show acute interest in other people, especially faces, toward which they orient (Tomasello 2019).  They seem innately primed to recognize the more universal emotional expressions: smiles, angry looks, and so on.  Moreover, people differ at birth in how shy they are and how aggressive they are.  These vary independently, apparently. 

Infants react quickly to smiles, reassurance, gentle touch, and other marks of friendship, and react in the opposite way to frightening stimuli like shouts and rapid, dramatic movement.  Infants also look to their parents for signs of how to treat the stranger.  They are extremely reactive to parental moves and voices; the parents may be completely unaware of how strongly they are signaling the infant.

            From birth, people can react along a whole spectrum of ways, from initial fear but quick reassurance and friendliness to initial fear made worse by scary stimuli.  This is rapidly exacerbated by the reactions of parents, siblings, and soon other family members and friends.  Culture enters in right from the start, by conditioning the reactions of all these important people in the infants’ lives.  By three or four, children already know that certain recognizable groups are liked while others are disliked.  They learn gender roles, clothing associations, and other quite complex cultural messages to a striking degree (Tomasello 2016, 2019).  Much of this was learned quite unconsciously, with no one intending to teach, and without the children realizing they were learning.

            This means that any group of people will show a variety of reactions, not notably predictable.  The most predictable thing is that every group will have its structural opponent groups: groups that they feel are competing with them for power, land, jobs, resources, social recognition, political sway, poetry, art motifs, foods, and anything else that people compete about.  The word “rival” literally means “sharer of a river bank” (Latin rivus, riverbank), in recognition of the universality of arguments over water, especially for irrigation; in the western United States, “whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting,” as Mark Twain said.  In the United States, the classic divide has been white vs black, and in much of the US today “race” and “diversity” means, basically, that antagonism.   In Canada, the same “worst structural opponent” attitudes are white vs Native American (First Nations to Canadians). Blacks in the US and Native Americans in Canada are notably overrepresented in “hard case” stories in the media.  (This struck me when I compared Seattle and Vancouver, BC, newspapers in the 1980s.)  Stories of substance abuse, crime, and welfare dependence often feature photographs of them, even where they are a very small percentage of such “hard cases.”

            Going back in history, one recalls the love-hate—mostly hate—relationship of England and France, of France and Germany, of Germany and Poland, of Poland and Russia, and so on forever.  And throughout Europe the Roma are victims of vicious prejudice; they are often the ones in the hard-case stories in the newspapers, even when they are a microscopic percentage of the national population.

            To my knowledge, every culture has prejudices like this.  Moreover, as we all know, different stereotypes go with different groups.  To white racists, blacks are “inferior” and “dumb,” “Mexicans” (by which they generally mean anyone with a Latin American heritage) are “rapists” and “criminals,” and so on.  To many American blacks, all whites are suspect and all or almost all are racist and dangerous.  These views are variously nuanced.  We have probably all encountered racists who hate “blacks” but sincerely like their close friends and neighbors who happen to be black: “He isn’t really a black guy, he’s old Joe.”

            One reason for such self-contradictions is the degree to which “old Joe” conforms to local norms and morals.  A complex field experiment in 28 German cities showed considerable bias against helping hijab-wearing women, but the same woman without the hijab but still obviously a Middle Easterner got about as little hate as a clearly native German woman. Moreover, and more importantly, if the hijab-wearer helped protest littering (by a confederate of the experimenters, of course!), she was helped in turn at the same levels as the non-hijab-wearers (Choi et al. 2019).  The general conclusion is that foreigners who mark their “difference” from the host society are accepted if they mark their “similarity” to the host society by proactive behavior. 

            Typically, individuals who regard a group as low or despicable put up with its members as long as they “keep their place,” but not when they try to assert equality or rights.  Racists who tolerate “old Joe” do not tolerate Al Sharpton.  Misogynists may love their docile wives (in a patronizing way), but hate feminists.  When I worked with fishermen in Hong Kong, I found the same phenomenon: fishermen were regarded as lowly by most of the rest of society, but were tolerated unless they tried to assert full equality.  The psychology seems essentially universal in stratified societies.

            Relations of power notoriously exacerbate hatreds.  This is so extreme, so obvious, and so universal that no one misses it.  Less obvious is the effect of specific kinds of power.  Blacks are notoriously in a particularly bad place in American society because they were enslaved.  “Mexicans,” however, are the structural opponents who are most devalued by South Texas white

racists, because of Texas’ history of breakaway from Mexico and later oppression of Mexican workers.

            Hard times sometimes make hatreds worse, but sometimes draw the country together and thus make hatreds recede somewhat; the Depression gave us Hitler in Germany and the New Deal in the US.  Good times can make hatreds worse, especially if a large percentage of the majority is left behind watching a tiny group get richer and richer, as in the US in the 1920s and since 2016.

            This being the case, it is inevitable that politicians invoke hatreds and usually do everything possible to whip them up and make them worse, the better to “lead” the “people” against the “foe.” 

To foreigners from realms too distant to be actively stereotyped, most people worldwide are welcoming and friendly.  There is a range from incredibly hospitable to quite suspicious and unfriendly.  The former is usually found in stable, secure communities.  The latter response is common in highly ingrown communities like the stereotypic European peasant villages, but also in highly unstable and insecure communities

            A common claim is that religious hatreds are often the worst.  This seems true especially in the monotheistic “Abrahamic” religions, though it is more widespread than monotheism.  In so far as it is true (it seems to be untested), the reason probably is that religion is about the most basic values, hopes, dreams, and beliefs that people have.  (It is not about how the world started!  The world-origin stories are there just to provide some validation.)  In China and historic Central Asia, much less intolerance was observed, because religions were not given such narrow and dogmatic interpretation, and value sets existed independently of faiths.  On the other hand, many of those who are extreme in religious hate are not deeply knowledgeable about their religion (see e.g. Atran 2010 and Traverso 2019 on Islam), and may fight only for meaningless tags instead of content, as Edward Gibbon accused Christians of doing in the war between homoousia and homoiousia.

            A final generalization is that othering relationships and stereotypes change fast.  We have observed immigrant groups to the United States get stereotyped by the media within a few years.  We have observed the rapid demonization of Muslims in the US. 

The common theme of all these matters, and of all evil, is rejection of people simply for being what they are.  In Paul Farmer’s oft-quoted remark, “the idea that some lives matter less is the root cause of all that is wrong with the world.”  (This line is very widely quoted, but I have not found a source citation.) They are condemned simply because they are poor, or Jewish, or female, or black-skinned, or rich, or any of the other things that give hateful people an excuse to dismiss whole categories of humanity.  However, extreme rage and hate are very often deployed against wives, husbands, children, parents, close friends, and other loved ones.  Family violence seems, in fact, to be a strikingly accurate small-scale model of genocide.  Assassination is even farther from Farmer’s general case; it involves targeting people because they are important.  Thus, while usually the targets of evil are downvalued, sometimes they are targets specifically because they are highly valued.

            Othering takes many forms.  One recalls the British stereotypes of “foreigners” and “savages” in the days of the British Empire: French ate frogs and snails and were effeminate, Germans drank beer and were big and dull, Italians were dirty and noisy and smelled of garlic, and so on for every group the British contacted.  American stereotypes of the 20th century were usually similar, though less well defined.  Children’s books reveal these stereotypes most clearly, and were one of the main ways they were learned.  Political cartoons often trade on them to this day.

            The same general rules apply to hate and disregard for other lives—for animals and plants.  Cruelty to animals and destruction of nature are common.  The mindset seems to be the same: either uncontrolled rage at the familiar, or displacement of hate and fear to weak victims, or sheer indifference backed up by social attitudes.  The Cartesian idea that animals are mere “machines” that have no real feelings has justified the most appalling abuses. 

            Summing up, evil occurs in four rough attitudinal clusters:  negative stereotypy; callousness (cold indifference, selfish greed, cold callousness, etc.); anger, rage, and hate, variously directed; and psychopathy-sadism. 

10 Groups and Group Tensions

            A final 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, enforcing conformity serves to make 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.   A further cost is that members of devalued groups lose their sense of autonomy in proportion to the level of devaluing and repression of the group (Kachanoff et al. 2019).  They become less able to help themselves, precisely when they most need to do so. 

Groups cope with foldbreakers by trying to covert them, by ostracizing them, or by learning to live with them (Greenaway and Cruwys 2019), but all too often by killing them (Wrangham 2018).  The group may even break up, if foldbreakers form a large faction (Aalerding et al. 2018; Greenaway and Cruwys 2019).  All groups experience conflict, all have conflict resolution mechanisms (Beals and Siegal 1966), but when mechanisms are ineffective genocide often results.  Intergroup competition makes for solidarity—in fact it is famously the best way to develop that—but intragroup competition is deadly to solidarity, and must be resolved for a group to function, so available methods are sure to be used—even if fatal to minorities.  Intragroup deviants can be hard to spot, which makes them particularly frightening to the more sensitive group members (Greenaway and Cruwys 2019).  Particularly in danger are highly salient groups that seem relatively wealthy or successful to majorities, especially if the majorities feel themselves stressed or downwardly mobile.  Jews in Depression Europe, Tutsi in Rwanda in the difficult 1980s and early 1990s, and any and all educated people in Cambodia in the 1970s serve as clear examples.

The level of sensitivity to intragroup variation varies enormously from person to person, society to society, and culture to culture, something little studied.  Anthropologists have documented intolerance to deviance and consequent occasional breakup of communities among the Pueblo tribes of the southwestern United States, among small southeast European villages, and among Middle Eastern village societies, among others, while high levels of tolerance are documented for some—not all—urban trading and commercial communities.  More confusing still is a pattern, notable among some religious communities, for extreme tolerance of many kinds of behavior but extremely rigid observance of defining traditions of the group.  Intragroup deviance is a matter that needs more theoretical attention. All religions attack the major evils, but people do evil and then claim their religions made them do it.  There are always excuses.  Morality is never enough.  But, with laws, people can create peaceful communities.  Evil is not necessary.  It can be reduced to low levels. 

            Critically important is awareness that there is a continuum from good to evil, and specifically from actual enmity to utterly unprovoked genocide: from treating people with antagonism, as enemies, because they actually are so, to treating them as enemies because they might really be a threat, to treating people as enemies because they seem different and numerous enough to seem a threat to fearful leaders, to treating any different group as a threat simply because its difference is obtrusive or because it is in the way of settlement or “development.”  This tends to correspond very closely with the continuum from courageous fighting against attacking force to increasingly cowardly displacement of aggression to ever weaker targets. 

            People may believe that a currently weak group is secretly powerful, or might become so, and could be a threat.  Preemptive strikes then occur.  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, usually the physically 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 (Anderson and Anderson 2012, 2017). 

11 Self-esteem and “Moral” Evil

            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 commonly 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.  People need some degree of self-esteem and self-regard, so they concentrate on their strong points and minimize others’ lives and endowments.

            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.”  Baumeister 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.  Greed to the point of ripping others off, or crushing them, is not usually profitable in the long run.  It is normally done when society forces people into evil ways of making a living, such as raiding in Viking days or slaving in the 18th century.  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).  Moreover, “greed” is not desire for material goods; it is willingness to get material goods at the expense of other people, harming them in the process.  The same goes for social position, social acceptance, and even desire for power and control.  They are not bad in themselves, because they can be, and often are, used for good.  They become evil and cause harm when they are won at the expense of others.  

            Those triggers do not cause evil in people who are not in a state of hatred, bullying, or overcontrolling others.  In people who have fed the good wolf, desire for material goods is satisfied by working with others for the common good, or at least by healthy competition of the Adam Smith variety; desire for social acceptance and approbation is satisfied by being nice enough to be genuinely liked; desire for power and control is satisfied by being a good leader and administrator.  We all know people who are not particularly nice or pleasant people, but who make good administrators anyway, simply because it is the reasonable thing to do.  People are notoriously sociable, and do not need Immanuel Kant to explain that good social strokes are, in the end, more rewarding for most people than inordinate wealth or power.  We are left no closer to an explanation of why ordinary people without the basic personality factors of a psychopath become genocidal or become slavers.

            Baumeister also points out that much evil is done in the name of good—of idealism.  He is, like Ames and Fiske (2015), far too quick to believe that murderous “good-doers” (from the Inquisition to the Khmer Rouge) believe what they say.  My rather wide experience of those who talk good but do evil is that they are usually, and consciously, hypocrites.  At best, their willingness to do real harm in the name of imaginary good is hardly a recommendation for their morals.  Idealism that involves little beyond torturing people to death hardly deserves the name of idealism.  It is not an explanation for evil; it simply raises the question of why people sometimes think that torturing is idealistic, or that idealism can reduce to murder. 

            On the other hand, idealism that necessarily costs lives but really is for the greater good, like the fight against fascism in WWII, can be genuine.  Similarly, defensive war against invaders is often a good thing.   Of course, idealism can get corrupted fast, as in the French and Russian revolutions.  The boundary between good and evil is the point at which a reasonable person, independently judging the situation, would judge that there is clearly gratuitous harm occurring.  Rationality is hard to achieve in this world, but necessary in this case.  (Influence by Immanuel Kant, esp. 2002, and John Rawls, 1971 and 2001, is obvious here; I am following them on “rationality” in this context, thus avoiding the need to explain it.)

            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). 

            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.          

            Albert Bandura’s book Moral Disengagement (2016) points out that evil is often done for alleged moral reasons (as in religious persecutions), or for openly immoral ones (as when a sadist psychopath kills), but most evil involves some degree of moral disengagement: minimizing, excusing, or justifying what is done.  Bandura covers the individual agency involved in this, and also the way society magnifies that by marshaling euphemisms, blaming others, playing the “you do it too” card, minimizing damage, dehumanizing or partially dehumanizing victims, personally disengaging and becoming callous or escapist, causal displacement, attribution of blame to the victims or to the wider society, and above all justifying one’s behavior by claiming a higher morality.  Bandura covers recent newsworthy events: gun violence and gun culture, terrorism, banking crimes, pollution and environmental damage, capital punishment, and others.  He thus spares us (most of the time) the citing of Hitler that tends to let moderns off the hook. 

            Moral disengagement, victim-blaming, and self-justification are indeed typical of almost all human activities that do harm and of almost all humans that harm others.  The problem with Bandura’s book is that he lumps evil morality (fascist ideology, Communist extremism) with disengagement, which is surely wrong.  Still, Bandura has done an extremely important task in covering with great thoroughness the ancillary mental gymnastics that allow people to harm and kill without much guilt.  Moral disengagement leads to bureaupathy.

            Alan Fiske and Taj Rai (2014) have argued that almost all violence is moral: it is justified by the moral teachings of the society in question.  They point out that violent behavior such as blood revenge, horrific initiation rites, war, raiding, human sacrifice, brutal discipline, and physical punishment have all been considered not only moral but sacred duty in literally thousands of societies around the world.  Steven Pinker (2011) reminds us that revenge killings, duels, killing of one’s own disobedient children, rape and killing of slaves, and many other forms of mayhem were not only accepted but approved in western society—including the United States—well into the 19th century.  Disapproving of such behavior is very recent.  Antiwar sentiments are also recent.  Taking over land by exterminating its occupants was universal, and broadly accepted, until the mid-19th century. 

            Fiske and Rai see societies as displaying relational models.  These come in four kinds, which can all be combined in one society:” communal sharing: unity… authority ranking: hierarchy…equality matching: equality [Rawlsian fairness]… and market pricing: proportionality” (Fiske and Rai 2014:18-21).   There are six “constitutive phases” of moral violence: “creation [of relationships]… conduct, enhancement, modulation, and transformation [again of relationships]….protection; redress and rectification…termination…mourning” (sacrifices, self-mutilation, and the like as mourning rituals) (Fiske and Rai 2014:23-24).  Violence follows the models: a result of group solidarity (usually against other groups) in unity-driven societies; keeping people in their place in hierarchic ones; maintaining equity in egalitarian societies; and “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” in market-driven ones.  Complex societies can be expected to have all four types of relational models operating inside people’s heads and in the cultural spaces, and thus to have violence for all those reasons and more. 

            Genocide, as we have seen, is moralized as necessary to eliminate the loathesome and hated groups within society.  Aggressive war is moralized by a felt need for land and loot—Hitler’s lebensraum, American settlers’ manifest destiny.  Murder is moralized as honor killing, or revenge, or any of many dozen other motives.  Brutal punishment is moralized as necessary to keep people in line and maintain proper behavior. 

            Fiske and Rai deal largely with cultural groups and cultural norms.  Unusual events like genocide are not quite in the picture, though, for example, Europe’s massacres of Jews go back many centuries.  Exceptional murder and violence for gain or from psychopathy or sadism are explicitly exempted from their theory, being immoral even to the perpetrators. 

            The problems with this work are numerous.  First, and most obvious, there is no explanation of where such morals come from, beyond the idea (almost universally agreed) that violence is necessary to maintain any social order at all.  We are left wondering why honor killings, cruel initiation rites, rape, incest, and the like are found in some places and not others.  (As for the rites:  John and Beatrice Whiting showed decades ago that they are found in societies where all children, including boys, are raised almost exclusively by women, and must transition to men’s roles at puberty.  They occur in almost all such societies and in few, if any, others.  See Whiting and Child 1953.) 

            Second, all societies, and especially all those more complex than a hunting-gathering band, have multiple moral alternatives.  One does not have to be a violent barroom brawler in the modern United States, even in the working-class white south (cf. Nisbett and Cohen 1996 on honor and violence in that milieu).  Very few Middle Eastern Muslims become terrorists or suicide bombers, despite western stereotypy.  Intimate partner violence is normal in some societies—19% of world societies, according to Fiske and Rai (2014:160), a strangely precise figure—but is uncommon and a “marked case” in most. 

            Third, Fiske and Rai do not distinguish between genuine cultural rules, individual moral poses, and outrageously lame excuses.  It is certainly a cultural rule almost everywhere to kill attackers who are trying to kill you and your family.  It is a cultural rule in all civilizations that if you are a soldier you must kill enemies when ordered.  It is a rule in all medically competent societies that surgeons can and should commit “violence” to save their patients (as noted by Plato and Aristotle).  It is an individual choice, not a rule, to beat your wife and children, murder your rival, or commit suicide.  Doing such things is sometimes done for deeply held moral reasons (murdering your wife’s lover in many societies) but is usually done for reasons that do not play well in courts of law.

            Political violence often is clearly due to hatred, however cloaked in rhetoric.  Much becomes clear when one listens to playground bullies (the following lines come from my own childhood):  “He was littler than me, so I beat him up.”  “I’m torturing this squirrel to death because it’s a varmint, it ain’t good for nothin’.”  “I hit my little sister to make her shut up.”  Fiske and Rai quote a number of young peoples’ justifications for killing that are no more persuasive, but sounded moral in some sense.  The grown-up forms of such excuses, “all the easy speeches that comfort cruel men” as G. K. Chesterton put it (in the poem “O God of Earth and Altar”), are no less lame for being suave and phrased in proper political language.

            My personal experience with violence—and I have known murderers, pirates, criminals, and other assorted perpetrators—is that almost all violence except obvious self-defense or defense of one’s country and loved ones is justified by excuses, and most of them are as lame as the schoolyard bullies’ offerings.  Reading the genocide literature is particularly revealing.  The actual sins of the Jews, Tutsi, Hutu, urban Cambodians, and so on were trivial or nonexistent.  The hatred was whipped up deliberately for the basest reasons.  The high moral justifications were blatant lies.  How many followers believed them remains unclear.  People usually say after a genocide is over that they conformed out of fear.  They are usually unwilling to admit any further belief in the propaganda, though a surprising number—including men of the calibre of Martin Heidegger and Ezra Pound—stayed faithful to fascism all their lives, and there are similar loyal Maoists in China today.  (On the case of Heidegger, see Pierre Bourdieu’s important work, 1991.)

            We are left with the near-universality of moral justifications for violence, but with a range from genuine, deeply held moral belief through serious but not-very-moral personal grievance down to the skimpiest of fig leaves covering crude hatred, rage, and greed.  Fiske and Rai have done a major service in focusing on these justifications and on the social poses that evoke them.  The claim that such moral arguments actually motivate violence must be evaluated case by case.               

12  Feeding Wolves Over the Life Track

            The roots of evil have a genetic component.  Psychopathy, sociopathy, and aggressiveness seem to run in families.  The fight-flight-freeze response is universal among higher life forms.  In humans, however, 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 and Ellis e.g. 1962, with specifics about evil from Baron-Cohen 2011, Bartlett 2005, Baumeister 1997, Tomasello 2019, and other previously noted sources, tempered by my experience as a parent.  See also Sapolsky 2017:222 for coverage of this material.)  Most bad behavior is done in conformity with one’s immediate social group.  Most humans start out neutral: tending to wind up about half good and half bad, but actually winding up according to how they were trained. This, of course, is the real message of our two-wolves story.

            There is a 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 more directly injure brain tissue.  One common result of such trauma 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 matters, 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.  (See, again, Beck 1999; Bandura 1982.) 

            However, humans are tough.  They can adapt to terrible conditions, at least if they have support.  Werner and Smith (1982, 2001) studied children growing up resilient or otherwise.  They found that about ¾ of children raised in poverty and rough surroundings in rural Kaua’i in the mid-20th century did perfectly well.  These were the ones who had strong, reliable families.  Half the rest were redeemed by institutions—good schools, the military, and the like.  The final fourth were products of broken homes, and usually of abuse and neglect.  Abuse teaches children to abuse, and neglect teaches them to neglect.  Those children lived rough lives. 

            Resilience comes at a cost. Further studies have confirmed Werner and Smith’s findings about effective prevention, but have found that such resilience is accompanied by emotional fragility, physical stresses of all sorts including cardiovascular problems and metabolic syndromes, and sometimes a failure of resilience in key areas.  All are proportional to the difficulty of coping with the stresses in question.  Interventions are now able to help, but no one gets away unscathed from a harsh background (Hostinar and Miller 2019; see also Reynolds et al. 2019).

Infants have several states, including sleep and rest; fretting and whining; temper tantrums; and dependent loving and caring, combined with an exploratory interest in the world.  Adults break the fretting state into whining and complaining.  The temper-tantrum state develops into fear, anger, and hate.  Empowerment is always needed in education.

Infants start by feeling generalized discomfort when scared, wet, cold, hungry, or otherwise needy.  They cry for what they want.  Failing in that, they can bear it or become frustrated.  Over the first two years of life, frustration turns to anger.  Good parents teach children to bear when needs cannot immediately be met; bad parents punish the child for whining.  Young children quite normally throw temper tantrums if they are tired, frustrated, uncomfortable, scared, or in need of affection or a sense of control.  Ignored, these taper off; punished, they turn to lifetime anger.  This turns to hate if the child learns to hate from parents and peers.  Meanwhile, better-raised children learn to help, share, and be sociable. 

Adults usually acts from fear of losing social place, but the babyish causes—fatigue, discomfort, and the rest—still operate.  On the other hand, children learn to reason, to think things through, to obey, to be considerate, and to conform (for good or ill) at the same time they learn to throw temper tantrums (Tomasello 2019).   Security, especially security within a supportive circle of family, is the child’s greatest social need.  Children denied acceptance or other social validation lose security and become fearful, often acting out fear through anger.

            A human child with poor parenting may overcompensate, using learned but ineffective coping mechanisms to deal with weakness and fear, because of failure to learn other (and more appropriate) coping mechanisms.  Since humans are supremely social animals, the child learns to fear isolation, abandonment, hate, scorn.  Physical fears become less important; in fact, they are easily handled by a child or adult who feels that her social group “has her back.”

            Abusive childrearing produces adults who make up for felt deficiencies by using what they do have to bully others.  The unintelligent but physically strong schoolyard bullies beat up “smart kids” as a way of using what they have—strength to deal with ego threats caused by what they lacked.  The converse is the intellectual arrogance of many a physically less-than-perfect academic.  Weak fear due to failure to learn good coping mechanisms leads to abject conformity, especially conformity to ego-reinforcing notions like the superiority of “my” group to “yours.”  White supremacists are often those who fear or know that they have nothing else to feel supreme about.  Children, especially if female, may be 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.) 

            In short, 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.  We use our strengths to defend—often to overdefend, and often to deflect our hostility downward, to those weaker than we are.  Caring for others is innate, but must be developed, and ways to be caring and considerate must be taught (see esp. Tomasello 2019)All cultures have rules about this, and all cultures have alternatives, including “nice” ones for everyday and less nice ones for dealing with actual threats and enemies.  The capacity to harm is also innate, and can be developed; harsh, unpredictable, gratuitously cruel environments bring it out.  Children as adults pay it forward: they often treat others the way they were treated as children.  This tends to be a default option.

            Learning when to use the appropriate coping mechanism is thus crucial.  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. 

            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.  Few things feed the bad wolf better than deliberately weakening a child by telling her she can’t cope.  The resulting frustration and weakening turn into aggression eventually.  Widespread rejection follows, leading to still more anger. 

            Being raised by one highly critical parent and another parent who retreats and becomes passive is one common formula for producing a scared and defensive child.  Weakness and hypercritical judgment very often go together, either in the same parent or in a couple; perhaps hypercritical people attract weak spouses.  These couples can raise children who are hypersensitive and defensive, feeling that even the tiniest slight is a total attack on their personhood.  By contrast, if both parents are punitive but reasonably strong as persons, the child usually turns out well enough, but can become a bully; if both mild and gentle, the child becomes well-adjusted but often frail in the face of the world’s harshness.  Firm, but accommodating and open about communicating, seems to be the ideal parenting stance, but research is ongoing.

             A critically important point made by the psychologists is that a typical young child comes to depend especially on one specific immature defense mechanism, which then becomes the most stubborn and intractable problem in adulthood—the one thing most resistant to psychotherapy and life experience, and the one hardest to bring to full consciousness and self-awareness.  The bigot’s hatred and overreaction to threat are often the products of such deeply entrenched immature mechanisms.  Psychologists also find that it is challenges to precisely the most relied-on defense mechanism that bring out the greatest fear, anger, and reactive defensiveness in people.  If your favorite coping mechanism is racism, for instance, you will be more defensive about your racism than about other defenses.  Risk factors include a Manichaean worldview, and the idea that hierarchy is automatically appropriate and top-down control necessary.  In short, in ordinary life, much of the problem is that the default is always to stay with early-learned responses instead of self-improving, and with initial support groups instead of expanding one’s field to all humanity (on the above matters, the classic works of Ellis 1962 and Maslow 1970 remain useful).

            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 empowerment: 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.)  Self-confidence and self-control, in particular, are the basic necessities to manage the weakness, insecurity, and anger that we have seen to be basic in hyperdefensive and scapegoating reactions.

            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.

Growing up with adult authority makes people tend to defer, adulate, and obey upwards in the age and status hierarchy.  This tends to cause them to displace hate downward, scapegoating the younger and weaker.  Abusive, erratic, cruel raising leads to adulating strongmen; usual parent-dominant tradional upbringing leads to conservatives.  Good parenting leads to children who develop into adults who can treat others as equals, and who are self-respecting and self-reliant. 

            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; it worked, in its way, for the time.  Unsupportive and undirecting yet gentle is more or less the classic “spoiling.”  Unsupportive and harsh is the abusive parenting that produces brutes. 

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 and sharing, then to basic principles.  The simplest virtues are carefulness, civility, mutual aid, sociability, considerateness, and generosity.  Then they can move on to more abstract virtues. Teenage angst and misbehavior can be cured or alleviated 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.  The result is that raising a child to be caring and sociable, but also to bear stoically the discomforts of life, feeds into a sense of justice, fairness, compassion, and social decency.  The family creates the basic psychodynamics.  The peer group provides the ways to express those—whether through bullying, random violence, and cruelty or through mutual help, support, and kindness (J. R. Harris 1998). 

            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.  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. 

13 Learning and Hating

Working back from a given violent act, we see it is grounded in anger, hatred, or callous doing-the-job.  The wellsprings are, most often, desires for material gain, or power and control, or social acceptance and respect, or desire to protect these, or—perhaps above all-desire to protect one’s group and self.  Sheer desire to kill can be a factor, in psychopaths and similar damaged persons.  Social pressures are extremely important and often determinant.  Cultural biases and cultural models of coping are also often determinant.  Factors exacerbating the situation can include anything from economic hard times to unsettled and chaotic social periods to ordinary irritants like hot days, smog, and confinement; these are outside our scope here.  Lest this all sound dauntingly complex, note that most evil can be explained by desire for goods, control, and respect, combined with unnecessarily harmful and hateful coping mechanisms taught by society or incorporated in cultural models.  The ramifications and manifestations of these are complex, but the basic framework is not inordinately so.

            One social and cultural force is pressure on young men to prove themselves by acts of social daring or self-sacrifice.  In warlike or violent societies, and sometimes even in peaceful ones, young men are under extreme pressure to be soldiers, fighters, or just “bad dudes.”  Young men are high in aggression and testosterone with or without cultural pressure, but they are peaceful enough in peaceful societies; their activity is used in work, or sports, or community service, or studying.  But in warrior societies it becomes “toxic masculinity.”

            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.)

            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 development.  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.  As long as human childrearing is imperfect, leading to weak but resentful children and adults, evil leaders will take advantage of that weakness and resentment.  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.

Part III.  A Bit of History

  1. Social evolution over time

All societies 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, despite long declines like that of the Roman Empire.  Human groups in ancient times were generally patriarchal lineages with in-marrying women.  These developed into the vast fictive-ancestor lineages of nomad and mobile people from the Mongols to the Scots.  Much later, sedentary agriculture led to more association based on place, eventually leading to the nation-state.  It also led to many societies becoming matrilineal, with much more power to women, and often with the men doing the marrying-in. 

Over the last 50,000 years, there has been progress in science, arts, lifespan, food production, and other areas.  Complex large societies arose; they needed markets and government as well as norms—markets and political structures supplement norms in organizing at huge scales (here and below, see e.g. Christian 2004; McNeill and McNeill 2003; Morris 2010; Turchin 2006, 2016). 

Unfortunately, there has also been advance in the technology and practice of war, cruelty, and repression.  War is somewhat less common than it was in early civilizations (Pinker 2011), but bloodier and more technologically sophisticated.  Many technological advances were developed for war, and only later applied to civilian use.  More effort and money have gone into war than into almost any other sector of social action.  Violent death rates were always high (Wrangham 2018:238), ranging from less than 1 per thousand in peaceful modern societies to as many as 200 or more in some highly stressed tribes.  Wars and murders seem to have become less frequent (Pinker 2011; Wrangham 2018), but wars are far vaster in scope, and genocide has appeared as a major cause of death.  Evil leaders can appeal to group hate in a way not easily managed (though not unknown) in ancient societies. 

Also increasing is the extent and inequality of hierarchic social relations.  For countless millennia, people lived in small bands with little differentiation except by age and gender (Boehm 1999).  With the rise of complex societies came the rise of more and more unequal social relations, climaxing in the kings and emperors of old and the heads of state and CEOs of today.  This causes rapidly increasing competition for scarce positions of power, and more and more defensiveness on the part of those who gain such positions.

In agrarian societies, resentment and antagonism is directed against bandits and barbarians, as well as coups and religious deviants.  Early trade and commerce led to mercantilism and then freedom and democracy as the alternative, so the hopeful revolutions.  Early but full industrialization produced socialism and communism.  Later industrialization produced fascism, because elites were entrenched and powerful and good at oppressing and at divide-and-rule.  Resource squeezes made everyone worse off and less hopeful, thus easily turned to hate.

It thus becomes clear that hatred is a natural human response, but is socially engaged, manipulated, and deployed by the powerful to advance their own interests.  The most obvious case is war for gain—predatory invasion of the weak by the strong.  From the Assyrians to the European settlers of the Americas, and from the “barbarians” sacking Rome to the wars over oil in Africa in the 1980s and 1990s, loot has been the driver of war.  However, it is not the only one.  Family politics, religious hatred, and even minor slights can push a tense situation into outright war.  In the modern world, where genocide and civil war are commoner than international war, it is most often the giant primary-production interests that mobilize hate and decide who shall be the victims.  They usually go after local weaker minorities, but anyone can be fair game.  On the other hand, class hate, dimly related to Marxism, may be the driver, as in Venezuela today.  The point is that hate does not exist in a vacuum.  It is deliberately manipulated and targeted by the powerful

Warfare in premodern times took place between rival claimants to the throne (often different branches of the royal lineage), between rival states and empires, between rival ethnic groups, and between religious factions.  In Europe, for instance, we see a progression from warring tribes to city-states to the Roman Empire with its frontier generals and barbarians.  After the fall of Rome, rival nobles assembled loyal knights and dragooned peasants into being arrow fodder.  Then the wars of religion dominated until the Treaty of Westphalia substituted nation-states for religious factions, and war became a battle of nations rather than of faiths.  Meanwhile, racism and ethnic hatred became dominant.  The wars of empires and nations at least call forth courage and self-sacrifice; ethnic, religious, and class hatred seem largely mean spite.

Playing over this goes the more general tendency of humans to be too tightly social, leading to group hate, or too individual, leading to selfish greed and corruption—Kant’s principles of aggregation and differentiation applying to public morality.  We can see that the racism and religious bigotry paralyzing America today are merely the latest in an endless sequence of powerful, evil people taking or maintaining power, control, and wealth by marshaling their troops through antagonism and hate.

            Religious hate grew out of identification of religion with rival powers, and then crushing the conquered people, and thus hating and repressing their religion.  Conquered Persian dualists, Jews, and then Christians were harassed in Roman Empire times.  After Constantine, Christians crushed non-Christians and “heretics.”  Racism as a visible, significant force (beyond simple ethnic prejudice) began by the late Roman Empire, but was not serious until the 16th Century, with the conquest of the Americas and much of Africa.  The expansion of the slave trade drove racism to a high point in and after the 18th century. 

            Haves vs have-nots is a permanent opposition in society, as Marx pointed out, but real classes arose only with fully developed ancient civilizations, and did not get serious till highly developed empires appeared.  In China, hate was mobilized along kinship (especially within imperial families), political sectors, and to a lesser extent region and ethnicity.  Improvement in rationalizing bureaucracy, terror, and surveillance help explain the increase in longevity of Chinese dynasties, notably the success of Ming and Qing against all odds.  It is increasingly difficult to expect revolution to succeed.  Eventually, the elites will turn on each other.  If they are evil leaders, since they are amoral and only hate and greed hold them together; they betray each other the minute they can.  This happened repeatedly in historic times (Ibn Khaldun 1958).

            Traditional societies rarely committed genocide in the modern sense.  Tyrants killed political rivals and their families.  Wars were total, with civilians not excepted.  But wiping out whole groups of non-offensive subjects of one’s own government was not common, except in cases of religious crusades against “heretics.”  Typically, a dynastic cycle ended when the rulers had grown so weak and corrupt that no one could put up with them any longer, at which point a general or invader or popular leader would mobilize popular discontent and bring down the regime.  This happened over and over in Europe, west Asia, China, and elsewhere, and is well understood (Anderson 2019; Ibn Khaldun 1958). 

            Actual genocides were rarer, and generally confined to religion.  They tended to occur when forces of modernity directly challenged the landlords and rentiers of the old order. Not only did a new economy threaten them; new ideologies and sciences challenged their whole self-justifying worldview.  Genocide, based on hate and fear, is thus quite different from (even though it may grade into) normal warfare and dynastic cycling.  Those latter phenomena are based on rivalry, especially for power, also for land and loot.  They always include hate of the enemy, but not usually hate of one’s own weaker groups.  Indeed, they may unite the whole polity against the common foe.

            Large-scale killers were often highly selective about their massacres.  The Mongols and other Central Asian conquerors were famously indifferent to religion, and even ethnicity (at least outside their own); they were equal-opportunity massacrists.  The Americans of the 19th century committed genocide against Native Americans and repressed African-Americans, but were fiercely independent otherwise; the Cossacks of old Russia were similar, hating minorities while triumphing in indepencence.  Today, independence is neither so desired nor so possible.  Voters motivated by hatred vote for strongmen, and put themselves under a yoke of tyranny, from the Philippines and India to the United States and Brazil.  This deadly mix has appeared before in times of rapid change.

The late Roman Empire saw violent repression, first of and then by Christians. Later, Europe, challenged by aggressive spread of trade, commerce, and new scientific knowledge from the Islamic world, resorted to the Crusades and persecution of heretics in the 12th and 13th centuries.  Spain’s Reconquista descended into genocide after the final conquest of the Muslims in 1492.  Then Europe’s own progress and religious ferment challenged old regimes in the 16th and 17th centuries, leading to vast religious wars that involved genocidal murder of opposing religious communities (including the Irish Catholics in Ireland).  In the 19th century, following the Industrial Revolution and its political revolutions, the forces of modernity rolled into eastern Europe, where the result was anti-Jewish pogroms and Tsar Nicholas II’s persecution of serfs and minorities, and into China, where rebellions ensued and the Qing Dynasty met these with reactionary measures.  In the early 20th century, new ideas, arts, and sciences challenged primary production, leading—among other things—to fascism.

These periods elevated tyrants such as Philip the Fair, Ferdinand and Isabela,Oliver Cromwell, and Empress Cixi.  They represented landlords and other rentier elites against the forces of change.  As in later centuries, such negative leaders were often marginal persons: individuals coming from remote regions, and often subjected to poverty and hardship when young.  Genghis Khan, Zhu Yuanzhang (the leader who drove the Mongols from China), and several Roman emperors fit this pattern.

Following Adam Smith (1910/1776) and other political economists, and oversimplifying them somewhat for convenience, we find that improvements on this warlike pattern developed in expanding economies, especially those dominated by the trade, commerce, and human resources sector of the economy.  That sector must invest in people to survive; it depends on skilled workers and innovation.  Economies dominated by rentier primary production—plantation agriculture, mining, fossil fuels, and the like—are regressive, and often repressive.  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. 

Between enlightened traders and reactionary plantation owners are the majority of people—the ordinary workers and businesspersons who have to make a living today.  They are thus more concerned with whether the immediate economy is going up or down than with vast forces of Progress or Return to the Old Days.  Especially if they are in business, they default conservative, but can shift rapidly and easily rightward or leftward.

Class is also, famously, a relevant factor; it has diminished from great importance in the mid-20th century in American voting to near irrelevance now, with almost equal shares of rich, middling, and poor voting Democrat or Republican.  This has tracked the rise of social issues such as racism and medical care at the expense of concern for immediate economic returns.

In many traditional societies, “honor” and distinction came from killing and looting, not from honest work or trade.  Not only warlike but even quite peaceful agrarian societies shared this attitude.  Fighting was honorable, compromising and peacemaking dishonorable.  

One can predict with considerable accuracy the amount of evil in society by assessing the amount of rentier or primary-production-firm dominance of the political economy and the level of warlikeness of the culture.  Within equally agrarian societies, Afghanistan, rampant with landlordism and steeped in a heritage of violence already noted by Alexander the Great, compares with more peaceable Bhutan.  The other dimension—from agrarian to late-industrial—is seen in the conversion of formerly warlike societies to currently peaceful ones.  The Vikings, ruled by landholding and slaveholding earls, contrast with their peaceable descendants in modern Scandinavia’s world of trade, commerce, and education.

The ancient Greeks saw a cycle: democracy gave way to autocracy (monarchy or oligarchy), which gave way to tyranny, which collapsed and left the way open for democracy.  This proved less than predictive, but cycles from relatively open to relatively totalitarian societies and back do appear in many historical records (Ibn Khaldun 1958).

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 production.  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. 

            Critical to progress were several steps, mostly taken in Europe or China.  One was rapid discovery science, foreseen by the ancient Greeks, then developing between 1100 and 1600 in Europe.  Rationalized property rights and freer markets followed, for better or worse, in the 17th century.  The Enlightenment then emphasized law and recourse, with ideals of free speech, press, religion, assembly, and conscience.  (It is not mere coincidence that this took place at the same time as the explosion of slavery.)  Equality before the law for full citizens, and expansion of the citizen concept, came a bit later in the 18th century.  The logic led to a rapidly growing movement to end slavery, beginning in the mid-18th century and continuing till slavery was legally ended, though not ended de facto, in the late 19th.

The Enlightenment succeeded not just because of the rise of trade, commerce, and science.  Another key was the development of world trade too fast for any nation-state to control it.  Opportunity exploded, and traders managed it themselves, through international networks.  They had to deal, without government supervision, with people of very different cultures, faiths, and technologies.  This was one breeding ground of concepts of liberty, self-governance, tolerance, freedom of conscience, and personal responsibility.  One can compare the rapid rise of enlightenment in multinational Europe with its relative failure in East Asia during the centuries when the Qing Dynasty imposed its crushing weight on the East Asian world-system.

The Enlightenment did not invent the rule of law or welfare-oriented governments; Europe and China already had those.  What the Enlightenment brought were science and participatory democracy coupled with the ideal of freedom of conscience.

Another milestone was free public education, an idea from the early 19th century.  Through all of this, popular demand by people rising in society but left out by the elites was the usual cause.  It was always a fight: entrenched interests always opposed good changes, and religious elites were often the worst.  When self-interest combined with needs for fairness and equality, progress occurred.  The more normal human tendency to weather down and adapt to the system was always used by the elites to repress the masses.  So were hatreds of all kinds, as we have seen.

2 American Ideas

The Founding Fathers worked with a strong sense that we are all in this together and that my rights stop where yours start, sometimes 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 stopped.  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 while taking their land.  It failed again in the Reconstruction by not enforcing full civil rights, and by letting the carpet-baggers 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.  This is not a helpful approach.  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 United States was formerly rather moderate in this regard, but negative-sum thinking has increased. Reform in US history has been strongly cyclic. 

The course is highly consistent.  A few idealists will see a problem and a solution.  If they are right, and if the problem gets worse, more and more people will be attracted to the cause, until a majority is on board and can prevail.  This happened with the Enlightenment values that drove the Revolution and the US Constitution.  The next major crisis was slavery: anti-slavery was early dismissed as crackpot, but with the progressive damage to the whole US economy by plantation agriculture with enslaved workers, anti-slavery prevailed (through war).  Next came the mounting criticism of deforestation and wildlife loss in the late 19th century, climaxing in Theodore Roosevelt’s environmental reforms.  The next crisis was the Depression, which led to massive economic reforms.  Then came environmental and food production crises in the 1960s, dealt with (inadequately) by laws in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Visionaries are always proposing new reforms, but these are picked up by the majority only if they are immediately practical ways of addressing real and worsening problems.  On the other hand, the opportunity allows the visionaries to pass many measures that the majority would probably not support otherwise.  The Bill of Rights, for instance, was added to the Constitution by Enlightenment visionaries; the Bill probably went beyond what the majority wanted at the time. 

All the crises after independence were caused by the reactionary behavior of the plantation and big-resource-firm sector.  Slavery at its worst led to the Civil War; suicidal levels of environmental destruction led to massive reform campaigns in 1890-1910 and 1955-1975; cutthroat speculative and rentier capitalism led to the Depression and resulting New Deal.

3  Progressive Erosion of Old Society

            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 (this and what follows is largely common knowledge, but otherwise follows Anderson 2010; Anderson and Anderson 2012, 2017; Putnam 2000; Turchin 2016; Snyder 2018).

            As folk society and traditional elite society collapsed with the decline of local communities and the rise of mass society (Putnam 2000), people became more and more dependent on giant corporations to integrate their worlds.  Politics became less and less public and more corporate.  A worldwide shift from lateral and community-wide association to top-down hierarchies, separate or competing, appeared.

            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 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 more than with economic issues.  This has led to nothing but hatred, largely Republican racism and religious bigotry, but also some real reverse racism on the left.  Serious discussion of economic issues is increasingly contaminated or lost in a welter of mutual accusations.

            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.  The old-time world of folk, elite, and town forced people to work hard, cooperate, and toughen up.  Now, life is easy but frustrating, especially for those who aren’t succeeding.  Bereft of the support of old-time communities and the opportunity to work with different types of people, humans become alienated, weak, and hence cowardly.  This leads to fascism.

            In traditional agrarian society, life was short and usually ended violently.  People tended to escape into religion.  They also had songs and folk literature to teach them that individuals mattered—that life and death need not be in vain.  Now, few are in that position, so political action is commoner.  In small-scale societies, religion was about spirit power, since controlling the uncontrollable was desirable and any control of anything helped.  Now, fear and overoptimism are the problems.  So, pragmatic proactive help become the main alternative to giving up.

            The decline of that world also led to the decline of folk and traditional culture after 1950, and then to the dominance of popular culture and passive consumption.  Arts deteriorated.  Great literature made people confront tragedy, intense emotion, and social and personal complexity; it became less and less appreciated.  The burgeoning interest in nonwestern cultures that taught people tolerance and mutual appreciation in the 1960s and 1970s waned, leading to increasingly dispiriting identity politics after 2000. 

            Perhaps most interesting has been the disappearance of the self-improvement agenda.  The humanistic psychology and personal development movements of the 1960s-1970s collapsed and left little trace, outside of improvement in counseling practices.  They succumbed to a backlash by people who relied on thinking they were tough, and often on outright bullying, to maintain their self-image.  Weak and defensive individuals were threatened by the whole notion of self-improvement.  They attacked it with a vengeance. 

            The arts succumbed to dominance by giant “entertainment” corporations.  They became dominated by faddism, conformity with the widest number, enjoyment as simply watching TV and playing video games.  The Depression and WWII led to a lullaby culture, the soothing and mindless pop culture of the early 1950s.  That gave way to a range of developments, from rich and complex to trivial, but ultimately mass culture settled on “action” movies, video games, and other superficiality.  Much of ordinary life settled on the least emotionally and cognitively involving forms: mindless music, wallpaper art, fast food.

            Political organization peaked in the 1930s and again in the 1960s with the civil rights and antiwar movements; solidarity, voter drives, demonstrations, teach-ins, and other forms of resistance thinned out.  Utopian experiments such as communes had a silly side, but they at least expressed hope; they are few and far between now. Only the Great Depression and WWII solidified people around progress toward the good.  The 60s got most people motivated, but not enough. 

            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.  The same rise of giant corporations led to the discovery, first in the plantation sector and then in the fossil fuel world, that political power came from a mix of lobbying and whipping up hatred to get right-wing votes.  This 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’s book Bowling Alone (2000) used their decline as a marker of the widespread decline of civic and civil culture in America.  With folk and community cultures dead and ideas of artistic quality gone, people collapse into a mass—Tocquevillian “subjects” as opposed to “citizens,” as Putnam puts it.

            The result is a pattern in which environmentalism, concern for fine arts, liberal politics, and community all decline.  Real wages and returns to labor decline.  Deaths of despair—suicide, drug overdoses, and the like—increase.  Conversely, even in recent years, science progresses; medical treatment improves, but not access to it; comforts of ordinary life continue to increase.

            Sexual mores and other Old Testament values relaxed as old-time farming and rural folk society disappeared.  This has certainly had its good sides, but also has led to a constant renegotiation of norms, not an easy task.

            In short, the traditional world of rural and small-town America, of Christian churches and local folksingers, of factories and workshops, is gone or fading.  Its economic underpinnings are dissolving, as hi-tech and smart machines replace workers and farming becomes concentrated in a few corporate hands.  It had its wonderful side, but also a very dark side.  The worst features of it—racism, religious bigotry, class oppression, and gender biases—are still very much with us.  Increasingly, older and less educated whites take refuge in those pathologies of the older world.  So do ordinary suburban older whites, who see their privileges challenged by upwardly mobile minorities. 

            All this would be manageable if the hatred were not used by the giant but downward-bound productive interests, especially the fossil fuel corporations.  They have funded much of the hatred and anti-science activity of the last few decades. 

            The Republican party has been captured completely by these corporations, and has become a vehicle for subsidizing big oil, big coal, big agribusiness, the military procurement and arms industry, and their allies.  It has thus become a party of white supremacy and military right-wing Christian religious agitation.  The Democrats have moved from the party of the working class into a position as the party of relatively upwardly-mobile groups: minorities, women, urban young people, the education and health establishments, and to some extent the hi-tech world.

            This new party alignment gives the Republicans a perfect platform to mobilize the weak defensiveness considered above.  Everyone, progressive or regressive, has some weak defensiveness within, if only because we all start as babies and never quite get over it.  We never take full control of our lives and eliminate all babyish crumbling in the face of out-of-control reality.  The Republicans, however, are placed to take advantage of it, via scapegoating and repression.  The Democrats only lose by it.  Weak defensiveness takes the form of lashing out at “whites” and “males,” censoring right-wing speech, and otherwise playing into Republican hands.  Democrats will have to be the party of self-control or they will lose all.

4  Decline from 2000, collapse from 2016

            The real key to what happened next was the rise of corporations that live by out-of-date production processes and by deliberately harming humans and the environiment:  big oil, big coal, toxic chemicals, munitions and “defense,” and the shady sectors of finance and gambling.  These are the home industries of the funders and leaders of the political right.  The core has been the linkage of big oil and the munitions-arms-military procurement industries.  They support each other.  They naturally attract those rich from gambling, shady finance, private prisons, the mafia, and similar interests.  They naturally defend themselves.  They have defined themselves into a state of war with the American people.  They flourish only by polluting, selling guns, resisting clean power, digging up mountains, and generally damaging the public interest.

Leaders in the United States include the great oil barons such as the Kochs, who funded global warming denial as well as the Tea Party, ALEC, and other Republican agendas (see e.g. Abrams 2015; Auzanneau 2018; Cahill 2017; Folley 2019; Hope 2019; Klein 2007, 2014; Mayer 2016; Nesbit 2016; many of these sources detail the enormous sums paid to congresspersons for special favors).  Even more extreme are the Mercers, who fund the major white supremacist and far-right hatred organizations and media (Gertz 2017; Silverstein 2017; Timmons 2018), and the Princes, including Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.  These and their allies are the people who have most to gain from a government that lives by war and repression.  They are also the most heavily dependent industries on federal subsidies, contracts, sweetheart deals, loopholes, giveaways, and failure to enforce laws.  They are also the most in danger from a government that cares about people. 

Big oil, in particular, would be uneconomic without government support, because the costs of cleaning up pollution and dealing with damages would be insupportable (see Oil Change International 2017).  The CEOs would be in danger of prison time for their shady lobbying and deliberate release of pollution.  These industries that invest heavily in lobbying and campaigns.  Their fears and defensiveness are thoroughly understandable.  Fossil fuels receive over $649 billion in federal subsidies every year (Ellsmoor 2019; figures from International Monetary Fund), and plow a good deal of that back into the system via political donations, effectively bribing legislators to provide even more subsidies.  A vicious spiral is created.  They create another vicious spiral by investing much of the money in anti-science propaganda, from racism to global warming denial, and in whipping up hatreds.  They have been able to divide the voters and eliminate the chance of unity against the common threat that fossil fuels present.  Big Oil, and especially the Koch brothers, have spread their tentacles throughout the world.  Najib Ahmed, writing in Le Monde diplomatique, shows how “US climate deniers are working with far-right racists to hijack Brexit for Big Oil,” which “exemplifies how this European nexus of climate science denialism and white supremacism is being weaponized by US fossil fuel giants with leverage over Trump’s government” (Ahmed 2019).

            With this went an explosive increase in rent-seeking, quick money games, and financial shenanigans, leading to monumental inefficiency in the economy (Mazzucato 2018).  Corruption in government has greatly added to this.  The situation in which everyone is out for what they can get, at the expense of the system, is characteristic of the end phases of political cycles.

            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.  They were also pro-environment, an attitude totally reversed now (as extensively documented by Turner and Isenberg 2018). The current “conservatives” favor big government interfering continually in people’s private lives (in sex, drugs, religion, media, 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, one may allow the record to speak.

            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 that progressives and liberals feared over the last 50 years came together in a perfect storm in the Trump administration: attacks on democracy, freedom, equality before the law, the environment, science, minorities, the press, the poor, the workers.  One main driver has been the rise of inequality—especially the rise in power and wealth of the rich.  The rich are literally above the law; it is almost impossible to convict them of anything, given their ability to pay lawyers and bribe politicians.  Nazism and fascism have 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.  There is no question that Trump is directly copying Hitler; Burt Neuborne has listed eleven pages of close, highly specific similarities (Neuborne 2019:22-33).  Trump kept Hitler’s speeches by his bed for years (Neuborne 2019:20), and sometimes uses Hitler’s literal words. The Big Lie and other fascist methods of rule and control are manifestations of weak fear and take advantage of it.  Since 2016 they have become the government. Nor is the United States unique; this is a worldwide movement (Luce 2017; Snyder 2018).

            The worst of that process is that it allows truly evil people, who are often motivated by extreme greed and hate, to get ahead.  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.  Since they are ruthless and not restrained by morals, they outcompete others easily, and then become more and more lawless and thus more competitively successful.  When they get power, they use it vindictively.  They do not merely increase their wealth; they attack the rest of us.  True Trump supporters channel all their fear, frustration, resentment, anger, and spite against the less fortunate.  The segment of the left that is racist and sexist (hating whites and males) differ only in that they are secure and privileged enough to hate up, not down. Democrats should realize that the right wing now represents only the reactionary fraction of the super-rich.  They do not want economic growth; it would lessen their control by making their industries more and more obsolete.  They want a decline from which they can benefit.

            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 “Southern Strategy” of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove was perfectly timed to take advantage of this.  The situation appears to be comparable in other countries.  The ties to giant-corporate primary production are clear.  Extreme hierarchy of power and wealth, and economic and social stagnation, are endemic to such systems. 

Much of this is direct, face-to-face politics.  Investigative journalism (e.g. Mayer 2016; Rich 2018) reveals that Trump was tied directly to McCarthy’s right-hand man, Roy Cohn; that the Koch brothers started the Tea Party and other right-wing organizations; that all these are directly connected by personal ties, and are also tied to powerful Democrats.  The extent of actual friendship and mentorship on the far right is far too little studied and appreciated.  This is not “conspiracy”; it’s long-standing networks of friendship, political aid, mentorship, and power-sharing, going directly back to the pro-Hitler activists of the 1930s via such ties as the Koch and Coors family interests.

The political conversion of the border south, Idaho, Montana, and the Dakotas from “blue” to “red” between 1970 and 2016 came with the decline of labor unions and small farms and the rise of giant primary-production firms in those states.  It was directly precipitated by a steady stream of right-wing propaganda telling people that their problems were not due to economic unfairness or mismanagement but to minorities.  This led to a massive flip, especially in 2016, from voting self-interest to voting hate.  Many seem to have become convinced that the minorities rather than the system (or the rich) were the source of their problems; others thought there was no hope except to keep the minorities down; but surveys and comparisons reveal and many or most simply voted because hysterical hatred had been whipped up against particular groups and persons.  People who had been feeding the good wolf were feeding the bad one.

One must go back to Hitler and Stalin to find anything comparable in terms of the sheer number of groups attacked by the Republicans in the 2016 and 2018 campaigns.  It results in 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. 

Trump voting has been analyzed by Bob Azarian in Psychology Today (2019).  He sees, among other things, immediate concerns over morality; sheer fear, conservatives being relatively fearful; overestimating of expertise by voters; authoritarian personality; Trump’s ability to engage people as celebrities do; and, of course, racism and bigotry.  One can add a real fear of immigrants and Muslims, due to exaggeration and lies by Republicans, and a real fear of change and process, especially among less educated white males, who see themselves threatened by the rise of other groups.  Immigrants, who tend to be highly motivated and enterprising, do present a threat to such persons.  So do upwardly-mobile women and minorities freed from open discrimination in hiring.  So does the steady decline in community and folk society in the rural United States.  The Trump voters have their reasons to want to stop and reverse progress.  Diana Mutz (2018) reports similar findings; perceived threat to economic and social position dominated Trump voting.

            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 corruption.  Clearly, American democracy and freedom are doomed unless Americans unite to save their best traditions (see Klaas 2017).

            The United States saw regime change in 2016-17, with the collapse of the 240-year-old Enlightenment traditions and the commencement of a regime dedicated to eliminating those.  Corruption in the modern United States guarantees collapse.  Most of it is legal.  Firms donate as they wish to politicians who vote on the issues that are critical to those firms.  Legislators vote on subsidies for firms that fund their campaigns.  The interests that depend heavily on subsidies and that also harm the general good through pollution or dangerous speculation become the biggest donors. 

            In general, the more socially tightly bound and the more hierarchic a society is, the more people unite in hating and lowest-common-denominator social presentation.  Progress and individual tastes divide.  The far right has learned to unite followers not only by arousing bigotry, but also by providing lowest-common-denominator entertainment (video games, trash music, and the like) that debase individuals and make them conform at a bottom level.  George Orwell foresaw this in 1984 and commented extensively on it in his essays.

The war on science and public truth gets more serious as the Trump administration gains more and more control of departments and agencies, and censors speech, cuts funding for science, and denies scientific facts (Friedman 2017; Sun and Eilperin 2017; Tom 2018).  Many Republicans have come to hate and fear education, especially higher education; a poll show that most oppose and distrust it (Savransky 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.  The 2017 tax cuts, opposed by 75% of voters and appealing only to the rich, show this dominance clearly. 

            Suicide, opiate abuse, and Trump voting are all strongly correlated; they are at high levels in the same places, including rural counties in Appalachia and the northern Midwest (Snyder 2018).  They indicate a level of despair in these downwardly-mobile areas.  Since these areas are overwhelmingly white, much of the despair translates to anger against minorities who are supposedly taking the livelihood or at least the social status of the white workers. Diana Mutz (2018) found that voting for Trump tracked perceived threats to group status, not economic woes.  The suicidal tip of the iceberg reveals the degree to which rational self-interest, as normally understood, fails to explain right-wing attitudes, in the United States and elsewhere.  Mass shootings, suicide bombings, genocides, and voting for amoral strongmen are manifestations of a self-destructive level of hate and fear.

            In short, the United States faces a unique crisis, involving a shift far to the right of anything seen before except in the Confederacy before 1861.  Racist and religious prejudice financed by giant firms are taking over politics (Beauchamp 2018; Lopez 2017; MacLean 2017; Metzl 2019).  From the farthest right, there are calls for civil war and mass killings (Nova 2017).  Justice is corrupted at the highest levels (Eisinger 2017; Neuborne 2019).  Democracy is suffering from increasing distortion (Browning 2018).  The human costs are far worse than most people realize.  For example, American children are 76% more likely to die before reaching 21 than children in other developed countries; high infant mortality and enormous levels of gunshot deaths are the main causes (Kliff 2018).  Even Francis Fukuyama, famed for his overoptimistic views of the future, has recognized the darkness (Fukuyama 2016).

             Politics becomes more emotional, more passionate, and less civil, as shown by Lilliana Mason in her book Uncivil Agreement (2018).  An increasing number of young, uneducated white men have flocked to Trump’s standard.  They are frightened by the rise of minorities and immigrants, and of more educated workers, all of whom compete directly for economic position.  In a world where memories of the 2008 recession are still fresh and where wages are stagnant, these fears are expectable.

            An economic downturn or fear of losing the 2020 elections could precipitate dictatorship and its inevitable result (Neuborne 2019:227-228).  It is possible that the Republican administration will crack down around 2020, declare a state of emergency, suspend the Constitution, and begin full-scale genocide (on this possibility see Goitein 2019).  The Republicans, like Hitler (and apparently copying him), have engaged in widespread 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 and several other right-wing “Christians” have done).

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 stalwart unity of the reactionaries and disunion and mutual criticism on the left are expectable and typical of periods of declining empire.  The people who were dominant want it all back, and what should be the rising and progressive fraction are despondent and easily set against each other.

            The center and left in the United States have recently fallen back on being “the opposition”—opposing rather than proposing.  We need to borrow a leaf from parliamentary systems of government.  These usually have a government-in-opposition: a shadow cabinet made up of opposition figures who discuss policy and plan what to do if they cycle back into power.  The United States now needs a Democrat group who can develop policy and unite the party around it, via opposition figures serving as virtual 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.

            We have seen how certain “progressives” of the 2010s failed disastrously by opposing their antagonism toward men and whites to right-wing antagonism toward women and minorities.  One does not fight fire with fire in a gasoline storage depot.

5.  A Dark Future

            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.  They are tied closely to government by subsidies and special favors and rules as well as by bribery and corruption.  In other countries, they 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 like 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.

            Even the dinosaur firms are somewhat horrified at what is happening in the US, Turkey (Altınay 2019), Hungary, and elsewhere, but they cannot escape it now.  They depend on racists, religious fanatics, and other extremists.   The right wing worldwide has abandoned traditional conservatism in favor of an agenda that is anti-intellectual, anti-education, anti-science, anti-environment, anti-health-care, anti-poor, anti-young, anti-old, anti-minority, religiously bigoted in favor of extremist right-wing beliefs, anti-women, militarist, gun crazy, violent, pro-corporation and anti-taxpayer, corrupt, pro-unequal treatment and inequality, opposed to all human and civil rights, pro-dictatorship, anti-freedom of conscience, strongly hierarchic.  In their world, the powerful can do what they please and are above the law, the weak do what they are told.

            Primary production by itself is not the predictor of evil.  Evil does come from the primary-production end of the economy, but only from the fraction of it that is controlled by powerful landlord or corporate interests.  The evil done in the world for the last 200 years has been largely at the bidding of plantations, fossil fuel companies, agribusiness, and related interests.  The driver is the slave-worked plantation and its modern descendants:  an economy based on a tiny, rich, powerful elite ruling a vast servile labor force of which most are expendable and can thus be killed in unlimited numbers to maintain discipline or simply for convenience.  Very different were the old monarchies, even tyrannies, which could not kill at will—they usually could not spare so much labor.   

            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. 

            The Republicans, and equivalent parties in other countries from Russia to Turkey to Brazil, are now trapped.  They depend financially on a handful of giant corporations that are increasingly acting against the interests of the majority, and are increasingly dependent on bribing politicians for support—including exemption from laws, especially laws protecting people against physical damage.  China’s tobacco industry operates with the full support of the government, though tobacco kills 1.2 million Chinese a year, because the government depends on tobacco taxes and many individual politicians depend on bribes (Kohrman et al. 2018).  The oil interests occupy a similar position in the United States.

            The future after 2030-2050 is clear enough: the world will move toward emulation of existing top-down primary-production systems.  These are recapitulating the society of the old agrarian empires.  Some 20% of the population will be starving, 65% barely surviving, 10% secure but not well off, 4% well off, 1% ruling and super rich.  There will be a steady downward sift as population falls, first from starvation, then from disease as health care gets cut back. 

            The world has made a collective decision to have one final orgy of consumption, rather than converting to sustainability and assuring a future for our children and grandchildren.  This appears in the rise of fanatically anti-environmental regimes in the United States, Brazil under Jair Bolsonaro, and elsewhere.  The rise of strongmen—individuals who specifically and explicitly violate laws and morals to show they are above such things—has given us fascist leaders feeding on hate not only in those cases but also (currently) in Hungary, India, Israel, Kazakhstan, Philippines, Poland , Russia, Turkmenistan, Uganda, and elsewhere.  Such strongmen above the law are recorded in the most ancient texts; Nebuchanezzar was an early one, followed by a whole list of Roman emperors, then such conquerors as Tamerlane and Henry VIII.  The Greek and Roman historians already had the type thoroughly described.  They always have the support of publics who feel threatened by change and progress, especially the poorer members of majorities, but also the primary-production and rentier interests.  Today, big oil and urban mobs take the place of a team formerly made up of rentier landlords and rural laborers.

            Today’s strongmen share a whole range of characteristics.  First and foremost, they sanction their rule by appeals to extremist religion or its ideological equivalent (especially communism).  This religion is virtually identical whether called “Christian,” “Muslim,” “Jewish,” “Buddhist,” or “socialist.”  It sanctions total power in the hands of the ruler; repression of women, often to the point of rendering them passive vessels of men; violence in defense of the faith; denial of equal rights to those not in the specific cult in question; and extreme opposition to the messages of peace, love, harmony, forgiveness, and charity that are the hallmarks of the actual faiths claimed.  Second, they lead attacks on weaker minorities, whether political, ethnic, religious, or lifestyle. 

Juntas with similar amoral characteristics, but lacking the strongman image, control another few dozen countries.  Democracy is on the wane worldwide.  Strongmen sometimes limit themselves to military dictatorship (as currently in Egypt) but more often invoke full-scale fascist regimes, with ethnic hatred, fusion of government and giant corporations, militarism, glorification of force, and other fascist principles.  They are skilled at mobilizing otherwise peaceful, passive majorities against minorities.

            In all cases, the fundamental ideology is one of rigid hierarchy, with respect or adulation due to superiors and stronger individuals, contempt and oppression due to those below.  Callousness or contempt of the poor and of less powerful miorities shades over into outright sadistic treatment, of which the ultimate form is full genocide.  This ideology follows from the “conservative” reading of Nietzsche (which I accept as the correct one). Nietzsche did not inspire it—he properly credited it to the more authoritarian side of ancient Greek thought—but he expressed it, and his expression inspired the Nazis, the Randians, and others who went well beyond his glorification of power into outright glorification of mass deaths. 

This form of thought animates many a weak bully, who invariably calls out his opponents as “weak” or “snowflakes.”  It goes with dismissal of all well-meaning public projects as “fantasy,” but glorification of the military and of warlike adventuring.  It also, as pointed out repeatedly by George Orwell, goes with ferociously anti-intellectual, anti-nature, and anti-art attitudes.  Orwell’s portrayal of destruction of high culture and promotion of pop trash in 1984 and Animal Farm is expanded in most of his essays.  It turned out to be eerily predictive of the Republican preference for a reality-TV star and public buffoon over a whole slate of veteran politicians.

The difference from the old days is that with better means of surveillance and massacre, monitoring and genocidal elimination of dissidents will replace the wars and campaigns of old.  North Korea, China, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and several Middle Eastern countries already display this regime.  Turkey, Thailand, India, the United States, Israel, Venezuela, Russia, Hungary, Poland, Brazil, and several other countries are moving rapidly toward it.  Many of these are oil countries; most have powerful primary-production interests dominating their politics.  Interesting exceptions include Hungary and Israel, which have diversified and progressive economies but have gone fascist.  More interesting are the countries with powerful primary-production interests that are not going fascist.  Norway and Canada depend heavily on oil, but are developed countries, so are more diversified.  Bolivia, Zambia, and a few other countries are anomalously liberal for countries dominated by extraction.

            The “base” for the leaders of these countries seems largely the same, especially in the cases of the United States, Brazil, Turkey, Hungary, and Russia, and it is similar to Hitler’s base in Germany.  Older people of the dominant ethnic and religious group, especially if involved in traditional occupations like farming and small business, make up most of it, so that rural areas are solidly right-wing even if cities are solidly liberal.  The big businessmen in dinosaur firms and the rootless young men (and some women) of the dominant groups are heavily involved.  Puritanical religion, as opposed to liberal or social-oriented religion, is heavily involved.  Less educated or more traditionally trained individuals from the dominant ethnic and religious groups are overrepresented.  The young, the minorities, and the occupants of socially oriented or new-type occupational roles are less involved.

            The common thread seems to be that wealth is rapidly increasing but is being captured by the top 1%, while the masses stagnate economically.  The most frustrated and resentful are the less progressive fractions of the majority ethnic groups, and they are the drivers of the fascist trend, as they often were in the earlier fascist wave of the 1930s (a point made by Edsall 2018).  Really rough times have sometimes led to fascistic or psychopathic leaders taking over, but real hardship often tends to make people unite behind a capable leader rather than a merely evil one.  The breakdown of the United States in 1860 gave us Lincoln; growth appropriated by the rich while working-class whites lost out gave us Trump.

            Democracy, in the end, may prove unstable—a brief interlude between the monarchies of the past and the fascist tyrannies rising in the present.  Resource crunches may simply make it impossible for the good to prevail.  However, this is not necessary at present.  We can stop the downward slide.

            There is one striking conclusion that emerges from all:  Evil is almost always due to power challenged.  Rulers consolidating dictatorship, totalitarian rulers under threat, schoolyard bullies dominating weak but smart kids, insecure and inadequate husbands beating wives, politicians facing trial, oil company bosses facing better energy generation and consequent loss of power and position, druglords facing upstart thugs all have this in common, and above all majorities facing imagined challenge by immigrants and minorities. 

            The only hope lies in eliminating total power and restraining by law and superior force those who abuse power.  This will not be adequate, but it is the basic first step.

6.  A Final Note

            Many people of the younger generation now appear to be giving up, saying “The United States has always been like this.”  They can point to a bloody history of slavery, genocide of Native Americans, internment of Japanese and (some) Germans, Jim Crow laws, denial of the vote to women, the Texas Rangers and their institutionalized harassment of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, anti-gay violence, and much more. 

            However, those ills have always been challenged and all were eventually stopped, or at least made illegal.  Slavery and racism go on, but underground.  The campaigns to stop them were widely supported, and involved much heroism and sacrifice.  Slavery was stopped by a bloody war.  The women’s suffrage movement, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the environmental movement, and other movements involved a great deal of bloodletting. They prevailed in the end.

Part IV.  What to Do About It?

1. Trying to Cope

            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.  We have observed above that the two commonest reasons for murder, whether genocide or individual, are desire for power and desire for acceptance and approval.  Frustration of these leads to escalating conflict, especially when someone with an unusually high lack of perceived control or of perceived approval feels frustrated in those needs.  The more the perceived weakness and failure, and the more the frustration, the more the overreaction to a slight, and the more the resulting conflict spins out of control.

            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, many of whom were genuinely virtuous people—though many were not, at least by most 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 moved all too quickly from a call for unity and peace to a call for jihad.  Monotheistic religions appear to have a worse record than others, but the others are far from perfect.  Classical Greek stoicism and related philosophies of ataraxia (suppressing desire) became excuses for expanding the Greek and Roman empires.  Even Buddhism, which explicitly bans violence and teaches compassion to all beings, became the religion of the samurai, and has been the excuse for countless killings over time, including two of the worst genocides in modern history: the long-continuing campaigns to exterminate the Tamils in Sri Lanka and the Rohingya Muslims in Burma.  There are many other cases in history.  The Rohingya massacres should end the stereotypes about peaceable Buddhism and violent Islam widely current in American society.

            The basic problem with religion is that it claims to have the one absolute truth.  This leads to intolerance for other claims, even obviously correct ones (see the fate of evolution by natural selection, as a theory, in religious societies).  Moreover, organized religions generally have organized hierarchies, often with a single apical leader, and such hierarchies inevitably reprise Rummel’s principle:  “Power kills, and absolute power kills absolutely” (Rummel 1998).  The same dismal fate occurs with religion-like ideological systems, notoriously including communism and fascism.  

Since all cultures and traditions include alternative morals and moral codes, religions that are founded on impeccable principles of love, care, justice, and empathy always develop countertraditions that teach hate, cruelty, and butchery, from human sacrifice to burning heretics at the stake.  These are then often held-especially by rulers consolidating power—to be the highest of moral goods, superior to the everyday care and help.  Ordinary selfish greed can be handled; sadism considered as highest morality is harder to control.

The alternative is not abandonment of religion or of truth, but of expanding the basic principle of intelligent enquiry: we are searching for truth but have not found it all, and the more people cooperate in searching for truths, the better we all do.

            There is a common theme of religion turned evil: it is obsessed with control, especially control over the more vulnerable and less dominant members of society.  The clearest and most obvious common theme of religions that harm is that they focus on harming and oppressing women.  This is the distinguishing feature between right-wing and liberal Christianity, extremist and ordinary Islam, ultra-Orthodox and reform Judaism, extremist and ordinary Buddhism, and so on throughout the world’s religions.  Repression of women usually carries over to repression and abuse of children (“Spare the rod and spoil the child,” a folk version of Proverbs 23:13-14).  Degree of intolerance for heresies, including the most minor and trivial divergences from practice, also tracks religion turned harmful; the opposite is ecumenism or tolerance.

            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.  At best, it allows people to avoid confronting the world, including its evils.

            Some argue that religion is “the problem,” but the alternatives do not have a good track record.  Nationalism, fascism, capitalism, and communism are the leading ideologies developed as alternatives.  Stalin and Mao repressed religion (all religion) with even more sadistic enthusiasm than 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.  The real problem is social hate, and the religions do not even try to get rid of it.  They often cause it.  Religion and its imitators provides communitas, but also unreal abstractions and unprovable visions.  People then commit to those, and carry out real murders in support of them.  In short, grand ideological frameworks are not going to save us.

2. First Steps to Policy: Evaluating What Helps

            From what went before, it appears that the current problems facing the world are best conceptualized under five heads, from more specific and immediate to general and deep-rooted:

            Saving the environment, especially from dinosauric interests such as Big Oil and Big Agribusiness.  This means protecting biodiversity, switching immediately and thoroughly to renewable energy, and being as sustainable as possible—by whatever measure is useful.

            Restoring the rule of law, at the expense of the fascistic despots that now run all the largest nations and many of the smaller ones.

            Fighting racist, religious and ideological bigotry and hatred, by teaching tolerance, valuing diversity, and social solidarity.

            Getting people to stop, think, learn, and make reasonable decisions, instead of going with exaggerated media-driven overreactions.

            Above all, the real back story: dealing with the chronic social fears and stresses that create most of the problem.  This requires fair, responsive, responsible governments and leaders.  Such are now exceedingly rare, and the worst sort of strongman leaders control dozens of countries.  Restoring fair, equitable governance is clearly basic to security and thus to reassuring people, reducing threat, making individuals feel capable of dealing with threat, and thus greatly reducing the drive to hate and harm.

            We also desperately need an educational system that will create and foster self-confidence, self-control, concern for quality of life, and dedication to self-improvement.  These are necessary to blocking hatred and defensiveness.  People need to see themselves as independent agents improving the world, or at least their own lives, rather than followers and mindless conformists.

Obviously, we also need to increase such basic amenities as medical care, education, and justice.

To do all this, we will have to work on technology, ideology, morality, and praxis.  What follows, for most of the rest of this book, is heavily moral.  It will sound sententious to many, but I believe there is a need to establish an agreed moral ground as well as dealing with practical issues and stopping violence.

            The rest of this section will be largely devoted to my ideas on these topics.  I claim no great originality, but will not be citing literature except where I am directly using someone else’s ideas.

            In general, social change comes from individuals working within existing structures, often modifying those structures in the process.  There is a front story of individual decisions, a mid story of human context, and a back story of demography, climate, existing rules and laws, and historical contingencies that create a “path dependent” situation.  Charismatic or brilliant leaders succeed, but only in hopeful times.  They cannot do much in reactionary times and regimes.  Democracy helps, but reactionary democracy does not.

            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 sociability.  As we have seen, developing these requires at least some support, empathy, and empowerment of children growing up, and self-efficacy among adults.  Since people being much worse than many of us once thought, we need stricter laws and sanctions.  Recent events worldwide have proved that we most especially need laws against malicious lying for political reasons.  We also need much stricter sanctions against betrayal, bullying, and hate crimes.  We need far better civil rights protection.   The Founding Fathers lived at a time when politically active people could be assumed to be at least somewhat brave and responsible. Not now.

Violence normally requires weakness and irrationality to drive it, so strength and reasonableness help.  However, there are exceptions.  Violence is the default recourse and first recourse in warrior cultures, though mostly in intergroup relations.  Culture enters in to tell individuals when to be violent.  In any society, violence can be dealt with only by strict, fair laws, with no corruption.  A wider moral shell is necessary, but not sufficient.  There must be law and order with firm, impartial enforcement; norms of peace; conflict resolution mechanisms, formal and informal, general and specific.  Experience teaches that there must also be something adventurous but nonviolent for young men to do.  Ordinary sports appear to fail at this, but exploring, seafaring, and the like are available.  Peace is also helped by an expanding economy that raises all boats, or at least prevents groups from sinking.  This need not be ecologically ruinous; we can expand into sustainable energy and services instead of mass-produced bulk goods.

Recall that it is easier to unite people against a common enemy, and to get them to follow orders if those orders involve destroying a hated or despised group, than to unite people in the cause of love and care.  People are sociable, and usually loving and caring to their close kin and friends, but fear and hate dominate public interaction unless rigidly combatted.

The one thing that almost everyone agrees on, in politics, is that the first requirement for a government is that it protects its people.  Until now, that has been interpreted as military protection, with economic protection added to the list in the 20th century.  Today, the dangers to a given citizenry are, first, environmental (especially climate change); second, genocide and related corrupt and violent internal politics; third, preventable diseases and health risks.  The first and third were not manageable by government when the Founding Fathers wrote.  The second was, but was far less a problem than external invasion; such is no longer the case. 

The citizenry also has a right and a need to be protected from hatred and hate crimes, and from major loss in quality of life, as by loss in aesthetic opportunities, nature, historic monuments, and the like.  Protection of economic benefits by managing the economy well is clearly necessary, but now less important than preventing the catastrophic disasters that climate change and pollution are bringing about.

3.  A different kind of civilization

            An ideal to strive toward is a civilization depending on growth in environmental and cultural amenities rather than mass-production of manufactured goods.  We currently measure economic growth and development by the amount of value created by human activity, rather than by the amount of value overall.  Mining, manufacturing, and any form of resource-transforming count—even if all they are doing is producing pollution (Anderson 2010). Often, this means that pure destruction is highly valued on paper, though it brings nothing but harm to actual people.  Preserving nature, allowing environments to recover, and creating personal amenities not traded in the market do not count.  Art and craft production does not count unless it is counted in the manufacturing and sales statistics.  Singing songs for one’s children does not count, but polluting the air with hideous electronic music does. 

            An opposite model of how to run a civilization existed in old Southeast Asia.  Nobody assessed economic growth, though the governments did tax value created.  What mattered was saving forests and fruit trees, growing rich and complex crop assemblages, creating beautiful arts, living happily, and letting others live as they wished.  Societies were ruled by kings, but were astonishingly free and open.  The landscapes were beautiful, and got richer, lusher, and more diverse over time, because agriculture was devoted to producing human food rather than industrial goods.  There was some war and killing, but nothing remotely like what we have seen in the past 100 years in the world.  The one great problem was disease, which was rampant, but with modern medicine this has been stopped, and lifespans are comparable to the west.  The problems now are rapid population growth in a context of even more rapid shift to western industrialization and destruction.  Similar, if less materially successful, cultures existed in other areas worldwide.  The Maya of Mexico and Central America have been notably good at maintaining ecosystems, for instance.

            We are not going to return to Southeast Asia in 1900, but we can use their design principles: a world where people are helped by moving toward the more natural, more simple, more beautiful, and more sustainable.  Our current industrial civilization sets all its incentives, subsidies, and accounting in the opposite direction: valuing destruction of nature to make vast and complex amounts of ugly stuff by unsustainable practices.

We need to value trees, grasses, gardens, birds, fish, landscapes, clean water, health, good food, beautiful art and music, and other amenities, rather than sheer throughput of materials.  Bhutan, basically a Southeast Asian state in economy and ecology though culturally and linguistically Tibetan, has in fact done this, measuring its “gross domestic happiness” via such indices.  They show a genuine alternative, a way out of our rush to collapse.

4.  Education

To recapitulate:  the most direct and basic cause of evil is anger turning to hate and hate turning to violence.  This usually comes from strong reaction to social slights, threats, and harms.  Escalating anger leads to fighting.

In such cases, the food of the bad wolf is brooding on insults and personal offenses.  Weak and defensive individuals, especially those that have physical power (often in the form of guns) but lack of perceived self-efficacy in social life, are the most avid consumers of that food, and the most dangerous of people.

On the wider scale, genocides and mass killings occur when ruthless leaders take power through extremist ideologies, using those ideologies to whip up hatred that unites masses against victims.  In this case, there is an initial coterie of zealots and then a vast mass of weak, conformist followers who allow their everyday frustrations and resentments to be mobilized in the cause of destruction.  Once again: the food of the bad wolf is ruminating on minor slights and harms, in this case leading to weak and defensive persecution of scapegoats.  The weak and defensive conformists are the voters who vote for vicious dictators, the passive enablers of dictatorial coups, and then the easily-swayed subjects of brutal regimes.

Part of this food for the bad wolf is the insidious thought that some people don’t matter.  Education must also teach people to control hostility and aggression, the real problems in cases of hatred.  Teaching students that hatred and unprovoked aggression are unacceptable—morally wrong and socially destructive—is obviously necessary. 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.  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. 

Education therefore needs to talk at length about domestic violence, bullying, genocide, and war.  All educators—including parents and, indeed, everyone—must teach young people not to hate, not to brood about trivial slights, and not to escalate conflict.  Anger and fighting have their place, but overreaction and hatred do not.  People need to be taught about bullies and the strongmen who are bullies writ large.  They also need to grow up in a world of enforced laws against such behaviors, to get a sense of the need for the rule of law.

Conflict resolution is thus important.  Children and adults need to learn how to deal with conflicts other than by angering and fighting.  This should be combined with teaching them not to displace their fear, stress, and aggression.  Specifics include better parenting and better advice and counseling.

Education must return to teaching civics and basic civil morality—not elaborate or puritanical rules, but simple common decency.  American history must go back to teaching the ideals that founded the nation and have continued to improve over time.  American education has suffered terribly from both jingoistic idolization of America, denying its past of racism, genocide, and slavery, and hypercritical focus on such ills at the expense of recording the ideals and the progress toward them.  One would hope for education in the great literature and arts of the past—the whole world’s past—but teaching the “classics” did not save Europe from fascism and communism, so perhaps something was missed in the old days of liberal education.

More serious is the need to require and demand that public and private education teach verified science and absolutely ban global warming denial, anti-evolution, anti-vaccination propaganda, and other outright lies propagated for the purpose of harm.  We are not policing education at all well.  When it teaches hateful lies, we are corrupting the nation.  Freedom of speech absolutely must not extend to freedom of schools to teach lies.  This is among the most immediate and critical of needs.

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.  Some students report writing stories and poems surreptitiously because the schools discourage such behavior.  We need to go back to older ideals.  The most important thing to teach is civil behavior, not STEM skills.  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. 

Traditional education, worldwide, usually taught skills through doing, in an apprentice role.  It taught values and abstract principles through stories and songs (see Kopnina and Shoreman-Ouimet 2011, especially my essay therein, Anderson 2011).  It taught ordinary declarative knowledge through taking young people out in the world and letting them experience what they were learning.  That last is no longer adequate—knowledge is not just local any more—but should be pursued as much as possible.  Certainly we need to return to these principles.  They worked; our modern system does not teach well, except when it uses them.  Nobody expects students to learn sports, or musical instrument playing, or doctoring, through lectures.  Nobody should expect morals to be learned without songs and stories.

The other point, building self-efficacy to prevent weak defensiveness and conformity to dictators, involves teaching students to do their own thinking and acting—to be independent and creative.  This involves making students (and everyone) do their own work, rather than rote memorizing and taking tests.  It also means moving people away from radio, television, and other passive-listener media, toward active interchange.  Even video games at least involve some effort.  Messaging, email, and the social media may yet save us.

People also need to know that someone, somewhere, is backing them up.  Education needs to deal with issues of alienation, isolation, prejudice, rejection, and marginalization.  This is a widely recognized point, but widely ignored in a world that will not spend money on schools or psychological help.

Clearly, education, therapeutic enough to cure people of weak defensiveness, hatred, and scapegoating, is the most important need in combatting evil.  Now that we know the basics of feeding good and bad wolves, we need to reform educational systems accordingly.

5.  Some Moral Principles

          The Seven Deadly Sins are all too well known, as identified by the early Christian church from late Greek thought, but no one seems to recall the matching set of Seven Virtues.  They are: Faith, hope, charity, justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude.  This seems as reasonable a place to start as any, but the following will highlight justice-as-fairness, following John Rawls, and tolerance, following none of the Seven.  Intolerance was not a bad thing in ancient times. 

If  people were really selfish, they would want what we know people really enjoy: happy, cooperative, mutually beneficial, warm societies and communities above all else—not self-aggrandizement at the expense of their friends and families and communities.  If people were not mean, they would hate disease and misery and unnecessary suffering—not each other or science or nature.  If they were interested in actual control rather than power to bully others, they would hate autocracy and unnecessary hierarchy. 

Caring is the nexus, the alternative for which we strive.  We seek especially the broad sense: wanting good for others and wanting a good and harmonious society (even infants want that).  The Bible calls this agapé or caritas.  Buddhists call it compassion.  Humans being so prone to domination by the bad wolf, we must err on the side of caution, caring, helping, reching out, and empowering. 

Viktor Frankl noticed that survivors of Hitler’s concentration camps were those that had something deeply important to live for and be responsible for.  Usually, this would be either families or work that was a real Calling rather than a mere job.  Sometimes it was religion.  He spent his life extending this observation, learning that almost all people need or want a deep meaning of this sort in their lives (Frankl 1959, 1978).  This is one basic counter to living for hate.  Unfortunately, and perhaps ironically, group conflict is one of the most powerful ways to give meaning to life (Rovenpor et al. 2019).  Nothing is more meaningful to people than fighting for a cause.   One must use caution in deploying the classic “work and love” in support of tolerance.

            The other counters are the opposites of excessive anger: reasonableness and peacefulness.  The opposites of hatred are tolerance and valuing diversity.  The opposites of callousness are responsibility, but above all empathy and compassion, which may in the end be the most important qualities for all good-doing.  The daily kibble of the good wolf is support, empowerment, caring, compassion, mutual aid, mutual responsibility, mutual respect, and mutual concern.  The red meat that gives it strength to win is conscious work to create and build social solidarity. 

            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 your 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 need 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 seem to inhere in humans.  Directly relevant, also, are natural interest—especially active warm interest—and curiosity, and the urge to learn more in order to improve.  Natural toughness and innocent enjoyment are reasonable and useful.  

            The reason that advancing the good so often fails is not mere selfishness.  It is antagonism to cooperating and to working with others as equals, especially as seen in refusal to learn, change, and self-improve as part of the process.

            The cure is seeing all people as worthwhile and that we are all in this together.  The long first part of this book demonstrated at length that the root problem is rejecting people for reasons of “essence”: the false belief that “race,” ethnicity, religion, and the like are somehow basic essences that condemn whole groups of people.  The only cure is seeing all as not only tolerable but worthy of help and of civil behavior.  Ideally, they are all equal before the law, and equal in opportunity—a hope not approximated in modern societies.

            Seeing all as worthy requires checking excessive anger.  It also requires proactive compassion and empathy, to avoid callous bureaupathy and similar evils.  Studies on how to further such goals exist (Batson 2011; McLaren 2013; Zaki 2019).  Our authors, notably Beck (1999) and Maslow (1970), provide ideas and experiences.

            The task is to minimize both the level of anger and number of things that arouse it.  A fascist dictator will try to find as many reasons for anger as he can, finding ways to include almost everyone in the violent movement (see e.g. Traverso 2019 on recent successes and failures at whipping up hatreds in Europe).

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, but can be worse than nothing when it is badly planned, or unneeded and intrusive.  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.  Self-confidence, including confidence in one’s moral principles and above all confidence in one’s control of one’s life, is the key virtue for preventing collapse into blind conformity, including conformity to genocidal leaders.  It also prevents collapse into domestic violence and other individual violent acts. 

            The countervailing forces are indifference (resulting in callousness) and actual hate.  Hatred in particular must be fought wherever and whenever it arises.  If it becomes pervasive in society, violence becomes inevitable.  Genocide is the ultimate case of hatred spun out of control; it can only be stopped in advance by fighting hate and displacing evil leaders.

The usual moral touchstone, the Golden Rule, does not work perfectly.  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 do not inflict my rather old-fashioned Christian morality on my kids, let alone 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.  But 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 detailed consideration and consultation.

As David 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 it matters more to get the passions right, such that reason is a slave to the good ones.  It is at least as competent and hard-working a slave to evil as to good. 

One opposite to evil is the “universal positive regard” of the psychologists (Rogers 1961), but that is a process goal, not achievable in the real world.  Checking evil 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 action that is 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 Goddess of Common Sense.   

The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed ten ways to fight hatred: Act, join forces, support the victims, speak up, educate yourself, create an alternative, pressure leaders, stay engaged, teach acceptance, dig deeper.  Desire for wealth, power, status, standing, and sociability can lead to positive-sum games and thus to goodness and progress, but all too often desire leads to zero-sum or negative-sum playing.  Then, when others push back, conflict escalates, eventually spinning out of control unless damped down.  To be evil, this must—by my definition, at least—reach irrational levels.   

Damping must start with desire (as religions have always taught).  It cannot end there.  We must teach and invoke policy to get people to play positive-sum games and to be reasonable.  We must put in place conflict-resolution mechanisms (Beals and Siegal 1966).   We must teach a morality of peaceful behavior instead of vengeance and predation.  Finally, we must outlaw actual harming, including indirect harms that are currently accepted, such as pollution damage.  Damping down conflict is the most immediate and direct need, however.  The greatest problem in conflict, always, is escalation.  Really successful ways to damp that down, all the way from playground fights and intimate partner violence to international conflicts and genocides, are not always deployed, and more research on them is seriously needed.  As we have noted above, the ordinary small-scale tensions, problems, and slights of daily life keep people in a state that allows sudden positive-feedback loops to emerge and lead to exploding conflict.

Since cowardice and self-doubt lie behind so many of the problems, there is a serious need to promote self-efficacy, self-reliance, and ability to act—notably including the knowledge of how to de-escalate conflict.

People are often too busy or defensive or simply lazy to work hard for the good; we cannot expect everybody to do it.  Dealing with indirect problems like environmental woes is especially difficult.  People discount the future, are too optimistic, and hate the endless small adjustments that fixing the environment entails.  It is easier to go for one big fix, such as a war. 

Since overreaction and misreaction are root problems, the start of the cure is facts.  We have to get science back to a place where people will accept scientific findings.  After that, the clearest intervention needed is demanding civil rights and civil behavior.

6. Background: A Wider Moral Shell

            This provides a guide for a moral shell involving solidarity with others above all, especially tolerance and valuing diversity, but also concern for self-improvement and quality of life, including a return to the civility, mutual respect, responsibility, and patience that we are losing. 

            Reasonableness is inadequate.  People cheat on their own morals; they fall short and provide excuses.  They fail to reason correctly, and err in predictably self-serving directions.

            Even without that, people must sacrifice to make community work.  They need to make up for cheaters, and they must be heroic in emergencies.  We cannot expect everyone to love and care much beyond the family and friendship circle. (What follows draws heavily on John Rawls’ doctrine of fairness as justice [Rawls 1971, 2001] but is informed by a range of ethical positions, from Kantian [Kant 2002] and neo-Kantian [Korsgaard 1996] to neo-utilitarian [Brandt 1979, 1992, 1996] to Aristotelian virtue ethics [Aristotle 1953]; see also Anderson 2010).

            Thus, every society on earth has had to develop a morality of self-sacrifice and service to others, enforced it by public opinion.  This was memorably argued by Adam Smith, who correctly saw it as a necessary shell around his economic utopia of free small-scale competition (Smith 1910, 2000).  They must conform up, to higher standards of behavior, rather than down into toxic conformity to evil norms.  This requires personal strength.

            From what has gone before in this book, we conclude that evil is due to extreme individuals—psychopaths, sociopaths, and the like—who often become leaders; to cowardice and failure to cope with hurt, stress, and threat; and to conformity with orders from people suffering from those two conditions.  Ordinary selfish greed is also a huge problem, but rarely gets out of control unless the other three conditions hold.  People are notably good at stopping each other from selfish greed.  Studies show that humans are good at “cheater” detection, and at stopping cheaters by shaming, ostracism, and outright punishment (Tomasello 2016; Wrangham 2019).  Ordinary people develop a conscience that restrains them from cheating even when they can get away with it, and a concern for people that makes them want to help others and do right by them.  It is hard to separate these good mental states from sheer fear of shame and punishment; all combine to keep most people only somewhat selfish.  We all cheat a bit, but most of us limit it to fairly innocuous matters.  The psychopaths are those who cheat in spite of being attacked, writing off the attacks as unfair and hypocritical. 

It is worth briefly noting that some “sins” are not what they seem: gluttony is a matter of eating disorders, themselves caused by problems usually apart from food; “sloth” is usually hatred for dull work, or physical illness, or psychological inanition due to fear and stress; and so forth.  Many early moralities foundered on the rock of condemning reasonable and normal desires, rather than the irrational reactions to fear and stress that made people seem sinful or immoderate in their desires.  It seems likely that puritanical condemning of normal desires did more damage by creating fear, stress, and guilt than it brought benefit to anyone. 

            We must maintain a consistent, oft-repeated ideology of unity, solidarity, mutual aid, mutual care, and tolerance.  From a general sense of “we’re all in this together,” the first personal virtues are openness, warmth, interest in the world, self-confidence, and ability to enjoy life.  These were highlighted by Aristotle (1953), but they have been amazingly neglected since his 4th-century-BCE days.  These imply a set of learned personal orientations: compassion, respect, responsibility.  These in turn entail civility, reasonableness, courage, patience, and hard work.  Social attitudes include empathy and egalitarianism—both equality before the law and the rough-and-ready sense that we are all here and thus have to take care of each other and take people as they are.

            Empathy and altruism are linked; psychological studies have unpacked both.  Humans are wired for empathy in ways unknown among other animals, and can build on that by learning to be much more empathetic than is “natural” from the genetic base.  We are experts at putting ourselves in others’ places, feeling what they feel, and understanding how they could react to situations.  Daniel Batson (2011), a leading expert on empathy, points out that these are different things.  Understanding others’ feelings, matching those feelings, and understanding how our own feelings can be different from others’, are all different agendas.  Lack of empathy is, of course, far too typical of bureaucrats and governments, and of many ordinary people who have either never learned real empathy or have suppressed what they know (Baron-Cohen 2011).  Batson went on to show that altruism goes beyond this: we need to value others.  We have seen that understanding the feelings of others can make cruelty worse; the sadist can use understanding and sensitivity to devise the most fiendish tortures.  This is well known from the annals of both crime and Hitler’s death camps (Baumeister 1997). 

            Batson further points out that empathy and altruism are not enough.  They can make people unfair.  One naturally has more empathy to one’s family and friends than to strangers, and thus tends to skew altruism.  The extreme is reached in those super-rich families that take care of their own very well indeed while giving nothing to charity.  Batson, a Kantian who follows Kant and Rawls into a realm of absolute ethics of fairness and principle, opposes such narrow empathy to his general principles of fairness.  However, in a particularly thoughtful passage (Batson 2011:220-224), he traces the limits of extreme fairness: not only can we not really do it—family ties are generally too strong—but we are also masters at rationalizing, excusing, justifying, and otherwise weaseling out of our principles, when emotions are strong.

            Jamil Zaki, in The War for Kindness (2019), takes up where Batson left off.  Summarizing Batson’s work, he goes on to detail a number of programs for dealing with real-world problems involving various kinds of empathy: reforming criminals, teaching police to be community servants rather than “warriors,” teaching autistic children, and simply helping ordinary people with problems.  We have the tools; we can go well beyond the remedies for hatred and lack of empathy suggested by Beck (1999) and our other basic sources.  The only problem is that all these remedies involve intensive one-on-one work, “saving the world one person at a time.”  Meanwhile, strongman leaders whip up millions with hateful rhetoric.  It is all too easy to turn nations of peaceable Germans or Cambodians into killers.  Fortunately, peace did reverse that process in those and other countries.

            Recall what was said earlier: the real food of the wolf is personal weakness or lack of self-efficacy, leading to taking offense easily, brooding on it, and escalating it in response.  The cure is to minimize offense-taking, but then to find morality, empathy, beauty, care, compassion, and goodness in the wide world and in humanity.  Both dealing with evil and separately appreciating and respecting the good seem needed.

            Religions have tried for millennia to make people love all humans, or have compassion for all living things.  This is difficult.  People love or at least feel solidary with their reference groups, which can be very large; many Chinese feel deep solidarity and passionate loyalty to their billion and a quarter compatriots.  But genuine love for all humans is rare indeed.  Unfortunately, it is demonstrably far easier to learn hate for targeted groups, even groups whose members the haters have never met.    

            The only philosophy that seems to have addressed this problem squarely is Confucianism.  Confucianism generally holds that people are innately compassionate, helpful, and prosocial.  However, first, they also have tendencies in other directions, particularly in the direction of selfish greed.  Second, they naturally and necessarily privilege family over strangers (Confucians long anticipated Darwin here).  Third, they do indeed rationalize away moral conflicts.  Thus, Confucianism sought to define what each category of people owes others, with family, friends, neighbors, the nation, and all humanity as the relevant categories.  Debate still rages among Confucians about the perfect balance, but the real message is that humans in the real world need to accommodate different levels of empathy and be as fair as possible under such circumstances.  (See Mencius 1970; I have benefited greatly from discussions with Neo-Confucian thinkers, especially Ben Butina, Dean Chin, Bin Song, and Tu Weiming.)

            All these result in ability to be socially responsible, and to carry out mutual aid, a highly desirable end-state (Smith 2000).  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 (as argued by Rawls 1971).  On these are built leadership, civic action, mutual aid, and social responsibility in general.  The short summary of all this is valuing people (Batson 2011; Zaki 2019), or at least taking them seriously, as fellow travelers on the planet. 

            The main stem of this runs from caring to actual help.  Ancillary to this stem are self-efficacy and learning.  Self-efficacy involves self-control, not trying to control others, courage, industry, and loyalty.  It includes self-improvement in appreciation, knowledge, and psychological functioning (Bandura 1982, 1986).

            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 good person will ignore slights and dislike, being fully civil in such cases.  Actual threats must be taken seriously, but rationally, by trying to talk things out, then seeking recourse, and only if that fails does one fight or flee.  The real opposite of hate is common decency, not love.  Seek positive solutions.  Act for the good.  Do your best at what you do best.  Remember also the airlines’ truth: “secure self first, then attend to others.”  Above all, look to long-term, wide-flung benefits, not to short-term and narrow ones.

            It pays to look at this with a medical gaze: see exactly what is wrong, why it is wrong, and what is the cure.  Moralizing in the abstract is of less use, though also necessary.         

“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.  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.

There is a difference between goals that must be intrinsically moderate, like drinking (assuming one drinks at all) or exercising, and goals where the issue is targeting rather than moderation per se.  Tolerance is such a targeting goal: being tolerant of ordinary differences is close to a process goal (though it always requires some moderation), but being tolerant of Nazism is intolerable—the classic “tolerance paradox.”  Similarly, wrath is usually a bad thing, but wrath against leaders of genocide is appropriate and commendable. 

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. irrationality; 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.

Another need is for proactive positive action, and that requires a vision of the Good and an ability to enjoy.  Cowardly defensiveness destroys enjoyment; it causes anhedonia.  If one can openly enjoy something, one is already moving toward the good.  It is natural for the social animals we are to want others to enjoy and to share in our enjoyments.  Puritans and constant complainers are notoriously easy to delude into genocidal evil.  Puritanism about anything—not just sex or alcohol—feeds the bad wolf. 

7. Towards a New Moral Order

            We need a new moral order (Anderson 2010), based on keeping the good wolves fed and the bad ones starved.  Morality exists because people are compulsively and necessarily social, and yet get offended and angry and then hateful and aggressive.  In this case, it should be the opposite of hatred, callousness, and irrationally violent response to perceived threat.

            Following Kant, the first rule of morality is to take all people, and ultimately all beings, as important, to value them (again following Batson), and to accept them as valid beings—fellow travelers on this planet.  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 anyone’s 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 that teach indifference to life.  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 (Kant 2000).

            Great cultural productions can thus be used for self-improvement and for learning about the humanity and sensitivies of others.  If they are simply read for schoolwork, however, they do very little.  The depressing lack of empathy and humanity among well-educated leaders has often been noted.  Particularly sad is learning of the number of extremely intelligent, highly educated, creative people who sympathized with the fascists in Europe in the 1930s.  The most famous cases were Martin Heidegger, Ezra Pound, and Leni Riefenstahl, but there were countless more.  Poets from T. S. Eliot to e. e. cummings were sympathizers early on, and wrote viciously anti-Semitic poetry, though they cooled when they saw what was happening.  Fortunately, no significant thinkers or writers have seen fit to approve of fascism in recent decades (see Travserso 2019 for the nearest-to-exceptions). 

            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.  We are called to be nice to all, but for life work do your best at what you do best to help.  St. Paul’s “gifts differing” (Romans 12:6) is a watchword: people have different strengths, and this allows a complex society to exist and to be far more productive and efficient than one in which everyone had the same skills. 

            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 commercial fisheries by 2050 (Worm 2016; Worm et al. 2006).  This occurs largely because of overcompetition among fishers and subsidies by governments.  Another problem is the opposite: overplanning and top-down control. 

            A final need is more integrity.  Never humanity’s strong point, it has declined for the usual reasons, especially the loss of community to the rise of giant corporations and their passivity-creating media.  Ordinary lies are common enough now.  Even more common is a broader failure to keep commitments, as modeled all too well by our political leaders.  The highest integrity is working single-mindedly for more quality in life and thus real improvement of the world.  Quality ranges from better music to better environment to better leadership; everyone has some particular skill or calling, and can work for some cause, depending on innate and learned abilities.  The Japanese have a word, ikigai, “life value,” for living one’s calling in a satisfying way.

            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 African-American 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).  A part of this is realizing that there are no pure races and no pure cultures, and there never have been.  The racist and culturist appeals to purity are major sources of evil.  Recently, even “progressives” have been seduced by pure-culture theories, as in the more naïve theorizing about decolonialization and cultural appropriation.  Decolonialization means fixing social inequalities, not rejecting all cultural change.  Cultural appropriation is bad when it involves insulting stereotypes of others, or stealing their livelihood—not when it is simply normal borrowing.  Some progressives are being lured into genuine right-wing thinking—the old fascist lies about pure cultures and their need to remain pure.  In fact, a social morality for the future would involve, critically, learning the best from all the world’s traditions about how to manage the environment, reduce conflict, and keep societies moral.  Every culture and society on earth has experiences with these problems and has something to teach us.

            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.

            Religion teaches us to be as good as possible to sinners and lure them into a warm, supportive community.  Religions all idealize helping, concern, and peace, but often fail to encourage the interest, engagement, and love of beauty that are also necessary for the common good.  Puritanical religions in fact fear these, since they tend to make people think independently and want to change.

            Practical concerns and economic adjustments are not going to do all the lifting.  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 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.

            Ideally, we will have physical neighborhoods held together by strands of mutual aid, co-work 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. This requires promoting tolerance; all traditional small communities had their experiences of intolerance and violence.

            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 to the evolution of fascism in Europe, and communism in the USSR and China.

            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 need to work on that as well as on making the laws apply to all equally.

The nexus, always, is caring for and about others.  Only powerful self-interest combined with social pressure can lead to doing good.  Morals exist to drive people to do good even when scared. 

8. Rights and Rules

            The morality enshrined in the Constitution is based on the theory of equal rights.  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 this and other 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 dinosauric 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.

            It is depressing to read how the British and Americans, good Christians and lovers of Shakespeare and Milton, ran most of the world slave trade that killed perhaps 100,000,000 people in the 18th and early 19th centuries.  It is similarly depressing (though less bloody) to read the sorry history of religious movements, communes, idealistic communities, grassroots utopias, and the hippie movement.  Good intentions not backed up by firm social rules led only to collapse.

            People being imperfect, progress comes from outlawing the bad and forcing minimal civil decency.  Appeals to inner virtue are not enough.  Historically, help has come from science and education, relative economic freedom within moral limits (as Adam Smith argued), and the Enlightenment program.  That program of democracy, equality, rule of law, separation of church and state, and civil rights has done wonders.  So has the idea of promoting people according to their knowledge and ability rather than according to their birth.  Meritocracy has a bad name recently, but any acquaintance with history shows that the alternatives were worse.

            Comparing societies and communities that minimize violence and cruelty with those torn by it shows that only strict and specific rules help.  Rights are general; if they are not backed up by specific laws and court judgments, they are empty.  All societies outlaw murder, and that ban has real effect, depending on how many ancillary rules are passed.  Above all, it depends on how much the societies in question frown on violence as a way of solving problems.  Some societies regard violence as the only “manly” or “honorable” way to deal with problems, and they have murder and warfare rates that are many times—sometimes orders of magnitude—greater than the rates in societies that privilege peaceful methods of coping (Baumeister 1997; Pinker 2011; Robarchek and Robarchek 1998). 

            The Founding Fathers of the United States were aware of the problems of hatred, autocracy, lack of checks and balances, and lack of recourse.  They instituted participatory democracy in hopes that people would pick the best, or at least the less awful.  They created a mesh of checks and balances that distributed power fairly well.  They separated church and state, to prevent the awful conflicts that had driven many of their ancestors from Europe.  Most important, they established a rule of law rather than a rule of men.  This worked well for a long time, but then the genocidal demagogue Andrew Jackson took over and began a long, bloody process of consolidating power in the hands of the president and then using that power to bad ends.  This process has now reached the very edge of fascist dictatorship, and American democracy may not long survive. 

            Absolutely necessary is the right to recourse.  People who are injured must be able to sue, to protest, to speak out, to vote evil leaders out, and to defend themselves in any reasonable way.  The success of democracies at preventing genocide and famine is notable, but even more important is the realization that in such democracies, only actual citizens avoid being killed or starved (Anderson and Anderson 2017; Howard-Hassmann 2016).  Noncitizens, such as Irish in the British Isles in the 1840s and Native Americans in the United States before 1924, are starved and killed without compunction. 

            Communities must have written and unwritten (customary) laws that strictly and thoroughly regulate violence and callousness.  These laws must be based on a principle of equality before the law, which requires at least some degree of economic equality, because otherwise the rich will simply buy their way out of enforcement.  Laws must be based on the principle that violence is the last resort in dealing with any problem other than direct personal attack.  They must also strictly forbid activity that destroys many solely to benefit a few, such as big dams, engineered famines, and exposure of impoverished workers or families to pollution.  There must be legal requirements to rehabilitate both victims and lawbreakers.

            Communities must extinguish specific bad behaviors by specific rules, but they go on to encourage general good behaviors and ideals by more broad appeals to morality.

            Above all, concentration of power in the hands of one person is always dangerous.  Even a long run of good administrators or autocrats comes to an end.  Sooner or later a bully or psychopath takes over.  I have seen this process on small scales in academia, where chairs and deans usually have enough power to devastate their units, ruin careers, destroy students, and corrupt or block research.  Academia usually picks better leaders, but one bad one does incalculable harm.  There are benevolent despotisms in the world—Singapore and Oman occur to mind—but they rarely last. 

            On national scales, the takeover of democracies by tyrants has been noted ever since ancient Greece, and the results were known to be awful even then, as Aristotle’s Politics tells us. Democracy works only so far as a way of picking good leaders; again, the ancient Greeks already knew of charismatic demagogues—in fact, they coined the words. Participatory democracy seems still the best way of picking leaders, but then they must be restrained by a mesh of laws that create checks and balances and prevent corruption.  The United States is hopelessly behind in these regards.  The extreme corruption and tyranny of the Trump presidency came after a long downward slide, visible since the Nixon presidency.  Similar devolution from Hungary and Brazil to Turkey and the Philippines characterizes politics in the 21st-century world.         

Today, to the classic rights, we need to add the right to a livable environment; a right to good education, at least to the point of literacy, basic science, basic math, and competence with technology; a right to free enquiry; a right to government honesty, with full recourse if the government knowingly circulates lies; and a right to decent medical care at little or no cost.  These all follow as entailed corrolaries of our natural rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

From what has gone before, the needs center on three areas: damping down conflicts caused by desire for wealth, power, and approval; balancing power so that it is distributed as widely and evenly as possible, with checks and balances at the top and equality before the law for all; and a widely distributed search for truth—science in a broad sense—instead of religious or ideological claims for absolute truth or nihilistic denial of truth’s existence.

In the United States, and increasingly in other countries, the rule of law has collapsed, and the first need if we can take the country back would be to restore that rule.  Second would be some sort of truth and reconciliation agenda for dealing with the hatred that has spun out of control in recent years, and not only on the right.  Rational and civil discourse must replace increasingly unhelpful confrontation and in-your-face insult.  Hate speech up to a point is protected as free speech, for the very good reason that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” (see below).  What needs to be stopped is actual incitement to violence.  Also, hateful lies should be checked by false-advertising laws.  I thouroughly agree with the proposal to make campaign statements and public speeches by leading politicians sworn testimony, with mandatory jail sentences for deliberate lies.

The simplest, cleanest model of mass violence is that a strongman backed and funded by sunsetting industries whips up hatred of minorities that have long been salient as weaker rivals or enemies.  Obviously, action must start by preventing evil leaders from rising, and preventing them from leading a charge by deploying ever more vicious rhetoric.

Individual violence is more complex, but turns on issues of greed, power, and social acceptance and respect.  Individuals are not, however, violent because of those motives; they are violent because they have learned that violence is the best way to get those goals under existing circumstances.  Alternatives to violence thus become needed.  Peterson and Denaley’s findings (see above, p. 33) show that mass shooters have a characteristic background, involving abuse, and usually announce their plans in some way before they act.  Proactive prevention of abuse and proactive listening, reaching out, and treating young people with violent and suicidal or murderous ideology is obviously needed.

From a wider social context, several obvious things need doing in the United States to accomplish any of these goals.  Among these are: making campaign statements sworn testimony to prevent outright lying, ensuring voting rights, ending gerrymandering and voter suppression, getting big money out of politics and making all political money fully transparent, fighting corruption, saving the environment, and cracking down on hate crimes and incitement of them. 

We need an entire new civil rights movement, focused immediately on putting a total end to gerrymandering, voter suppression, partisan purging of voter rolls, new Jim Crow laws, and similar games.  We need to limit money in politics, starting with a Constitutional amendment to end dark money, demand full disclosure, and force politicians to recuse themselves from voting to help, subsidize, or act in support of any direct economic interest (as opposed to public-interest and worker groups, and even trade organizations) that funded their campaigns. 

Freedom of speech must be defended, but does not include direct incitement to violence, or libel, or false advertising.  These provide enough of a platform to allow us to ban campaign lies, Fox News-style public lying for evil ends, and direct rabid hatred that cannot help but lead to violence.  A great deal of “hate speech”—ordinary racist rhetoric, for instance—must be protected, because if it is banned then those in power will ban anything that annoys them.  This is a “slippery slope” argument that is quite true.  We have hundreds of years of experience, in every realm from religion to education to politics to community “civility” and “political correctness,” to prove it.  The principle is, once again, my rights stop where yours start.

A major part of this must be vastly increasing research on social problems, especially evil as herein defined.  Both scientific research and investigative reporting are required.  The great newspapers are a shadow of their former selves.  We desperately need much more exposure of dark places.

We must ban subsidies as much as possible, and certainly ban subsidies to maintain dinosaur industries that cost more than they produce. We must block the chain from lobbyist to “regulator”; those who lobby for a polluting industry can never be allowed to regulate it.  Above all, we must take actual social and environmental costs—the hard cash people lose—into account in all social and political accounting.  Oil is profitable only because its real costs are passed on as externalities.  Many calculations have shown that gasoline would cost hundreds of dollars per gallon if those costs were internalized.  (For more, see Anderson 2010.)

The only way to get these goals accomplished is the tried and true combination of mass peaceful demonstrations, teach-ins, media campaigns with new media dedicated to the task, proposals for comprehensive legislation, and above all getting people voted into office at all levels of government from waterworks boards on up (see Chenowith and Stephan 2012 on what succeeds in people’s campaigns).  These are the measures that worked for the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the antiwar movements, the environmental movement, and every other popular cause that got beyond shouting.  Voting and media attention without demonstrations and other active measures are not enough.

Social pressures, leadership, and social behavior are critical, motivating most of the good and evil behavior; cultural models are critical in providing plans for how to act; and individual personality and environment factors finally determine what a given person will do.  The social, political, and economic environment provides a back story, but the direct motivation is typically social pressure by leaders and peers.  Improving bad situations requires full social change.  Revolutions rarely work; they simply bring other violent leaders to the fore to replace earlier ones.  Social and cultural change requires deeper and more systematic, and therefore more gradual, evolution.  This requires personal commitment.  The oft-heard argument that changing oneself is a waste of time because only vast social changes matter is self-defeating.  Without changing ourselves, unless we are already committed actors, we will never have the courage or drive to change anything.

            Bringing about all those changes will depend on teaching and otherwise carrying the word, on contributing to organizations that fight for justice and truth, and on modeling civil behavior.  People need to choose 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.

One cannot keep a totally open and tolerant mind.  As in eating and drinking, moderation is advised.  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.        

Very few ways of feeding the good wolf have worked in the past, but those few have worked very well.  Unsurprisingly (given the human condition), they largely add up to empowerment of individuals through provision of human rights.  We also need to go back to civility in society, as long argued by Jurgen Habermas (1987), and stop fighting each other over every change.

            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. 

            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” (“Yugo-“Slavia”) 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 (these insights come from my own questioning and observation in Croatia in 1988).  “Multiculturalism” in the United States has had some similar problems; when it emphases the classic American e pluribus unum, it works, but 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.

            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.  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.  Recall, also, that mindful meditation reduces existential fear and thus defensiveness and intolerance (Park and Pyszczynski 2019).

             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.

            The good wolf is fed by empowerment, which brings confidence and hope, and allows rational assessment and coping.  Weakness and fear feed the bad wolf.  They lead to scared and defensive reactions, including sudden breakdowns into terror, rage, and violence, and allowing strongmen above the law to rule the polity. Society, especially social leaders protecting their stakes, almost always do the actual feeding.

            For having a decent world, and for having a future for the world, we must 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.

Appendix: Special Topics

            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 by Tom Paine and John Stuart Mill.

            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. 

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 they would think that 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.

            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 a con game, or incitement to murder), that is something else.  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.  We also have no freedom to disclose proprietary secrets, or to plagiarize.  Freedom is not a matter of absolute freedom; it is a matter of considering others’ rights.  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.

            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 must be restricted.  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 by churches—with donations of laundered or illegally-gained money—is banned in the US by the Johnson Rule.  It is inappropriate for churches and temples. 

            Preachers who are clearly in it for the money rather than the souls are all too common, and tax laws must 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.

            Tolerance, the most desperately needed and vitally important civic virtue, 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 must 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 can 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, but if they are acting to harm others, they must be stopped.  Toleration of ideas is a good; we need to argue and negotiate and work them out.  Toleration of specific 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 must 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 because they are fellow travelers on the planet, is the basic and essential need of a functioning society.

            It is therefore unacceptable to hate or reject anyone because 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 are also not given license to kill off his entire ethnic group just because he attacked us.  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 means 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 over the rest.

            Racism and religious bigotry are more open now than they have been since the 1960s or perhaps even the 1920s.  However, the real underlying problem seems to be a more general increase in hostility and antisocial aggression.  We have mass shootings in which the victims are country music fans (Las Vegas), Baptist churchgoers (Texas), Walmart customers, and other ordinary Americans.  By far the greatest number of mass-murder and terrorist killings in recent years have been of this sort; very few are either Islamic-extremist or otherwise religiously or racially motivated.  Ordinary murders are also increasing again after years of decline. 

            It thus seems that there is a major need for calming speeches and for ideas on how to reduce violence and antagonism in general.  Certainly, we still need to combat racism, and to defend freedom of religion, especially freedom from bullying in the name of religion.  We need even more to combat overall hostility.

            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 and now by the far left, 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 win in 2020 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. 

            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 must think of sustainability and respect.

            The Endangered Species Act has been under permanent attack by Republicans since it was proposed.  The ostensible reason is that the act saves worthless weeds and bugs at the expense of human interests.  The real reason is that it protects habitat that corporate interests want to use.

            Balancing environmental protection against immediate use is always difficult, and requires much more attention than it usually receives, but in this case there should be no question.  “Extinction is forever.”  Once a species is extinct, it can never be brought back (despite recent claims for reconstruction through DNA—still merely a vision).  Most of the species proposed for protection are economically and ecologically valuable.  A few “weeds and bugs” do get protection, but they are probably more important than they look.  We still have no idea what is important in nature.  Sometimes, loss of an apparently minor species has caused meltdown of a whole ecological system.  Beyond mere utility, there is an issue of respect for life and living things.  Individuals can be replaced; species cannot.

            We also need a mechanism for moving quickly to protect species that collapse suddenly.  A new pesticide, an epidemic, a rampantly multiplying introduced pest, or an ill-considered human action can rapidly change a species from common to endangered. 

            The need for environmental protection and conservation is now obvious to everyone except certain giant corporate interests, who persist in seeing everything natural as a problem to be eliminated.  Even far-right activists admit a need for some action.  Sustainability of resource use is obviously necessary when at all possible, given the rapid expansion of US population and economic activity.  Some things will inevitably be lost; we need to restore a great deal to make up for that. 

            Anti-pollution rules, wise use rules, and conservation in general are under full and total attack by the few corporate interests, however.  This has led to some extreme rhetoric on all sides.   Always, the worst problem is the fossil fuel industry, which not only causes most of the pollution and global warming, but is fighting for its life against cheaper, more efficient, ecologically preferable energy sources.  It now survives thanks to enormous taxpayer subsidies, so it plows vast sums into lobbying and into spreading disinformation.  The amount this industry spends on those activities could very possibly finance a full-scale conversion to clean energy.

            One huge problem that is widely ignored is loss of farmland.  Soil conservation has been quite effective in the US in recent years, leading to complacency.  The real problems now are urbanization and pollution.  Vast areas of productive soil and waters are lost to these.  California has urbanized almost a third of its farmland, including almost all the very best land, in the last two centuries.  Within my memory, “Silicon Valley” (the San Jose Valley) was probably the most productive orchard land in the world.  It now has no orchards at all.  Nothing is being done to halt the steady conversion of the best land to suburbs and parking lots.  Other states suffer less, but the problem is nationwide (and worldwide). 

            Conversely, there are some reasons to pull back on Obama’s new national monuments, and rather more reasons to look for more due process in future.  Obama declared vast areas of mixed-use land as national monument, without local consultation or input, and with some disregard for established interests.  In general, one can only sympathize with land protection, but more local input is highly desirable for both pragmatic and democratic reasons.

            Forestry has also suffered from a see-saw battle between lock-down preservation and totally destructive and wasteful clearcutting.  Wiser solutions (reforestation, controlled burning, thinning, etc.) have been well known for over 100 years.  They are too rarely invoked today.  A scan of satellite photographs of Oregon is instructive:  tiny pockets of overcrowded locked-down preserves, surrounded by vast moonscapes of badly recovering clearcuts.  Oregon has lost most of its songbirds, as well as its forestry futures.  There is a desperate need to maintain more wilderness, for reasons that have filled many whole books, but that would need to include some burning to preserve actual wild conditions.

            Specific conservation areas of major concern:

Biodiversity and endangered species preservation

Forest management: sustainable logging, controlled burning, disease control, etc.

Grasslands, wetlands and streams, brushlands, deserts:  sustainable management

Agriculture: getting away from deadly chemicals, continuing to fight soil erosion, saving farmland from urbanization, reducing meat and increasing vegetables, etc.


Urban sprawl and urban crowding; urban blight; lack of parks, markets, etc.


Park and recreation areas that are actually accessible to everyone

Environmental education       

Regulating imports: banning endangered species and hunting trophies, controlling dangerous pest importation, banning palm oil, banning or discouraging other ecocidal crops, etc.

            There is now no question that the world is warming rapidly, and that human-released greenhouse gases are the main reason.  The outright denialist positions are now apparently monopolized by public-relations people working for fossil fuel corporations.  (There is a long list of books and articles documenting this.)  Since not only all scientists, but all persons who have spent much time outdoors over more than a couple of decades, must admit that global warming is occurring, the denialists have fallen back on saying that it’s happened before.  Indeed it has; we know the causes, which were either the earth changing its tilt in regard to the sun (so the sun more effectively warmed the earth) or natural releases of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide and methane.  The most dramatic well-known episode of that was a massive outpouring of CO2 from volcanoes, about 50 million years ago.  The Eocene world warmed rapidly and dramatically, and stayed warm for about 200,000 years.  Then it cooled so fast that trees growing in the high Arctic froze in place.  Explorers unthinkingly used some of them for firewood, only later discovering that their firewood was 50 million years old.  We are now releasing quantities of greenhouse gases comparable to those released by the volcanoes.

            The immediate consequences include slow but sure sea level rise, and increase in global temperatures to the point where major changes in biota and in human lives will occur.  In a bit of karma, the world’s main oil producing region, the lowland Middle East, will become uninhabitable in a few decades, as air temperatures soar into the 180s.  No one knows where this will end.  There is no reason to expect that the earth will not suffer the fate of Venus, with surface temperatures in the hundreds of degrees.

            The fastest and most effective way to deal with this is by leaving or restoring natural vegetation, especially forests.  That alone could blot up 20% of atmospheric carbon, given quite possible scenarios.  Other agricultural changes in the direction of less fuel-intensive, more biointensive farming would greatly help also.  There is a long literature on this, some reviewed in: Griscom, Bronson; Justin Adams; Peter Ellis; Richard Houghton; Guy Lomax; et al.  2017.  “Natural Climate Solutions.”  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114:11645-11650.

            Ultimately, the solution must extend to clean power; power generation for electric grids, transportation, and industry accounts for the other 80% of greenhouse gas release. 

            The denial industry has been financed by the large fossil-fuel corporations, who have hired public-relations firms and in-house scientists.  The Koch brothers are the most conspicuous organizers and funders of the effort, but ExxonMobil, Shell, and other firms have been involved. 

  • Health

            All other developed countries, and many less developed ones, now have government health care systems: socialist, single-payer, or government-insured.  All these systems work better than the US system, but every normal measure: life expectancy, days lost to work, maternal mortality, infant mortality, and coping with illnesses in general.  The US mix of government, private insurance, and private or religious health care is a disaster.  American pay twice as much as Europeans for vastly inferior care.  The only reasonable solution is to expand Medicare and Medicaid to cover everyone, while also expanding the CDC and other government agencies that deal with health. 

            Health education is another problem, as is the level of nutrition in virtually all environments in the US (and, in this case, most of the rest of the world also). 

            Research should add more work on prevention and education to the ongoing research on actual pathology and treatment.  We are not doing enough to prevent conditions like substance abuse.   We are not doing enough to stop pollution and clean up polluted environments.

  • Education

            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 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) 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, Thomas 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 should be done along with reading, writing, history, and math, if we are to survive.

            The Republican tax cuts have caused a massive and steadily increasing flow of wealth from the poor and middle class to the super-rich.  Cutting tax deductions that the middle class uses, while maintaining those for the rich, accompanies huge cuts to the highest brackets of taxing and trivial and temporary cuts to the rest of us.  The resulting rise in national debt will be managed by cutting Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other programs that transfer wealth to the less fortunate.  The worst problem with that, from an economic point of view, is that money in those programs is immediately spent—it goes directly into circulation, to buy goods and services.   The rich, in contrast, hoard their money, waiting for ideal investment possibilities.

            This is bad enough in the current good times, but Republican policies will certainly cause a depression in the near future.  At that point the less affluent will lose their jobs and savings, and the rich will have every incentive to move their wealth offshore—investing in other countries or stashing their money in tax shelters like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.  Other countries will be developing while the US is depressed; hence the rich will invest in the other countries. 

            By that time, also, education will have been devastated by Republican policies and funding cuts (see Kansas, currently leading in that area).  There will be no pool of young, educated people to re-grow the economy.  The depression will feed on itself, bringing the United States down, and letting other nations pick up the lead.

            The Democrats must unite, first of all, before doing anything else.  The current disunion (routinely described in the media as a “circular firing squad”) is suicidal.  Democrats will never win any close elections until they at least vote for each other. 

            Then, obviously, appealing to the former base—the great working class—is the next most important thing to do.  Democrats are perceived, with much reason, as having forsaken the workers to pursue other issues, many of which are of interest mainly to well-to-do, educated urbanites.  Populist issues like health care and tax fairness should be foregrounded.

            Third is getting out the vote.  This should be obvious, but Democrats have failed to do it for the last several elections.  Money is spent on lavish media campaigns—not terribly effective—instead of the proven doorbell-ringing and precinct phoning and activism.

            Fourth is a concentrated fight against voter suppression and gerrymandering.  Again, this should be obvious, but Democratic officials have been surprisingly quiet about it.

            Fifth is more aggressive calling out the Trump administration on their constant lies and misrepresentations, and above all naming names of their funders and backers who are really calling the dishonest shots—the Koch brothers on global warming, for instance.

            There are many other issues I could name, but those five, in order, seem to me the key ones.  Without attention to these five, the Democratic party is finished, and the US will be a one-party nation.

            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 over 80% of their incomes on actual charity work (as opposed to “overhead” and administration), or political outfits masquerading as “non-profits.”  Offshore tax havens and the like would be absolutely illegal, with extreme penalties.

No subsidies, no favoring specific businesses, minimal restriction of business and trade, but firm regulations such that harm and cheating do not happen. 

            Free universal health care (free up to a point—small deductibles possible, and no free discretionary treatment such as plastic surgery for looks).

            Free universal education with arts as well as sciences in the schools.

            Savage penalties for corruption, which would be defined to include donating campaign funds beyond a set low limit.

            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.

            Campaign fund regulations, especially in sensitive things like judicial elections.

            Aesthetics encouraged; national conservation in museums, sites, etc. 


Thanks to Barbara Anderson, Christopher Chase-Dunn, Peter Grimes, Hollie Nyseth Brehm, Jennifer Skornik, and Andrea Wilson for ever-valuable comments.


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Northwest Coast: Traditional Indigenous Relationships with Plants and Animals

Northwest Coast: Traditional Indigenous Relationships with Plants and Animals

E. N. Anderson

Draft of March 2019

This is a book in progress.  It is about half done.  What is needed is a search through old collections of “myths and texts” to find as much documentation as I can of traditional conservation and sustainability ideas.  I have also only begun work on the art section and some other sections.  I have been working on this book off and on for over 30 years, and at 78 I fear I will not live to finish it.  The press of events has made it impossible to work for the immediate future.  So here is half of it, for anyone that wants that much! 

You are free to use it, but cite it fully and list as “work in progress.”




1.  Nature

2.  Traditional Culture Areas

3.  Cultural-Ecological Dynamics

4.  Traditional Resource Management

5.  White Settler Contact and Its Tragic Consequences

6.  Resource Mismanagement Since 1800

7.  The Ideology behind It All

8.  Respect

9.  Worldviews Underwriting Knowledge

10.  Teachings and Stories

11. The Visual Art

12.  Conclusions

Appendix 1.  A Note on Languages

Appendix 2.  The Old Northern Worldview

Appendix 3.  The “Wasteful” Native Debunked


            This work tells the story of traditional management of plant and animal resources by Native peoples of the Northwest Coast of North America.  There, management strategies are rooted in practice developed over thousands of years of living off the land.  A broad ideology of conservation, wise use, care, and respect has evolved. 

            There are many similarities between Northwest Coast views and those of other hunting and fishing peoples of the northern hemisphere, and one feature of this book is to trace resemblances and relationships—more suggestively than systematically, but at least with some grounding.

The book is the product of many years of thinking about experiences, many of them long ago.  I first visited the Northwest in 1960, driving major highways through Washington and Oregon.  Work exigencies have taken me back to the area, for at least flying visits, in most years since.  I did field research on the Northwest Coast in 1983-87, primarily in 1984 and 1985.  I lived in Seattle from 2006 through 2009. 

My research was rather varied in nature, and in the end focused largely on the writings of Wilson Duff, an anthropologist active in the mid-20th century (Duff 1996).  However, I did field work on ecological and environmental issues for about several months in 1984 and another three in 1985, largely among the Nuu-chah-nulth and Haida.  I have driven or hiked through every part of the region treated, covering every mile of major highway in Washington, Oregon and California, and a fairly thick sampling of British Columbia and southern  Alaska.  I can also draw on a great deal of field experience in Mexico and some in Mongolia, where I could live with Indigenous people who still fully maintained beliefs and ontologies similar to the ones described herein.

            This book is also a belated fulfillment of a promise:  to help Native people get fair treatment in their land claims.  Aboriginal title to land and rights to manage resources were not recognized in Canada.  They were finally given some standing from the late 1990s, but use and management rights are still controversial.  In the United States, Native peoples were recognized as “dependent nations” from the earliest years of the republic, but the interpretations of this have fluctuated, depending on whether “dependent” or “nations” was being foregrounded.  Treaty rights to fisheries were disregarded in Washington state, for instance, until Judge Boldt in 1978 ruled that they had to be enforced.  Title to land was recognized, but was signed away (often at gun point) through unequal treaties, or was simply stolen or acquired by duplicity.  Various claims and compensation have resulted, but in both Canada and the United States there is a long way to go.  In 1985 I promised to Haida friends that I would write what I could that would be useful.  I have since written several items about Northwest Coast human ecology, notably my introduction to Wilson Duff’s writings (1996) and relevant sections in my books Ecologies of the Heart (1996) and Caring for Place (2014), and the time has come to bring all together.

Earl Maquinna George, Nuu-chah-nulth scholar, has written:  “The work of a non-native is colored by the inability of the outsider to experience the context of the information collected…there are many parts of native life that have never come out in their work” (George 2003:38).  Of this I am painfully aware, and I am in no position to do any better.  Fortunately, I can often rely on quoting George and other First Nations writers.  Many Indigenous persons are now leading scholars of their traditions, and I will have much occasion to refer to them below.

The position of a person who has devoted his life to being a cross-cultiural interpreter is never easy.  Recently, people like me have been criticized far more severely than Earl George would do.  The point under it all is that we really do not have the lived experience of people who grew up with the label “Native American.”  We do not have the specific experiences of oppression, stereotyping, prejudice, and disenfranchisement.  On the other hand, we can use the data, and we can bring some comparative focus to the enterprise.  We can also bring a real desire to understand and help.  Above all, we can help get the word out.  I try to quote as much as possible, from both early collections and modern works. 

            There is a serious issue with making use of traditional stories recorded in collections of texts.  Many of these were recorded with full permission, for publication, and were told by people who had the rights to tell them.  Many were not.  I have tried to confine my citations of traditional stories to material in the first category, but to do anything like a proper job, I must cite materials that may be in the second.  I have, however, consciously tried to avoid using distorted, “edited,” bowdlerized, or otherwise “settler”-altered materials, and materials clearly recorded from shaky sources or published without even the pretense of permission. I ask forgiveness for errors.  I believe that the traditional teachings of the Northwest Coast are so important that they should be made available to the wider world if they are already out there in published form.

            In usage, I prefer the term “Native American,” though it has drawbacks.  Most of the people in question call themselves “Indians,” but often prefer to be “Native Americans” in formal contexts.  In Canada “First Nations” is now the polite term of reference.  “Indigenous” is a vexed term, but cannot be avoided.  “Local” and “traditional” have their usual vague meanings.  I am quite aware that while some traditions are thousands of years old, some are only a generation old; if their bearers think of them as “traditions,” I am not going to object.  

Similarly, we are stuck with “supernatural” to refer to spirit beings, though they are considered perfectly natural on the Northwest Coast, and include the immortal essences of ordinary animals, these having been “supernaturals” in ancestral times.  I try to avoid making irrelevant discriminations such as “natural” and “supernatural” (see Miller 1999), but most sources use the word, and better recent coinages like “supramundane” are just not current usage.  Finally, the term “authentic” has become so polarized in Northwest Coast studies that I try to avoid it altogether.  It has been especially problematic in art, where modern Native American works were often criticized in the past for not being like those of a hundred years earlier, these latter being somehow more “authentic.”  I apologize for any offense given by particular usages. 

            Native terms are spelled as they are in the sources I quote.  I am not a professional linguist, do not speak any Northwest Coast languages, and am in no position to decide what is “correct,” in a land with dozens of languages and hundreds of local variants.  Many different systems of linguistic transcription are in use, and many Native people prefer the old missionary syllabary system, despite its unsavory origins and implications, because it has been so familiar for so long.  See Appendix 1 for a quick guide to languages.

            I am grateful to a wide range of people, but owe a special debt to my coworker in the 1980s Evelyn Pinkerton, who is not only the finest ethnographer I have ever seen at work but a superb scholar and human being.  I have also had special help and support over the years from Marnie Duff, Leslie Johnson, Joyce LeCompte-Mastenbrook, Nancy Turner, and many other scholars.  My contacts with First Nations people were all too short, usually confined to brief interviews, but I need to acknowledge in particular Guujaw (Gary Edenshaw), Ki-Ke-In (Ron Hamilton), Nelson Keitlah, the late Ray Seitcher, and others.  For particularly valuable advice in the field work years and since, I am grateful to Ron and Marianne Ignace.  I thank also many people whose names I withhold for various reasons of privacy.


            The Northwest Coast of North America is of interest for many reasons, not least being the careful management of plant and animal resources by Indigenous peoples there.  Thanks to care backed by an ideology of respect, the Native people supported dense populations with rich artistic traditions and complex stratified societies.  The environment was not just sustainably managed; it was managed to get better over time.  Burning for berries, stocking fish, cultivating root crops, and other techniques exemplified in real time the visionary goal of “sustainable development” that seems so hard to imagine in today’s world.

The characteristics of the Indigenous Northwest are so well described in so many books that it would be tedious to go into detail; see the classic cultural summaries in the Smithsonian Institution’s Handbook of North American Indians, Northwest Coast volume (Suttles 1990). 

            Defining the region is, however, briefly necessary.  The Smithsonian Insititution Handbook is divided into volumes by culture areas.  My “Northwest Coast” overlaps their Plateau (Walker 1998) and Subarctic (Helm 1981), and even makes incursions into California (Heizer 1978).  The problem is that the Indigenous people did not divide themselves into neat culture areas.  The classic Northwest is defined by large plank houses, monumental visual art, ranked societies with chiefs, commoners and slaves, dependence on fish for subsistence, and heavy use of wood in this thickly-forested environment.  The Plateau is defined by large pit houses, use of riverine fish (anadromous or not), heavy use of roots dug in semidesert lithic plains, less strongly ranked societies, and smaller settlements.  The Subarctic is a land of small lightly-built houses, seminomadic societies made up of small bands or groups, and heavy use of mammalian prey (though fish remained staple in many areas). 

Obviously, there will be border groups that partake of two or three cultural areas—sharing one trait with one area, another with another.  The Tsetsaut, Wetsuweten and other Athapaskan-speaking groups shared varying amounts of Northwest culture while being Subarctic in other ways, including linguistic affiliation.  The Wasco and Wishram along the Columbia mediated between Coast and Plateau; so did some other groups.  The little-known Calapuya and Molalla of Oregon do not seem to fit comfortably into any category.  The Yurok, Karok and their neighbors in California neatly bridge the gap between Northwest and California.  The Klamath and Modoc might be considered Northwest Coast, Plateau, California, or even Great Basin.  The areal classifications are modern constructs, not some sort of cast-iron reality. 

Given this ambiguity, I see every reason to draw examples and principles from the farthest extent possible.  Essentially, any group in a drainage basin whose outlet is on the Pacific is within my purview.  This lets me go far inland up the Columbia and Skeena rivers.  I will, of course, usashamedly take examples from even farther afield, where they are relevant (largely in the case of Athapaskan groups that are in other drainages but are very similar in culture to the ones in my area of focus, but also from as far afield as east Siberia).

Using river drainages to define areas has the advantage that the drainages are biologically real and important things, unlike the culture areas, which are somewhat arbitrary classification schemes imposed originally by museum scholars.  Moreover, the rivers provided trade and communication corridors.  Northwest Coast trading was long-range and extensive.  Routes led for hundreds of miles, and individuals often traveled hundreds of miles themselves.  Heavy-loaded canoes went up and down the coast, and there was even regular canoe traffic across Hecate Strait between Haida Gwaii and the mainland; this is such dangerous water that off-season kayakers are often lost today, and many a big boat has been wrecked.  Rivers unified peoples.  Individuals of totally unrelated languages could, and frequently did, meet at major fishing areas, trade, exchange ideas, and frequently marry.  It was evidently rather rare, in anything close to a border zone, to speak only one language.  Many people grew up with two languages in the home. 

The boundary between America and Asia is similarly meaningless culturally.  Since Franz Boas, anthropologists have realized that the northeast Siberian Indigenous peoples were culturally similar to the Northwest Coast ones, though the languages were different (except for Yuit, shared across Bering Strait).  Boas persuaded the wealthy New Yorker Morris Jesup to fund a major “expedition” to study societies on both sides of the Strait.  It was not an expedition in the normal sense, but funding for ethnographers and archaeologists to spend months or a year in a given area, finding all they could about it.  Some of the great classics of ethnography resulted, and some shall be considered below. 

Since then, studying the two sides of the North Pacific as one area has been an agenda pursued by William Fitzhugh and his associates (see esp. Fitzhugh and Crowell 1988), Ben Colombi and James Brooks (2012), and others.  Even farther afield, I encountered attitudes and practices in Mongolia that were essentially the same as what I have seen in the Northwest, and the connecting links via the Siberian societies prove a continuous cultural pattern, not independent invention.  I shall thus introduce Asian examples as occasion affords.

More tenuous are connections across the Subarctic to old Europe.  The Jesup Expedition found no lack of evidence of continuity.  Such things as skis/snowshoes, dogsleds, complex harpoons, skin tipis, and particular forms of sewn skin clothing prove conclusively that there was a “circumpolar” cultural area.  Since we also observe the same patterns of belief and practice in regard to hunting and animals prevalent throughout this area, we can safely assume that there has been at least some sort of ongoing contact, however indirect, thin, qualified, and tentative.  I have thus defined an “Old Northern worldview,” based on these patterns.  I have, however, relegated it to an appendix (Appendix 2), in the rather confident expectation that I will be challenged for vast overgeneralization.  Time will, hopefully, tell how much sharing matters in this case.

            Finally, I cannot stress strongly enough that all groups within this vast area are different, and the families and individuals within them are different from each other.  Generalizing at the level found in this volume is at a very general level indeed.  It blurs out countless major differences and minor nuances. I am concerned with very broad principles of environmental management.  These can be safely generalized, but only if they are kept at a high level of abstraction.  In what follows, I will make distinctions where necessary, but readers should remember that extensive quotes from individuals apply, in the last analysis, only to that individual and, hopefully, his or her ethnic group.  I quote to illustrate very broad and general points about northwestern North America or even the Old Northern worldview in general, but the quotes will have nuances and specific details relevant to the quoted individual’s own life and experience. 

            I, personally, am struck by the similarities across this vast area—the reverence for salmon and wrens that stretches from ancient Ireland to Haida Gwaii, the personhood of moose by the Yukaghir and Beaver—but readers should be aware that the ancient Irish are otherwise not much like the Haida, nor are the Yukaghir the Beaver in disguise.  We have had more than enough of the ascription of “shamanism” to all Indigenous peoples, of the myth of the Noble Savage (Ellingson 2001), and of the stereotype of the “primitive in harmony with nature.”   I am quite conscious of both the differences between groups and of the extreme danger of essentializing and overgeneralizing.  I am trying to tease out particular themes that are both widespread and valuable from a maze of cultural specifics.  Readers are warned not to take anything I say as essentializing some mystic unity among these groups. 

            I am not alone, though, in finding commonalities.  The Haida have been compared for over 100 years with the Vikings, and this has been put on a systematic footing by Johan Ling, Timothy Earle and Kristian Kristiansen (2018).  They define a type of society, the maritime chiefdom, based on seafaring, trade, slave-taking, and some on-shore production of goods and food.  They see close similarities between early Bronze Age and Viking Scandinavia, which is hardly surprising, but then observe that societies from the Haida to the Solomon Islanders display similar patterns: chiefdoms made up of fiercely independent people, united behind leaders of descent groups, living by fishing and seafaring, trading extensively, and taking, trading, and using slaves.  They compare these with nomadic herding peoples, who often have similar patterns of high mobility and extensive trading. 

            On the Northwest Coast, the Haida are certainly the best example.  Some of the Kwakwala-speaking groups, such as the Lekwiltok, come close.  The Nuu-chah-nulth, Makah, and other coastal groups are more local, less trade- and slave-oriented, more satisfied with producing for themselves.  There is, in fact, a smooth gradation from the Haida through these groups to the Salish peoples, perhaps more often targets of slaving than slavers themselves, and much more local in their journeys.  The interior groups often traded and had some slaves, but did not take long sea journeys.  This gradation from sea-raider to local producer makes one dubious of the value of inventing a “maritime mode of production” (as Ling et al. do).  One may better speak of a natural adaptation to local circumstances.  Be that as it may, the comparison stands.

Northwest Coast people and neighboring Siberians share certain ideas, just as westerners share ideas of individualism and individual rationality without losing cultural identity thereby.  These ideas are worth attention, but do not diminish cultural and personal uniqueness. These groups also share much more specific things: details of shamanism and vision quests, specific folktales and songs, specific traits of material culture, even games and clothing styles.  Also, trade kept links open; Anastasio (1972:169) provided a list of 53 classes of goods regularly traded in the Plateau, from abalone shells to yew wood for bows, and even that list is incomplete.  Turner (2014:137ff) similarly discusses the effects of trade on language; words were borrowed freely all over the region.  The cultural links are real and multifarious. 

However, I could write a whole book about the differences between all, and about the dangers of essentializing. This is not that book, but it is written with a lively awareness of that issue.

1.  Nature

The northwest corner of North America is a land of vast forests and high mountains.  It is difficult country for making a living, especially for hunter-gatherers.  Most of the biomass is tied up in wood.  Moreover, the trees are living chemical factories, producing compounds that discourage insects and other herbivores.  Thus, compared to the deciduous forests of eastern North America or the tropical rainforests, they are quite poor in wildlife.  One can hike for miles without encountering anything more than a squirrel or two and a flock of chickadees and nuthatches.  Old-growth mixed forests develop a richer fauna, but much of the region is covered with Douglas fir, famously well protected by its hardness and its chemical defenses against herbivores of all types.  After living in Doug-fir woods for years I am convinced it is about the most inedible tree on earth.  Nothing bothers it.

Food, from a human standpoint, concentrates along the rivers and coasts.  The fish resources are legendary, and even now have to be seen to be believed.  The major fish resource is anadromous (sea-running) salmonids of seven species.  Five species are called “salmon” by Anglo-Americans, two others are “trout.”  The “salmon” are—in rough order of popularity as food—the chinook or king (Oncorhynchus tschawytscha), sockeye (O. nerka), pink (O. gorbuscha), coho (O. kisutch), and chum or keta (O. keta).  The “trout” are the rainbow, which when sea-running is the “steelhead” (O. mykiss) and the cutthroat (O. clarki), which very locally sea-runs too.  Several other trout and char species occur, and a few of them occasionally sea-run.  (The Great Book on Pacific salmonids is Thomas Quinn’s The Behavior and Ecology of Pacific Salmon and Trout, 2nd edn. 2017, a must-read for all those interested in Northwest ecology.  Among many good accounts of salmon and Native salmon fisheries are Grabowski 2015, Hunn 1990, and Ross 2011 for the Columbia.)

Large rivers may have several runs of the major species, each run coming at a different time and being slightly different genetically from other runs of the same species in the same river.  Salmon smell and taste their way home; the young imprint on their place of rearing, and can detect the scent of their native river far out to sea.  Once in the river, they smell their way up to their origin stream.  Magnetic sense allows them to navigate by that method too.  They evidently recognize bodies and currents of water.  They often do, however, pioneer new homes, especially if—as often happens—landslides or other events have made old homes unreachable.  Salmon are famous for their ability to cross many obstacles—swimming up major waterfalls—but they cannot deal with a really high waterfall.  Also, making a river harder to negotiate may cause them to starve before they reach home.  Each run has evolved to store exactly the amount of fat it needs to swim upriver—they do not feed once in the rivers.  In the past, landslides sometimes blocked rivers and at least temporarily stopped runs.  Modern dam, railroad, highway and other construction that make rivers faster, rockier, more barriered, or otherwise more difficult lead to elimination of runs, through this unfortunate mechanism.

The amount of fish was enormous in the old days.  The Fraser River sockeye run was estimated to be around 160,000,000 fish in 1901, though in 1904 it was down to 6,500,000 due to cyclic variations.  Runs are subject to disastrous accidents that depress that year’s run for a long time without affecting other years’ runs.  The total Fraser salmon run may have produced 3 million to 60 million kg of fish (figures from Michael Kew as summarized by Ignace and Ignace 2017:515).  The Columbia and Yukon systems had many more.  Smaller but still enormous runs negotiated the other rivers.  Even tiny creeks had their own tiny runs.  The large rivers had runs of all six or seven species.  Smaller streams often had fewer.  Steelhead were particularly adaptible (even tiny California creeks have steelhead runs),  Tales of streams that appear “more fish than water” abound from the old days, and a photograph in Thomas Quinn’s book (p. 434) shows that this can be only a slight exaggeration for some streams even today.

Salmon must die after spawning, because their decaying bodies fertilize the water and provide the necessary nutrients for the young.  This sacrifice of life for the newborn is widely noticed and emotionally appreciated by Native peoples, who—in most areas—quickly learned to return all bones to the water to sustain the runs.  Bears take enormous quantities of salmon and eat them on the banks, thus fertilizing those banks as well as the water; thus, incredibly lush vegetation develops along the rivers.  Closing the cycle, much of that vegetation has evolved to dispersed by bears—typically, the bears eat the fruit and then excrete the seeds packaged in fertilizer.  Humans, by managing berry and root resources, took this natural cycle to a new level of sophistication.  

The odd scientific specific names of the salmon are Siberian local names for the species; “sockeye” is a straight borrowing from a Salishan language into English.  All the Native languages have different terms for each species.  Few have a general term for “salmon,” though some do (me in Kwakwala, for instance).  Many indigenous people find it ridiculous that Whites lump such dissimilar fish under one term.  Settler societies, in fact, soon acculturate, and refer to “pinks,” “sockeyes,” and so on, never using the word “salmon” again except in broad economic-statistical contexts.  Northwest Coast people are apt to laugh at outsiders naïve enough to refer to a given fish as a “salmon.”  The odd “Latin” species names of the salmon are the Siberian local names, showing that Siberia too has different names for all.

These species are ecologically differentiated.  Chinooks become huge, especially in the Columbia River drainage, where early-running “springs” were known as “June hogs” from their enormous size.  They run far up the rivers.  Sockeye are smaller, and spawn in small streams draining into lakes, and the young fish rear in the lakes before moving to sea.  Some populations have evolved to spend all their lives in lakes, never growing large or going to sea; these are known as “kokanee salmon.”  They are particularly typical of lakes far from the ocean.  Pinks run into the lower courses of rivers in enormous numbers.  Coho, usually rather small, run very far up into small tributaries and streams; they need particularly cold and clean water, and are thus rapidly dying out in drought-stricken California.  Chum salmon stay in wide lower river courses and estuaries.  Steelhead run into even smaller and more marginal streams than coho, and were the widest of all in distribution, with runs all the way to southern California.

The earliest known use of salmon by humans in North America occurred in central Alaska some 11,500 years ago; the salmon were chum (Halffman et al. 2015).  It is interesting that salmon had already reached that northern drainage by then; it had been totally frozen and unusable not many thousand years before.  Salmon generally return to their native rivers, but are also fast at pioneering when new habitat is available.

Recently, the Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) has become a ranched or farmed fish in the Northwest, with locally disastrous consequences; it has escaped locally and competes with the native fish, but far more serious are the diseases and pests it brought with it, which have totally wiped out the pinks and decimated other species in the areas of farming (largely southern British Columbia).

Salmon were the key resource everywhere that major rivers or their tributaries ran.  Closely related fish, including trout and char of the genus Salvelinus and many whitefish of the genus Coregonus, abound in streams and lakes but do not normally enter the ocean.  They are locally the staple fish, especially in colder inland areas.  Interestingly, one thing the entire world seems to agree on is the superior eating quality of salmonids.  They are the height of gourmet dining more or less everywhere they occur, including areas where they have been recently introduced—notably the southern hemisphere, which has few of its own but which has taken to farming salmonds on a huge scale. 

A conoisseurship of salmon exists on the Northwest Coast, among both Native people and settler societies.  True salmon gourmets can not only tell the species, they can tell which river a salmon came from and sometimes even which run in a particular river.  (At least they claim this.  I have not seen a taste test done.)   One learns to tell the rich, subtle flavor of chinook from the deep, oily meatiness of sockeye and the ethereal, evanescent fragrance of fresh-caught pink. Cohos and farmed Atlantics are more modest but still excellent food, though true Northwesterners tend to abstain religiously from farmed salmon.  Chum or dog salmon is less flavorful, as the names imply; it was saved for use as chum (bits of fish thrown out to lure other fish to be caught) or for feeding the dogs.  Recent attempts to rehabilitate it as “keta salmon” have not met with much success.  Still, it was highly valued by groups like the Nuu-chah-nulth because it was abundant and easy to dry.  It is said to develop a fine flavor when properly dried.

Other riverine resources included sturgeon, which, like the salmon, are anadromous.  The white (Acipenser transmontanus) and green (A. medirostris) occur.  Both are large; the white can be mammoth, reahing 20 feet and 1200 pounds.  Both have suffered from overfishing even more than most river fish.

Another very important resource, especially in the Columbia River drainage, was “eels” (lampreys, Lampreta or Entosphenus, formerly called Petromyzon).  Especially important is the the Pacific lamprey Entosphenus tridentata.  These too are anadromous.  They have proved less popular with settler societies, possibly because of their strange appearance, but they are said to be superb eating.  Many Native groups still relish them and want to manage them for recovery, though they are notorious predators of salmon (see Jay Miller’s very important article on lampreys, 2012).  They too needed respect; Miller quotes Patricia Phillips on Oregon usage: “Night eels were only supposed to be cut with a knife made from freshwater mussel shell, otherwise the eels would feel insulted and fishermen might not catch any more of them.”  (Lampreys caught at night were supposed to be better and healthier than day-caught ones.  Miller 2014:130.)

Many other fish species occur, with suckers being locally very important, especially well inland where anadromous fish are available only during major runs.  Some suckers have huge spawning runs of their own, into shallows or spring areas, and these runs may be critically important to local groups.  The Lost River Sucker of the Oregon-California border, now acutely endangered, was so important to the Modoc that it was a religiously important fish.  The Achomawi similarly revere the suckers of Big Lake in northeastern California, and they have been able to get some protection for this run.  

An important article by Virginia Butler and Michael Martin (2013) points out that, at least in the Columbia River drainage, salmon were far from the only important fish.  They were probably the most important single resource, but, locally, other species could outweigh them in total importance.  Many small freshwater fish occur and could be used, but were probably insignificant resources (on fish in the Northwest, see Hart 1973; McPhail 2007; Wydoski and Whitney 2003).  In the Pend Oreille drainage, for instance, a wide range of local trout, whitefish and other species was important.  Kevin Lyons (2015) provides a very valuable study with complete lists, catching technologies, and life history data.

Elsewhere, open seacoasts afforded sea fish, sea mammals, and shellfish. Marine fish abound, and many strictly freshwater species are common enough to support indigenous communities around lakes in the interior.  Even the rivers had shellfish, including the formerly abundant, valuable, and easy-to-harvest freshwater mussels (Jones 2015). 

The candlefish (Thaleichthys pacificus), a smelt so rich in oil that dried ones can literally be used as candles, was a staple food, specifically an oil source.  It was so important that it is known on the coast as “eulachon,” pronounced and frequently spelled “ooligan,” from Tsimshian halimootxw, “savior”—the same term now used for Jesus (Daly 2005:113, 193).  Getting oil from it originally involved letting the fish decay in cold water till the water could be heated to cook the fat out.  This properly aged ooligan grease is an acquired taste (as the present author can attest).

Ocean fish were at least as important as salmon for the more maritime groups.  Herring were especially abundant, gathering to spawn in bays.  The roe was almost as important a resource as the herring themselves.  Halibut, rockfish, “cod” (a general term for fish, mostly not cod), and other marine fish were important.  The Haida, living on islands with small and generally poor salmon streams, depended more on sea fish than on anadromous ones.

Other marine resources were extremely important too.  The Northwest Coast is absolute paradise from a shellfisher’s point of view.  Rocky shores provide attachment for abalones, mussels, chitons, and limpets.  Chitons, now a little-noted resource, were very popular because of their excellent flavor (Croes 2015; I can confirm both their popularity among the Haida and their excellent flavor in Haida Gwaii).  Sandy beaches and, above all, the vast mudflats of the bays and estuaries provide clam habitat.  Shifting bars in bays and estuaries were ideal for oysters, which require this environment.  The cold, nutrient-rich waters are moved by currents that carry enormous amounts of nutrients to these relatively passive feeders.  Shellfish do not offer many calories, and a day of hard gathering in cold wet conditions may involve more expenditure of calories than it brings in, but shellfish were so common on the coast that they usually paid well.  Vast shell middens thus dot the coastline, and in fact shellfish are still an enormously important commercial resource in the Northwest.  Seaweeds were also major resources, though less well known because they do not preserve archaeologically and have only occasionally been well documented as foods.  (On these types of sea resources, see Lamb and Hanby 2005 for fine photographs and general accounts).

Marine mammals once abounded.  Seals and sea lions were important meat sources.  Some Northwest Coast peoples did extensive whaling—quite an accomplishment for people in open dugout canoes (Colson 1953; Sapir 2004; Sepez 2008).  The importance of sea mammals has been underestimated, because heavy whaling, sealing, and sea otter hunting depleted these resources before anthropologists got to the area.  Protection has allowed the gray and humpback whales to recover somewhat, and many now frequent the sounds of wesern Vancouver Island, where they allow such close approach that people sometimes pat them on the head.  Whaling could pay well under such circumstances, though it was still difficult enough to demand incredible levels of ceremony and magic (Sapir 2004).  Sealing was so extensive that the seal resource base was reduced even before European contact, at least in California (Kay and Simmons 2002) and possibly all along the coast.  Deward Walker (2015) has provided an extremely thorough and detailed account of riverine seal and sea lion hunting along the coast from Washington to California.

Seals and sea lions used to come far inland along the rivers (Walker 2015).  Here they ate a great deal of fish, which evidently did not endear them to the local people, who hunted them when possible.  White settlers exterminated them from the rivers, but with protection they are now back, eating enormous quantities of fish, including endangered runs and rare, declining species such as sturgeons.  This is a source of some concern (Walker 2015).  Restoring Native hunting would be a very good way to handle the situation.

Land mammals are numerous:  moose (very locally), deer, elk, mountain goat, mountain sheep, and smaller animals such as marmots and squirrels.  The land was generally rather poor in game, but many areas were exceptions:  lush mountain meadows, lowland prairies, riparian strips, and wetlands. 

Birds were locally important.  As usual, water was more productive than land.  Millions of ducks, geese, swans, cranes, alcids, and other waterfowl flocked to the coasts, lakes, and marshes.  On land, grouse were locally common, especially in forest openings and prairies.

A final note about animals from the human point of view is that some were food:  fish, shellfish, herbivorous mammals.  Some were competition: bears, wolves, mountain lions and other predators all of which consumed humans on occasion, but, more importantly, competed for the same foods.  Some animals were neither very edible nor dangerous, but were respected for their intelligence and thus their presumed role in creating the world: coyotes, ravens, mice, many others locally.  The complexities of these relationships will appear in due course.

Plant foods concentrated in meadows, glades, and wetlands:  Many species of berries, roots, tubers, stems, shoots, leaves, even flowers.  Many trees had edible inner bark, gathered when soft in spring and eaten ground up or in long strands like noodles.  Some fungi and lichens were edible.  In most of the region, these plant and fungal foods did not supply many calories compared to fish or mammals, but they were often essential and always valuable for nutrients.  In the interior parts of Washington and Oregon, root foods were extremely important.  Increasingly as one goes south through Oregon into California, plant foods such as acorns became more abundant, being about as important as fish to the California groups.

Berries were among the more important plant foods in most of the area.  Huckleberries and blueberries (Vaccinium) are especially common and widespread, especially in the mountains.  They tend to be fire-followers, which is important for reasons that will appear.  Highbush cranberries (Viburnum) are locally common.  Blackberries and raspberries (Rubus) occur in many species.  Particularly common and important in the coastal northwest is the salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), a raspberry of indifferent flavor but extremely high bearing; it also has edible shoots that are like bitter celery. 

With berries, as with fish, humans compete with bears for the resource.  Many tales recount the problems thus occasioned.  A hungry grizzly can supposedly eat 100,000 berries a day.  I have watched a grizzly pick up whole huckleberry bushes and pass them through her teeth, pulling off berries, leaves and twigs and swallowing all together.  Berries are a plant’s way of getting birds and mammals to disperse (and fertilize) its seeds, and bears probably take much credit for distributing berries around the landscape.

Critical in all the above is the extreme contrast between fantastically rich waters—shoreline and sea—and usually poor land resources, especially at high altitudes.  On land, there were similar if less extreme contrasts between berry and root patches—mostly openings, prairies, and plains—and the forests, which were very poor in foods that humans could exploit.  Not only are they minimally productive of edible material; most of what they do produce is tens or hundreds of feet up, out of normal human reach.  Even in the water, there are differences.  At one extreme are choke points where falls and rapids delay salmon migration and concentrate the fish ascending the river; the most famous one is The Dalles on the Columbia, but there are similar if less dramatically productive cascades in most large rivers.  At sea, certain points where currents meet and upwelling zones appear are particularly productive. 

The commonest tree is Douglas fir.  Its superior wood now makes it a staple of world trade, but it was of less use aboriginally; the hard wood is difficult to work, though it makes excellent firewood.  A useful statistic is that a mature Douglas fir may have 70,000,000 needles, a fact not at all surprising to the present author, who spent years sweeping a deck under a grove of them.  (For this, and for more useful information about forest management conflicts, see Satterfield 2003.)  Since Douglas fir grows only in sun and usually only in disturbed habitats, it is naturally a follower of fire, flood, and blowdown.  It is thus the ideal tree for management by clearcut-and-replant, and therefore dismal cornfield-like stands of “Doug fir” cover most of the accessible Northwest today.

Much more useful to Native people was the red cedar (Thuja plicata, technically a cypress, not a cedar).  Its wood is softer and easy to work, but extremely durable, making it the preferred material for canoes, totem poles, and woodwork in general.  One can carve, split, or bend it with convenience, and it is very tractable and cooperative—few knots or splinters or checks or splits.  It grows to enormous size—only the redwoods are much bigger—and thus a single log can make a dugout big enough to carry a whole crew and several tons of freight.  Dugouts are still made of cedar today, mostly for show but sometimes still for use.

Cedars invaded the Northwest rather slowly after the glaciations, not becoming common in more northern areas till about 6000 years ago; cedar and spruce are still spreading northward.  Cedars could be overharvested.  On Anthony Island in Haida Gwaii, where the red cedar is at the very edge of its range, cedars decline dramatically from about 500 AD, when the island became the site of a large village with many canoes and totem poles (Lacourse et al. 2007). 

The related yellow cedar replaces the red in cold and wet areas.  Its wood is useful, and its shreddy bark makes perfectly serviceable clothing.  Another useful tree was the red alder (Alnus rubra), much smaller but with hard wood.  The Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia) provided the best bows (as the European yew did in old England).  Many small trees with distinctive characteristics exist, such as the Oregan crabapple (Malus fusca), a true apple with extremely hard wood and small fruits that are sour but good (see long, detailed study by Reynolds and Dupres 2018).  Much commoner and more visible are the true firs, Abies species.  Many species exist, some of which grow to 250’.  Despite priority over the name, they have lost it to the Douglas fir in the Northwest. It is not a fir (it may be closer to pines), but is far commoner and has much better wood, so it has usurped the name “fir.”  In western Canada, true firs are called “balsams.”  In the northwestern US, they are “true firs.”

Old-growth coastal forests in the Northwest are quite incredible sights.  (Vaillant 2005 gives a stunning and romantic description.)  Many species of evergreens grow to 200’ or more, some over 300’.  The redwoods of northwestern California can reach 379’; they are by far the tallest trees in the world.  The only other trees on earth conclusively known to break 300’ are the Douglas fir and Sitka spruce.  Possibly other Northwest Coast trees (grand fir, sugar pine, and red cedar) broke 300 in the past.  The sheer amount of wood is incredible.  Wildlife is thin, and mostly far up in the canopy.  Stands were often over 500 years old, since fire and other catastrophes are rare. 

Soil fertility was maintained by nitrogen fixation by lichens, and also—more exotically—by bears dragging salmon up from streams.  The bears would eat some salmon, scavengers would eat more, and the fish and bear-dung would fertilize the land, sometimes as heavily as a modern farmer fertilizing a crop (Gende and Quinn 2006).  This kept alive many trees that needed much nitrogen and could not get it otherwise, such as Sitka spruce.

The interior is different:  fires are much more frequent, and the dominant trees are the fire-following pines and Douglas firs.  (On forest fire regimes, see Agee 1993.)  These do not grow under their own shade, and thus are slowly replaced by shade-tolerant hemlock, cedars, balsam firs, and so on if the fires do not return.   This can take a while.  Douglas firs can live hundreds of years.  Replacement is just beginning in the 100-year-old forests around Seattle.  Soil has much to do with it.  Replacement is far along on rich, deep soils, but barely starting on barren ridgetops.  In the drier and more lightning-prone parts of the interior, fire intervals are much more common than this, so pine and Douglas fir remain dominant indefinitely.

Douglas firs do not tolerate extreme cold, though they can take a lot, and they are replaced in high mountains and north of central BC by spruces of various species.  The interior north is dominated by white spruce, with black spruce on wet sites.  Middle mountain slopes and plateaus that burned often were occupied by lodgepole pine.  Resources are few in pine forests, but include a wide range of fungi (some now commercially valuable) as well as edible cambium and a few herbs.

The typical replacement situation involves alder or cottonwood coming in first.  Alder normally comes in first, especially in less fertile areas, because it fixes nitrogen, as beans do, using symbiotic root bacteria (Rhizobium).  Faster-growing but nitrogen-demanding cottonwood and willow take over in very fertile sites.  Maples, wild cherries, and several other species of trees occur as minor components in the forests. 

The extensive openings created by wetlands, prairies, high mountain meadows and tundras, coastal barrens, and the like are covered by a wide variety of grasses, composites, herbs and bulbs.  Most of these are useful to humans for food, medicine, basketry, cordage, bedding, and many other purposes. 

The vast lava plateaus of interior Washington and Oregon were originally covered by grassland or sagebrush.  These environments were rich in edible roots and bulbs, as well as other plant resources, plus deer and pronghorns.  Root crops are low in calories and take a lot of work, so fish remained the main resource in most of the region.

            Productivity of the seas and waters was almost uniformly high, but the land was uneven in this regard.  Vast areas of rugged, high mountains were almost worthless to early humans except for hunting marmots and mountain goats, and a few other resources.  Much of the forested area was thin on resources, and fire to produce openings was welcome.  At the other extreme of productivity were the mouths of the major rivers.  Here the nutrients of a large percentage of North America were concentrated.  Tens of millions of salmon and countless lesser fish swarmed in the waters.  The extensive mud banks were veritable factories of clams and oysters.  Waterfowl in millions flocked there.  The rich alluvial soil produced roots, berries, and herbs, as well as fast-growing trees.  Bits and pieces of this riverine richness still exist along the lower Skeena, Fraser, Skagit and Columbia, but so terribly hurt by mismanagement that we can form no real idea of what it was like 300 years ago.

2.  Traditional Cultural Areas

In this study I discuss the region classically defined as the “Northwest Coast” (Suttles 1990) and “Plateau” (Walker 1998) cultural areas, as well as neighboring Athapaskan-settled areas linked by rivers and trails to the coast.  Roughly, this comprises what is today the panhandle of Alaska; most of British Columbia; all of Washington, and Oregon; northwestern California; and small neighboring bits of Yukon and Idaho.  Operationally, I am largely defining my topic area as the region where salmon are common enough to be a major resource.  This basically means the Pacific-slope drainages from the Klamath to Alaska.  However, I exclude Alaska itself, except for the panhandle, because it is culturally so different as to require a separate discussion.  I also exclude most of Idaho and western Montana, where the rivers run to the Pacific but the fish are few enough to make the people adapt to other resources, and thus the cultural ecology is different indeed.

Within this area, most of the basic ideas I am considering are broadly similar:  respect for animals and plants, taking them as people (“other-than-human persons”), managing them for conservation but cropping them heavily, and so on.  Since I am concerned with cultural representations of conservation, it is these similarities that matter to my immediate project, and thus I feel comfortable about treating in one book a range of societies that are fantastically different in many other ways.  However, the differences matter too.  One notable example is the contrast between the spectacular totem poles and housefronts of the northern Northwest and the unobtrusive, low-key, but exquisitely detailed arts of the other regions.

The classic Northwest Coast was the realm of large permanent villages and highly complex societies dependent on sea fisheries and salmon.  They are the creators of the great art objects and ceremonies that makes the Northwest so famous.

The Athapaskan groups ranged from small mobile bands hunting big game and camping seasonally for fish to groups bordering on and culturally close to the Northwest Coast tribes.  The Athapaskan groups share a particular and striking epistemology that will be of major concern below.

The Plateau peoples are the most varied ecologically, ranging from the Shuswap and Lakes in the northern forests to the Yakima on the sagebrush deserts of interior Washington.   They lived on a varied diet of fish, game, roots, berries and other plant foods.  Their usual houses were substantial pit houses:  the foundation was dug out two or three feet deep into the ground, large logs were set up in a square, and substantial timbers were put over these to make a domed roof; the whole was then covered with sod.  These large, comfortable, well-insulated houses were ideal for the climate, and they hardly changed for 5,000 years.  The Plateau people were highly mobile, at first in canoes, later on horseback, and their mobility patterns have locally persisted to this day; they may suddenly disappear from one place and reappear in another they supposedly “abandoned” decades before, to the surprise of Euro-American settlers (Ackerman 2005; Pryor 1999).

Humans entered North America from Asia, probably about 16,000 years ago, give or take a millennium.  Earlier dates are suggested by equivocal but interesting evidence from both North and South America.  The stock that came in at these early times was similar to recent finds in south-central Siberia at 24,000 and 17,000 year old levels.  These finds have been genetically sequenced (Raghavan et al. 2014) and prove to be somewhat intermediate genetically between Europe and East Asia; they have many resemblances to earlier Chinese finds and to European and west Asian populations.  The split between east Siberians and Native Americans is about 20,000-23,000 years old; the Athabascans separated later, about 13,000 years ago (Raghavan et al. 2015).  There is no believable evidence of early contact from Europe to the Americas (despite some claims in the media).  There is no question that Native Americans entered the Americas via the Bering Strait within the last few tens of thousands of years.  Native Americans now hold that “we have always been here,” but this applies to their existing languages and societies, not to their ultimate genetic ancestors—as their origin myths generally show, since most relate migrations, or tell of times before humans, when the animals were the people.

Archaeological finds in the Northwest go back to about 12-15,000 years ago, but the area must have been settled before that.  Humans were in South America by 13,000 years ago.  They must have gone through the Northwest to get there.  An early site, On Your Knees Cave on the Prince of Wales islands in Alaska, goes back to 10,300 years ago, has obsidian from Mt. Edziza, on the mainland some 200 km away (Moss 2011; Turner 2014-1:57; on Mt. Edziza, see Reimer 2018).  A wetsite on Haida Gwaii has even preserved wooden tools that look like recent ones but are over 10,000 years old (Moss 2011:90).  Now-extensive archaeology has turned up a long record of gradual learning to use the land more and more efficiently.  There are few, if any, sharp breaks in the record; apparently, people and societies have been developing rather smoothly (Moss 2011), with no evidence of the vast migrations and sudden cultural intrusions that delight archaeologists of Asia.

It is now widely agreed that the main early route into the Americas was along the Northwest Coast.  The famous “Plains corridor” between the Cordilleran and eastern Canadian ice sheets probably did not open early enough to be a competitor, though evidently people came down it as soon as they could.  The Pleistocene glacial maximum, which covered Canada with ice from Atlantic to Pacific and made travel impossible, was earlier than we used to think—more like 19,000 than 16,000 years ago (Clark et al. 2009).  Thus, people could probably have come down the coast by 15,000 BC.  But what was then the coast is now 300 feet deep, the sea levels having risen.  So we know nothing of the earliest migrants. 

By 10,000 years ago, however, people were established in Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands) and elsewhere along the coast.  There is total cultural continuity in Haida Gwaii; apparently the ancestral Haida settled there and never moved.  They were drying salmon in large villages 7000 years ago (Cannon and Yang 2006), e.g. at Namu, where occupation goes back to 11,000 yeas ago.  Salmon and shellfish increases there from 6000 years ago (Moss 2011; Turner 2014-1:84).

The Archaic period lasted from before 10,000 BCE to about 4400, and was characterized by small, mobile groups wandering the landscape, hunting and fishing.  After 4400, the Pacific period set in, lasting until contact with European settlers.  Settled life rapidly advanced, with “storing large volumes of food; increased population density, sendentism, [increasing] household
and community size; escalated warfare; development of canoe-based land-use patterns; more institutionalized social status differences,” and more intensive management of resources (Sobel et al. 2013:31).  Pit houses appear in the interior by very early dates, and were common everywhere by 3000 years ago (Turner 2014-1:85).  By this time also, high-elevation sites were occupied, evidently for berrying and other resource extraction (Turner 2014-1:97).

            Development was fairly slow in early millennia, though large pit houses appear quite early in the record.  Very large, complex societies were established by 1000 BCE.  In the Fraser River canyon, truly astonishing developments existed by 1800 years ago.  At Bridge River, a ttributary that joins the Fraser just north of Lillooet, by 1400-1300 BP there was a huge village with dozens of house pits, some large enough to imply houses holding some 50 people (Prentiss, Cross, et al. 2008; Prentiss, Foor, Hogan, et al. 2012; Prentiss, Foor, Cross, et al. 2016).  Also notable was the rapid rise of inequality; there were chiefs and commoners—more accurately, high-ranked and lower-ranked lineages—and they were very different indeed in the archaeological record.  This village, and other large villages on the middle Fraser, were abandoned around 1000 years ago.  This appears to be due to overhunting, overfishing, and presumably the Medieval Warm Period’s negative effects on fish (the water may have grown too warm for healthy runs).  People reverted to more egalitarian and nomadic lifestyles.

Prentiss and her collaborators review several possible reasons for the rise of inequality in a village like this.  Social learning and imitation is expectably involved.  Self-aggrandizing individuals probably arose; “competitive signaling” by feasts and donations presumably occurred, as it did later.  Presumably some coercion was involved.  There must have been rebels, surely.  Inequality could emerge partly through competition between individuals—presumably their families would slowly evolve into ranked lineages.  Prentiss tends to favor a more moderate situation, in which “house size evolves to solve problems to do with labor management, kin relations, and defense” (Prentiss et al. 2012:544). One assumes some ideological and ceremonial reflection of this (ibid.), but no obvious evidence suggests itself.  Fishing, and control of good fishing spots, was the basis of it all. 

Further research showed diminishing returns to hunting and fishing as the site grew more populous.  More and more mouths had to be fed from less and less available food. This would have meant competition, with the better providers winning out.  Powerful lineages could have arisen as the more successful families consolidated their hold.  Thus in their 2018 paper, the Prentiss group opts for Malthusian pressure as the driver of inequality, social complexity, and bigger, better-built villages.  It would not be the first or only time in history when food problems drove hierarchy and dominance.  When the fishery declined sharply around 1000-900 CE, the population dispersed and the village was abandoned.  It was reoccupied just before settler contact, but abandoned for good in the 1850s, as gold rushes drove Indigenous people away from the Fraser.

Pit houses got larger in early millennia.  On the coast they began to give way to plank houses by 4000-5000 years ago; square house-floors a thousand years older may indicate even earlier ones (Ames and Sobel 2013:131; Moss 2011).  One survives (as an archaeological ruin) from 800 BCE (Sobel 2013:31).  Many were found at the Ozette site.  A single house could contain 35,000 board feet of planks and a village could have a million board feet tied up in housing (Ames and Sobel 2013:138), to say nothing of the amount used for containers, tools, and fuel.  Houses 400 and even 1200 feet long are claimed in early explorers’ accounts, especially for the Lower Columbia and Lower Fraser areas, where resources were really rich.  These would have been adjacent “townhouse” units housing whole villages.

In fact, the whole Northwest Coast shows remarkable continuity, with in-situ development of cultures.  The best-known areas are, unsurprisingly, those nearest the archaeology faculties of the University of British Columbia and the University of Washington.  Here, fairly complex cultures are already known by 3000 years ago, and the modern cultures seem to have been established well over 1000 years ago.  Something of a cultural peak was reached in the Marpole phase along the lower Fraser River and in neighboring areas, 2000-3000 years ago (for Fraser culture history see Carlson et al. 2001).  This may correlate with drier conditions that changed resource availability (Lepofsky, Lertzman et al. 2005).  Major stone fortifications in this area show a great deal of warfare was present in the late prehistoric period (Schaeper 2006).  The global altithermal from around 9000 to 4000 years ago gave way on the Coast, as elsewhere, to a cold period about 3800-2600 (Moss 2011:138).

The same correlation of drying with reduced salmon, more diverse exploitation, and resultant rapid rise in cultural complexity was independently noted for the interior Plateau (Prentiss et al. 2005).  There, complexity of village life increased sharply around 2500 years ago when drier conditions set in.  It reached almost modern levels about 1100 years ago at the start of the Medieval Warm Period, a relatively warm period from the 900s to 1300 CE.  Some increase took place thereafter, in spite of the Little Ice Age from 1300 to 1800.

A more recent site is Sunken Village, on Sauvie Island in the Columbia at Portland.  Here, vast acorn processing and storage facilities exist.  Acorns and hazelnuts were staples.  “The acrorn-leaching technology and baketry of Sunen Village show marked similarities to those of much more ancient Jomon period acorn-processing sites throughout Japan” (Turner 2014-1:101), with similar basket and bag techniques; this is independent invention rather than diffusion. 

Another revealing, though tragic, find was of a young man who apparently fell and froze some 300 years ago at the edge of a glacier in British Columbia near the Alaska border.  Recent melting revealed his body.  He had eaten salmon, crab, and coastal vegetables, so he was evidently coming from the coast.  Particularly interesting was a magnificent spruce-root hat he wore, a masterpiece of basket technology (Turner 2014-1:105 shows a photograph).  Apparently he not only has living relatives, but is probably an individual remembered in local oral tradition (Moss 2011:142-144).  He was cremated and his ashes scattered near where he was found.

By the time the white voyagers and traders reached the area in the mid-18th century, an incredible linguistic diversity existed in the northwest.  This evidently dates back to the very early settlement.  There was maximal opportunity for unrelated groups to establish themselves, and for related peoples to diverge so much that their original relationships are now untraceable.  Many high-level linguistic linkages have been postulated (e.g. between Haida and Na-Dene and between Wakashan and Salishan), but I am unconvinced (not dogmatically so; just skeptical) after looking at a fair amount of evidence.  One fairly well-documented, though still controversial, relationship is striking, however:  Na-Dene has now been argued to be related to Ket, a rarely-spoken language within a group of very closely related “Yeniseian” languages spoken along the central Yenisei River in Russia (Vajda 2004).  It is not really surprising, given histories of migration and contact, to find a large language family whose closest relationships are in the Old World rather than next door in the northwest.

There were six very different language phyla along the coast:  the Haida on their islands; the Na-Dene (Tlingit and Athapaskan) on the northern coasts and throughout the northern interior; the Tsimshian in the lower Skeena and Nass drainages and neighboring coast; the Wakashan (including Haisla, Heiltsuk, Kwakwala and Nuu-chah-nulth) along most of the rest of the coast, the Salish along the “Salish Sea” coasts and much of the interior; and the tiny Chemakuan language family on the Olympic Peninsula.  Haida has often been argued to be a part of the Na-Dene group, but the evidence is poor; most of the resemblances seem to me to be either clear borrowings (e.g. yel ??? for raven in northern Haida; raven is yel in Tlingit, gagak in southern Haida  CHECK THIS) or fairly likely ones.  If there is a true relationship, it is at a very deep level.

There were several additional language groupings in the interior.  Theoretically related to Tsimshian in a huge “Penutian” phylum, but the evidence for relationships among these languages does not convince me.  One group includes Cayuse and Molalla in Oregon.  It is not obviously related to Tsimshian, or indeed to any other group.  Also “Penutian” are the Sahaptian languages of the middle Columbia River in Washington and Oregon, and the Chinookan languages of the lower Columbia River.  None of these show overwhelmingly obvious relationships to the group originally called “Penutian” languages, which occur in California.  Further research on relationships is needed.

People and groups could easily switch languages, and bilingualism was frequent.  The Gitksan may be an Athapaskan group that switched to a Tsimshianic language fairly recently (Miller 1982) or may include descendents of many Athapaskans.  The Inland Tlingit of southwest Yukon were certainly Athapaskan-speakers till recently, and preserve some memory of the change.

These languages were usually grammatically and phonologically complex.  The Salish languages are among the most difficult in the world for outsiders to pronounce.  Nancy Turner has shared with many of us a word from Nuxalk (a particularly difficult Salishan language): čłp’xwłtłpskwč’, meaning “he had in his possession a bunchberry plant” (just the simple word p’xwłtłhp “bunchberry” with a third person possessive). 

In spite of the difficulties, practically every adult knew at least two, often completely unrelated, languages, and many knew three or four.  A kaleidoscopic variety of languages was jammed into a very small space.  War, raid, trade and intermarriage were all constant.  Intermarriage guaranteed that many people spoke two languages from birth, and in some areas it was said that the very concept of having only one native language was strange.  There was thus little barrier to the spread of even the most difficult-to-communicate knowledge, including technical trainings, myths, songs, and religions.

Tragically, all these languages are disappearing, and some are long gone.  One aspect of this has been the loss of the higher style registers.  Chiefs could speak in extremely formal, rhetorical, arcane styles.  Wilson Duff’s notes, which I studied in the 1980s, record that the last speakers of the highest level of chiefly rhetoric passed away in the 1960s.  This left Florence Edenshaw Davidson, one of the more impressive women in Native American history (Blackman 1982), as the last fluent speaker of apparently somewhat less arcane, but still highly aristocratic, Haida.  I was fortunate to meet her and one or two other elders before their passing, but heard no speeches.  (John Enrico recorded an enormous amount of data from Ms. Davidson, but has not seen fit to publish much of it.)  I was more fortunate among the Nuu-chah-nulth, where fine speechmaking in elite style is still extant among the elders.  If what I heard there is any sample (and I am sure it is), we have lost an incredible amount in losing the old elite registers and speeches. 

In historic times, the climax of cultural richness and complexity was in the north, among the Haida, Tsimshian, and their neighbors.  In prehistoric times, however, the climax may well have been around the Salish Sea.  This is the body of water whose Canadian portion is the Gulf of Georgia, whose American portion is largely Puget Sound, and whose shared portion is the Juan de Fuca Strait.  Since it is geographically and ecologically one, with its core area stretching from the Fraser River delta to central Puget Sound, it has recently acquired the much more apt name of Salish Sea.  The international border runs right through it, splitting a major ecological, linguistic, and cultural focus in two.

            Contact across the Bering Strait or even directly across the North Pacific—at least via lost and wrecked boats from Asia—maintained cultural connections.  The Bering Strait comprised a cultural highway, as Boas pointed out long ago (Fitzhugh and Crowell 1988).  One language, the Eskimoan Yupik, was and is spoken on both sides of the strait.  Songs, tales, and other lore were found to link the Siberian Chukchi and Koryak with the American Tlingit and others. 

Metal came to the Northwest by trade and in the wrecks; the Northwest people also learned to work naturally occurring copper from the Copper River (Alaska) and elsewhere (see excellent review by Acheson 2003).  The earliest Boston and English traders brought more, up to tons per voyage (Acheson 2003:229).  All this helped greatly with the woodworking, especially iron from wrecks and later from traders.  This metal spread far inland, being often traded for interior products such as furs and “clamons”—elk hides prepared for armor (Cooper et al. 2015).  These hides can be made so tough that they will stop arrows and even long-shot musket balls.

            A final note on language is the rise, tremendous flourishing, and final decline of Chinuk Wawa, known as Chinook Jargon in English (and thus in most of the literature).  This is a drastically simplified form of Chinook, with many loanwords from other languages.  These are largely Nuu-chah-nulth and Washington Salish languages, but include English and French.  The Wawa developed within and for the fur trade in the late 18th century.  It probably had some degree of ancestry in widespread and presumably somewhat altered Chinook spoken before contact with the whites.  The Chinook language was the most important of a small group of closely related languages spoken on both sides of the lower Columbia River.  The Chinook people, situated at the mouth of that great corridor, naturally became major traders, and their language was widely known far up the Columbia and up and down the coasts.  It was thus well placed to become the substrate for a trade jargon.  Chinuk Wawa uses a simplified phonology and drastically simplified grammar.  It was spoken throughout the Northwest Coast, though not commonly north of central British Columbia, and many whites were fluent speakers, though virtually no whites ever learned any of the traditional languages.  George Lang (2008) has provided a delightful and scholarly history of Wawa.  It survives in countless loanwords and placenames, though it has more or less died out as a spoken language.

3.  Social and Cultural-ecological Dynamics

Society consisted of lineages ranked in some sort of order of power or nobility. Within these were hereditary chiefs, ordinary people of status, and commoners.  There were rather few of the last; this was a world where there were more elites than masses.  This is, however, probably a post-European-settlement phenomenon, due to mass population decline and consequent shortage of people to fill the ranks of the titled (see Boelscher 1988:52 for the debate on this idea).  Below this were slaves, a distinctly separate class, made up largely of captives from other tribes and their descendents.  Raiding for slaves was universal and important.  Slaves could be killed, and sometimes were (de Laguna 1972 has particularly interesting accounts, though scattered through a huge book, and hard to find; see also Boelscher 1988:59-62).

Viola Garfield’s description of the Tsimshian can stand for the whole northern coast:  “Chiefs delegated work to their immediate relatives, wives, children and slaves and set a goal of the quantities to be collected.  They supervised men’s work while their senior wives supervised the labor of younger women and female slaves.  Feasts. Potlatches and ajor undertakings like the building of a new house, were planned several years in advance and surpluses were accumulated in accordance with such long range plans…all resource properties belonged to lioneages or their titular heads.  However, the privilege of using areas belonging to a[n individual] man were extended to his sons during his lifetime” (Garfield, Barbeau and Wingert 1950:15, 17). This latter custom conflicts with the normal rule of matrilineal inheritance, and was at the discretion of the chiefs.  

There has been debate on whether the Northwest Coast was a “class society.”  The slaves were clearly a lower class.  There remains a question of whether there was a major distinction between chiefs and commoners, or the chiefs were merely primi inter pares.  Certainly some of the great chiefs of the mid-19th century were rulers of villages and had large bands of followers, but they were to some extent a product of the settlers’ fur trade.  Scholars who have worked with more egalitarian groups like the Gitksan tend to think pre-fur-trade chiefs merely gave symbolic leadership to families (Daly 2005:196).  Scholars working with the more powerful groups of the outer coast, such as the Haida and Tsimshian, are more open to the “class” word (Garfield, Barbeau and Wingert 1950:28; Roth 2008).  Certainly noble families were acutely aware of their status, as all ethnographies and Indigenous writers of the truly coastal groups agree.   Class” is rather an ambiguous concept at best, and also the Northwest Coast’s more powerful groups were in process of change and differentiation, making their societies “boundary phenomena” in many ways.

Societies were also organized into “houses.”  The actual houses were usually large, and had names.  The house as a named institution, however, was more than that: it was often coterminous with the lineage, or with the group of close bilineally-reckoned relatives typical of central coast First Nations.  Houses thus became quite comparable to the “houses” of Europe, as in house of Windsor, house of Tudor, or house of Gotha—though obviously on a smaller scale.  This comparison was first taken seriously by Claude Lévi-Strauss (e.g. 1982), and has been much discussed since, especially by Jay Miller (2014, passim).

A particularly interesting institution was the name (Miller 2014, passim).  A child would have a personal name, but anyone of substance eventually succeeded to a hereditary title within his or her lineage, and new names could be created.  Names were honored titles comparable to those of feudal Europe.  As Macbeth was first addressed as Cawdor, later as Glamis, and finally as Scotland, so a Northwest Coast person would be addressed by the latest and highest name he or she had acquired.  The difference was that Macbeth took over the estates with those names, whereas Northwest Coast names are strictly personal titles; they imply decision-making power over lineage estates or other property, but they are not the actual names of properties.  Unlike many aspects of Northwest Coast culture, nametaking goes on today, and is increasingly important.  One of the most obvious immediate reasons for a potlatch is taking a new name.  This could have interesting kinship ramifications; among the matrilineal Gitksan, the father and his family had the work of producing and assembling spiritual and material wealth for a child’s naming ceremonies (Adams 1973:38-39). 

Many chiefly names that are mistakenly considered to be personal names in some of the literature are actually more comparable to titles.  Examples include Shakes in Tlingit Alaska, or Legaix among the Tsimshian near Prince Rupert.  One could be, for instance, the Capilano of North Vancouver, just as Shakespeare’s MacBeth became successively Cawdor, Glamis, and King when he took over those titles.  (Capilano—Salish keypilanoq—was the title of the head chief of the village near which Capilano Community College now stands.)

The hereditary chiefly name Maquinna, passed on for centuries on northern Vancouver Island, inspired an excellent discussion of this whole concept by the current Maquinna, Chief Earl George of Ahousaht (George 2003).  A trained anthropologist, he explains in anthropological terms the cluster of rights and responsibilities that the name actually labels.  As Maquinna, he has major responsibilities spread over the central west coast of Vancouver Island.  Another autobiography with enormous and fascinating detail on names and rank is that of the wonderful and impressive Kwakwakawakw noblewoman Agnes Alfred (2004).

Among outsider accounts, Christopher Roth’s account of Tsimshian naming (Roth 2008) and Boelscher’s of Haida (1988:151-166) are particularly thorough and excellent.  A very detailed section of W. W. Elmendorf’s ethnography of the Twana of Puget Sound (1960) describes naming in the more southerly reaches.   Roth points out that a name has a reality of its own, and the bearer of a name comes in a real sense to be the name—complete with all its duties and responsibilities.  Again, readers of Shakespeare’s Macbeth will (at least partially) understand.  Macbeth did not just get the letters “Cawdor” and “Glamis” after his name, let alone the word “King” in front; he became a very different social entity as he took over those titles.  Inheritance, marriages, and house traditions are similar to those of old Europe.  As Jay Miller reports for the Tsimshian:  “Today, Northwest natives are well aware of such parallels between the dynbastic marriages of European and of Tsimshian noble houses” (Miller 2014:97).  Some assimilation to European norms has probably taken place since white settlement, but the parallels go back long before contact.

Like kingship in medieval Scotland, Northwest Coast names are often spiritual and religious.  God appoints kings and kingship is a divine duty.  The ancestors are involved in the appointment of a new Legaix, and some names are so spirit-linked that they convey direct spirit power.  Names thus are unique; only one person at a time can have a specific name.  They are confined to their descent groups.  There are male and female names, chiefly and nonchiefly names, and names that go with particular functions. 

Names are not all formal hereditary titles of this sort.  Ordinary names include casual personal monikers, but even these usually have stories attached to them.  Family histories describe the origins of names identified with particular descent lines.  These follow from tales that often involve meeting supernatural beings and getting spirit powers, but may merely commemorate secular events.  These latter events can be minor or even silly, but once they become grounds for a name, they are canonical stories for the group (see Roth 2008, esp. pp. 40 ff.; cf. royal nicknames in medieval Europe, which conveyed respect even when intrinsically disrespectful like “Charles the Fat”).

An individual may take many names during life:  a youthful personal name, an adult name, and then any number of titles.  Taking a new name of any status, as well as any other change of status such as a marriage (at least between nobles), must be recognized with a potlatch.  This—plus a laudable desire for hospitality and fun— keeps the potlatch alive and flourishing today.  Even groups whose native language has died out often maintain names.  Names were often taboo when the wearer died.  All the Puget Sound languages have one name for the mallard duck, except for one group, the Twana, that calls them “red feet,” because a chief within historic time had had a name sounding like the usual “mallard” word (Elmendorf 1960:393).  Puget Sound Salish has special words for various types of naming taboos.

Residence on most of the coast was in very large plank houses that contained whole lineages or large families.  These could be enormous; a house reportedly 500 feet long existed on the lower Fraser just after 1800.  In front of these, among the northern and central groups, were the famous “totem poles,” which displayed family crests and portrayed historically interesting family stories or other events. 

Most of these events were mythical.  Rarely, however, they were recent, or not even local events;. Abraham Lincoln was carved on one pole.  A fascinating bit of evidence on what constituted as an event occurred in 1825, when a small group of Gitksan on a party of retaliation against a murder stopped at the first trading post in west-central British Columbia, kept by a Mr. Ross.  “Here they observed the white man, his possessions, and his strange ways, for the first time, and considered their adventure in the light of a supernatural experience.  They marveled in particular at the white man’s dog, the palisade or fortification around his houses, and the broad wagon road.”  One, Wa-Iget, took this dog as a crest, and had it carved on his totem pole at Kisgagas, under the name of ‘Auge-maeselos (“dog of Mr. Ross,” r being pronounced l; Barbeau 1929:103).  Another took the palisade, and built a small palisade around his totem pole (Barbeau 1950:10).

Southward, these were replaced by large carved house posts among the Nuu-chah-nulth and Salish.  South of northern Washington there was little or no large-scale carving.

The interior groups lived in large, but not very large, semisubterranean houses.  To build one, a large circular pit was dug down a few feet into the ground, with level floor and often a bench ring along the side.  Four large pillars supported a log frame roof that was then covered with lighter materials and then with earth.  Such a house was warm in winter, cool in summer, and resistant to all weathers.  It is very ancient in the region.  Similar houses were once constructed all over western North America and northeastern Asia.  (Versions of them often survive as ceremonial structures, such as the kivas of the Pueblos and the ceremonial houses of the Navaho and the central Californians.)  Semisubterranean houses were replaced by lighter, more portable or easily-built dwellings in most regions in the last few millennia. 

Inland, away from the great fishing stations, society rapidly became less complex and rich.  In the north, the deep interior was a world of hunters of large mammals.  They had exactly the opposite dynamic:  they had to be sparse on the ground and highly mobile, with few possessions.  Farther south, in the Plateau region, root foods became more important, and were managed intensively.  This was less divisive, and in any case salmon were important there too, if less so than on the coast.  Societies intermediate in size and complexity arose.  Intermediate complexity also characterized the first tier of Athapaskan groups in Canada and Alaska. 

The traditional explanation for this is that the groups “borrowed” ideas from the Coast,  presumably late.  However, current archaeology suggests that the complexity developed slowly throughout the region.  The Athapaskans and Plateau peoples were not latecomers, but were always part of the process.  The more concentrated the subsistence base, the more complicated life and communities became.

Throughout the Northwest, the relative importance of fishing at set places for anadromous fish is a good predictor of social complexity and village size.  This pattern was established by at least 3000 years ago. 

Interestingly, in the southern part of the coastal region, the fish were as common as in the north, but the societies were generally simpler; the reason appears to be that the rivers (and therefore the runs) were smaller, while the landward resources—seeds, nuts, game—were richer.  Evidence occurs in northwest California:  The Klamath River system is a large system that once had huge fish runs, in an otherwise rather barren area; and, as the model predicts, the groups along it had highly complex societies and large towns.  Elsewhere, people could and did scatter out in small villages near more varied productive sites.

The Northwest Coast people were generally a highly warlike set of societies, though there was a range.  The Haida and the Lekwiltok Kwakwakawakw enjoyed reputations as particularly fierce and terrifying warriors, at least in the 19th century.  Tsimshian groups conquered along fur trade routes, developing powerful chiefs.  By contrast, many of the southern groups—from southwest British Columbia south along Puget Sound and the coast—seem to have been relatively peaceful, but perhaps only relatively.  Fairly typical for most of the region is the following paragraph about the people of the Fraser River area in southern British Columbia:


[of the Lillooet]

with the Chilcotin were generally hostile, and stories are common of their raiding the Lillooet for salmon and attacking isolated hunting parties and wandering children for slaves….  The Halkomelem on the Lower Fraser River…engaged in warfare with the Lower Lillooet over elk hunting in the Pitt and Harrison river areas, and hunters of both tribes were massacred.  In the distant past, the Lillooet made war on the coastal people and took many slaves.  Sometime earlier, the Shuswap waged war on the Lower Lillooet, driving them from their lands and fisheries between Anderson Lake and Birkenhead River….  The lower Lillooet in the early 1800s were subjected to frequent raids by the Thompson.  Allied forces of Thompson, Shuswap, and Okanagan attacked the Lake Lillooet but remained friendly with the Fraser River Band of Lillooet…” (Kennedy and Bouchard 1998a:176).  All this action and violence took place in an area of only about 10,000 square miles.  Within that area—and, to generalize—within most of the Northwest Coast—all groups were at least occasionally hostile to each other. 

            Peace could be maintained by scattering eagle or swan down over participants in a ceremony.  This insured peace at the ceremony, and if done properly or in a treaty ceremony would insure peace between fighting elements, potentially for all eternity (though reality interfered with that vision).  Potlatches often involved a peace-treaty or truce component, with down being featured.  Thus, warlike tendencies were not uncontrolled or uncontrollable, and peace—necessary to maintain trade and management—was guaranteed most of the time for most communities.

War, strong chieftainship, and highly localized resources went together.  If a group was focused on a single river with a huge run of fish, they desperately needed to protect it, and they needed slaves to help process the fish during the run—any and all labor was valuable.  They thus tended to be warlike: making themselves secure, and then raiding outward for slaves.  Other groups had to be warlike to defend themselves, and so the process continued,

            Even so, in the more evenly productive landscape of Puget Sound, warfare and strong chieftainship seems rather subdued.  Groups could spread widely over the country and maintain large—and thus more secure—populations.  This may be part of the explanation for the individualism and personal freedom noted for these societies (Angelbeck 2016; Angelbeck and Grier 2012; Miller 2014).  Bill Angelbeck notes that the highly individualized quest for personal guardian spirits was a key part of this.  Each boy and many if not all girls went on a vision quest at puberty or in early teens, seeking guardian powers.  These were not usually spoken of openly.  They allowed a person to avoid irksome social duties by saying “my spirit doesn’t like/permit that” (Angelbeck 2016).  Since others did not really know what one’s spirit was, or what it wanted, this was hard to counter.  Angelbeck and Grier (2012) even use classic anarchist theory (as in Kropotkin 1904) to explain Sound Salish and nearby dynamics, and James C. Scott did for northern southeast Asia (Scott 2009).  The result seems a bit overdone—most hunting-gathering societies are individualist and free, and it is the northern Northwest Coast societies that are the anomaly.  One need not really invoke political theory.  Still, the point is worth making, and the high levels of individualism in the Northwest—not only Puget Sound—is worth remembering.

The social requirements of chieftainship in a warlike world are great.  Chiefs had to attract and keep warriors through generosity. A  pattern of competitive feasting and wealth giveaways is sure to develop.

Feasts come in many forms.  The Tsimshian word liligit, “calling people together,” includes occasions memorably listed by Joan Ryan, who holds the Sm’ooygit Hannamauxw title of the Gitksan people:

“[S]ettlement feasts (which occur after funerals); totem pole- or gravestone-raising feasts; welcome feasts (to celebrate totem pole-raising events); smoke feasts; retirement feasts; divorce feasts; wedding feasts; restitution feasts; shame feasts; reinstatement feasts (pertaining to Gitksan citizens who have disobeyed Gitksan laws [but repented]); first game feasts; welcome feasts (to celebrate births); graduation feasts (to celebrate recent achievements, either academic or spiritual); cleansing feasts (to restore spirits after serious accidents); and coming out feasts (to mark the transition from teen years to adult years).  The feast system is a vehicle by which the Gitksan Nation carries out activities and transactions that affect the daily lives of the House members” (Ryan 2000:ix).  And this is not even a totally complete list.  Similar occasions entail feasts elsewhere on the coast.  Note that almost all of these involve marking some significant change in status of an individual, said change requiring announcement, recognition, and validation by the whole community.  The purpose of many potlatches is in effect to get an actual vote on the change.  If it requires community acceptance, having everyone show up for the feast shows that the change is indeed accepted.  If few or no helpers will contribute to the feast, or if few show up, or if they show up but insult the host, the change is obviously not approved.  Few indeed would give a potlatch if this were a risk, but it did happen in the past, and occasioned fighting or actual war.

Among many accounts of potlatches, we may single out the Tsimshian chief William Beynon’s 1945 account of a series of potlatches by the Gitksan (linguistically close to the Tsimshian; Beynon 2000).  Potlatching was illegal at the time, but the Gitksan country on the Skeena was remote, and Beynon was hardly about to be excluded.  His account remained unpublished until 2000.  Beynon’s father was Welsh, his mother Tsimshian, which made him one of the lucky ones: White by Canadian law (patrilineal), Tsimshian by matrilineal Tsimshian law. 

The high point of feasting is the familiar potlatch of the Northwest Coast.  (The word comes from a Nuu-chah-nulth word meaning “to give.”)  Generosity was such a high value, and so useful in society, that Thomas McIlwraith recorded:  “A native store-keeper once ruefully commented on the fact that he woiuld gain no advantage from the goods on his shelves, since he hoped merely to sell them, not to give them away” (quoted Kramer 2013:738).  This certainly reverses most Anglo-American attitudes!

The reasons for the potlatch have been debated.  Some rather strange ideas have been floated, including the stereotypic-racist one that it was just craziness on the part of ignorant savages.  Better known and more reasonable is the hypothesis of Wayne Suttles and Stuart Piddocke (Piddocke 1965; Suttles 1987) that the potlatch arose to even out resources.  A group would give a potlatch in good times, and thus in bad times would be able to call on reciprocity from more fortunate people.  However, this hypothesis did not hold up well (Adams 1973; John Douglass, interview, 1984).  It turned out that potlatches would not work for this, because they have to be planned years in advance, before scarcity or abundance would be known.  Ordinary reciprocity works instead for the purpose (as Adams and Douglasss both emphasize).  On the other hand, Suttles’ data show some evidence for redistribution and evening-out in his major research area, Puget Sound and the Salish Sea (Wayne Suttles, 1987, and interview, 1984).

Potlatches may locally have served to equalize resources, but this has never been proved, and seems definitely unlikely in many cases.  Suttles (1987) has discussed the whole controversy, with pros and cons.  Since he wrote, the equalization theory has been abandoned by writers familiar with the region (Daly 2005:59-60).  One problem with it is that the potlatching group all gets together to finance the enterprise, and relatively poor individuals must often give up quite a bit; even guests may have to give more than ethnographies usually imply.  And a potlatch takes months to years to plan and stage, whereas local resource shortages tend to appear suddenly.  People needing assistance disperse to kin rather than waiting for the next potlatch somewhere.

The ostensible purpose of most potlatches is to mark ritually a major change in status: taking a new name (and thus a new position), coming of age, getting married, or dying.  Funeral potlatches have been the most important and widespread potlatches in recent times, but in the past nametaking was apparently the most important. 

Still, other cultures around the world mark such transitions without spectacular giveaways.  The giveaways, demonstration of powers and possessions, and feasts powerfully increase and mark the status of the potlatchers, and this is clearly their most important reason (Adams 1973).  John Adams (1973) showed that they also can serve indirectly to redistribute population, notably from larger but troubled groups to smaller and cohesive ones, because of shifting after the potlatch.  

In early times there was a much more compelling reason to potlatch.  Philip Drucker and Robert Heizer showed some time ago (1967) that the root purpose was organization and mobilization for conflict, including—focally—competition for warriors or for chief-status allies.  A successful chief wins loot by fighting.  This he can donate to warriors directly, or can translate into wealth for the whole group, thus organizing and leading his own people.  Either way, he can thus attract more warriors to his side or form alliances with neighboring groups.  A less successful chief must either defer or attempt to do better.  If he cannot be generous enough, his warriors defect, and he is as good as dead. 

Similar patterns of competitive feasting and generosity are well known for West Africa, highland Southeast Asia, early-day Afghanistan (Robertson 1896), and many other areas of the world.  Often, professional poets—the bards of Ireland, scops of Anglo-Saxon society, griots of Africa, song leaders on the Northwest Coast—sang the leader’s praises at such feasts.  

Particularly close to the Northwest Coast is the society of medieval Ireland (Europe’s northwest coast!)—as reflected in the epic “Cattle Raid of Cooley” (Kinsella 1969).  Society there depended heavily on salmon runs.  Chiefs competed to attract warriors by giving feasts and distributing wealth and booty.  Bards sang the praises of the generous.  Warfare included slave raiding and head-hunting.  Chiefs were called ri, usually translated as “king,” but that is a bit of Irish hyperbole—though the word is indeed cognate with Latin rex.   Chieftainship was based in the kinship group, and hotly contested.  This often led to the competitive feasting pattern, as in the Northwest. 

Some astonishing parallels occur:  the wren is a powerful bird for both Irish and Haida (and also the Quileute), because although it is tiny, it sings in the worst winter storms, and its song rings cloud and clear above the howling of the wind.  In societies that share a belief that song gives spirit power, this makes the bird a truly powerful being (Lawrence 1997 for the Irish; my own research on Haida).  Among the Nuu-chah-nulth the wren is the source of reliable words, “One Who Always Speaks Rightly” (Atleo 2004, 2011:98).  The belief in the magic power of song is shared all across Europe and Siberia, along with several folktales (such as the Swan Maiden and “Orpheus” myths) and a number of religious practices including reverence for tree spirits, but the Irish and Haida respect for the wren seems to have been a genuine independent development.   Moving to Scotland, we may add the clan crest, closely parallel to Northwest Coast concepts.  (The Anderson clan crest is an oak tree surrounded by a leather belt, which seems quite close to Haida and Tsimshian themes.)

Singers and tale-tellers graced potlatches also.  We know little of their professional status, but the major songs, dances, and masks were lineage property.  We also are somewhat unclear on the range of chiefly power; the great chiefdoms in which one man extended dominion over several villages seem likely to be products of the fur trade (as among the Tsimshian) in the early post-contact period (Matson et al. 2003).  Chiefs could be powerful, and there was an ideology of this; the Nuu-chah-nulth related chiefs and whales (Harkin 1998; Sapir 2004).  As Nuu-chah-nulth anthropologist Ki-Ke-In points out: “[T]he Nuuchaanulth [sic] people historically had policing, a judiciary system, and a most sophisticated and inclusive system of ownership and title….the entire sea and land territory and everything in it are vested in the Taayii Ha’wilth,” the head chief(Ki-Ke-In 2013:29).  He did not have European-style autocratic control, but he acted as leader of his wide, kin-linked community.  The value of the term “chiefdom” has thus been challenged (see Miller 2014:94), but the chiefs had enough power over enough area to make the term useful, even though the Northwest Coast chiefdoms were small in extent and low in population compared to the great chiefdoms of old Polynesia or Mesoamerica.

The survival of potlatching for 200 years after pacification of the northwest shows that it had other purposes than mere war mobilization.  The direct reason for a potlatch was and is usually succession to a great name.  Sometimes it was defense of that name, as when a potlatch was given to wipe away shame because a holder of a high title had—for example—stumbled at a feast, or been insulted. (Potlatches could, by the same token, shame an opponent.) 

The potlatching person or group will invite everyone in their personal networks.  Those who actually attend are showing their support for the new title.  Their very presence is essentially a vote for the new status.  They normally provide gifts of their own, also, and these show support for the title-holder.  In the old days this was a life-and-death matter; such exchanges made loyalty bonds that were expected to hold in war.  (Again, the Irish institution is so similar that one can usefully apply the explanations in The Tain, Kinsella 1969.)  Today, in the actively political and community-oriented world of the Northwest’s First Nations, such support is only slightly less vital.  Potlatching is the cement and mortar that holds the tribal organizations and political alliances together.  Those who condemned the potlatch as wasteful or irrational had obviously never studied the institution. 

Potlatches are about giving away vast amounts of food and other useful goods, but they are also about displaying what can never be given:  names, crests, dances, sacred possessions (Roth 2008:102ff).  A potlatcher may point out that the food shared out is the product of the potlatcher’s titled endowment property (Daly 2005:59, citing Philip Drucker as well as Daly’s own work).   Once again this institution recalls medieval Ireland and England.  The king could and did feast his followers and give away gold and coin, but he could not give away the crown jewels, the ritual sword and mace, or the intangible names and titles.  As on the Northwest Coast, many of the material possessions had supernatural qualities.  A Tsimshian inherited copper is not just a piece of copper sheeting, just as Excalibur was not just a sword.

A particularly common and widespread type of potlatch was the memorial potlatch, held first when a high-born person died, and then again when his or her totem pole—today, headstone—was raised (see notable discussion in Fiske and Patrick 2000).  This was the occasion to validate the succession:  the name-taker had to host the potlatch, feeding and giving lavish gifts to those who came.  Chiefs and others of status had to give potlatches for marriage, to call everyone to witness and support the couple.  Assumption of any new name or title provided other occasions for name-taking. A girl reaching puberty, and thus the age when arrangements for marriage can begin, has a “coming-out potlatch.” 

Potlatches still abound, for all these latter purposes.  Name-taking has replaced war.  Competitive gift-giving can replace physical conflict; “fighting with property,” as Helen Codere (1950) famously called it.  It can also be simple ambition, or lack thereof.  A friend of mine was in line to be a hereditary chief in one of the Nuu-chah-nulth groups, but did not want the responsibility at the time, so let his younger brother potlatch for the position; later the younger brother got tired of it, so my friend potlatched and took over the job. 

The demographic collapse on the Northwest Coast led to a pile-up of titles:  there were too few people competing for too many names.  This, plus the availability of trade goods, caused potlatching to spin into heights of lavish expenditure that horrified the Protestant missionaries.  They managed to get the potlatch outlawed in Canada from 1884 to 1953.  Potlatching continued anyway, but covert and somewhat distorted.  This was a major psychological blow to the people (Atleo 2011).  All the missionaries accomplished was giving a couple of generations of Native people a contempt for the overt racism in settlers’ law. 

Potlatching became extremely competitive among the Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutlan) peoples.  This was partly because of the pile-up of titles.  It was partly because their complex system of descent does not produce clear lineages, so many people have a chance at inheriting a name and set of privileges.  It was also partly because the central location of the Kwakwaka’wakw made them a crossroads for wealth, opportunity, and communication.  Their potlatches were the spectacular ones involving vast destructions of property, such as huge fires of burning whale and seal oil (highly precious commodities).  North and south of them, potlatches and feasts were calmer, more routine, and more concerned with actual orderly succession—not that that prevented politicking and gossip (cf. Boelscher 1988 for Haida, Roth 2008 for the Tsimshian). Boelscher (1988) pointed out that in potlatching as in other matters involving rhetoric, oratory, and public presence, there is a tremendous amount of individual jockeying for position, often by denying one’s own position with exaggerated modesty.  Rhetoric is highly formulaic and stereotyped, but people manage to assert individuality through practice.  As so often, autobiographies are particularly useful sources (e.g. Alfred 2004; Blackman/Davidson 1982; Spradley/Sewid 1969).

Devotees of potlatch literature will note that I am downplaying the gift/obligation side—so famously studied by Marcel Mauss (1990) and debated ever since—of the institution.  Complicated and highly variable rules of reciprocity, with or without interest, are reported.  All this is not particularly relevant to my purposes here, but quite apart from that I tend to find the gift exchanging rather secondary.  (See Daly 2005; Roth 2008; and other sources cited above, but I am also going with my own research observations here.)  Potlatching is war mobilization, social glue, name and title validation, status-change validation, validation of land ownership, and much else.  Gift transactions, however defined and managed, are more means than ends.  They are necessary and obligatory, but it is what they show—what they communicate—that matters. The gift-giver is rewarding guests for recognizing—some even say voting for—a due adoption of a new name and station in life.  The names and privileges, not the rewards, are what matter.  And in the old days of intergroup warfare, the rival power of chiefs mattered even more.

            The social structure of Northwest Coast peoples was thus based heavily on kinship—extended very widely, to include adopted kin, animals and mountains that were reckoned as kin, mythologically related groups descended from a mythic ancestor, and kin related by wide-flung marriages.  Position within the social system was all-important.  Social positions were loci of power, not only political but spiritual.  “A traditional chief had a moral and religious obligation to transform chaotic cosmic energy into socially useful power by being a conduit for it down throiugh his spine, ceremonial cane, or totem pole, which, above all, was the ‘deed’ to ‘his’ rank, name, house, and territory” (Miller 2014:96).

Northwest Coast society was made up of kinship groups:  patrilineages or patrilineal kindreds in the south, matrilineages in the north and northern interior, and various intermediate accommodations—including something close to double-descent—in the middle (especially among Wakashan speakers). 

The Na-Dene, Tsimshian and Haida peoples are all matrilineal, and in fact their combined territories make up largest matriliny-dominated area on the planet.  The Haida, Tsimshianic groups, and Tlingit had large and powerful matrilineages, and are among the most strongly matrilineal societies in the world.   (This disproves, among other things, the old idea—sometimes still heard—that matriliny is the result of hoe agriculture).  As late as the late 20th century, Canada’s strongly patrilineal and patriarchal legal system conflicted, often dramatically, with Indigenous law and practice.  A person with a Native mother and Anglo-Canadian father was a full member of both societies, and could move easily in both worlds.  An individual with a non-Native mother and Native father was a rootless person, not really part of either world.  When I did research on alcoholism in British Columbia, I found a disproportionate percentage of such individuals to be alcoholic.  Fortunately, since those days, Canadian law has become less narrowly patriarchal.  The point is that kinship really gives identity and personhood on the Northwest Coast; one is a member of one’s family in a way incomprehensible, or at least alien, to many non-Indigenous people.  We will later see how relevant this is to environmental actions.

These matrilineages are further grouped into larger groupings:  the Eagle and Raven moieties among the Haida, three or four comparable phratries among the Tlingit and Tsimshian.  One must marry outside one’s group.  All have Eagle and Raven groups, and a Haida Eagle cannot marry a Tsimshian one.

            Lineages are involved in resource ownership.  Among the Haida, for instance, lineage “members share rights to ancestral villages, to fishing, hunting, and gathering locations, including:

–major salmon-spawning rivers

–halibut and cod banks off shore

–important berry patches (especiallyi cranberry and crabapple)

–bird nesting sites (particularly species of sea gull, Cassin’s auklet, and ancient murrelet)

–rights to stranded whales on the coastline near lineage-owned lands

–trap and deadfall sites for land mammals along rivers

–access to house sties in ancestral villages” (Boelscher 1988:35).

Poaching on someone else’s land, even to take small items, was cause for fighting.

Especially in the northern coast, lineages (matrilineages in the north) had crests:  natural (or supernatural) things that were symbols and that provided some supernatural power for them.  Usually these were impressive animals, such as killer whales, grizzly bears, sharks, wolves, sealions, eagles, frogs and dragonflies (these being spiritually powerful beings), ravens, and the like.  Some plants were crests, as well as weather (Haida crests incuded cumulus and cirrus clouds), the moon, and various spirit beings.  People could add crests when interesting events involving crest-type beings happened to their families.  These crests were typically shown on totem poles, blankets, and even the person; a Haida man would have his lineage crest tattooed on his body (Boelscher 1988:142).

Almost equally important were lineage rights to particular songs, dances, designs, and other intellectual property.  Lineages and phratries even had their own origin myths, very different from other lineages’ stories.  In fact, laws regarding intellectual property were complex and sophisticated, rather like modern copyright legislation.  A song could be unowned and available for everyone to sing, or owned by the moiety or phratry, or by the lineage, or by a family or an individual.  Whoever owned it could allow someone else to sing it, but a substantial payment or exchange was required.  This could be indirect; lineage A might generously allow someone from lineage B to sing a lineage A song, but of course lineage B was expected to do something equivalently generous for lineage A at some point.  Showing off one’s lineage dances, songs, and arts was—and in many areas still is—an integral part of potlatching and feasting.  Often it involved competitive display; at other times it was closer to an arts festival.

Thomas McIlwraith, in his early days as ethnographer of the Nuxalk, inadvertently sang a song belonging to one family, whereupon an elder of that family had to adopt him on the spot to spare everybody serious shame and difficulty (quoted in Kramer 2013:737). 

Individuals owned the products of their own labor, especially things like bows and arrows, clothing, food, and personal articles, but also songs they composed and the like.  An individual might pass songs and crests on to his or her children; a man could even pass them to his children among the matrilineal Haida (Boelscher 1988:38), though that could be a touchy proposition.  Normally, privileges including songs and crests were the property of matrilineages in the northern coast, and passed on accordingly.

Among the matrilineal societies, women had great authority, and owned property.  Chiefs were generally (but not always) male, being the brothers of the women who were the hereditary heads of the lineages; but women had real power.  There is a famous story of a Haida chief taking refuge on a fur trader’s boat because he had dared to sell some furs belonging to his wife.  She and her brothers were out after him.  He had to stay on the boat, under protection of the trader, for months before he could work out an arrangement to go home.  Like other matrilineal societies worldwide, these were not “matriarchies,” but did give more power to women than patrilineal societies generally do.  On the other hand, among the patrilineal societies of the southern Northwest Coast, women were by no means meek or oppressed; they held their own and had considerable real power, partly through controlling access to and management of plant resources, many shellfish resources, and other subsistence matters.

These societies were organized in moieties; among the Tsimshian, the moieties had split into two parts, giving a four-phratry system, but the original moiety structure was still identifiable (Miller 1982).  Crest privileges and their artistic expression were taken so seriously that upper-class artists “worked in great secrecy, punihing with death any unqualified person unfortunate enough to stumble on their workshops hidden in the forest” (Miller 1982; if this runs true to Tsimshian form, however, the threat was enough and killings were very rarely carried out).

In general, ownership among the Northwest Coast peoples was extremely highly developed and complex—as far from the old idea of “primitive communism” as one could possibly get.  Few have doubted that this was related to the need for control over, and management of, resources.  Even the ownership of songs and art motifs could be seen as related to maintaining group solidarity and identity for defense of hard goods—although it was very much more than that, being integral to all aspects of social life.

The patrilineal societies were largely in the southern areas—Washington and Oregon, and the Fraser River area in British Columbia.  They were not so extremely lineal-oriented as the matrilineal groups; they tended toward bilateral reckoning.  The lineage system was comparable, however,

A different matter was the situation in the middle: the Nuu-chah-nulth, Kwakwaka’wakw, and some immediate neighbors.  Here reckoning was equally through father’s and mother’s line.  “The immerdiate family grouping (derived from four grandparents) is technically called a kindred, while the huge extended family, which was and is transnational or intertribal (throiugh eight great-grandparents), is technically called an intersept” (Miller 2014:79).  Names, titles and privileges were taken up by any member of the kindred who wanted to potlatch for them and could get enough support and resources to do so.  Individuals thus often had, and still have, titles inherited through the father’s line and others through the mother’s. Among the Nuu-chah-nulth this accompanied a kinship terminological system similar to that of the Hawaiians, with every relative in one’s own generation being “brother” or “sister,” and every one in the parent generation being “father” or “mother.”  This still persists for the parent generation, with the slight transformation that relatives other than actual mothers and fathers become “uncle” or “auntie.”  Since virtually all Nuu-chah-nulth can trace at least some degree of relationship to all others, the terms wind up being extended to all Nuu-chah-nulth in the generation above one’s own. 

It should be emphasized that family and traditional title are still important everywhere.  Kinship remains the basis of society, and large, close, mutually supportive families are the rule. 

4.  Traditional Resource Management

The Northwest Coast has always seemed anthropologically anomalous.  Despite being “hunters and gatherers,” the Native peoples maintained high populations, lived in large villages, and had a complex social organization (Coupland et al. 2009; Matson et al. 2003).  Noble families led large populations of relative “commoners,” and a large population of slaves (captured in wars and raids) provided a hard-working underclass.  Unlike the incidental slaves used for household services in many small-scale societies, the slaves of the northwest were a genuine population of critically important servile workers.  They cut and carried wood, drew water, and processed the fish that were the basis of subsistence. 

The Northwest Coast has turned out to be much less anomalous now that we have better data on nonagricultural populations elsewhere in the world.  Complex nonagricultural populations with large settlements and complicated ownership rules extended all along the Pacific Coast, even into Baja California, and were characteristic of southern Florida and several other parts of the New World, as well as of northern Australia and Mesolithic Europe.  All these societies depended to a great extent on sea and riverine foods, often anadromous fish.

Moreover, we now realize that the Northwest Coast groups practiced extensive horticulture.  They managed, increased, transplanted, and selectively harvested plants, and had at least one or two domesticated species.  (Tobacco was the only widespread one—which says something about human preferences.)   Of this more anon.  More and more authorities are now referring to the Northwest Coast people as horticulturalists, rather than hunter-gatherers. 

Above all, however, they were exploiters of the aquatic world.  Fish runs are highly concentrated in time and space, forcing the people that depend on them to concentrate in large social agglomerations on a regular basis.  This in turn requires some sort of comprehensive social organization, with strong authority structures provides by kinship groupings or chieftainship or—usually—both.  Also, the best fishing stations are well worth fighting for, and the resulting conflict forces even more tight military organization on the people.  Last, the enormous but brief salmon runs of the Northwest require huge bursts of labor, since people need to develop a virtual assembly line of filleting and drying the catch for preservation through the rest of the year.  Slavery becomes economic under such circumstances.  Raiding for slaves adds to fighting for fishing sites as an economically important activity.

Complexity has traditionally been explained by the “rich” or “abundant” resources of the Northwest, but this is a false claim.  The resources consist largely of fish, which are not always easy to catch.  The great salmon runs of the major rivers are indeed incredible, but one must average out the productivity of the rivers over the thousands of square miles of barren mountains and food-poor forests that make up 99% of the area in question.  In the southern areas—from central Washington and extreme southern British Columbia southward—root crops, berries, and nuts become increasingly abundant, but do not become common enough to be major staples till one gets to the lower Columbia River.  Moreover, salmon runs sometimes fail, especially in the north.  When a run failed, all the people could do was move away, hopefully finding some relatives to stay with. 

This meant that, for instance, maintaining the population of eight to ten thousand on Haida Gwaii was no easy undertaking.  The land was rather poor in berries and roots (though not as poor as it is now; see below).  There were few large game animals, only a tiny herd of caribou.  There were not even any large salmon streams.  The people had to carry out dangerous open-sea fishing for halibut and hunting for sea mammals.  Even more fearful was the need to cross the wide and treacherous Hecate Strait to trade for oil and other goods with the less-than-friendly Tsimshian.  The Haida needed formidable toughness and intelligence, and it is reflected in their stunning art and oral literature.  Similar cases could be made for other groups along the coast and into the deep interior. 

The Nuu-chah-nulth and closely related Ditidat and Makah of the outer coasts of Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula depended to varying degrees on whaling.  The Makah got up to 80-90% of their food from whales and much of the rest from seals, and some Nuu-chah-nulth groups were not far behind (MacMillan 1999).  They could stay out in canones for days, keeping small fires on stone or other fireproof platforms in the canoes (Reid 2015:143-145).  Earlier authors tended to believe the Indigenous groups could not have caught many whales, but excavations at the Ozette site in Washington proved the contrary, and further historical scholarship by Joshua Reid and others has shown that the Native groups took not only the docile grays but also humpback, sperm, and other whales, even blues and orcas (Reid 2015:144-145).  Ozette was a village covered by a landslide on the Olympic Peninsula coast about 300 years ago.  Ozette also revealed a great deal of fine art, like that historically known, as well as large houses, and a complex use of plant materials, including all the common woods (see Turner 2014-1:108-110 for lists). 

 Whaling from an open canoe is very much like the whaling Herman Melville so graphically described in Moby Dick.  The difficulty of striking a swimming whale with an enormously heavy harpoon from an open boat is made clear by a famous photograph; an early photographer, Asahel Curtis, managed to immortalize the moment when Makah whaler Charles White struck a whale, and the picture has been reproduced countless times (see e.g. Reid 2015:175; a huge blowup of the picture decorates the Makah Cultural and Research Center in Neah Bay).  It is not surprising that whalers resorted to magical practices that could involve months of ritual preparation (Drucker 1951; Jonaitis 1999; Reid 2015:150). 

On a more practical note, these groups had to be prepared for finding themselves far out at sea.  A harpooned whale could run seaward, towing the harpooner’s canoe on what Melville’s whalers called a “Nantucket sleighride.”  They could take days to paddle back to shore (Drucker 1951).  If the night was clear, they could “steer by the pole star,” but fog was typical:  “Combinations of regular swell patterns and winds enabled them to fix their approximate location, even in the regular fogs that conceal the coast.  Experienced Makah mariners also used the water’s appearance and the set of the riptide to approximate their location when out of sight of land,” and they could also predict the weather (Reid 2015:142).  They thus had a navigational science similar to that of the Micronesians and other deep-ocean voyagers.  

The Makahs also developed a commercial sealing industry in the late 19th century, even purchasing and running some long-distance-voyaging schooners (Reid 2015:177-196).  Unfortunately, overfishing by settlers’ industrial craft virtually wiped out the whale and seal resource by the early 20th century.

Whale and seal products were traded widely, and these groups often had to depend on trade relationships for necessary food items; they were, to a significant extent, specialized whalers.  Such dependence on trade for staple food is unusual, to say the least, among hunter-gatherers.  The westcoast pattern developed from about 3000 to 2000 years ago, but dependence on whaling probably increased after the latter date. The Nuu-chah-nulth naturally yearned to possess the safer living of salmon streams, and fought many a war to acquire such.

On the other hand, sea mammals are not only bigger than fish, they average much fatter.  A seal or whale obviously equals a lot of salmon, and produces an enormous amount of oil as well as meat.  It is quite possible that some Northwest Coast groups got most of their calories from sea mammals, not fish, as was certainly the case for Aleutian and other island Alaskan Native groups (see e.g. Jolles 2002).

David Arnold (2008:24) estimates that the Tlingit consumed about 6 million pounds of fish a year in aboriginal times, given the very conservative estimate of 500 pounds of fish per person.  In fact they could well have required twice that.  500 pounds would represent only about 1200 calories of fat salmon, and only half as many of lean fish.  The Tlingit had little but fish to eat.  They did take many sea mammals and birds, but 500 pounds of fish per year is still a very conservative estimate.

Indeed, at the other corner of the region, the average Spokan ate almost 1000 lb. of salmon in a year.  (Ross 2011:359; I think the figure better applies to all fish.)   This would be about 1,400,000 pounds per year for the whole tribe, representing well over 100,000 fish (Ross 2011:359, citing Allan Scholtz).  And this though the Spokan, unlike the Tlingit, got half their calories from plant foods.  The Tlingit got their salmon at river mouths, where they were fat, while the Spokan caught fish far upriver, where they had used most of their fat reserves fighting their way up the Columbia.  Even so, 1000 lb. may be exaggerated, since the Spokan got half their almost calories from plants and some more from game.  A reasonable guess for the Northwest Coast as a whole would be two pounds of fat fish or three of lean per day.

Fish are low-calorie fare.  Three hundred calories per pound is typical for fish like halibut and rockfish.  Salmon fatten up for their runs up the rivers, and a fat salmon entering a river could be four times that rich in calories, but otherwise even salmon are not high in calories.  Herring and oolichans are high to very high in fat, but not available except during brief runs.  And the Native people lived hard outdoor lives—calorie consumption was extremely high.  The Tlingit would need up to twice Arnold’s estimate.  Other groups would need similar amounts.  Bears and other predators took a huge number of salmon also, and the pressure on the resource base was high.

Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that all possible resources were used.  This provided, and still provides, an incentive for managing the entire landscape sustainably.  Worldwide, the higher the percentage of natural resources that are used, the more people need to maintain the ecosystem.  Conversely, when people depend on a handful of non-native foods (as in the United States) there is no incentive to maintain the natural environment, and, indeed, every incentive to destroy it.  The wide spectrum of foods and industrial resources used by Indigenous peoples in the Northwest contrasts strikingly with the extreme poverty of crops grown on any significant scale by white settlers. 

Not only were salmon and sea fish important, but river fish now neglected, such as suckers and lampreys, were major resources.  The three local species of lampreys (Lampreta spp., formerly placed in the genus Petromyzon), called “eels” in the Northwest though not related to true eels, are now almost extinct.  They were major resources once.  Temain favorite foods—though now very hard to get (Miller 2012).  Two were parasites on salmon and other fish; the third was a small nonparasitic species.  Suckers were key resources in many inland areas, from the Columbia to the northeast California plateau.  Again many species are endangered, including the Lost River sucker, whose runs used to sustain the Modoc; diversion for irrigation has almost dried up its river.  Suckers remain important in the Pit River area, among other places.

Fish were always carefully managed, as will appear below.  Social groups had depended on the fish for millennia, and knew what they could take and how to maximize returns.  They used a variety of gears, traps, weirs, and other devices, including stone weirs to catch fish on receding tides (Menzies 2016).  Conservation was generally effected by limiting days of fishing, permitting escapements, and improving breeding conditions, rather than by limiting gears or daily takes.  Improving spawning success included things such as clearing redds, returning fish wastes to water for nutrients recycling, and protecting spawning streams.

Shellfish were also carefully managed by developing breeding grounds and enforcing limits.  Charles Menzies (2010; 2016:119-130) has described abalone management by the Tsimshian.  Populations collapsed after settler contact and overfishing.  This led to ethnographic erasure of the importance of abalone in precontact times.  Menzies’ archaeological work turned up massive amounts of abalone shells, leading to new realization of its former importance.  The same could be said of many other resources and foods that we now are beginning to realize were once important.

Marine and freshwater resources were managed carefully.  The high point was the creation of “clam gardens”:  Rock-barriered areas where beaches could upgrade or be developed to maximize clam production.  We will discuss these below.

Northwest Coast knowledge of the environment was as thorough, detailed and comprehensive as one would expect from 15,000 or more years of continuous occupation of and dependence on the land.  Ethnobiology of most groups has been documented in detail.  The most comprehensive work is Nancy Turner’s five-foot shelf of classic ethnobotanies, many of them coauthored with First Nations people, climaxing in her enormous Ancient Pathways, Ancestral Knowledge (2014; see esp. vol. 2, pp. 198-244).  The most comprehensive work on animals and places has been done by Eugene Hunn, especially in N’Chi Wana (1991), and his students such as Thomas Thornton, whose book Being and Place among the Tlingit (2008) goes beyond ethnobiology to discuss major ontological and epistemological points. 

Knowledge can be something as simple as knowing bird songs that announce plant seasons.  In spring, when salmonberries flower and set fruit, the woods are suddenly full of Swainson’s Thrushes returning from their winter homes.  Their exquisitely beautiful songs sound everywhere:  woodily woodily woodily woodily, rising up the scale.  The Saanich (Wsáneć) of Vancouver Island hear this as “weweleweleweleweś”—“ripen, ripen, ripen.”  (Turner and Hebda 2012:103.  Such playful wording of bird songs is widespread in North America; I have encountered similar Maya stories.) 

Northwest Coast peoples managed the environment extremely well (Alberta Society of Professional Biologists 1986; Deur and Turner 2005 Hunn 1990; Kirk 1986;  Menzies 2006; Miller 1999, who gives valuable comparative materials and seasonal rounds; Turner 2005).  The basic principle was to use and value everything, or almost everything.  Total-landscape management resulted.  The whole region was managed to some degree, and productive areas were intensively managed.  But since almost everything was useful, the first rule of management was to keep everything.  Since management was by village or extended family, it was also necessary to manage for long-term, wide-flung payoffs.  Short-term payoffs depleted the resource for one or a very few people.  That made short-term exploitation a selfish crime against society, and it was correspondingly condemned.  

They were the first to admit that they were far from perfect; every, or almost every, group has tales of overharvesting followed by famine.  The fact that these tales were retold with cautionary import is what matters.  There was a learning curve, and everyone knew it.  Many individuals, moreover, tell of overharvesting themselves and getting social sanctions applied in no uncertain terms (e.g. Atleo 2011:50).  Such stories are far more revealing of how management really accomplished than are the romantic stereotypes of the “Indian at one with nature.”

Fish management was notably careful.  Not only were spears and hooks universal, but very effective netting was done.  Trawl nets and set reef nets were used in the Salish Sea, and seines, weirs, scoop nets, and other nets were used everywhere.  Nettles might be grown especially for making nets, or tough grass traded in from other areas (Miller 2014:83).  It was easy to take all the fish from a small river or creek.

Thus, strict limits were set on fishing, and this was usually religiously represented—there were strong religious rules and ceremonies relating to fishing.  This is well documented all the way from the Tlingit in the north (Arnold 2008) to the Yurok in the far south (Swezey and Heizer 1977), and for most groups in between, e.g. the groups along the Skeena (Morrell 1985).  The first fish was subject to ceremonies; often it had to be taken by a religious leader.  (The best account is in Swezey and Heizer 1977, but similar practices were universal on the coast.)  People waited until the season was thus opened.  This allowed leaders to provide for escapement, for spawning or for the tribes upriver.  Swezey and Heizer (1977) report for the Klamath River tribes that the latter was a motive; not allowing enough fish to get through the lower river weirs was cause for the upriver tribes to make war on those downstream.  Ceremonies thus not only allowed escapement for breeding, but also kept the peace.

Other areas too had a fish leader to start the season.  The Lakes and Colville Salishans fished at Kettle Falls, and the Lakes scholar Lawney Reyes, recalling his childhood, reports:

“During the salmon harvest, the head authority at the falls was the appointed Salmon Chief.  Before any nets or traps were set or fishermen were positioned, he stood near the lower falls, facing downriver, and prayed.  The Salmon Chief welcomed the arrival of the chinook [salmon].  He apologized and thanked those salmon that would be separed or taken in the traps.  HE assured the hcinook that most would be allowed to go upriver to spawn and bring forth their young….

“It was the responsibility of the Salmon Chief to see that the closely related tribes…shared equally in all salmon that were caught.  Other tribes that came to fish at the falls were also treated fairly….  According to Sin-Aikst [Lakes] tradition, the first Salmon Chief was chosen by Coyote…. [who] made Beaver the Salmon Chief

[and told him]

…. ‘You must never be greedy and you must see to it that no one else is greedy.’” (Reyes 2002:46-47).

The Lakes and their neighbors had, in fact, such a supervisor for all hunting and fishing activities—there was a hunting chief as well as a salmon chief and other fishing leaders.  Such leaders of hunting and fishing had a special title, xa’tús, from a word for “first”(Kennedy and Bouchard 1998b:241; Miller 1998:255).  The salmon chief was locally called “salmon tyee” (Miller 1998:255), tyee being Chinook Jargon for “chief.”

The tight grounding of conservation in religion, including origin myths, is found everywhere in the region.  It goes a long way to disprove the occasional claim that conservation is actually a new idea, learned from the Whites.  Many early ethnographers segregated “religion” and “subsistence” in separate parts of their ethnographies; it would be better to take the religion-environment-subsistence interaction as the basic unity, with “religion” and “subsistence” being artificial categories imposed from outside.

The Nuu-chah-nulth and Tlingit, at least, and probably other groups, stocked eggs and fry in salmon streams (see e.g. Deur and Turner 2005:19; George 2003:74).  Gilbert Sproat describes this from the early 19th century (Sproat 1987 [1868]).  Since Sproat was the first European to visit the areas he described, this was evidently a pre-contact practice.  A Saanich origin myth of salmon, and of the use of wild parsley (Lomatium) as “medicine” to lure it, talks of the creator hero-twins stocking salmon as they went around Vancouver Island (Turner and Hebda 2012:132).   Earl Maquinna George describes the process in detail, and also points out that the Nuu-chah-nulth would clear choking vegetation out of streams but leave enough to keep the stream healthy; salmon need some logs for shelter and protection.  The Nuu-chah-nulth also understood that bears were people too, and needed and deserved their fair share of the catch, for all to cooperate and consent (Atleo 2011:100-101). 

Fish populations throughout the Northwest Coast region were carefully managed (Johnsen 2009).  The European settlers found fish incredibly abundant—rivers during runs were said to be “more fish than water.”  Some of this abundance is surely due to population recovery after Indian fishing was reduced in the contact period (Ames 2005:84), but an extremely important and little-remarked fact is that even the tiniest and most insignificant streams had runs at contact.  Even normal natural processes would have exterminated some of these small-stream runs.  Such streams have few fish and short run-times.  More to the point, one man with a net can easily “rob a creek” (take all the fish in it) in a couple of weeks of fishing.  Since most salmon run eventually into creeks small enough to rob, overfishing can quickly wipe out even a huge river’s salmon stocks.  We know that Indian fishing was heavy.  Only stocking combined with careful conservation could have maintained the runs.

Limiting fishing was, of course, the major and most necessary way to manage this.  It was done by many means, e.g. not fishing before a certain date or before a large escapement, and these limits were ritually enforced.  The classic account is by Swezey and Heizer (1977) for the Klamath River, but parallels exist throughout the region.  Competition and cooperation over resources drove protection of one’s tribal resource base (Johnsen 2009).  As usual, there are equivalent stories from other regions; Erich Kasten quotes Indigenous elders on Kamchatka as counseling leaving salmon and opening weirs (Kasten 2012:79).  One elder remembered asking, as a child, why some fish were spared and being told those were females that would reproduce the fish.  Today, the runaway market in Russia for caviare has doomed the female fish, which are often simply stripped of caviare and left to rot, to the horror of traditional persons.  Kasten recommends reviving traditional ways of conserving before it is too late.  Comparable accounts from Siberia make it clear that conservation was general there (e.g. Koestler 2012; Wilson 2012). Tsimshian anthropologist Charles Menzies records stories of overhunting and overfishing told as cautionary tales, with conservation morals drawn (Menzies 2012, esp. p. 165).  The Alutiiq conserved and managed fish until settler societies forced overfishing (Carothers 2012).

Another conservation measure was returning inedible parts of the fish to the water.  Salmon die on spawning because the young depend on the nutrients from their parents’ bodies; this enormous import of nutrients from the sea to the river headwaters allows the fantastic productivity of Northwest Coast streams, which would otherwise be extremely nutrient-poor.  (Coniferous forests make oligotrophic streams.)  The Native people know this, and some at least see it as equivalent to human parents feeding their children (Gottesfeld 1994b).  We will consider some teaching stories about this, below.  Returning the bones to the water seems to be universal along the acidic, oligotrophic streams of the coast, but on the Plateau the bones were more often ground up for human consumption (e.g. Ross 2011:429), probably because the streams are richer in nutrients and do not need the addition.

The Tlingit of Alaska not only stocked or restocked streams and took out beaver dams that were blocking these streams.  They also excavated shallow pools (ish) in small spawning streams, to prevent drying in summer, freezing in winter, and excess predation.  They devised a complex trap system to divert salmon fry while trapping dolly varden trout, which eat salmon eggs.  They not only prevented overfishing, they were careful to take about three males for every one female from the upriver runs, to maximize spawning.  This was done with the usual recognition of salmon as people deserving and requiring respect.  Steve Langdon calls this an “existencescape of willful intentional beings.”  Following Viveiros de Castro (2015) he speaks of “relational ontology” and “abductive reflexivity” (Langdon 2016).

In addition to stocking salmon, at least some Northwest Coast groups (specifically the Kwakwaka’wakw and nearby Salishan-speaking groups) protected clam beaches by creating low rock walls along the seaward side to prevent beach erosion (Williams 2006).  These “clam gardens” have now been the subject of major research by Dana Lepofsky and her colleagues and students (Augustine et al. 2016; Lepofsky et al. 2015; Moss 2011).  With the help of First Nations advisors and of Randy Bouchard and Dorothy Kennedy, experts on the ethnography of the local Salishan groups, Lepofsky and her group have found large numbers of rock walls separating, marking off, shoring up, and preserving large areas of clam beaches.  More, they learned that local people had been painstakingly clearing the beaches of large boulders, cobbles, and logs for countless centuries.  Also, clam digging—which was rigorously managed for sustainability—broke up the substrate, which otherwise became too hard for easy clam establishment.  The group tried these various techniques on sample beaches and found that the number of clams was increased severalfold.  They recommend that these techniques be introduced to modern beach management.

Given what we know of plant and fish management, and the importance of clams and other shellfish in the diet, it would be surprising if no enhancement of shellfish was done.  It is very easy to overharvest shellfish, and indeed many Native American groups did, as early as several thousand years ago (Rick and Erlandson 2008, 2009).  Huge shell middens stand up as islands or bars in marshy areas, and cover up to hundreds of acres along rivers and coasts in the Northwest; some were several metres deep.  As with fish, only diligent conservation and management could keep the shellfish resource flourishing in near-settlement locations.

In fact, what Lepofsky and her group found is really clam farming—as intensive and demanding as the oyster and mussel farming now practiced widely in Washington state.  It is at least as labor-intensive and landscape-changing as anything done on the Northwest Coast, and is quite comparable in both labor needs and results to the horticulture of many Native American groups in more easterly parts of North America.  Along with the emerging knowledge of plant management, it changes our idea of the Northwest Coast peoples; they were more like proto-agriculturalists than “hunters and gatherers.”

Birds too were carefully managed, with seabirds and their eggs being taken in a self-consciously sustainable way (Hunn et al. 2003), as is archaeologically confirmed by continued abundance of the birds on even very vulnerable islands (Moss 2007).

Game management is less easy to evaluate.  Overall, there are few declines demonstrated in the archaeological record—in fact, none was found in a major review by Virginia Butler and Sarah Campbell (2004; Butler 2005).  They did not even find a shift in exploitation from big game to lower-ranked resources.  Elk were as common 200 years ago as 5000 years ago.  Locally, the situation gets more interesting, with patterns of local decline or scarcity contrasting with considerable abundance (Kay and Simmons 2002, and see below).  The fact remains that the Northwest Coast was rich in game when first contacted by White settlers, and unlike the situation in California (Preston 2002), this first contact came before introduced disease reduced the population and allowed game numbers to rebound.

Game was conserved by conscious choice to shift hunting grounds when game became depleted, and by the whole complex of ideas associated with respect for animals (see below): not to take too many, to kill with a shot (rather than wound and allow escape), to use all of an animal, and other restrictions.  Explicit conservation was common.  This stands in marked contrast with, for example, June Helms’ careful description of the ecology of the northeastern Athapaskas (Helm 2000).  They not only shot what they could, they opposed government conservation ideas explicitly and at length, with the result that game was drastically depleted around settlements. 

Apparently, in the old days, the population of humans was so thin and mobile that it did not much affect local populations, and if it did people simply moved elsewhere.  Firearms and population growth created a problem that eastern Dene culture apparently could not solve (Helm 2000, esp. pp. 66-68, 79-84).  The contrast with the Northwest is similar to the contrast in South America between sparse groups like the nonconserving Machigenga/Matsigenka and more careful groups that are more populous and settled (Beckerman et al. 2002).

Among the Spokan of eastern Washington, “[l]and mammals were never stalked or taken at springs, as this was disrespectful and, if violated, was believed to be the main reason for game leaving an area” (Ross 1998:273)—naturally enough, as waterhole hunting is the surest way to wipe out local game.  Possibly less directly useful was the same group’s way of dealing with bears; “the successful hunter…sang the bear’s death song” and observed “three days of strict behavioral and dietary taboos to avoid dreaming of the bear or being burned later by fire or struck by lightning” (Ross 1998:273, 2011:314).  But this shows both respect for the bear and awareness of interaction and interdependence in ecology—though bears and lightning would not be associated by most peoples.  The Spokan were competent enough hunters to wipe out the game, using tricks like taking scent glands from animals and luring them with the scents (Ross 2011:307-308).  It is worth noting that the Spokan lived on fish and plant materials (mostly berries and roots), about 50% each; game was a rare treat (Ross 2011:311).

Wet sites that preserve many types of remains for archaeologists have given us new insights into the Northwest.  At Ozette in Washington state, whaling was far more important than anyone realized, and wooden arrows without stone points were far more common than stone-tipped ones (Croes 2003), showing that hunting was far more important than the relative rarity of classic “arrow point” discoveries had suggested.  Baskets show cultural continuity and adaptability over long time periods, and reveal the extreme importance of transporting and storing food (Bernick 2003; Croes 2003).

Plant Resource Management

The Northwest Coast peoples, like other western American hunter-gatherers, managed plant resources by cultivating, pruning, transplanting, fertilizing, and indeed all gardening activities short of actual domestication.  Many authors have surveyed these practices for the Northwest (e.g. Blukis Onat 2002; Deur and Turner [eds.], 2005, esp. Lepofsky, Hallett et al. 2005 and Turner and Peacock 2005 therein; Gottesfeld 1994b; Kirk 1986; Turner 2005).  In addition, Kat Anderson’s great study of Californian Native plant management practices (M. K. Anderson 2005) not only covers the extreme southern end of the region, but describes many techniques used throughout.  Jay Miller’s statement that “While women did encourage the growth of certain wild plants, they did this unobtrusively” (Miller 2014:21) is an odd observation.  Burning, planting, massively selective harvesting, and other techniques were far from unobtrusive.  They were also very successful, and carefully done.  In fact, in the same book, Miller more accurately says “this cultivating was intense—much more than a light or selective tending of ‘wild’ species (Blukis Onat 2002) .  Not quite farming, it was definitely gardening” (Miller 2014:131, from a previously published paper).  Women used digging sticks, and had appropriate prayers and formulae for working with them and with plants in general.

At least the Secwépemc (Shuswap) had recognized resource stewards; stewardship was a named office (Ignace and Ignace 2017:193-194).  They watched over fish, game, and plant stocks, organized and timed burning for berries and other resources, maintained trails, and oversaw conservation.  They appear to be a development from the “fish chiefs” and “game bosses” reported generally over western North America.

Burning was by far the most important method of managing the environment (Agee 1993, esp. p. 56; M. K. Anderson 2005; Stewart et al. 2002).  The Northwest forests do not burn easily, but they do burn.  Clearings, meadows, and brushfields burn much more easiliy.  The old idea that burning had little effect on resources is disproved by the rapid recent changes in environments the Native Americans managed by fire.  An idea that burning was relatively recent has been rendered unlikely by pollen studies and Native cultural traditions, though natural burning was common in the drier and higher areas and must have had much role in maintaining berry fields.  (They did, after all, evolve over millions of years before people were there to burn.)  The pollen records indicate localized burning going back at least several thousand years (Sobel et al. 2013:37).  Plateau forests burn much more easily, and were regularly burned for berries, to eliminate pests, and to renew the landscape and kill insect pests and ticks (Ignace and Ignace 2017:192; Ross 2011:267-272, citing an enormous literature as well as his own field work).  There was even special spirit power for burning (Ross 2011:271).  

Burning for berries was simple and productive (Joyce Lecompte-Mastenbrook, ongoing research; Ross 2011, esp. 344ff; many other writers).  The major berries of the northwest—huckleberries, blackberries, raspberries of various sorts, and so on—are basically fire-followers, and all the Native groups learned exactly how often and when to burn to maximize production. 

Root crops also grow largely in burned-over prairie and grassland habitats.  Fire suppression has made them rare or absent in many areas, and indeed the forests reclaim unburned areas rapidly.  The oak forests found from California (commonly) to Washington (locally) to British Columbia (only around Victoria) require burning for maintenance; those of BC are now succumbing rapidly to invasion by palnts favored by fire suppression. They once supplied numerous acorns, which were a staple in California and probably close to one in the Willamette Valley.  Acorns had to be leached, and in Oregon they were often buried in mud for the winter, thus becoming “Chinook olives” (Gahr 2013:74). 

However, in at least one area, pollen records show less burning in the last 2500 years, after Native cultures became complex (Walsh et al. 2008).  This seems to accompany a local wet phase, but it is a confusing finding.  Probably, small local fires reduced the chance of major fires that would have left a clearer signature in the record.

Berries “were closely tended and maintained by fire clearing until government prohibited this practice.  Today …due to lack of burning, they have changed in such a way that inferior species and subspecies of berries have replaced the quality species of the past (Art Mathews in Daly 2005:221; Gitksan data, but applicable everywhere in the Northwest).  I might chalk this up to “good old days” rhetoric if I had not observed it myself throughout much of western North America over the last 60-odd years.  Almost everywhere, the favorite berry patches of my youth have grown up to forests, brush, or grassland.  Invasion by inferior species is bad enough, but a far worse problem (and one thing Mathews was talking about) is the fact that shading and crowding make berry plants produce fewer and sourer fruit.  Every home gardener who has let trees encroach on his berry patch knows this, but it is rarely mentioned in the ecological literature.

Sugar also occurred in sweet sap and conifer cambium, and from Douglas firs, which sometimes exude a trisaccharide sugar from their twigs and branches; it gathers like snow on the twigs.  It was so loved in the interior that it was known as “breast milk” in some groups (Turner 2014-1:215).  Pit-cooking of roots such as camas turned the indigestible inulin to fructose, thus making them sweet; European sweets and starches were accepted quickly and seen as parallel (ibid. and many references cited there).  Balsamroot was similarly prepared not only for food but for medicine; it contains strongly antibiotic chemicals (Turner 2014-1:431).

The only domesticated plant acknowledged in most of the literature was tobacco.  Tobacco cultivation was certainly pre-Columbian, but not necessarily in all groups where it is known (Moss 2005).  One species (Nicotiana attenuata) was grown by the Haida and probably their neighbors, and also was grown widely in California and probably into Oregon.  It seems likely that other groups grew it but stopped doing so before anthropologists reached them.  N. quadrivalvis, a plant from the central part of the continent, was occasionally farmed in its area of origin, and may have spread into our region at some time.

Root crops were harvested in ways that propagated them:  large tubers were taken, small ones replanted; roots might be cut and the stem replanted. Harvesting was done such that weeds were eliminated.  Particularly favored crops show what appears to be actual selection from thousands of years of this care. 

Camas (Camassia quamash and C. leichtlinii; the latter may be simply a form of C. quamash) was particularly important, and has been for a long time (Lyons and Ritchie 2017).  It seems to have been at least partially domesticated.  It shows several traits characteristic of domestic crops, including large showy flowers (compared to its close relatives), large edible structures, and extremely good adaptation to gardens and gardening (personal observation, from garden cultivation of it by myself and many other persons I know).  Douglas Deur says it is a “cultivated plant” in the coastal forests, being maintained there only by human activity.  Presumably it was introduced from inland (see Deur and Thompson 2008:51; Gahr 2013:70). 

Turner and Hebda (2012:120-121) quote a detailed account by Marguerite Babcock of camas management in southeast Vancouver Island; it was clearly cultivated, and if not domesticated then very close to it.  Turner (2014-2:167-176) provides an extremely detailed account—unique in the ethnographic literature—of how much yield was obtained from various plant resources by Indigenous harvesting efforts.  Few resources yielded high.  Anyone with experience picking berries, which have changed less under domestication than most plants, will have a good idea of effort involved.  Domestic berries yield higher than unmanaged wild stands, but no higher than burned and cultivated wild stands (my considerable personal experience confirms Turner here).

Roots were managed by harvesting with digging sticks, thinning stands and allowing selection of particular sizes.   Balsamroot (Balsamorrhiza spp.) produces edible roots that develop over years into huge, woody, inedible taproots; these were left to reproduce, and very small roots were left to grow.  Carrot-sized roots were harvested (Ignace and Ignace 2017:190).

Wetland resources such as yellow pond lily nuts (the wokas of the Klamath; Colville 1902) and the wapato or “Indian potato” (Sagittaria; see Gahr 2013:69) were similarly managed.  They too may well have been on the road to domestication.  This sort of root management gave the Native people the ability to shift rapidly to cultivating potatoes.  The Haida were trading potatoes in bulk with English and “Boston” ships well before 1800.  In fact, potatoes have been a staple on the coast about as long as they have in Ireland.  The potato was introduced by the Spanish.  Surviving traditional potatoes of the Ozette and Makah types are still genetically South American (Ignace and Ignace 2017:515; Turner 2014-1:198-200), presumably from direct and early introduction by the Spanish. 

The root foods, including other managed ones ranging from glacier lilies (Erythronium) and frilillary (Fritillaria spp.) to clover (Trifolium, especially T. wormskioldii), were baked for long periods in earth ovens, to break down the long-chain polysaccharides, especially inulin, into digestible short-chain sugars.  As experimenters with cooking such roots may be painfully aware, the long-chain molecules can cause acute digestive distress if ingested without breakdown.  Nancy Turner’s five-foot shelf of books give the best and fullest information on these roots and their preparation; she and her students have devoted lifetimes to the research.

We know that fruit trees like Oregon crabapple, Indian plum, hawthorn, and moutain ash were managed, but we do not know much about it.  Techniques included pruning around them, opening land for them, and otherwise encouraging them.  They were often transplanted into new areas, and local orchards established.  Were the seeds planted?  Probably, but we do not know.  Hazelnuts are better known; they were carefully managed throughout the Northwest, with trees carefully tended, pruned, and probably transplanted locally (Armstrong et al. 2018). 

Fibre crops were also managed.  The Secwépemc, for instance, “carefully tended” patches of Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum) “by removing brush and undergrowthnear the patch to encsure straight and thick growth of the perennial hemp shoots” (Ignace and Ignace 2017:191).  Cutting the shoots for fibre made the new ones grow out straight and tall.  This is typical of Indian hemp management all over western North America (see e.g. M. K. Anderson                                                                              2005).  Indian hemp was sometimes transplanted to new areas in California and presumably in the Northwest Coast region as well.

Bow staves were taken off living yew trees in the coastal forests, junipers and other trees in the Basin and probably the Plateau.  This indicates major forbearance and the working of conscience.  Yews and junipers produce few straight branches. Staves are best taken off the lower part of a branch, to get the compression wood.  The branch very slowly regrows.  With junipers, only one stave in about twenty years can be taken (Wilke 1998), and for yews the figure is probably about the same.  This means that people must be restrained by their conscience; no one can patrol all the few trees with straight branches.  All over the Northwest, one sees yew trees with the characteristic scars, indicating that people saved their bow trees.  (For the same reason—bow staves—yew trees were planted thickly around castles in the British Isles in the middle ages. Many of them are still growing, providing a thick shade.)

Similar “culturally modified trees” or “CMT’s” include cedars used for bark or planks.  Cuts were made near the foot of the tree and then about 20 or 30 feet up, the cuts being shallow for bark and deep for planks.  The bark was pulled off in long strips.  The planks were sometimes split off, but it was easier to let the tree grow until the stresses of growth split the plank off without human effort.  The scars, again, show that people took only enough for their needs, without killing or greatly harming the trees.  The scars healed and bark could be taken again (see e.g. Schlick 1998:59). 

The only true domesticate was the dog.  In some groups, it was subject to serious selective breeding—most unusual for small-scale societies.  A wool-bearing variety of dog was developed by the Salish.  The painter Paul Kane managed to see and draw one; it looks rather like a lamb.  It sadly became extinct in the mid-19th century, but biologist Russell Barsh (pers. comm., 2007) is trying to breed it back.  Another endangered special variety is the Tahltan bear dog, developed for bear hunting by the Tahltan people of northern British Columbia.  It somewhat resembles the Karelian bear dog of Finland.  Other groups apparently also had special hunting breeds in the old days.

Moreover, wild animals were probably tamed on more than a few occasions.  Early accounts speak of Salish women trapping mountain goats in spring, when they were shedding their winter coats.  The women pulled the loose fur off the goats and let them go.  The wool was then spun with the dog wool, and woven on sophisticated native looms to make the beautiful traditional blankets.  Mountain goats are notoriously tameable—they became pests in Glacier National Park, begging for food from tourists—and it is fairly obvious that the Salish tamed their goats.  Goat hunting did go on, but I suspect it was done as an unobtrusive cropping of semi-managed herds.  The rifle has changed game hunting in America; bow hunting required a close approach.  The sensible thing to do with the smaller, more tameable animals, like mountain sheep, mountain goats, and deer, was to keep the herds as tame and unsuspecting as possible, taking laggards and easily-shot animals but never taking enough to alarm the group.  This is why archaeology reveals a “poor management” practice of taking many females and young rather than concentrating on the conspicuous, wary adult males, as a modern rifle-hunter would.  (On hunting in western North America in general, see Frison 2004; Kay and Simmons 2002.  Frison was a rancher and an expert hunter, and draws on his knowledge.)

The Northwest Coast Native peoples were formidable hunters, and certainly kept game populations down.  Respect was a needed, and not always adequate, check on overhunting.  Stories warned people to take no more animals than they needed, or even a specific small number.  For the Shuswap, “’Stinginess’

[in distributing fish and game…invited bad luck for the future….  Most of all, resource management was carried
out through a value system that enforced the use of all parts of killed animals
and sanctioned individuals who were wasteful” (Ignace 1998:208).  A major origin myth of the Coeur d’Alene
instructs hunters to take no more than two deer per hunt (Frey 2001:4, and
subsequent discussion throughout book).  The
Kaska “do not kill animals needlessly,” realize that “animals are best saved
for times when they are most useful” (Nelson 1973:155), are averse to using
poison because animals eating the poisoned animals will die in turn, thus
killing needlessly (ibid, 244), and in short “have a well-developed conservation
ethic” (ibid, 311).

The same could be said for all the
other Northwest Coast groups, so far as ethnography goes. In fact, these rules
are common worldwide among hunting groups, including European ones. 

Clearly, the Native peoples knew
overhunting all too well, and knew exactly what its effects were and how much
hunting would be suicidal (see Kay and Simmons 2002).  These stories make no sense at all unless
people had overhunted, had found out the consequences to their cost, had
consciously learned better, and had even more self-consciously developed a
stern morality of conservation!  The fact
that this morality was taught so diligently, with so many stories, proves that
it met a felt need.  Historians routinely
use the existence of a law as proof that the outlawed activity was common
enough to be a problem.  The same can be
said here. The Chinook and their neighbors had rules about taking no more than
necessary, but supplying the Anglo-American settlers made this a negotiable
issue, and one hunter supposedly took 20 to 30 deer per day in one early-19th-century
winter (Gahr 2013:66; I am fairly sure several hunters were involved, but in
any case the toll was unsustainable).

Martin and Szuter (1999, 2002)
found that “no man’s lands” between warring tribes were rich in game, while
village areas were not.  (Similar
findings are reported from South America to Vietnam, and I have found the same
thing in Mexico).  Martin and Szuter argue
that the game was killed out near settlements, though bothering and disturbing
may have had more to do with driving them away.
Of course the game animals are smart enough to move to safe places.  We can observe this today throughout the

In short, Native people had good
sense but were not infallible, and they created morals accordingly.  Contra the old stereotypes, they are not
wantonly wasteful killers (pace Krech 1999, last chapters; see Appendix 3 below),
not natural conservationists (pace Hughes 1983), and most certainly not mere
animals with no impact on nature (see appalling quotes from Anglo settlers in
Pryce 1999:85-90, and her excellent discussion of this whole issue).


The role of cultivation was underplayed
by early anthropologists.  This was
partly because they wanted to emphasize the sophistication of “hunter-gatherer”
societies as a way of disproving evolutionary schemes.  Douglas Deur and Nancy Turner (2005) point
this out, but they exaggerate the case.  It
remains true that the Northwest  Coast
peoples were hunting-gathering societies, without significant domestication or
agriculture.  Most hunter-gatherer
societies manage the environment, often intensively.  Early anthropologists knew that, and had no
reason not to make the hunter-gatherers seem even more sophisticated by
emphasizing it.

Much more true is Deur and Turner’s
point that women were rarely taken seriously by early ethnographers.  Indeed, what Fiske and Patrick say of the
Babine could be said of almost all Northwest Coast peoples:  “We do not have reliable accounts of women’s
lives, property, or social obligations for the early contact or precontact
eras.  All the available fur trader and
missionary accounts are full of contradictions and replete with biases” (Fiske
and Patrick 2000:238). 

Deur and Turner (2005:33) note that
the famous fish dependence of the Northwest Coast peoples must have been
overstated, because living on fish would cause unhealthy overconsumption of
protein and perhaps of vitamin D.  The
peoples in question had to have been eating a lot of carbohydrates.  Records show diet breadth was always great;
people worked to maintain diversity in all matters. 

On the other hand, it should never
be forgotten that roots, berries, and shellfish are all low to extremely low in
calories, and the Northwest Coast people could not have gotten much of their
subsistence from them.  What has been
missed is not so much the plant foods but the importance of oil, both from
ooligan fish and from mammals (sea lions, whales, deer, elk, and so on).  Early accounts stress the enormous importance
of oils in trade, feasting, and food.  The Makah used to compete to see who could
drink the most whale oil at feasts (Colson 1953).  People were desperate for oils.  Suffice it to say that “ooligan” is derived
from a Tsimshian word meaning “savior,” now used for Jesus.  Watertight boxes of oil from the ooligan
(oolichan, eulachon), a smelt that is mostly fat by dry weight, were traded all
up and down the coast.  The Haida sailed
their great canoes over tens of miles of some of the most dangerous waters in
the world, and traded their most valuable possessions, to get these boxes of
oil.  The biggest ooligan run was on the
Columbia River, where the commercial catch in the peak year, 1945, was over 5.5
million pounds—and the noncommercial (including Indigenous) catch at least as
high (Reynolds and Romano 2013).  The
fish is almost extinct in the Columbia drainage now, thanks to dams and pollution.

Oil provided necessary
calories.  In the Northwest, clothing is
not much barrier against the constant rain, which soaks or trickles through
anything.  Thus oil was used externally
as “clothing,” as well as being consumed internally to keep metabolism up.  Anyone who has lived and worked with Native
people on the outer coast is aware of the incredible calorie needs that working
in that climate entails, and of the incredible amounts of food that have to be
eaten to keep body warmth while carrying out any task.  Early descriptions of people paddling for
four continuous days in cold rain (Drucker 1951; Sproat 1987 [1868]

) may be hard to match now, but I have seen many feats of sustained effort in cold rain that at least make the old stories thoroughly credible.  They are possible only if the workers are eating heavily.

Today, the old oil sources are largely gone, and drinking oil straight is no longer in vogue, so recent writers have generally missed the importance of this in the past. 

An account of a typical meal was provided by William Clark around 1805, in his famously creative spelling.  He “was invited to a lodge by a young Chief” of the Clatsop in Oregon, and received  “great Politeness, we had new mats to Set on, and himself and wife produced for us to eate, fish, Lickorish [shore lupine, Lupinus littoralis], & black roots [edible thistle, Cirsium edule], on neet Small mats, and Cramberries [Vaccinium oxycoccos] & Sackacomey beris [kinnikinnik, Arctostaphylos ua-ursi[, in bowls made of horn, Supe made of a kind of bread made of berries [cf. salal, Gaultheria shallon] common to this Countrey which they gave me in a mneet wooden trancher, with a Cockle Shell to eate it with.”  (Quoted in Gahr 2013:65, from Lewis and Clark 1990:118; her notes in brackets).  The dominance of fish and berries is notable, and the few plant foods were roots.

An obvious question is how many of the cultivation techniques of the Northwest were learned from early European settlers.  By far the most important management technique, burning, was certainly aboriginal; every Native American group in a burnable environment used this method, as did hunters, foragers, and horticulturalists around the world.  Unlike the equivocal situation in California, where natural fire is so common that it makes aboriginal burning difficult to assess, historic and archaeologically evidenced burning on the Northwest Coast can usually be safely ascribed to Native activity.  Natural fire is exceedingly rare west of the Cascades in Oregon and Washington and the Coast Range crest in Canada (see Lepofsky et al. 2005). 

Intensive root-digging was certainly pre-contact, and indeed goes back far in the archaeological record, and the diggers must have known the effects of their cultivation on the crops.  Otherwise, Wayne Suttles (2005), James MacDonald (2005), and Madonna Moss (2005) have considered the matter, coming to rather little resolution. Intensive pruning and transplantation and at least some fertilizing are recorded, but are very possibly post-contact.  Clearing, weeding, fencing, sowing, transplanting, mulching, and fertilizing are all documented (Turner 2014-2:193).

Enormous quantities of plant foods were gathered.   A tribe of a thousand people could easily run through a million camas bulbs in a year, and a single family might eat 100,000 to 200,000 salal berries in a year (Deur 2005:14).  Salal is the commonest berry bush over much of the Northwest, and its bearing capacity, especially when periodically burned over, is incredible—thousands of families gathering on that scale would not make a dent in its yield. 

Boas records a no-nonsense conservation belief among the Kwakwaka’wakw:  “Even when the young cedar-tree is quite smooth, they do not take all of the cedar-bark, for the people of the olden times said that if they should peel off all the cedar-bark…the young cedar would die, and then another cedar-tree near by would curse the bark-peeler so that he would also die” (George Hunt, ed./tr. Franz Boas, 1921:616-617; several other conservation-related beliefs and prayers are given in this section of Boas’ ethnography).

On the other hand, as we have seen, overharvesting cedars was known to occur, though in a different group with less cedar to manage (Lacourse et al. 2007).

More general, and perhaps more valuable, was asking permission of a tree or plant to take its bounty (see below).  Native persons still ask a tree for permission to take some bark, and then thank and praise the tree.  Boas and others recorded many praises and requests of this sort (Turner and Peacock 2005). 

As discussed earlier, resources were owned in the Northwest Coast, according to complex rules and ownership systems.  Nancy Turner et al. (2005; Turner 2014, vol. 2, passim) provide a review, but the full complexity defies summary, and must be found in the old ethnographies, and especially in Richard Daly’s ethnography of the Gitksan and Witsu’weten.  The latter was based on trial evidence of ownership, and thus has an extremely full, detailed and accurate account.  It applies only to the two groups mentioned, but broadly similar ownership patterns exist throughout.  They are generally even more precise and self-consciously maintained along the coast itself, least precise and tightly enforced in the deep interior.

 Along the coast and up the major rivers, every fishing spot, productive cedar grove, and berry patch was tightly owned.  Good hunting grounds for localized species like marmots and mountain goats were also.  Widely necessary goods that were locally abundant but otherwise nonexistent, notably mineral resources, might be open to all (Daly 2005:263).  Complex arrangements for sharing, loaning, and even renting are widely reported, especially for fishing sites.  If a run failed or a slide blocked a stream, a group would be in desperate straits, and neighboring groups would then allow fishing access.  Daly (2005) reports boundary markers, special passes (braided straps and the like) used by people borrowing access, and other highly specific ownership applications.  Male ethnographers underappreciated the importance of female ownership of plant resources, which was incredibly complex and detailed (Turner 2014-2:90-91), quite comparable to land rights of intensive farmers.  Rights were loaned, land was opened, usufruct was differentiated from outright ownership, and sharing was subject to complex rules and norms.  Generosity was always idealized, but ownership strictly enforced.

            Finally, the region had few food taboos.  Animals that ate carrion—including those famous tricksters, ravens and coyotes—or were otherwise more or less disgusting were avoided.   The Haida did not eat killer whales, because humans (especially males, and most especially those who die by drowning) are reincarnated as killer whales and killer whales that die are then reborn as humans.  Killer whales are easily identifiable as individuals by their patterns, and, at least as of the 1980s, Haida would discuss which local killer whale was which recently deceased Haida man (I have heard people do this, and Boelscher 1988:183 also notes it).  The Haida word for “killer whale,” sgaana, also means “spiritual power.”  (A shaman is sgaaga, one who has power; one high god figure was Sins Sgaanaa, “power of the shining heavens”; Boelscher 1988:172-173.)  The Haida also regarded some foods as high status, some as low; the former were foods that came from large animals—whales being particularly high—or that were taken by collective effort, like salmon and berries.  Low foods were those that involved individual and unobtrusive collecting:  shellfish and similar beach foods, especially (Boelscher 1988; I also noted this

in Haida Gwaii, though some shellfish, such as chitons, were so well liked that they had a certain degree of status).  There seems little comparable information on other groups, except the general observation that salmon and large land mammals are highly regarded everywhere.  Whales were certainly special among the whaling groups. 

Studying this successful management reveals a fascinating truth.  The Native Americans managed superbly on the basis of an ontology that postulates spirits in everything from salmon to mountains, and that leads to a practical conclusion that vision questing and contacting spirits through soul-voyages will provide the deepest and most valuable information about the world.  Modern settler societies introduced the idea of hard-headed, pragmatic, rational science, and promptly devastated the resources of the region through incredibly stupid behaviors.  It simply did not occur to these rational, scientific invaders that if you catch all the fish you will have no fish left.  It did not occur to them that if you cut all the trees there will be no trees.  When, belatedly, they came to realize these subtle facts—occasionally by 1880, usually not until well into the 20th century—they had no way of motivating change toward better management.  The result today is rapid extinction of fisheries, with yet another river going out of production almost every year; loss of forest resources, often permanently; loss of berries, roots, and game; and a landscape which in many cases has become a moonscape.  Counter-trends—restored fish, successful farming (far more productive than pre-Columbian root-crop cultivation), sustainable forestry—have come from counter-traditions.  Either the Native Americans have regained some control of their resources (as in Haida Gwaii) or “counter-cultural” settler groups have had their way.  Of these latter, small-scale and mixed farming remains fairly widespread, but organic farming, community forestry, fish restoration by dam removal, and other successful interventions are rare and sporadic.

            In short, mystical spiritism and “irrational” vision-questing outperform economic rationality to the point of total contrast.  This is, obviously, a huge embarrassment for those who still hold that Western Man has some special pipeline to divine wisdom. 

            The reasons for the failure of rational scientific management are clear.  The direct reason is the “steep discount slope”: people discounted the future.  It could take care of itself; only today, or next year, matter.  This has been elaborated into various forms of corporate logic: shareholder payouts, government tax bases, imperative demand, and the rest.  The result is always the same: maximize profit now and forget the long term.  This led to massive accumulation for a while, supporting thousands of people.  But now the landscapes in question are ruined for the foreseeable future, and the short-term profits were usually not reinvested very productively.  Over even the medium term, Native management wins out hands down.  There are more people now than there were once, but that is because the current population gets its food largely from elsewhere.  The areas that supported dense Native populations from local resources are now in many cases deserted.  Some farmland areas—especially the Willamette, Columbia, Yakima, Okanagan and Snake valleys—produce enormous amounts of food, far more than aboriginally, and this may make up for the loss of fish and other foods, but does not excuse the overall damage.

            The reasons for the success of spirit beliefs (“animism” if you will) are not so clear.  Being less than convinced of the reality of sentient, agentive wills within bushes and clouds, I tend to think the reasons are fourfold.  First, animism leads people to respect their environments.  Second, spirit vision questing validates individual knowledge and experience; people learn to take seriously their experience-based perceptions of the world.  Third, Northwest Coast religions are intensely social.  The spirits are part of society, but, more to the point, life is with other people.  One has to be responsible toward them, including the children who will need fish and trees and roots 50 or 100 years from now.  Fourth, respect for everything means that everything should be used—it is disrespectful to ignore a being that is offering itself to you—but that nothing must be overused; that too is disrespect.  Thus, the landscape was used comprehensively but lightly.  Everything had some sort of use, down to the most insignificant scraps of vegetable tissue.  Nothing was overused; monocropping was not a concept.  (The vaunted reliance on salmon has been exaggerated in the literature, as will appear.)  There was an overall, light pressure on the landscape.

Many readers of this book—if it reaches its intended audience—will see plants, salmon, and rocks as conscious agents who decide what to do for their human friends.  (And not all those believing readers are Native American.  I personally know several anthropologists who were converted to Northwestern spirit beliefs by experiences in the field.)  I have no quarrel with this conclusion, or with others that will appear below.  What matters is that we understand that Native management was sustainable in important ways, while settler management has not been, and that this is a problem in need of exploration.

5.  White Settler Contact and Its Tragic Consequences

Endemic local dissention probably explains the ease of European conquest, as well as Jared Diamond’s “guns, germs and steel” (Diamond 1997).  From Cortes and the Pizarros onward, Europeans immediately learned that they could take advantage of Native rivalries to set Indians against Indians and clean up on the result.  In the rare cases when Indigenous people could unite and stay united, they generally held their own.   On the Northwest Coast, the successes of the Tlingit and Tsimshian in early fighting stand as examples, but solidarity never reached beyond the “tribal” level, and the Native people never forged a united front.  Even the rare unity showed by the Nez Perce in the Nez Perce War did not save them; they were harrassed by other tribes and eventually betrayed by Blackfoot warriors.

The total population of the Northwest Coast in precontact times was at least 200,000-250,000 and very likely more, quite high given the resource base.  White man’s diseases, local wars, and massacres reduced the population about 95% by 1900, as established by Robert Boyd (Boyd 1999; Boyd and Gregory 2007; Trafzer 1997).  In one particularly horrendous case, the peoples of the lower Columbia River area, as Boyd relates, “plummeted from in excess of 15,000 to just over 500 survivors” between about 1770 and 1855 (Boyd 2013a:247), a decline of 97%.  Perhaps most serious from California north into Washington was the malaria epidemic of 1830-33 (Boyd 1999; Boyd et al. 2013 passim).  Conversely, some of the tribes of the interior, where malaria was rare or absent, may have lost “only” 75% or so between 1770 and 1900.  They lost population in the 20th century, when—for instance—the 1918-19 and 1928 influenza epidemics wiped out whole communities.  However, the most extremely remote suffered no major long-term declines in population from introduced diseases, since the epidemics—these flu events being apparently the worst—reached them along with modern medicine (see e.g. Helm 2000:120-123, 192-219). 

Boyd notes depression and despair after epidemics; this has been underestimated in the past.  We now know how utterly devastating the loss of even one or two loved ones can be to a community, particularly to children.  The loss of 95% of one’s society is, to moderns, unimaginably horrible, except to those who have gone through genocides.  I suspect it colors the often-gloomy myths and tales of western North American Native people.  One recourse, but a surprisingly rare one, was to blame the whites, who had inadvertently or deliberately introduced the disease and who sometimes threatened to unleash it on the Native population (Boyd 2013a).  This blame was a contributing factor to some killings of settlers; aboriginally, unexplained deaths were assigned to witchcraft, and witches were sought out and killed.  Often these victims were medicine persons, since it was assumed that those who had curing power might well have killing power too.

Boyd and others rightly stress disease as the major killer, but the role of war, massacre, hard usage, denial of hunting and gathering options and of relief food, and other directly brutal behavior need more emphasis than they usually receive.  Catherine Cameron and others have recently established, in an important volume (Cameron et al. 2015), that disease was less important, especially early in contact, than has been alleged in most of the literature, and that declines were often due to direct violence.  Boyd certainly establishes the importance of disease in the Northwest, but it is certainly true that other causes of mortality were highly important.  Small wars around the edges of the region—the Rogue River War in southwest Oregon, the Modoc War in northeast California, the Bannock War in Idaho, the Nez Perce war of 1877 fought from Idaho to Montana, the Chilcotin War in central British Columbia, and others—led to many casualties.  Of course these were wholly one-sided, and usually started by openly genocidal settlers.  Governments collaborated to varying degrees.  The Rogue River War of 1855-56 was extreme, in that troops and settlers indulged in mass murder, leaving few survivors (Beckham 1996).  The Bannock War of 1878 was also notably one-sided as to fatalities.  These two conflicts resemble genocide more than actual war; there was some serious fighting, but inevitable victory by troops was followed by indiscriminate killing.

Wars wound down after this, but starvation, exposure, and other forms of mistreatment continued to kill many Native people on and off reservations.  Alcoholism and suicide have taken a grim toll.  Suicide, especially among young people caught between cultures and feeling they do not belong, reached epidemic levels in several cases, leading to some of the highest rates in the world.  These effects of conquest and racism deserve to be placed with disease as major causes of fatalities.

Native populations began recovering around 1900, and are now close to early levels.  Marriage into settler societies has contributed to this.  However, parts of the Northwest have fewer people now than in 1700.  The languages and cultures suffered blows from which many have never recovered. 

The natural environment did not fare any better.  Clearcutting has destroyed almost all the old-growth forest and created many landscapes where good forest is not recovering.  The fish resources, especially the salmon, are a tiny fraction of what they were, and fish populations are still declining.  In addition to the standard problems of overfishing, dams, and pollution, new problems continue to arise.  Farmed Atlantic salmon have introduced diseases and parasites that are rapidly wiping out the native species in southern British Columbia.

The Native people were rapidly dispossessed of their fisheries and other resources, often despite treaties.  They were urged to follow the “white man” and take to farming, but when they did their lands were routinely seized by greedy whites; one well-studied case study is the life of Arthur Wellington Clah (Brock 2011), who initially succeeded very well in the settler world, but was chased off parcel after parcel until he died in poverty.  (He figures in this book in a less direct but very important way: his son Henry Tate and grandson William Beynon became the great chroniclers of Tsimshian society, Beynon in particular being a superb ethnographer.)  In the 1980s I studied the ways the previously very successful Native fishery in British Columbia was systematically cut to pieces by right-wing governments and shady practices.  The Columbia River, once the richest salmon stream, has suffered from both dispossession of Native rights and destruction of the vast majority of its fish resources.  It will probably lack anadromous fish of any kind by 2100.  (Excellent studies include Dupuis et al. 2006, Ulrich 2001; see also Grijalva 2008 for the general problem of environmental justice and Native Americans). 

Forced acculturation and active repression of Native traditions further devastated the cultures.  The boarding schools, in particular, were sites of major problems.  Fortunately, both the people and their cultures began to get some measure of attention around 1900, allowing a reversal of population decline, and, to some extent, of cultural decline.  A standard history on the United States side of the border is Alexandra Harmon’s Indians in the Making (1998); a British Columbia equivalent is John Lutz’ Makúk: A New History of Indian-White Relations (2008); for a notably temperate, dispassionate, thoughtful Indigenous view, see Richard Atleo’s Principles of Tsawalk (2011).  The clear writing and sober, understated tone make all these books noteworthy.  Harmon’s is better for political machinations that created “tribes” and blood quanta; Lutz’ book is outstanding for its superb history of Indian labor, with discussion of the ways the Indians were forced out of logging, fishing, trapping, and other activities that formerly gave them a good living         

The modern “tribes” and “nations” are creations of settler government policy.  From the start, the settler groups needed clear polities and clear leaders to negotiate with.  Finding fluid polities and leadership systems, the settlers simply created clear-cut “tribes.”  Sometimes “tried to create” is more accurate; groups remained cantankerously independent and fluid.  The process has been described many times, notably in Alexandra Harmon’s and John Lutz’ books and in Andrew Fisher’s Shadow Tribe (2010).  It has left us with most unclear understandings of earlier arrangements, at least on the United States side of the border, where change and population decline came earlier.  The high population density and extensive trade show that there was some way of organizing life above the village level, but we do not really know what it was. 

Native Americans were not even citizens until 1924 in the United States, 1961 in Canada.  Significantly, though, British Columbia had defied the national government by giving Indians provincial voting rights in 1949.  By this time the land was almost completely alienated.  In the United States, at least some large reservations and solid treaty rights obtained, but Canada has been much less accepting of Native title and rights.  The Indians in British Columbia have only tiny reserves and few subsistence rights.  On the American side, having treaties and reservations has not made the Native people much better off than their Canadian neighbors.  A classic study concerns the Okanagan, whose territory was split in half by the border.  Canadians thought the Canadian Okanagan were better off, United States writers thought those on the US side were, but in fact the Okanagan were in the same desperate poverty and want on both sides (Carstens 1991; there is a similar study of the Blackfoot). 

In the early 20th century, less direct cruelty and rapacity was seen, but jobs were scarce for Native people.  Economic depression often led to psychological depression.  Many communities dealt with aimless, disordered lives by heavy drinking.  Others did what they could, especially by maintaining the old hunting, gathering, and fishing ways for sheer survival.

Similar findings occur for tribes split by the Alaska-Canada border.  “In recent years…the Canadian Han have enjoyed far better subsistence hunting and fishing rights than their Alaskan counterparts” (Mishler and Simeone 2004:xxii-xxiii).  This is a very recent situation, and subject to possible change in future.  Conditions for Indigenous hunters, and for game, have rapidly deteriorated in Alaska with a series of Republican governors backed by the oil industry and representing affluent White constituencies, including rich sport hunters who decimate animals needed by Native people for subsistence. 

Conversely, the Canadian situation improved dramatically when courts began recognizing Native rights in the 1990s.  In 1991, in the case of Delgamuukw vs. the Queen, a British Columbia court handed down an infamous decision that denied the existence of Native land title, basically because the Natives had no written records and therefore their obvious occupation of the land for 12,000 years or more did not count.  This was overturned by the Canadian Supreme Court in 1997, and Native title recognized, at least under some circumstances.  This led to the Nisga’a signing a treaty in 2000 that ceded official title of their lands (and, allegedly, some neighbors’ land too) in exchange for money and use rights.  Other tribes still contest their cases.  It should be noted that Canada had recognized at least some native claims from the beginning of British rule in 1763, and thus most of the nation was covered under signed treaties.  However, British Columbia had been a separate colony (not officially part of Canada) for many years, and had not done so, except for a very few in the far northeast and southwest, involving very small areas of land.

The reservations were bones of contention, because treaties were often unfair, and in any case the United States Congress rarely ratified treaties made with Indians.  This led to feelings of betrayal, and consequently to some violent outbreaks by people who had been promised larger and better lands.  The reservations were often treated as concentration camps until the 1930s (or even later).  However, the fact that reservations really helped was made clear by the “termination” of the Klamath tribe in the 1950s (Stern 1966).  The reservation was privatized; almost all the land was taken even before the Indians got their shares, and then the Indians were cheated out of most of what was left.  They have been trying ever since to get a bit back.

Repression of culture and language were comparable in both countries.  The United States’ lack of a safety net has cut deeply; Canadian Native peoples can expect (though they do not always get) better health care and other services.  Racism remains widespread and extremely virulent.  Let not the reader be fooled by the genteel parlor-liberalism of Vancouver and Seattle; the rural Whites are unreconstructed, and they are the ones the Native people must deal with on a day-to-day basis.  When I asked one rural British Columbian why he thought the Indians created so much fine art, his reply was “They are too lazy to work.”

Land claims, treaty rights, and aboriginal title have been the subject of many lawsuits, some successful, in the last 30 years, and the situation has improved somewhat; the problem is so fiendishly complex that discussion must remain outside the scope of this book, even though this book owes everything to that exact question.  For a particularly good story of the movement that inspired my work, see Ian Gill’s All That We Say Is Ours (2009), a biography and history of the Haida struggle to maintain land claims and fisheries.

More directly relevant is the destruction of traditional culture.  An amazing amount survives, but the languages are almost gone everywhere; very few tribes have any speakers under 50, and those few have a bare handful.  Nowhere is there a viable linguistic community of young people, except among the most remote groups of the far north.  Some 40% of the Indigenous languages of North America are gone, with another 40% spoken only by older people.  Stories, knowledge, art, and experience persist after the language is gone, but usually become rapidly impoverished.  Sad experience from more heavily impacted parts of the continent, to say nothing of Celtic languages in Europe, shows that all eventually will die out, unless current attempts at reclaiming traditions and educating the young are much better funded.  Language and cultural loss is an environmental disaster as well as a humanistic one.  Knowledge of the environment and of managing it is encoded in the language used to talk about it, and when the language goes, the knowledge diminishes with it, as has been shown in many studies (see e.g. Hunn 1990).

Language revitalization movements rarely work, partly because they tend to be school-based, often using the familiar rote-drill method that convinced my generation that we could not learn languages.  Native American writer Barbra Meek in We Are Our Language (2010) provides an account of one of the more hopeful, but typical, ones (from just outside our area), and a full review of the relevant literature.  Successes are rare; the lifelong work of Nora and Richard Dauenhauer (e.g. 1987, 1990) among the Tlingit is exemplary but, alas, atypical.  The rural environments in which many Native people live are conducive to the mindless claim that people can learn only one language well.  In fact, the more languages one knows, the better one is at learning more languages, and also at thinking and learning in general.  (In my experience, those who claim otherwise do not know their own languages well.)  Certainly, those Native Americans who have become fluent in both Native and settler tongues have tended to do well.  But the foolish claim persists, and still prevents many children from getting a fair chance at important learning opportunities.

It also remains to be seen whether heritage languages learned as second languages in school will preserve the (formerly) accompanying environmental knowledge.  Teachers are aware of the concern, but traditional ecological knowledge is generally passed on in the bush, or similar settings, and in some cases can only be passed on in such contexts.  The knowledge may be more easily passed on in English in the bush than in a heritage language in a settler-style classroom.

Some recent writers, Native and white, have attacked the “myth of the vanishing Indian” because the Indians did not in fact vanish (see e.g. Harmon 1998).  True, but their populations were reduced by an average of 95% in the Northwest, as in the rest of the New World (Boyd 1999; Boyd and Gregory 2007; Trafzer 1997).  As of the 1890s, there was every reason to believe that the Indians as a separate people would cease to exist in a very few years.  Many groups did vanish entirely, at least as linguistic and cultural entities.  In the Northwest, the grim roll includes the Tsetsaut, the Chemakum, and several Chinookan groups.  (Many groups elsewhere on the continent were completely gone before 1800).  The many people who forecast the final extinction of the “race” had every reason to do so. 

The convenient argument that “introduced diseases” did all the damage is dishonest.  Massacres, one-sided “wars,” and deliberate denial of health care were almost as bad.  Some groups were subjected to outright genocide—merciless attempts at total extermination by the United States.  Among Northwest Coast groups, this was especially the case in the Rogue River “war” of the 1850s (Beckham 1996; Youst and Seaburg 2002).  The Athapaskan and Takelman peoples of the Rogue River drainage had resisted invasion of their lands, and when miners and settlers flooded in, violence quickly spiraled out of control.  There was some actual fighting—it was not pure massacre—but the hopelessly outnumbered Rogue people soon lost, and the genociders moved in.  Local “exterminators”—that was the word used at the time—with the often-grudging aid of the United States Army killed almost all, and exiled the few who were not slain.  An area that had supported at least 10,000 people was left with virtually no Native American inhabitants. 

The survival of the last 5% of the Native Americans of the Northwest was due to heroism on the part of the survivors and their few White allies.  The fact that the Indians did not vanish is due most of all to the incredible toughness of the survivors.  Anthropologists and historians have collected or reconstructed several stories of Native American individuals who not only survived but led their people through the fires of hell.  These make some of the most deeply moving reading one can find in this world.  (Notable examples include Ford 1941; Sewid 1969; and Youst and Seaburg 2002.  The first two are recorded autobiographies, the last an amazing job of reconstructing a long and eventful life from scattered and fragmentary records.  See also Atleo 2004, 2011; George 2003; and Reyes 2002 for later-period accounts.) 

Changing white settler attitudes were also involved.  “Indian lovers” were hated and despised in the 1870s and 1880s, but gradually prevailed, and shamed the nations into changing their ways somewhat.  Anthropologists were leaders in this from the beginning.  Unfortunately, many pro-Indian individuals, including some anthropologists (notably Alice Fletcher), backed breaking up the reservations into individual allotments, in a misguided attempt to make the Indians into Anglo-style small farmers on family-owned holdings.  This proved disastrous; the Native peoples lost almost all their land (see e.g. Stern 1966 for the Klamath).  The million and a half acres of the Siletz Reservation in Oregon dwindled to a few scattered plots, and the Grande Ronde suffered similarly (Youst and Seaburg 2002).  Ironically, gambling is saving it: casino earnings are used to buy back a few acres at a time.

Bad enough to deny the near-extinction of the Native people, and the total extinction of many groups and more languages.  Worse to say, blandly, that the Indians kept right on going, and thus write the heroism of the survivors and the villainy of their persecutors out of the human record.

We need to remember the grim record.  We need to teach it in history courses, just as Europe teaches Hitler’s holocaust.  We need to do everything we can to prevent such genocides in future, and denying them is the worst possible course.

Racism continued through the 20th century, and even the tolerant and successful Sin-Aikst (Lakes) scholar and artist Lawney Reyes had bitter memories of insults, persecution, and ill treatment in youth (Reyes 2002). I remember noting in the 1980s the way the British Columbia newspapers, when highlighting “social problems” such as crime, substance abuse, and dependence on welfare, usually picked a Native family to foreground in any story.  The corresponding Washington state media almost always picked a Black one.  The proportions of Black and Native people in these polities was about the same in both, and was quite small.  White Anglos had by far the most “social problems,” in actual numbers.

Also disastrous have been many of the missionary institutions, which not only attacked Native religion and even family and kinship, but also forcibly removed children into boarding schools that were, in fact, often nothing but sex slave camps where the children were violently abused by beatings and rampant sexual molestation.  Little attempt was made to teach.  The Catholic church, in Canada and in Rome, knew about the rampant sexual molestation in Catholic schools throughout North America and Europe for decades and did nothing about it.  The Church, and the Anglican church, have now made some apologies, but few amends.

Native languages were banned.  A whole “stolen generation” (to borrow an Australian phrase) has resulted.  In my research on alcoholism treatment on the Northwest Coast, I found that all people I interviewed who had been through the residential schools had been active alcoholics for at least some of their lives.  The percentage of alcoholism was much lower among those who had escaped this brand of welfare.

The churches and missionaries got the potlatch outlawed from 1884 to 1953 as a heathen institution incompatible with the modern state; apparently the missionary mind is such that mass organized sexual abuse of minors was regarded as more properly compatible therewith.  Ironically, the first legal potlatch in 1953 was the one organized by Wilson Duff and Kwakiutl artists to inaugurate the totem pole park at the British Columbia Provincial Museum (now Royal British Columbia Museum; see Hawker 2003:138).

Treaty rights to fishing and whaling were guaranteed in the United States and eventually enforced (though not until the late 20th century), but Canadian First Nations still struggle for similar recognition (see e.g. Coté 2010).

Conditions on the reservations and reserves slowly improve.  However, bureaucracy enters, insidiously, in even the best-intentioned situations.  Displacement of Native peoples was followed by waste and misuse of resources by settlers of all sorts.  The Canadian government has had to intervene to save many Northwest Coast groups from starvation and disease, as well as from the alcoholism and violence that followed destruction of livelihood and culture.  Even the welfare system that results has its negative effects.  In their detailed major study of bureaucracy and law in a colonial Canadian context, Fiske and Patrick state:  “It

[i.e., the welfare system]

sustained the hierarchy of state/nation relations that circulates limited resources within the nation while disempowering the extended family…and…has aggravated relations of dependency” (Fiske and Patrick 2000:119).  Even the most benign extension of alcoholism treatment, nursing services, and the like has the effect of rubbing in the “problems” and “difficult situation” of the indigenous peoples.  They do not love this (Fiske and Patrick 2000, e.g. p. 182).

However, thanks to anthropologists as well as Indigenous people, the languages and cultures are at least recorded and available for study.  Some Native people have denounced such recording, but sufficient refutation is found in the marvelous picture of Nuu-chah-nulth elder Hugh Watts reading to his grandchildren from the texts that Edward Sapir collected from Hugh’s great-grandfather, Sayach’apis, in the early 20th century—and the photo is presented by Charlotte Coté, also a descendent of Sayach’apis (Coté 2010:83).  Sayach’apis’ texts represent one of the greatest literary documents in any culture worldwide, let alone one that was reduced almost to the vanishing point in his time.  We are more than lucky to have them, and to have Sapir’s warm and respectful biography of Sayach’apis (Sapir 1922)—a tribute and acknowledgement far ahead of its time, and even of ours.

6.  Resource Mismanagement Since 1800

The Northwest has been as devastated as the rest of the world by foolish exploitation in the last 150 years.  Overlogging has decimated the forests.  Careless plowing and grazing have led to ruin of the soil in many open areas.  The game is shot out.

The mentality was classic pioneer: maximize initial drawdown of all resources, meanwhile hoping to move on to the next open area, or, at worst, build up a replacement in the form of agriculture or the like.  The worldview has been unkindly but accurately summarized as “rape, ruin and run.”  This mentality is not confined to Anglo-Americans (Anderson 2014).  It has been detected archaeologically in the settlement of Polynesia and in the Bronze Age and Iron Age Mediterranean.  It characterized the Japanese spread into Hokkaido.  The Russians and Chinese both acted it out in Siberia.  But the Anglo-Americans had an extreme form of the ideology, one that typically considered all nature to be an enemy, to be utterly destroyed as soon as possible and replaced with a Europe-derived artificial landscape.  And they had the tools: guns, steam engines, fish wheels, machines of all sorts.

Another and more insidious and deadly difference from the Native Americans was and is that the settlers were interested in only a very few resources.  They depleted the game.  They mined gold and later coal and other minerals.  They logged the forests.  They concentrated on salmon and later on other fish.  Gone was the sensitive total-landscape management that concerned itself with berries, roots, bark, grasses, small animals, and other resources.  The white settlers not only drew down the immediately saleable resources with little thought of sustainability; they destroyed the other resources without even considering them.

White individualism contrasts with Native American sociality, but is really a lesser problem in this case, since the Whites tended to stand as a united front against Native Americans. 

The worst damage is to the fish resource, especially the river-running species.  Indian management was displaced over time and replaced with far worse Anglo-American management (excellent histories of this exist:  Arnold 2008; Harris 2008; Schreiber 2008).  Salmon are at least a concern even to Whites, but lampreys, sturgeon, suckers, and other species have almost disappeared without much attention paid to them.  (Sturgeon survive only in a few of the biggest rivers.)  Dams, overfishing, pollution, and the other usual factors have wiped out the salmon from much of their original range and reduced them to low abundance everywhere.  The final “unkindest cut” has been farming Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar).  Parasites—notably “fish lice,” parasitic copepods—from these fish escape and decimate the local salmon, which have no resistance.  A small salmon-farming industry in the waters east of Vancouver Island has led to total extermination of pink salmon throughout the region—millions of wild self-reproducing salmon sacrificed for a few thousand high-cost alien ones.  Naturally, Native people have objected to fish farming (Schreiber 2002; Schreiber and Newell 2006—the latter contrasts correct but “spiritual” Native knowledge with either incredible blindness or outright lying by the White managers).

The fate of the Northwest Coast fisheries shows something about ownership regimes.  The White settlers prefer private property, and, failing that, national government ownership and control:  National Parks and Forests in the US, Crown lands or provincial and national parks in Canada.   The national governments lease out most land outside parks for forestry or mining by giant corporations.  The Native people, by contrast, universally vested property rights in localized kinship groups—communities, in a word. 

For farming, individual ownership has its points, but experience shows that fisheries don’t work that way.  Native control allowed exquisitely careful management of stocks—using the most efficient methods to get the exact number of fish that could be safely taken, and then stopping the fishery.  Western control has led to individual or national development that was incompatible with fish—dams, for instance—and to virtually uncontrolled overfishing at all levels.  State and national governments simply do not have the necessary focus, attention, or priority structure.  They have other things to do, like use the rivers to generate hydroelectric power or to dispose of pollution.  They are also subject to voter pressure by fishermen desperate to take just a few more and let the future take care of itself.  There is simply no way to prioritize the fishery while simultaneously regulating it tightly enough to preserve it. 

British Columbia and Washington are the worst cases, with their fisheries devastated.  Alaska still has enough Native and local control to keep some fisheries healthy, but mining interests are closing in fast.  Oregon has, ironically, saved some of its fish thanks to powerful sport-fishing lobbies.  The sport fishers are not dependent on fishing for survival, like the commercial fishermen, and thus are more willing to let some fish escape now to make sure there will be fish tomorrow.  Long and detailed studies of the resulting biological, cultural and social disasters are legion. 

Andrew Fisher’s excellent study of the devastation of the Columbia River Indians and their salmon is one example (Fisher 2010).  Dams and overfishing wiped out the salmon; racism and oppression did not succeed in exterminating the Indians, but reduced them to greater and greater poverty over time.  Fisher quotes some racist comments from settlers, over time, that are too revealing to leave out here.  The local Indian agent, John D. C. Atkins, opined in 1886 that the Indian “must be imbued with the exalting egotism of American civilization so that he will say ‘I’ instead of ‘We,’ and “this is mine’ instead of ‘This is ours’” (p. 90).  A textbook used in Oregon schools in the first half of the 20th century said that “the Indian vanished because he could not learn the ways of the white man.  He could not survive in competition with the dominant race” (144).  This at a time when thousands of Native Americans were trying desperately to survive, and by and large succeeding, in the face of genocidal racism.

A case study, perfect for our purposes because it shows the whole situation in microcosm, is Charles Menzies’ study of the abalone fishery of northern British Columbia (Menzies 2010, 2016).  As he summarizes it:  “In the face of aggressive overfishing of bilhaa (abalone) by non-Indigenous commercial fishermen, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans closed all forms of harvesting of bilhaa” (Menzies 2010) in spite of the fact that the Gitxaala (Tsimshian) and probably other groups had been harvesting these shellfish with extreme care for sustainability for thousands of years.  This caused some hardship for the Gitxaala.  Menzies documents their caring regime, and advocates a return to a controlled fishery; but it may be too late.

California’s major bit of Northwest Coast scenery, the Klamath drainage, provides a particularly revealing case.  The Klamath Basin at the headwaters was settled early on by farmers and stockmen, displacing the Indians in the genocidal Modoc War.  More recently, drought has reduced the Klamath flows, while irrigation has expanded in the farming areas.  There is no longer enough water for both farms and fish. 

This came to a head in 2003.  The U. S. Bureau of Reclamation had disposal over most of the upstream water, and it was subjected to intense lobbying by the upriver farmers and downriver fishers.  The farmers are largely well-to-do Republicans.  The fishermen downriver are less affluent and very often vote Democrat, and they include large Native American groups.  2003 being a year of Republican national and state governments, the water went to the farmers, and the fish died.  (Much of this is from my own research; see e.g. Service 2003 for a neutral account; Williams 2003 for an unabashedly pro-fish position; Carolan 2004 for a broader overview, but he incredibly misses the political dimension, thus his account is of rather limited worth.  See Swezey and Heizer 1977 for the far superior pre-contact management system.)

The conflicts above thus involve political power as well as property regimes.  Decisions essentially always go to Whites over Indians—racism being severe in the Northwest, particularly in the 19th and early 20th centuries—and to giant corporations over everyone and everything else.  Some dramatic exceptions have occurred, however, starting with Judge Boldt’s decision in Washington state in 1974 to enforce the treaty rights giving the Native people an equal share of the fish resource.  Since then, Canada has had to recognize at least some Native title to lands.  Other decisions have restored many community management regimes and ownership systems in both nations.

Significantly, the classic claim that humans go for the main chance—material or financial maximization—is massively disproved by this history.  Throughout the last 200 years, White authorities have decided for regimes and stakeholders that were devastating the resource base with extremely low returns to themselves or society.  The potatoes and barley raised by the White farmers up the Klamath were worth far less than the fish would have been if the runs had been maintained.  Political power—from votes, campaign donations, skin color, and actual political position—trumps financial benefit (except to the giant corporations, and even then often only in the short run). 

An interesting case is the evolution of  the MacMillan Bloedel timber corporation.  H. R. MacMillan and Charles Bloedel brought scientific sustainable forestry practices to British Columbia and Washington, respectively.  They appear to have been quite idealistic and to have run their companies well.  Eventually they joined forces.  At first all went well, but long before MacMillan died in 1976, the logging was out of control.  By the 1980s, after decades of corporate mergers and political shenanigans, “Mac and Blo” became a worldwide byword for evil and irresponsible logging.  Things have improved since, especially since Mac and Blo fell on hard times and were taken over by Weyerhauser in 1999.  However, the sustanable forestry of the original founders is still a dream (the literature on this is huge and need not concern us; see Vaillant 2005 for a dramatic but accurate popular account).

An interesting comparison comes from the Russian coast closest to the United States.  Anna Kerttula (2000) describes Russian mismanagement and waste of resources.  The Yup’ik villagers there had been sustanably and efficiently hunting sea mammals, birds, and fish while the Chukchi herded reindeer on the tundra.  Russians brought wasteful hunting and herding practices (throwing away much of the meat).  They also damaged the tundra seriously by construction and driving heavy vehicles, and caused rampant pollution.  This was totally uneconomic; it was subsidized by the state as a way of “civilizing” the “natives,” whom the Russians despised openly and treated as utter inferiors.  When the USSR collapsed, this artificial and destructive economy collapsed with it, and the local people were thrown back on their traditional subsistence economy—much damaged by Russian environmental abuse.  It is interesting to see how clearly foolish and culture-bound the Russians’ “superior” practices were.  We in America are so used to Anglo settler mismangement that we tend to forget just how awful it is, and how much it is driven by culture rather than economics.  The Russian way is culturally different enough to be striking in that regard.

  The result of these bad management practices, and above all of the politics that creates them, has been widespread economic ruin in the rural Northwest, especially the Native communities.

Today, global warming is causing even more widespread damage.  It has caused millions of acres of forest to die; pine beetles give the coup de grace, but the real problem is warm winter that spare the beetles from freezing, followed by hot dry summers that weaken the trees.  Fish, root crops, and other resources are succumbing to increasingly hot and dry conditions. 

However, in recent years, comanagement of resources has come in, with local Native communities cooperating with government agencies (Natcher et al. 2005; see above).  One notable area is the west coast of Vancouver Island (Goetze 2006; Pinkerton 1989; Pinkerton and Weinstein 1995).  This does not always work well, especially when the government ignores Native input—as is often the case (e.g. Nadasdy 2004).  Obviously, comanagement works only if it is in fact comanagement.

            Perhaps it is best to leave the last word to Snuqualmi Charlie, talking to Arthur Ballard in the 1920s.  He concluded a long story of Moon’s creation and transformation of the world:

            “Moon said, ‘Fish shall run up these rivers; they shall belong to each people on its own river.  You shall make your own living from the fish, deer and other wild game.’

            “I am an Indian today. Moon has given us fish and game.  The white people have come and overwhelmed us.  We may not kill a deer nor catch a fish forbidden by white men to be taken.  I should like any of these lawmakers to tell me if Moon or Sun has set him here to forbid our people to kill game given to us by Moon and Sun” (Ballard 1929:80). 

7.  The Ideology Behind It All

            Native American biologist Raymond Pierotti has written:  “A common general philosophy and concept of community appears to be shared by all of the Indigenous peoples of North America, which includes:  1) respect for nonhuman entities as individuals, 2) the existence of bonds between humans and nonhumans, including incorporation of nonhumans into ethical codes of behvior, and 3) the recognition of humans as part of the ecological system” (Pierotti 2011:198-199).  These indeed fully apply on the Northwest Coast, where they are considerably elaborated.

            Thanks to early and superb ethnographic research, we can understand the Northwest Coast ideologies of management in a way we cannot do for other parts of the world.  Enormous record of myths, texts, tales, and instructions, compiled by early and more recent ethnographers, allows us to see exactly what people said in traditional times.

            Some of the Northwest Coast ethnographic collaborations are particularly impressive.  The Tsimshian chief William Beynon collected materials for several ethnographers.  All too predictably, he never got authorship credit for this, though he did most of the work; his first major publication under his own name came out in 2000, 42 years after his death (Beynon 2000).  He was in fact the real ethnographer in many cases (Halpin 1978).  Incredibly impressive also is the work of Edward Sapir with Tom Sayachapis and other Nuu-chah-nulth elders, of Franz Boas with George Hunt, and of James Teit with many interior Salish.  Teit became a major activist for Native American rights as well as an ethnographer, and his story—forgotten until a stunning recent biography (Thompson 2007) saved him from oblivion—is one of the most impressive in the history of “action anthropology.”  

More recent collaborations, such as Nancy Turner’s “five foot shelf” (much of it written with Native coauthors) and the collaboration of Eugene Hunn (1991) and James Selam, carry on the great tradition.  Just out of our region, but very close and sharing the same ideology, are the Yupik of Alaska, whose ethical relations with the animal persons has been described in exquisite detail by Ann Fienup-Riordan (1994, 2005).  She quotes elders at enough length to fill several books.  Many Northwest Coast groups remain sadly little known, but at least we have excellent work by many ethnographers for representative groups from every region.  No other part of the world except the American Southwest and the central desert of Australia has been so well documented in terms of ecological and environmental beliefs.  We do not have a single account of local knowledge and conservation in a modern American town that is as good as the work of Turner or Hunn or Fienup-Riordan.

One major component was attachment to place.  Northwest Coast groups had lived where they were for countless years; the Haida seem to have occupied Haida Gwaii for over 10,000 years, continuously.  Knowledge of and devotion to one’s immediate habitat is at a level possibly unparalleled in the world.  On the Skagit River, the local version universal Northwest Coast story of the boy left alone who must re-create his slain tribe includes a passage that says it all: the people he revives from bones “had no sense…so the boy made brains for them from the very soil of that place” (Miller 2014:70-1).  That line really says it all.

Conservation was based on the simple principle of “leave some for others.”  The Nuu-chah-nulth phrase was “7uh-mowa-shitl,” “keep some and not take all” (George 2003:74; the 7 represents an initial catch in the voice).  This is John Locke’s point that individual users, even if they are owners of his beloved “private property,” have an obligation to leave “enough and as good” (Locke 1924) for others when drawing on a resource base. 

There are, however, several crucial beliefs lying behind this.  These beliefs are the keys to conservation in Northwest Coast ideology, and all the resources of the collective representation of community are deployed to make people accept them.

A good place to begin is with seven “fundamental truths” of Northwest Coast ecological thinking, as abstracted by Frank Brown and Kathy Brown (2009:folder, p. 2) of the Heiltsuk Nation:

“…1.  Creation:  We the coastal first peoples have been in our respective territories (homelands) since the beginning of time.”  (This might be interpreted as “since the beginning of our peoples as identifiable cultural and linguistic entities,” since in fact much migration has occurred, and many of the origin myths actually recount it.  But, for instance, archaeology demonstrates cultural continuity in Haida Gwaii for well over 10,000 years.  The Haida and the other major groups of the Northwest certainly or almost certainly emerged in their present homelands and have been there since the glaciers.)

“2.  Connection to nature:  We are all one and our lives are interconnected.

“3.  Respect:  All life has equal value.  We acknowledge and respect that all plants and animals have a life force.”  

“4.  Knowledge.  Our traditional knowledge of sustainable resource use and management is reflected in our intimate relationship with nature and its preictable seasonal cycles and indicators of renewal of life and subsistence.

“5.  Stewardship:  We are stewards of the land and sea from which we live, knowing that our health as a people and our society is intricately tied to the heath of the land and waters.

“6.  Sharing.  We have a responsibility to share and support to provide strength and make others stronger in order for our world to survive.

“7.  Adapting to Change:  Environmental, demographic, socio-political and cultural changes have occurred since the creator placed us in our homelnds and we have continuously adapted to and survived these changes.”

More specific rules for food gathering are listed by Inez Bill of the Tulalip of northwest Washington state:

“Taking and gathering only what you need so Mother Nature can regenerate her gifts to us.

“Remembering to not waste any of our traditional food.

“Sharing what you gather with family, friends and elders that are not able to go out and gather whenever possible.

“Including prayer and giving thanks when gathering.
“Preparing local native foods at gatherings.

“Preparing food with a good heart and mind so when you serve your meal, people will enjoy their meal.

“Providing nourishment for our people and their spirits, but also the spirit of our ancestors.  We will strive to continue this way of life” (quoted Krohn and Segrest 2010:42). 

There is some obvious modernization and settler society influence here (“Mother Nature…”) that may divert attention from two critically important traditional ideas:  prayer and thanks while gathering, and having a “good heart and mind” when preparing and distributing.  Throughout the Northwest Coast and onward to a great deal of North America and Siberia, these are vital points for maintaining good relations with the spirits of plants and animals, and indeed with the spirit powers in general.  One may contrast the Euro-American food rules for the Muckleshoot school, a few pages later in the same folder:  “No trans-fat and hydrogenated oil.  No high fructose corn syrup,” etc. (Krohn and Segrest 2010:49).  The contrast of spiritual and chemical is significant.

            Rodney Frey, writing on the Coeur d’Alene of northern Idaho, also (and with appropriate modesty and tentativeness) identifies five basic principles, but they are somewhat different:  “…the understanding that the landscape is spiritually created and endowed…that the landscape is inhabited by a multitude of ‘Peoples,’ all of whom share in a common kinship…. That… [humans have an] ethic of sharing [which includes the animal people too]….that…the gifts [of nature] are also to be respected and not abused…and…one is to show thanks for what is received…  The fifth and final teaching encompasses…the ethic of competition” (Frey 2001:9-12).  The last is particularly interesting.  Humans do not simply wait around for the gifts to come to them.  They must work, compete with each other and with other beings, and compete with the powers of weather and geography.  Life is not easy, and nothing comes without major effort.

            Richard Atleo (2011:143-144) sees unity as basic, but coming from reconciling complementary polarities.  He sees individual identity as “an insignificant leaf” (144) in face of basic unity.  He elaborates a philosophy of haḥuuƚi, “land” in the sense of communally owned and managed place (cf. Australian Aboriginal “country”), deriving from the idea of unity.

Marianne and Ron Ignace explain  the Secwépemc (Shuswap) foundational belief thus:  “…ce ntral to the relationship between an animal and the fisher or hunter who ‘bags’ the animal is the concept that the animal gives itself to the fisher or hunter….  Plants as sentient beings also give themselves…. Therefore, the harvesting of all things in nature presupposes prayer that thanks the Tqelt Kúkwpi7 (Creator) for providing the animals or plants…as well as thinking th eanimals or plants for giving themselves…. All parts of the Secwépemc land and environment are …thought of as a ‘sentient landscape.’” (Ignace and Ignace 2017:382 ).  This belief appears to be universal throughout northwestern North America and eastern Siberia.  More specific to the Shuswap is a tradition of painting one’s face red or black at power places, such as lakes and mythic spots, but other groups have similar ways of paying respect to spiritual sites.  This general custom extends through much of east Asia, where such sites may be tied with sacred cloths, circled clockwise on foot, and otherwise revered.

            These are not new ideas, and not the product of Native Americans catching up with the environmental movement of the 1960s.  Manuel Andrade, collecting Quileute language texts in 1928, recorded a “speech…spontaneously offered” by Jack Ward, “when he found out that the texts which he was dictating would be published.”  The entire short speech is worth looking up; it is devoted to calling on the Whites “to observe conservancy of the products of the land….”  Jack Ward speaks in eloquent Quileute.  Andrade translates: “…you should take good care of the trees….  Be careful with fire.  Make sure to extinguish it when leaving a camping ground.  Otherwise, all the animals of the woods may disappear, such as elk, deer, and others.  This applies also to the fish…. Let no one…destroy too much trout, steal-head [sic], salmon, and all other kinds of fish.  Proud and happy I am knowing that my people, the Indians, are moderate in the use of nature’s supplies, never killing wantonly the fish in the waters…. But you, White people, are wasteful. You are not mindful of what you do in your camps, and consequently, many trees are often destroyed by fires.  It is heartbreaking to us Indians to see how the country around us has changed…all the animals in the land are beginning to disapper.  Much of the fish in the…waters is disappearing.  Many of the good trees are disappearing….” (Andrade 1969 [1931]:12). 

            I believe all these principles apply to all northwestern cultural groups, with varying emphasis in varying areas.  All these themes can be identified in folktales and teachings throughout the region, and indeed throughout all northern North America.

Countless authors have pointed out for decades that the Northwest Coast people, and indeed most North American indigenous groups, consider plants and animals to be people—“other-than-human persons,” in the standard phrase, apparently introduced by A. Irving Hallowell from his studies on the Native peoples of central Canada (1955, 1960).  Like humans, these people have spirits that are conscious and have agency and language.  All have a life force.  The Nuu-chah-nulth anthropologist Ki-Ke-In relates that there are many ch’ihaa, spirits, in the world, which draw closer in winter; that humans and other beings have a life force, thli-makstii, which goes ultimately into the stars after death, eventually ending in the Taa’winisim (Milky Way; Ki-Ke-In 2013:28).  Plants were people, and as such critical in ceremonies and in the search for guardian spirits (Turner 2014-2:324-350).

Other-than-human persons can take human or humanoid form when in their own world; salmon, for instance, are people who live in houses at the bottom of the ocean, and don their salmon skins only to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of their relatives on shore.  (This represents Philippe Descola’s ontology of shamanism [Descola 2013], being the same belief that he reports from his South American researches.)  The Katzie Salish, living where the most sturgeons spawn, in the lower Fraser drainage, believed the Creator had two children; the boy was the ancestor of the Katzie, the girl of the sturgeons.  Whenever they caught a sturgeon, it was their beloved sister sacrificing herself for them (Jenness 1955).  Widely believed among Salishan groups is the idea that all living resources are human-like in their own homes, donning outer coverings for human use.  Berries are like small babies in their real—spiritual—state (Miller 1999).  For the Sahaptin, “waqayšwit ‘life’ [is] an animating principle or ‘soul’ possessed by people as well as animals, plants, and forces of nature.  The presence of ‘life’ implies intelligence, will, and consciousness.  This is the basis for a pervasive…morality, in which all living beings should respect one another and are involved with one another in relations of generalized reciprocity” (Hunn and French 1998:388).

Thus, the basic or original being that became an animal, or was transformed into one by the Transformer, was incarnated in all subsequent animals of that kind, or—alternatively—remained as master of them.  Thus, mythic Raven is incarnate in all ravens, or else exists in the spirit world as the guardian of all ravens. The former version of the belief seems to prevail in the north.  The latter prevails in some parts of the coast (being e.g. reported for the Puget Sound Salish by Miller 1999:10-11).  It is the standard form in many areas to the south, including Mexico.  (This belief reaches to the Maya of Quintana Roo.  The deer god Siip, Zip in old literature, still has some role in overseeing deer today; the “leaf-litter turkey,” a giant ocellated turkey, is the eternal master of wild turkeys, punishing hunters who take too many of them; see Llanes Pasos 1993.  Versions of the same belief extend into South America [Blaser 2009; Descola 2013]).  The Yukaghir have spirits of the animals, overall game-guardian spirits, and locality spirits (Willerslev 2007).  Even farther afield, so do the Khanty of northwest Siberia, for whom an excellent ethnography by Andrew Wiget and Olga Balalaeva (2011) is now available.

The leading character in creation myths was a Transformer who changed ambiguously humanlike persons, and more or less formless supernatural beings, into the humans, animals, trees, and geological formations of today.  This story is known from Alaska (e.g. the Han people; Mishler and Simeone 2004) to California and beyond (see comparisons, mostly for the central coast, in Miller 1999; and many stories in Boas 2003 and Thompson and Egesdal 2008).  People who are broadly humanlike but have some animal-like characteristics became the animals they resembled.  Formless supernaturals became rivers and mountains. 

Usually the Raven is the transformer on the coast, Coyote the major one in the interior.  (The missionaries originally used the Chinook word for “coyote” for God; Lang 2008:70.)  A being without specifically known form does the job farther north and east.  The Gitksan Transformer, Wegyet, can be either raven or humanoid, apparently at will; similar shape-shifting is found in several other creator figures throughout North America.  The Tsimshian had a high god known as gal (Miller 2014b:42) and the Haida seem to have regarded the Shining Heaven as a high god.

In the Columbia Plateau region also, there was a widespread concept of a high god who oversaw the animal spirits.  Coyote may have been the immediate creator of much that we have here, but he was under control of a higher power.  (The old idea that “primitive” people lack a high god and have only animistic spirits was disproved a century ago; Lowie 1924.)   For the Colville of northeast Washington, the creator was originally a sort of Power-in-process, a being whose existence was the flow of his creation.  Eventually “the ‘chief’ who made the world and all its creations decided thereafter that he would have no body, legs, or head, and would instead become Sweatlodge for the continued benefit of human beings” (Miller 2010:47; cf. Ray 1933).  He lives on, instantiated in every sweatlodge created since. 

Also reported from the Plateau and not from other areas is a concept of sacred spaces with sacred deer:  “Near my home is a sacred area—about one acre—where sacred deer used to live.  One adult deer would always present itself only to a young man just before he was about to get married.  But only to a young man who, before starting his hunt, had for three days sweated while singing his power song, of course fasted,” and been virtuous.  He would shoot the deer, give the meat to his intended-wife’s mother to redistribute, and make the hide into a robe for the new wife or (in due course) their baby (Ross 2011:145, quoting an unfortunately unnamed elder recorded in Ross’ field notes). 

Not only plants and animals, but also mountains and rivers, were people, and were owed consideration accordingly; “we…talked to the river, so we could get some fish from it without hurting the river at all,” as an Elder woman told First Nations student Johnnie Manson (2016).

Such kinship with all being obviously made conservation a great deal more compelling.  Even people who care little for unrelated fellow humans will care for their own kin.

This implies that animals are not just killed by humans; they offer themselves voluntarily to their human relatives.  Their spirits then reincarnate in new members of the species, just as human souls reincarnate within a descent group. 

Today as in the past, a new baby will be examined to see which recently-deceased elder has reincarnated.  The Khanty (Wiget and Balalaeva 2011) and Yukaghir have the same belief, and the ever-perceptive Rane Willersley (2007:50ff.) points out for the latter that, while the essence of the person is reincarnated, the new child is his or her own person—not just a recycled relative.  This is so strikingly like genetic reality that one assumes the indigenous peoples noticed that descent produces great similarities in appearance and basic personality and yet considerable differences in the final result.  Like Aristotle realizing that heredity must be a “pattern” conveyed from parent to child, rather than a tiny homunculus or divine intervention, the Northwest Coast people recognized the inheritance of traits and reasoned an explanation based on their worldview.

If the souls of previously hunted animals were treated with respect, new (newly reincarnated) individuals of that species will offer themselves.  Of this much more below, but at this point we must quote Richard Atleo’s point that Northwest Coast people pray for the animals to make themselves available, but when European “religious people pray to God for a supply of meat…the meat has no say in the matter” (Atleo 2004:85).  The key here is respect, as will appear below. 

Under special circumstances, humans can visit the salmon people, or the bear or mountain goat people, and see them in human or humanoid form.  Countless Northwest Coast stories recount such adventures (see e.g. Andrade 1969 [1931], with tales of visits to shark people, seal people, and others).  Unsurprisingly, there is also a Yukaghir one: (Willerslev 2007:89-90).  Humans can marry animals, plants, or even stars, and many Northwest Coast kinship groups are descended from such unions.  Totem poles typically show the animal ancestors of the sponsors of the pole.  Hunting involves the hunter leaving the human realm and entering into animal worlds.  This often requires a great deal of ritual, in which the hunter’s wife is often essential, especially in hunting for large animals from whales to deer (see S. Reid 1981 for a detailed description of Kwakwaka’wakw ideology in this area).

Many a local crest derives from such visits.  Some members of the Tsimshian Blackfish phratry “met Nagunaks” when they “inadvertently anchored over his house” at the bottom of the sea; “he sent bglue cod, one of his slaves, to investigate…. The steersman was annoyed by the splashing of the fish, caught it and broke its fins,” which caused the sea-guardian Nagunaks to take them to his house, warn them never to harm animals unnecessarily, and then release them with privileges and songs, sending them off in a fast-speeding copper canoe.  They thought they had been gone for four days, but they were gone four years.  The privileges became lineage crests and emblems (Garfield, Barbeau and Wingert 1950:42).  This is a version of a story known not only throughout the Northwest Coast but through much of North America and Eurasia.  The sequence of offense, warning, release with teachings and privileges, and days that were really years is canonical.

This is a form of the Native American theory that Eduardo Viveiros de Castro defines as “’perspectivism’: the conception according to which the universe is inhabited by different sorts of persons, human and nonhuman, which apprehend reality from distinct points of view.  This conception was shown to be associated to some others, namely:

  • The original common condition of both humans and animals is not animality, but rather humanity;
  • Many animals species [sic], as well as other types of ‘nonhuman’ beings, have a spiritual component which qualifies them as ‘people’; furthermore, these beings see themselves as humans in appearance and in culture, while seeing humans as animals or as spirits;
  • The visible body of animals is an appearance that hides this anthropomorphic invisible ‘essence,’ and that can be put on and taken off as a dress or garment;
  • Interspecific metamorphosis is a fact of ‘nature.’
  • …the notion of animality as a unified domain, globally opposed to that of humanity, seems to be absent form Amerindian cosmologies.” (Viveiros de Castro 2015:229-230).

The Northwest Coast people, however, do not so often seem to see the anthropomorphic form as the real or essential one; in many cases, it seems that animal persons have two forms, equally their own.

Animals have powerful spirits, and are in fact spirit beings, able to move back and forth between our everyday world and the spirit realm.  For the Spokane, “[a]nimals are in touch with, and move between, the two worlds.  That sensitivity allows certain animals to foretell eveents, such as weather, death, or the arrival of a guest.  They can see into the spirit world…. Through animals, man can obtain a vision into that other world; through them, he finds his spirit power….” (Egesdal 2008:140.) 

Animals have many powers.  In the northern Northwest Coast, the land otter (the river otter, Lutra canadensis) can lure one to drowning and then take over body and soul and turn the person into an “otter-man,” a zombie-like being.  This is still a matter of concern, and on Haida Gwaii the fear has spread to the Anglo-Canadian settlers, who can be quite nervous about the “gogeet” (Haida gagitx, otter-man; Anderson 1996).  Otters move easily in both the great realms of life, land and water (de Laguna 1972; Halpin 1981a; Jonaitis 1981, 1986); they even enter the underworld (they live in burrows).  Moreover, they play a lot, and even incorporate humans into their play.  Most daunting of all, they often try to lure people into the water to play with them, as I have personally experienced on several occasions.  Significantly, otters abound in shamanic art (charms and the like) but are largely absent from public art (totem poles and crest art; Jonaitis 1981, 1986, and my personal observation), though a few appear on Gitksan poles (Barbeau 1929:73, 88).  Barbeau recorded a shaman’s otter song, for curing, among the Tsimshian (Garfield, Barbeau and Wingert 1950:122).  The bukwus or “wild man” took the place of the otter, to some extent, in Kwakwaka’wakw tradition (Halpin 1981a).

At least among the Tahltan, mink and weasel have some similar magical powers (Albright 1984).  For the central Salish groups, the fisher, a very otter-like animal, has magic curing powers, and passing a stuffed fisher over a person is part of healing (Lévi-Strauss 1982). 

            The dog is ambiguous, as in most of the world (Amoss 1984; for the Yukaghir, Willersley 2007:76; the Tłįchǫ Dene are descended from a dog who took human form and married a human woman).  As the only aboriginal tame animal, it moved in the human and the nonhuman realms, as the otter moves in three worlds.  It is singularly absent from myths and art on the Northwest Coast, though obviously not elsewhere.  (The Tłįchǫ Dene, who are well outside the Northwest Coast cultural area, treat dogs with respect but think them unable to survive in the wild—unlike wild animals and the Tłįchǫ themselves.  The Tłįchǫ also tend to think of animals as very different in powers and natures from humans, though still being other-than-human persons.  One Tłįchǫ wanted to learn caribou knowledge, and eventually could turn himself into a caribou—but he learned so much that he became a caribou and could not become human again, since he had more caribou knowledge than human knowledge; Legat 2012:89.)

            Salmon are people too, and abundantly present in myth.  Something of the empathy between human and salmon people is found in a powerful song recorded by Marius Barbeau and translated by William Beynon—the song the salmon sing as they go upriver:

“I will sing the song of the sky. 

This is the song of the tired—the salmon panting as they swim up the swift current.

            I go around where the water runs into whirlpools.

            They talk quickly, as if they are in a hurry.

            The sky is turning over.  They call me.”

                        This was sung by Tralahaet (a Tsimshian chief) and translated by Benjamin Munroe and William Beynon, early 20th century.  Recall that the salmon give birth and die; this poem is about sacrificing one’s life for the rising generations.  (Garfield, Barbeau and Wingert 1950:132.)

            “Commonality between species” means “we are all brother and sisters not only to each other, but also to every life form.”  This implies “respect, kindness, generosity, humility, and wisdom” not only toward and for humans, but for other life-forms (Atleo 2004:88).  It should be pointed out that “brothers and sisters” here translates Nuu-chah-nulth words that cover all related persons in one’s own generation.  Since Nuu-chah-nulth kinship is reckoned over many generations, almost all traditional Nuu-chah-nulth can trace some relationship to almost all others, and thus are all literally brothers and sisters (or whatever generation term is appropriate).  And, since animals are persons involved in human kin networks, one can be quite literally brother to a wolf or sister to a whale.  This extension of kinship does fade over distance, and a far-off “brother” or “sister” can be no closer to oneself than some of my long-lost third cousins are to me.  However, it is taken seriously, to a point really striking to an outside observer; correspondingly, my Nuu-chah-nulth friends were struck by the weakness of kin ties among Euro-Canadians.

            One may add that society—human, but also other social mammals’ society—is reinforced by strong social codes.  These are generated, and apply, at the level of community: for humans, on the Northwest Coast, the local realm of a chiefly lineage or lineage-group and associated commoners and others.  This would involve around 500 people—fewer in the cold interior, many more around the rich Salish Sea.  It also involved all the nonhuman lives in the area. 

            Communities were tightly organized.  This too varied, from the extremely close-knit kin and community groups of the Nuu-chah-nulth to the loose and flexible ones of the interior Athapaskans, but the similarities still strike me as more important than the differences.  Even the Nuu-chah-nulth recognized individuals and their needs, balancing them with the collectivity in a very self-conscious manner (see Atleo 2004:55-56).  The strong awareness that a community is made up of interacting individuals led to a philosophy of individuals-in-society.  This integrated harmoniously with the philosophy of people-in-nature—more accurately, no “nature,” only different kinds of people. 

            The contrast is with the western world, where the usual alternative to individualism is “communitarianism,” which, often, consists of justifications for top-down autocracy.   Northwest Coast community morality integrates the individual in the community but does not subject him or her to a king, pope, or dictator.  Chiefs had real authority, and in some parts of the coast could sometimes get downright tyrannical, but their power was limited—usually very much so.  These were face-to-face communities, strongly ranked but small enough that the chief knew he had to get along; otherwise, as noted, he would be abandoned or killed. 

            What Theodore Stern says of some Plateau groups would apply throughout the Northwest:  “On winter nights [children] were an apt audience for elders reciting myths; daily they heard the headman’s exhortations and on special occasions the war stories….  From their parensts and grandparents, as well as those brought in to speak of their lives, they heard praised the virtues of obedience, of honesty, and of charity to the unfortunate” (Stern 1998:406).  The “unruly” were punished.  Teaching stories were filled with lore on managing and the morality behind it (Turner 2014, vol. 2, esp. pp. 244-266). 

            Thus, the Northwest Coast peoples could be paradoxically freer than most westerners manage to be.  Rampant individualism cannot work in practice in a large group, for obvious reasons, and the western remedy has always been top-down autocratic control—by church if not by centralized government.  The ancient Greeks already saw, and criticized, this, in their pessimistic ideas on the sequence from democracy to aristocracy to tyranny.  The alternative of free self-organizing and self-governing communities was not unknown to them.  It was a reality later in much of the Celtic and Germanic world until medieval times and locally later, but it never replaced the dismal alternation between libertarian and tyrannical alternatives. 

Thomas Hobbes (1651) is the locus classicus; he saw no alternative to “warre of each against all” except a totalitarian king.  If only he had known enough about the peoples he called “savages,” he would have realized there were other possibilities. 

On the other hand, recall what has been said of warfare above; typical of the Northwest Coast was superb relations with nonhuman persons, good relations with one’s own people, and warfare with other people of different language and homeland.  The goal, at least for some, was peace with all species within one’s own lands, and warfare outside of that.  By contrast, the western world has long had an ideal—often neglected but never quite forgotten—of peace with one’s own species everywhere.  Unfortunately, modern western societies also exhibit total war against nature. 

            The intense Native American relationship of community and land must be continually stressed, and this brings us back to stewardship.  A group is localized, and their local world is desperately important.  Its mountains, trees, major rocks, and rivers are transformed beings that are part of local society.  They may be actual kin to the humans of the immediate area.  This concept is alien to the modern Euro-American settlers, who have been in the area for three centuries or less.  However, it is similar to the rootedness of many villages in Europe, with their sacred wells, their megalithic monuments, and their churches built on sites of pre-Christian temples.

            This and the two previous principles led to a powerful and quite deliberate conservation ethic.  Conservation was “wise use” of every resource, rather than lock-down preservation.  It contrasts especially with the modern concept of sacrificing most of the land for devastating misuse while locking up a tiny fraction for aesthetic or recreational reasons.  The Northwest peoples used all the land in a carefully managed, sustainable manner. 

For example: “Among the Lower Lillooet, resource stewards…directed the use of specific hunting grounds and some fisheries.  These were hereditary positions, at least in the historic period, but required special knowledge.  Spiritual qualities were not requisite for this position, but such qualities were required for the specialized hunters” (Kennedy and Bouchard 1998a:182).  All other groups in the northern interior had these stewards also.  The Spokan, for instance, had a fish leader or fish chief to oversee fishing, and a fish shaman to make sure that all the rules of proper resource management were kept; there was also a fish trap keeper (Ross 2011).  Rules that were pragmatic (no blood or waste in the water; it repels salmon) merged into purely ritual rules, all being believed equally necessary to keep the fish coming.

The Lakes (Sinixt) Salish of southern British Columbia had almost all moved to Washington state (to a reservation with related groups), had mostly merged into other groups, and had been declared extinct in Canada as long ago as 1956, but when a road was punched through their main surviving cemetery they all appeared in force and blockaded the road (Pryor 1999).  A threat to the old sacred ground brought the tribe together again.

Individual moral experience, especially the vision quest, is discussed and constructed into community morality.

This is brilliantly described by the Nuu-chah-nulth scholar Richard Atleo, a traditionally-raised Northwest Coast person who is also highly educated in European science and philosophy: “In traditional Nuu-chah-nulth culture…the world of good and evil is known and experienced collectively through the practice of oosumich [vision quest; spiritual discipline including bathing in cold water].  Consequently, in these communities the collective spiritual experiences of people determine human perceptions of the nature of the world.  There can be no equivalent to a Plato, or a Socrates, or some such individual who might create a school of thought abvout reality that is later shared by some loyal followers.  Rather, good and evil are determined by consensus through personal spiritual experiences that are reflected in the physical realm.  Individual experiences are judged in the context of broad community experiences” (Atleo 2004:37).  Atleo has gone on to elaborate concepts of consent, continuity, personal independence and responsibility, and polarity, including the reconciliation of opposites (Atleo 2011).

Socialized conservation comes naturally to the highly social Nuu-chah-nulth, who live in a world of kinship and community that is tight and close even by Native American standards, but it applies generally. The first words I learn in most languages are “hello” and a couple of cuss-words, but the first word I learned in Nuu-chah-nulth was tłeko, which is most simply translated “thank you!” but which has so many deeper implications of exchange, interdependence, formal relations, and group morality that it is routinely used even by Nuu-chah-nulth who are otherwise strictly English speakers.  (See e.g. Coté 2010:xi-xii. She spells it “kleko,” which is itself interesting; English-speakers find “tł” difficult as an initial, and substitute “kl”; traditional Nuu-chah-nulth speakers of my acquaintance have the opposite problem, and naturally substitute “tł” for “kl,” thus, for instance, saying “ten o’tłock.”  Coté is Nuu-chah-nulth, but finds the English spelling more convenient.)  The Nuu-chah-nulth tend to pack a huge range of associations into one word, instead of multiplying highly specialized words as English does. 

The Haida seem a good deal more self-consciously individualist, and the Athapaskan groups less communal in lifestyle, but they have the same philosophy; the difference is that the resulting consensus is looser.  (At least this is my experience, and I know at least some would agree with me.)  The contrast of Nuu-chah-nulth and Euro-Canadians is really striking in this regard, as anyone who has observed extensive interactions within and between these groups can testify.  Discussion to reach a collective moral conclusion contrasts vividly with defiant independence and militant liberty of conscience (Atleo 55-56; 2011, amply confirmed by my own research). 

On the other hand, note that in the final analysis the Northwestern collective morality is based on individual experiences, from which the shared principles are then teased out.  This contrasts with the rigid top-down morality and power/knowledge of many western institutions:  the more hierarchic churches, the schools, and above all the state.  (Of course, this brings church and state into many a conflict with the individualistic Euro-Canadians and Euro-Americans!  But that is another story.)

The Plateau groups, however, display a key difference:  Individuals can indeed use their spiritual experiences on vision quests to start social movements that take on a life of their own.  The “prophets” famous in 19th-century Plateau history almost certainly have a long, complex history reaching back centuries or millennia.  This makes them more like the ancient Greeks, especially when one remembers that the philosophy of Plato—and still more that of sages like Pythagoras—had a strong spiritual component.

This brings us to the vision quest, the all-important life-transforming experience that all Northwest Coast young people used to experience, and that a surprisingly large number still undergo.

Let us begin with Richard Atleo again: “Oosumich is a secret and personal Nuu-chah-nulth spiritual activity that can involve varying degress of fasting, cleansing [often by using herbal emetics], celibacy, prayer, and isolation for varying lengths of time depending upon the purpose” (Atleo 2004:17); it also includes beating oneself with medicinal branches, including those of a plant containing a natural soap, which thus has a cleansing effect (Atleo 2004:92).  For whaling it could last eight months, for hunting three or four days (Atleo 2004:17). 

The Nuu-chah-nulth oosumich, or uusimch (George 2003:48; phonetically ʔuusumch) is a quest for spiritual power and purity.  “Oo” or uu literally means “spiritual mysteries” and is used just to mean “be careful” (Atleo 2004:74, 83).  It is related to management practices, even controlled burning, which similarly manages the world to reconcile conflicting impulses of destruction and preservation (Atleo 2011:133). 

Related lonely quests for power, with bathing in cold water, beating oneself with medicinal branches, fasting, and other self-denials, occur among most Northwest Native groups (Benedict 1923; Miller 1988, 1997, 1999).  Similar spiritual quests are known throughout the continent.  Such quests or spiritual retreats are undergone throughout life by medicine persons, warriors, and others in need of extra spiritual power.  The extreme eight-month retreats of Nuu-chah-nulth whalers (e.g. Atleo 2011:101-102) show the great danger, great potential benefits to the whole community, and consequent special needs for spiritual power of that enterprise.  (Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is worth recalling.)   “Indian doctors,” shamans or spirit-possessors, were primarily curers, but they could kill by sorcery, become invisible, foretell the future, protect people, and find lost persons and objects (see e.g. particularly complete account in Ignace and Ignace 2017:387-393; also Jolles 2002:;172-173). 

Secwépemc children as young as five or six might receive spirit powers.  Elders might “doctor” them with animal skins or parts to give them the power of the animal.  Ron Ignace received grizzly bear and woodworm powers this way.  Woodworms, the larvae of wood-boring beetles, are known throughout the Northwest for their ability to drill slowly and patiently through the hardest wood, and thus give persistence and tenacity.  In early adolescence, youths went for the more typical Northwestern vision quest: “…a yong person had to live in solitude for days, potentially weeks and months, often on more than one stay.  Through…fasting and prayer in solitude, individuals found their personal seméc (spirit guardian power)…. Songs would come to them, given by an animal or a force of nature, like fire or water, that thus showed itself to the person questing and transferred its spirit power” (Ignace and Ignace 2017:383-384; see long list of spirit powers on p. 386).  The initiate thus had to shift for himself or herself for many days, with only the few resources brought along for the trip.  One elder lamented the difficulty of finding remote enough places in this modern world.  Getting one’s power from natural beings created an intense bonding with the wild and with natural realities.

Bathing in cold water was apparently a universal part of the quest in the Northwest.  Under conditions of hunger, cold, stress, and loneliness, the young person would sooner or later have dreams and visions, and these would validate the calling.

Known from the Northwest to the Plateau (Benedict 1923) and the Plains (the classic account being Neihardt 1932, but there are many others), vision questing extends down into Mexico, but from the southwest and southern United States on southward it was often supplemented or replaced by group or social training and initiation. 

In the vast majority of cases, it is undergone around the time of puberty.  Often there is one long and arduous quest; sometimes a boy or girl will undergo several quests.  Boys usually—but not always—undergo longer and harder quests than girls, and further discussion below will focus on the boys, whose quests are much better described in the literature. 

            The typical adolescent spirit quest usually involves isolation at a Power Place, an area of great known concentration of spirit power.  Power places can be mountaintops, dramatic cliffs, waterfalls, stream eddies, or other dramatic spots.  Mountaintops are the ones preferred for spirit questing, because of their isolation and extreme conditions of cold, violent weather, spectacular scenery, and fearfulness. 

The youth subjects himself to fasting, drinking only cold water, bathing in cold water, purification, staying awake as much as possible, and continual praying or crying for visions.  After a few days or at most weeks of this, visions or powerful dreams are virtually guaranteed.  Stress physiology combined with cultural expectations insure that even the least sensitive person will have them. 

The quest was highly individual among the Plains and Plateau nations, more socially constructed and integrated into collective ceremonies on the Coast, and reduced to a quiet, secret, lonely forest experience among the Athapaskan groups.  There is a huge literature on it, particularly for the Coast. 

The Salish peoples are especially well covered.  Among them: “In order to exploit his natural environment successfully a person needed to establish lines of communication with the nonhuman realm. He would doso primarily through a vision or encounter with a more or less individualized, personalized manifestation of the power which pervaded the wild realm of nature…. Contact could be achieved only if the human supplicant were purged of the taint of human existence….  Daily bathing in the river was the cornerstone of this regime” (Amoss 1978:12-13, from research with the Nooksack).  The young person had to be away from humans, in a power place, subjecting him- or herself to privation and discomfort.  Women were restricted in action, less often allowed to go far off, and thus tended to get lesser powers (Amoss 1978:13-14).  They could, however, become clairvoyants.

The vision typically tells the youth what power he has—or, in western psychological terms, gives the youth mental freedom to realize what he really wants to do with his life (cf. Jilek 1982).  For the Plains tribes, it normally gave warrior power, but the Northwest Coast groups, with their highly varied range of activities, presented a wider range of possibilities.  Woodworking power came from Master Carpenter or an equivalent spirit being, thus proving the deeply religious nature of art in traditional society.  Seamanship, fishing, housebuilding, and all manner of other powers could be given. 

Since this power comes from the all-important spirit world, it cannot be gainsayed.  Thus, if parents had been hoping the boy would become a woodworker, but the spirits make him a hunter, a hunter he shall remain.  This is not infrequently used by a boy or girl to validate his or her career choice at the expense of parental planning.  Many a college student forced by parents to “go into medicine,” learning of this aspect of the spirit quest in an anthropology class, has dearly wished for such an institution in modern America.

Obviously, some of these spirit gifts were more noble than others, and youths were counseled to be happy with whatever they got.  Some delightful stories make the point.  Among the Upper Skagit, one youth got only the power to win eating contests.  He was embarrassed and ashamed.  But then a much more powerful enemy tribe challenged the Upper Skagit people to war or equivalent competition.  The Upper Skagit had the good sense to demand the right to pick the type of contest…and of course our poor youth was soon the hero of his people (Collins 1974).

Special, everywhere, was healing power.  All the way from Siberia to California (thus bridging the Bering Strait), healing or shamanic power had a special name, separate from other spirit power.  A healer received power to travel to the spirit world to find out the cause and cure of illness.  The whaling power of the Nuu-chah-nulth was also of a special nature, and involved meditating among human skulls and other mementi mori, as part of dealing with the danger of the art.

            The spirit vision quest thus gives meaning and direction to life.  It has thus been rehabilitated lately for treating adolescent alienation and problematic behavior, and community alienation and aimlessness (Amoss 1978).  This is especially true among the Salish groups, because among them the youth returns to society and dances out his vision in a public ceremony.  A youth is not supposed to reveal or talk about the actual spirit that gave him the vision, but he receives a song and dance that sometimes make the spirit identifiable.  A youth who moves and growls like a bear, or a wolf, for instance, reveals what sort of spirit he has.  Others then dance their visions, or simply dance along with everyone. 

This gives the Salish youths a chance to validate their power, life choices, and personal experience of the Divine, as well as to reconnect with their culture, community, and identity.  This is done through dancing during the winter ceremonial season.  The youth—and the adult for the rest of life—dances in such a way as to demonstrate, but not show too clearly, his or her spirit power.  Onlookers can only guess what animal or other spirit the individual received, but his or her life and work demonstrates the actual power received.  

Spirit dancing holds the community together, reveals and reinforces social structure, spreads resources widely, and acts as religious focus; as such, it maintains a vibrant cultural and social world in what is otherwise a situation of limited possibilities (Amoss 1978).

Spirit dancing has proved a powerful social therapy.  It has been instrumental in reducing alcoholism, suicide, depression, and anomie among young people, especially if combined with other help.  It has given people a sense of control and self-efficacy.  Literally hundreds, perhaps by now thousands, of Salish youths have had their lives turned around by it (Amoss 1978; Collins 1974; Jilek 1972).

Psychologist Wolfgang Jilek (1972) memorably described his findings on this and his conclusion that the spirit dancing worked far better than clinical therapy for the Salish youths.  I have talked to Jilek, and many others, about this; the encounter that I most remember was with a Catholic priest who had actually taken part in the dancing.  Someone with me asked “Doesn’t the church say that is all from the Devil?”  To which the priest replied, quietly and seriously, “Anything that has the effects I’ve seen must be from God.”

Returning to the wider—lifelong—quest for spirit power, as Richard Atleo says, powerful individual spiritual experiences validated individuals’ sense of self, and then fed back into the community’s collective experience of spirituality and thus of morality.  Morals were constantly being tested against individual transformative experience.  Since the latter was, inevitably, highly conditioned by cultural expectation and tradition as well as personal experience, it normally reinforced the moral tenets of the people. 

On the other hand, it also allows for change, and validates ideas about how to cope with new circumstances.  This is most obvious on the Plateau, with its many prophets announcing visions about the Whites, the horses they brought, and other new matters.  These prophets were lifelong vision-questers, who had mystical experiences and intense spirit journeys on a regular basis throughout life.  The coastal Salish also had prophet cults, and other groups had individuals who taught new adaptations.

The relevance of this to conservation will appear below, in the consideration of traditional stories.  Many of these depend on some young person having a spirit vision in which the animal persons tell him or her what they expect and need from humans.  The vision is described matter-of-factly—the youth meets a mountain goat and is led to the home of the goats—but many touches reveal that the journeys are spirit journeys rather than physical ones.

Spirit journeys by medicine persons were also regular features of life in the Northwest.  Healers sent their souls to the spirit worlds for many purporses.  They also used their special spirit powers, those peculiar to the curing life.  Curing was especially important, and usually involved sucking out objects or “pains” magically implanted in a patient by a witch or else going to the land of the dead to retrieve a lost soul (see e.g. Boyd 2013a).  More directly relevant to ecology were spirit-journeys to find out why the fish were not running or the game was scarce.  Typically, the finding was that a taboo had been broken—in particular, someone had been disrespectful to the animal persons.  Social rules were powerfully reinforced.

A point not often enough made is that the major role of curers in traditional times was probably treating mental illnesses and sicknesses.  Infectious diseases were rather few, until the Whites brought the full range of Old World conditions.  The healers had no way of coping with these, and died along with their patients.  In pre-contact times, the few infectious diseases were generally either minor and easily treated with herbs, or were chronic and fluctuating.  Probably much more common were physical traumas—accidents, bear bites, war wounds, falls—and these could be treated by first aid and some dramatic placebo-effective ritual. 

Conversely, mental and social problems were evidently numerous and serious.  Winter confined people in their houses with seemingly endless rain, cold, and night outside.  Summer brought frantic activity to get food put away.  Dangers of war and interpersonal conflict were always present.  Anyone even slightly prone to depression, aggressiveness, schizophrenia, or other problems would be sorely tested.  Thus, healers had to specialize in these conditions.  Of course, they interpreted them as spiritual, but their ways of dealing with them were pragmatic.  Psychologists such as Wolfgang Jilek (1972) have pointed out that traditional psychological therapy was stunningly effective, and was based on principles perfectly comprehensible to a modern psychologist.  I can testify to the truth of this from some experience (Anderson 1992; Anderson and Pinkerton 1987). 

All this ritual, healing, and animal protection is part of a religious system loosely known as “shamanism.”  A better name should be coined.  True shamanism is a tightly defined complex of religious ideas and behaviors that centers on Siberia and central Asia (the classic account by Eliade, 1964, is dated and less than satisfactory; see the superb work of Caroline Humphrey 1995, 1996, and the beautifully illustrated work of Pentikäinen et al. 1999 for better overviews).  The word “shaman” is the word for a soul-sending individual healer, in the Tungus languages of eastern Siberia.  Northwest Coast religion is so similar that is can be called “shamanism” without stretching definitions, but as one moves farther east, the characteristic shamanistic features gradually fade, and we are left with a religion more focused on individual spirit experience, less on the spectacular and complex rituals of the shaman per se. 

Shamanism is based on individual soul-travel to the land of gods and dead or to the skyworld or underworld, to find lost souls or lost objects, find causes and cures for illness, and otherwise fix social and personal problems.  The shaman has an animal familiar, or several of them, and often other kinds of spirit powers exist.  Shamans can normally transform themselves into animals or spirit beings.  Ordinary people with special spirit powers can transform also.  Folktales in shamanic societies almost invariably include many competitions between rivals, to see who can assume the most powerful shape, foiling the rival (see Bland 2012).  (Such stories endure even in modern Europe, e.g. the Child ballad of “The Twa Magicians,” a Scottish tale that survived into the 20th century).  Moreover, animals—usually the predators in particular—can transform into humans, or into other shapes.  In fact, the transformation, interpenetration, and mutual shape-shifting and soul-shifting between human and natural realms is a key basic tenet of shamanic societies.  (This problematizes, to say the least, Descola’s claim that “animism” postulates spiritual similarity but physical difference beween people and other-than-human persons; Descola 2013.)

Some authors describe all Native American religion as shamanic, even the priestly religion of the high cultures of Mesoamerica and the Andes.  Others do not even allow the Northwest Coast into the “shamanism” camp.  Still others draw the line somewhere in between.  Some exceedingly acrimonious exchanges have taken place about this.  Some of the best studies, like Jay Miller’s Shamanic Odyssey (1988; see also Miller 1999), integrate Northwest Coast religion into the shamanism complex.  Others do not.

This allows us better understanding of the superficially “strange” or “exotic” ethnozoology of the Athapaskan peoples of northwest Canada.  Recent superb descriptions of these people by Julie Cruikshank (1998, 2005), Jean-Guy Goulet (1998), Leslie Johnson (2000, 2010), T. F. McIlwraith (2007), Paul Nadasdy (2004), Robin Ridington (1981a, 1981b, 1988, 1990), Henry Sharp (19878, 2001), David Smith (1999) and others have presented a very consistent picture. From somewhat outside our area, but from closely related Athapaskan peoples, comes the thorough account of Richard Nelson (1983), which speaks to conservation issues.

The Athapaskans see the world through trails and paths (Johnson 2010; Legat 2012; Ridington 1981b, 1988).  They have complex terminologies for types of places, mostly habitats for hunting and gathering.  They may name features that seem small and insignificant to outsiders, while leaving whole mountains unnamed—as do many peoples worldwide (Johnson 2010; anthropologists were surprised at this, but the beautiful high ridge I see from my window has no name, and it is in a major city).  The trailways were taken by ancestral beings long ago, and the small features were spots that were critical in those mythic adventures.  Again there are world parallels; I have stood in a quite young grove of trees, in Kakadu National Park in Northern Australia, that is locally regarded as composed of transformed supernatural beings from the Dreaming time. 

Robin Ridington has studied the Dunne-za (“Beaver”) people of British Columbia.  He reports:  Beneath each mountain or valley lay the body of a giant animal that had been sent below the earth’s surface when the great transformer Saya taught the Dunne-za of old to be hunters rather than game.  The melodic lines of their songs were said to be the turns of a trail to heaven and the steady rhythm of drum, the imprint of tracks passing over this imaginary terrain” (Ridington 1981b:240).  The giant underground animals are widely known in the Northwest (Sharp 1987), and are the explanation for earthquakes; stories about one of them cluster around the faults running through Seattle.

Ridington continues to describe finding the game by dreaming where they are.
Camps among the Dunne-za were always set up so that there was bush unbroken by human trails in the direction of the rising sun.  People slept with their heads in this direction and received images in their dreams.”  Dreaming the locations of game is also noted for related nearby groups by Henry Sharp (1987, 2001) and Jean-Guy Goulet (1998).  The hunters, among these Athapaskan groups as among other North American Indigenous nations, find that “the animals could not be killed unless they had previously given themselves to the hunter in his dream images.  It was said that the real hunt took place in the dream and the physical hunt was only a realization of what had already taken place” (Ridington 1981b:241).

Leslie Johnson has written at length about the differences between this moving-traveler view of the world and more static or totalizing views (Johnson 2010).  She contrasts the Athapaskan view, rich in narrative, personal history, and subsistence knowledge, with the abstract, arbitrary, geometric grids laid down on the land by modern states.  True, but having grown up in rural Nebraska almost a century ago, I can testify that a few generations of farming and childrearing transforms a grid into a richly-known, well-loved, story-laden landscape. It is the living, or “dwelling” (Ingold 2000; Legat 2012) that counts.  The Anglo-Canadians may have soullessly gridded the land, but more serious is their tendency to “rip, ruin, and run,” taking all the fish or trees or minerals and leaving a desert.  If they had stayed and made a living from the total landscape, as the Native peoples did, they would have come to appreciate it—as Johnson and other long-resident immigrants have indeed done.

For Canadian Athabaskan peoples, animals exist as spirits, as well as in fleshly form.  One dreams of these animals, and dreams of their trails.  The spirit comes from the sky (Ridington 1981a, 1988) or some other nebulous place, moves about on earth.  The hunter dreams the path and goes to intersect the animal.  If successful, he kills it, and the animal’s soul returns to spirit land, to take fleshly form again later (as we have seen, above, for other groups). 

One summary of an Athapaskan worldview sees the past as “continually pulled through to the present” by stories and experiences; humans constantly learning spiritual and practical knowledge; “all beings take different trails, each utilizing different places within the dè [land, country],” (Legat 2012:200).  All are related and interact.  Stories and trails hold the world together. 

What is astonishing is that the hunters do, in fact, dream where the moose and deer are, go where their dreams lead, and actually find and kill the animals.  Often, Anglo-Canadian hunters have no success using their hi-tech hunting methods in the same woods.  Thanks to the work of Goulet (1998), Ridington (1981a, 1981b, 1988, 1990), Sharp (2001), and David Smith (1998), we have some sense how bioscience can explain this.  The hunter notices countless cues at a preattentive level while he (men do most of the hunting) is out in the forest.  Every faint track, nibbled twig, bent branch, distant sound, muddied watercourse, old bedding ground, and unusual bird noise is noted.  Trying to notice and evaluate all these cues consciously would overwhelm the mind.  They are attended preconsciously or at the bare edge of consciousness.  At night, they are all integrated in dreams—and the dreams do, indeed, tell the hunter where lies the game.  Psychologists now hold that the purpose of dreams is to integrate and organize such preattentive knowledge, and process it or store it for use.  The Dunne-za were years ahead of the psychologists.

The First Nations of the Northwest know every tree, every rock, and every fishing spot in a vast wilderness better than I know my own living room.  They also believe also that giant fish produce earthquakes by twitching their tails (Sharp 2001), and that animals have spirits that communicate with hunters.  These beliefs make perfect sense in the context of animism.  Many, perhaps most, cultures worldwide explained earthquakes by assuming a giant animal lived underground.  Spirits that communicate is not only the basic postulate that defines “animism”; it is also a perfectly logical and reasonable explanation for what is perceived by hunters in traditional situations. 

A particularly fasciating belief, subject of a long and brilliant study by Julie Cruikshank (2005), holds that glaciers hate to have meat fried near them.  This belief obtains around Glacier Bay among the Tlingit and their neighbors, and has apparently even spread to some local Whites.  As Cruikshank points out, people avoid throwing meat into the fire, or otherwise creating a smell of burning meat, because it attracts bears (as McIlwraith 2007:114 also reports).  Since a glacier is a huge, moving, unpredicable, constantly changing, and dangerous thing, it appears like a grizzly bear to people who believe that all animated and growing things have spirits.  Nothing could be more natural than assuming that the glacier will wax savage at the smell of scorching meat, as a grizzly would. 

            The coast proper had a quite different set of ideological systems, widely based on extended kinship groups: moieties (dividing society into halves), phratries (dividing it into fourths—originally by halving the moieties), lineages, and other extended kinship groups.  Individuals could inherit or be given privileges and spirit powers; so could groups, from whole communities down to families.  Especially common were powers, songs, myths, and art motifs inherited at the lineage to moiety levels—that is, the level of large groups but not entire communities.  A large group could sponsor a potlatch, and a community needed the variety and competition allowed by having several groups each with its own powers.

            This system reached a high development among the Tsimshian peoples (Adams 1973; Beynon 2000; Menzies 2016 [Southern Tsimshian]; Miller and Eastman 1984).  These groups—the Coast Tsimshian, Southern Tsimshian, Nishga, and Gitksan—were divided into four phratries, probably created by dividing into two the moieties basic to neighboring societies.  The key concept is halait: supernatural, spiritually derived power, or anyone manifesting that power, as in a dance, ritual, or chiefly display of authority.  Halait were spiritual groundings of chiefship and power.  They are validated and explained by adaox, “the family-owned histories of the origin, migrations, and eventual settlement…of the Houses…they indicate how the latter acquired their crests and powers” (M. Anderson and Halpin 2000:15. These last include the naxnox, hereditary privileges in the form of masks, totem pole motifs, dances, songs, myths, and ritual regalia. 

            These are displayed in actual ceremonial contexts.  Initiation and name-taking was necessary to assume naxnox.  A chief would have to go to heaven (or have a vision of it).  This made him a semoiget, “real person.”  On return he would often be able to display a terrifying power, such as cannibalism (biting people or pretending to) or eating dogs.  Dogs were considered inedible and even poisonous, so tremendous power was necessary to eat one and survive.  In practice, the devouring was faked (at least in reported cases), but—just as wearing a mask makes one into the being represented by the mask—the fakery had a transcendent reality.

            The full displays in the winter ceremonies included potlatches, feasts, dances, storytelling, and other performances.  Here and elsewhere on the Coast, they were carefully planned and absolutely spectacular.  No one who watches even the etiolated winter dances of today fails to be profoundly moved.

            Of course, all this had everything to do with ecological management and resource ownership.  Here is the great Tsimshian? Gitksan? leader and spokesman Neil Sterritt explaining it:

            “For centuries, successive Gitksan and Wet’suwet’en leaders have defended th boundaries of their territories.  Here, a complex system of ownership and jurisdiction has evolved, where the chiefs continujally validate their rights and responsibilities totheir people, their lands, and the resources contained within themn.  The Gitksan and Wet’suwet’en express their ownership and jurisdiction in many ways, but the most formal forum is the feast, which sisometimes referred to as a potclatch” (as quoted in M. Anderson and Halpin 2000:31).

8.  Respect and Its Corollaries

            The Browns’ Fundamental Truth 3 seems to me the most critical characteristic of Northwest Coast thought, and indeed of Native American thought in general.  It deserves special treatment.

Above all, the Native peoples believe that one must show “respect” to the animals or they will not offer themselves to be hunted successfully.  Even where the discourse of “respect” is eroding with westernization, the practices of treating slain game animals politely and reverently still go on, with that as the ultimate justification (McIlwraith 2012).  It is particularly striking to find these beliefs still vividly and powerfully alive and motivating even among quite acculturated groups that have been subjected to Canadian colonial domination and coerced assimilation for a couple of centuries; as McIlwraith points out, they were supposedly assimilated more than 50 years ago.   McIlwraith cites a whole lineage of authors on this (McIlwraith 2012:25, citing Goulet 1998; Nadasdy 2003; Ridington 1990; Tanner 1979; Teit 1919; and many others).

Critically, respect involves not taking more than one needs for immediate consumption.  This includes family and needy neighbors.  It also includes guests, especially for rituals involving necessary feasting.  A large feast may mean a very large take.  Still, taking too many animals is always bad and disrespectful and always is subject to punishment.  This clause frightens even the greedy (if they are at all traditional in their beliefs).  It succeeds well in practice, as I know from research in both the Northwest Coast and Maya Mexico and several places in between. 

This wide concept of respect—iisʔaḱ in Nuu-chah-nulth, and as usual the word covers far more than English “respect”—is found throughout the Northwest, and, indeed, much more widely.  The Gold Tungus of Siberia have the same basic attitudes (Arseniev 1996), which are apparently continuous right across Bering Strait.  The Mongols share this; traveling in Mongolia I found the same concept of respect for all nature, from trees to rocks.  A young Mongol friend of mine wanted to collect pretty rocks, but did not, because it would be disrespectful to the rocks to move them for such a frivolous reason.  The word used in Mongolia is shuteekh, focally respect for elders.  Khundelekh is used among some Mongols (Marissa Smith, email to me, July 8, 2013), and in Inner Mongolia bishirt (Lulin Bao, pers. comm., 2014).  Many other cultures, from Rumania to South America, have the same concept. My student Jianhua “Ayoe” Wang found respect to be the key concept for environmental management among his Akha people in southern Yunnan (Wang 2013).  The idea of respecting flowers and rocks by leaving them in place is found in the Northwest Coast too.  Annie Peterson Miner, last speaker of Miluk Coos, after commenting on the need for a girl to share her first berries and a boy his first game without eating them themselves, added:  “Annie said that picking flowers and gathering shells and rocks were also prohibited.  ‘It might start to rain or bring bad luck.’  She said, ‘Things were just to be there, not to be picked.’   It was also bad luck to catch wild things” (Youst 1997:68). 

The same basic stories about the person who killed wantonly and was given stern warnings by the supernaturals are heard from Alaska to South America.  Every Northwest Coast collection of tales records myths about this, and often actual stories of people punished for it, for example by having to give all their kill to relatives (Atleo 2011:50), or being turned to stone with one’s dog for hunting too many mountain goats (Teit 1919:241-242), or simply having accidents and bad luck (very widely).  I have heard such stories in both British Columbia and Yucatan. 

Evert Thomas (pers. comm. at Society of Ethnobiology meeting, 2009) tells me that among the Bolivian Quechua, susto (fear sickness) in children can come from overhunting by their parents; the masters of the game punish the hunter by making his family sick.  The Khanty, who at least until recently practiced sustainable hunting and careful reindeer herding, apparently have similar ideas (Wiget and Balalaeva 2011).   Even the Yukaghir, who are now apparently far less conserving than the Northwest Coast peoples, have something of this idea (Willerslev 2007). 

Sport hunting and trophy hunting are thus definitely out of favor, being clearly disrespectful: killing an animal for pleasure, and as often as not leaving the carcass to rot.  This put the people of Iskut in another quandary:  should they guide White sport-hunters?  Survival forced that issue—they had to do it to get enough money to live—but it was a debate.

Thomas Thornton’s Tlingit consultant, Herman Kitka, recalls “Uncle noticed how we enjoyed the [halibut] fishing; he told us that to fish for the halibut for fun we would be wasting our food supply—to do so would offend the Holy Spirit and cause us to lose our blessing and go hungry” (Thornton 2008:124).  And  he lets others use the resources at Deep Bay, of which he was designated monitor:  “’I don’t own it,’ I tell them, ‘I’m just taking care of it’” (Thornton 2008:168).  Thornton comments on this:  “This typifies the Tlingit attitude towards conservation:  it is not a matter of ‘resource management’ as much as a matter of taking care of places.”  Kitka also noted that when a weir blocks the river totally, the salmon leave because they are “insulted,” not because they’re physically stopped:  “Those little sockeye get offended if you don’t leave them a hole in your [fish] weir; they won’t come back…” (Thornton 2008:173-174).  Tlingit often tell guests, in formal contexts, Tleil dagák’ ahwateeni yík, “Don’t leave insulted like those little sockeyes”  (Thornton 2008:173).  Thornton’s superb account of the phenomenology of place and land among the Tlingit has much more of this kind.

Weirs themselves also need respect.  They are ritually constructed and often consecrated, and thus they become persons.  This is known for the Iroquois and Yurok, as well as for Northwest Coast peoples.  They must be treated with proper attention, and (among the Iroquois and Algonquian, in early times) given wives (Miller 2014:135-142).

Mistreating fish is deadly.  When a man on the Nass harmed a small salmon gratuitously, his whole village was destroyed by fire (Barbeau 1950:77).  Frogs are even more dangerous when offended; a widespread northern coast myth deals with individuals who wantonly cast frogs into the fire, only to have frogs destroy their village by giant conflagrations (versions in Barbean 1950:65-75; many other versions exist).  Salmon remains are usually returned to the rivers, insuring good nutrition for the young, but among the Tsimshian they are burned, and failure to burn every leftover causes trouble (Barbeau 1950:165-176).

Deploring sportfishing as disrepectful “playing with fish” is so widely condemned that it has become the title of a book of “lessons from the north,” by Robert Wolfe, who encountered this particuilar lesson among the Yupik of Alaska (Wolfe 2006).

Respect is also basic in Plateau societies.  It “included not only other human beings but also food, air, water, the plants and animals whose lives were taken, and all other aspects of nature….  The very acts of making or teaching art were highly regarded” and artists respected (Loeb and Lavadour 1998:79).

Rodney Frey, talking about the educational function of Native American folktales, uses as examples the moral injunctions to hunters:  “’Nothing will they throw away,’ ‘you must not be proud,’ ‘you must not kill too many of any kind of animal’” (Frey 1995:173).  These are his prime examples not of Native conservation, but of Native moral discourse; he is not selecting game management to talk about.  It was simply what came first to hand.  Note that hybris is condemned as well as waste.  Respect means proper humility before one’s animal spirit beings, as well as intelligent management.  For one thing, it means not mentioning the name of whatever one is hunting or fishing for, or otherwise being overconfident about one’s expedition (see e.g. Palmer 2005).  It also means killing the animal cleanly, with one shot (animportant mark of respect for the game among my Maya friends in Quintana Roo, too).

The pattern is worldwide, and extends to the Yuit of St. Lawrence Island.  R. Apatki, talking to Carol Jolles in 1992, tells us:

“Whatever they first caught, they show them to…God….

They return the bones, whatever they are to the fields.



that belong to the sea, they went to throw away down to sea….

They light small lamps.  There they sacrifice.  The small ceremonial fires are some sort of altars….


[the ancestors]

had taken very good care of it [St. Lawrence Island], just like they honor it, those people.

They take good care of the hunting grounds, these places—all hunting ground.  Respectfully.

They don’t go to places until when it is time to go there.

They don’t put some things [trash and the like] on hunting grounds.  They respectfully use them….” (Jolles 2002:296-297; the whole text is well worth looking up).

Jolles also gives accounts of respectful treatment of kills.  Estelle Oozevaseuk told her in 1989 of giving water to seal kills, a universal custom among Inuit peoples and their neighbors, and giving bits of food to fox kills and others (Jolles 2002:298-299).  A whole complex of respectful behaviors is described in following pages: special games, special ways of dividing kills, special stories.  Reverential ceremonies for major games animals, notably whales, go on all year.  Jolles effectively shows how closely the respect for animals tracks the very respectful, structured behavior traditional within the human community.

            Finally, one is not supposed to boast of success.  Hunters and fishers return saying they have taken nothing much.  (This also is shared widely; Willerslev [2007:37] reports it for the Yukaghir, and I can testify from experience that it is a rule in Finland.)  Boasting brings ridicule and censure, but it also can actually drive the animals away, since it is disrespectful of them. I think anyone with much experience in the field will understand these and related concepts.  I have seen more than one proud White hunter humbled, and more than one biologist as well.  One need not believe in spirits to see the value of humility in the bush.

South Wind, the Tillamook Salishan trickster and transformer hero, learned this the hard way.  He caught no fish, day after day, till it was explained to him that he would have to cover any fish he caught with green branches and leaves, then burn the bones and skin in a fire that is to be extinguished.  Water from washing up must go on that fire, not in the bush (Deur and Thompson 2008:38).  Similar stories come from the Chinook (Boyd 2013b).  More common and interesting is the instruction to return all bones (and often other waste) to the water (which the Tillamook and Chinook did not do, at least with the first salmon).  As noted above, it restores necessary nutrients.  The Tututni had a rite in which “[a] religious leader offered thanks to the fish for returning once again…the villagers sent out their private thoughts of gratitude.  This giving of respect to the salmon—and in othersettings to deer and elk, roots and berries, and other gifts from the lands and waters…was not some romantic construct.  The Tututnis saw themselves as…citizens along with the plants and animals, and it was proper to show appreciation” (Wilkinson 2010:22-23).

Frey (2001:9) tells of a Coeur d’Alene woman who resisted a pest control worker’s call to get rid of spiders.  As she said, “’…that Spider might have had a message for me, something to say to me.  Why would I want to kill him?’”  And two pages later, we read of a man who wanted to rob a muskrat’s store of food, but was prevented by his wife (Frey 2001:11).  The Coeur d’Alene pray extensively before hunting or gathering wild foods, and also give thanks, often by leaving some tobacco where they have gathered (Frey 2001:180-182).  He quotes a wonderful oration about respect for deer who have given their lives to the hunters as food (p. 205).  

An extreme (and possibly a bit self-serving) bit of rhetoric on the Northwest Coast is a Nuu-chah-nulth speech to a just-harpooned whale: 

“Whale, I have given you what you wish to get—my good harpoon.  And now you have it.  Please hold it with your strong hands.  Do not let go.  Whale, turn towards the fine beach…and you will be proud to see the young men come down…to see you; and the yong men will say to one another:  What a great whale he is!  What a fat whale he is!  What a strong whale he is!  And you, whale, will be proud of all that you hear them say of your greatness” (Coté 2010:34, quoting text recorded and translated by T. T. Waterman).  Significantly, the Nuu-chah-nulth abstained totally from the very active whale fishery initiated by Anglo-Canadian settlers on Vancouver Island (Coté 2010:64).  Apparently they saw that the whales were not treated with respect.

As usual, this has parallels all over North America.  The Yup’ik of southwest Alaska have enormously elaborate rules (Fienup-Riordan 1994, 2005) for paying respects to mammals and fish, even the small, poor-quality blackfish (valuable because once a winter staple for dogs as well as a back-up food for humans).  Fish see traps and nets differently according to the behavior of the fishers; the fish want to sacrifice themselves to those that have treated their previous incarnations with respect (see esp. Fienup-Riordan 1994:123). 

Seals are thought to live in a giant ceremonial men’s house under the sea.  Here they arrange themselves by social rank, as humans do.  They discuss “whether to give themselves to human hunters” (Fienup-Riordan 2005:xvi), giving themselves only to those that show respect.  When seals are caught and shared out, the seals’ yuit (persons; sing. yua) go into their bladders, so these are saved and restored to the sea at a major festival at the start of winter (the sealing season and the ceremonial season; the Yup’ik have an extremely rich and evocative ceremonial life, beautifully described by Fienup-Riordan).  Here too, bones had to be ritually disposed of; seal bones had to go into fresh water (1994:107), but salmon bones were not returned to rivers.  “Yup’ik cosmology is a perpetual cycling between birth and rebirth, humans and animals, and the living and the dead” (1994:355), and between land and sea also.

Generosity to other humans is rewarded by generosity from nature; generous hunters are successful hunters (Fienup-Riordan 2005:38; a belief that seems to be worldwide).  Other social rules too lead to good fortune if followed, bad fortune if violated.

In general, there was a strong separation between sea creatures and land ones, but they were interlocked by trails and processes.  Sea creatures wanted land amenities (hence the seal bones in fresh water), land creatures wanted sea goods (see 1994:140ff.).  This fits well with Claude Lévi-Strauss’ analysis of the separation of land and sea, and its mediation by travel and myth, among the nearby Tlingit and other groups (Lévi-Strauss 1958, 1995).

People are observed by a high god, the Ellam Yua, “person of universal awareness.”  “Ella can mean ‘outside,’ ‘weather,’ ‘sky, ‘universe,’ or ‘awareness’” (Fienup-Riordan 1994:262).  The ellam iinga, all-watching eye, is shown as a small circle with a dot in the center, a universal motif in Yup’ik art (p. 254 ff.).  

As in most of the Arctic and much of Asia, there were elaborate rules for dividing up large animals and giving particular parcels to particular categories of relatives.  Any violation of rules led to the animals going away.  For instance, if the blackfish are taken with an ordinary dip net, instead of a special device reserved for them, “the blackfish will become extinct and be depleted” (Clara Aagartak, quoted Fienup-Riordan 1994:119).  Most of this long book consists of similar rules.  The great Greenlander ethnographer Knut Rasmussen found equally elaborate rules in the central Arctic (Rasmussen 1931, 1932).

The Tłįchǫ Dene, far to the northeast of the Northwest Coast, have very similar concepts.  Blood of a slain animal must be cleaned up, butchering must be done properly, and there are many rules for such matters.  “The Tłįchǫ elders attribute the disappearance of wildlife to industrial development and to a lack of respect, which inevitably causes destruction” (Legat 2012:30).  On one hunting trip, caribou did not show themselves, so the hunt leader made the people eat all the meat they had brought and made Dr. Legat send away her leather backpack—whereupon the caribou immediately appeared.  Since there was meat and hide in the camp, they had not felt needed (Legat 2012:84).

            James Teit records for the Tahltan:  “The Meat-Mother watches her children, the game, and also the people.  When people do not follow the taboos, and do not treat animals rightly, the latter tell their mother; and she punishes the people by taking the game away for a while, or by making it wild, and then the people starve…the Moose children are the most apt to tell their mother of any disrespect shown them: therefore people have to be very careful of to how they treat moose” (Teit 1919:231-232, as cited in McIlwraith 2012:68-69). 

Among the Spokan, as reported by John Alan Ross:  “After killing a deer, the hunter exercised considerable care in butchering…and skinning…for fear than an act of disrespect would impair his future hunting success, or worse, keep the offended species away from the hunting range of his group” (Ross 2011:256).  Ross records several other respectful practices also, including slitting the throat of a slain game animal to release its life-force (p. 257).   He also watched as a youngster borrowed his great-grandfather‘s traps and went out to trap coyotes without thinking to carry out the necessary ritual; the elder expected both of them would now be kept awake at night by the laughter of the coyotes, who, of course, would laugh at the trapper rather than approaching the traps (Ross 2011:290). 

Plants too had to be respected; when berrying, shouting “to a distant partner…was considered as being disrespetful to the plants” and would cause them to withhold berries; recent widows could not pick (Ross 2011:352).  Ceremonies, especially for the very valuable huckleberries, paid respect to the berry plants.  Roots were the subject of ceremonies, including the rather touching one that recognized a young girl when she got her first digging stick and another when she dug her first root—which was, of course, given away (Ross 2011:335; or the root might be worn as a charm).  Wild rose was ritually very important, used to drive away evil spirits and influences, cleanse after a death, and the like; brushes of the plants were used, and water in which flowers or hips were soaked (Ross 2011:351 and passim). 

Finally, a particularly touching example of respect and care is the universal custom of leaving something for the rodents when taking resources they use.  People often find and steal the caches of seeds, nuts, and roots that rodents make, but they always leave enough to keep the animals from starving.  Ross (2011:249) reports that, also, cattail leaves were left for squirrels for nesting material.  This has some self-interest to recommend it—without the mice, no more caches—but less practical is the widespread tendency to leave something valuable to humans also. 

Similar beliefs extend to Mexico.  A Nahuatl fish-trapping charm recorded around 1600 says, in part:   “I have come to lay for you your oriole arbor, your oriole fence, within which you will be happy, within which you will rejoice, within which you will seek all kinds of food, the flowery food…My elder sister the Lady of Our Sustenance…spread out for you your oriole mat, your oriole seat…she is awaiting you with her atole drink…” (Ruiz de Alarcón 1982:166-167, modified).  The oriole arbor is a fish trap, and this is a charm to lure fish into it!  Apparently the idea of promising much to a flighty water-creature is widespread. 

Finally, the K’iche’ Maya of Guatemala do not allow men to touch the metates that the women use to grind maize, because for a man to touch it “shows the stone no respect” (Searcy 2011:93).  I have not heard this among the Yucatec Maya, who are less sharply gender-divided than the K’iche’, but certainly the idea of respect for stones—let alone living beings—is thoroughly established among the Yucatec too.  My Yucatec friends respected animals—domestic, game, or useless—and would completely understand the Spokan hunter.  They took pride, for instance, in killing with one shot, and were both ashamed and heartbroken when they wounded a game animal and thus made it suffer.

Respect also must be given to the supernatural powers (as in all cultures).  In Haida Gwaii (Haida Land—the Queen Charlotte Islands), every stream has a Creek Woman, a female supernatural who guards and protects that creek and its salmon.  A man once swore at the Creek Woman of Pallant Creek, because he kept losing his hat—one he was not entitled to wear in any case.  The woman destroyed the whole town (Enrico 1995:160-169).  This prohibition on disrespect for spirit guardians of waters carries right across the Bering Strait, being important to the Mongols (Roux 1984:132ff.).  Insulting supernaturals draws collective punishment, as did disrespect for God in ancient Israel.  

Natcher et al. (2005) describe a situation in which Native people—Tutchone, in the Yukon— resisted advice from biologists to release caught fish that were small-sized or rare.  The Native persons insisted that this would be disrespectful to the fish, whose spirits would be offended.   Moreover, sport fishing was even more disrepectful of the fish—it was wanton destruction for fun.  Needless to say, these beliefs made for major problems in communication between the Tutchone and the Anglo-Canadian biologists.  McIlwraith (2007:123) found the same opinion among the nearby Tahltan-speaking Dene of Iskut.  Other conflicts between Native thinking and biologists’ “scientific management” surface (Schreiber and Newell 2006).

However, respect can be anti-conservation as well.  Respect includes taking an animal that offers itself to you.  This is another belief shared all round the subarctic, from the Cree (Brightman 1993) to the Yukaghir (Willerslev 2007:35; see the already-cited sources for the Northwest, with a particularly good discussion in Nadasdy 2004).  In fact, it goes right down to South America.  In Paraguay, a Native American game management program ran into heavy water because the local people, the Yshiro, were willing to conserve, but had to take peccaries that offered themselves, thus severely discomfiting the biologists (Blaser 2009; there was special concern for the rare and local Flat-headed Peccary). 

The offering-and-reincarnating belief can thus become a charter for overhunting.  This has occurred among the Yukaghir, who have the same basic beliefs about animals as the Northwest Coast peoples, but are now seriously overhunting game (Willerslev 2007:30-35).  Rapid decline in game numbers are met with the pathetic line I have heard from fishermen all over the world:  “They’ve just gone elsewhere for a while.”  However, even the Yukaghir have traces of a respect-by-not-overhunting belief.  Thus Willerslev expresses very well a tension clearly found all over the Siberian and Native American world:  “In fact, it would be fair to say that we find two polar tendencies in Yukaghir subsistence paractices:  One in the direction of overpredation…, the other in the direction of limiting one’s killings to an absolute minimum….” (Willerslev 2007:49).  The Yukaghir have rather different reasons for this from Native Americans, but the basic ideas are the same.  The Yukaghir’s neighbors, including the Mongols, Tuvans (Kenin-Lopsan 1997), and Tungus, are far more conservationist in their ideology and behavior, but face some of the same tension.

However, even the Yukaghir must have once had a stronger restraint on hunting.  They would long ago have hunted themselves into suicidal starvation without it.  Apparently, Soviet cultural oppression (chronicled in harrowing detail by Willerslev) ended it.  (Willerslev cites Soviet ethnography claiming that massive overhunting is aboriginal and traditional in the Arctic, but this is so obviously tendentious as to be ridiculous.  The Siberian Arctic has been settled for centuries by Russians, and their devastating cultural impact on hunting beliefs as on everything else was felt by the early 18th century; see e.g. Georg Steller’s observations in Kamchatka in the 1740s [Steller 2003].) 

Similar problems with overhunting, justified by reincarnation, are reported for eastern Canada (Brightman 1993; Krech 1999; Martin 1978).  Similar cultural pressures from settlers have occurred there.  Most sources seem to maintain that eastern Canadian hunters maintain respect and hunt with some care (Berkes 1999), but unquestionably there has been heavy hunting in the past, especially in the fur trade days (Martin 1978).  Overhunting by Native people does occur in the Northwest, but I am convinced from my own experience and that of other researchers I know that overhunting is far less common than it would be otherwise—and far less common than among local whites.  The Coast Salish traditions, for instance, hold that a family could take only one grouse per year (Krohn and Segrest 2010:97)—a tight limit.

The rigors of hunting must be undergone, partly to show the animals that the hunter really wants and needs them.  If they then come to care about the hunter and the people dependent on hunting success, they will offer themselves.  On the other hand, if the hunter has offended them, they will take off and be unapproachable.  Sometimes a mountain can withhold them.  Near Iskut is a hill called Stingy Mountain, because the mountain goats there are notoriously good at escaping hunters.  An outsider would probably find that the mountain affords good lookout and listening posts for the wary goats, but the local people say the mountain is deliberately refusing to let them be hunted (McIlwraith 2007:116).  Among the Yukaghir, even one’s own protective spirit can be stingy (Willerslev 2007:43), but I have not encountered this idea on the Northwest Coast.

Thus, if an animal offers itself, it has to be killed.  It spirit goes on to reincarnate in another animal.  Hence the problem with fish, above, and similar problems with moose conservation (again the same problem surfaces for the Yukaghir).  McIlwraith (2007) reports that the people of Iskut refrain from killing cow moose when they possibly can, especially if the cow is likely to be pregnant; so, if a cow just stands there when a hunter comes up on her, the hunter is in a terrible quandary.  The ban on killing female game animals in breeding season (and moose pregnancies last almost a year) is widespread if not often emphasized in the literature (see e.g. Miller 1999:98 for the Salish), and is another part of the “respect” rule that says “don’t waste.”

In fact, this dilemma has caused confusion for both indigenous people and anthropologists.  The indigenous people must always decide whether respect in the form of not taking too much or respect in the form of taking what is offered prevail in a given situation.  The anthropologists argue about whether the “natives” “conserve” or not, depending largely on whether they have observed people take what is offered or go with the conserving option.  Individual hunters differ greatly in this regard.  I suspect the general pattern is what I found among my Maya friends:  the greedier ones go with taking what is offered, the more thoughtful ones with conservation.

This brings us back to the problem that, since the animals’ souls go on to reincarnate, there is little recognition of the finite quality of game.  A Cree (from eastern, not western, Canada) told Harvey Feit (2006):  “The animals are still there, they just do not want to be caught.”  Obviously this attitude is unhelpful for conservation.  Long experience with hunters and fishers of all races, however, teaches me that almost all of them say this, whether or not they believe in reincarnation of animal souls.  Fishermen in particular almost never admit the fish are actually getting scarce.  The fish are always out there, “just not biting today.”  Sometimes they secretly know the truth, and will admit that over a drink, but usually they are genuinely in denial; such at least is my experience, studying fisheries development in many countries. 

Critically, however, respect also involves the point mentioned above:  not taking more than one needs for immediate consumption.  This includes family and needy neighbors.  It also includes guests, especially for rituals involving necessary feasting.  A large feast may mean a very large take.  Still, taking too many animals is always bad and disrespectful and always is subject to punishment.  This clause frightens even the greedy (if they are at all traditional in their beliefs).  It succeeds well in practice, as I know from experience in both the Northwest Coast and Maya Mexico. 

The animal, when dead, must still be treated with respect, since its spirit lives on and takes notice.  This is particularly true in more northerly groups.  Inuit and Yuit groups offered fresh water to kills, and treated them respectfully; disrespecting a dead animal could lead to major accidents (see e.g. Jolles 2002).  Cutting up a dead walrus disrespectfully was thought to lead to the terrible winter of 1878, and more recently disrespect to a slain bear caused a snowmobile crash and human death (Jolles 2002: 98-9, 183).  Once again, this extends across the Bering Straits, reaching an apogee in the bear cult of the Ainu. 

Significantly, only wild game is thought of this way.  Domestic animals get less respect.

 “Respect,” however, goes much farther than this.  One does not speak ill of animals, or insult them.  Saying anything disparaging about a fresh kill is particularly serious (see e.g. McIlwraith 2007:115).  Animals must be killed as cleanly and painlessly as possible.  McIlwraith was told quite graphically to be sure a fish was dead before gutting it:  “’How would you like to be gutted if you were still alive?’” (McIlwraith 2007:117; I remember being told similar things by Anglo fishermen in my childhood).  Very widely throughout the Northwest, fresh water is offered to a newly-killed animal (especially sea mammals, along the coast).  Various ceremonies, some of them extremely elaborate, must be performed.  A large animal may be decorated before being brought home.  This practice extends right across the Bering Strait into Siberia, where it is widespread.  Permission must be asked, and thanks given, even to small bushes and herbs for use of their valued parts (see e.g. Turner 2014-2:316-320, and for ceremonial recognition 326-328, 337-342). 

Many geological features remind children of such matters.  Typical is a story McIlwraith (2007:146) brings us from Iskut:  A hunter protested against a goat refusing to be caught, and the hunter and his dog were promptly turned to stone.  The rock is evidently one of those vaguely human-shaped rocks that people everywhere love to tell stories about.  It is pointed out to children as a cautionary tale.  There are similar cautionary rocks everywhere in the Northwest, and for that matter throughout the world.

An actual recent event—not a folktale—was related by Lawrence Aripa (quoted in Frey 1995:177-179).  There was an individual named Cosechin who was a doctor and prophet of the 19th century (see Pryor 1999).  However, this story probably does not apply to him, but to another Cosechin, or to some generic bad actor who has, in the story, picked up the name.  In any case, it is considered historically true.  The ellipses represent Mr. Aripa’s pauses in the story, not my leaving out material; italics represent spoken emphasis. 

A person named Cosechin

“was just cruel…to animals.

He would knock down trees

            and not use them.

He would grab leaves from the trees in the springtime

            and scatter them to try to kill the trees.

And you know it’s the custom of the Indian that when they’re going to use

something from a tree

            or…even fish or hunt,

                        they…ask permission first…

                                    ‘Mr. Tree may I use some part of you

                                                or I need it…for warmth for my children,’”

And so on.  Cosechin treated humans just as badly, but notice the animals and plants come first.

Cosechin was told to reform, and threatened.  He shaped up for a while, but

            “he went back to his old ways like. 

And then…all of a sudden…he disappeared….” 

The obvious implication is that someone did away with him, and no one was about to inquire into the matter.  There are many similar stories in the literature.

The Northwest Coast and the Quintana Roo Maya definitely prefer—or used to prefer—to err on the side of caution.  The literature suggests that overhunting seems much more common in Siberia and perhaps east Canada.  Again, I suspect this is due to outside influence, but there is a difference of opinion on this (Brightman 1993; Krech 1999). And the Northwest Coast people explicitly credit past overhunting for their conservationist rules.

To western biologists, the combination of intimate knowledge and “exotic beliefs” is incomprehensible.  Conversely, to First Nations people, the biologists’ cold numbers and impersonal regard for animals as mere statistics is incomprehensible.  Nadasdy describes many cases of nonmeeting of minds.  These would be hilariously funny if they were not so tragic, but in fact they are tragic, because the biologists generally win, with disastrous consequences not only for the Native people but for the animal populations.  Nadasdy (2007) has more recently argued for adopting the Native viewpoint on spirits and personhood among animals, or at least a willing suspension of disbelief regarding it.

We can now, however, see why the First Nations believe as they do.  They relate to the animals through lived experience, not through abstract book-learning.  Thus their knowledge and teaching are experiential and procedural, not analytic and declarative.  Being close to the animals in question makes avoiding the agency heuristic difficult or impossible.  The animals are assumed to have a human consciousness within them.  They can talk, and even take off their animal skins and appear in humanoid form.  Because of these things, relationships with the animals are intensely emotional, and the emotions in question are complex and deep.  Finally, this emotionality drives a relationship of mutual power and mutual empowerment; the animal persons have their power, humans have theirs.  Biologists, on the other hand, assert a particular kind of power/knowledge and also represent the power of the State intruding on local societies (Nadasdy produces an excellent, detailed Foucaultian account of this). 

The recent work in northwest Canada, and similar work elsewhere, is surprisingly disconnected from cognitive anthropology.  This was not true of earlier researchers like Robin Ridington, and is not true of some modern ones like Leslie Johnson, but most of the above-cited authors seem ignorant of the cognitive anthropology literature, or at least do not cite it.  Yet, they could profit from cognitive anthropology at least as much as cognitive anthropology can profit from the Canadian research.  Cognitive anthropology can benefit from their attention to total phenomenological experience, especially the embodied and procedural types of knowledge and the awareness of emotional and moral responses.  The Canadian researchers and their equivalents elsewhere could benefit greatly from cognitive anthropology’s rigorous investigation of specific word meanings and semantic domains, from procedures to assess cultural consensus and variability, from awareness of models and the relationship of models to reality, and, in short, from much greater awareness of exactly what they are recording and how to make sure they are getting it precisely right. 

Some of them would fear this as too scientistic or cut-and-dried, or too limited to small domains like firewood taxonomy.  Yet, one need only recall such studies as Steven Feld’s Sound and Sentiment (1982) or Keith Basso’s Wisdom Sits in Places (1996), which are thoroughly sophisticated in use of ethnosemantic and psychological methodologies, to realize that extremely sensitive and humanistic studies of feeling and experience can benefit from cognitivist techniques.  Both groups can benefit from more attention to the immediate experiential bases of knowledge; both have dealt with the issue at some length, but traditional cognitivists have often confined their attention to limited and rational systems, while some of the newer researchers are prone to think in generalizations (like Nadasdy’s highly defined and rather stereotypic contrasts of “hunters and bureaucrats”), and could pay more detailed attention to fine-grained systems.

The Northwest Coast and North Woods Native peoples have a cosmology that is not only “spiritual” but intensely moral.  They ask for permission before taking anything from nature; I have seen women ask permission of a tree to take a bit of its bark.  In regard to animals, respectful treatment is required:  killing only for necessity, not killing too many at a time, treating the remains in accord with ritual regulations that communicate respect, giving away one’s first kill (especially for male hunters) or first basket of berries (for girls; to elders; Gahr 2013:68) and much of one’s subsequent meat take, and so on through countless rules.  There were ceremonies for the first salmon taken in the year, and also first fruits and first roots ceremonies (Gahr 2013:68 for the Chinook, but every well-described group reports them or something equivalent).  These are taught through myths—typically stories that communicate the dreadful consequences of not following the rules (Anderson 1996).

As so often, related ideas from the nearest parts of Eurasia illumine these relationships.  Siberians—both hunters and herders—butchering animals may apologize, or pray, or even say “I had no idea to kill, I killed you by mistake” (Stépanoff et al. 2017:58).  Herders maintain the attitudes of hunters, and vice versa; they all know the animals of their neighborhood, they treat them with respect, and then care for them in life and, ritually, in death.  Animals have souls and spirit power, and agency not only in normal animal ways but in spiritual and sacral ways. 

Kinship is closely involved in this.  Extended kinship groups (widely called “clans,” though not always such in technical anthropological usage) are religiously and ritually constituted, and succession to leadership titles in them is by means of potlatch involving wealth donations and feasting.  Clans in turn own and control resources.  Naturally, as was observed as long ago as 1826, an individual of authority in a clan, when hunting, “is particularly careful neither killing too many himself nor allowing any to do so” (William Brown, quoted Fiske and Patrick 2000:128).  In this group—the Babine—as in others, the clan maintained the fishing weirs and owned the fishing stations.  By introducing individual nets, the Canadian settlers ruined this arrangement, which of course had unfortunate knock-on effects on the entire kinship system as well as on resource management.  Enforcing conservation is almost automatic in a clan-owned weir but almost impossible in a world of individually-owned nets.

On the Northwest Coast, knowledge is divided sharply into esoteric vs public.  Esoteric is divided in turn into knowledge of shamans and knowledge of secret-society initiates.  Public knowledge is divided into special ritual and mythic knowledge of chiefs and ordinary knowledge available to everybody.  Most “science”—that is, empirical knowledge not depending on supernatural belief—is in the public sphere, but not herbal medicine, which is mostly a shaman specialty.  These other ways of dividing up and classifying knowledge are valuable in their particular situations. 

            Athabaskan knowledge is rarely formally discursive.  In other words, people rarely talk about it in general principles.  Significantly, conservation is an exception here, at least among some Athabaskans (Nelson 1983); others are much less prone to talk about conservation in general, but still talk about management rules (McIlwraith 2007).  People are quite conscious of, and vocal about, the need to manage and to harvest selectively. On the other hand, education was thorough, systematic, extensive, and carefully managed (Mandeville 2009:199-204).  It was done through a combination of field training and apprenticeship, myths and tales, ordinary storying, and plain old-fashioned outright explanation.

Teaching and discussimg was most usually done via stories—highly personal, specific, geographically grounded narratives (Cruikshank 1998, 2005; Frey 1995; Goulet 1998; Legat 2012; Mandeville 2009).   This is true of all Native Americans, from Alaska to my Maya friends in Yucatan.  In fact, it is worldwide.  I am used to it, not only from field work, but—much more—from my own rural and small-town youth.  All knowledge about hunting, fishing, and the outdoors was illustrated with stories, or told purely in story form, by my Anglo-American elders.  Talking about anything so grounded in personal experience and local knowledge is simply not reasonably done any other way.

Education was gender- and kin-structured.  Among the matrilineal Gitksan, for instance, much education was expected to come from the father’s side.  This was partly due to gender roles (a father would teach his son hunting), but partly to the desire to keep the father’s side involved in the ordinary and ritual life of the child.  Many privileges, ritual and ceremony came from the mother’s side, since the child would succeed to those, not to his or her father’s privileges.  Conversely, in patrilineal societies, a mother and her kin would teach the child both women’s work and their own family stories and privileges.

Other education processes involve meetings of the whole community, which may involve long and ritualized speeches and ceremonial rhetoric in general, as well as storytelling.  The Okanagan have a political process known as En’owkin (Armstrong 2005a), basically a council meeting of a type familiar over most of Native North America.  Everyone gets together and talks out issues, with elders—not necessarily older people, but rather citizens with special knowledge or political ability—address the issues.  Sharing and community are addressed as major values in such meetings. 

Conformity was less important than having one’s own spirit visions.  For the Kwakwaka’wakw (and they are not alone): “Everyone had to be divided from the familiar, the ‘natural,’ so that he could see freshly and learn to act according to circumstances and not according to routine.  The anti-social hero is typicallyl he who ‘looks through’ society.  I was one of the main aims of Kwakiutl society to use his insight…It would be say of Kwakiutl society that it was based on common dissent.  Every member was carefully trained to be able to decide for himself” (S. Reid 1981:250-251; this was and is as true for women as for men). 

9.  Worldviews Underwriting Knowledge:  Confrontations between Native and Anglo-American Views

            The Native Americans have constructed a whole worldview from such experiential knowledge and from the logical conclusions they draw from it.  Given the well-demonstrated human psychological tendency to infer agency whenever possible, they inferred that there are spirits in the trees and animals, or divine game-masters guarding them.  The daughter of the spirit guardian of fish, for instance, might marry a forsaken boy and provide him with rich stocks of fish, as in a Wishram folktale (Sapir 1990:169). They also inferred many more mundane things, such as the idea that earthquakes are caused by monstrous fish or animals moving about. 

These views and many others, some reasonable, some shamanistic illuminations, comprise a whole cosmovision, or ontology—far more than a “religion” in the ordinary sense, far more than a mere worldview or creation story.  It is different from the western scientific view, and even from western religious stories, constructed as those are by priests and theologians.  A cosmovision based entirely on logical developments from direct, embodied, experiential knowledge is an amazing and wondrous creation (on Northwest Coast worldviews, see Turner’s superb overview, 2014-2:24-350, which defies summary but emphasizes the personhood of plants and landscapes including mountains and rocks). 

As Fiske and Patrick say (citing Theresa O’Neill), “Western philosophy marginalizes morality and spirituality as optional while ‘perceiving practical principles of processes of production, reproduction and power relations as basic to human life everywhere….’ Western notions of the self based on economics and the individual as opposed to notions of the self based on spirituality and the group underlie conflicts that arise in efforts ot create autonomous and/or parallel legal orders” (Fiske and Patrick 2000:236-237).  This is clearly a bit overdrawn—western thought does not consider morality optional!—but there is a real point here.  Both the fusion of spiritual, ethical, and practical in Native Northwest Coast thought, and the application of all three to both human and nonhuman persons, are really totally different from anything in the western tradition. 

On the potlatch, they quote the early anthropologist Pliny Earle Goddard to good purpose:  “There are perhaps two main principles involved; first that all events of social or political interest must be publicly witnessed; and second that those who perform personal or social service must be puiblicly recompensed.  There is a third more general social law that all guests on all occasions must be fed”  (Fiske and Patrick 2000:218, quoting Goddard 1934:1311.)

Thus, as Nadasdy points out in a passage that should be read by all those interested in traditional knowledge (2004:112), anyone analyzing traditional worldviews cannot separate out the knowledge that outsiders see as “practical” from the knowledge that outsiders see as “mere cultural belief.” 

One can, to be sure, take the clearly useful knowledge out of context and use it, but this does not represent the traditional view.  It is, thus, inadequate for comanagement or co-work purposes.  Yet, bureaucrats and outsiders generally have major problems with this; total acceptance of the Native view means accepting those giant earthquake-causing fish.  One can only hope for understanding.  There is never pure acceptance. 

Nadasdy sees no real hope of cooperation.  The bureaucrats must assert power over knowledge, the Native people must lose.  This is partly guaranteed, as he points out, by the fact that “numbers” and “scientific” evidence is all that is taken seriously by the Canadian government and its agencies; local knowledge is “mere anecdote” or “unverified.”  A better way of assessing local knowledge is desperately needed.

However, Nadasdy, and some other recent anthropologists (such as Jean-Guy Goulet 1998), in otherwise superb accounts of such knowledge, reify and essentialize culture.  They see experiential knowledge as confined to First Nations, and revealing “incommensurability”—that word again (Nadasdy 2004:62ff)—with bioscientific knowledge.  This is not the case—as Nadasdy admits (footnote, 2004:277), undermining his whole claim.  The Native people obviously have an incredible pragmatic knowledge of their resources, and that is fully commensurable with genuine bioscientific knowledge.  What is incommensurable is the abstract ontology behind the different views:  the Native spiritual one and the biologists’ lab-based reductionism. 

As to the wider issue of incommensurability, however, Nadasdy is working from a highly essentialized view of  “culture.”  He appears to see a culture as a perfectly integrated, rather unchanging whole.  My more practical view allows me to be more open about learning from others.  I bake bread by feel rather than by recipe; I use stoneground whole wheat flour, and used to grind my own.  My only modern convenience is a gas-fired oven.  In short, I bake bread the same way as the nameless women who invented it (except they used wood as the fuel).  I cannot imagine what their worldview was like, but the bread is pretty much the same.  Bread cares little about cosmovision, but—as every baker knows—it is a living thing, thanks to its vibrantly alive yeast networks, and knows a sure hand from an incompetent one.  In the ways that matter to it, those wonderful women of old are with me in my kitchen, and we all meet in perfect understanding.

Similarly, my elders in the Anglo-American midwest and south had many of the same attitudes as the Northwest Coast peoples.  We children were taught to kill animals cleanly, not take too many, not let them suffer, and so on.  We were taught to look down on indiscriminate shooters.  Moreover, many, if not most, hunters and fishers believed that ultimately a catch was a gift from God, not just a matter of your own skill.  You had to be grateful accordingly.  This all goes a fair way to bridging the gap between “indigenous” and “western.”

Worldviews do indeed influence the realities of counting sheep (Nadasdy 2004), but do not prevent comparison of the results.  Nadasdy’s main example of a failure to communicate does not involve cosmovision at all, but was a simple disagreement over whether the local mountain sheep were overhunted or not.  The more knowledgeable Native Americans thought so, and had all the good evidence.  The biologists thought otherwise, after hearing from powerful trophy-hunter interests.  One need not go beyond common sense, of a sourly cynical sort, to understand this disagreement. 

If people are trapped in narrow views, that is not incommensurability at work.  It is just ordinary narrowness.  In the case of Settler society not understanding Native society, it is all too often mere racism.  

McIlwraith (2007) appears to argue that biologists are so trapped in a mentality of lists and reductions that they cannot and therefore should not use “TEK” at all—they would only corrupt it.  This does not fit the practice of biologists I know (and I know many biologists).  In any case, there are real reasons to pick out the most useful bits of traditional knowledge and bring them into wider practice.  Of course it does violence to the holistic vision of culture, but so does all technical and medical practice.  Does one treat malaria, or contemplate its holistic phenomenology?  There is a place for the latter, and it may even be necessary in some sense, but direct treatment is what we usually wish.

            The Native view generates a particular morality, one of caring and nurturing; animals are protected and conserved out of “respect” or care, rather than because of mathematical models of populations (Nadasdy 2004).  Nadasdy points out that the Native people he knew tended to think of the mathematical models as disrespectful; they treated animals like things, instead of like the people—or “other-than-human persons”—that they are.  Readers who find this strange should think of pets.  Are dogs and cats in Anglo-American society mere numbers in a population graph, or are they individuals with complex lives and moral claims?  How would you, dear reader, feel if your pet were a mere number, to be culled if there are several other dogs in town?  This, in fact, occurred in northeast Canada, when Inuit dogs were indiscriminately killed in the mid-twentieth century, leaving the Inuit utterly heartbroken.

This is not to imply that wild animals are “pets” to the Native Americans; they are not.  They are hunted for food.  They are seen as having spirits that are powerful and often dangerous.  The point is that they are known to be complex, deep, individual beings, not just numbers or soulless automatons.  In this the Native people are more right than the scientists; animals may not have powerful guardian spirits, but they are certainly not automatons or mere creatures of instinct.  That view of them stems from the religious views of Descartes and his peers, who were concerned about souls, not science.  Long discredited in serious science, it remains basic to bureaucratic management.  Biologists talk of “harvesting” game, setting Indigenous peoples’ teeth on edge.

Proof that we are dealing with practical experience rather than essentialized Culture is found in eastern California.  There, ranchers who know the land and wildlife from experience find it impossible to deal with, or communicate with, biologists who know it only from books (Hedrick 2007).  Even though cows exist only to be sold for slaughter, they are not mere numbers to the ranchers; they are living beings with personalities and with needs for care.  Even though grass is merely a food for cows rather than a spirit being, the ranchers can tell if it is overgrazed or not; the biologists are clueless, and assume the worst, thus ham-handedly interfering with ranching.  So we wind up with serious disagreements among people who not only share an Anglo-American culture but in some cases actually took more or less the same general science courses in college!  Particularly ironic is that the biologists in Hedrick’s study took  the same superior, unwilling-to-listen attitude to the ranchers that Nadasdy’s bureaucrats did to the people of Yukon, though the ranchers were not only from the same culture but a good deal richer, and often better educated, than the biologists.  Status in these transactions does not depend solely on race or socioeconomic position.

            Nadasdy and many others have noted the double-bind in which indigenous people are often placed:  if they change with the times, they are no longer practicing their “traditional, authentic” culture and thus need no consideration, but if they do not change, they are “locked in blind tradition.”  Of course there was never a frozen “traditional, authentic” time.  They deserve consideration for what they have, not what they supposedly once had.  The Maya of Chunhuhub, within the time of my work there, have added several plants (such as Hawaiian noni and South American passion fruit) to their gardens, have tried out and abandoned pesticides, and have even taken to computers, but their culture and cosmovision still live.  They are getting more and more comfortable with international bioscience, abstract and rationalized as it is, but their direct knowledge, and the distinctive Maya culture built from that, go on.

            Nadasdy is contrasting an extremely traditional and land-based group with an extremely urban bureaucratic world.  The Anglo-Canadians who deal with the Kluane First Nation are often totally ignorant of the bush and are also trapped in Weberian bureaucratic rationalism.  Wildlife biologists who know nothing about wildlife except from books try to deal with people who know everything about wildlife but have hardly read a book.  Thus, though the contrast he evokes is not all-pervasive or intrinsic, it is certainly real and extreme in northwest Canada (as I can attest from my own research there).  Native peoples who have never seen a city try to deal with city bureaucrats who have never seen a moose.  The result is predictable, and chaotic.  Culture is real, and the fact that it is not necessarily destiny is easy to forget in the Yukon.  But personal experience is real too, and surely the Kluane would be much more able to deal with Hedrick’s ranchers than with biologists turned bureaucrat.

            Nadasdy is on surer ground when contrasting Native and bureaucratic views of the land as “property.”  The Athapaskan peoples were more or less nomadic.  They used the land, they managed it, they had a strong sense of it and of who belonged to what area, but of course they did not have a concept of formal title and deed, either collective or individual.  They were, however, not even remotely like the mere aimless wanderers on a vast unowned space, as the Canadian government officially held them to be (until very recently).  Since “property” and “title,” and even “rights” to land, are legal fictions rather than experience-derived knowledge, they are more amenable to Nadasdy’s cultural-idealist analysis.  Among other things, he points out (2004:233) that modern notions of “property” were developed partly in conscious opposition to the old (and mistaken) view of Native Americans as mere wanderers who owned and managed not at all.  He is, of course, referring primarily to John Locke’s famous, or infamous, line:  “In the beginning, all the world was America” (Locke 1924:140.)

This said, the contrast between ageless, culturally constructed, “spiritual” Native knowledge and rational, cut-and-dried “Western” knowledge is greatly overdrawn in much of the literature.  It has everything to do with the stereotypes of “the Indian” in romantic literature, from Locke to Chateaubriand and J. Fenimore Cooper to Walt Disney’s Pocahontas.  The Indian was sure and silent in the forest, taught by instinct and by native cunning.  His (or even “her”) knowledge was innate and mystical.  The westerner can never match the Indian’s woodcraft, but the Indian can never be rational and civilized like the westerner, and attempts to make Indians civilized end in dismal failure—Pocahontas’ archetypal death and Nadasdy’s community’s alcohol abuse.

            The problem comes not from contrasting a basically spiritual and moral view with a basically reductionist and materialist one—that is real enough in these cases—but from overdrawing the contrast.  Native knowledge is dynamic, flexible, experience-driven, and basically practical.  So is much of Western knowledge.  Native Americans construct from their local knowledge a spiritual cosmovision that has certain logical features, notably spirits of the animal and plant world.  Westerners had similar beliefs until recently, and many east California ranchers believe strongly in a Christianity that involves an intimate, personalistic relationship between God, humanity, and the land (Monica Argandona, pers. comm.; Hedrick 2007).  Perhaps many urban Westerners have become “rational” in Weber’s sense, but Westerners too have experiential and spiritual knowledge. 

Morality is constructed from experience, in all societies—indigenous or not.  Morals emerge and are negotiated within the family, the immediate peer group, and the local community—however far they may then be extended.  Westerners tend to confine morality to human persons, but do extend it at least to pets, and often to livestock and wild animals (at least “charismatic megafauna”). 

            Thus, cultural essentialization and reification fail.  Culture is not an arbitrary crust, a frozen crystalline array, or a unified, harmonious whole.  It is a lot of working knowledge, shared to varying degrees, constructed into varying levels of abstraction, and—above all—moralized.  It works from actual behavior to necessary working rules, and from there to abstract rules, covering both “is” and “ought.” 

            It is, thus, not deduced from general principles or from its big, broad covering assumptions or laws.  Quite the reverse:  the latter are induced from the daily practice.  They are, to exactly the extent that they are general and all-covering, removed from reality.  Reality tells us how to catch a fish, how to make a snare, how to ride a horse.  From this working knowledge we have to go farther and farther into speculation if we want grand generalizations.  We induce or infer these from increasingly abstracted principles.  The final claims—animals are persons, God is an angry god, science is objective—are the farthest from daily experience.  They do feed back on practice, as in the miscounted sheep, but even then the truth on the ground is more complex.  Racism and greed had much more to do with the sheep count than worldviews did.

10.  Teachings and Stories

            Northwest Coast storytellers are famous (Frey and Hymes 1998; Hymes and Seaburg 2013).  Folklore scholar Rodney Frey reports that he observed Mari Watters, Nez Perce storyteller, hear a twenty-minute dramatic Sioux presentation that was new to her, and promptly reproduce it with her own added touches (Frey 1995:152).  Experts on tales were not just any oldster; stories were associated with high status.  The Tsimshian ethnographer William Beynon—one of the greatest ethnographers of all time, but almost forgotten because he was Native—was a high chief (Halpin 1978; Roth 2008:78), and this gave him power and possession over many stories (MacDonald and Cove 1987).  An entire long book of superb stories of animals and divinities has come from notes taken by early ethnographers on the narrations of Coquelle Thompson, an Oregon Coast Athabaskan (Seaburg 2007).  Nancy Turner has compiled dozens of stories relating to plant management (2014-2:231-296).  Crisca Bierwert, story collector herself, has analyzed sensitively the problems of collecting and publishing Native traditions, and the variations, multiple versions, and sometimes downright corruptions that occur (Bierwert 1999).

            These stories get around—sometimes around the world.  Franz Boas (2006 [1895]:660) traced many elements all over North America and even to Asia.  Some, like the Flood, Swan Maiden, and Orpheus stories, are almost worldwide.  In a marvelous collection of tales from the Thompson Indians of south-central British Columbia (Hanna and Henry 1995), Annie York tells a version of the Swan Maiden myth that harmoniously blends European and Native elements of this story—known all across the Holarctic from Ireland to Canada.  It is delightful to see the ends meet this way.  (See also Snyder 1979—a study of this myth in Haida Gwaii and elsewhere, done by the great poet Gary Snyder, in his early days as an anthropology student.)

            Local stories capture truths.  A recent analysis showed that myths of a vast serpent under the earth coincide perfectly with the location of the giant east-west fault that endangers Seattle (Krajick 2005).  The local Salish had obviously observed enough earthquakes to know where to expect them, and they shared the worldwide, and thoroughly common-sense, belief that earthquakes are caused by a monster in the earth shaking himself.  (I have run into exactly the same belief in China, where people know that dramatic scarp faces are earthquake-prone locations, and hold that a dragon in the earth is responsible.  It is worth noting that the scientific explanation for earthquakes has been discovered within my lifetime.  When I was in college, the dragon was still as good an explanation as anything dominant in the geology of that era.)

            All Northwest Coast groups that have been studied report teachings about conservation and wise management.  These include cautionary tales, outright instruction, prayers, and other oral literature (see e.g. Ignace and Ignace 2017:203-210).

            Throughout the Northwest Coast, stories tell of people who were disrespectful to fish, mountain goats, and other animals, only to have these prey animals move away, leaving people to starve.  Native American ethnographers often stress these, and non-Native anthropologists have learned to recognize their importance as moral conservation teachings. 

Tsimshian ethnographer Charles Menzies repeats from the earlier Tsimshian ethnographer William Beynon a story of a salmon woman who married Raven, the creator-trickster; of course he inevitably disrespected her (his way) and she and the salmon left him to starve.  Other stories tell of disrespectful behavior toward salmon that lead to the same result (Menzies 2016:87-90). Menzies concludes:  “If respected, they will reward the harvester.  History has taught us that catching too much salmon…will result in a marked decline or total extirpation…The same history has also shown that not taking enough seems to have a similar effect [because of overspawning or disease—ENA].  Thus the oral histories provide guidelines…” (Menzies 2016:90). 

The Coos of Oregon told a story of children who caught and roasted a raccoon, laughing at its shrinking up and looking funny while roasting, all died except one who did not laugh.  This was universally known and taught to keep kids from laughing at animals (but the irrepressible Annie Miner Peterson, narrator of this story to ethnographer Melville Jacobs [1940:146-147], said she laughed anyway, and survived).  Peterson also narrated a story of a man who was pitied by the supernaturals for his poverty; he was given a strange fish for good luck; his wife made him ask for too much, and he lost the luck (Jacobs 1940:133-135).  This is a version of a story almost universally known from ancient Greece to China to America.

            The origin stories of the Northwest Coast all tell of a Transformer who traveled the world, making it what it is today.  Sometimes he is Raven, Mink or Coyote, sometimes wholly human or wholly supernatural.  Often, supernatural beings opposed him, and he changed them into what they are today.  Most widespread of these stories is that the ancestral Deer was a humanoid, found sharpening two stone knives to kill the Transformer.  The latter jammed the knives onto his forehead and made him a Deer, running off to be food for people henceforth.  More friendly was a powerful fellow transformer who made friends with the hero, and was thus given the privilege of choosing what to be; he chose to become the Nimpkish River (on Vancouver Island; versions in Barbeau 1950:150; Boas 2006 [1895]:306).  That is why this beautiful stream has all the kinds of salmon in it (or had before the logging companies massacred it—to the heartbreak of the Nimpkish people). 

            The close connection of humans and animals comes through in all the myths and tales. 

Myths, as elsewhere, convey the basic moral and personal lessons of the societies that tell them (see e.g. Atleo 2011 for an extended account of their uses in Indigenous education).  Long epics of human/nonhuman transformation and interchange are universal.  Famous examples include the bear-mother story (see e.g. Barbeau 1953:108-146) and a long, brilliant, tightly organized tale of human-salmon transformations and interactions (several versions in Barbeau 1953:338-367).  All these reinforce the general message of respeft for animals and concern for the entire living world. 

            Conservation is promoted by countless stories (Frey and Hymes 1998, esp. pp. 585-587).  Most promote it indirectly, by stressing the importance and interdependence of all plants and animals.  Thus whole books can be almost devoid of specific directions to conserve; Coquelle Thompson’s repertoire has almost nothing, for instance (Seaburg 2007).  But, given the wealth of stories in the northwest, even a small percentage adds up to a huge number of stories.  Many stories include incidental comments about saving a few animals to reproduce and maintain the population (e.g. Mandeville 2009:214).  Sometimes these few are referred to as “seeds.”

The commonest and most widespread concerns a hunter who takes too many animals, is captured by animal powers and taken into a mountain or under a lake, and instructed never to do that.  He is then released if his sins were not too great, but if he wantonly disregarded advice, he dies.  This story occurs with strikingly little variance from Alaska to the Popoluca of far southern Mexico (Foster 1945).  Related stories exist in the Old World, from Tuva (Kenin-Lopsan 1997) to the Caucasus (Tuite 1994). 

Rodney Frey (1995) gives several versions.  Since his book is about Native storytelling, not about animals or conservation, this represents a fair sampling of how important the story is.  The purest form he provides is a Wishram story, originally published by Edward Sapir and beautifully re-edited by Frey, of a man who got elk power, took too many elk, and was punished by death (Frey 1995:197-182 from Sapir 1995:283-285; it is the source of the quotes above on pride and taking too much). 

A happier outcome is found among the Thompson:  the hunter listens to advice.  A hunter of mountain goats was taken in by them in their humanoid form.  (The reasons they took him in are unclear in this version, but in other versions the hunter has helped a goat, or other animal, and been respectful to it, and is rewarded.)  He learned their ways, marrying and having a son in the process.  He returned to teach his people to respect them:  “When you kill goats, treat their bodies respectfully, for they are people.  Do not shoot the female goats, for they are your wives and will bear your children.  Do not kill kids, for they may be your offspring.  Only shoot your brothers-in-law, the male goats.  Do not be sorry when you kill them, for they do not die but return home.  The flesh and skin (the goat part) remain in your possession; but their real selves (the human part) lives just as before, when it was covered with goat’s flesh and skin.”  (Teit 1912:262, quoted Lévi-Strauss 1995:70).  Claude Lévi-Strauss has discussed this myth at length in another context, showing its relationship to other myths of kinship to the animal people. 

            A story from the Klickitat (southern Washington): 

“Coyote would go about hunting;

            he would shoot and kill all sorts of things.

And now then he shot and killed a deer.

Then he butchered it.

There were two young ones in its belly.

He threw them away and left them there,

            at that place there.

The two young deer lay there.

And rain and snow came upon them.

And the Deer who he had killed felt very badly at heart about them.

Then after that Coyote went all over

            and shot and killed nothing.”

For the obvious reason.  He is instructed to sweat in the sweat lodge five times (the Klickitat sacred number) and then never do such a thing again.  He leaves this instruction for human beings, who are soon to come into the world:

“’All right then….

And this is the way the people will do whenever they shoot

            and kill game.

They will carry all of it back home.

Nothing will they throw away.

Alnd always will they sweat for the purpose of the hunt….”

(Joe Hunt, collected and translated by Melville Jacobs in the 1920s, ed. and publ. Frey 1995:49-52)

            Wasting anything killed gets punishment:  no more game.  Note that the slain deer survives in spirit form and is able to bring this about.   Killing a pregnant doe is already bad, and made much worse by the lack of respect shown to the fawns.

            Even relatively useless animals must be treated with respect.  The Haida have a story of people who tortured frogs by burning them, the result being that the frogs burned their village (see e.g. Boas 2006 [1895]:608).

            And even Coyote himself.  He was vital to creation, he made the world what it is, but he was always a zany, greedy, irresponsible, delightfully silly rogue.  The idea of the Creator as a wild, wise, poetic fool not only makes beautiful poetry, it solves the “problem of evil”; evil was created by mistake and by foolishness.  Raven, along the coyote-less northern coast, has a similar role, but is smarter, greedier, and rather more sinister.  Still, he attracts the same mix of respect and scorn.

            One of the finest Coyote narrations ever recorded is Lawrence Aripa’s telling of the Coeur d’Alene story of “Coyote and the Green Spot” (Frey 2001:134-144).  It was originally told in English, allowing us to share the wonderful style that is otherwise inevitably lost in translation.  In it, Coyote’s long-suffering wife Mole reflects:
“This worthless Coyote,

            he’s no good,

                        he’s mischievous,

                                    he does things that are bad…

                                                But he’s a Coyote….

                                                            and we have to have Coyotes on this earth.”

She reflects on this several times as she revives him from the dead—her role in many a Coyote tale. Coyote’s tricks always fail, he always gets killed in the end, but he is always revived—because, as she says, “Well we do need a Coyote.”  He promises to reform when he revives, but of course is soon back to his tricks, and Aripa ends the story:

“But he is still the Coyote,

            and he will always remain the Coyote.”

And we are fortunate in that.

            This sense that all beings are necessary to the world, no matter how inconsequential or annoying they seem, is absolutely basic to Native North American religion, and has been underemphasized in the past.  We need it now.

            A sad indication of how much of the teaching is lost comes from a Salishan tale of a man who went off to join the seals.  (This story reminds us of the were-seal legends of Scotland and Ireland; as so often, Celtic and Northwest Coast thinking run parallel.)  Franz Boas recorded this story in the 1890s (Boas 2006:221-224), but without a moral, leaving it merely a story of a man who unaccountably went off to become a seal.  Around a hundred years later, Honoré Watanabe recorded a version from Sliammon narrator Mary George.  In George’s version, the man is actively captured or persuaded away by the seal folk, and becomes an ancestor of the Sliammon.  She added a long moral (extracted here):

“You always see seals.

            If you see them, you appreciate them.

            Talk nicely to them….

They are a part of us.

That’s why we really respect seals today…..

            Seals are our people.”  (George and Watanabe 2008:128-129.)

A related story was told by Annie Miner Peterson of the Coos (Jacobs 1940:149-150), and a long and complex seal narrative filled with ideals of respect for animals was recorded from Sauk-Suiattle Salish elder Martha Lamont (Bierwert 1996:230-309).  Presumably most other early collectors failed to hear or record morals in cases like this.  We are deprived of many applications that we now need to know.

            Sometimes conservation is stressed indirectly.  The Kutenai culture hero Yaukekam (I am simplifying the spelling) had to get the components of arrows from their animal keepers.  Ducks had the feathers, and he gave them the power to grow a new crop of beautiful feathers every year, freeing up the old ones for fletching, during the annual moult.  (Ducks do not make the greatest arrow feathers, but I assume geese are included here.) 

            These conservation stories were often dramatized in the spectacular winter dance ceremonies.  In 2010 I was privileged (greatly) to see the ?Atla’gimma dance-drama, a forest spirit ceremony owned by four Kwakwaka’wakw families from the Rivers Inlet area.  It was performed at the 33rd annual conference of the Society of Ethnobiology, by kind courtesy of Kwaxsistalla (Adam Dick) and his family.  It is a spectacular performance, involving some twenty dancers masked and costumed as fantastical spirit-beings of the forest.  The story is the standard one known from the Arctic to the Maya of Quintana Roo, Mexico, where my friend Don Jacinto told it to me from his own experience:  a young man goes hunting, takes more than he needs, and is caught by the spirits and warned never to do that again.  The spirits instruct him in how to act properly and respectfully toward the forest and its living beings.  A number of minor points of ecology appear incidentally; a young tree growing from a stump (a universal sight in the Northwest Coast) shows continuity and rebirth.  The full performance is long and extremely dramatic, and is accompanied by many long speeches that thank, bless, and instruct all those present. 

            Plants too can be over-collected.  From Columbia River people comes a story of a mouse who stole too many roots, which loaded her down so much she drowned crossing a creek; mice have been thieves since (Ackerman 1996:21-22).

            In the mid-19th century, Chief Seattle (Sealth, Siatl) gave a famous speech defending his people’s land and land rights.  This speech was, unfortunately, heavily “edited” by a Baptist group in the 20th century; much of the militant defense of land was taken out, and some syrupy Christian-sounding rhetoric substituted.  Alas, the syrupy additions tend to be the parts most often quoted.  This has given rise to a myth that the speech is purely fraudulent.  This is not the case; Seattle’s famous and passionate defense of Indian rights and of the hunting-gathering way of life against White theft and ruin was real.  However, no full version of it appeared for about 30 years, so the one that finally emerged is rather suspect.  Yet, shorn of the purple English added in late versions, it rings true to the general spirit of northwestern American rhetoric of the time.  The whole story has been told by Albert Furtwangler (1997), and by Rudolf Kaiser (1987), who salvaged what can be found of the original.

11. The Visual Art

            In this section I will confine myself to the coast from northwest Washington to Alaska.  The interior and southerly groups have their own art forms.  These are not only very different from the classic “Northwest Coast” art; they are also less directly concerned with animals and the spirit world.  They are usually geometric and ornamental, rather than visual statements of a whole philosophy.  (On Northwest Coast art, see esp. the superb and encyclopedic collection Native Art of the Northwest Coast, edited by Charlotte Townsend-Gault et al.; for the interior, Ackerman 1996.)

This contrasts with ideology and verbal art, where the commonalities overwhelmingly outweigh the differences.    The obvious practical reason for the difference is the more stable, settled life on the coast and the consequent greater opportunity to amass whole arrays of tools as well as gigantic works of art.  The Plateau tribes and the Oregon and California coastal ones had large permanent houses and sophisticated tool arrays.  However, there is more to it than that.  There are clearly some aesthetic and philosophical differences that so far defy analysis but that have an important effect.

It was briefly thought in the early 20th century that the spectacular art of the Northwest was largely a post-contact phenomenon, but archaeology has found plenty of examples of fine art going back more than 2000 years (Duff 1975).  The climate is not kind to wood or even to soft stone, so little remains except hard-stone work.  However, that is revealing.  Also, we can compare the ancient ivories from Alaska (Wardwell 1986), dating back as far as 2000 years, which reflect a style rather close to Northwest Coast art—considerably closer to it than are contemporary Yupik and Inupiak art.  (Compare the plates in Wardwell 1986:71-91 with the stonework in Duff 1975 and with the earliest historic northern Northwest Coast art.)  The sheer volume of art certainly increased after contact, but the style and content were developed before.

            Sheer aesthetic wonder at the bounty of fish and other resources must lie behind the Northwest Coast attitude to nature and art (as noted by Lam and Gonzalez-Plaza 2007).  It is, however, not the major drive.  The main focus is on spirits, and the unity of cosmos and local community that exists on the spiritual level and that is maintained by spiritual exchanges, gifts, and actions. 

            The highest purpose of this art is to display kinship affiliations and stories and associated hereditary privileges within the kinship groups.  Dance costumes including huge masks, blankets, frontlets, and other goods are for displaying in ritual dances—usually kingroup-owned—at potlatches and cemeteries. 

            “Totem poles” have nothing to do with totemism; they display important events in the ancestry of the chiefly descent group that set them up.  The great ones are usually house poles; smaller ones are memorial poles, so similar to gravestones in concept that many groups have switched to the latter without changing the associated ceremonies.  Still others are for art’s sake, or for museums, or parks.  Whatever the purpose, the poles always commemorate the chiefly ancestry of the carvers or their people (see Garfield and Forrest 1961; Halpin 1981b). 

            Aesthetic power shows spiritual power.  An artist whose work has a powerful emotional effect on the viewer has received power from the appropriate spirit.  The Haida have a Master Carpenter (or Carver) as one of their most important supernaturals.  The evocative quality of the art is greatly enhanced for its intended audience by the social connections, family histories, and personal connections. 

            Indigenous lawyer and leader Douglas White, with his sister, visited the American Museum of Natural History.  They came upon a screen that had belonged to their Nuu-chah-nulth great-grandfather.  “ My sister and I were stunned and deeply moved.  After standing in front of the screen for five minutes…we realized we had to do something.  I told my sister that we should go back to the screen, and I would sing one of our family’s potlatch songs, and she should dance.”  Which they did, “for a full five minutes—tears streaming down our faces at the emotional and spiritual impact of an unexpected reconnection with such a critical part of our family’s existence…. No one disturbed us, not even the security guard, who came close but did not intervene…my sister and I were transformed that day by the experience of singing and dancing in front of our screen” (White 2013:642). 

            Thus, gifts of carved, painted, or woven art works are the highest of gifts, and are appropriate prestations to new title-holders at the most important events.  The best Northwest Coast art still usually stays in this highly-charged, emotional world, and rarely gets out to the museums, at least until everyone has seen it and viewed it appropriately.  Exceptions occur when a museum or public body can directly commission a work of art for an appropriate public ceremonial purpose.  It is within this personal universe that craftsmanship becomes both a social and a spiritual thing.  “As the late Haida artist Bill Reid never tired of pointing out, the highest morality is craftsmanship.  One can give nothing more precious of oneself than something well-designed and well-crafted” (Bill Reid, personal communication to Richard Daly, in Daly 2005:45; Reid said more or less the same to the present author).  This obviously takes art far beyond the decorative (or merely shocking or titillating) function(s) it serves in the modern western world.  Northwest Coast art is much more comparable to art in Europe in the medieval age of cathedrals and altarpieces.

            It therefore makes sense that carving was considered a powerful spiritual gift—from the Master Carver himself, in Haida thinking—and that many carvers were of high rank.  Tsimshian artmakers were gitsontk, “people of the hidden studios”—they were highly respected people who worked in chambers or studios taboo to ordinary people and used for formal meetings as well as art (Garfield 1939; Halpin 1981a:274).  This sense that artists are specially gifted, and the corollary that high-born persons are drawn to that trade, is very much alive today.  Studios are still power places for many, all up and down the coast.

            Totem poles and other outdoor art weather away quickly in the Northwest, even if made of cedar.  (They almost always are, because it is easy to work but relatively slow to weather away.)  This disappearance is regretted, but seen as the natural process.  New poles are carved at need.  Again one recalls medieval European attitudes toward art:  wooden sculptures in the open, or days of work on exquisite detail far up in the church roof where no human eyes would ever see it.  The art was for audiences more than human.

            Daly (2005:68) notes:  “The art-appreciating public….forgets that its perceptions are informed by its own literate, written-down tradition….  This public does not see past the rotting artifact to a culture alive and confident of its roots and its pedigree.”  He is thus not in favor of specially preserving the poles.  The public could answer that culture is all very well, but there is also all humanity to consider.  The species at large may have some moral claim on a truly beautiful object made for public display, and this is a moral claim recognized by all nations today (via UNESCO among other vehicles).  Today the rule is still for the best poles to be in the open, to pass away with time, but also to carve replica poles for museums, if so desired.

            Body, house, and cosmos are often equated.  For the Puget Sound Salish, a house is a kneeling body, the house front being the face (Miller 1999:36).  The hearth in the house could be the sun, the ridgepole a backbone, river, and Milky Way all at once, and the four main supporting posts then become human limbs as well as the pillars that hold up the sky.  Canoes were similarly represented.  “In consequence, curing, bailing, and cleaning were all reflexes of a renewal of the world” (Miller 1999:36).

The Tsimshian, and Haida (Duff 1981:215), however, saw the house front as the whole front-facing side of an animal sitting on its haunches, with the result that the door is often the entrance to the womb.  One housefront represented a female bear.  The humans entered and exited through its vagina, thus either being born or returning to the womb whenever they passed.  There is even a small face above the door where a clitoris should be.

(Jonaitis 1981, 1986, 1988, 1991, 1999, 2008)  MacDonald (1983) Vancouver Art Gallery (2006)

            Ronald Hawker (2003) has chronicled the “dark ages” of coast art, from 1921 to 1961.  The first date was that of the arrest of dozens of people and the confiscation of potlatch goods, including fine art objects, at the Cranmer potlatch.  This marked the beginning of really condign and general enforcement of the anti-potlatch law, previously rather less than seriously enforced in remote areas.  The second date is, of course, the granting of citizen rights (including freedom of religion and thus of ceremonies) on the Canadian side.  Hawker points out that art survived, but he has to admit it was down to a slender thread //n//.  //Footnote/ Hawken (2003, esp. p. 8) has some rather unfortunate  things to say about those who speak of a “renaissance” after 1961.  He was evidently not on the coast before 1961.  If I may be permitted a bit of reminiscence, it was indeed possible, though difficult, to find good art then—but it was considered “mere craft” and a fine carving or basket would cost $10 or $20.  Fine large pieces were virtually impossible to find.  Having watched from a distance and later studied close-hand the renaissance, from 1960 through the 1980s, and interviewed many of the participants, I can testify that there was a quite incredible explosion of quantity and quality—and of price, as people of all “races” came to appreciate the work.  Sordid lucre may be the worst way to evaluate such things, but it does give some measure of how much people care.// 

Few artists continued.  Charlie James in Alert Bay continued to carve “Kwakiutl” poles, with some government and business patronage, and taught his stepson Mungo Martin.  The latter, who organized that first potlatch at the British Columbia Museum, was a genuinely great artist by any standards, European or Native.  He was also a fine and patient teacher of art, culture, and ceremony.  (My introduction to Northwest Coast art in its native home was watching him carve at the Royal British Columbia Museum in 1960.)  He taught a whole new generation, including the art historian Bill Holm, long curator at the Burke Museum at the University of Washington.  Holm’s classic analysis of Northwest Coast art as serious art rather than craft (Holm 1965) was the opening fire of the revolution in publc appraisal of and attention of the art.  It remains a standard textbook, found in countless art studios throughout the coast.  Holm, a highly capable artist himself, also knew the other traditional forms. He was, for a while, the only person to know several classic Kwakwaka’wakw dances, and generously taught many young First Nations people.  For this he eventually received a Kwakwala name.  

Meanwhile, art revived among the more northern tribes.  Of course the Tlingit and Alaskan Haida benefited from the fact that potlatches and ceremonies had never been banned in Alaska (thanks to the First Amendment), though the missionaries tried their hardest to discourage them.  So art had not shrunk so much there. 

In any case, a huge explosion of art followed from legalization of the potlatch, local White interest, and patronage by the University of British Columbia as well as the two museums and their local urban counterparts.  Bill Reid became a leader of the Haida art renaissance, along with Robert Davidson and several others.  Like Martin, Reid and Davidson went far beyond mere copying of old forms, and were genuinely great creative artists by any standards.  Reid was also an excellent writer and speaker (De Menil and Reid 1971; Reid 2000); he had a career in radio before turning to art.  Reid’s dialogue on classic art pieces with Bill Holm (Holm and Reid 1975) was a landmark in understanding the art as form and message.

Another pioneer of the renaissance was Wilson Duff, longtime curator of art at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, later professor at the University of British Columbia.  He analyzed the art in depth and with sensitivity and theoretical interest, trying to understand the mindsets behind it.  His work was cut short by early and tragic death, but stimulated serious thought as well as public interest (Abbott1981; Duff 1975, 1981, 1996). 

Wilson Duff, Bill Holm and Bill Reid (1967) worked together on the famous “Legacy” exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery (Vancouver’s city art museum, not a private gallery).  The combination of anthropological theorist, structural analyst, and leading artist was perfect.  A major stated purpose of this exhibit was to get Native art taken seriously as fine art, rather than dismissed as “craft” and consigned to museums of natural history.  At this the show succeeded brilliantly.  Native art prices shot out of sight, and many a career was launched.  Also, the show more or less explicitly gave Native people the right to explore, expand on, and develop their traditions any way they saw fit, without being attacked for “unauthenticity” whenever they got beyond the pre-1921 forms.  We now have Native video, glassmaking art, mixed media, everything, and the art keeps getting better all the time—but this is beyond my subject matter here. 

A later Legacy show organized by Peter MacNair (MacNair et al. 1984) highlighted new creations since the 1960s revival.  The catalogue contains particularly fine photos and biographies.  Great art continues, increasing every day, as more and more of the younger generation find emotional satisfaction as well as economic prospects in the art.  The spiritual knowledge that drives it remains active and vibrant.  It has reacted to Christianity and secular modernity, but those settler intrusions have strengthened the old concepts as often as they have weakened them.  (This point derives largely from my own field work and interviews, but see e.g. G. Wyatt 1994, 1999.)

The art is highly relevant to environmental ideology and practice.  Above all, it encodes the spirit beliefs recorded above, putting them in dramatic visual form for all to see.  (Among major collections, see e.g. Musée de l’Homme Paris 1970;  MAYBE THIS IN FN?)  Stonework was particularly difficult to make under aboriginal conditions, and thus particularly revealing, and it preserves for thousands of years, allowing us to see that Northwest Coast art developed slowly and steadily.  A thorough collection of stone art, with all too brief introduction (the author died about the time the book was published), was provided by Wilson Duff (1975). 

Masks are particularly important, because anyone wearing and dancing with a mask becomes the being or animal portrayed, or at least is inspired by its spirit.  In the spectacular performances of the central and northern coast, huge masks were created, many of which could be changed during performances by strings attached to moving parts.  Raven could open and close his beak, cranes could flap their wings, supernaturals could open and close their eyes.  Among the Tsimshian, fast shifting of masks was also practiced; men could shift from male to female and back by shifting masks, often along with women doing the same (Halpin 1981a).  This partially explains one of the most striking works of Northwest Coast art: a set of two neatly-fitting masks carved in hard stone by an unknown Tsimshian artist in the mid-19th century (one was collected in 1879; Duff 1975:164).  Apparently, metal tools were used.  The inner mask has eyes wide open, with an alert look; the outer mask has its eyes closed and appears peaceful and at rest.  Duff (1975) and Marjorie Halpin (1981a) analyzed this pair, noting that they could be changed rapidly.  In the flickering firelight of a winter ceremony, it would seem that a stone-headed being was opening and closing his eyes.  Open eyes stand for alertness and perception.  Halpin quotes a Tsimshian writer in 1863 describing relgious conversion as having his eyes bored (Halpin 1981a:286).  Tsimshian masks and other visual privileges are naxnox (see above), and often accompany societies of initiated persons of noble lineages, such as the Dog Eaters and Cannibals. 

The Kwakwaka’wakw also have hereditary mask privileges that go with secret societies, including a supposedly cannibal society whose members can theoretically take bites out of people (but in practice usually or always fake it).  The most famous cluster of initiate-related masks and dances concerns the monstrous man-eating birds known as the Hohokw, the Baqbaqwalanukhsiwe, the Crooked Beak of Heaven, and others.  Masks of these beings are so large that only a very muscular person can dance with them; they can weigh 30 kg.  Other classic masks include Moon, Sun, wolf, raven in various incarnations, bukwus (Wild Man of the Woods), nułmał (a sinister “fool,” an ominous clown), grizzly bear, sea creatures, and many more.  Many of these are significantly ambigous figures, like the terrifying but helpful monster-birds and the humorous but dangerous nułmał.  The mix of danger with humor or help is an expression of strong spirit power, and the three together make up a basic underpinning of Kwakwaka’wakw philosophy, an armature on which to base ontological and moral thinking.

12.  Conclusions

            NancyTurner, leading authority on human ecology on the Northwest Coast, has compiled a list of lessons she wants the world to learn.  She advocates “connecting with communities and places,” celebrating generations and elders, recognizing relationships, being grateful and responsible while maintaining accountability, “valuing and supporting diversity,” using different teaching styles, and using all these to re-create healthy, sustainably managed ecosystems (Turner 2014-2:403, 404, 405-411). 

            More specific recommendations and more radical views come from the Indigenous authors already cited. 

Appendix 1.  A Note on Languages

            The Northwest Coast is famous, or infamous, for the variety and difficulty of its languages.  Many, especially in the core area from Washington to southern Alaska, are full of guttural sounds and have a huge range of phonemes.  They actually sound better than they look on paper.  The off-putting symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet make transcriptions look positively unearthly, but the reality is usually a fair-spoken and pleasant-sounding tongue.  Oratory and rhetoric were, and sometimes still are, developed as truly great arts.  I have been moved to tears by Nuu-chah-nulth speeches even though I could get almost none of the words.

Taking the whole stretch from Alaska to northern California, we have the following:

Eskimo-Aleut:  Unrelated to any other languages, and to each other only about as closely as English and Greek.  Several “Eskimo” languages exist in Alaska, including Inuvialut, Yupik, and Chugach; they are about as close as the Romance languages.  Yupik is spoken on both sides of Bering Strait. 

            Na-Dene (pronounced “nah-daynay”):  A vast, continguous sweep of languages, centering on and originating from south-central Alaska.  The “Na” branch includes only one language, Tlingit; “na” is their word for “people” (presumably cognate with the “ne” of “Dene,” which is in fact pronounced “dena” in several areas).  The Dene branch includes the Athapaskan languages, among which some variant of “Dene” means “people.”  Most of the Athapaskans are interior peoples in the frigid spruce forests of Alaska and western Canada, but small groups split off early and drifted as far as southern Washington, coastal Oregon, and northwestern California.  The Navaho and Apache of the Southwest are also Athapaskan, but they came down from Canada much later, possibly while the Spanish were invading from the other end of the continent.  I have met British Columbia Athapaskans who had encountered Navaho at intertribal meetings and could actually talk with them, more than trivially, in their respective Athapaskan languages. 

Na-Dene is probably distantly related to the Ket language of Siberia (Edward Vajda, mss.)—the only other cross-Bering relationship among American languages.  (The occasionally-alleged link of Athapaskan with Chinese is spurious.)

The Na-Dene have the distinction of being powerfully matrilineal, and indeed are one of the biggest chunks of matrilineal people on earth.  So are all their neighbors in northwest British Columbia; one wonders who influenced whom.

            Haida:  A very old linguistic isolate, apparently on the islands of Haida Gwaii since they were first settled over 10,000 years ago.  Possibly distantly related to Na-Dene, but on bad evidence.  Swanton collected a word list of words similar in Haida and Tlingit, but most are obviously recent loans, and the rest could be due to chance.  Some linguists claim they have better evidence, but if they have adequately published it, I cannot find it.  The languages are very different.  I have some experience with Haida and have examined Swanton’s list; I find the linkage unconvincing. 

            Tsimshian:  Three closely related languages spoken in the lower Skeena and Nass River areas.  Possibly distantly related to the Penutian languages farther south (q.v.).

            Wakashan:  The Heiltsuk, Haisla, and Kwakala languages, which form a tight group (Northern Wakashan), and the slightly more distant Nootkan languages: Nuu-chah-nulth of west Vancouver Island, and the Nitinat-Makah language of southern Vancouver Island and neighboring northwest Washington.  “The Haisla are said to have spoken a Tsimshianic language until some date in the late-precontact period” (Roth 2008:17).

            Salishan:  A vast variety of highly diverse langauges, stretching from central British Columbia inland to western Montana and south to northwest Oregon.  They have the dubious distinction of being the most guttural, glottal-stopped, and consonant-dominated languages in the world, making them difficult for an outsider to learn.  Still, many non-native-speakers have done it.

            Chemakuan:  A tiny language isolate with only two languages:  Chemakum (extinct) and Quileute (dying fast, unfortunately).

            Algonkian:   the great family that dominates the northeastern continent; it extends west to extreme eastern British Columbia (Cree) and to northwestern California.  The relevant languages of the latter area are so distinct it is often separated as a coordinate branch, Ritwan, of a wider grouping (Algonkian-Ritwan).  Kutenai  (spoken at the BC-Idaho-Montana tripoint) may be related; if so, the relationship is distant indeed.

            Penutian:  This family includes the Sahaptin languages of central Washington and neighboring Oregon; and most of the languages of central Oregon and central California, as far south as the Tehachapi.  These languages are far apart.  The most geographically separate are as linguistically different as English is from Armenian or Hittite—so the relationships are tenuous.  The Tsimshian family is even more distant, and its alleged relationship to Penutian requires restudy.  Interestingly, the Mayan language family of Mexico and Guatemala is probably related to Penutian.  Edward Sapir first proposed this; Cecil Brown and I have collected a good deal of supporting evidence, but can’t quite clinch the case, due to lamentable loss of the languages in California, making comparative material wholly inadequate.

            Karok and Shastan:  Northwest Californian outliers of the “Hokan phylum,” so ancient and diverse that many linguists question its existence.  If it is real, these languages have relations all over California and Baja California.

            Yukian:  A tiny family with only three or four languages, all extinct, that once flourished in northwestern California.  It may be distantly related to the isolated languages of south Louisiana (Greenberg 1987) but no one has proved this.

            So we have eleven or more totally distinct groupings, as different from each other as English is from any one of them—or from Bantu or Arabic.  This makes the Northwest Coast and California one of the most diverse areas on earth, linguistically.  Joseph Greenberg (1987) grouped all these except Eskimo-Aleut and Na-Dene into one great Amerindian phylum, which would also include the other languages of the Americas, but he did not live to prove its reality and no one now accepts it on faith.  Conversely, Joanna Nichols (   ) finds these languages so different that she believes they must represent different migrations from Siberia—there has not been enough time for them to differentiate in the Americas!  With America now thought to have been settled at least 15,000 years ago, there is actually time.  But the languages certainly are different. 

            Experience has taught me to question any link that is not well established.  There are Russian linguists who postulate a vast “Nostratic” superphylum including all the major languages of the northern Old World, and there are even linguists who postulate a single “Proto-World” language.  I find the evidence for Nostratic (the most modest, limited form of it) very slightly convincing, but Proto-World strikes me as well within the realm of fantasy, along with extraterrestrial contacts.  That said, I do not know any Northwest Coast languages, so I cannot speak with authority on issues concerning them.  I have looked extensively through materials—mainly collections of texts—in all the languages, however, so at least I know something of the words and sounds.

            Since the Americas were probably settled from the Northwest, we would expect to find maximal linguistic diversity there, and to find the great language phyla stretching out from there, getting less diverse as they go.  This, indeed, we often do find.  Na-Dene, Algonkian, and Penutian are most diverse in the Northwest and get less so as one moves away from it.  Salishan is most diverse along the coast (Nuxalk being the most distinctive), less so inland.

            In the old days, most adults had enough contact with other languages to learn at least one other, and some people knew several—especially at places like the mouth of the Columbia, where many small groups existed and traded widely.  I have heard at least semi-believable stories of areas where people had no idea of “a native language”—everyone spoke at least two from birth!  One such that I know from some experience was the Port Alberni area of Vancouver Island, where Nuu-chah-nulth were moving in on Salish territory when the white settlers came.  Most people seems to have known both languages.

Appendix 2.  The Old Northern Worldview

The Northwest Coast worldviews are special instantiations of a more general worldview that I refer to as “Old Northern” (Anderson 2014).  This general type of ontology probably had no single place of origin; it developed through constant feedback, over thousands of years, between the many societies that share it.  Thanks to continued contact, migration, and information flow around the circumpolar land masses, it has remained rather uniform (at least in some aspects).  A steady diffusion of beliefs and practices has tended to homogenize beliefs about subsistence and environment.  I am not claiming some sort of deep spiritual identity; I am claiming only a broad similarity, created (at least in part) through cultural transmission, of ontology and of environmental management ideas.

It sees humans and animals, and often plants, mountains, and streams, as spiritual beings, linked by spirit contacts and interactions.  It is an instantiation of the “animistic” type of ontology as defined by Philippe Descola (2013).   This is a hunters’ world (Descola 2013), and humans depend on animals; they must show respect, care for the animals’ souls, hunt carefully, and communicate with animals via rituals and visions. 

The Old Northern worldview, as I see it, was shared across the Old World and New World arctic and subarctic zones, and down throughout the hunting-gathering societies of North America and the hunters and pastoralists of northeast Asia and high central Asia.  It seems to become progressively diluted as it enters agricultural societies.  It slowly erodes with the coming of cities, mass trade, and industrial production.  It eventually disappears as an identifiable worldview, but survives in such things as the nature consciousness of the Celtic peoples, the animistic beliefs about tree spirits in Chinese folk culture, and the survival of beliefs in animal companion spirits (naguales) in modern Mexico.  It thus has no definable boundaries in space or time; it is a fuzzy set.

South America’s indigenous cultures often show Old Northern origin or influence, but they vary greatly (see above; also Balee 1994; Lentz 2000; and Sullivan’s great synthesis of South American native religions, 1989).  Some have something close to the North American sense of interpenetration with the natural (Reed 1995, 1997; Reichel-Dolmatoff 1968, 1971, 1976, 1996; Sullivan 1989; Ventocilla et al. 1995).  One group, for instance, believes that humans are reborn as peccaries and vice versa, leading to an alternation of generations.  The peccary you kill is your relative sacrificing himself, or herself, to feed you (Blaser 2009; Descola 2013).  This clearly resonates with Old Northern reincarnation concepts.

Of major concern to our purposes here is the universal conservation ideology of the Old Northern view, especially in regard to animals.  Major gods or goddesses protect them:  Artemis/Diana in Europe, Cybele in Asia Minor, Prajapati in India, and spirits of each animal species in much of the New World.  Trees, or at least some of them, are sacred everywhere, and one must ask permission for taking bark or wood, and must be respectful of them.  Water is widely regarded as sacred, and rules against polluting it are correspondingly widespread among cultures that have some shortage of it, especially in Siberia and Mongolia (see my posting “Water” on my website,  Mountains are sacred (at least some of them), and often the sacred mountains are taboo for hunting and getting resources, or at least are taboo for all but the lowest-impact uses. 

As we have seen in the main text of this book, this was a hunters’ world, in which human and other-than-human persons are intertwined and can change into one another.  Healers and religious officiants can go into trance, visit the spirit lands, and find out how to deal with human problems ranging from sickness to bad hunting luck.  Typically, the underworld, this world, and the upper world are linked by a sacred tree.  This became the ash Yggdrasil in Scandinavia, the birch in the northern Uralic cultures, and so on, and has gone as far as Yucatan, where the Maya still revere the ceiba as the world-pole tree.  The world tree is known beyond the Old Northern area, and may be almost humanity-wide (Cook 1974).

The spectacular cave art of Europe, which goes back some 35,000 years (Clottes 2008), implies reasonably strongly that this world-view existed at that time.  Beautifully drawn animals, with human-animal hybrid figures, were drawn in remote, dark caves (not in the inhabited, lit caves beloved of cartoonists). 

Some aspects of the Old Northern view may be survivals of the original worldview of humans from our earliest origins.  Joseph Campbell traced many similarities between the most remote and distinctive surviving humans, the San of South Africa, and hunter-gatherers elsewhere.  He inferred a basic worldview, the “way of the animal powers” (Campbell 1983).  Most scholars would probably caution that he overstated the case, but he appears to have had a case, especially as evidence accumulates that most of the world’s languages are related and that all existing humans are genetically close enough to be cousins.  Modern humans originated in northeast Africa a mere 150,000 years or so ago, and probably did not get far from home until less than 100,000 years ago.  They have been in Australia for 50-60,000 years, in Europe 40,000 years, in northeast Siberia a mere 20,000 or less, in the Americas somewhat over 15,000.  In more recent millennia, there has been constant migration, exchange, and mutual learning, leading to such widespread homologies as the animal-soul beliefs of the Old Northern system.

Campbell points not only to animal spirits but to trance-healing, pictograph art showing animals, the ritual power of song and dance, and the belief in a skyworld for spirits and an underworld for the dead, as well as the mythic importance of hunters (cf. Fontenrose 1981) and their association with transformers. 

Campbell based some of his thinking on Carl Jung’s concept of archetypes—symbols that appear over and over in myth, and clearly have some resonance with the human mind.  Animals, the world-tree, waterfalls, snakes, and sacred mountains occur in religious symbolism everywhere (as of course do images of mother, father, and child), and qualify as archetypes.  Unfortunately, Jung’s concept is too vague and general for my purposes here.  These images may be, in part, genetically imprinted on us; all primates are scared of snakes.  They may be derived from a common source (if Campbell’s animal-powers religion has any reality).  They are most certainly subject to independent invention everywhere humans have gone.  Nobody could miss the centrality of parent-child bonds, the salience of mountains, the awesome power of water rushing over a waterfall, or the lifesaving value of water welling up in a spring.  Thus we cannot say much about what “archetypes” really are, or were.

Belief in, and reverence for, the spirits and deities in all things is more or less what E. B. Tylor (1871) caled “animism.”  Tylor viewed it as “primitive,” which led to the term “animism” being shunned for a while, but it is now being rehabilitated by scholars who realize it is not some sort of primitive holdover.  It is as developed and sophisticated a religious view as any other (Descola 2013; Harvey 2006; Hunn 1990).  Animism is based on the tendency to assign spirits or personhood to living things, or sometimes to everything.  Chinese folktales assign wilful, agentive spirits of rags, discarded bits of paper, and old roof tiles. 

Humans in animism are clearly different from animals and other nonhuman beings.  Each can transform into the other, under some conditions, but the very fact that this is a subject for myth shows that it is not expected to be routine.  Similarly, culture is different from nature.  Claude Lévi-Strauss (1962, 1963, 1964-1971) was right: most groups (but perhaps not all) seem to make a distinction between culture and nature.  Every human group known to me has a belief in “natural humans” like Bigfoot—hairy “savages” (Latin homo sylvaticus “forest person”), people in their “natural state,” lacking culture. 

One widespread idea within the Old Northern cluster is a belief in the Master (or Mistress) of Animals.  Others include the universality of animal souls, the full personhood of animals, the need to respect them, the idea that they sacrifice themselves to the hunter, many ideas of “power animals” and plants and places, and other details (Hayden 2013).  Such beliefs are lacking in the southern hemisphere, except where Native Americans have carried them to South America over time.  They are vestigial in the warmer parts of the Old World.  Of course, not everyone shares all these beliefs.  Paul Radin (1927 , 1957) early documented the striking range of difference in belief that existed within one small Native American group. Indeed, Brian Hayden notes that, in traditional hunter societies, typically 10-20% of individuals do not believe in spirits at all (Hayden 2013:495; cf. Hayden 2003).  Every society has its nonbelievers. I thus treat here of widely, but not universally, shared ideas.

The Old Northern complex is associated with shamanism, but many of the relevant groups have ancestor cults and other religious manifestations outside of the shamanistic system.  True shamanism is characterized by rather specific ideas of the cosmos.  The shaman goes into trance and goes through a long dark passage, or climbs the world tree, or otherwise takes a long and arduous “shamanic journey” to reach the lands of spirits above or below.  (The best account I have seen is in Caroline Humphrey’s superb book Shamans and Elders, 1996, written with the Mongol shaman Urgunge Onon.  Eliade’s classic Shamanism, 1965, is seriously dated, though still useful for an overview.)  Aids to trance such as flashing lights, hypnotic drumming, dancing, and hyperventilation are used.  The shaman is an individual performer, but socially recognized, and shamans may share secrets quite widely, so there is something like an organized religion here in spite of the lack of a “church.”  In fact, today, Siberian shamanism is well organized and becoming a major religion.

This sort of shamanism is confined to the Tungus and their neighbors, especially the Mongols, eastern Turkic peoples, and the peoples of central Siberia.  It grades into the “Tengrism” (worship of Heaven, Mongol tengri) in Mongol and Turkic cultures and in early China (where Heaven was tian, a possibly related word).  In these societies Heaven was an abstract, non-humanoid high God. 

Within the Old Northern universe are many religions similar to shamanism.  Very similar views extend widely in east Asia, subarctic Eurasia and Native North America, but they are different from true shamanism.  Particularly in northern Siberia and interior North America, they are more ad hoc, less formalized, less detailed, and thus appear to represent a broader and probably older spectrum of belief.  (I say “probably older” not because of long-discredited ideas of “cultural evolution,” but because classic Mongol-Tungus shamanism seems to me to have been influenced by high civilizations; these shamans use mirrors and metal swords.)   Alternatively, many Native American religions are as complex, elaborated, and self-conscious as the Asian ones, but involve a more complex vision questing in which all individuals seek spirit power and are expected to get it, but only some go on to higher or more specialized powers that are comparable to the shamanic ones of Asia (Benedict 1923 and many subsequent works). 

The tendency to use “shamanism” for all Native American (let alone all “noncivilized”!) spiritual beliefs seems to me too sloppy and vague to be desirable.  There is a huge debate on this issue in the literature (Humphrey [1996]; Kenin-Lopsan [1997]; Nowak and Durrant [1977]; for critiques, see summaries of critical opinions in Harvey 2006 and Willerslev 2007).  Even Northwest Coast healers are shamans only by wide extension of the term.

Shamanism is clearly one modern derivative of the Old Northern view.  The latter has evolved into, or contributed at some level to, many other local forms.  These include East Asian nature mysticism (as in Daoism, Zen, and Shinto), Native North American religions, and early Celtic visionary traditions.  Some or all of these (especially Zen) obviously have other roots as well.  Shamanism (in the narrow sense) has also graded into or blended with quite different worldviews in Korea and China, as historical studies show.  There is every reason to believe that spirit mediumship developed from shamanic religion in China, Japan (Blacker 1986), and Korea (Kendall 1985, 1988).  Similarly, ancient Greek religion is clearly a solidly Old Northern religion, influenced—more and more heavily over time—by Mesopotamian, Levantine, and Egyptian religions (cf. Dodds 1951; Fontenrose 1959, 1981).

            As so often, insightful comparisons with medieval Ireland can be made.  The unique, fascinating, and complex story of “mad Sweeney” (Heaney 1984) gets into realms of shamanic soul-travel.  It is a Christian epic; Sweeney offends an early missionary, who curses him by making him go “mad” and flee from a battle—an unbearable shame for an Irish chief.  Sweeney wanders through Ireland, finally finding peace in his last days in a Christian community.  It is quite obvious that Sweeney is not so much “mad” as engaging in ancient shaman-like practices, though the anonymous author also describes strikingly well the effects of war-induced terror.  Sweeney was evidently a practitioner of a shamanic spiritual discipline that is downvalued by Christianity.  He flies, takes great leaps, shifts shape, foretells the future, talks with wolves, diagnoses mental states, and otherwise acts like a classic northeast Asian shaman.  The anonymous author the work, though Christian, has an obvious sympathy with Sweeney and his “madness.”  The result is one of the most amazing “inside” accounts of soul travels in all world literature, and it is very well worth comparing with Jay Miller’s and others’ Northwest Coast “shamanic odysseys.”  We have this work in a rather late and somewhat corrupt version, but the language is medieval Irish Gaelic, and includes a great deal of extremely beautiful poetry; readers of Irish can consult J. G. O’Keeffe’s excellent bilingual edition (1913).

            Another Irish mythic figure, King Conare, was part bird in origin and was protected by birds who could shed their feather mantles and appear as humans.  From them he got power but had to observe certain rules (geasas) to keep it.  He was constantly being put in positions of having to break these rules, and thus eventually died (Gantz 1981:60-106).  The shape-shifter spirits granting power, the rules attending that, and the myth turning on loss of power through having to break the rules are exactly the same in Northwest Coast mythology.  The similarity seems too close for independent invention.

Throughout the Old North, souls are highly mobile—they can and often do leave the body.  They can inhabit other venues in the process.  This implies that soul travel, soul exchange, dream journeys, and ghosts are all regular features of life.  A given soul can inhabit animal or human bodies, and shape-shifting is common.

Trees and mountains are people and have their own spirits.  High regard for trees and their spirits is one of the main beliefs binding the Old Northern world into a single worldview.  Shutova (2006) reports for the Siberian Udmurt, and Wiget and Balalaeva (2011) for the Khanty, rather similar regard for trees to that reported for Northwest Coast peoples (Turner 2005).  Rivers are important, and dramatic water features such as waterfalls and sinkholes are revered—again all the way from the Khanty (Wiget and Balalaeva 2011:114) to the Maya.  Dramatic rocks and prominences are too, but this is so universally true of humanity that it hardly marks an Old Northern trait.  Trees, waters, and mountains are sacred or highly revered.  Tibet’s Pure Crystal Mountain, for one, maintains its forests (Huber 1999).

When animals are not interacting with people, they often live in villages, look like humans, and see their world in humanlike terms.  This view is universally attested in the literature from ancient Scandinavian and Celtic culture right across Siberia and throughout Native North America.  It is also very widespread in South America (see e.g. Descola 2013; Lloyd 2007:145).  American Native views probably developed from Old Northern views brought across the Bering Strait as long ago as 15,000 years.

But animal people are not quite the same as human people, even when in their humanoid forms.  They still act like themselves.  Thus Descola (2013) sees “animism” as postulating similarity in material form but not in essence.  Yukaghir reindeer people in their humanoid form grunt instead of talking and eat lichen instead of meat (Willerslev 2007:89-90; at least one Siberian Yukaghir hunter told Rane Willerslav of an actual visit to a village of wild reindeer in their human form [Willerslev 2007:89-90].  The hunter admitted he might have dreamed it all, but was fairly convinced it had been real).

In many societies, stretching across the whole Old Northern world, the Masters of the Game are exceedingly important.  These are gods, spirits, or sometimes giant or superior animals, that are the leaders or divine protectors of their species.  This belief system stretches from the Khanty of far northwest Siberia (Wiget and Balalaeva  2011:106-107) to the Maya of Mexico (Llanes Pasos 1993) and on into South America.  It is thus one of the most strikingly uniform and specific traits of the Old Northern worldview.

In Georgia (Caucasus), the worship of pre-Christian deities who served as Masters of the Game persisted into the twentieth century.  The Georgians proper revere Ochopintra in this role (Tuite 1994:73, 134).  The closely related Svan people worshiped the goddess Dael or Dali (Tuite 1994:18, 45-47, 126, 141-3), equivalent to the Roman Diana.  She protected game, and punished those who hunted improperly, wastefully, and destructively. Significantly, these deities, and many related beliefs associated with plants and animals, survived 1700 years of Christianity.  On the other hand, the European separation of nature from culture is present—though not extreme—in Georgia, and very possibly goes back to ancient times (as it does among the Greeks).

The associated reverence for animal persons is perhaps most famously shown in an old ballad about a woman whose son died killing a leopard (or tiger; Tuite 1994:37-41).  The woman sings to the leopard’s mother: 

“I will go, yes I will see her,

And bring her words of compassion.

She will tell her son’s story

And I will tell her of mine.

For he too is to be mourned

Cut down by a merciless sword.”

The werewolf is a common type, but the “bear doctor” is far commoner.  “Bear doctor” is a Californian term, used by Native Californians speaking English (see Blackburn 1975).  But the idea stretches from America to Scandinavia, where the berserkers are the same type of were-being; berserk means “bear shirt.”  In historic times, berserkers were ordinary humans who fell into a battle-frenzy, but they had been bear transformers in the mythic past.  The Celtic battle-frenzy (made famous by Caesar’s accounts of the Gauls) must have been originally the same or related, though no bear stories survive about it.

Common, if not universal, are myths in which a trickster-transformer god or chief spirit makes things what they are today.  The head transformer is Coyote in most of western North America, Raven in the northwest and in northeast Siberia, and various humanoid or composite beings in most of the rest of the western hemisphere.  The cognate European and Chinese figure is the fox, but he has degraded to a mere folklore character.  So has the Japanese trickster, the raccoon-dog or tanuki (generally mistranslated “badger” in English, thanks to some early translator now remembered only for his zoological incompetence).

Tricksters are sometimes female, but the dominant Trickster-Transformer deity is always male.  He is powerful and well-meaning, but often foolish, and easily seduced by women or by greed.  From the Finnish Väinamöinen to the Japanese raccoon dog to the  Raven and Coyote, he does the same general sorts of things:  changing his own shape, changing supernaturals into harmless forms, turning animals from humanoid to animal form, providing light and water and song, and meanwhile having a wonderful run of salacious adventures.  Even the long-Christianized Irish retain many Transformer stories, often—ironically—told of St. Patrick (see e.g. Dooley and Roe 1999).  He did not transform himself, but he transformed the giants of old into ordinary men, drove the snakes out of Ireland, and so on.

Widespread or universal Old Northern stories draw on this belief system.  Naturally, given the hunting-dominated lifestyle of most ancient Old Northern societies, the hero and/or heroine are very often hunters.  This is one of the proofs that ancient Greece was solidly Old Northern.

These stories extend all the way from Ireland and Greece to North America.  One is the swan maiden story (Snyder 1979).  Another is the Orpheus myth (widespread in North America, e.g. Seaburg 2007:221-227; often with Coyote as the Orpheus figure; see Archie Phinney in Ramsey 1981; also Blackburn 1975:172-175, and indeed almost any collection of American myths).  The Orpheus myth, in the ancient world as in Native America and in the beautiful ballad version from the Shetland Islands, often had a successful ending.  The tragic ending we know today was set firmly in place by Virgil in the Georgics (Fantham 2006:xxx).  But some Native American versions, including Archie Phinney’s text collected from his Nez Perce grandmother, are as tragic as Virgil’s.  One proof that Northern minds run in the same channels is the astonishing similarity not only in plot but in emotional portrayals and character development between Phinney’s shattering and heartbreaking text and Rainer Maria Rilke’s incomparable retelling of Virgil’s story (Rilke 1964:142-151). 

Another is the transformation of animals into stars.  The Great Bear was a literal bear in stories told throughout the region (Schaefer 2006).  The resemblance of the constellation to a bear is far from obvious; this implies that the story actually spread from one source, rather than being independently invented.  Also widespread are a tale of two sisters who married stars (Thompson 1955-1958), tales of persons transformed into animals by witchcraft (as in the story of the princess kissing the frog), and countless stories of animal creators.  The earth-diver myth, in which the land is created from a bit of mud retrieved by a diving animal from the bottom of the cosmic waters is closely linked with this northern worldview, but is found far outside its borders and may be human-wide.

In this worldview, people are not subsumed into nature or mere pawns of the environment.  Quite the reverse; rugged, dramatic individualism is characteristic.  It is especially visible in Celtic epics and ballads, but also in Northwest Coast hero tales, Korean and Finnish epics, and other traditional vocal forms.  There is an emphasis on the value of individuals, even ordinary ones, as in the Scottish ballads with their everyday heroes and heroines.  This theme also appears in the many tales of the lone shaman battling dark forces in an alien world (e.g. Nowak and Durrant 1977).  I believe the Old Northern view, with its tales of heroic ordinary people, is a major source of Greek individualism.  The writings of Homer and the myths retold by Aeschylus show that it comes from the earliest stratum of Greek thought.  The ancient Greeks invented the “individual” as we now use that word, and also invented tragedy, through the dramas of Aeschylus and Sophocles; they made heroes of ordinary men and women standing tall in the face of terrible fates and disasters.  The idea of the ordinary person dauntlessly facing fate, though alone and beset on every side, appears here for the first time in history; earlier heroes like Gilgamesh had been semi-divine.  It appears that the Old Northern worldview lies behind all this.

Many of the beliefs make most sense in relation to hunting.  Hunters have to stay pure and avoid smelling like humans, since game animals are acutely aware of such things.  Apparently universal in the Old Northern world is a prohibition against sex before hunting, especially with a menstruating woman; the smell is too human (see e.g. Willerslev 2007:84).  This may be purely psychological, but it may have roots in actual game-animal alertness.  Hunting is often sexualized (Willerslev 2007:110, who notes worldwide comparisons).

A minor but interestingly widespread aspect of this is the avoidance of talking about one’s hunting, or naming animals hunted; they might hear and be offended.  This is bad enough if one might lose game, but worse if one calls up a predator such as a bear.  Bears are thus referred to by various euphemisms; in fact the English word “bear” goes back to a Germanic root cognate with “brown,” apparently used because the Indo-European root was to be avoided.  (And cf. “bruin.”  Incidentally, the Indo-European root is itself interesting.  A philologist working from such forms as Latin ursus and Greek arctos reconstructed it as, approximately, *ughrtko—close enough to grrhaahr! to suggest where that root came from!)  Rane Willerslev (2007:100) reports a Yukaghir hunter talking about having seen the tracks of a Russian in felt boots.  Another commented, “We’ll pay him a visit tomorrow.”  Of course the felt boots—no doubt mentioned in a significant tone of voice—were the giveaway here.  At other ends of the Northern world, the Maya often refer to a jaguar as “red paw” (chak mool) instead of by its right name (balam), and tigers are referred to by a whole flock of euphemisms all over east and south Asia.

All the participants in this worldview have strong indigenous traditions of conservation, or at least of sustainable resource management.  A particularly noteworthy account of a Siberian shamanistic society and its conservation practices is provided by the Tuvan writer Mongush Kenin-Lopsan (1997).  Hundreds of sources deal with indigenous management in northwestern and western North America (Anderson 1996). 

Native American cosmologies demand a much wider respect—nothing less than kinship, sociability, responsibility, and care toward all beings.  Raymond Pierotti has written:  “A common general philosphy and concept of community appears to be shared by all of the Indigenous peoples of North America, which includes:  1) respect for nonhuman entities as persons, 2) the existence of bonds between humans and nonhumans, including incorporation of nonhumans into ethical codes of behvior, and 3) the recognition of humans as part of the ecological system” (Pierotti 2011:198-199).  These indeed fully apply on the Northwest Coast, where they are considerably elaborated.

It should not surprise us if reality is often short of this.  Traditional people, like all people, frequently fail to live by their ecological morals.  (For Native American society, see Kay and Simmons 2002; for other areas of the world, Kirch 1994, 1997, 2007; cf. comparable problems in the Mediterranean world described by McNeill 1992 and Ponting 1991).  Plains Indians, when they got horses and guns and moved from older homelands to the high plains, lost a good deal of their resource management practice.  (See Krech 1999, but he exaggerates, and there are useful correctives in Native accounts, e.g. Black Elk [DeMaillie 1984] and Lame Deer and Erdoes 1972). 

However, throughout North America, the strong conservation ethic had its effect.  It was based on the idea that the spirits will punish anyone who takes more than he or she needs for immediate use by self and personal social group. Native American views, at least in North America, stem from this worldview and carry forward its close relations with nature.  (See e.g. Bernard and Salinas Pedraza 1989; Davis 2000; Haly 1992; Jenness 1951; Menzies 2006; Neihardt 1934; Nelson 1983; D. Smith 1999; Tanner 1979.  Further documentation includes Alberta Society of Professional Biologists 1986; Callicott 1989, 1996; Lopez 1992; Nelson 1973; Scott 1996.)

The locus classicus may be the American Northwest. Less dense populations generally did much less managing, because they had much less need for it.  Thus, many North American groups were decidedly weak on conservation (Hames 2007; Kay and Simmons 2002), though others were exemplary.  The North American system is so universally supported by tales of overuse leading to disaster that there is really no question that people learned the hard way.  The reputed share that Native Americans had in exterminating the Pleistocene megafauna would have taught them common sense, in so far as they were responsible (there is no real evidence that they were).  Siberia and neighboring areas were comparable, often having superb conservation ideology.

In some areas they persist with enthusiastic support, and contribute to modern political debate (see e.g. Kendall 1985 for Korea; Metzo 2005 for Mongolia).  In others, including Japan and most of Europe, they are largely displaced by later-coming belief systems, but they are still there (for Japan, see esp. Blacker 1986; for Scotland, Carmichael 1992). 

Working people close to the land in modern societies may often be closer to Native Americans than to academics.  Kimberly Hedrick’s brilliant study of ranching in California (Hedrick 2007) showed that some individuals combine both.  Her ranchers were often college-educated, and could talk learnedly of range ecology, global marketing, and amino acid constituents of feeds, but when they were out riding the range, they slipped into a totally different worldview.  The concern with abstractions shifted to a very much more pressing and specific concern with caring for cattle and rangeland. They shifted from abstract concepts to personal stories; every creek, hill, and cabin had its story, just as in Native American society.  They also shifted—consciously or unconsciously—from elite American English to cowboy dialect. 

In the Old Northern worldview and its descendents and relatives, we are people-in-nature, not people separate from nature, and certainly not people opposed to nature or (as Marxian communism puts it) “struggling against nature.”  This has ethical implications, many of which are stressed in recent scholarship.

For the Great Lakes area, we have a considerable literature; notable is American Indian Environmental Ethics by Baird Callicott and Michael Nelson (2004), because it is a rigorous and excellent study by two ethical philosophers and also because it is based on actual Native American texts recorded by a traditional Native American ethnographer, William Jones of the Sauk and Fox.  There are also many short accounts; particularly good collections include Snodgrass and Tiedje (2008) and Tucker and Grim (1994). One could point to many other works (e.g. Davis 2000; Medin et al 2006).

Native California has been less well served, probably because the cultures were severely impacted by foreign settlers before anthropologists went among them, but there are several important texts available (Anderson 2011).  I am less familiar with other parts of the continent, but to the classics of Black Elk (de Maillie 1984; Neihard 1932) and Lame Deer (1972) we can now add Ray Pierotti’s wonderful review (2011).

One problem common to most sources is a lack of grounding in thorough study of the ethical systems of the traditional and local cultures under study.  There are, in fact, only two thorough and detailed studies of traditional Native American ethical systems.  Unfortunately, they do not deal with classic Old Northern societies, but with societies influenced by town and city traditions from pre-Columbian Mexico.  Richard Brandt’s Hopi Ethics (1954) and John Ladd’s The Structure of a Moral Code (1957).  Both are by ethical philosophers rather than anthropologists.  Both were stimulated by anthropological work, at Chicago and Harvard respectively.

Richard Brandt, a young man starting his career at that time, went on to become the leading utilitarian ethicist in the United States (see Brandt 1979, 1992, 1996).  It is fairly clear that his Hopi experiences influenced him (compare pp. 319-336 of Brandt 1954 with his later three books).  His work is noteworthy for following the grand utilitarian tradition of Mill and Sidgwick in using clear, readable English, as opposed to the incomprehensible philosophy-jargon found in many philosophic writings.

Brandt’s account of the Hopi begins with the moral terms (Brandt 1954:91).  He stresses the basic importance of hopi—properly human, “the Hopi way”—versus kahopi (we would now spell it qahopi), “not Hopi.”  However, Brandt notes that the moral implications of this term are not simply that custom or tradition is ideal (Brandt 1954:94).  Most social customs are mere conventions, not especially moral.  Conversely, individualist behavior can be very moral.  (Ladd notes the same for the Navaho and for morals in general.)  Commoner but less revealing are oppositions of anta “good, morally right” and ka-anta “bad,and loloma “good, good-looking, nice” and kaloloma.  The equation of the good and the beautiful in that last word is also found in Navaho, and, of course, it was much discussed and debated in ancient Greece too.

The problems of studying traditional ethics were beautifully summed up by Clyde Kluckhohn in his foreword to Ladd’s book (Kluckhohn 1957:xiv).  As he reports it, he asked their mutual friend and frequent consultant Bidaga (a.k.a. Son of Many Beads) why he—Kluckhohn—had never gotten such ethical details.  Bidaga gave him “a long lecture which culminated with the sentence:  ‘I have been trying to explain these things to you for thirty years, but you never asked me the right questions.’” 

In Ladd’s work, the famous Navaho word hozhon (we would now spell it hozhǫǫ) “good, beautiful, harmonious, proper” and its opposite hochoon (hochǫǫ)“bad” are discussed; subsequent discussions by writers like John Farella (1984) and Gary Witherspoon (1977) are better.  From these later accounts we realize that the Navaho are much more self-consciously and socially moral than Ladd thought, and that their concepts of hozhon and hochon refer to the whole universe—divinities, humans, nature.  The universe is a fundamentally moral place; the Navaho would reject, at least in detail, Hume’s claim that one cannot deduce an ought from an is.  This also goes a long way toward adding a more Kantian side to the utilitarian and Aristotelian threads that Ladd notes. 

Hozhon is a concept that environmentalists should adopt.  The idea is that beauty, goodness, harmony, health, peace, and smooth function are aspects of one general reality.  The Navaho, significantly, also realize that ugliness, disharmony, death, and other bad things have a necessary place in the world.  As Ladd notes, the monster-slaying hero-twins were persuaded to leave four monsters—hunger, violence, old age, and death—so that the world would not become static and overpopulated.  If there were always harmony, there would be no change, progress, innovation, or valuable conflict (Farella 1984; Witherspoon 1977).  The world must maintain a dynamic tension between peaceful harmony and dynamic destruction.  Coyote, the source of evil in Navaho cosmology, is a necessary and even a revered animal.

Related is a high order of social and personal morality, enforced by spiritual agents in the natural world.  A Navaho ritual singer told the great pioneer ethnographer Washington Matthews:  “Why should I lie to you? I am ashamed before the earth; I am ashamed before the heavens; I am ashamed before the blue sky; I am ashamed before the darkness; I am ashamed before the sun; I am ashamed before that standing within me which speaks with me.  Some of these things are always looking at me, I am never out of sight.  Therefore I must tell the truth.  That is why I always tell the truth.  I hold my word tight to my breast.”  The Navaho are rather Aristotelian in their morality based on cultivating individual virtues to avoid troubles as well as social sanctions and shame or guilt before the world (Ladd 1957).

      Traditional Native American worldviews typically go with a particular educational strategy (see e.g. Cajete 1994; Gardner 2003; Goulet 1998; Sharp 2001).  Children learn by doing, with almost no verbal instruction.  They copy what their elders do, without much correction, and learn by their mistakes as they try to imitate.  Verbal teaching, if any, is done by personal stories.  What little correcting of the young is done verbally is done by telling stories on oneself:  “When I was young, I…” is a typical formula starting off a story of obvious—but completely tacit—application to the younger hearers present.  (See also Greenfield 2004 on such learning among the Tzotzil Maya and Hunn 2008 on early learning among the Zapotec.)  Once again, rural Anglo-Americans, including Hedrick’s ranchers, converge on Native Americans in these matters.  They teach by the book in schoolhouses and churches, but in the field or on the job they teach by example and personal story, as I know from my own rural-American background as well as from Hedrick’s research.

Appendix 3.  The “Wasteful” Native Debunked

            At some point it is necessary to deal with two old chestnuts that are always raised when anyone speaks of Native American conservation practices.

            First, buffalo jumps.  Native Americans on the plains stampeded bison over cliffs, thus killing a number at a time.  This has been condemned as “wasteful” by generations of white writers (the same people that shot tens of millions of bison for the hides and tongues or solely to starve the Indians out).  The idea seems to be that the Indians drove a million buffalo over a cliff every time they wanted a light lunch (Krech 1999, who should know better, still spins this story). 

            In fact, the vast majority of buffalo jumps were used only once, and the rest rather rarely; there were not very many sites in all, considering the enormous amount of space and time involved (Bamforth 2011).  The busiest, the Head-Smashed-In Jump in Alberta, was used only once a generation during its peak years (according to displays at the site, now a World Heritage Site).  The total number of bison killed in all the jumps in the plains, through the 12,000 or so years of human occupancy, was probably in the low millions.

There was, however, undeniably some waste—too many buffalo killed for the population to use.  The problem is that bison, unlike cattle, are not domesticated to the point of stupid obedience.  You can’t pick out one.  If you start a herd, you can’t stop them, and they may—but, in fact, rarely did—all go over the edge.  Moreover, the extremely high numbers killed at places like Head-Smashed-In were apparently not killed just for the local population.  Grease and dried meat were prepared in quantity, apparently for extensive trade (Bamforth 2011).

Getting them to go at all is the hard part.  Bison do not herd easily, and they are too intelligent to go stampeding over a cliff.  Arranging a jump involved months of planning—watching the bison routes, building cairns that looked like warriors posted along the path to the cliff, organizing the work force, and so on.  Then when the time came, the bison had to be stampeded such that the ones in back forced the ones in front over the cliff; otherwise the ones in front would simply stop and not go over.  This all involved serious danger, since the bison would naturally tend to turn when they got to the cliff, and run back the other way—right over the waiting Indians.  This had to be discouraged by such measures as lighting smoky fires.  If the bison did fall over the cliff, they could fall on other people waiting to dispatch them.  According to one story, that is how Head-Smashed-In got its name; one foolhardy soul got too close to the jumpoff place.

The other chestnut is the reputed Native American extermination of the Pleistocene megafauna.  This was originally claimed by Paul S. Martin in the 1960s (Martin 1967, 1984, 2002, 2005; Martin and Klein 1984).  His only evidence was that the Native Americans appeared in North America about the same time that several large species—including all the largest ones—became extinct. 

At least the buffalo jumps were real, and a lot of buffalo died that way.  But the extinction of the megafauna has not been connected with Native Americans by much direct evidence.  There are a few mammoth and mastodon kill sites from early millennia, but only very few.  Reputed kill sites for horses and other extinct creatures do not hold up well on analysis.

Martin’s original position was that humans entered North America about 12,000 years ago, moved very fast and increased their numbers very fast (3% per annum), and wiped out the megafauna in a sudden “blitzkrieg.”  This is not credible—such increases would have been impossible in a difficult environment filled with predators, new diseases, and such.  But it now appears that people were in the Americas much earlier (probably from 15,000-17,000 years ago).  Also, at least the mastodons lasted longer than was once thought.  All this makes a slower and more believable process possible.  (John Alroy [2001a, 2001b] has created a simulation showing that people could indeed cause the extinction under such circumstances.  Fair enough, but one might add that it would be even easier to construct a simulation showing that little green men from Mars did it, or, for that matter, that it never happened and there are mammoths around us now.  Simulations are wonderful things.  See Brook and Bowman 2002.)  

On the other hand, the deadly Clovis points that are actually found in mammoth and bison carcasses did not develop till many of the megafaunal species were already extinct (or at least are no longer found in the paleontological record; Wolverton et al. 2009).  Clovis flourished around 11,000 years ago (Waters and Stafford 2007), while most of the megafauna disappear around 12,000-14,000 years back.  The main collapse of the megafauna in what is now Indiana was between 14,800 and 13,700 years ago, long before Clovis (Gill et al. 2009).  Indeed, there is no evidence for humans in Indiana at that time.  If there were any, they were exceedingly few.  Extinction in California came later, mainly around 12,000 years ago, when more people were present but when climate was also dramatically changing.

The only real evidence for Martin’s position is that not only in North America, but also in Australia, New Zealand (Worthy and Holdaway 2002), and countless smaller islands, the coming of modern humans coincided with the extinction of the larger and slower species of wildlife, and usually with most of the ground-nesting birds.  This is indeed very good circumstantial evidence.  It also suggest some other possibilities beyond hunting.  All scholars now seem to agree that the very widespread use of fire to manage the landscape is the main thing driving extinctions in Australia.  Rats eating eggs apparently drove most of the extinctions of birds.  People hunted moas in New Zealand, but otherwise most of the species are tiny, obscure, and rare, not the sort of thing people would hunt.  Disease has certainly wiped out much island life.  Fire, other newcoming animal species, and diseases could all have had a hand in the American extinctions; I personally would be very surprised if fire was not involved, given both the Australian case and our current knowledge of the universality of fire in Native American management.

One may also note that the phenomenon of pioneering peoples sweeping through a continuent without thought for the morrow is apparently universal among humans.  We have seen it in the colonial histories of the Americas, Australia, and other areas.  Indeed, nonhuman species can explode when they enter a new area, only to stabilize later as they eat themselves out of a home and as diseases and parasites build up.  The earliest Native Americans thus may be expected to have hunted with no thought of the morrow until game grew scarce enough to force them to change.

On the other hand, island life forms generally have few or no predators of any kind, and are thus not adapted to predation.  America’s megafauna included lions, wolves, sabertooths, giant bears, and other carnivores.  Martin argued that humans are somehow different, but any experience with game animals shows that this is not the case.  Animals exposed to other predators quickly learn to be wary of humans too. 

Similar areas in the Old World—Europe, China, southeast Asia, and so on—did not see their megafauna disappear when modern humans came.  In fact, China still has a few elephants, rhinos, tigers, pandas, and so on, and maintained a quite rich megafauna until the rise of the Chinese empire. 

The other main candidate for causing the megafaunal extinctions is climate change.  We know that much earlier glaciations ended with comparably huge extinction events, although no humans were around to affect this (Finnegan et al. 2011).  The cold peak 18,000 years ago was extreme—more severe than any other well-known ice age in the last several million years—and the warm-up after that was rapid.  By 14,800 years ago, when Indiana began to lose megafauna, the climate was still very cold; changes in vegetation, and the coming of frequent fire, were far in the future (Gill et al. 2009).  However, by 12,000 years ago, times were warm and dry.  Then a sudden, dramatic reversal (the Younger Dryas event) froze the continent again around 11,000 years ago.  Cooling took perhaps only a few centuries.  It was followed by an extremely rapid shift to hot, dry conditions.  It is difficult to imagine large, slow-breeding animals tracking all this, and indeed much less dramatic swings in earlier millennia all led to massive extinction events (late Eocene, late Miocene, early Pleistocene, etc.). 

The rapid drying and heating, especially, is significant.  In 2001-2 and 2005-6, essentially no rain fell throughout the entire southwestern quarter of North America.  A two- or three-year period like that would have exterminated the megafauna.  Such a period is quite likely for the Altithermal, the hot dry period that peaked around 7000-8000 years ago.  The lack of major change in Indiana at the early dates of decline makes human hunting more imaginable as an explanation (Johnson 2009), but there were few (if any) humans there to hunt, and no evidence of a deadly hunting technology till much later.  So a major mystery remains.

            Further proof is the extinction of several large waterbirds, such as the La Brea stork (Grayson 1977).  This is clearly climate; these birds did not depend on the megafauna, but rather on wet Pleistocene conditions. 

            In summary, it seems not only possible but probable that humans contributed to the extinction of the mammoths and mastodons, and perhaps also did in the giant ground sloths.  These were sluggish, and unable to defend themselves against missiles.  The other extinct megafauna includes a number of horse species, a huge camel, a llama, southerly species of ox and mountain-goat, and several smaller forms.  These seem to have disappeared before the rise of human hunters, or at least there is no credible association of them with humans.  They are the sort that would not make it through rapid climate change.  Relatives of two of them—the llama and a flat-headed peccary—not only survived in South America but survive there yet, in spite of extremely heavy hunting pressure. 

            Many carnivorous mammals and birds died off, including all the largest, but almost everyone agrees these went because their large-herbivore prey disappeared.

            Humans might well have finished off the last few of these, especially if they were concentrated around water holes by a drought like that of 2005-6.  I thus find myself with Barnofsky et al. (2004), arguing that the situation is unclear, but it seems hard to question “the intersection of human impacts with pronounced climatic change” (2004:70.  For more pro-Martin, but still reasonable, positions, see several articles in Kay and Simmons 2002).

            In spite of this common-sense middle ground. the argument has remained polarized, with True Believers and total skeptics.  The True Believers are often biologists who have no faith in or sympathy with humans or with human hunting (e.g. Ward 1997).  Many are mere popularizers who have no scholarly competence in this regard, and at least a few are outright racists who simply hate Native Americans.  On the other hand, Raymond Hames (2007) has recently provided a well-argued, well-reasoned defense of the overkill hypothesis.  Martin maintains his extreme position, which has become increasingly indefensible, and has resorted some very bizarre arguments.  He dismisses Grayson’s birds as “cowbirds” that depended on the megafauna, in spite of the fact that close relatives elsewhere are the antithesis of that.  He also argues, repeatedly (see all cited sources), that the lack of evidence proves his point, since the wipeout happened so fast!  This brings us close to the conspiracy theorists of the popular press, who prove their theories by arguing that the absence of evidence shows how successful “the government” or “the Trilateral Commission” has been in hiding it.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about all this is a point made by Deloria:  any overhunting by people 12,000 years ago has very little to do with anything Native Americans may be doing now.  Pioneers everywhere are notorious for overrunning their newly settled lands and wasting resources lavishly; they learn better soon.  The Anglo-American settlement of North America, with its wave of deforestation followed by a wave of reforestation, shows this clearly enough.  In any case, 12,000 years is a long time!  Cultures do change, and archaeology shows that the old story of the changeless, timeless Indian was preposterous (see e.g. Pryce 1999).  A mere 2,000 years ago, my Celtic ancestors were fighting dressed only in blue paint, and taking the heads of conquered enemies.   

The sociology of the controversy is possibly more interesting than the fate of the megafauna.  All the believers appear to be biologists, many of whom clearly have a very sour view of humans in general, at least as managers of nature, and some of whom (as I know from experience) are frankly racist toward Native Americans.

Skeptics include Vine Deloria Jr. (1988); Donald Grayson (1977, 1991, 2001; Grayson and Meltzer 2003); Shepard Krech (1999), in spite of his exaggeration of the buffalo jumps; and many others (Wolverton et al. 2009 provides the latest and most sophisticated review of the skeptical position).  Skeptics seem usually to be either Native Americans or anthropologists. 

The present chapter should be enough to point out that (1) Native Americans have a very lively sense of conservation, and observe it in practice, but (2) they teach it through highly circumstantial stories of overhunting that led to starvation.  This should more or less settle the case.  Yes, Native American conservation is real, but, no, Native Americans are no different from anyone else; they learn through experience, and some of the experience is hard-won.  They probably did contribute somewhat (we will never know how much) to the extinctions, and they surely learned from that.   


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Alberta Soci