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Plagues of the Mind

by Bruce Thornton

     Bruce Thornton trashes the myth of the "noble savage." Research suggests men in all known tribal societies abused and dominated women. Women and children were first to starve when food was short. Democratic practices were almost non-existent. Power resulted from birth, trickery or physical strength.


      Almost all tribes engaged in warfare. More than 90 percent, research suggests, warred at least once a year. Tribes in low population areas were exceptions.


     Thornton writes that concern for ecosystems almost never occurred anywhere before the 19th century. Many tribes killed as many animals as they could because they thought animals were reincarnated or limitless. John Terbough suggests that "we humans ate our way through most of the earth's largest birds and mammals long before the invention of gunpowder." About 13,000 years ago, over a period of 300 years, North American hunters eliminated 30 species of large mammals, including camels, mammoths, and ground sloths.


     Rape, disease, famine, torture, slavery, genocide, infanticide, forced abortions, ritual mutilation, ritual sacrifice, vitamin deficiencies, and class stratification were prevalent in tribal societies. In some cases, captives were ordered to eat their own hacked off flesh. During the dedication of one temple, the Aztecs ripped out the hearts of 20,000 conquered individuals. Tribes praised and rewarded the rape, murder, and robbery of non-tribal members or low status members. Ten to 30 years was the median length of life in those good 'ol days.


      Religious beliefs were rarely based on harmony with nature or mother earth worship. When famine exists, individuals do not fret about the environment. Small numbers and primitive technologies were the main limits on environmental harms. Thornton also attacks the environmental beliefs of Al Gore. I haven't read enough of Gore's environmental beliefs to offer comment.


     The final chapter argues that rights, liberty, dignity, character, and common humanity developed and spread in the Western world. Seymour Drescher puts it thus: Most labor throughout the pre-modern world was done in bondage. "Freedom, not slavery, was the peculiar institution." Worth reading.

-- book review article by J.T. Fournier, last updated July 21, 2009


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