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"Indigenous" – a New Threat to Our Well-Being

April 1, 2013

Partial application of First Peoples Worldwide principles through government regulation is a genuine threat.

First Peoples Worldwide is an organization devoted to the "indigenous movement" in economics, whereby competition will be replaced by co-operation and resource exploitation by harmony with nature. To simple minds schooled by modern Western education systems, this is a very attractive idea, and First Peoples' YouTube video "Enoughness: Restoring balance to the economy" is a seductive statement of their case. Needless to say, their program if implemented in full would plunge 7 billion people into starvation and if implemented in part through government regulation would prove even more costly and damaging than the "climate change" chimera.  Yet the movement's attraction is real, its points have some validity, and we'd better figure out how to combat it.

First Peoples' thesis is that modern Western civilization, unlike that of indigenous peoples, being based on competition and treating resources as finite and non-renewable, inevitably involves conflict, fear, insecurity and a "scarcity of spirit." They quote the philosopher Thomas Hobbes in favor of their thesis, claiming that he saw human life as "nasty, brutish and short."  In indigenous peoples' philosophy, on the other hand, we are related as "individuals, part of a kinship-based community and as part of nature, in balance with the whole." Indigenous societies see prosperity and abundance in nature, of which humanity is an organic part, not the leader; they produce "extensively" and with "responsible stewardship" of the environment.

First Peoples gets Hobbes wrong; in his denunciation he was referring not to modern civilization but to the state of nature inhabited by indigenous peoples themselves.  Overall, Hobbes was a big government man whose plea for autocracy was refuted elegantly by Edward Earl of Clarendon in his 1676 "A brief view of the dangerous and pernicious errors to church and state in Mr. Hobbes' book Leviathan," but he lacked modernity's sentimentality about the primitive. Unlike First Peoples, he was well aware of the constant warfare that disfigured primitive society, as population pressures caused resources to become scarce indeed, given the limited means for their exploitation.

"Indigenous people" control 24% of the planet, but have 80% of its biodiversity, we are told. However, with modern genetic engineering techniques, biodiversity is not especially valuable; we can make more of it in the basement any time we want to. In any case, biodiversity is likely to be highest where human population density is lowest, and that more or less by definition includes the habitats of indigenous people.

The First Peoples manifesto ignores a central fact of economics; if we went back to the practices of indigenous peoples we would be completely unable to feed the planet's current population of 7 billion, never mind sustain current living standards. Indeed, the First Peoples manifesto more or less outlaws the Industrial Revolution; it is difficult to think how one could manufacture automobiles, washing machines or even ecologically friendly trains by following indigenous peoples' economics. Factories are not impossible for indigenous people because of the lack of cooperation in them—industrial processes are themselves impossible without cooperation and coordination at a very high level. However the factories require technology, raw materials, complex machinery, distribution techniques and other inputs that cannot be acquired by an economy following indigenous peoples' practices.

Hence the First Peoples manifesto cannot be implemented in full without returning to a simple agrarian society, which would require wiping out at least 6.9 billion, probably 6.99 billion of our world's current 7 billion people.  Absent plague or nuclear war, therefore the full First Peoples manifesto is not available for feckless voters to choose.

Nevertheless the First Peoples ideology is highly attractive to the young and economically simple-minded, and hence is likely to have a major political and economic influence. After all, the environmentalist movement of the 1960s produced the immensely expensive Environmental Protection Agency, whose diktats attract remarkably little protest because the costs of regulation are hidden. Similarly, the ill-founded science of "global warming," fake "hockey-stick" graphs and all, has embedded itself in our society to such an extent that billions, even trillions of dollars of economic activity are diverted to produce carbon-suppressing effects that would have very little effect on global warming even if it were indeed a serious problem. Indigenous Economics is in many ways even more attractive than combating pollution or warming—after all, who could object to cooperation, one-ness with nature or responsible ecological stewardship?

Although the full application of indigenous people economics would be impossible and genocidal if it were attempted, partial application of its principles through government regulation is a genuine threat. Fracking, for example, is the kind of new-fangled activity that apparently performs unnatural acts on the environment to extract fossil fuels; it is easy to see First Peoples' philosophy in the anti-fracking movement. In certain areas, this movement may well be unstoppable; it is quite clear that the numerically overwhelming pampered elites of Manhattan will never in a million years allow the impoverished inhabitants of Binghamton N.Y. to eke out a modest living through fracking the substantial shale resources on which they sit.

First Peoples' economics also attacks the right of individuals to self-enrichment and is strongly in favor of greater equality. This combination of views is already strong in our society; its further strengthening would presumably mean higher tax levels on the rich, less encouragement for entrepreneurship and more expensive welfare schemes. The private automobile would come under further attack as both an expression of individuality and an artifact that requires a massive factory establishment to manufacture.

The danger therefore is that greater prominence for First Peoples' economics would produce, not a society that bore greater resemblance to the imagined idylls of indigenous people (however unrealistic those visions may be in reality) but a ghastly hybrid, in which "indigenous people" inspired restrictions on individual liberties and economic activity were enforced by the usual vast state bureaucracy, totally corrupt, totally insensitive to individual needs, and totally dominated by whichever special interests had the ear of the current administration. As so often, by seeking an imagined Utopia the Left would have created yet another all-too-real dystopia, entirely avoidable technologically and economically, but impossible to evade politically.

We should nevertheless consider what steps can be taken, what new technologies used, to provide ourselves with some of the genuine benefits that First Peoples have identified in the indigenous lifestyle. We all want to avoid conflict, fear, insecurity and "scarcity of spirit"; most of us want to see abundance in nature, live in harmony with it and seek responsible stewardship of the environment.
The most important consideration for those wishing an "indigenous" lifestyle is population restriction. Increasing global population to 10 billion by 2100, as in the current U.N. forecast, will increase the scarcity of resources and competition for them, will make it more difficult to feed people without modern factory farming techniques, will force us to use less eco-friendly methods of producing the energy we need, will increase the stresses of urban life and the time wasted in unproductive commuting and will vastly increase the erosion of global biodiversity.

Humanity, not its technology, is the principal danger to the global ecosystem, and our first duty as potential responsible stewards is to reduce our numbers, both now and in the future. Naturally, government programs to force people not to reproduce have the same problems as government programs to force people's behavior in any other direction, and the Bloombergian 16-ounce-soda-bottle approach to population control, as adopted by China, is to be avoided. Nevertheless, a combination of persuasion, medical provision and financial incentives can do a lot, and the problem is urgent and extremely important.

If we want to get the benefits of indigenous economics, population discouragement should not stop at mere stasis; we should aim over a prolonged period to reverse the surge in global population above 1 billion that has taken place since the Industrial Revolution. At around a global population of 1 billion, most environmental problems go away, and life's stresses become much more tolerable. At that level current infrastructure would be more than ample and resources of all kinds would indeed be abundant, given modern technology.

Given population reduction, technology can help too in the search for a more "indigenous" lifestyle. Robotization should finally eliminate most routine jobs, and allow those with disabilities to lead a full life with the help of artificial assistance, for example in providing mobility. Genetic manipulation should eliminate many diseases and possibly improve the intellectual and emotional capabilities of future generations. Ever-improved communications will make lifetime education available for all, eliminating the dangers of technological redundancy and providing workers for new opportunities that open up (such as the 100,000 "drone" related jobs expected from 2015).

Mankind will never enjoy the full social, economic and psychological perfection of the Inuit hunting group, as portrayed by First Peoples—but then real Inuit hunting groups don't enjoy that either. But the "indigenous lifestyle" is highly seductive, and we'd better both ensure it's not imposed on us by self-aggrandizing government and work through population discouragement and otherwise to gain many of its benefits.


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