Mark Steyn ably dismantles the the myth of the noble savage by citing research showing that primitive societies were far more violent and warlike than modern Western civilization. This was well-known to men in centuries past, but it seems that modern society prefers fantasies like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest in which the British Navy is the villain for oppressing the poor, good-hearted pirates. Writes Mr. Steyn:
But the passage [of Nicholas Wade's Before The Dawn] that really stopped me short was this:
"Both Keeley and LeBlanc believe that for a variety of reasons anthropologists and their fellow archaeologists have seriously underreported the prevalence of warfare among primitive societies. . . . 'I realized that archaeologists of the postwar period had artificially "pacified the past" and shared a pervasive bias against the possibility of prehistoric warfare,' says Keeley."
That's Lawrence Keeley, a professor at the University of Illinois. And the phrase that stuck was that bit about artificially pacifying the past. We've grown used to the biases of popular culture. If a British officer meets a native -- African, Indian, whatever -- in any movie, play or novel of the last 30 years, the Englishman will be a sneering supercilious sadist and the native will be a dignified man of peace in perfect harmony with his environment in whose tribal language there is not even a word for "war" or "killing" or "weapons of mass destruction." A few years ago, I asked Tim Rice, who'd just written the lyrics for Disney's Aladdin and The Lion King, why he wasn't doing Pocahontas. "Well, the minute they mentioned it," he said, "I knew the Brits would be the bad guys. I felt it was my patriotic duty to decline." Sure enough, when the film came out, John Smith and his men were the bringers of environmental devastation to the New World. "They prowl the earth like ravenous wolves," warns the medicine man, whereas Chief Powhatan wants everyone to be "guided to a place of peace." Fortunately, Captain Smith comes to learn from Pocahontas how to "paint with all the colours of the wind."
In reality, Pocahontas's fellow Algonquin Indians were preyed on by the Iroquois, "who took captives home to torture them before death," observes Nicholas Wade en passant. The Iroquois? Surely not. Only a year or two back, the ethnic grievance lobby managed to persuade Congress to pass a resolution that the United States Constitution was modelled on the principles of the Iroquois Confederation -- which would have been news to the dead white males who wrote it. With Disney movies, one assumes it's just the modishness of showbiz ignoramuses and whatever multiculti theorists they've put on the payroll as consultants. But professor Keeley and Steven LeBlanc of Harvard disclose almost as an aside that, in fact, their scientific colleagues were equally invested in the notion of the noble primitive living in peace with nature and his fellow man, even though no such creature appears to have existed.
Whatever failings our culture may have, we're certainly more peaceful and gentle than any who have come before us -- largely because we're rich and powerful enough that we can afford to be.