The Art of Not Being Governed
Modern Society in the 21st Century has adopted the perception that anarchist principles are beliefs that can only exist outside the concepts of civilization. Hence, it is customary to equate such conditions to those peoples that embrace the freedom and liberties that exist outside of a defined Nation-State. Peoples that fall within that category are generally considered to be untamed barbarians, savages, anti-state or otherwise classified in similar derogatory terms which translate into being outside the norm. Conventional wisdom, at least in the minds-eye of 21st Century adherents is that those living outside State control are primitive, backward societies existing in the backwaters of ever advancing civilizations.
In this book, author James C. Scott dispels many of these myths and suggests strongly that those people living outside the confines of statehood do so of their own conscious, deliberate actions to avoid the onerous dictates of those who would seek to enslave them. Obviously, his expertise is in the examination of societies in that portion of the world that he terms Zomia, i.e. those regions comprised of Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Thailand, Siam, Burma, Southern China and portions of India and Afghanistan. Obviously, as an anthropologist and political scientist, he is well qualified to comment with some authority on the subject. He does not however neglect to comment on similar conditions amongst other societies that have shunned civilization to avoid the onerous effects of confiscatory taxation, forced corvette labor, military conscription and enforced religious edicts.
In the cited example of Zambia, he classifies the two groups simultaneously dwelling in the region as Valley people and Hill people. The distinction is primarily based on the altitude inhabited by the two distinct groups; the Hill people are further stratified by the approximately how many meters of altitude segregate various bands or groups one from another.
The Valley people that occupy the lower terrain are principally identified as being fixed grain producing farmers that cultivate wet-rice (irrigated) crops. Hence they are much easier to identify, catalogue, and transformed into tax paying subjects owing allegiances to their rulers. Consequently, they are transformed into not necessarily willing members of the State and are considered part of a civilized society. The downside of this upward gain in status is the attendant increase in their exposure to exorbitant often confiscatory taxes, forcible servitude as corvee laborers, military conscription, and put at the risk of becoming fair game for slave traders in either the commercial sense or as enslaved by adjacent Nation-States.
The Hill people, on the other hand, living at higher altitudes in much rougher terrain are best adapted to hunting and foraging, swindling, cultivation of root crops that are less observable by the tax authorities, and living in much smaller groups; all factors that greatly enhance their mobility. Therefore they can escape the less than tender mercies of the Valley people's rulers. While they may dwell within the boundaries of the territories established by the Valley rulers, a combination of the Hill people's impenetrable terrain and the other factors mentioned make them essentially non-statists.
Scott theorizes that when conditions in the Valley deteriorated or became more onerous the Valley people would tend to migrate into the hills and renounce their claim to statehood. Hence, in frequent waves of migration the Hill People's population would increase somewhat in proportion to the severity of social/economic conditions in the valleys. These new immigrants would tend to settle at lower elevations and the established Hill People would move into bands of lands at higher elevations. The point being that by relinquishing their statehood, so-called civilized members of society would consciously and deliberately join the stateless barbarians to escape persecution by their rulers. He also notes that in the dying days of the Roman Empire a considerable number of ex-Roman citizens sought refuge and asylum amongst the ranks of the barbarians. So his observations as they relate to Zambia are apropos to similar conditions in many other parts of the world. Persecuted settled societal groups would become nomads or herdsmen, etc, etc.
The balance of Scott's thesis is a detailed examination of how and by what means the residents of Zambia adapted their living conditions, their culture, their religions, and even their language patterns in order to avoid being absorbed by the State. This adaptation has been going on for a long time - a time-frame measurable in centuries - from pre-colonial times up to and including the colonization by European States. And, continues up into the present day and age.
In today's 21st Century World there are fewer and fewer regions that are suitable uninhabited to lend themselves to those seeking to escape tyranny. In America, for example, and in many parts of Western Europe there are scant places were a liberty-minded or freedom-loving people can escape absorption and the States imposed enforcement and coercion that accompanies their forced adoption of state-hood. At best perhaps is the ability to distance ones self from the grasp of the State as much as possible.
There is, of course, a rather radical solution which is finding favor amongst a growing number of individuals who are willing to become expatriates and migrate to other countries where onerous taxation, over-regulation and the erosion of liberties are less stifling. It could be expected that as monetary controls expand and the freedom of mobility are eroded the flight to more hospitable social/economic climes will cease to be a trickle and become a gush.
R. David Read
May 5, 2012
Word count: 919