So I was arguing with Rickety Bro, the California Liberal, who thinks (I’m paraphrasing, I believe accurately) that we’d be better off in a world without guns.
“We know what a world without guns looks like,” I say. “It’s a world run by big, strong, testosterone monsters with swords telling everyone else what to do and getting whatever they want.”
And Bro comes up with a counterexample: Pre-Columbian Native Americans.
Now, there are several possible responses:
You can point to the Aztecs, who ran an empire on bloody sacrifice, based on Stone Age tech; they didn’t even use bronze.
You can point to the Conquistadors, who demolished the Aztec empire in a generation when they arrived with Iron Age technology, including swords and guns. This shows that a low tech barbarian culture, however aggressive, is likely to succumb to a high tech culture.
Or, now, you can point to the Puebloans, formerly known as the Anasazi.
It was not so very long ago that many archaeologists regarded the Ancestral Puebloan people–or the Anasazi, as researchers once called them–as a rather peaceful, mystical group of astronomers, artists, priests and farmers. They based this idea largely on their observations of modern Puebloan peoples: the Hopi, the Zuni and others who lived in traditional pueblos, such as Taos, and who often lived quiet lives of ritual and spirituality.
But in the early 90s, some Southwestern archaeologists began questioning this received wisdom. David Wilcox, an archaeologist at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, hypothesized that the rulers of Chaco Canyon, a massive Ancestral Puebloan site, commanded a small army and demanded tribute from their southern neighbors, slaughtering any who didn’t comply. As evidence, Wilcox pointed to charnel pits excavated in dozens of Ancestral Puebloan sites dating to the late 10th and early 11th century C.E.: these pits looked like mass graves from a war zone.
At first most Southwestern archaeologists just shook their head and smiled at Wilcox’s ideas. But evidence of very nasty times in the ancient Southwest began to accumulate. Physical anthropologist Christy Turner, now a professor emeritus at Arizona State University, and others detected traces of extreme violence and cannibalism on human bones unearthed at 40 different Ancestral Puebloan sites. Such acts of cannibalism, Wilcox suggested, were political messages, deliberate desecration of the dead as a warning to others.
I find it very unlikely that pre-Columbian indigenes were any more peaceful than any other humans in the Old World. That is, some tribes in some areas probably were more peaceful on average than others. However, always, some group would realize that by training as warriors, they could lord it over their neighbors.
The thing about firearms is that even the infirm can mount an effective defense against predators. It can be very difficult to subdue a culture backed by a tradition of liberty, and even minimal training.
Without an armed and ready populace, you inevitably get taken over by the Mongols, the Aztecs, the Anasazi, the Conquistadors, or the socialists.