I just finished reading David Stuart’s book Anasazi America. The societies at Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde were stratified and polarized between the elites of the Great Houses who lived well and had low infant mortality and the small farmers who suffered hunger and had high infant mortality.

These stratified societies ended, possibly in violence, and were replaced by the pueblos, intensely communal and egalitarian societies, in which sharing of food and resources guaranteed social stability and gave their inhabitants a level of health achieved only by the elites in the previous societies.

Stuart sees a parallel to modern America. Even in 2000 he saw the enormous increase in wealth at the top of the population and the economic stagnation of the lower reaches of the population. He would like to see a more egalitarian society.

That theme has been taken up by the Occupy Wall Street movement. Many people feel that the top 1% is unfairly benefitting while the rest of society is stagnating. Higher taxes for public health, education, and infrastructure are the usual solution.

But taxing the very top of society won’t produce the massive amounts of money needed; the middle class still has the vast amount of money, and would have to be more heavily taxed.

Homogenous societies like Sweden have a far greater sense of communal responsibility than highly diverse societies like America. They can run welfare states because everyone feels like family. The degree of conformity imposed by intensely communal societies, like the Pueblo, would not be tolerated by Euro-Americans, whose motto is Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.

Also, many Americans suspect that some (many? most?) people’s economic difficulties are caused by their self-destructive behavior: not getting married and not staying married, obesity, alcohol, drugs, crime, dropping out of school, and taking on speculative mortgages in hopes of flipping  a property and making a killing. The sympathy for people who create their own problems is limited. They are, in the Victorian phrase, the undeserving poor. But even the Victorians knew that such people needed help in the form of social discipline. But who in our society has the moral authority to exercise such social discipline? And Americans also dislike discipline on principle, as George III learned. We have always been an adolescent nation.

Leave a Comment