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  The Ishmael Community: Questions and Answers

The Question (ID Number 653)...

    In your books, you seem to draw a very definite line between the structure between tribal life, and that of 'civilized' people, but I've encountered many tribes, that even before their contact with the civilized world, have had things in common with civilized society. As an example, the Potomac tribes had a vast stretch of land they controlled, had many branching tribes, and a complex system of trading, with their chieftain getting a cut of the action. There were tribes in the western parts of California and Washington that has slaves, people that did agricultural work, and kept them in seperate huts from the rest of the tribe. There were tribes that Spanish conquerors came across in America that had vast storehouses (guarded storehouses) that contained pearls, and gold. My question is, since these 'tribes' don't seem to fit under your qualifications for tribal life, are they still bona fide? Since they have been around for so long, and they seem to be working, are they in line with natural laws of conduct?

    ...and the response:

    There are well recognized stages in between the tribe and the state, some of which you are pointing to, but as far as I know none are around now, so it can't be said that "they have been around for so long, and they seem to be working." The "tribes" you describe with vast storehouses of pearls and gold were very probably not tribes at all. Living tribally doesn't equate to "natural laws of conduct." The tribe has been around for three million years--and can certainly be said to be working. By comparison, other human social organizations were around for minuscule periods of time--and the dominant one of the present can hard to be said to be working!


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