“They Become Disgusted With our Manner of Life”

 

Castalia Ohio, bike ride of Labor Day 1998 - where a War of 1812 captivity story began.Some of us on Ricochet have been wondering how to teach people to prefer the liberty of free markets to the security of socialism. Others have been lecturing us about how capitalism has made life fantastically better for humans.

Each time one of these discussions comes up, I wish people here knew more about Indian captivity narratives — the true ones, that is. These stories have been popular in North America since the late 1600s, though not always been viewed as essential knowledge.

I learned of a new one today while working in the archives of the historical library in a small town in Texas. I’m following up on the three stagecoach owners who operated a line between Detroit and Chicago, and then all went to Texas following the 1832 Black Hawk War. It turns out that a descendant of one of the three, a woman who did a lot of research on her family history, was the granddaughter of a man who had spent his formative years as an Indian.

Keep in mind that to most Indians in North America, your DNA or blood lineage isn’t what made you Indian. Your biological parentage isn’t what made you Indian. We might say your upbringing is what made you Indian. That isn’t the way Indians would say it, and it doesn’t exactly cover all situations, but we can consider it close enough for present purposes.

In this case, the young boy had been captured at the age of two. There was no information about how he was brought back to his Anglo family as an almost-grown young man, but apparently it was not his own choice, because he tried at least once to swim across a river to escape back to his Indian family. He eventually adjusted, more or less, and raised a family. I learned, approximately, where he’s buried, and someday will try to go there by bicycle to visit his grave, if there is a marker for it.

It’s a sketchy story without the detail of some of the better-known stories in Texas, such as those of Herman Lehmann or Cynthia Ann Parker, whose stories have been told at book length. And there are many similar stories in the Great Lakes region, such as those of John Tanner, Jonathan Adler, and Frances Slocum. (Tanner’s book, by the way, is claimed to be the only one that is much liked by Native Americans.)

But these stories all have in common a captive’s reluctance to go back to Anglo society and a difficult readjustment, or in Slocum’s case, a successful refusal. Parker died unhappily in white society. Many of the captives who were forcibly repatriated to their original Anglo families attempted to escape back to their Indian families. Many of them who finally acquiesced to life in their Anglo families maintained a lifelong relationship with their Indian families, with visits taking place in both directions.

Benjamin Franklin famously remarked on this phenomenon, writing in the mid-18th century:

when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived a while among them, tho’ ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet in a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again into the Woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them.

Franklin also pointed out, correctly, that this was a one-way phenomenon. It never worked the other way around. Indian children never learned to enjoy life among the English or stay with them.

But I think he was very wrong about one thing. The Indian way of life was not carefree. It had less of a hierarchical regimentation than the American settlers had, and was less structured around the clock. (Indians even today usually start their public meetings and celebrations late, with somebody sure to make a joke about running on Indian time. I have learned to be relaxed about getting to such events on time — where non-Indians are welcome, as they often are). But in the 18th and 19th centuries it was a brutal, care-laden existence.

John Tanner’s book told in stark detail of the marginal existence of Indian life. Starvation,
especially in winter, was often one hunting failure away. There was great joy and pride when he was able, with much exertion and risk, to provide for his Indian family. He formed strong bonds with his adoptive Indian mother and siblings, who went through these tribulations with him. Later in life, after he went back to visit his English family, a brother wanted to join him in his return to the Indians. But John didn’t let him, knowing that someone who had not been brought up in that life would be unable to take it.

By the way, John Tanner finally went back to white society voluntarily (though unhappily). And so did Jonathan Adler, perhaps more happily. It seems they did so for health care. Then as now, it was a destroyer of freedom. These two men started to feel their age, and it seems they knew they would not live as long in Indian society. They had been captured when they were old enough to remember their Anglo life, too.

But if Ben Franklin was wrong about life as an Indian being free of care, what was the attraction?

My hypothesis is that you develop strong bonds with other people when you depend on each other for life and death. You can develop bonds with others just by working with them at the office or the food bank, but even more so in matters of basic existence.

The opportunity to experience these bonds is destroyed by modern life. There was still some remnant of it in earlier agricultural life, where the family was an economic unit. But there is less now when work and family are usually two separate things. And there is even less where there are left-wingers who try to keep people from making any consequential decisions that leave them depending on each other rather than on the welfare state.

People are torn between a life of rich personal relationships on one hand, and on the other the conveniences and ease that modern capitalism or socialism offers.

So back to the original topics: Yes, capitalism has made some things better, but it has not necessarily made life better. It’s important to realize that life doesn’t consist of GDP, life-saving drugs, and ever-cheaper smartphones. Those things are certainly desirable on the one hand, but don’t expect your moralizing on this topic to keep people from coming out with torches and pitchforks to overthrow the regime that created them. Try to find some balance.

And for inducing people to prefer free markets to welfare socialism? Help them to observe the joy of taking risks together with loved ones. This can only be done in a society where we can still make decisions and choices. But if we run to government to make uniform regulations each time families make choices we don’t like, we’re not setting much of an example.

[The photo is of my bicycling destination on Labor Day 1998, where I was learning about  the first of a number of Indian captivity narratives.]

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  1. J. D. Fitzpatrick Inactive
    J. D. Fitzpatrick
    @JDFitzpatrick

    Nice post and great point.

    Back to the captivity narratives. My business partner, who’s in his late 60’s, told me a story about his grandfather, who was captured by Indians but escaped. I guess he chose to.

    His experience accords with your observation about starvation. The Indians were so hungry that they would run their fingers over the inside of  the wigwam to collect and eat the maggots that bred on the fleshy side of the hide.

    I’m now in no danger of romanticizing life under the aegis of the Great Spirit.

    • #1
  2. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Just a fascinating post, and deeply insightful. What you’re describing is what psychologists call “trauma bonding,” as if it’s entirely a negative thing. But it isn’t, and it’s real. I realized when I left Turkey how much deeper and more profound my friendships were there precisely because there was not only no state to take care of people like us, but an actively hostile and malign state that might kill us. Words like “I’d trust him with my life” become very literal when, in fact, you trust someone with your life, and not only in extremis (when you need cardiac surgery, say), but every day and with every confidence you share.

    I won’t have friendships like that in the France or the US. It’s not possible. The criteria for friendship in a wealthy and developed country is whether you feel a romantic spark or an intellectual connection or great comfort in telling someone about your personal problems, it’s not, “Well, he saved my life. Many times, in fact.”

    And I remember the first few days after I came back to Paris when it really sank in on me that I was somewhere so safe that no alertness was required. Where pedestrians looked horrified if a car didn’t slow for them, where the smell of smoke did not mean ‘fire,'” where buildings assuredly wouldn’t collapse, and where the cops manifestly weren’t intent on killing people. And it was amazing — I sat in that little Air B&B room and slept. For three days straight.

    But I don’t remember the difference between one day and another, here. And I don’t think anyone needs me, here: When the press is free, it’s no act of bravery to report the truth. (Although it’s often pointless, because people still believe what they want to believe.)

    A lot of things that give meaning to life — friendship, trust, love, loyalty, honesty, bravery — are much more dilute in a very developed and well-ordered country. The opportunity to experience these bonds is indeed destroyed by modern life.

    That’s a very deep insight, and I hadn’t really been able to articulate it to myself. Thank you.

    • #2
  3. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    I don’t quite see the connection with family, social bonds etc. A new smart phone isn’t contradictory to a close social bond. There’s nothing to say it requires a trade-off  (you can say you have to work more to get the phone, but you don’t. To get the same lifestyle as in 1960, you may need to work 10 hours a week today. But no one wants 1960s lifestyle)

    Those people with pitch forks against “capitalism” aren’t doing it to get back to friendship and family. They are doing out of envy for…more stuff. The whole point of socialism is “gimme more stuff”.

    On the other hand, what you’re talking about here seems to me to be about perception of whether one is better off or not. Some people today may feel they are worst off, not because they are worst off in either material or social measures, but rather because they had higher aspirations which they failed to achieve, or are dealing with social comparison: i.e. I have more (stuff of friends), but that other guy has even more than me, making me feel like I have less.

    So I don’t think you’re talking of capitalism or socialism. Rather, psychology. In hunter-gatherer cultures where little ever changes, social comparison may be at a minimum. In societies where things are always changing, someone is always going to be ahead of you, making you feel you are behind.

    • #3
  4. katievs Member
    katievs
    @katievs

    Love this post, and couldn’t agree more. I’ll only add that it needn’t be trauma or extreme hardship that forms the kind of deep personal bonds that so many in our wealthy, technological society lack. It could also be just more “normal” inter-dependence and mutual care over many years together in a particular place with its way of life.

    • #4
  5. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Behold!  Megan McCardle on this subject:

    • #5
  6. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    It must be similar to the bond many combat veterans feel for their squad-mates.

    • #6
  7. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Guruforhire:Behold! Megan McCardle on this subject:

    Fascinating. Also fascinating that it doesn’t occur to her that losing the ability to invest in social capital that way might be a genuine loss. It deprives people of a chance to exhibit and experience what may truly be more meaningful and more satisfying forms of love, loyalty, and altruism than sharing financial capital.

    • #7
  8. Weeping Member
    Weeping
    @Weeping

    The Reticulator: The opportunity to experience these bonds is destroyed by modern life. There was still some remnant of it in earlier agricultural life, where the family was an economic unit. But there is less now when work and family are usually two separate things.

    Along with this I think the mobility that comes with modern society – the relative ease with which family and friends can move long distances from one another – contributes to the fragility of those bonds as well.

    For example, my mom and dad had three children. My parents still live in the area us kids grew up in (southeast Tennessee). Out of the three of us, one of us stayed in the area; one of us moved to Massachusetts; and one of us moved to Texas. My husband is one of five children. His parents still live in the area he grew up in (northwest Arkansas). Out of the five kids, one stayed in the area; one stayed in the state but moved several hours away; two moved to Texas; and one married a military guy and has spent her adult life moving around. Do we still love our families? Absolutely. Are we particularly close to them? In some ways, yes; other ways, no. After spending decades living separate lives in separate states, we don’t necessarily have that much in common anymore and find it a bit hard to relate to each other at times.

    • #8
  9. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Guruforhire:Behold! Megan McCardle on this subject:

    Fascinating. Also fascinating that it doesn’t occur to her that losing the ability to invest in social capital that way might be a genuine loss. It deprives people of a chance to exhibit and experience what may truly be more meaningful and more satisfying forms of love, loyalty, and altruism than sharing financial capital.

    She’s an economist.  Economic thinking, regardless of its roots as applied philisophy mixed with applied math, has lost some of its connection to humanity.

    Yes, I miss fraternal bonds of the military.  There is something to shared experience.

    I used to try and skeeve attention off of trailerpark girls who would pass around guys.  So getting into the queue was like 4 guaranteed girlfriends.  But the trailerpark had a great sense of community and bonds, with whom I enjoyed hanging out.  Even when they were “fighting” they would still look out for each other.  There is something to a default assumption of ingroup loyalty.  In this violation of the default assumption you will see the righteous populist rage in the trump and bernie campaigns.

    Which is why I find it interesting when conservatives especially of amateur economist variant (doesn’t really understand economics enough to question the assumptions upon which it relies), lumping nativist in with xenophobe.  Neither of which are ever used correctly in a sentence.

    We will accept economic interdependence in international affairs as a positive good, but never interpersonal.  Odd that.

    • #9
  10. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    AIG:Those people with pitch forks against “capitalism” aren’t doing it to get back to friendship and family. They are doing out of envy for…more stuff. The whole point of socialism is “gimme more stuff”.

    I agree. I don’t even think it’s “envy for more stuff,” I think it’s just fashionable.

    • #10
  11. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Guruforhire: We will accept economic interdependence in international affairs as a positive good, but never interpersonal. Odd that.

    That is odd. And strikingly odd, now that you mention it.

    • #11
  12. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Guruforhire: She’s an economist. Economic thinking, regardless of its roots as applied philisophy mixed with applied math, has lost some of its connection to humanity.

    That’s a bit harsh. Careful before we cross the line into romanticizing poverty and backwardness. She’s correct to say that whatever the emotional compensations, poverty’s not a good thing. Money can buy a lot of happiness.

    • #12
  13. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Guruforhire: She’s an economist. Economic thinking, regardless of its roots as applied philisophy mixed with applied math, has lost some of its connection to humanity.

    That’s a bit harsh. Careful before we cross the line into romanticizing poverty and backwardness. She’s correct to say that whatever the emotional compensations, poverty’s not a good thing. Money can buy a lot of happiness.

    I am not romanticizing poverty, I am pointing out that economists have lost the plot, and she even owns the fact that she lost the plot, which is to her credit.

    Don’t get wrong.  I am going to put on my $500 dollar loafers and a cashmere sweater and roll into the manchester airport like an italian model (les dernières collections parisiennes est tres mal).  I get it money is pretty freakin awesome, and nobody in my rural family understands where I came from with my highbrow tastes and hedonistic consumption.  At the same time, I get it, I was born and raised in small town rural america.  No amount of $100 steaks can fill the hole left by a lack of bonds of community and interdependence.  Even solomon wrestled with this.  Isn’t it half the point of Ecclesiastes?  He had a thousand wives and a thousand concubines, if that didn’t produce enough dopamine to produce satisfaction…..

    I am increasingly aware of the opportunity costs of my life choices.

    • #13
  14. Majestyk Contributor
    Majestyk
    @Majestyk

    This post reminds me vaguely that “misery loves company.”

    I am inclined to believe that even though life wasn’t carefree living among the Indians that the reason it was preferable to these people is primarily because of its higher quotient of free time.

    This is demonstrable by the relative economic output of the two societies twinned with the fact that so much of the labor being done was done by people. Agricultural societies required their members to put in a lot of effort year round in order to produce that higher per capita GDP, whereas hunter-gatherer societies weren’t as concerned about planning for 6 months from now as much as they were about success in hunting today.

    • #14
  15. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    Very interesting post. I learned a lot. Thank you.

    • #15
  16. Old Buckeye Inactive
    Old Buckeye
    @OldBuckeye

    Reticulator, this is such an interesting post. I never thought about the captive stories. You mention Tanner’s book as being the one Native Americans find acceptable–would that be The Falcon? Would you say that one is also a good read or is there another that is better? Thanks!

    • #16
  17. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Saying that one’s desire to return to the subsistence poverty lifestyle in which one was raised is evidence that modern industrial society doesn’t make life better is sorta like saying that Stockholm Syndrome is evidence that kidnappers are doing their victims a favour.

    • #17
  18. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Misthiocracy:Saying that one’s desire to return to the subsistence poverty lifestyle in which one was raised is evidence that modern industrial society doesn’t make life better is sorta like saying that Stockholm Syndrome is evidence that kidnappers are doing their victims a favour.

    I think you should consider the 2 factor theory of motivation:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two-factor_theory

    • #18
  19. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Randy Webster:

    It must be similar to the bond many combat veterans feel for their squad-mates.

    That was my first thought while reading this and I’d wager it — and Reticulator — are getting at something very important and real: that humans are naturally drawn toward small groups working together through difficulty. It’s our factory default setting and there’s a lot of advantage to it.

    On the other hand, it comes at great cost, both materially (obviously) and morally. It’s probably not a coincidence that the rise of small-l liberalism coincides with the birth of industrialization.

    • #19
  20. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Guruforhire: I think you should consider the 2 factor theory of motivation:

    Interesting. What does it predict, though? Say I have a high motivation, low hygiene job — what will I do next?

    • #20
  21. katievs Member
    katievs
    @katievs

    Will I make you all crazy by saying this is just what Pope Francis means when he critiques capitalism? That is, he isn’t calling for socialism. He isn’t comparing economic systems at all. He’s talking about the losses of real human goods that have attended capitalism. He’s calling for more social solidarity—not because he’s a leftist, but because he’s concerned about the wellbeing and happiness of human beings. Greater material wealth doesn’t necessarily translate to “better human life.”

    • #21
  22. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Hayek discusses this a bit in the Fatal Conceit “solidarity, altruism, group decision” as values found in our innate moral system and “savings, several property, honesty” as constructed or evolved morals that arise only within civilization.

    We naturally inuit the former, and they work well under circumstances that reflect our state of nature (small groups acting under strenuous circumstances). In contrast, the latter have to be taught, but are (increasingly) necessary for a modern, more integrated society and economy.

    • #22
  23. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Guruforhire: I think you should consider the 2 factor theory of motivation:

    Interesting. What does it predict, though? Say I have a high motivation, low hygiene job — what will I do next?

    Depends.  Since you are proposing a rhetorically neutral position we should also consider the EPO model; Within EPO is the concept of valence.  Or how meaningful any of hte given factors are.

    If for instance you are like my friend whose daughter was born with a disorder which afflicts a handful of people in the world (10s), the treatment of which is lifelong and ungodly expensive, hygenes may have a higher valence than the motivators.

    If you are a young man starting your career, you may consider the motivators to be more important such as the (primarily) young men who flock to start up culture.

    • #23
  24. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    katievs:Will I make you all crazy by saying this is just what Pope Francis means when he critiques capitalism? That is, he isn’t saying socialism isn’t calling for socialism. He isn’t comparing economic systems. He’s talking about the loss of real human goods. He’s calling for more social solidarity—not because he’s a leftist, but because he’s concerned about the real good and happiness of human beings.

    You won’t make me crazy. I’m quite impressed by him and have been grateful for his moral voice.

    • #24
  25. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    katievs:

    Will I make you all crazy by saying this is just what Pope Francis means when he critiques capitalism? That is, he isn’t saying socialism isn’t calling for socialism. He isn’t comparing economic systems. He’s talking about the loss of real human goods. He’s calling for more social solidarity—not because he’s a leftist, but because he’s concerned about the real good and happiness of human beings.

    You would not, and I’d concede that that part of Francis’ argument is more than defensible. Those values are important and modern society does strain them.

    Where Francis drives some of us crazy (e.g., me) is in his inability to see that all the good things about modern society could not be maintained if we took his advice half as far as he suggests. If you like the world having 7B+ people who aren’t starving, dying of disease, and who have no leisure then you’re going to have to settle for a lot of impersonal capitalism that strains the kinds of bonds he’s talking about.

    That’s not to say that we can’t do better or that we shouldn’t try, it’s just that some good things are in opposition to each other.

    • #25
  26. Father B. Inactive
    Father B.
    @FatherB

    Thanks for the post. I thoroughly enjoyed it. People who are interested in learning more about this phenomenon should read James Axtell, “The White Indians of Colonial America,” William & Mary Quarterly 32, no. 1 (Jan., 1975): 55-88.

    I’m not sure I agree with your assertion that the reverse “never” happened, that Indian children never learned to enjoy western life. There were, for example, many Native Americans who became Christians and chose to live in what the Puritans called Praying Towns. There the Indians often adopted European-style homes and European trades and animals and (obviously) religion. Some of those Christian-Indian communities lasted well into the nineteenth century.

    Not quite the same thing, I know. And there were many complex reasons that Indians converted to Christianity. But it’s worth pointing out that adoption/adaptation flowed both ways.

    • #26
  27. Paula Lynn Johnson Inactive
    Paula Lynn Johnson
    @PaulaLynnJohnson

    This was excellent and gave me a lot of food for thought.  For anyone interested, the Cynthia Parker story is given a lot of attention in the book “Empire of the Summer Moon,” which is a fantastic read. I was raised on 70s-revisionist Native American history, so that book was a real eye-opener for me.  After learning about the Comanche, I finally understood the Texan reputation for toughness.

    Weeping: Along with this I think the mobility that comes with modern society – the relative ease with which family and friends can move long distances from one another – contributes to the fragility of those bonds as well.

    I’m with you there, Weeping. My brother’s in Illinois, I’m in New Jersey, and my aging parents are in California.  Old friends have scattered, too.  I didn’t really feel the distance until I had kids and was separated from the very people who were dying to help out (selfish, I know).  That’s another reason why the prohibitive taxes in places like NJ are so damaging: They force generations to break up and move away from each other.

    • #27
  28. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Father B.: There were, for example, many Native Americans who became Christians and chose to live in what the Puritans called Praying Towns. There the Indians often adopted European-style homes and European trades and animals and (obviously) religion. Some of those Christian-Indian communities lasted well into the nineteenth century.

    Every so often I remember that American history is this strange, exotic thing. I had no idea of this. I wish the article was online; I’d love to read that.

    • #28
  29. St. Salieri Member
    St. Salieri
    @

    Well, I think another historical piece of the puzzle is – while classical liberalism was being birthed in the late 18th century, this was also a society that had intense conformity mechanisms that operated with & without the state as well.  Also, missing from Franklin’s critique are those that moved between both worlds, but didn’t become part of either.  Those on the frontier often had a hybrid culture that horrified settlers from further east.

    The point I think is well taken, the industrial revolution has brought about a sundering of normal human bonds; the autonomy it grants comes at a high price.

    I once interviewed a great-Aunt who had been born into the world of fireplaces, kerosene lamps, and horse drawn vehicles.  She, like me was raised within the same five miles radius that our family on the maternal side, and half my father’s side had occupied since the 1780’s-90’s.  In discussing the changes in her life, she recounted most the changes in personal relationships.  The loss of family, church, and community bonds were what she saw as the great tragedy of her 85 years.  As we discussed it (she was a brilliant woman) I asked her if she would trade her modern conveniences to return to that, to quote her, “world of family feeling”, after thinking a few minutes, she said, “No, no, I wouldn’t.”  I was shocked, but I appreciated her honesty.

    • #29
  30. OkieSailor Member
    OkieSailor
    @OkieSailor

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Guruforhire: She’s an economist. Economic thinking, regardless of its roots as applied philisophy mixed with applied math, has lost some of its connection to humanity.

    That’s a bit harsh. Careful before we cross the line into romanticizing poverty and backwardness. She’s correct to say that whatever the emotional compensations, poverty’s not a good thing. Money can buy a lot of happiness.

    There is a balance to be had or at least sought. I told my own kids (teenagers), “Don’t aspire to poverty. Money isn’t everything but lack of money isn’t anything.”
    Money, like other ‘things’ is a good, even wonderful, servant but a horrible Master.

    • #30

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