Essay: A People's History of a Resource-Based Economic Model
“Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island’s beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts.”
I just started reading Howard Zinn’s “A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present.” Having only finished the first chapter, I find myself compelled to stop and write this essay. I figured out in short order that this is a view of American history through the eyes of the common people, rather than the political and economic elites, and one that challenges the very history most of us were taught in school.
Zinn writes, “The historian’s distortion is more than technical, it is ideological; it is released into a world of contending interests, where any chosen emphasis supports (whether the historian means to or not) some kind of interest, whether economic or political or racial or national or sexual.”
This very notion, that we need to question all the history we ever learned, blows my mind (yet at the same time opens it). The fact that we can’t even know what the real history is, what the truth is, due to political or economic or worldview bias, suggests that we need to give some serious consideration to how we’ve structured our society over the past several hundred years, and whether we’ve really evolved much at all since Christopher Columbus’ time. And what does this mean for the validity of all our current understandings of everything we are being told and taught and take for granted as simply “the way things are”?
Perhaps, with history writing like that of Zinn, we really can look back in time through the smoke screens of ideology, to find the real truth and wisdom that might enable us to salvage our future and create a world that works for everyone, not just the 1%. In looking back at our American history, let’s hold a deeper perspective, and keep an eye on what many people are now seeing as the real “root cause” of our historical and current global problems—the monetary system itself. I will be pointing to a possible new world based on what many are now calling a “Resource-based Economic Model” *—or a world without monetary exchange of any kind. We have to look no farther than the first chapter of Zinn’s “A People’s History” to see a real example of how some humans, namely the native Americans, once lived and how we might live once again, only much better. This time it will be with all the benefits and abundance provided by everything mankind has created and learned about since 1492, such as technology, the scientific method, whole systems thinking, and our greater understandings of individual consciousness and cultural evolution. Without throwing the baby out with the bathwater, historical monetary economic systems and the evolutionary advancements they fostered where necessary to get us where we are today. But now they are simply outdated, unnecessary, and counter-productive to our survival.
I would argue that it is imperative that we move quickly towards a world without money, for those very same technological and scientific achievements which hold much hope for goodness, might instead lead to our demise (as was also demonstrated in chapter one with the modern weaponry of the time) under our current socioeconomic systems and value structures. In short, if the evolution of our values and culture and systems does not catch up with the evolution of our technology, by way of a completely new zeitgeist, or paradigm, I fear that humanity’s extinction is imminent.
I present below some of Zinn’s key points from chapter 1, underneath the headers of “Monetary Paradigm” or “Non-monetary Paradigm”. In this way I hope to emphasize not only the resultant negative conditions, or by-products, of a monetary-based economic model, but also the more humane and sane ways of human existence under a Resource-based Economic model that were once present…and could be again.
Non-Monetary Paradigm (On Sharing, On Nonviolence):
He [Christopher Columbus] later wrote of this in his log:
They . . . brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned. . .They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features. . .They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance…
These Arawaks of the Bahama Islands were much like Indians on the mainland, who were remarkable (European observers were to say again and again) for their hospitality, their belief in sharing.
Monetary Paradigm (On Domination Driven by Money):
These traits did not stand out in the Europe of the Renaissance, dominated as it was by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money that marked Western civilization and its first messenger to the Americas, Christopher Columbus. Columbus wrote: As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts. The information that Columbus wanted most was: Where is the gold?
Non-Monetary Paradigm (On Communal Relationships, On Appreciation of Beauty):
Arawaks lived in village communes, had a developed agriculture of corn, yams, cassava. They could spin and weave, but they had no horses or work animals. They had no iron, but they wore tiny gold ornaments in their ears.
Monetary Paradigm (On Distortion of Truth by Money):
…this was to have enormous consequences: it led Columbus to take some of them aboard ship as prisoners because he insisted that they guide him to the source of the gold. He then sailed to what is now Cuba, then to Hispaniola...[and] took more Indian prisoners and put them aboard his two remaining ships…Columbus’s report to the Court in Madrid was extravagant…His descriptions were part fact, part fiction: Hispaniola is a miracle. Mountains and hills, plains and pastures, are both fertile and beautiful . . . the harbors are unbelievably good and there are many wide rivers of which the majority contain gold. . .There are many spices, and great mines of gold and other metals. . .
Because of Columbus’s exaggerated report and promises, his second expedition was given seventeen ships and more than twelve hundred men.
Non-Monetary Paradigm (On Abundance, On Ownership):
…The Indians, Columbus reported, “are so naïve and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone. . .”
Monetary Paradigm (On Great Cruelties, such as Ownership of People, driven by Money):
…On Haiti…They found no gold fields, but had to fill up the ships returning to Spain with some kind of dividend. In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five hundred, two hundred died en route…Columbus later wrote: “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.” But too many of the slaves died in captivity.
…Among the Arawaks, mass suicides began, with cassava poison. Infants were killed to save them from the Spaniards. In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead. When it became clear that there was no gold left, the Indians were taken as slave labor on huge estates, known later as encomiendas. They were worked at a ferocious pace, and died by the thousands. By the year 1515, there were perhaps fifty thousand Indians left. By 1550, there were five hundred. A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawaks or their descendants left on the island.
Non-Monetary Paradigm (On Non-Ownership of Men OR Women, On Appreciation of Beauty, On Gift Economics, On Sustainability):
The chief source of information about what happened on the islands after Columbus came is Bartolomé de las Casas…[in his] multi-volume History of the Indies…he describes the Indians.
“They are not completely peaceful, because they do battle from time to time with other tribes, but their casualties seem small, and they fight when they are individually moved to do so because of some grievance, not on the orders of captains or kings. Women in Indian society were treated so well as to startle the Spaniards. Las Casas describes sex relations: Marriage laws are non-existent: men and women alike choose their mates and leave them as they please, without offense, jealousy or anger…The Indians, Las Casas says, have no religion, at least no temples. They live in large communal bell-shaped buildings, housing up to 600 people at one time . . . made of very strong wood and roofed with palm leaves. . .. They prize bird feathers of various colors, beads made of fish bones, and green and white stones with which they adorn their ears and lips, but they put no value on gold and other precious things. They lack all manner of commerce, neither buying nor selling, and rely exclusively on their natural environment for maintenance. They are extremely generous with their possessions and by the same token covet the possessions of their friends and expect the same degree of liberality. . .”
Monetary Paradigm (On Genocide, On Distortion of Human Nature, On the TRUE History):
So, Las Casas reports, “they suffered and died in the mines and other labors in desperate silence, knowing not a soul in the world to whom they could turn for help. . . In this way, husbands died in the mines, wives died at work, and children died from lack of milk . . . and in a short time this land which was so great, so powerful and fertile . . . was depopulated. . .My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write. . .”
Las Casas says, “there were 60,000 people living on this island…so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself [Las Casas] writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it. . .”
Thus began the history, five hundred years ago, of the European invasion of the Indian settlements in the Americas.
Monetary Paradigm (On Distortion of Truth by Worldviews, On Higher Morality, On Dominator Hierarchies):
When we read the history books given to children in the United States, it all starts with heroic adventure—there is no bloodshed—and Columbus Day is a celebration.
In his popular book Christopher Columbus, Mariner, written in 1954, he tells about the enslavement and the killing: “The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide.” That is on one page, buried halfway into the telling of a grand romance. In the book’s last paragraph, Morison sums up his view of Columbus: He had his faults and his defects, but they were largely the defects of the qualities that made him great—his indomitable will, his superb faith in God and in his own mission as the Christ-bearer to lands beyond the seas, his stubborn persistence despite neglect, poverty and discouragement…He does not omit the story of mass murder; indeed he describes it with the harshest word one can use: genocide. [He] mentions the truth quickly and goes on to other things more important to him. To state the facts…and then to bury them in a mass of other information is to say to the reader with a certain infectious calm: yes, mass murder took place, but it’s not that important—it should weigh very little in our final judgments; it should affect very little what we do in the world.
The history…conceals fierce conflicts of interest…between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people…not to be on the side of the executioners.
Monetary Paradigm (On Private Property and Competition, On Murder, On the Myth of So-called “Developed” Civilizations, On the 1%):
Behind the English invasion of North America, behind their massacre of Indians, their deception, their brutality, was that special powerful drive born in civilizations based on private property. It was a morally ambiguous drive; the need for space, for land, was a real human need. But in conditions of scarcity, in a barbarous epoch of history ruled by competition, this human need was transformed into the murder of whole peoples.
…all the gold and silver stolen and shipped to Spain did not make the Spanish people richer. It gave their kings an edge in the balance of power for a time, a chance to hire more mercenary soldiers for their wars. They ended up losing those wars anyway, and all that was left was a deadly inflation, a starving population, the rich richer, the poor poorer, and a ruined peasant class.
Non-Monetary Paradigm (On Peace and Happiness, On the Commons, On Equality and Abundance for All):
…the legendary Dekaniwidah spoke to the [League of the Iroquois]: “We bind ourselves together by taking hold of each others hands so firmly and forming a circle so strong that if a tree should fall upon it, it could not shake nor break it, so that our people and grandchildren shall remain in the circle in security, peace and happiness.”
In the villages of the Iroquois, land was owned in common and worked in common. Hunting was done together, and the catch was divided among the members of the village. Houses were considered common property and were shared by several families. The concept of private ownership of land and homes was foreign to the Iroquois. A French Jesuit priest who encountered them in the 1650s wrote: “No poorhouses are needed among them, because they are neither mendicants nor paupers. . .Their kindness, humanity and courtesy not only makes them liberal with what they have, but causes them to possess hardly anything except in common.”
Non-Monetary Paradigm (On Gender Equality and Masculine/Feminine Balance, On Non-ownership of Partners, On Families, On Natural Balance of Power):
Women were important and respected in Iroquois society. Families were matrilineal. That is, the family line went down through the female members, whose husbands joined the family, while sons who married then joined their wives’ families. Each extended family lived in a “long house.” When a woman wanted a divorce, she set her husband’s things outside the door. Families were grouped in clans, and a dozen or more clans might make up a village. The senior women in the village named the men who represented the clans at village and tribal councils. They also named the forty-nine chiefs who were the ruling council for the Five Nation confederacy of the Iroquois. The women attended clan meetings, stood behind the circle of men who spoke and voted, and removed the men from office if they strayed too far from the wishes of the women.
“Thus power was shared between the sexes and the European idea of male dominance and female subordination in all things was conspicuously absent in Iroquois society.”
Non-Monetary Paradigm (On Nurturing Healthy Children, On Collective Individualism and Non-Authoritarianism):
Children in Iroquois society, while taught the cultural heritage of their people and solidarity with the tribe, were also taught to be independent, not to submit to overbearing authority. They were taught equality in status and the sharing of possessions. The Iroquois did not use harsh punishment on children; they did not insist on early weaning or early toilet training, but gradually allowed the child to learn self-care.
Non-Monetary Paradigm (On Minimal Governance and Minimal Crime, On Individual Autonomy, On Morality and Justice):
Gary Nash describes Iroquois culture: No laws and ordinances, sheriffs and constables, judges and juries, or courts or jails—the apparatus of authority in European societies—were to be found in the northeast woodlands prior to European arrival. Yet boundaries of acceptable behavior were firmly set. Though priding themselves on the autonomous individual, the Iroquois maintained a strict sense of right and wrong. . .He who stole another's food or acted less than valorously in war was “shamed” by his people and ostracized from their company until he had atoned for his actions and demonstrated to their satisfaction that he had morally purified himself.
Non-Monetary Paradigm (On Healthy and Sustainable Relationships…with One Another and with Nature):
So, Columbus and his successors [came] into a world which in some places was as densely populated as Europe itself, where the culture was complex, where human relations were more egalitarian than in Europe, and where the relations among men, women, children, and nature were more beautifully worked out than perhaps any place in the world.
They paid careful attention to the development of personality, intensity of will, independence and flexibility, passion and potency, to their partnership with one another and with nature.
John Collier, an American scholar who lived among Indians in the 1920s and 1930s in the American Southwest, said of their spirit: “Could we make it our own, there would be an eternally inexhaustible earth and a forever lasting peace.”
The Next Chapter?
I believe the global “Occupy” protests are pointing to the healthier ways of human existence as demonstrated by the Native American Indians. Let’s take a deeper look at the Occupy movement’s “cities within cities”, with their sharing of food, shelter, clothing, books, and ideas…ALL without money. Is this harking back to the so-called primitive ways of the Arawak? Or, with the use of laptop computers, wi-fi internet, smart phones, independent news media, and global consciousness…might the Occupy protesters be including yet transcending the ways of the Arawak to a global worldview that embraces the use of science and technology for human betterment. I see it as our choice, to accept and allow a monetary culture, and the destructive forces it unleashes, as evidenced by what “really” happened over five hundred years ago—and has continually happened in our culture time after time after time ever since. Or to evolve to a world beyond money…to a world of true freedom, of true individuality, of true community, of true harmony with nature, of true civilization. Let us make the shift towards a world that nurtures NOT what Las Casas referred to as “acts so foreign to human nature”, but instead to our true human nature…that of goodness, beauty, and truth.
*To learn more about a resource-based economic model please visit these websites: