Sovereign nomads are people that periodically move from place to place to avoid subjugation by nation states. Because they refuse to worship the state, they must seek out places where nations allow them to live in peace.
My ancestors were nomads. Some of my ancestors left Europe for greater opportunities in America. In America they built a new nation on the frontier where they could be free. Later, they moved from the established areas in the Eastern US to the Western frontier where they could practice their religion in peace. There, they built a prosperous society.
Both Pilgrims and Pioneers moved to the edge of the world to rebuild civilization in a new model. They were strong, independent people that built societies that balanced individual freedom and community. What they didn’t realize is that in rebuilding society, they were recreating the conditions that forced them to escape in the first place. The problem wasn’t the particular civilization they left, it was civilization itself.
The freedom my ancestors enjoyed, and the strength of the societies they built, was a result of the frontier conditions in which they lived. Once the land they settled was no longer on the frontier, the slow degradation of the society they built began.
So, there are two ways I can respect the heritage of my ancestors: I can live in the society they built, or I can leave and build something new (like they did). So which should you choose? Civilization or frontier?
First, let me clarify what I mean by these terms. The key difference between civilization and frontier is the form of social hierarchy. Humans evolved in small groups where opportunities to dominate others were very limited. I don’t believe that these groups were absolutely egalitarian. But the inequality didn’t accumulate like it does in civilization.
Hierarchy is the brick of the tower of babel. You can build homes and walls with mud, but only when you can stack layer upon layer of social inequality can you get a tower that reaches toward heaven.
With layered hierarchy comes bureaucracy, and bureaucracy changes the moral landscape in a way that makes individuals weak. Consider the following description of life within a bureaucracy from the book Moral Mazes:
[bureaucracy] regularizes people’s experiences of time and indeed routinizes their lives by engaging them on a daily basis in rational, socially approved, purposive action; it brings them into daily proximity with and subordination to authority, creating in the process upward-looking stances that have decisive social and psychological consequences; it places a premium on a functionally rational, pragmatic habit of mind that seeks specific goals; and it creates subtle measures of prestige and an elaborate status hierarchy that, in addition to fostering an intense competition for status, also makes the rules, procedures, social contexts, and protocol of an organization paramount psychological and behavioral guides
At first, being confronted with “rational, socially approved, purposive action” on a regular basis doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. But this kind of work eventually leads to a form of dependence. Specifically, people become dependent on the apparatus for purpose. We crave prepackaged purpose, and lose the ability to form our own, either alone or in human-scale groups.
There are two great domains where civilization infantilizes us: making money and raising children. In the case of work, we are placed “into daily proximity with and subordination to authority” that chooses the type and volume of work we do. Our goals are chosen for us, the means of production are provided for us, and the greatest risk of failure we face is displeasing our boss.
When it comes to raising our children, the situation is even worse. We are taxed, and these taxes pay for the state to take on the role of raising our children for us. If we choose not to take advantage of the state’s offer to take away this responsibility, we are still taxed. Plus, we still need to find a way to fit into the corporate cube that is required for most people to work. Thus, the state creates an enormous incentive for us to give over our children and let them be socialized.
Corporate work and public schools are great for civilization, but what is good for civilization is not necessarily good for individual humans. Consider the fact that after civilization underwent the great leap of the agricultural revolution, it resulted in the impoverishment and physical diminishment of those who lived in the civilization.
Physically, we have largely recovered from the agricultural revolution, but psychologically we have not yet recovered from the industrial revolution (much less, the information age). By and large, people living in the modern world are emotionally and psychologically stunted.
Sovereign nomads refuse to sacrifice themselves and their children to this Moloch — civilization. Instead, they insist on living (i.e., working and raising children) in sub-Dunbar communities.
This does not mean they withdraw from modern society entirely. Pioneers, Pilgrims, and nomads seek opportunities on the frontier. And the frontier is never too far from civilization. It is on the border. Nomads take advantage of any opportunities and technologies that advance their purposes, but they refuse to let layered hierarchies order their lives.
When civilization encroaches on their land, they must move. It may not happen frequently, but they must be prepared. There is no point in fighting the advance of civilization, but they must not be overtaken.