“Traditional Native American cultures ... have generally been despised and ridiculed ... for their voluntary simplicity and social equality”
The schizophrenic American mind is, after all, a contrasting, awkward blend of old European values — with their long history of aristocratic social hierarchies, stratification, and dominance over Nature — with a respectable dosage of rugged Native American independence with its defiance of authority, reverence for Nature, and egalitarian social structures.
Curiously, the notion of Indian ‘chief’ is actually of European descent, where it was natural that a leader in society should tell other people what to do. Furthermore, this person should be easily recognizable by their dress, by the behavior of subordinates, and by the size of their dwellings.
Since most Indian societies were egalitarian, the early Europeans were often confused and frustrated when they could not readily identify the Indian ‘chiefs.’ They were confounded by the fact that the leaders wore the same clothing as other people, were treated the same, and lived in similar dwellings.
Tellingly, a surprising number of early European settlers wound up joining Indian society rather than remaining loyal to their own culture and group — but flow in the opposite direction very rarely happened! Apparently, the intensely communal nature of an Indian tribe held an appeal that the material benefits of Western civilization couldn’t offer.
And, of no small consequence, Indian clothing was far more sensible and comfortable in the New World!
The Native American religion was less harsh and its social structures were essentially classless and egalitarian and emphasized sharing.
Some Native American societies threw annual feasts in which they gave away all surplus food and other possessions, thereby keeping material inequality and surplus accumulation from gaining a foothold. As a consequence, no one was rich or powerful enough to capture the government and steer it toward their own individual, selfish ends.
Of these two value sets, the classic European values with their Nature-dominating 'human supremacy', technology-focused notions of societal progress and stratified social hierarchy clearly won out. People feel the need to work hard to fit into this model and climb the ladder of wealth and social status. It has become a core element of the ‘American Dream’.
Traditional Native American cultures — with their ethics of simplicity, sharing, egalitarianism, reverence for Nature and that most fragile of assets, mutual trust — have generally been despised and ridiculed by the white European conquerors for their voluntary simplicity and social equality. Yet the American mind still contains elements of both value sets. And a subculture of simplicity and equality still exists.
Social science researchers are now (re)discovering that societies with severely unequal wealth and income distributions are less happy. Extreme inequality creates a sense of unfairness, erodes social trust, cohesion, and solidarity. It's also linked to poorer health, higher levels of crime, and less social mobility.
So it should not be surprising that a ‘woke’ subculture of voluntary simplicity and social equality define the essence of the American Dream for a small minority — a minority that is rapidly growing.