Capitalism is evil: Michael Moore Movie Echos Ancient Beliefs

If you want to keep up with celebrity news a Toronto newspaper is a good place to get it.

The Toronto International Film Festival is in full swing, with its long list of celebrities and accompanying red carpet antics.

But theres one story in particular that might be of interest to archaeology fans out there.

Michael Moore (of Fahrenheit 9/11 fame) is out with his new movie, Capitalism: A Love Story. He held a 45 minute press conference in Toronto to publicize it and hes given a number of media interviews about his ideas.

The movie, from what Ive read, can best be summed up by this quote- capitalism is evil. His idea being that our economic system, with its social inequities and corporate influence, is serving many of us poorly and we need to move to a system that is more egalitarian.

In one interview, on Larry King Live, pictures were shown of an automotive plant in Flint Michigan, where his dad worked, which has recently been torn down.Michigan has been going through aperiod ofeconomicupheaval the past decade. Its unemployment rate, (about 16 percent) is among the highest in the United States.

I expect that given the timeliness of Moores argument (big businesses are not the most fashionable institutions in North America at the moment) his movie will do well.

But, Moore’s idea goes back into Michigan’s history… possiblyas far back as 1,000 years. How this can be is a bit complicated so read on.

As this article summarizes, 1,000 years ago there was a revolution of sorts in the Great Lakes area (including the area around Flint). The people who lived there, whom we callIroquoian,began to depend on farming for survival and moved into year round settlements to support it.

As time goes on these settlements become bigger and people build large communal houses known as longhouses. This continues for nearly 600 years, until Europeans arrive in large numbers.

One thing that doesnt happen is that we dont see the arrival of what we would consider a capitalist society. Society continued to be egalitarian. Indeed the longhouses, where numerous families live in one home, are a symbol of this. There are no palaces or super-rich burials or even monumental architecture.

I asked several prominent Great Lakes archaeologists ifcities, monuments and a ruling class, thethings associated with capitalism,would have appeared in the Great Lakes if Europeans had just stayed away. I got a number of interesting responses including one from Professor David Smith, of the University of Toronto Mississauga, who told me about this gem of an idea.

“Iroquoians purposely kept their society as egalitarian as possible – they knew all about it – they knew what they were doing.”

The Iroquoian people theyre tribal peoples and what that means (is that) in the villages, that their social relations, their political formations, that they believe very strongly in egalitarianism, he said.

Bruce Trigger – one of Canadas foremost archaeologists, unfortunately he died just a little while ago, wrote extensively about this. He has a paper that makes the argument that Iroquoians purposely kept their society as egalitarian as possible – they knew all about it – they knew what they were doing.

Whether Bruce Trigger was correct is another matter (I should add that Triggerdid extensive research on Ancient Egypt as well). But the idea is certainly intriguing.

Ron Williamson pointed out to me that the people of the Great Lakes were aware of a larger world that we dont often give them credit for.

He explained that people in the Great Lakes would have been aware oflife at least as far south as Florida. As such they would have had some contact with Mississippian people in the Midwest who builtmonumental earthworks, created elaborate burialsand evenbuilt a city calledCahokia.

In addition to knowing of these projects to the south, might ancient people in the Great Lakes have also been aware of a gap between the rulers and ruled?Might they also have decided not to go down this road?

Its impossible to prove for sure. But If Trigger is correctit is anirony that thisdecision to remain egalitarian happened in theGreat Lakes. Aregion where modern-day American civilization is facing a difficult challenge and a modern day filmmaker is calling for a return to a economic system similar to that used, in his ownstate,1,000 years ago.