The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia

Scott, James C.

The "evolutionary series" of band-tribe-chiefdom-state and village-town-city-country are very much in dispute here.

People had to be cajoled and coerced into forming permanent agricultural settlements that were legible for state appropriation. such agglomeration (beyond a certain size?) wasn't such a voluntary measure so much as an imposition by the labor requirements and physical limitations of state-building. Defection from such states was common.

"Building a wall" (e.g. the "great" one in China) was just as much for keeping the barbarians out as it was for enclosing the peasants in so that they didn't try to escape the state.

States seem to have been responsible for basically all the ills of modern life: the enclosure of the commons1. cf Rousseau, extractivist (timber + mineral) privatisation of public goods, money, monocultures (easier to record and administer for taxation, leading to biodiversity loss, unhealthy for humans and non-humans alike), patriarchal households as method of social control, population growth (so as to increase available labour for agriculture and warfare) and overconcentration in cities (again, for easy administration, leading to devastating epidemics)

Swiddening / hunting-gathering is more efficient per unit of labor. agriculture is more efficient per unit of land. Early peoples tended to have plenty of land and little labor, hence the preference for the former. States preferred the latter due to the comparative ease of taxing settled lands within a certain radius of its nucleus. This also made agricultural settlements easy pickings for raiders. The corollary is also that swiddening was preferred by state-evading peoples precisely because it was that much easier to just pack up and go if some marauding army came through.

Subsistence strategies for state-evaders: hunt and gather foods, plant foods that are not so easily razed to the ground by conquering armies (e.g. inconspicuous root vegetables like potatoes or yams rather than grains).

When the state demands of taxation / corvée labour / slavery / debt / war got too onerous, people could and would literally run for the hills2. I'm guessing this is probably where that idiom came from, as repeatedly mentioned in the Bible as well.. It's much harder to traverse mountainous terrain, but also harder for any pursuers to stay on evaders' trails.

Mountainous regions the world over have this in common: Zomia (including Guizhou, Yunan, etc.), the Scottish highlands, Switzerland, the Himalayas range, the Appalachian range—all are "shatter zones" where the successive waves of refugees from state-centres have collected in "sedimentary layers", so to speak, over the centuries.

Tribal identities tend to be very fluid, and state-evading peoples themselves tend to play up/down different parts of their ancestries as circumstances dictate. Definitive identities tend to be imposed by neighbouring states / colonisers for the census, but such identities are rarely accurate, if at all, for long. Tribes may not even be genetically distinct from the "majority population", as in the case of the orang asli, but may rather be a political choice to keep out of the state.

Cultural strategy for state-evaders: stick to orality, lose the texts (and writing). Textual permanence allows for entrenchment of hierarchies and inequalities, which was exactly what these people were fleeing from in the first place.

This fucking gem from Sir Stamford Raffles, revered founder of Singapore

Here [Sumatra] I am the advocate of despotism. The strong arm of power is necessary to bring men together, and to concentrate them into societies.… Sumatra is, in great measure, peopled by innumerable petty tribes, subject to no general government.… At present people are as wandering in their habits as the birds of the air, and until they are congregated and organized under something like authority, nothing can be done with them.

"Ethnicity begins where sovereignty and taxes end."

"States make wars and wars make states."

"All agriculture is a risky proposition."

World religions as state propaganda. e.g. Confucianism