Uncommon Sense

September 19, 2021

Rulers

Filed under: Culture,History,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:21 am
Tags: ,

No, not the wooden sticks you chewed on in the fourth grade so they wouldn’t work at all as designed. I am talking about individuals who declare themselves to be in charge and order the rest of us around.

I am fascinated by rulers. Every one of them was absolutely certain that they had been chosen for the job because of their sterling characteristics, which was usually because Daddy was ruler before and it is only right to hand such chores down parent to child. But not always. Hitler was convinced he was the man for the job and his conviction was part of his personal power, power that got him elected and then accepted as a ruler, not just a politician.

But rulers are going away, you say? I think not. They have just changed location. Now that we have succumbed to rule by corporation (corporatism), making corporations lords of our government and culture, who are the corporate titans but dead ringers for the rulers of old.

How did we get to this point?

Many historians suggest that the idea of kings arose from war band leadership. War bands were outgrowths of hunting bands, which established some of the base parameters. A hunting band wanted to be led by the member who made the best decisions, the ones that put meat on the fire safely. Similarly, when “war,” actually just strife between two or more larger tribes broke out, the hunters, now warriors, wanted the most capable leaders in charge of the war band, otherwise an inept leader could get them their asses handed to them on a platter. And male egos being what they were, those positions were certainly contested.

But a war band leader wasn’t a leader over all, unless there was a continuous state of war, which there almost never was. The Vikings seems to keep their war band leaders in check, but many other cultures did not seem to do so. Large scale conflicts gave opportunities for leaders to demonstrate their leading abilities.

It seems a logical progression for a war band leader to cash in the personal loyalty of a cadre of warriors to take over a tribe and rule it despotically.

On a different career path with the same end, priests looked to use their standing with the gods to usurp such positions. There are quite a number of cultures that did not allow this to happen: shamen were kept on short leashes, religious leaders who failed to deliver the goods, ended up out in the bush on their own. But there were enough who grasped the prize of being the ruler of a tribe to set a model for others.

Take the early history of Christianity for example. In the early days, Christianity was dominated by charismatics and by those who got direct revelations from god. Other than that they were collectives of believers, meeting in people’s homes. But before long, people in those groups started giving themselves titles, such as bishop and deacon. A structure was created, a hierarchical structure unsurprisingly, and finally the separate branches of Christianity merged to make a hierarchy of centers of Christianity, which then proceeded to prune away those branches which did not take a knee in front of the orthodox powers. (This was done with violence as well as with politics.) The official histories claim that this was dome to preserve the purity of scripture, but I sincerely doubt that. It seems to have been done in a search for power over others. The unofficial titles of “father” and “papa” or “pope” usurped parental authority. Addressing people as “child” or as a member of a “flock” implied that they needed to be lead, etc. These wordings were no accidental.

Supporting all of this is a basic human yearning (I assume) to be led, to be guided by someone wiser, who would take the responsibility upon themselves rather than any of us having to do that. This lack of courage on the part of “the people” is quite common and it manifests in many ways, this being just one. We seem to embrace a passive role in our society, letting others determine what is important and what needs to be done and what does not.

A tiny minority of us, however, really want that ruler position. And it didn’t come easily. In order to be an effective ruler, you need to make sure the people got their bread and circuses, well at least their bread. And it was bread that gave us rulers. Prior to mastering grain crops, the “leaders” were specialists and temporary. Once a crop was grown which could be harvested, dried, and stored, then the ruler minority found its magic formula: coerce the agricultural labor of the masses to make grain, which was then “taxed,” aka confiscated, dried and stored. The dried grain could be used to feed the elites and to trade for other things. That the coercion worked, led to elite positions as coercers, aka guards, aka, muscle, aka thugs, aka tax collectors, etc. And once the coercion racket was showing to work, it was expanded.

Not that this was easy. The first Mesopotamian city-states rarely lasted more than a few decades before falling apart. But once the “ruler-types” got the taste in their mouths, they were hard to stop. And please do not assume this was the only way this happened, human variation will not be denied. (I would love to learn how Göbekli Tepe was founded.) Certainly other patterns existed for a time, but could not compete once this one got rolling.

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