Class Warfare Blog

May 26, 2018

Very Civilized Don’t You Think?

When we say someone or something is “very civilized,” that sounds like a complement, no? If we look at it objectively, however, such a thing is comparable to saying someone is oppressed. I will explain.

If the venue of major disagreements between scientists and theists, it is biology (actually just evolution) and cosmology that take the brunt of theist’s complaints. The theists apparently have no qualms with chemistry, or physics, or Wi-Fi, per se. But where science disagrees with scripture, there is intense apologetic efforts to either reject the science, or to harmonize it with scripture. There is even a branch of these apologetics called “theistic evolution.” (I am reminded of the old joke of the Russian claiming “we inwented it” for ever scientific discovery. Theists claim every positive scrap of science that supports their viewpoint and claims “God did it.”) The source of these disagreements is the “special nature” of human beings. Apologists don’t have a problem with evolution, full blown evolution, addressing the subject of slime molds or “lower animals,” but when they get to human beings, whoa there, you cannot make human beings subject to basic physical laws (haven’t you heard, we are special!).

In the U.S. our culture is steeped in this “special sauce.” Not only are human beings created in their god’s image (old man, burning bush, pillar of fire, whirlwind?) but, by God, Americans are exceptional among human beings! This general belief has lead to a general belief in the inevitability of civilization (our civilization, of course), I contend. We were destined to end up here, with all of this stuff, behaving the way we do. It was inevitable … and a damned good thing!

When one takes a look back at the historic path of civilization, it is littered with human misery for the majority of us. This, of course, is spun as being due to the sinful nature of man (and the superiority of the white race, and … ), but if you just look dispassionately, it is evidently not so.

We have lived collectively since hominids first evolved (2-4 million years ago). We traveled in family groups, being social mammals, but primarily for safety. (There is safety in numbers, still.) When families became tribes, sometimes the tribes got a little too large and they had to split up. This was because we were hunting and gathering which most people think means we wandered aimlessly. But we did not wander aimlessly, we followed a normal route. Whether this was like the migrations of butterflies or birds or reindeer or something we cogitated, we moved from site to site, harvesting what food there was and moved on to the next stop. When tribes got too large, they stripped too much food from the land and when they came around again, there wasn’t enough food that had regrown to support the group, hence the splits. When the groups were small enough, they could harvest food for many months in some locals, so they tended to build shelters and hunker down for a while and voila, villages were born. As we became quasi-sedentary, we also became open to the idea of agriculture because we were going to be there to harvest what we planted. Thus the seeds of civilization were born. Civilization began when we decided that a large permanent village was in order, a city. But the problem with cities is that there must be some way to store food to get a larger number of people through the rough patches between harvests. It is no surprise then, that the first civilizations happened when the conditions supporting the growing of grain were prevalent. (Grain could be stored by the simple expedient of drying it in the sun.) These conditions were: fertile soil (usually alluvial), a constant source of fresh water (a large stream or river) and bountiful sunshine. There were usually harvestable animals migrating over land and down the river, too.

The fly in the ointment was that agriculture took a lot more work than hunting and gathering. Evidence shows that people did not want this more arduous life and had to be coerced into that labor. The tools of coercion? Physical force and intimidation (“We’ll stay here and ‘guard’ your children while you go out and work in the fields.”) and religion. Since in the early days a hunting and gathering lifestyle was a short walk away, it appears that a great many “early farmers” took this route (they voted with their feet). This lead to more coercion and more defections and eventually to slavery. If you are going to coerce labor, might as well go whole hog and adopt a slave society. Neighboring villages to cities became sources of manpower (and breeding females).

It should not shock you that all of the early cities failed in short order (in nowhere near 100 years of existence) and that new cities were built atop the ruins of the previous one (Remember all of the Troy’s that Heinrich Schliemann found?). Since all of the factors needed to be there for a city, building elsewhere was silly.

The basic concept of “civilization,” that is living in cities, is that the labor of the many provided a surplus that the elite few could live off of … and not have to work as the many did. This “free time” created through the coerced labor of the many allowed the few to write poetry, paint paintings, sculpt sculptures, etc. but mostly they counted their wealth and worried excessively about slave revolts and how to keep them from getting uppity. (The racial resentment against Blacks in this country is based upon this residual fear, in my opinion.)

So, they expanded and fortified their “soldiers” and their “religions” all directed at controlling the system preserving them at the top. As things progressed, soldiers were needed to protect cities from the soldiers from other cities. So, war became possible because of the resources and needs of civilization. In each city, of course, the religious elites told the secular elites that their gods were on their side.

Science now tells us that when agriculture became prominent, “farmers” became physically shorter, weaker, less tall, and more disease ridden. So, what was in it for the “masses?” In a word, misery was what they could expect for most of their lives. I read one estimate that claimed that as late as the year 1800, half of all human beings were in some state of slavery.

But all of this was long ago, surely being “civilized” now is far, far different, you say. Is it? Most of the controls of the elites are now cultural. In this country, if you suggest that capitalism is not the best economic system for us, you will be shouted down or vilified or both. (Damned socialist! Communist! Heathen!) Capitalism is a system which codifies the coercion of labor of the masses to benefit the secular and religious elites. We use terms like “the one percent” and “the 0.1%” now but they really are just the wealthy elites. Our “democratic” government serves the rich and ignores the will of the people on such a regular basis that it has become “normal.” We talk about “wealth inequality” and do not do anything about it. Our system (Capitalism–US Brand™), is designed specifically to concentrate wealth and that is what it does. For short stints “reformers” can get power over the reins of government and roll back some of the systems in place, but by and large the rich use their money to buy power and use their power to get more rich. You may note that this is a positive feedback loop that always ends up in disaster for the masses (investors get bailed out, homeowners do not).

So, when a plutocrat describes something or someone as “being civilized” they are commending that thing or person as being in their “proper place,” either amongst the elites, taking advantage of the situation, or among the masses, whose “surplus labor” is making the elites richer and more powerful. Think of Sméagol saying “Yes, master, good master!” And while we may harbor evil thoughts against the masters, as long as we do not act on them, well, then we are “very civilized, don’t you think?”

 

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February 11, 2018

The Reason for All of It (Hint: Why Is Civilization As It Is?)

Filed under: Culture,History — Steve Ruis @ 10:04 am
Tags: , ,

I asked the question in my previous post: is the “driver” of this process (civilization) a desire to live forever? Is this what has caused civilization to be what it is?

Behind this question is another: I wonder whether civilization has to be the way it is. It pretty damned well has been the same for the past 5500+ years. Some scholars claim that all of the inherent misery associated with civilization is necessary, that there was no other path forward than through the oppression of a majority of the human race to create the leisure for the elites who then could go on to create politics, religion, science, philosophy, etc.

I find that position hard to take and also hard to refute.

I took a step back to look at the basic elements of civilization: which are oppression and conflict, with a firm understanding that we, meaning all of us, had absolutely no idea as to how to proceed. I assume that we were all doing the best we could, under the circumstances … aka we were making it all up as we went.

My first inflection point to unpack is the moment some of us decided that agriculture was a good thing to do at a much larger scale. As hunter-gatherers we had fairly good lives, but how would we know? The appeal of “better” is always there if one possesses the tool that makes us Homo sapiens … imagination. Presumably, we slid into this rather than some proto-genius led us there (“Hey, gang, I’ve got an idea…!) So, we started by doing a little seeding of plants and harvesting what we sowed. This could have taken place before we settled down, but civilization only started up when sedentism was possible. Civilization only began on river plains, which had reliable flows of fresh water including aquatic food streams (fish, eels, lampreys, shellfish, etc.) The soft soils deposited by the rivers were rich in nutrients and the combination of rich soils and reliable fresh water sources made agriculture doable. If you lived up in the mountains or in the desert, well fugedaboutit.

Certainly agriculture began as just a supplement to what could be hunted and gathered. Living near a river meant that game came to you as all animals are drawn to fresh water sources. So, these sites had “seasons” in which various sources of food came to them or became harvestable. People settled down meaning that they built shelters out of available materials and were invested in their locations.

But we ain’t civilized yet. To be civilized we have to live in cities. (Yes, it is just a matter of scale.) The little villages we lived in before we became civilized didn’t count.

But to create a city as we have come to know it, larger scale agriculture was needed. There is no “chicken and egg” paradox here as to which came first. Cities could not exist without plentiful food to feed the large number of people involved. Food first, then population. (Agriculture preceded cities by thousands of years.)

Once cities began to form, do realize that most were less than stable. Archeologists excavating early cities always talk about the city in stages (e.g. Ur I, Ur II, Ur III, or Troy VII, Troy VI, etc.). Cities failed all of the time and people died and retreated back into hunting and gathering. New cities were built atop the old (often the building materials were recycled as well as the site; well, if a site is good, it probably continues to be good unless the water dries up or an earthquake buries it).

Large scale agriculture, however, requires large scale mobilization of workers. Canals to move water had to be dug, fields planted, weeded, harvested, stored, etc. Who was to do this work … far more work than people had to do as hunters or gatherers (remember their food came to them; villages were often located next to migratory routes of game, etc.). People had to be coerced into becoming full-time farmers and physical force as well as psychological force, typically using religious coercion, were put into play. When the locals got worn out or, more typically, snuck off to regain the easier life they had as hunters and gatherers, replacement workers were needed and thus larger scale slave raids were put into play.

Conflicts, skirmishes with other tribes, slavery, all of these things, like agriculture, existed before civilization, there was just a change in scale. Whole villages became subject to slave raids by forces from larger cities, whereas before it was just an individual or two, now dozens were involved.

If we make a quick jump forward to historical times we see the evolved forms of such conflicts: widespread slavery and war, large scale conflicts of all kinds (physical, economic, etc.).

Is all of this because a few at the top were seeking immortality?

I do not think so.

I think all of these manifestations of civilization were about who is going to be in charge.

To me this is all about what drives elites to become elites and it is not a process driven by a search for immortality. I suspect the first elites were more than willing to press whatever issues they had to press to establish themselves as elites for the direct benefits: better food, better mates (more mates!), better clothing, better housing, etc., what we refer to as the trappings of wealth. (Think Donald Trump and his gold-plated apartments.)

But wherever such city-states grew, similar city-states grew nearby (there were only so many river plains that were suitable). Then you have two sets of elites staring at each other across the back fence and … well, what do you think they felt? Realize these elites were almost exclusively male. Because they were “rich” they had sycophants pumping their opinion of themselves, e.g. They were favored by the gods. They were better looking (a manifestation of better clothing, personal hygiene, better diet) and smarter and … well, you know the drill. They were obviously better suited to “rule” than the idiot next door, so…? Add to this normal human insecurity, e.g. what if they were to attack us?, and animosity can be assumed.

Large scale conflicts are not started by peons, serfs, slaves, or guys from Jersey. They always begin because of the elites and I say they are driven by a desire to be in fucking charge of things.

Consider the Koch Brothers … how’s that for a segue? They have so much wealth that were they to retire today, they would be hard pressed to spend all of their wealth before they died. Hell, if their wealth were in the form of paper bills they would be hard pressed to burn it all before they died. There is nothing they want they could not have. So what are they doing in their golden years? They are waging a massive campaign to dictate to others how they will live. Are they driven by a desire for immortality? Do you believe they think that we will recognize what they are doing for us later and love and “immortalize” them for their actions?

I don’t. I do not for the simple reason that everything they are doing reinforces their role as masters and our role as slaves/serfs/drones/salary men/etc.

It is all about who gets to be in charge. It is ego driven, not immortality driven. Immortality is just an intellectual toy to the elites, something that tests the boundaries of their power, their power to control the behaviors of others.

This is the driving force of civilization … and it will be what brings the whole house of cards down, unless the masses (us) figure out a way to break the grip of the elites.

The American Experiment in democracy was a step on that path, but it is clear now that the elites have figured out how the rein in those impulses and are back in complete control of the USA.

 

 

November 6, 2017

Live Off of the Land? Move Along, Nothing to See Here

The empire keeps striking back, as this article about the legal foundation of the common use of the land to sustain oneself shows. This battle is still being waged today.

The elites do not want us to use common land to sustain our lives. They need to be able to coerce our labor to their benefit, not ours. And their efforts continue to this day.

Read it and weep: Why You’ve Never Heard of a Charter as Important as the Magna Carta

 

November 5, 2017

None So Blind As He Who Will Not See

Note This is a very long post, you may need to read it in stages. Sorry. Steve

At this point in my life, I am an old man. For over 60 years I have been studying history, mostly on my own. I remember reading H.G. Wells A Short History of the World when in high school, for fun. (I was what was then called “a reader” but an otherwise ordinary boy.) In college I read Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization, for fun (and The Story of Philosophy and The Lessons of History). I read books about Egyptian History, the history of science, World War 2, the Russian Revolution, and on and on. I have been reading lately about the history of the Christian church (a real hair raiser if there was one).

And in all of those histories my eyes ran over the words but they didn’t quite come together. All of those Russian peasants, the serfs of Europe, the subjects of Egyptian and Persian god-kings, the Christian mobs running competitors out of town, all of those slaves and I never put together the fact that the vast majority of all human beings have been slaves since the advent of civilization.

I have written before about how I thought small groups of human beings ended up with shamans, shamans being members of the tribe who weren’t particularly skilled at hunting or any other valuable skill, yet who craved status and hence claimed to be able to negotiate with all of the gods that abounded in the minds of people. Since we knew no better, we assumed that everything had a voice in it like we had in our heads, so there was a god of the brook, of a tree, of a mountain, of the animals they hunted. All of our gods started with the animistic gods of primitive humans as precursors. This is where the idea of a god came from. But those gods were right there to observe in the form of the tree, or the spring, or the antelope. They weren’t far away gods and they certainly weren’t all-powerful.

When people started to gather in larger groups (larger than a small family), that is up to 100-125 in a troop (about the maximum size before splitting into smaller groups apparently), there was likely more than one shaman and they either had to compete or cooperate and since they were cunning they realized that they would be better off together than in competition. In order to cooperate, they had to get their stories together, so they were making the same claims and exhibiting the same “powers.” This is how a covey of shamans started religions. As the size of groups expanded, more cooperation between and among shamans was necessitated.

I have come to the conclusion that “organized” religion is simply a people control mechanism that was enabled by civilization. To live in cities, a great deal of labor needed to be coerced (because no one wanted to work that hard) and religion proved to be the tool to do just that. (“Kings” didn’t show up until about 1500 years after the first cities, which were always run by religious elites.) For the religious, the city was a gravy train. Other people toiled to provide them food and clothing and luxuries and all they had to do was perform some rituals from time to time and, of course, claim to have some power over those damned gods who would kick our asses at the drop of a hat. This was the creation of first wealth and the first full-time leisure.

I assume there were some true believers but they were always co-opted by the power mongers who took their imaginative creations and used them to make people obey.

The people closest to the class of elites wanted in on the scam (no different today) and didn’t want to be coerced into doing the work to support all of the freeloaders, so since the idea of capturing people from other tribes already existed, the idea of acquiring manpower from elsewhere came readily to mind. Men and women to work, women of child-bearing age to have more babies, even children were valuable. So, the elites, in essence, invented large scale slave raids, which were the nascent versions of what would end up as wars.

This is also why religions make no sense at all because we are looking at them in the wrong way. Religions are uneasy partners with political/military leaders to supply psychological and, if needed, physical force to keep people in line. In rare cases religion gets co-opted to support the general populace, but eventually they fall back in line as partners to maintain the status quo for the elites. The religions then, of course, use those instances as indicators of their true natures, like in the U.S. where religious leaders became anti-slavery, when there is no scripture whatsoever that supported their position.

Just like the shamans who saw they were better off as allies than competitors in the tribes, the religious elites saw the martial elites as natural allies. This took a little while to work out. The first “kings” were battle leaders under the control of the religious elites, but soon the warriors saw that they could whip the assess of those girly-men priests and didn’t think they should be taking orders from them anymore. You need to look no farther than The Epic of Gilgamesh for an example of such a conflict.

This alliance of elites has always had it ups and downs. The political elites eliminated the priest’s influence in the Russian Revolution, for example. (You will notice the priests are back, somewhat cowed, but religion is too good of a tool of oppression to waste. Ask Mr. Putin.) Henry the VIII of England created his own church when the one he had wouldn’t do his bidding. The Church of Rome threw much of the young male nobility of Europe into the meat grinder of the crusades to capture and control Jerusalem (a hardly useful task, but just making them do it reinforced their power over the nobles). There are many examples, but almost always the two religious and secular powers end up hand in hand.

Just ask yourself, which of the two American political parties is most covetous of political power? You will also notice that they are also the most overtly religious, even trying to change the law that prevents clergy from haranguing their congregations on politics. Which party are the religious supporting the most? (Surprise!) There are many more examples that can be made.

The bottom line is that religion was invented to control your behavior for the benefit of an elite few. Civilization was a tipping point in scale. And because of this there has been untold misery inflicted on other humans who were enslaved or coerced into work they didn’t want.

We know civilization was a tipping point because there was so much resistance to it. The first cities rose and died very quickly. There were structural problems, problems of getting resources delivered to the elites (water transport was good, land transport was awful), there were problems coercing “the flock.” The were problems in the high concentrations of food created and stored and shipped drew vermin like magnets, and as the populations increased, the numbers of people and animals were high enough to support disease epidemics.

All of the “civilizations” were initially surrounded by “barbarians.” These were actually the free people … well free, unless they were captured and enslaved by the “civilized” people. The barbarians were hunter-gatherers, or pastoralists, or semi-sedentary groups of people who lived the old way, the easy way, the healthy way.

Because the “barbarians” had very varied diets, they were quite disease resistant. The grew taller, stronger, and had less gum and other diseases. (We know this; this is not just a guess.) The “civilized” people were the exact opposite, but also got a narrow diet (consider the Chinese diet of rice for breakfast, rice for lunch, and rice for dinner … if they were lucky) and got to work longer hours at work not of their choosing. Yes, I know hunter-gatherers had to gather and hunt to eat, but they didn’t have someone telling them to do just one thing all of a day. They didn’t have anyone telling them what to do at all. They would go looking for things good to eat and what they did depended on what was available, and there was widespread availability of many different foodstuffs which was shared fairly egalitarianly … until the civilized people confiscated the land by force and used it for the elite’s purposes.

The barbarians opposed the civilized people because the civilized people opposed them. And sometimes the barbarians won. But in the end, the free people succumbed to the diseases and predation of the “civilized” people. (Consider the fate of the millions of people living in what was to become the United States, when the Europeans showed up with their “white, god-given privilege.)

But, you say, that was a long, long time ago and now the benefits of civilization are shared by one and all. (This claim is followed by a long list of the benefits of civilization, most of which are valid but many are quite dubious. Protection from communicable diseases with vaccines that people never got before being herded into large groups has to be considered a push. Being able to fly thousands of miles overnight is of debatable value. But that is not my main point. My point is “at what cost?” Civilization is still a pattern in which the elites coerce labor from the vast majority for their benefit alone. To make this obvious, here are a few things to consider:

  • Do you pay a tithe or give to a church? Do you know what your money goes for?
  • After the 2008 financial collapse that caused a worldwide economic recession, which people were made whole first?
  • Would you vote for an atheist were they better qualified in all other ways than their opponents in an election?

These are just a few questions to stimulate your thinking. Most people have no idea where the funds their churches collect go, for example. Even if their church publishes a financial statement, few read it. Most of the funds go to what is called “overhead” in business (salaries, utilities, maintenance of buildings, etc.) almost none goes to charity. This is basically a business which has overhead but no product other than what it’s customers imagine.

We all are aware that banks and stockholders got bailed out after the 2008 debacle, that none of the miscreants went to jail. That ordinary folks whose home mortgages were rigged so they appeared to be affordable, got very little, most nothing. The elites were taken care of first, as they always are.

And polls show that the vast majority of Americans wouldn’t vote for an avowed atheist under any circumstances. (Donald Trump lied about his religiosity, which should surprise no one.) Now that is control! If you want public office, believe what we tell you or at least pretend to.

While the mechanisms of coercion are now much more subtle (they are in essence, baked into the system—capitalism is one of them), ordinary people work very, very hard, and the surpluses they create go to the wealthy, powerful elite, and not themselves or their families. You have seen this graph before, no?

Many people have expressed surprise that evangelical Christians supported the candidacy of Donald Trump. If one takes a step back and looks at what is going on without the rose-colored glasses we are told we must wear (by the propaganda of the elites) the evangelicals voted for Mr. Trump in spite of his personal failings and attitudes and lack of belief but because of his willingness to pursue their political agenda. All of the dogma, scripture, etc. of the various churches is just window dressing, window dressing to be ignored when it gets in the way of the real agenda, which is maintaining and expanding the power of the religious and wealthy secular elites.

If you do not believe this, consider the following Christian scriptures:
Matthew 6:19-20 (“Do not store up treasures for yourself on the earth”)
Luke 6:24-25 (“But alas for you who are rich, for you have your comfort”)
James 5:1-6 (“Come now, you who are rich, weep, howling out at the miseries that are coming for you”).
As one writer put it “While there are always clergy members and theologians swift to assure us that the New Testament condemns not wealth but its abuse, not a single verse (unless subjected to absurdly forced readings) confirms the claim.”

So much for the prosperity gospel and the churches support for the wealthy. Never will scripture get in the way of their pact with the secular elites, who use money more than strong arms now to coerce the behavior they desire.

Just as there is no support for an anti-slavery position in the Christian churches, American religious elites point to the actions of churches to get slavery disallowed in this country. If one steps back and looks at that in an unfiltered way, it was just another coalition formed to create a political end and it had nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with taking care of the elites. The elites expanded slavery to vast numbers to support civilization and is more than willing to abandon the practice, if it is to their benefit. (You will note that even though “freed” the situation of most Black Americans changed very little.

What has hit me and hit me hard is that civilization has been a source of coercion and misery quite likely for a majority of human beings since its inception. We even talk about how the workers who built the pyramids weren’t slaves, they were volunteers. Right, our god-king “asked” us to do this task, this dangerous, absurd task that creates no food, no wealth, and is back breaking labor and we volunteered enthusiastically. If someone walked up to you on the street and offered you this “job” for no pay (other than room and board), would you take it … or would you need to be forced to take it?

If you look at every “socialist” country in existence today (outside of the democratic socialist countries but possibly even including them), can you really say that the “means of production” are owned by “the people”? Do you think that the recent Chinese Communist Party meeting was comprised of representatives of “the people” or possibly even made up of ordinary Chinese citizens, aka “the people”? In every case I have looked at, the socialism is window dressing for rule by a powerful elite. The “rulers” are always wealthy, able to take care of their families with positions in the elite structure, and represent themselves rather than the needs of the people. The people are directed in such a way as to create wealth and power for the elites. Period.

The United States is supposed to be a grand experiment in “self-rule.” The founders were elitists and were dismayed when people of the “middling sort” (tradesmen and craftsmen, oh my) got involved in politics. They thought government would be in better hands if those hands had the leisure time to devote to contemplation. Right.

Is there any support for the idea that the U.S. is not being controlled by the wealthy (Wall Street, the Koch brothers, etc.) for the benefit of the elites at this point? What did it take? A couple of hundred years to find out that our version of civilization is just like everyone else’s?

And what has me hammered flat at this point in my life is the sheer amount of pain and misery that has been authorized under the guise of civilization. One of the best estimates I have seen of the number of humans (Homo sapiens) indicates that about 107 billion of us have been born. Of that number maybe 100 billion have been around at the same time as “civilization” (civilization allowing for a vast expansion of the population … of slaves). The estimate that in the year 1800, 75% of all people were in some form of slavery, indicates the vast amount of coercion and oppression that has been created and is still being created under the mantle of civilization, mostly for the benefit of wealthy elites.

It is staggeringly heartbreaking to consider the families broken by slavery, the backs broken by “voluntary slavery” moving rocks the size of Volkswagens to make a pretty pile, the whippings, the diseases, the starvation, the sexual and physical rape, the forced breeding of humans like cattle … it is a well of sadness we should be drowning in. But if we were to succumb to this feeling, the propaganda machine of the elites would kick in to perk us up, I am sure. Sad workers aren’t as productive as happy ones.

Have you seen the “tax reform” plan of the Trump administration? Do you still doubt my analysis?

October 24, 2017

Moving On Up …

I have been writing recently about the genesis of human “civilization.” The word civilization itself is derived from “cities,” the existence of which marks the beginning of civilization. It seems quite apparent that what we call “civilization” was created by elites for elites. The average Joe not only didn’t benefit from this “advance,” he ate less well, he worked harder, and he likely ended up a slave serving the interests of the wealthy elites.

My original thinking was that this was a larger scale manifestation of the consequences of physical prowess. My fantasy goes like this: when we were mostly members of wandering tribes of hunter-gathers, I suspect that there was some guy who was bigger, stronger, and braver than anyone else in a small troop (fewer than 25 extended family members). Because Mongo was the best hunter, he had a hand in doling out the fruits of the hunt, so he had power. He probably was responsible for defending the tribe against predators and the occasional raids from other tribes (looking for mates or …). Because of these actions, people deferred to Mongo (and if they didn’t he might smack them around a little). Mongo was the Alpha Male in a troop of great apes. Now the fly in the soup came in the form of not the Beta, Gamma, or Delta Males in the group, they were happy to form Mongo’s posse on hunts and benefit from his largess. The wild card in this was a low status male who resented not getting the prime cuts from the hunt or access to the best women as mates, but one who had cunning. At some point in time, a natural happening shocked the tribe: a flood, an earthquake, a lunar or solar eclipse, a huge lightning storm, a volcanic eruption, something alarming and the cunning Omega Male took a chance. Thinking he was in no immediate danger, he stood up to the burning mountain, or raging flood, or eclipse and spouted made up bullshit about how the gods were angry and that only he knew how to placate them. He followed this with mumble, mumble, mumble and the crisis soon ended (the eruption of the volcano subsided, the storm passed, the flood subsided, the eclipse burped up the sun or moon). A tribal shaman is born. He gets treated better, consulted by Mongo more often, gets better cuts of the food when it was divided, etc.

So, my imagination leads to the religious leader gravy training on the physical leader (general, king, chief, main hunter, whatever).

Imagine my surprise when I learned that the earliest cities were run by religious cliques, not “strongmen.” Large cities started forming 3500-3000 BCE, but the first mention of anyone whose title could be translated as “king,” didn’t happen until about 1700 BCE. Apparently Mongo was strong and capable but not all that smart. The clever shaman usurped his position at the top of the tribe. In those early large cities, you see, the chief warrior was subservient to the priestly class. This is born out by a story about Gilgamesh, one of the first Sumerian kings. (Seeking permission from the religious council to make war on a neighbor, the council though it too risky and told Gilgamesh to chill. Gilgamesh went out and riled up his warriors and went to war anyway. Gilgamesh might have been a king at this point but he hadn’t earned the Divine Rights Merit Badge and was seen as a minion of the religious elites.

So, I was wrong about the elite pyramid being topped by a strongman, instead it was the clever, cooperative religious cadre forming the core of the people benefiting from “civilization.” (I guess they had practiced the role for millennia and were just “movin’ on up…”.)

These cities rose and failed at a phenomenal rate. (The famous city-state of Ur-III, which had five kings listed in its records, lasted all of 100 years.) The inevitability woven into the standard narrative of: agriculture makes storable surplus of grain which makes cities possible: iPhones! is misleading at the very least.

In actuality these cities were very, very fragile. They were dependent on slave labor, often their populations were dependent on acquiring female slaves of child-bearing age (so many children and women died in childbirth that “replacement breeders” were vigorously sought).

With so many such processes there is a minimum size and a set of minimum conditions that result in a tipping point that goes on to some kind of stability.

What I am struck with is the easy comparison between the elite class in those days, 5000-5500 years ago and the modern Republican Party. The elites then needed cheap labor, so they coerced it. They created a system in which all of the surplus wealth ended up in their hands. They discouraged any collective action on the part of their coerced laborers. They rigorously controlled the reproduction of more citizens.

The GOP, in contrast, suppresses wages so that labor is cheap, it distorts the political system so that all of the wealth and power flows to the elites, it discourages collective action of laborers by disadvantaging unions, and it is obsessed with controlling the reproductive rights of women, and it seems they are subservient to a religious clique.

Oh, I guess that is not a contrast.

Has anything changed since the dawn of civilization?

October 22, 2017

I Thought Things Were Coming Together … And Then the Other Shoe Dropped (OMG!)

I have been posting quite a bit about the revelations I have been getting reading the book Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States by James C. Scott. It has been slow going because so much in the book has real consequences regarding how I view the world.

If you don’t recall, the book addresses a simple fact. Cities became somewhat sustainable 3500-3000 BCE, so we became “civilized” about 5000-5500 years ago. Yet it is now clear that agriculture started to be exhibited 8000-10,000 years ago (at least). The standard narrative is that the development of agriculture, specifically with regard to grains, caused the idea of a city to flourish. Grain could be harvested, dried, and stored for a long time and so could be taxed easily. The simple fact came in the form of a question: why the three millennium time lag? Why did “civilization” take so long to happen after we had the technology to produce sizable surpluses of grain? The author argues that civilization could only happen when enough labor could be coerced to do the “farming.” It seems an established fact that hunter-gatherers and pastoralists, etc. who were free people, never created food surpluses and food surpluses were what were needed for cities to develop. Food surpluses required excess labor to create and yet were just a big set of problems: how to preserve the food without most it spoiling; if you were still non-sedentary or only occasionally sedentary, you would have to carry those surpluses around with you; you would have to protect the stored food from pests, predators, etc.

Food surpluses only happen when people are coerced to create them.

I have stated this premise before. The minor nuclear warhead explosion came when the author commented that the most productive form of coerced labor is slavery and … as late as 1800 CE, as much as three fourths of the world’s population could be described as being in some sort of state of slavery.

“Now, that just couldn’t be true” was my first reaction to this claim. My second reaction was that students of history are taught that they should not impose “modern values” onto earlier times as it will lead to misunderstanding. I realized that I was coming from a frame of reference in which all people were “free,” as we claim we are, but I immediately realized that might not be true, then. My third reaction was: serfs.

Remember what you learned about serfs in school? Serfs were medieval peasants who worked the land for the local lord in Europe. The picture painted for school children was kind of bucolic and idealized, but think about it. The serf worked as a farmer (mostly) of land they didn’t own. The owner of the land (“from the Manor born”) confiscated the serf’s “surplus” food production. The local lord decided exactly and arbitrarily what the surplus was to be and it always seemed to be “enough to keep the serf in a perpetual state of poverty.” The “lords” used force of arms and religious support to legally tie the serf to the land. Even if the serf got the idea to get the hell out of this awful situation, where would he go? What about his family? There were no “jobs” per se he could get were he to relocate. He was trapped. He worked doing work not of his choice to benefit not himself but others and he had no choice in the matter. (How do you spell slave, boys and girls? S-E-R-F!)

It didn’t take over three thousand years to figure out how to use agriculture. It took three thousand years to figure out how to efficiently coerce large amounts of labor.

Back in 3000 BCE, all slaves had a viable option. Wait until nightfall and walk that way. Didn’t much matter which direction one walked. After a few days, one would be so far away from coerced labor as to be upon another planet. And there was enough food to be foraged that one could go back to being a “hunter-gatherer” quite easily as one still possessed the skills required. In early civilizations, one had options and one was to walk away from a bad situation. This apparently happened quite often. Slavery was a construct that prevented that (or attempted to). Available records showed that slaves were a common factor in all of those early civilizations. They were not treated well; they apparently were commonly beaten into submission. (If you saw a representation of an elite wielding a flail, it wasn’t for threshing grain.) The accounting records (the earliest form of writing were stimulated by such) from the earliest cities showed slaves counted in the same way as domesticated animals, using the same cuneiform in Mesopotamia, for example. The Code of Hammurabi, the first written legal code, is chock-a-block full of codes regarding the treatment of slaves, the recovery of escaped slaves, the punishments for helping another slave to escape, etc. Ditto for all of the other legal codes around the world. “Wars” were wars of capture not killing as slaves were not easily held and replacements were needed for those who escaped or died from maltreatment.

If this were true, if as late as the year 1800, three quarters of all human beings were in some sort of slavery … but it couldn’t be true … could it? Let’s think about it. Slavery was not abandoned in the U.S. until 1865, in England, Canada, and the rest of the British Empire until 1833. Heck, if news reports are correct, slavery still exists all over the world now: sex slaves, enforced labor camps, etc. Yeah, that three fourths slaves estimate could well be true

If we think back to the defenders of slavery in this country, the energy behind it was entirely economic. For those that think our Civil War was a war over “state’s rights to secede,” you have fallen for a bit of historical spin. All of the articles of secession of the Southern states were published and they all focused upon slavery and its abolition being anathema to their way of life. If you think slavery is uneconomic, think again. I will make the point that slavery is the most economic form of labor for the elites (obviously not for the slaves).

Slavery comes in many forms, the worst kind (from my viewpoint) is chattel slavery. Slaves could be beaten, killed, threatened, whatever. Their children were born as slaves. There was no way out. Other forms were more humane if I can even use that word.

My mind immediately jumped to a Bible story. (I’m sorry, my mind does jump about and I do not seem to control it.) I first read of it through Mark Twain’s writings. As the story goes: (Numbers 31:15-18) After Moses’ soldiers had killed all of the men among the Midianites, Moses ordered his army officers to kill all of the male children, kill all of the non-virgin females but to save alive all of the virgin girls for his troops. Prior to this, the Israelites had taken all of the animals and goods of the Midianites and then burned all of their towns. Of course, Moses said Yahweh ordered him to do this. When I first heard of this story, I was impressed mostly with what a dick Yahweh was, but that, I think missed the point. The Old Testament is an unrelenting series of actions of Yahweh against the Israelites (Hebrews, whatever). The Israelites were stubborn and just wouldn’t accept Yahweh as the only god. In the Bible, the Israelites are described as being “stiff necked” and unable to “accept the yoke.” Both of these terms refer to oxen that are difficult to harness up to pull plows and wagons and the like. Slaves were also yoked. Yahweh wanted slaves to worship Him … slavishly. And if the Israelites did what they were told to do, when they were told to do it, they would become rich and have slaves, too. (Pop Quiz: Translate “Islam” into English and what word do you get? Answer: submission. All religions are coercive.)

When Yahweh, through Moses, told them to kill off all of those defenseless people, he was enforcing his will by making the Israelites destroy their own wealth. All of those non-virgin women and boy children were destined to become slaves and slaves were wealth, big-time wealth. The exception made for fuckable girls was probably made to keep the rough and tough soldiers from rebelling completely. Now, if you think this story is horrific, think about this in two ways. If Moses were real, but just deluded, that is one thing. (I believe in God if it is defined as “the most powerful fictional character ever created by mankind” but not in the supernatural.) If the story is entirely fictional, made up as a literary caution against disobedience, it is even more horrific.

Atheists are fond of pointing out that the Bible is pro-slavery, not anti-slavery. Think about the consequences had Christianity reframed Judaism and banned slavery, went so far as to state that slavery was anathema and that their god would avenge all acts of slavery in the afterlife. Christianity was a minor cult rescued from oblivion by a Roman emperor (Constantine). The Roman Empire at the time consisted of quite a small number of citizens, a somewhat larger number of freemen, and a vast number of slaves. What do you think would have happened to Christianity had it been anti-slavery at the time? It sure as Hell would have had no chance of getting adopted as the state religion of Rome. Of course Christianity was pro-slavery, every religion was (and still is?).

My mind next jumped to an American History story. Remember the story of how some Euros “bought” Manhattan Island for $24 in beads and trinkets? (As an aside, I first heard this story about 60 years ago and $24 then would be worth $210.81 now … and they never seem to update the story.) This story was told, I believe now, to show that the Native Americans had no idea of the value of land and were rather clueless and we were doing them a favor in “civilizing them” (also known as genocide). I prefer to think that the Native Americans so paid went back to their fellows with this story about how the stupid Euros gave them “all of this,” because they think they can “own the land!” (Insert uproarious laughter here.) As far as they were concerned, the gods owned the land and they could claim rights to hunt and fish and harvest a spot as long as they could defend it from other Native Americans. Their hunting grounds were not something they considered they or anyone else could own.

What this story points out was that slavery enforced by physical force (or threats against family members) made a transition to control of the land. (“The only true wealth is land” is a saying.) Think about that serf. His “master” owned the land. Just what does that mean? It might have been “given” to him by his master (Turtles all the way down.): “Ye shall have all of the land from the river to the hills, bounded by the sea, for you to do as you wish.” Often, this was like a gift from Yahweh. There might already be people living there, but your “royal patent” allows you to now go and enslave all of those people and get them working for you or kill them all, your choice.

No one “owned” the land in the first place, so it could not be bought, so all land ownership is like the Native American’s hunting grounds. It was theirs to use as long as they could hold it. Same is largely true today. Once the land is controlled, there is no place for a coerced labor force to run to. Consider the Fugitive Slave Act in the U.S. Slaves who “ran away” to states in which slavery was illegal were forced to be returned by the legal system back then. So, the runaway slaves often kept going to Canada to escape that “legal” system. (And that is a long walk from Georgia.) There was nowhere for a serf to run to, so the lord of the manor didn’t need to keep soldiers in the field to make sure they kept working. If they didn’t work, they didn’t eat. (This saying is still amongst us.)

So, civilization (there’s that word again) wasn’t built upon agriculture, which was a necessary but not sufficient condition for its creation. Civilization was built on coerced labor. Consequently “we” didn’t created civilization, the elites did. It was created as a system to serve their needs, where the many fed the few, whether they wanted to or not.

“Consequently ‘we’ didn’t created civilization, the elites did.
It was created as a system to serve their needs, where the many fed the few, whether they wanted to or not.”

This seems to me to be like those movies made by Andy Rooney and Judy Garland. They made ten movies together and they all seemed to have the same story line: a bunch of spunky youths, faced with a financial difficulty (to save a theatre, or a school, or a farm, whatever) always ended up with Andy Rooney saying “I’ve got an idea, gang, let’s put on a show!” Then he would convince the others that they “could do it” and they would then set about creating an entire musical production, which raised enough money to save the day. With a minor suspension of disbelief, you can almost feel that the ideas were those of the characters in the movie (Andy and Judy were so earnest!). But really, the movies were created by the studios who controlled everything because they had the money to make the movie (and reaped the “surplus” money from the movie after the peons got paid).

“We” didn’t created civilization, the elites did, for the elites. Think about that. We just supplied the labor.

So, for 4800-5300 of the 5000-5500 years of our most history, civilization was supported, actually made possible) mostly by slave labor (three out of four … in 1800 CE). But, of course, all of that is in the past … isn’t it?

Let me take a moment and lay out what the life of a prosperous “free” American looks like. We are born and then do what our parents tell us to do until we are of school age. We are then sent to school. Can we, as children, choose not to go? No, it is compulsory. Can we choose what to study? No, the curriculum is created by the state. We learn to do as we are told and if we do well in school then we go “to college.” Can we not go? Yes, but don’t count on getting a good job. So, we go. Can we choose what to study? Yes, but from a prescribed list of “programs” so basically we are as free as the voters in the last presidential election (who could vote for anybody, but one of “these two” will win). So we go, study hard, and do well and graduate. We are roughly 25 years old. We get a “good job,” save our surplus money (if there is any … of course there is, this is a “good job”) and by the time we are 30 we have a down payment and buy a house and the land it sits upon. Well, actually a bank owned by the elites buys the house and we arrange to make payments for 30 years and then it becomes ours. So, now we are 60 and we own a house and a 50 by 100 foot lot. Is this enough land (aka wealth) to plant food to support one’s family? A nice vegetable garden, some fruit trees and nut trees, a wheat field, uh … no. So we own land but not enough land to opt out of the system. And to make sure we do not, you must pay property taxes on your owned property, so you need some income to prevent your property from being confiscated, so you are still tied to “a job.”

And we say we are “free” people. I now understand better when conservatives complain that their freedoms are being eroded by government. Since the government, which is supposed to be us acting collectively, has been captured by the elites. This is actually true. Unfortunately the ordinary conservatives have been led to a position that their complaints about government can only cause changes that make the elites even more prosperous and more powerful.

Our “pay-as-you-go” culture is a manifestation of the coerced labor foundation of civilization. If you are dubious, consider that according to federal surveys 80% of working Americans basically hate their jobs. A truly free person would be someone who went where they wanted and did what they wanted to do. I suggest that even the 20% who do not hate their jobs wouldn’t have picked that work as something to do had they been truly free to do whatever they wished.

So, what does it take to be actually free? In my mind, freedom now comes from “not needing a job” and living as we want. I am not thinking about the young person who still lives at home and is well into their twenties and doesn’t have a job. I am talking of being on one’s own. The commonest way to do this is to have, I believe the term is, “fuck you money.” You have enough money to live well without needing a job or a boss, who you can tell to “fuck off.” This amount of money makes you one of the elite and not a coerced laborer. If you are resisting this scenario, consider the sayings “You won’t get rich working for wages,” “I am just a ‘wage slave’,” “I have to go to work.” I could go on.

Imagine what you would do if you had “fuck you money.” The closest thing we have as a large segment of the population is senior citizens who retire well. These folks do what they want when they want: they travel, they participate in social events (plays, sporting events, etc.), and they volunteer scads of hours, that is they work for free, but doing things they feel have value. This is how free people behave. Coerced laborers are constantly limited by how much money they make and how much time they “must” work to earn it. They have “a job” which means they labor for someone else (who, as Marx says, “owns the means of production”) who benefits from the surplus created by their labor. If they do not produce a surplus, they get fired. From what they are left with (aka paid), they pay for shelter (rent, mortgage), food, transportation, etc. and if there is anything left, they save for the future. But what they can do and where they can go is constrained by the need for “a job.”

So, is “civilization” still built on a foundation of coerced labor? I think so: if you don’t work, you don’t eat. Hunter-gatherers did not experience this.

Let me end with another scenario. Large numbers of workers in the U.S. worked for companies which made handsome profits. This means they created surplus wealth that the business owners reaped. Their work was of high quality, there were no problems. The next thing they know, however, is the owner of the business has shipped the production capacity overseas to a state with lower wages. If the current workers want a “severance package,” they must train their replacements, then they can go suck eggs. The business owners, collectively having pressed for the commercial markets around the world to be “free” meaning that there are no charges when their goods are imported into a country (no tariffs), thus created this “option:” move my productive capacity overseas and then “import” my products into the U.S. This has happened to the tune of millions of jobs lost per year for the last twenty years. This situation allows businesses to seek out the lowest possible labor costs for their businesses, no matter where they are, because if they have to pay their workers less, then the surplus wealth they create, which they claim, is greater. The accumulated wealth from this process is used to make sure the political systems represent the interests of the elites and not the interests of the workers. (The most recent trade deal we just barely scotched was of this ilk. It was a massive plan to protect the business interests of the elite. Nothing for ordinary folks was in it.)

Now you know why slavery was so popular and why other systems cannot compete with it; it is far too economical to not have to pay your workers (just paying them less is often enough incentive to pack up a factory and ship it out of country).

A news story I heard just yesterday was of a U.S. DEA agent (Drug Enforcement Agency) who was busting drug distributors for selling massive quantities of oxycodone (e.g. Oxycontin, Hillbilly Heroin, etc.) illegally. This had gotten so bad that people were dying in large numbers from overdoses (still are). Just as the agent was about to bust a major illegal distributor for a second time, his investigation slowed to molasses in January speed. Why? Well the drug manufacturers, who were making fortunes off of the illegal sales, got to the Justice Department of the Obama administration and the case pipeline got squeezed to a trickle. Cases were sent back for corroboration, more review, etc. To top it off, Congress actually passed a “drug enforcement enhancement law” which basically cut the DEA enforcement division off at the knees so they couldn’t pursue such cases. (Note: the Obama administration, not the Trump administration. Also note: Congress could cooperate and pass legislation, if it were important enough.)

Are we free? Only in so much as the elites are making money.

You will take note that the elites have recently made substantial efforts to “reform” our public education system. And if you think the likes of Bill Gates, Betsy DeVos, and Eli Broad have our children’s best interests at heart, you have been drinking their Kool-Aid. They are focused on schools making students “college and job ready!” Yep, they want to make sure that all of our children fit acceptable positions in the coerced labor scheme that is known as modern civilization.

So, how can we be free in this current “civilized” context? The only way to get close to anything like freedom for all, we must use the coercive power of the state against the elites. Estate taxes have to be large so fortunes cannot be inherited. Income taxes on very high incomes have to be so high as to discourage very high incomes. That would be a start. We basically need to reign in all elites.

December 10, 2012

We’re Doomed I Tell’s Yuh!

Filed under: History,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 1:21 pm
Tags: , ,

If you are one who is concerned at all about the world coming to an end on the 21st of December, less than two weeks from now, you are probably part of the 25% of Americans who believe it will “end” in their lifetime.

Since the writing of the Christian Bible, there have been literally hundreds of such predictions, more and more as they have been proven to be great fund raisers for Christian cults. (God: all powerful and all knowing and always in need of cash.) All have been wrong. The evidence: 1) We are still here. and 2) Fox (sic) News would have told us.

“Since the writing of the Christian Bible, there have been literally hundreds of such predictions,
more and more as they have been proven to be great fund raisers for Christian cults.”

For those of you really want to know when the world will come to an end take the number 80 and subtract your current age in years. What you will get is an estimate of how many years you have left until you die and, well, when your world will come to an end. (The number 80 is a crude estimate in that as one’s life expectancy changes a great deal with age and life conditions, so for a more refined estimate look up your current life expectancy at your present age and socioeconomic status and use that number of years rather than “80.”)

If you want a prediction about when the planet will end scientists predict that in about 5 billion years, the Sun will become unstable, becoming a red giant large enough to encompass the orbit of the earth. And the planet would then begin a slow evaporation taking several million years but would then be gone entirely.

If you mean “the end of the world” as a euphemism for the end of civilization, well, if you have seen The Survivor series, or any of the American Idol shows, or have noticed that the Rolling Stones are still touring, civilization has already ended and you missed it.

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