Uncommon Sense

February 7, 2021

Capitalism is Civilization 2.0

Filed under: Culture,Economics,History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 11:23 am
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Note This may be a bit repetitious but I keep reading about it and it keeps shocking me. Steve

If you have followed this blog for long, you have read my take on civilization, namely that I am not a fan of civilization per se (See my post “Not a Fan of Civilization?”). The history of the first civilizations is often portrayed as “humans discovered agriculture and grew so much food they could afford kings and priests and the like.” (These descriptions are starting to sound like whitewashed Bible stories generated to proselytize children.) Actually, in almost every case, agriculture—large scale agriculture—was driven by elites or elite wannabes. Agricultural work was far more strenuous than hunting and gathering and people didn’t flock to the fields begging to be agricultural workers. The archeological record shows that people got physically smaller (shorter, less heavy) and more disease ridden because of agriculture.

Since cajoling people rarely worked to get them to toil in the fields, force was employed, and a set of new elites was created, full-time guards/soldiers. (Imagine volunteer firefighters being offered full-time jobs, with benefits. Such would have been the case for those who would arm themselves to defend the village from predators and marauders.) These “guards” made sure the field workers didn’t run off and also participated in slave raids in nearby villages. Yes, civilization was built upon widespread slavery, much like the American South.

As I have mentioned before, when capitalism and industrialization came along, “workers” didn’t show up and get in cues to be hired. Most English “peasants” valued their freedom and didn’t bite on various offers to “get a job.”

So, capitalists did what they normally do, they used governmental power to force people into their factories. They used every dirty trick in the book to get people off of the land and onto factory floors: laws were passed, taxes were levied, etc. You know the routine.

These are the same people who, today, laud how self-regulating markets are, that markets can organize our economies to be “Yuge, really yuge.” Except then they don’t and the bayonets come out.

As I stated in that post mentioned above: “From foragers being forced off land they’ve lived on for centuries because they cannot produce deeds of ownership, to eighteenth-century Scottish Highlanders who preferred to tend their sheep, to today’s college graduates saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in debt before they’ve landed their first job, nonparticipation in the market economy has consistently and effectively been eliminated as a viable option. To those who suggest we should “Love it or leave it,” I’d suggest that neither option is—or has ever been—a realistic possibility. It’s as if people are being forced into casinos at gunpoint, where they lose everything, generation after generation, and then they’re told they’ve got a gambling problem.”

December 5, 2020

An Error of Extrapolation

Filed under: Culture,History,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 12:29 pm
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It was a simple error, made long ago, but I have kept it up all of these years. It started from the factoid that the life expectancy of human beings (of the American kind) at, say, the first decade of the 20th century, was roughly 45 years. This was interesting to me because this was close to when my parents were born (1912 and 1919). By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the life expectancy of American females was well over 80 years and American men almost 80 years, so one can conclude that, well, things just keep getting better.

The extrapolation that was in error in my thinking was that from now back to about 1910 there was this large increase in life expectancy and that if one went farther back from 1910, similar changes were expected. Going back to our prehistoric ancestors, their lives must have been nasty, brutish, and short, as claimed by Thomas Hobbes. But in doing so, I made a major error, one of a statistical sort.

What do you think was the life expectancy of our hunter-gatherer modern human ancestors? If you say “fairly short” you will be somewhat right but let me ask another question: at what age did those human relatives usually die (essentially of old age)? This is an interesting question and it has an answer. Our hunter-gatherer forebearers lived well into their sixth or seventh decade, not much different from what it is now. How can this be so?

This will involve a little math, but I used simple numbers to keep everything simple, and well… sheesh, relax, you don’t have to do the math, just read it. Okay, consider a population of 100 humans who all grow up and die at an average age of 60 (some a little younger, some a little older). This means their life expectancy, at birth, was 60 years. What would happen to that life expectancy, though, if 10% died at birth? It drops to 54 years, even though 90 live to die at about 60. And if the infant death rate were 20%, the life expectancy would drop to 48, even though 80 live to die at about 60.

It is clear that the survival rate of infants was much lower in prehistoric days, and so their life expectancy, from birth, was dragged down. But if you survived for five years, better 10, you could expect to live into your 60s or 70s.

Okay, let me now go back to life expectancy in the early 1900’s. It was about that same as it was for our prehistoric ancestors! So, roughly 5000 years of civilization brought what in terms of progress? I think what we got were broader bell curves. The rich did very well indeed, but the poor did very poorly indeed . . . again, the curse of averages. So, the big question is what did civilization give us in the way of progress? For the vast majority of us, it was diddlely squat.

And yet, we have this impression of the inexorable movement toward “greater progress” to come. Things will “keep” getting better! Right . . . !

When people are asked what they want from their jobs, they invariably put close to the top of the list “greater autonomy” in their work, that is the ability to shape what it is that they do. Some degree of control is desired, instead of being told by a supervisor what to do and when to do it. So, what did hunter-gatherers have? Almost complete autonomy. Plus they lived, and still do in remote places, in quite egalitarian societies, and do “work” for only a small part of their days. All this was sacrificed when people were forced into becoming agricultural workers. Plus the poorer diets and close proximities of other people and domestic animals led to human beings being shorter, lighter in weight, being more disease ridden, including dental problems, and having shorter life spans.

Yet we continue in our delusion that being civilized is “better,” even morally so. (“What a piece of work is man …” Shut up, Wil!)

More on this later.

Addendum My mother lived to be 86 and my father 80. Your life expectancy goes up the older you get! There are estimators available on the Internet.

August 23, 2020

Have You Been Listening/Reading/Hearing?

Filed under: Culture,History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:46 am
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One of the core messages of this site is that civilization was built upon the backs of the masses. The elites coerced the labor of the masses and confiscated their “excess labor” (what they could produce minus the bare minium to keep the “slave” alive). The confiscated/taxed labor allowed the religious and secular elites the liberty to do what they did.

Now some claim that all of art, music, and high architecture, even science are the products of the leisure time bought through “civilization.” My point is that people were not asked whether they wanted to contribute to that effort and are still not asked (Has Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos asked you what you would like them to do with all of your money confiscated in excess of what they needed to live bloody well on?). One of the products the elites have created, possibly more than any other, is war. Do we ignore that and just thank the massahs for all of the art in the museums, and the grand buildings (pyramids, etc.), and science and such?

Here are some quotes I think you we see now slightly differently from before:

From “The Mud-sill Theory” speech by South Carolina Senator James Henry Hammond, given before the Senate in 1858:
In all social systems there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. . . a class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill. . . . Such a class you must have, or you would not have that other class which leads progress, civilization, and refinement. It constitutes the very mud-sill of society of society and of political government; and you might as well attempt to build a house in the air, as to build either the one or the other, except on this mud-sill. Fortunately for the South, she found a race adapted to that purpose to her hand. A race inferior to her own, but eminently qualified in temper, in vigor, in docility, in capacity to stand the climate, to answer all her purposes. We use them for our purpose, and call them slaves.

This is the “better them than us” attitude later fostered by the elites to get southern whites to put on a uniform and fight those damned Yankees. I generally refer to this as the Law of the Totem Pole: “You can’t be sure you are not on the bottom unless you are standing upon someone else.”

* * *

And there was William Wilberforce, as sincere a philanthropist as Anglicanism ever produced, an ardent supporter of Bible societies and foreign missions, a champion of the anti-slavery movement, and also of the ruthless “Combination Laws,” which denied to British wage-slaves all chance of bettering their lot. Wilberforce published a “Practical View of the System of Christianity,” (published 1897?) in which he told unblushingly what the Anglican establishment is for. In a chapter which he described as “the basis of all politics,” he explained that the purpose of religion is to remind the poor:

That their more lowly path has been allotted to them by the hand of God; that it is their part faithfully to discharge its duties, and contentedly to bear its inconveniences; that the objects about which worldly men conflict so eagerly are not worth the contest; that the peace of mind, which Religion offers indiscriminately to all ranks, affords more true satisfaction than all the expensive pleasures which are beyond the poor man’s reach; that in this view the poor have the advantage; that if their superiors enjoy more abundant comforts, they are also exposed to many temptations from which the inferior classes are happily exempted; that, “having food and raiment, they should be therewith content,” since their situation in life, with all its evils, is better than they have deserved at the hand of God; and finally, that all human distinctions will soon be done away, and the true followers of Christ will all, as children of the same Father, be alike admitted to the possession of the same heavenly inheritance. Such are the blessed effects of Christianity on the temporal well-being of political communities.)

Source: Sinclair, Upton. The Profits of Religion: An Essay in Economic Interpretation (p. 33).

In this same source we hear from another pious person:

Hannah More bade them be happy because God had sent them her pious self. “In suffering by the scarcity, you have but shared in the common lot, with the pleasure of knowing the advantage you have had over many villages in your having suffered no scarcity of religious instruction.” And in another place she explained that the famine was caused by God to teach the poor to be grateful to the rich! “Let me remind you that probably that very scarcity has been permitted by an all-wise and gracious Providence to unite all ranks of people together, to show the poor how immediately they are dependent upon the rich, and to show both rich and poor that they are all dependent upon Himself. It has also enabled you to see more clearly the advantages you derive from the government and constitution of this country—to observe the benefits flowing from the distinction of rank and fortune, which has enabled the high to so liberally assist the low.

And if you do not think the religious elites were acting hand in hand with the secular elites yet, how about (from the same source):

In the year 1819 an act of Parliament was proposed limiting the labor of children nine years of age to fourteen hours a day. This would seem to have been a reasonable provision, likely to have won the approval of Christ; yet the bill was violently opposed by Christian employers, backed by Christian clergymen. It was interfering with freedom of contract, and therefore with the will of Providence; it was anathema to an established Church, whose function was in 1819, as it is in 1918, and was in 1918 B.C., to teach the divine origin and sanction of the prevailing economic order.

And as to labor unions! From the same source:

Let me quote another member of the English ruling classes, Mr. Conrad Noel, who gives “an instance, of the procedure of Church and State about this period (late 19th century)”:

In 1832 six agricultural labourers in South Dorsetshire, led by one of their class, George Loveless, in receipt of 9s. a week each, demanded the 10s. rate of wages usual in the neighbourhood. The result was a reduction to 8s. An appeal was made to the chairman of the local bench, who decided that they must work for whatever their masters chose to pay them. The parson, who had at first promised his help, now turned against them, and the masters promptly reduced the wage to 7s., with a threat of further reduction. Loveless then formed an agricultural union, for which all seven were arrested, treated as convicts, and committed to the assizes. The prison chaplain tried to bully them into submission. The judge determined to convict them, and directed that they should be tried for mutiny under an act of George III, specially passed to deal with the naval mutiny at the Nore. The grand jury were landowners, and the petty jury were farmers; both judge and jury were churchmen of the prevailing type. The judge summed up as follows: “Not for anything that you have done, or that I can prove that you intend to do, but for an example to others I consider it my duty to pass the sentence of seven years’ penal transportation across His Majesty’s high seas upon each and every one of you.”

You want evidence? I got evidence.

August 9, 2020

Have “The People” Ever Started a War?

If you have read this blog for any length of time, you have probably read me banging on about the core element of civilization, namely that the labor of the masses is coerced to serve the interests of the religious and secular elites. Civilization didn’t happen until agriculture became substantial. By coercing agricultural labor, the produce of that labor could be taxed by confiscating the crops. This scheme didn’t work until there was a crop that could be stored, so until grain was grown, harvested, and dried and stored, civilization didn’t exist as there was little to confiscate if it needed to be harvested by the tax collectors.

Throughout my life I have heard and read many people hold forth on the “benefits of civilization,” which are many . . . but if you take a step back, you can also see the costs.

The scheme of civilization is simple. The masses do a lot of work and their “excess labor” is confiscated to supply leisure to the elites. Now, by leisure, I do not mean just indolence, I mean time that is not taken up by creating food, shelter, etc. to support one’s life and one’s family’s lives. What was done with that time included some indolence, but much of that time was spent creating the “benefits of civilization.” Time was spent on religion, politics, public works, art, science, etc.

Much of those efforts has no benefit to the people providing the labor. In fact, I would say that only a tiny amount did. Consider the building of the pyramids by the god-kings of Egypt. We now know that these were built by paid labor, not by slaves, so at least the workers had jobs. But, there was little in the way of desirability in such jobs. Would you rather push heavy stones up a ramp or go fishing to feed your family? Once built, what benefit did those buildings have? Tangibly . . . none. Maybe a little of “Gee, look what we can do if we work together” feelings, but mostly the rewards are few and far between, especially if you consider the opportunity costs. If that amount of material and labor were spent on projects that directly benefited the people themselves, which result do you think the workers would choose?

One of the things that the elites could do, because they were organized and “the people” were not, is to start wars. This began simply because agricultural labor was mind-numbingly harsh, boring, and provided less in the way of reward than the hunting and gathering that people did before. Because of that many of “the people” forced into agricultural labor disappeared into the bush (they voted with their feet, as we say now). This created an even greater need of labor, to maintain and expand the fields, and led to slave raids on nearby villages, which required a new cadre of elites: soldiers/guards. (Anyone who wasn’t busy finding food or making shelter for themselves was an elite, as far as I am concerned.) They were needed to acquire the slaves and then needed to keep them in the fields. Yes, slavery existed prior to civilization but not large scale slavery, which was only possible with agriculture which required large scale slave raiding.

When civilizations became into being in large enough numbers, their interests clashed (the interests of their elites, in any case) and skirmishes evolved, and finally war was made, war of conquest.

Of all of the “benefits” of civilizations, war has to be considered #1. I guess benefit is the wrong word, maybe consequence or outcome would be better. The elites made war better than anything else they did.

How many people were killed or made into slaves via this “civilization?” Please realize that in the year 1800, estimates are that half of all human beings were in some form of slavery (chattel slavery, serfdom, etc.). Our ability to kill was mechanized in modernity and the slaughter counts increased, but the ancients did a fair job themselves. Many people point out that the Aztecs didn’t kill their opponents when they made war, they only captured them. So benign, such a civilization! And what did they do with their captives? Oh, they cut their hearts out while they were still alive in religious rituals. Oh. One such ritual involved, apparently, tens of thousands of such “sacrifices.” So, the killing ability of the ancients wasn’t so small.

So, our “excess labor” (I love such euphemisms, so nice to the elites they are.) allows the elites to make wars, wars that devastate whole continents and now could possibly destroy most of the human species.

Have “the people” ever started a war? I have wracked my brain and cannot think of one instance. I can think of feuds, local skirmishes (the Whiskey Rebellion in the U.S.?), and such but an out and out war? Nope. Can you?

So, if you pile all of the “benefits” of civilization (many of which are dubious, such as the “beautiful architecture of a cathedral”) on one pan of a balance and you place all of the wars and implements of destruction invented for them, plus I guess we can throw in environmental pollution and its consequences (climate change, et. al.) do we come up with a net positive outcome for “the people,” the 99+% of us who do not “run things?”

October 26, 2019

Interweaving Threads of Thought

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 9:19 am
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I don’t know about you, but I read a great many books simultaneously. I start a book, read it for a while and then put it down to read something else. Later I pick it up (or not) and read some more. Rarely do I read a book straight through.

Currently in my pool of books I am reading are The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History by Howard Bloom and A Native’s Return, 1945-1988 by William L. Shirer. Two more disparate books would be hard to find, although there are some touch points between the two.

In The Lucifer Principle, the author is addressing various scientific points behind human history that people tend to forget. The first point, made strongly and almost irrefutably is that humans are equipped by nature with both “good” and “evil” tendencies. One of his arguments involves the tendency of male mammals to kill the children of their competitors during conquests. Not only do we see this behavior in nature but also in human societies. A lactating female is naturally resistant to getting pregnant again, so removing the children, makes the female capable of having babies again, the babies of the conqueror this time. (This discussion gave me more than a few twinges of male guilt, but this practice is observed in both males and females and also seems to be hard-wired into the drive to procreate. The females getting preferential treatment for her offspring by the social exclusion or even killing of other females offspring.)

Here is a sample from this book:

“Hugo Grotius in 1625 published De Jure Bellis ac Pacis, or Concerning the Law of War and Peace, a book that tried to make Christian war more humane. In it, Grotius justified killing children. He cited Psalm 137, which says, “Happy shall he be who takes and dashes your little ones against the rock.” Thus, Grotius was well aware of two things: that killing enemy children was common in the days of the Old Testament; and that it remained as common as ever in seventeenth-century Europe.”

I was drawn to A Native’s Return, 1945-1988 because the author of this memoir also wrote the quite famous book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, a book I have read several times.

Here is a sample from that book:

“Every person’s life is of importance to himself, of course; it is the only one he has and knows. But in the universe of infinite space and time, it is insignificant. “Qu’est-ce qu’un homme dans l’infini?” asked Pascal (What is a man in the infinite?). Nothing. Perhaps Carl Becker, the historian, and one of the most civilized men I ever knew, grasped best our piddling place in the infinite. Man [he wrote] is but a foundling in the cosmos, abandoned by the forces that created him. Unparented, unassisted and undirected by omniscient or benevolent authority, he must fend for himself, and with the aid of his own limited intelligence find his way about in an indifferent universe. And in a rather savage world! The longer I lived and the more I observed, the clearer it became to me that man had progressed very little beyond his earlier savage state. After twenty million years or so of human life on this Earth, the lot of most men and women is, as Hobbes said, “nasty, brutish, and short.” Civilization is a thin veneer. It is so easily and continually eroded or cracked, leaving human beings exposed for what they are: savages.”

Such coincidences occur often enough in my reading and almost always are worth paying attention to. In this case, we tend to use the word “civilized” to describe thoroughly socialized human beings, people who use words and not weapons to get their points across. People who are “civil” and not brutish and violent. But my recent reading has shown me that civilization was and is based upon oppression of the many to provide ease and resources to the few. So, while there are many nice things to say about the veneer of civilization, at its heart, as at the heart of capitalism, is exploitation for gain, not any of the touchy-feeling nice things we claim for “being civilized.”

If you will allow me another quotation from yet another book currently in my stack:

“Bacon was not thinking of the labouring people, but one hundred years later Bernard Mandeville, who was quite as convinced as was Bacon of the “Tyranny which Custom usurps over us”, was a great deal less well-disposed towards any universal provision of education. It was necessary that “great multitudes of People” should “inure their Bodies to Work” both for themselves and to support the more fortunate in Idleness, Ease and Pleasure: Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees (Harmondsworth, 1970 edn.), p. 191: also p. 334.

“‘To make the Society Happy and People Easy under the meanest Circumstances, it is requisite that great numbers of them should be Ignorant as well as Poor. Knowledge both enlarges and multiplies our Desires. . . The Welfare and Felicity therefore of every State and Kingdom require that the Knowledge of the Working Poor should be confin’d within the Verge of their Occupations and never extended (as to things visible) beyond what relates to their Calling. The more a Shepherd, a Plowman or any other Peasant knows of the World, and the things that are Foreign to his Labour or Employment, the less fit he’ll be to go through the Fatigues and Hardships of it with Chearfulness and Content.’

“Hence for Mandeville reading, writing and arithmetic ‘are very pernicious to the Poor’.”
(E.P. Thompson Customs in Common: Studies in Traditional Popular Culture)

Note The poem “The Fable of the Bees” was published in 1705, and the book first appeared in 1714. The poem suggests many key principles of economic thought, including division of labor and the “invisible hand,” seventy years before these concepts were more thoroughly elucidated by Adam Smith. And a clearer statement of purpose for exploiters has rarely been seen.

And, I close with yet another quote, read quite recently, from one of my favorite philosophers:

Man is a rational animal—so at least I have been told. Throughout a long life, I have looked diligently for evidence in favor of this statement, but so far I have not had the good fortune to come across it, though I have searched in many countries spread over three continents. (Bertrand Russell)

We do not need to invent gods as the sources of good and evil (Yahweh claims both, by the way) but rather an act of scapegoating to make us look better in the long run.

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?”

 

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
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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?

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