Class Warfare Blog

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.

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