Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Individual Responsibility: What about the Ancient Nomads?

One of my thoughtful emailers sent me a question about my post on SJW Anita Sarkeesian. He notes my three-stage system of People of the Subordinate Self, People of the Responsible Self, and People of the Creative Self, and writes:
You mention that responsible individualism is "the responsibility to find work, the responsibility to make your own choices, the responsibility to find your own mate, all within the demanding environment of the market economy".  Aren't these the responsibilities of all humans, always?  Surely man has dreamed of universal leisure for his fellow man since time immemorial, and only recently has such fantasy become the basis of entire ideologies.  How then do our modern age responsibilities differ than that of an ancient nomad when boiled down to the basics of the quote above?  
The straight answer to that is: yes, of course, and not just of humans but of every living thing. Of course every human has the responsibility to get on their bike and earn a living. But there's a problem with all social animals, the problem of freeloading. The basic deal in social cooperation is that we all get to eat at the communal table; we all make our contribution, and we all get to enjoy the fruits of our cooperation. The reason that social cooperation works is that the division of labor works: when animals specialize, the individuals benefit and the community benefits.

But what about the slacker? There are several ways to deal with this menace. The first is shaming and possible expulsion. Other people in the community judge your behavior and take action. Then there is hierarchy. The boss tells you what to do, and punishes you if you don't do it. Then there is divine justice. God punishes you for your sins. Finally, there is exchange, which the anthropologists tell us is unique to modern humans, although it didn't really go viral until the rise of the bourgeoisie. People find a way to contribute to society and then get rewarded by the exchange system for their contribution.

On my system, the hunter-gatherers are pre-subordinate selves. They cooperate in a face-to-face society and the slacker gets named and shamed into compliance. We see this today in the ubiquitous community of women at work or in a neighborhood that have no power over each other except the judgements of other women's gossip.

When we get to the agricultural age we get a visibly hierarchical society where people must do their part and where agricultural workers are typically subordinated to a landed warrior class. Once you get this subordination you get the freeloader that does the absolute minimum of work that will avoid sanction. We see this survive today in any corporate or government bureaucracy where you can probably enjoy lifetime tenure and a pension if you keep your nose clean and don't antagonize the bosses. The problem is that it is staggeringly inefficient to have everyone sitting around waiting for the boss to tell them what to do.

The boss system works, after a fashion, in the agricultural age because life on the farm is pretty simple. But in the industrial age, where almost nobody grows their own food or builds their own cottage, the boss system has broken down. Today we all live in the exchange system where each one of us must find out how to contribute to society, and we learn what others value through the exchange system and its prices for ideas, for goods and for labor.

In this modern age, where the yoke of work and of finding work falls directly upon the shoulders of the individual worker, it is not surprising, as my emailer suggests, that people dream of "universal leisure for his fellow man" and conjure up whole ideologies to that dream. It is telling, of course, that all attempts to realize dreams of universal leisure have turned into nightmares. They have all regressed to the old boss system and have simply been unable to deliver even a smidgen of leisure. Instead they have required the most cruel compulsion to deliver even the simplest necessities of modern life.

And so today we get Anita Sarkeesian, once a nice middle-class college girl, who gets seduced by the victim ideology of feminism and the all-explaining power of the “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.” Sarkeesian and her fellow religionists demand "safe spaces," freedom from "microagressions" and the power to defenestrate anyone that challenges their dogmas.

For decades liberals have been lecturing us about the horror of that delicate flower, the Victorian wife, that had to be protected from the big bad world of sex and sleaze, and was told to "lie back and think of England." The solution to this patriarchal nightmare, wrote Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex, was the "independent woman," unafraid of sex, unafraid of the public square and men and career.

What is going on here? It's politics. The whole point of politics is power, and the needs of power change from decade to decade. In the mid 20th century the cry was for the independent woman. Now the cry is for "safe spaces." But it's all politics and political power.

Yes, it's true that every individual has the responsibility to provide for himself and his family. But nomads are socialized into cooperation in a different way than modern city folk. The question is: how do you deal with the freeloader? In nomad society the freeloader got a frown from the other women; the agricultural bondman got a frown from his lord (and from the village women). Today it is a frown from the exchange system (and from the boss at work and the neighborhood women).

The way to stay clear of the modern freeloader police is to be a responsible individual. Then you'll have nothing to fear from the gossiping women, nothing to fear from the boss at work, and nothing to fear from the market system.

But you still have to watch out for the diversity police. There is no escape from them!

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