I might have to break this all down…

Posted: October 23, 2009 in Humans

What with my recent grim hard realist discussions about humans here lately….which frankly is a topic that I am utterly fascinated with so if it bores everyone else, guess what, I do not care. I dig it.  Something new, nice change, all that.  In truth, I am freakin’ sick to death of writing about sex workers rights and other such topics.  People who see things similar to me on those matters have said so, those who don’t?  Not likely to change their minds, and seeing as the post I made up over on HP last week had a whopping zero comments last time I checked, doesn’t look like people have much to discuss with me on that matter anyway. 

Plus I have to go to the dentist today.  Secret here, I both hate and fear going to the dentist.  Odd, I know, a chick who has been set on fire is terrified of that little hook thingy they use for teeth cleaning?  Well yep, I am.  Odd world, y’all.  So since I am sitting around doing that irrational human fear thing this morning and I am digging conversations thus far on the whole nature and state of humanity going on here lately…I think I am gonna stick with it.  And since it amuses me to do so….muhahahaha….

wmcorBut in all this debatable talk on the nature of humanity and all, I am realizing to have even remotely good conversations about such things, one must break things down.   I mean, trying to talk about nature and morality and the influence of government and ego and all those other things all at once is a little hard.  And thus far it seems that a topic a lot of folk like throwing in on is…drumroll…

The Influence of the State with regards to the Nature of Humanity.

And wow does it look like I have mixed bunch here- everything from gun owning Libertarians to  Marxists to beyond.  Now, I have read political theory and studied on revolutions in my time.  I do not claim to be any sort of expert and am no doubt less well read on the subject than others who read here, but that said,  I am a firm believer in that systems of government that look absolutely amazing and brilliant on paper or sound freakin’ awesome in theory just do not, in reality, jive well with human nature.  Communism comes to mind.  It sounds awesome.  I, however, do not think it is truly viable because I think people are innately selfish, competitive, and forever in many ways seek to be more than average or a simple part of a bigger whole.  I will even go so far as to say I think that is almost instinctive for humans…the want of “more and better”.  Even when it comes at the expense of others or the whole.  Nobody really needs to make millions of dollars a year, drive a nice car, have a television, be recognized for their work,  so on, and those things…well, if less people made less that millions a year more people might have cars and televisions, but that does not seem to be  the way things work.  And yes, one could go off on how this is because humanity equates success with material things and fame….but it has always been so.  I mean, I would challenge anyone to give me proof of a remotely successful human civilization that did not reward its most prestigious members with material goods and status, and thus encourage the desire for/willingness to seek those things.  And no, I am not taking a tiny tribe cut off from the rest of the world as an example of a noted human civilization.  That said, it makes me think humans seek these rewards because they want them.  They make life easier or more enjoyable, and can in fact enable the humans who have them to go on being successful, propagate the species, all that stuff. 

So okay then, jump on in on how the state, for good or bad, influences the condition/nature of humanity.  I’ll check back after I face my human fear of dentists.

  1. Erik says:

    I am generally in agreement with the views you express above, but I shall take on your challenge to cite “a remotely successful human civilization that did not reward its most prestigious members with material goods and status.” Of course prestige roughly equals status, but it does not always align with material wealth nor manifest in ways cognizant to our own culture. In the classic Vedic civilization of India, the highest-status “varna” (loose translation from Sanskrit: social class) is the Brahmins. They are distinguished by their priestly and pedagogical functions and criticized for their snobbery. Immediately below the Brahmins are the Ksatriyas, the warrior class from whom political rulers traditionally are drawn, and the Vaisyas, the merchant class which may concentrate the most material goods. The structure of the varnas is often referred to as the “caste system,” although technically castes are a further elaboration that incorporates fuller considerations of clan and occupation. To return to the main point, many though not by any means all Brahmins are poor. Great wealth is rather a suspicious attribute for a Brahmin, as it is for a religious leader in our own culture. The tremendous prestige of the Brahmins is based upon their ancestral relationship to the Vedas, the foundational texts of HIndu India, and their ancient ownership of religious ritual. You can find analagous phenomena in the most ancient civilizations of Africa, such as the Yoruba. (Which is no tiny tribe but rather a multi-ethnic complex of city-states in Nigeria and Benin.) I am not arguing against your view that humans differentiate themselves from each other and set up status systems but rather that these systems do not all work in ways immediately recognizable to us. In deeply traditional cultures, status and its rewards, whatever they may be, are less often sought than ascribed. And the real currency in hand may be more spiritual than material.

    Oh, and good luck with your dentist. I love mine and travel from New Orleans, which is my home base, to Washington DC to be treated by him. If you ever want a referral, just let me know.

  2. Gaina says:

    I think it’s the ‘purist’ factions in each camp that run ideologies into trouble. Communism is a great *ideal* as you say but there’s a point where it butts up hard against reality – same with hopes for world peace and just about any other ideology you care to mention.

    I think the key lies in modifying these ideas to accommodate reality instead of ‘sticking to the letter of the law’ when common sense tells you this just isn’t working. On a personal level, just trying your best and practising your ideals amongst your own family and friends in your everyday life is reasonable and attainable. If enough people practice it on a small scale then maybe it will work it’s way into the larger collective consciousness , who knows?

    Also agree 100% on reward and prestige. No way should a neurosurgeon be paid the same as a cleaner at the same hospital, because whilst both people are essential and should be respected for their hard work, it takes more dedication and training plus no small amount of natural aptitude to be a neurosurgeon and let’s face it you can train anyone to clean a hospital. Not saying one person is better than the other, just that one has skills of a higher value.

    The best examples of prestige and reward in the non-human animal kingdom I can think of are Lions and Wolves. The nice guy and the weakling don’t get to be Alpha male or female and therefore don’t get to be first at the carcass come meal time. Take off the fur and exchange a carcass for a wage packet and you see my point. Again, I’m not promoting the idea that you need to be an out-and-out bastard to win but you need certain qualities and resilience to earn you rewards.

  3. Dentists!?! (((screams))) That little metal do-hickey can stab the hell out of you!

    Good luck.

  4. Stone Fox says:

    Dentistry is like a license to practice sadism on the general population. Only there’s no such thing as a safeword.

    I don’t think the state influences the nature of humanity. i think the nature of humanity determines the government. our choices of government are limited to – and i mean “limited to” in a realistic sense; yes, there is a green party and an independent party, but will they ever run a government? not likely in the next fifty years: republicans and democrats (conservatives and liberals in canada). in a very general sense, one group represents a nature of humanity that expresses the need for more and better, and the other group represents the nurture aspect of humanity; making sure everyone is equal and no one is left behind.

    i am NOT saying one is better than the other. i think both are required for a proper balance in government. the grasping for more and better is what improves quality of life (and not in the “wow! look at all my material goods!” sense – more like clean water and advances in medicine); a social safety net is what allows everyone to have a fair shot at being successful in life.

    and before someone shits on my head about how social programs like welfare don’t do anything but keep you down, i would like to say this: my family was on welfare for a short period of time when i was a kid. it allowed my parents to keep a roof over our heads and clothes on our back until they could get back on their feet. the food bank helped keep food in our tummies. these are social programs funded whole or in part by the government. without them, too many people are lost. it’s easy to say that each person should fend for him or herself if you are not the (for example) pregnant 14 year old who has just been kicked out of her parent’s house and is now homeless.

    i think the state of government is dependent on which side is voting more come election time.

  5. Eli says:

    My political views are anarchist in the sense of Kropotkin, so I share your apprehension for utopian societies. I think “the state” should ideally be nothing more than a way to organise those things that are most expediently handled communally. What those things are will depend on what sort of society one prefers, and that’s where people tend to disagree. Personally I favor the principles of “liberté, égalité, fraternité” and think “the state” should always strive to find a fair balance between freedom, equality, and solidarity.

    I don’t much like arguments about “inherent human nature” because it’s often agenda-based and relying on outdated and discredited but still popular ideas about, say, wolves and lions. Also, experiments show that selective breeding can completely change the “inherent nature” of an animal breed in as few as 10 generations, so I don’t see “human nature” as fixed nor as an excuse not to challenge the status quo. Not implying you’re doing that, just an aside about human nature arguments.

  6. “…everything from gun owning Libertarians to Marxists to beyond.”

    I kind of characterise myself as all three! (alright, no guns, because they’re illegal here and I don’t know how to get hold of one illegally – I would if I could – but I do have a lot of swords, a crossbow and a longbow, and stuff!) The “beyond” bit would be being a Christian and all that.

    I believe in Marx’s approach to human nature and human consciousness: they’re shaped by experience. People with experiences in common share a common consciousness (a “class consciousness”) and a similar nature. The poem If A Child highlights this concept in the personal sphere: “If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn. If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight.” etc. I think that this also applies on a larger scale, “If a people live with hostility, they learn to make war; if a people live with poverty, they learn to hunger” and so on – I’m not sure I have the skill to create a fuller version of the poem like that, but you get the idea.

    Engels in particular (being Marx’s protégé) was very taken with the idea that if we can understand how economic forces generate class consciousness then we can start to shape those forces instead of being driven by them. Marx, indeed, seemed to believe that after the revolution, humans would be able to achieve their full potential and effectively shape their own consciousness instead of being battered by the wild seas of economics.

    In essence, this is another form of “know the past, understand the present, choose the future”. I believe that, both individually and as a species, we are able to choose our future when we understand how our experiences have shaped us.

    What role then does the State have in shaping human consciousness and human nature? Well, as a Marxist I believe more or less that the role of the State is to protect the interests of Capital and to preserve the status quo: its role is to uphold the Patriarchy/Capital meme-ecology and to prevent the flourishing of the individual except as an agent of those interests. As people take control over their own lives, the role of the State should wither and eventually die completely in a communist revolution. As I mentioned on one of the other threads, I believe that there will always be a role for some of the current jobs given to the state (preventing crime, etc) but these roles will be carried out collectively by the community or by locally-appointed enforcement personnel (Marx observed how the Paris Commune dealt with this problem with elected sheriffs).

    The State’s role, therefore, is to keep “human nature” as selfishness and direct oppositional competition (which is as opposed to indirect parallel competition – the difference between a wrestling match where you’re pitted against an opponent, and a 100m sprint, where the main test is not against someone else, but against the clock). In Capitalism, my success must come at the expense of someone else’s failure (the wrestling match). In Communism, like in the running race, my success and reward need not affect anyone else’s chances (they might not run as fast as me, but I do not actually slow them down).

    • rootietoot says:

      I go to the dentist maybe once every 5 or 6 years, because they always say the same thing “You have great teeth, no cavities, you need to floss more.” Why should I pay $150 to hear the same thing?

      SDE said: “In Capitalism, my success must come at the expense of someone else’s failure (the wrestling match)”
      That, I do not agree with at all. My success could be the benefit of others, by providing others with a job they wouldn’t otherwise have. Your statement seems to imply that the only way I could have success is by the failure of someone else. Could it be that the person whose failure I apparently am capitalising on failed because they were attempting to do something they weren’t qualified for? So because I did well in college it was because I stepped on the life of someone who probably shouldn’t have been taking p-chem, and ought to have been in tech school? My son in engineering school isn’t there because he walked all over my other son who is studying to be an auto mechanic, he’s there because that’s where his skills are, and the mechanic son is there because he’s an ace with machines, but not with math. Capitalism isn’t a zero-sum gain event. People who succeed sometimes do so because of their own hard work, and not because of some cut-throat stepping-on of people less aggressive. Tho I admit sometimes people do that as well. That’s where Karma comes in.

      The problem with communism is that someone who works hard and receives the same reward as someone who doesn’t work at all looks around and realizes there’s no point in working hard, because hard work is NOT it’s own reward, one requires a tangible pat on the back as well, in the form of material reward. I am a selfish person, altruism isn’t part of my mentality, and in my experience most people are like that.

      • Eli says:

        The problem with communism is that someone who works hard and receives the same reward as someone who doesn’t work at all looks around and realizes there’s no point in working hard

        I think the “protestant work ethic” could do with more examination – what’s the good of everyone working so hard? Is it really necessary? If the work is not its own reward, and it’s possible to arrange society in such a way that nobody has to work so hard, then what IS the point? One would think that with all our technological progress we could afford to relax a little by now…

        I think a big problem with the capitalism as it exists today is that the profits of doing business are kept private but the real cost of doing business is collectivized – as in, when companies cause an ecological disaster or make the market collapse, the fall-out affects everyone in a way the profit doesn’t.

        • Ren says:

          The benefit of working hard is getting the best possible products and services out there. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I am not at all keen on going to a doctor, mechanic, electrician, lawyer, accountant or pretty much anyone else who does the job at the basic minimum level of skill and effort- a person who got that job with the basic level of skill and effort- a person who will only put forth the basic level of skill and effort. I want someone who is actually good at what they do and puts in more than the basic level of skill or effort. I mean, okay, I will use a mechanic as an example: Say, oh, that I have worked hard myself to have, oh, a classic GTO, and I work hard to make sure it is up and in fine running order, well, if something is to go amiss with that vehicle that I have so put time, effort, sweat, blood and tears into, I do not want someone who is merely willing to do the bare minimum to fix it…I want someone who will give there all and treat it with the same level of care and perfection that I myself would- and yes, I beleive that person should be noted and financially rewarded for that effort.

          I am also of the mind personally that often times, hard work and a job well done or done to the best of ones ability is its own reward. Even if I am not going to get paid for something- like art for instance- I do a lot of art I do not get paid for- I want it to be the best art I can put forth and not something half-assed bare minimum. …

        • Vladimir says:

          One can argue the taxes imposed by the state on business ventures that is then used to fund social spending is the collectizivation of the profit.

        • rootietoot says:

          Working hard got us out of a 30 yr old housetrailer and off of public assistance food stamps and into a 3600 sq foot house on a golf course with 2 new cars(paid for) and the ability to send 3 kids to college (it took us 20 yrs to get here, but still…). I daresay work has been very beneficial. As for the ecological disaster, that’s stereotyping. One of my husband’s accomplishments is the development of an ecologically beneficial water treatment system used worldwide now, that clears water of dye and toxins, and returns it to waterways cleaner than it was when it entered the plant.
          While I recognize that not everyone has the ambition or desire to live on a golf course, just because one person doesn’t want to doesn’t mean those who do should be penalized for it, especially if they’re willing to do what it takes to get there.

    • Vladimir says:

      I also disagree with your concept that in communiistic societies, that it is akin to a race in that you don’t slow down other more productive members. Actually you do.
      The basic concept of from each according to hhis abvilty to each according to their need, has one fundamental flaw, everyone’s needs and abilties are not perfectly equal. In such a society the superior individuals are exploited, the return they receive for their efforts is less than the return someone who contributes less to society receives for their efforts.
      This is the problem with any system that is based on entitlement, a portion of the population is expected to carry a heavier load than the rest, and receives no conmeasurate reward for doing so, rather the idea that others are entititled to the fruit of your labor simply for existing. A minority supports a majority in such systems, and Isicn when is the exploitation of a subset of a people ever a good thing?

      • “The basic concept of from each according to hhis abvilty to each according to their need, has one fundamental flaw, everyone’s needs and abilities are not perfectly equal. In such a society the superior individuals are exploited, the return they receive for their efforts is less than the return someone who contributes less to society receives for their efforts.”

        If everyone’s needs and abilities were perfectly equal, then there would be no such thing as society, or economics. Either because nobody could meet their own needs (let alone anyone else’s) and we’d all be dead, or else because nobody had any need of anyone else’s assistance and so there would be no need for trade.

        I also have a serious problem with phrases like “superior individuals” and “contributes less to society”. How are these things to be judged? What makes one person “superior” to another? How are two different contributions to society to be measured?

        “This is the problem with any system that is based on entitlement, a portion of the population is expected to carry a heavier load than the rest, and receives no conmeasurate reward for doing so, rather the idea that others are entitled to the fruit of your labor simply for existing.”

        I disagree fundamentally with this analysis. In the quoted statement, “from each as according to their ability, to each as according to their need”, the expectation is that all people should give to the best of their ability. What, then, is a “heavier load”? And should those whose load is deemed “lighter” feel aggrieved and withdraw their aid, then I am sure the ones with “heavier” loads would notice the difference and find any load at all suddenly quite a bit harder to manage. As you noted, not everyone’s needs and abilities are equal. That means there will be things that the “heavy load” people can’t do but the “lighter load” people can. And that means you need both equally – they both actually contribute the same amount to society, because without either, the whole thing falls down.

        Robert Townsend, in his book “Up the Organisation”, wrote “If I ever design a head office, executive row will look like the cubicles of a Trappist monastery, and the telephone-switchboard area will look like a Turkish harem. Money spent on offices for the management is largely wasted. if they are any good, it will be apparent to anyone after a few minutes no matter how plain or fancy their office is. On the other hand, how owuld you like to try doing the telephone operator’s job for a day? Remember, you’re the company’s first contact with the outside world – you’ve got to be alert and bright and helpful and quick. You’ve got to know where everybody is all the time. I’d spend money to make the switchboard people comfortable. The best operators in the world would be lined up for the job.”

        Now, at first glance that’s about people getting commensurate reward – but it’s not in terms of pay. And I’ll bet you weren’t thinking “phone operators” when you said “superior people”. But without them taking what is (according to the pay they receive) a much lighter load, then a company would never be as successful. Why do you think there is such a stink over call centres being relocated to India, if it isn’t about people wanting a good first contact when they call a company?

        What’s more – the reward in that passage is entirely unrelated to “need” as mentioned in “to each as according to their need”. Is a reward that comes about from working hard and doing well, and it’s a sort of reward that could happen in a communist society as much as in a capitalist one.

        • rootietoot says:

          So do you believe that the person who works in a textile mill, operating a machine 40 yours a week for $14 an hour, and without this person the cloth will not be made, yet it’s a simple enough job, watching pressure gauges and tending the cloth so it doesn’t get wrinkles, not requiring much intellect or training, this person should make the same as the manager, who designed the machine and process, and works 70 hour weeks but since he’s salaried makes the same at 70 hours as he would at 40 hours, and this manager has a college education (which, incidentally, was not given to him, but worked for)…they should make the same? Because we all know managers just trod on the little man, and use his hard work and the sweat of his brow to achieve and take the credit for everything…or something. Never mind that the guy making $14 an hour lacked the intellectual ability to score higher than a 700 on the SAT, didn’t want to work to go to trade school, and thinks his 40 hour week is just fine. So the manager should be penalized for his intelligence, ambition and drive, right?

        • Vladimir says:

          I don;t think either of us knows the other well enough to know what each of us would consider a superior person. Frankly in my personal experience I have found more example of the superior person outside of executive offices among the blue collar people, people who have self educated, work two jobs in a bad system to support their family etc., not necesarily people who scam the system liek wall street analysts. Don’t get me wrong, at least in the US there are some serious flaws in our system (don’t get me started about how the education system rather than ruly promoting the best and brightest actualyl acts as a metohd for ther rich to transfer wealth from generation to generation) but it seems better than the alternatives, even if it needs some serious work.

    • Roy Kay says:

      SE is really pissing me off.

      Not because of disagreements. On that score we could amicably head to our separate corners and start blasting away at each other.

      It’s the agreements, and his curse quoting of people (Townsend, and for all I know Max Eastman) and concepts (labor theory of capital) that so appeal to a Libertarian like me.

      Our contention is two fold:

      1) Mandates. Equality of results can only come by mandating the terms of trade. Dictating these terms has been tried and usually fails, if for no reason other than that value is not well understood, but those in the state – whose primary skill in the accretion of police power. It proved disasterous for Byzantium, and brought about the recession of 1973-76. It didn’t even really work in WW2, because companies repaired to “benefits” to increase pay while claiming conformance.

      2) The inevitable evolution of classes. One could restrain the evolution of a wealth class, but that merely augments the evolution of a power (police and prisons) class. The former may at times be inaesthetic and even lead to critical deprivation in some – be it food, shelter or health care. The latter, however, tends to lead to deprivation by design, enforced by those who hold state power. The power to punish appeals to those highly motivated by malice, and there will evolve an intentional difference in punitive effects – losses of life, liberty and property.

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