Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Great Misfortune of Society: It's Ruled by Freeloaders

Society is far from perfect, in spite of its thousands of years of evolution. Most of the suffering it causes or at least readily allows, is due to injustice. Some few are privileged at the expense of the vast majority.

Some have much more power than most. They even tend to inherit it, from generation to generation. In addition to making sure to keep that power, they often misuse it, increasing the injustice.

This emerged when society swelled from small tribes where everybody knew each other, into big civilizations of thousands of individuals, most of them completely unknown to one another. Early examples are the cities of Memphis and Ur, with thousands of inhabitants already in the third millennium BC.

The increase and concentration of population was possible through agriculture, by which the work of some could feed plenty. Agriculture was introduced in the New Stone Age, around 10,000 years BC, and was significantly developed in the seventh and sixth millenniums BC.

Unfortunately, it also led to a drastic drop in human life expectancy, which was circa 33 years in the pre-agricultural Old Stone Age and dropped to 20 years in the New Stone Age. Not until the 20th century did the life expectancy rise significantly above the Old Stone Age value.

Another consequence of agriculture was the rise of hierarchies. Kings and aristocracies emerged and took control with the force of arms, making the rest of the population helpless subjects. They seized the surplus of agriculture and became the rulers of the world. That's pretty much still the situation.

A hierarchy doesn't in itself necessarily lead to greater injustice than the unequal distribution of power. But alas, we're yet to see a society where additional injustice is not the unavoidable outcome of that first one. Those who can will grab what they want, which tends to be more than they really ever need. And the ones who can't stop it are robbed of everything but what they need for basic survival. Sometimes even that is ripped away from them.

Why is that so? Many would hurry to say it's human nature. But that's jumping to conclusions. The study of non-agricultural society, those who live as hunters and gatherers, shows that they live by the code of general reciprocity – they share everything, always, thereby making sure that no one's needs are ignored. It's almost a sacred thing in those societies, where deviation from it is regarded as repulsive.

Still, sometimes it happens that an individual makes sure to receive what others give, but escapes from returning the favor. Cultural anthropology calls this a freeloader – someone who wants to share the benefits without sharing the sacrifice needed for them.

It may go unnoticed for a while, but when exposed, this person is finally thrown out of the community. Usually, those who are expelled like that return humbled and reformed, after discovering how tough life is in solitude, without the support of others. They learn the lesson.

But in agricultural society, where populations multiplied and small tribes were replaced by big communities of thousands of inhabitants, freeloaders were able to continue their ways in anonymity, and simply move from one part of the community to another when exposed. They could go on exploiting the trust of others, and did so – until they had the resources to grab what they wanted by force, instead of asking for it.

They became the rulers. The growing society had no protection against freeloaders, so it was soon taken over by them. They're still in control.

Look at so many leaders of the world today. They use their positions primarily to spoil themselves, living luxuriously, increasing their fortunes beyond any reasonable limit, holding on to their power with any means they deem necessary, whatever the cost to society as a whole.

That is strikingly true about countless politicians, making their decisions on what they gain on the most, and business executives, cooperating to squeeze the companies for absurd salaries and bonuses. This minority in power treats the rest of mankind as little more than cattle.

They even claim that this is only human, as if it's what we all would do in the same situation. Not true. Only freeloaders think like that. They just want to defend their own misuse of power, in a hubris of not only taking all but getting praise for it as well.

In the rare occasions when others than freeloaders get power and money, they act quite differently. They try to do some good with it – good for us all. But they're viciously opposed by the freeloaders, who usually succeed in keeping anyone but their own kind out of power to begin with.

I don't believe we can solve the dire injustices of society until we get rid of the freeloaders in positions of power. How to do that is no easy matter, but it has to begin by exposing them. Of all people in power and all people of wealth, we must demand benevolence and altruism. That's only what society with its laws and actions demands of everybody else.

Actually, I think the Internet may bring along a change also here, since it's a tremendous resource in exposing injustice wherever it resides. Traditional media tends to be reluctant about that, since they are both owned and led by the privileged few. But the Internet escapes such control and censorship, so there's a chance it will persist and thereby increase the pressure on our leaders to be fair. At length, that can make freeloaders shun leadership altogether.


  1. I just finished philosophical novel Ishmael (by Daniel Quinn) that centers the same problem as you Stefan. After reading it I wondered, if older generations are bothered by these problems. I had You in mind respectively. And the day after finishing a book I see your article. It felt good, but I feel like everybody around is apathic about the topic, considering it as nonsense. I wonder if people ask themselves in what world they really live. I know they do, and I know they feel alone and mightily helpless in their thoughts. I wonder how a child would grow up if being told the truth about the earth's society strait as it is? I guess the child would feel resentment towards its parents and bad things would happen to him/her.

    There is one thing that I am confused about. I like living in the world where I have myriad of possiblities about activities, beliefs, opportunity to travel and see beauty in form of nature and architecture and have access to all the knowledge we posses et cetera. What I don't like is to realise that this "luxury" (in quotes, since I am not talking about cars, big houses etc) to have and feed its existance, it requires so many victims. At least in the machinery of society that we astablished. I feel privileged every day, but still I feel like I have to partly sacrifice my soul in order to have above mentioned supreme privileges. If I don't see victims of society, that doesn't mean I should feel ok about them, right? We carry such a big responsibility, and we refuse to acknowledge or even ponder and discuss openly on it.
    I'm not sorry for writing a long reflection on your words. This ignites a cathartic process in me that I fest on :)
    Regards and congrats on your writing. I admire your effort on topics addressed on your webpage. You are true and open hearted. That is success my friend.

    1. Aleš, it's indeed sad that most joys in life - accessible to a minority of the human population - are possible because of the great sacrifices forced out of so many, usually themselves unable to enjoy the fruits of their labor. A double injustice.

  2. For you being a somewhat knowledgeable about Plato's writings, I'm suprised by your post. Is that not envy? Is not one of the commandments "Thou shalt not covet"? Is not also pertain to somebody's station in life?

    Is not your "injustice", envy?

    Is not Plato's Republic all about "Justice"? That all things are created to do ONE thing. One must work, one must pray, and one must fight. Plato's Republic is based on the caste system of the Doric Greeks in the separation of the fighting class from the mercantile class and the agrarian class. Nature obeys this. Not all people are leaders. Do you ever watch the working poor at the factories, Stephan? They get off from work, walk over to the bar and drink for a couple of hours. The priest does not do this nor does the aristocracy. Wisdom requires leisure. Poor must work. Nature creates this pyramid shape. Nature creates a huge class of poor and about 20% of any population is the intellectual class that has what Nature gave it, the ability of leisure to come to wisdom and the arts. Righteousness, or justice, is all things are constructed to do one thing. For the poor, it is to work. The Monarch and the priest and the soldier are NOT freeloaders. If you see that, then you are a Marxist, full of envy.

    1. I recognize neither Plato nor society in your description. If anything, it reminds me of social darwinism.

  3. Dear Sir, as you know; words are the labels of Concepts and the definition of the word is the concept. Also,that some concepts have a basis in Reality and that some do not. There is the concept of a tree and there is the actual object in Reality that we conceptualize. Our perceptions and concepts regarding a tree may differ but there is "something" in Realty that at least partially corelates to our perceptions.

    Please bear with me because this does relate to what you say in your blog. You and most of the readers recognise that there are also concepts that are only in the mind of the person and not in Reality. Some of those "false" concepts may be useful but it is imperative for everyone to realise their solely mental existence.

    One of the problems with the solely mental concepts is that they become a part of the persons "Worldview". We do not visually see objects in front of the body. Our brain/mind organizes and interprets the data from our sense organs and "projects" an image of an object in front of us and does it so well that we think it is real. The problem with that in this context is that is that the Brain/mind also projects the persons world view and this distorts how the brain/mind analyses the sense data.

    What I have trie to do is to present the background which colors your analysis of what may or may not be real. I attempted this approach as I disagree with you in so many of the things you wrote that they were too many to write about. Suffice it to say that you see things through the concepts of the worldview of a Socialist/Communist.

    You define "Justice" as everyone getting their needs met and also in the same extent as everyone else. I define "Justice" as each person being allowed to keep the fruits of their labor and not have part of them taken away against their will to give to someone who may not have labored at all.

    1. Dear Smartasawhip, what you say in the last paragraph would be true if everyone had similar opportunity.