Big Men and Big Women: Competition is Not the Problem, Unmitigated Greed and Ambition is the Problem
A comment on my last post made me think, as comments often do. Esteemed reader Mike wrote:
“They aren’t alien, we are. Alienation is precisely the problem that we are facing as a species, we do not cooperate with one another but compete against one another for survival and domination. It must stop.”
Well, I have to disagree in part, though with the codicil that my disagreement may be semantic, but his comment did inspire this post. Yes, people are commonly told that wars and such are driven by shortages, and governments do compete insanely with each other in terms of access to resources and wealth. What I disagree with is the notion that as a species we are competitive, not cooperative. Humans are in fact an incredibly cooperative species. Every day most people spend most of their time in cooperative activities. Work, school, even driving and play are all highly cooperative activities. Every home, every factory, pretty much every anything anywhere was built by people working together. We are an intensely social animal, and it shows in almost every facet of our lives, cooperation is the norm for human, not the exception. We’d still be living in the trees if we didn’t cooperate with each other. Hell, we couldn’t raise armies and fight wars if we weren’t incredibly cooperative by nature.
So what then is the problem with governments? Why can’t they cooperate with each other? Ay, there’s the rub. The problem doesn’t lie with the nature of humans, the problem lies with the nature of a very few humans. I posit that many if not most of humanity’s problems stem from our inability as a social animal to control the ambitions of those few people who have unlimited lust for power and wealth, and no scruples about how they get it. Worse, not only do we fail to control them, we actually put them in positions of power! And it’s these people who are constantly trying to increase their power and standing, through fair means or foul, that are at the root of our problems. And yes, this problem has been recognized since ancient times, that’s one of the reasons we invented laws, nations are supposed to be guided by law. Sadly, in most cases, it’s the laws that are guided by the leaders, not vice versa.
And of course the people running countries justify their insane competitiveness by blaming other countries, agitators, liberals, conservatives, communists, human nature, bad religions … just about anything and everything except themselves! If one can step back a bit sometimes this gets so insanely out of touch with reality it would be funny if so many people didn’t die as a result. In fact all government propaganda from all governments throughout history boils down to “We had to do those bad things, because they made us!” And it’s complete fucking garbage, governments do the bad things they do to preserve and expand the power and wealth of their patrons, not because their enemies gave them no choice. Governments, especially big governments, have enormous resources and powers at their disposal. It’s extremely rare for governments to be forced into anything, but they very much try to maintain the fiction to their populations that the bad things they do were their best and only option. And sadly, most people fall for it hook, line, and sinker.
I don’t know what the solution is, th0ugh first recognizing that there is a problem is the start. I do know that some cultures developed a healthy way to deal with this, it’s called potlatch. Basically, in these societies, there is someone called the “Big Man.” He’s not the chief or anything, but is at the top of the pecking order socially and is the most widely respected person in the village or tribe. How does one get to be the Big Man? Every seven years (it varies) all of the people who want to be the Big Man hold a party where basically they try to buy the favour of everyone in their village by holding the biggest best party, and giving away the most gifts. That way the people who have a compulsion to accumulate wealth and power not only have an outlet for it, every seven years or so the wealth gets redistributed! Sadly while we have huge numbers of wanna be “Big Men” (and a few who want to be Big Women too,) the mechanism for them to redistribute their wealth is long gone. And there are no constraints on their ambition at all. Hell, even the Romans did a better job of redistributing the wealth than most of our modern societies.
In any event, the point of this post is my contention that humans are not violent or competitive or warlike by nature, though our leaders dearly want us to believe that. No, the problem is political in nature, not psychological. (OK, well, one can make the case that people with unlimited ambition and no scruples have psychological issues, but not going there right now.) And tomorrow, I will discuss the most frightening example of unlimited greed and ambition in the modern world, and how he may be the death of us all yet.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. I’m pretty sure its public domain since it’s on a number of sites, and I can’t find out its origin and attribution. I would be happy to attribute it properly if anyone knows. It’s a picture of lions eating delivery pizza. The lions are our leaders, we’re the pizza.)