Category Archive 'Envy'

03 May 2018

“The Most Successful Society in Human History” (If You are a Leftist)

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Ju/’hoansi Bushmen of the Kalahari, from the viewpoint of the Left: “the most successful society in human history.” Too bad for Athens, Rome, and Renaissance Italy!

Equality is the unquestionable, unexaminable Sumuum Bonum and absolute endpoint goal for the contemporary Left. James Suzman, in an essay in Aeon, lauds the “fierce egalitarianism” of the Stone Age Hunter-Gatherer Ju/’hoansi Bushmen, and identifies the key principle that makes their society what it is: Envy!

[R]esearch conducted among the Ju/’hoansi in the 1950s and ’60s when they could still hunt and gather freely turned established views of social evolution on their head. Up until then, it was widely believed that hunter-gatherers endured a near-constant battle against starvation, and that it was only with the advent of agriculture that we began to free ourselves from the capricious tyranny of nature. When in 1964 a young Canadian anthropologist, Richard Borshay Lee, conducted a series of simple economic input/output analyses of the Ju/’hoansi as they went about their daily lives, he revealed that not only did they make a good living from hunting and gathering, but that they were also well-nourished and content. Most remarkably, his research revealed that the Ju/’hoansi managed this on the basis of little more than 15 hours’ work per week. On the strength of this finding, the anthropologist Marshall Sahlins in Stone Age Economics (1972) renamed hunter-gatherers ‘the original affluent society’.

If a society is judged by its endurance, then this was the most successful society in human history

This research also revealed that the Ju/’hoansi were able to make a good living from a sparse environment because they cared little for private property and, above all, were ‘fiercely egalitarian’, as Lee put it. It showed that the Ju/’hoansi had no formalised leadership institutions, no formal hierarchies; men and women enjoyed equal decision-making powers; children played largely noncompetitive games in mixed age groups; and the elderly, while treated with great affection, were not afforded any special status or privileges. This research also demonstrated how the Ju/’hoansi’s ‘fierce egalitarianism’ underwrote their affluence. For it was their egalitarianism that ensured that no-one bothered accumulating wealth and simultaneously enabled limited resources to flow organically through communities, helping to ensure that even in times of episodic scarcity everyone got more or less enough.

There is no question that this dynamic was very effective. If a society is judged by its endurance over time, then this was almost certainly the most successful society in human history – and by a considerable margin. New genomic analyses suggest that the Ju/’hoansi and their ancestors lived continuously in southern Africa from soon after modern H sapiens settled there, most likely around 200,000 years ago. Recent archaeological finds across southern Africa also indicate that key elements of the Ju/’hoansi’s material culture extend back at least 70,000 years and possibly long before. As importantly, genome mutation-rate analyses suggest that the broader population group from which the Ju/’hoansi descended, the Khoisan, were not only the largest population of H sapiens, but also did not suffer population declines to the same extent as other populations over the past 100,000 years.

Taken in tandem with the fact that other well-documented hunting and gathering societies, from the Mbendjele BaYaka of Congo to the Agta in the Philippines (whose most recent common ancestor with the Ju/’hoansi was around 150,000 years ago), were similarly egalitarian, this suggests that the Ju/’hoansi’s direct ancestors were almost certainly ‘fiercely egalitarian’ too.

Ju/’hoansi egalitarianism was not born of the ideological dogmatism that we associate with 20th-century Marxism or the starry-eyed idealism of New Age ‘communalism’. There was no manifesto of ‘primitive communism’. Rather, it was the organic outcome of interactions between people acting explicitly in their own self-interest in a highly individualistic society. This was because, among foraging Ju/’hoansi, self-interest was always policed by its shadow, envy – which, in turn, ensured that everyone always got a fair share, and that those with the natural charisma and authority to ‘lead’ exercised it with great circumspection. This was best exemplified in the customary ‘insulting’ of the hunter’s meat.

Skilled Ju/’hoansi hunters needed a thick skin. For while a particularly spectacular kill was always cause for celebration, the hunter responsible was insulted rather than flattered. Regardless of the size or condition of the carcass, those due a share of the meat would complain that the kill was trifling, that it was barely worth the effort of carrying it back to camp, or that there wouldn’t be enough meat to go round. For his part, the hunter was expected to be almost apologetic when he presented the carcass.

Of course, everyone knew the difference between a scrawny kill and a good one but continued to pass insults even while they were busy filling their bellies. Hunters rarely took the insults to heart, and those dishing them out often did so through broad grins. This was a performance in which everyone played well-rehearsed roles. But it was also a performance with a clear purpose, as beneath the light-hearted insults lay a sharp and potentially vicious edge.

More than any other food, meat was capable of making the Ju/’hoansi forget their customary good manners, so it required extra diligence in distribution. It also meant that there was a risk that particularly skilled and energetic hunters might begin to consider others to be in their debt, so fracturing the delicate egalitarian balance that sustained band (or small kin-group) life. The insults ensured that individual hunters took care not to be so successful that they stood out or, worse still, began to imagine themselves to be more important than others.

There you have the essence of what Leftism stands for and has to offer: Envy and Stone Age equality.

RTWT

17 Dec 2013

“He Covets. That is his Nature.”

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Robert Reich
Kevin D. Williamson responds devastatingly to a recent editorial by Professor Robert Reich advocating increased limits on tax deductibility for private philanthropy.

Prayerful people bargaining with God over lottery numbers no doubt imagine that they would do some worthy things with that money, on top of buying a Ferrari. Progressives imagine all the wonderful things they could do with other people’s money, and no doubt some of them are well-intentioned. But envy poisons whatever good intentions they have, which is how men such as Professor Reich come to write resentful indictments of people who are, remember, giving away billions of dollars of their own money. He’d prefer their money be given away by him, or by bureaucracies under the tutelage of men such as himself. As the moral philosopher Hannibal Lecter put it: “He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet? Do we seek out things to covet? No. We begin by coveting what we see every day.”

Megan McArdle once observed that in our public discourse, “very rich” is defined as “just above the level a top-notch journalist in a two-earner couple could be expected to pull down.” There is no envy like the envy of a $250,000 man in a world of $250 million men, as Robert Duvall’s crusty newspaper editor explains to a financially frustrated employee in The Paper: “The people we cover — we move in their world, but it is their world. We don’t get the money — never have, never will.” But being in that world, they learn to covet, which helps explain why Professor Reich’s old boss, Bill Clinton, ended up with $50-odd million in the bank after a lifetime of public service.

Americans gave away $316 billion in 2012, and will give away as much or more this year, and Professor Reich composed 731 words to explain the problems related to that. He should have composed two words, especially relevant to this season:

“Thank you.”

16 Nov 2011

Margaret Thatcher Demolishes Occupy Wall Street’s Philosophy Back in 1990

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From Eric Ames, at Ricochet, who goes on to observe:

It is the fundamental problem with the leftist complaint about income inequality: if they truly are worried about income inequality, then they are not worried about the actual welfare of real people. They are just mad that some people have more than others. If they take this seriously, it means that fixing poverty is no less an acceptable policy goal as making everyone poor. After all, if the gap is what is important, it shouldn’t matter how much anyone has so long as nobody has more than anybody else.

This goes right back to George Will’s point on the difference between the right and the left; the right wants equality of opportunity, the left wants equality of outcome. The whole Occupy movement, in fact, smacks of an irritating “it’s not fairism.” It’s not fair that there are winners and losers, so let’s make everyone a loser.

14 Aug 2007

Wealth Redistribution Does Not Lead To Happiness

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Arthur C. Brooks argues quite trenchantly that what America needs is mobility and opportunity, not equalization of income.

those left behind, it’s important to note, will almost certainly not become happier if we redistribute more income. Indeed, they will probably become less happy. Policies designed to lower economic inequality tend to change the incentives of both the haves and the have-nots in a way that particularly harms the have-nots. Reductions in the incentives to prosper mean fewer jobs created, less economic growth, less in tax revenues, and less charitable giving—all to the detriment of those left behind. And redistribution can, as the American welfare system has shown, turn beneficiaries into demoralized long-term dependents. …

policies to redress economic inequality hardly affect true inequality at all. Policymakers and economists rarely denounce the scandal of inequality in work effort, creativity, talent, or enthusiasm. …

Finally, arguments against inequality legitimize envy. Americans may indeed have strong concerns about their relative incomes and may seek status as reflected in their economic circumstances. But to base our policies on the anxieties of those at the back of the status race is to bow before Invidia. A deadly sin is not, in my view, a smart blueprint for policymaking.

A more accurate vision of America sees a land of both inequality and opportunity, in which hard work and perseverance are the keys to jumping from the ranks of the have-nots to those of the haves. If we can solve problems of absolute deprivation, such as hunger and homelessness, then rewarding hard work will continue to serve as a positive stimulant to achievement. Redistribution and taxation, beyond what’s necessary to pay for key services, weaken America’s willingness and ability to thrive.

This vision promotes policies focused not on wiping out economic inequality, but rather on enhancing economic mobility. They include improving educational opportunities, aggressively addressing cultural impediments to success, enhancing the fluidity of labor markets, searching for ways to include all citizens in America’s investing revolution, and protecting the climate of American entrepreneurship.

Placidity about income inequality, and opposition to income redistribution, are evidence of a light heart, not a hard one. If happiness is our goal, those who promote opportunity over economic equality have no apologies to make.

Read the whole thing.

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Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.


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