We Americans like to think we live in a first world country, but there are plenty of areas–like inner cities or far rural regions–where the complex supply chains people take for granted in the suburbs (“Of course I can buy raspberries in January. Why wouldn’t I?”) don’t work or don’t exist.
For example, relatives of mine who live in a rural part of the country and therefore are not hooked up to a city water pipe are dependent on well water. But a recent drought dried up their wells, and they ended up with no running water for several years. Thankfully the drought ended and they now have water, but droughts recur; I would not be surprised if they ended up without water again sometime within the next couple of decades.
Likewise, there are people in Detroit who lack running water, though for very different reasons (my relatives were amply willing to pay for water if anyone would pipe it over to them.)
I was reading the other day about the difficulties surrounding gentrification. Basically, you start with an urban neighborhood that’s run down or perhaps has always been kind of shitty, and eventually someone clever realizes that there’s no sensible reason why one piece of urban real estate should command higher prices than another piece of urban real estate and starts trying to fix things. So they buy up decrepit old buildings, clean them up, get new businesses to move into the area, and generally try to turn a profit–house flipping on the neighborhood scale. Of course, as soon as the neighborhood starts looking nicer and stops scaring people away, the rents go up and the original residents are forced out.
Which is a big win if you’re a developer, because those original residents were a large part of the reason why the neighborhood you’re trying to flip was so shitty in the first place, but kind of sucks if you are one of those people who can no longer afford rent. Which means, among other things, that you’ll often get local kick-back against your gentrification schemes: (h/t Steve Sailer)
Hardline tactics succeed in keeping outsiders away from Boyle Heights, the Latino community that is the last holdout to Los Angeles gentrification.
A realtor who invited clients to tour the neighbourhood for bargain properties and enjoy “artisanal treats” felt the backlash within hours.
“I can’t help but hope that your 60-minute bike ride is a total disaster and that everyone who eats your artisanal treats pukes immediately,” said one message. “Stay outta my f****** hood,” said another.
Fearing violence, the realtor cancelled the event.
So you end up with a lot of articles about people who want to gentrify neighborhoods but swear up and down that they don’t want to drive out the local residents or destroy their lives, and some of these folks might actually be honest. But these goals are often incompatible: gentrification raises rents, which drives out the lowest classes of society.
As I see it, economically depressed areas, be they urban or rural, have one thing in common: low complexity. Rural areas have low complexity because that’s just a side effect of being far away from other people; urban areas end up with low complexity either because of shifts in economic production (eg, the death of American manufacturing leading to abandoned factories and unemployed people across the “rust belt,”) or because the folks in them can’t handle complexity.
Human society is complicated (and American society, doubly so.) Businesses don’t just get opened and people employed because someone wants to; there’s a whole lot of paperwork involved before anything gets done.
I am reminded here of a passage in Bourgois’s In Search of Respect: Selling crack in el Barrio, where a Harlem drug dealer who wanted to go straight and get a legal job attempted to open a small food store, but got shut down because his bathroom was not wheelchair accessible. So the guy went back to selling crack.
On a similar note, when my relatives ran out of water, there existed an obvious technical fix: deepen the well. But drilling wells is neither cheap nor easy, if you lack the right tools, and beyond the average individual’s abilities. How lucky, I thought, that there exist many charities devoted to drilling wells for people! How unlucky, I discovered, that these charities only drill wells in the third world. I made some inquiries and received a disheartening response: the charities did not have the necessary paperwork filled out and permits granted to drill wells here in the US.
Much regulation exists not because it benefits anyone (trust me, a wheelchair-bound person is better off with non-ADA compliant food store in their neighborhood than a crack house,) but to shut down smaller businesses that cannot handle the cost of compliance.
In simple terms: More regulation => more suffering poor people.
Everyone has a maximum level of complexity they can personally handle; collectively, so do groups of people. Hunter-gatherer groups have very low levels of complexity; Tokyo has a very high level of complexity. When complexity falls in a neighborhood (say, because the local industries move out and rents fall and businesses close,) the residents with the most resources (internal and external) tend to move out, leaving the area to the least competent–greatly increasing the percentage of criminals, druggies, prostitutes, homeless, and other transients among folks just trying to survive.
Attempting to raise the level of complexity in such an area beyond what the local people can manage (or beyond what the environment itself can handle) just doesn’t work. Sure, from the developers’ POV, it’s no big deal if people leave, but from the national perspective, we’re just shifting problems around.
Obviously, if you care about poor people and want to do something to help them, step number one is to decrease regulations/paperwork. Unfortunately, I don’t have much hope of this short of a total societal breakdown and reset, so in the meanwhile, l got to thinking about these small-scale development projects people are trying in the third world, like micro-solar panels, composting toilets, or extremely cheap water pumps. Now, I agree that most of these articles are pie-in-the-sky, “This time we’re totally going to solve poverty for realsies, not like all of those other times!” claptrap. The problem with most of these projects is, of course, complexity. You install a water pump in some remote village, a part breaks, and now the villagers have no idea how to get a new part to fix it.
If you’ve read Josephine and Frederick’s account of their attempt to drive from Lubumbashi to Kinshasa–a distance of about a thousand miles, or 1,500 km–in the DRC, then you’ve probably noticed how much of the infrastructure in parts of the third world was built by the colonizers, and has degenerated since then do to lack of maintenance. These systems are too complex for the people using them, so they de-complexify until they aren’t.
So for third-world development schemes to work, they can’t be too complex. You can’t expect people to spend three weeks trekking through the bush to order parts in the nearest cities or to read thick manuals, and they certainly don’t have a lot of money to invest.
So when these projects are successful, we know they have managed to deal adequately with the complexity problem.
Micro solar panels, for example, might provide enough power to charge a cell phone or run an electric light for a few hours, and can be easily “installed” by clipping them onto the outside of a high-rise tenement window, where they are relatively safe from random thieves. For people who can’t afford electricity, or who have to chose between things like paying rent and having hot showers, such panels could make a difference.
In rural areas with unreliable water supplies, cheap pumps could run water from local streams to toilets or filtration systems; composting toilets and the like provide low-water options.
Such projects need not be run as charities–in fact, they probably shouldn’t be; if a project increases peoples’ economic well-being, then they should be able to pay for it. If they can’t, then the project probably isn’t working. But they might require some kind of financing, as cost now, savings later is not a model most poor people can afford.
I’ve been thinking about whether we should quit creating various forms of corporations–like LLCs–for for the past 15 years or so–ever since Bakunin, more or less. But other than the fraud post a few days ago, I think the only other piece I’ve really written on the subject was a short explanation of my opposition to letting corporations have any kind of political rights (eg, donating to campaigns, freedom of speech,) on the grounds that they are non-human organisms (they are meta-human organisms,) and since I am a human and rather speciesist, I don’t want non-humans getting power.
The problem with discussing whether corporations should exist (or in what form, or if they are good or bad,) is that people are prone to status-quo fallacies where they forget that corporations are just legal fictions and act instead as though they were real, physical objects or forces of nature created by the Will of God, like mountain ranges or entropy.
But a “corporation” is not so much a big building full of people, but a piece of paper in your filing cabinet. Modern corporate structures did not exist throughout most of humanity’s 200,000 year existence, and in fact only came to exist when governments passed laws that created them.
All that takes to change them is a new law. Unlike mountains, they only “exist” because a law (and pieces of paper tucked away in filing cabinets,) says they do. What man has made, man can unmake.
So let’s talk about lawsuits.
America is a litigious society. Extremely litigious. Probably the most litigious in the world. (We also incarcerate a higher % of our people than any other country, though on the bright side, we summarily execute far fewer.)
Sometimes I think Americans are the kinds of people who solve disputes by punching each other, but we’ve gotten it into heads that lawsuits are a kind of punching.
At any rate, fear of litigation and liability are ruining everything. If you don’t believe me, try setting up a roadside stand to sell some extra radishes from your garden or build a bridge over a creek on your own property. You have to pass a background check just to help out on your kid’s school field trip, and children aren’t allowed to ride their bikes in my neighborhood because, “if they got hit by a car, the HOA could get sued.” As farmer Joel Salatin put it, “Everything I Want to do is Illegal.” (All Joel wants to do is grow and sell food, but there are SO MANY REGULATIONS.)
100 years ago, the kind of litigation people are afraid of simply wouldn’t have happened. For example, as Stanford Mag recounts of campus violence around 1910:
Black eyes, bruises, and occasional bouts of unconsciousness didn’t seem to alarm the administration. … Farm life came with a brutish edge. Some freshmen slept in armed groups to ward off hazers, a state of affairs apparently enabled by the administration’s reluctance to meddle. “Persons fit to be in college are fit to look after their own affairs,” Stanford President David Star Jordan said.
Elizabeth Shin (February 16, 1980 – April 14, 2000) was a Massachusetts Institute of Technology student who died from burns inflicted by a fire in her dormitory room. Her death led to a lawsuit against MIT and controversy as to whether MIT paid adequate attention to its students’ mental and emotional health, and whether MIT’s suicide rate was abnormally high.
… After the incident, MIT announced an upgrade of its student counseling programs, including more staff members and longer hours. However, the Shins claimed these measures were not enough and filed a $27.65 million lawsuit against MIT, administrators, campus police officers, and its mental health employees. …
On April 3, 2006, MIT announced that the case with the family of Elizabeth Shin had been settled before trial for an undisclosed amount.
Universities, of course, do not want to get sued for millions of dollars and deal with the attendant bad publicity, but these days you can’t say “Boo” on campus without someone thinking it’s the administration’s job to protect the students from emotional distress.
All of this litigation has happened (among other reasons) because corporations are seen (by juries) as cash cows.
Let’s pause a moment to discuss exactly what an LLC is (besides a piece of paper.) What’s the difference between selling your extra radishes as yourself and selling your extra radishes as a corporation? If you are selling as yourself, and one of your radishes makes a customer ill and they sue you, then you can be held personally liable for their sickness and be forced to pay their $10 million medical bill yourself, driving you into bankruptcy and ruin. But if you are selling as a corporation, then your ill customer must sue the corporation. The corporation can be found liable and forced to cover the $10 million bill, but you, the owner, are not liable; your money (the income you’ve made over the years by selling radishes) is safe.
(There are some tax-related differences, as well, but we will skip over those for now.)
There are doubtless many other varieties of corporations, most of which I am not familiar because I am not a specialist in corporate law. The general principle of most, if not all corporations is that they exist independent of the people in them.
This is how Donald Trump’s businesses can have gone bankrupt umpteen times and he can still have billions of dollars.
But precisely because corporations are not people, and the people who own them are protected (supposedly) from harm, people are, I suspect more likely to sue them and juries are to award suits against them.
As a lawyer I spoke with put it, he was glad that his job only involved suing corporations, because “corporations aren’t people, so I’m not hurting anyone.”
Suppose MIT were just a guy named Mit who taught math and physics. If one of his students happened to commit suicide, would anyone sue him on the grounds that he didn’t do enough to stop her?
I doubt it. For starters, Mit wouldn’t even have millions of dollars to sue for.
When people get hurt, juries want to do something to help them. Sick people have bills that must get paid one way or another, after all. Corporations have plenty of money (or so people generally think,) but individuals don’t. A jury would hesitate to drive Mit into poverty, as that would harm him severely, but wouldn’t blink an eye at making MIT pay millions, as this hurts “no one” since MIT is not a person.
You might say that it is kind of like a war between human organisms and corporate organisms–humans try to profit off corporations, and corporations try to profit off humans. (Of course, I tend to favor humanity in this grand struggle.)
The big problem with this system is that even though corporations aren’t people, they are still composed of people. A corporation that does well can employ lots of people and make their lives better, but a corporation that gets sued into the gutter won’t be able to employ anyone at all. The more corporations have to fear getting sued, the more careful they have to be–which results in increased paperwork, record keeping, policies-on-everything, lack of individual discretion, etc., which in turn make corporations intolerable both for the people in them and the people in them.
So what can we do?
The obvious solution of letting corporations get away with anything probably isn’t a good idea, because corporations will eat people if eating people leads to higher profits. (And as a person, I am opposed to the eating of people.)
Under our current system, protection from liability lets owners get away with cheating already–take mining corporations, which are known for extracting the resources from an area, paying their owners handsomely, and then conveniently declaring bankruptcy just before costly environmental cleanup begins. Local communities are left to foot the bill (and deal with the health effects like lead poisoning and cancer.)
The solution, IMO, is individual responsibility wherever possible. Mining companies could not fob off their cleanup costs if the owners were held liable for the costs. A few owners losing everything and ending up penniless would quickly prompt the owners of other mining companies to be very careful about how they construct their waste water ponds.
People need to interact with and be responsible to other people.
Much of evolutionary literature focuses on the straightforward relationship between predator and prey, or on competition between members of the same species for limited resources, mates, etc.
But today we’re going to focus on fraud.
Red touch yellow, kill a fellow. Red touch black, friend to Jack.
The Coral snake is deadly poisonous. (Or venomous, as they say.) The Milk snake is harmless, but by mimicking the coral’s red, black, and yellow bands, it tricks potential predators into believing that it, too, will kill them.
The milk snake is a fraud, benefiting from the coral’s venom without producing any of its own.
Nature has many frauds, from the famously brood-parasitic Cuckoos to the nightmare-fuel snail eyestalk-infecting flatworms, to the fascinating mimic octopus, who can change the colors and patterns on its skin in the blink of an eye.
But just as predator and prey evolve in tandem, the prey developing new strategies to outwit predators, and predators in turn developing new strategies to defeat the prey’s new strategies. So also with fraud; animals who detect frauds out-compete those who are successfully deceived.
Complex human systems depend enormously on trust–and thus are prime breeding grounds for fraud.
Let’s take the job market. Employers want to hire the best employees possible (at the lowest possible prices, of course.) So employers do their best to (efficiently) screen potential candidates for work-related qualities like diligence, honesty, intelligence, and competency.
Employees want to eat. Diligence, honesty, years spent learning how to do a particular job, etc., are not valued because they help the company, but because they result in eating (and, if you’re lucky, reproduction.)
When there are far more employees competing against each other for jobs than there are openings, not only do employers have a chance to ratchet up the qualifications they demand in applicants, they pretty much have to. No employer trying to fill a single position has time to read 10,000 resumes, nor would it be in their interest to do so. So employers come up with requirements–often totally arbitrary–to automatically cut down the number of applications.
“Must have 3-5 years work experience” = people with 6 years of experience automatically rejected.
“Must be currently employed with no gaps in resume” = no one who took time off to have children. (This is one of the reasons birthrates are so low.)
“Must have X degree” = person with 15 years experience in the field but no degree automatically rejected.
The result, of course, is that prospective employees begin lying, cheating, or finding other deceptive ways to trick employers into reading their resumes. Workers with 6 years of experience put down 5. Workers with 2 record 3. People who can’t get into American medical schools attend Caribbean ones. “Brought donuts to the meeting” is inflated to “facilitated cross-discipline network conversation.” Whites who believe employers are practicing AA tickybox “black” on their applications. And as more and more jobs that formerly required nothing more than graduating college start requiring college degrees, more and more colleges start offering bullshit degrees so that everyone can get one.
The higher the competition and more arbitrary the rules, the higher the incentives for cheating.
It began with a test-fixing scandal so massive that it led to 2,000 arrests, including top politicians, academics and doctors. Then suspects started turning up dead. What is the truth behind the Vyapam scam that has gripped India? …
For at least five years, thousands of young men and women had paid bribes worth millions of pounds in total to a network of fixers and political operatives to rig the official examinations run by the Madhya Pradesh Vyavsayik Pariksha Mandal – known as Vyapam – a state body that conducted standardised tests for thousands of highly coveted government jobs and admissions to state-run medical colleges. When the scandal first came to light in 2013, it threatened to paralyse the entire machinery of the state administration: thousands of jobs appeared to have been obtained by fraudulent means, medical schools were tainted by the spectre of corrupt admissions, and dozens of officials were implicated in helping friends and relatives to cheat the exams. …
The list of top state officials placed under arrest reads like the telephone directory of the Madhya Pradesh secretariat. The most senior minister in the state government, Laxmikant Sharma – who had held the health, education and mining portfolios – was jailed, and remains in custody, along with his former aide, Sudhir Sharma, a former schoolteacher who parlayed his political connections into a vast mining fortune.
One of the things I find amusing (and, occasionally, frustrating) about Americans is that many of us are still so trusting. What we call “corruption”–what we imagine as an infection in an otherwise healthy entity–is the completely normal way of doing business throughout most of the world. (I still run into people who are surprised to discover that there are a lot of scams being run out of Nigeria. Nigerian scammers? Really? You don’t say.)
It’s good to get out of your bubble once in a while. Go hang out on international forums with people from the third world, and listen in on some of the conversations between Indians and Pakistanis or Indians and Chinese. Chinese and Indians constantly accuse each other’s countries of engaging in massive educational cheating.
Maybe they know something we don’t.
People want jobs because jobs mean eating; a good job means good eating, ergo every family worth its salt wants their children to get good jobs. But in a nation with 1.2 billion people and only a few good jobs, competition is ferocious:
In 2013, the year the scam was first revealed, two million young people in Madhya Pradesh – a state the size of Poland, with a population greater than the UK – sat for 27 different examinations conducted by Vyapam. Many of these exams are intensely competitive. In 2013, the prestigious Pre-Medical Test (PMT), which determines admission to medical school, had 40,086 applicants competing for just 1,659 seats; the unfortunately named Drug Inspector Recruitment Test (DIRT), had 9,982 candidates striving for 16 vacancies in the state department of public health.
For most applicants, the likelihood of attaining even low-ranking government jobs, with their promise of long-term employment and state pensions, is incredibly remote. In 2013, almost 450,000 young men and women took the exam to become one of the 7,276 police constables recruited that year – a post with a starting salary of 9,300 rupees (£91) per month. Another 270,000 appeared for the recruitment examination to fill slightly more than 2,000 positions at the lowest rank in the state forest service.
Since no one wants to spend their life picking up trash or doing back-breaking manual labor in the hot sun, the obvious solution is to cheat:
The impersonators led the police to Jagdish Sagar, a crooked Indore doctor who had set up a lucrative business that charged up to 200,000 rupees (£2,000) to arrange for intelligent but financially needy medical students to sit examinations on behalf of applicants who could afford to pay.
The families of dumb kids pay for smart kids to take tests for them.
In 2009, police claim, Sagar and Mohindra [Vypam’s systems analyst/data entry guy] had a meeting in Sagar’s car in Bhopal’s New Market bazaar, where the doctor made an unusual proposition: he would give Mohindra the application forms of groups of test-takers, and Mohindra would alter their “roll numbers” to ensure they were seated together so they could cheat from each other. According to Mohindra’s statement to the police, Sagar “offered to pay me 25,000 rupees (£250) for each roll number I changed.”
This came to be known as the “engine-bogie” system. The “engine” would be one of Sagar’s impostors – a bright student from a medical college, taking the exam on behalf of a paying customer – who would also pull along the lower-paying clients sitting next to him by supplying them with answers. … From 2009 to 2013, the police claim, Mohindra tampered with seating assignment for at least 737 of Sagar’s clients taking the state medical exam. …
Mohinda also began just straight-up filling in the bubbles and altering exam scores in the computer for rich kids whose parents had paid him off.
Over the course of only two years, police allege, Mohindra and Trivedi conspired to fix the results of 13 different examinations – for doctors, food inspectors, transport constables, police constables and police sub-inspectors, two different kinds of school teachers, dairy supply officers and forest guards – which had been taken by a total of 3.2 million students.
Remember this if you ever travel to India.
But merely uncovering the scam does not make it go away; witnesses begin dying:
In July 2014, the dean of a medical college in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, Dr SK Sakalle – who was not implicated in the scandal, but had reportedly investigated fraudulent medical admissions and expelled students accused of obtaining their seats by cheating – was found burned to death on the front lawn of his own home. …
In an interview with the Hindustan Times earlier this year, a policeman, whose own son was accused in the scam and died in a road accident, advanced an unlikely yet tantalising theory. He argued that the Vyapam taskforce – under pressure to conduct a credible probe that nevertheless absolved top government officials – had falsely named suspects who were already deceased in order to shield the real culprits.
A competing theory, voiced by journalists covering the scandal in Bhopal, proposes that it will be all but impossible to determine whether the deaths are connected to Vyapam, because the families of many of the dead refuse to admit that their children paid money to cheat on their exams – for fear that the police might arrest the bereaved parents as well.
For India’s poor (and middle class,) scamming is a dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t affair:
“My brother was arrested four months ago for paying someone to ensure he cleared the police constable exam in 2012,” the man told me. “Some people in our village said, ‘This is Madhya Pradesh, nothing happens without money.’ My brother sold his land and paid them 600,000 rupees.”
In August that year, he was one of 403,253 people who appeared for the recruitment test to become a police constable. … Four months after his marriage, his name popped up in the scam, he lost his job and he was hauled off to prison.
“So now my brother has a wife and his first child, but no job, no land, no money, no prospects and a court case to fight,” the man said. “You can write your story, but write that this is a state of 75 million corrupt people, where there is nothing in the villages and if a man comes to the city in search of an honest day’s work, the politicians and their touts demand money and then throw him into jail for paying.”
I would like to note that in many of these cases, the little guys in the scam, while arguably acting dishonestly and cheating against their neighbors, are basically well-intentioned people who don’t see any other options besides bribing their way into jobs. In the end, these guys often get screwed (or end up dead.)
It’s the people who are taking the bribes and fixing the tests and creating bullshit degrees and profiting off people’s houses burning down who are getting rich off everyone else and ensuring that cheating is the only way to get ahead.
These people are parasites.
Parasitism increases complexity in the host organism, which increases complexity in the parasite in turn:
With selection, evolution can also produce more complex organisms. Complexity often arises in the co-evolution of hosts and pathogens, with each side developing ever more sophisticated adaptations, such as the immune system and the many techniques pathogens have developed to evade it. For example, the parasite Trypanosoma brucei, which causes sleeping sickness, has evolved so many copies of its major surface antigen that about 10% of its genome is devoted to different versions of this one gene. This tremendous complexity allows the parasite to constantly change its surface and thus evade the immune system through antigenic variation.
Animals detect and expel parasites; parasites adapt to avoid detection.
So, too, with human scams.
We tend to increase complexity by adding paperwork.
A few people cheat on their taxes, so the IRS begins randomly auditing people to make sure everyone is complying. A few people refuse to hire African Americans, so companies must keep records on the ethnic/racial identities of everyone they interview for a job. An apartment complex fears it could get sued if a car hits a bicyclist in the parking lot, so it forbids all of the children there from riding their bikes. A college gets sued after a mentally ill student commits suicide on campus, so the college starts expelling all mentally ill students.
Now, while I appreciate certain kinds of complexity (like the sort that results in me having a computer to write on and an internet to post on,) the variety that arises due to a constant war between parasites and prey doesn’t seem to have much in the way of useful side effects. Perhaps I am missing something, but it does not seems like increasing layers of oversight and bureaucracy in an attempt to cut down cheating makes the world any better–rather the opposite, in fact.
Interestingly, fevers are not diseases nor even directly caused by disease, but by your own immune system responding to disease. By increasing your internal temperature, your body aims to kill off the infection or at least make things too inhospitable for it to breed. Fevers (within a moderate range) are your friends.
They are still unpleasant and have a seriously negative effect on your ability to get anything else done.
An ill patient can do little more than lie in bed and hope for recovery; a sick society does nothing but paperwork.
Certainly the correct response to parasitism is to root it out–paperwork, fever, and all. But the long-term response should focus on restructuring institutions so they don’t become infected in the first place.
In human systems, interdependence in close-knit communities is probably the most reliable guard against fraud. You are unlikely to prosper by cheating your brother (genetically, after all, his success is also half your success,) and people who interact with you often will notice if you do not treat them fairly.
Tribal societies have plenty of problems, but at least you know everyone you’re dealing with.
Modern society, by contrast, forces people to interact with and dependent upon thousands of people they don’t know, many they’ve met only once and far more they’ve never met at all. When I sit down to dinner, I must simply trust that the food I bought at the grocery store is clean, healthy, and unadultarated; that no one has contaminated the milk, shoved downer cows into the chute, or failed to properly wash the tomatoes. When I drive I depend on other drivers to not be drunk or impaired, and upon the city to properly maintain the roads and direct traffic. When I apply for jobs I hope employers will actually read my resume and not just hire the boss’s nephew; when I go for a walk in the park, I hope that no one will mug me.
With so many anonymous or near-anonymous interactions, it is very easy for people to defraud others and then slip away, never to be seen again. A mugger melts into a crowd; the neighbor whose dog shat all over your yard moves and disappears. Twitter mobs strike out of the blue and then disperse.
So how do we get, successfully, from tight-knit tribes to million+ people societies with open markets?
How do modern countries exist at all?
I suspect that religion–Christianity in the West, probably others elsewhere–has played a major role in encouraging everyone to cooperate with their neighbors by threatening them with eternal damnation if they don’t.
6 Do not take a pair of millstones—not even the upper one—as security for a debt, because that would be taking a person’s livelihood as security.
7 If someone is caught kidnapping a fellow Israelite and treating or selling them as a slave, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you. …
10 When you make a loan of any kind to your neighbor, do not go into their house to get what is offered to you as a pledge.11 Stay outside and let the neighbor to whom you are making the loan bring the pledge out to you.12 If the neighbor is poor, do not go to sleep with their pledge in your possession.13 Return their cloak by sunset so that your neighbor may sleep in it. Then they will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the Lord your God.
14 Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns.15 Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin. …
17 Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge.18 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.
To be fair, we have to credit Judaism for Deuteronomy.
Here we have organized religion attempting to bridge the gap between tribalism and universal morality. Enslaving one of your own is an offense punishable by death, but there is no command to rescue the enslaved of other nations. You must treat your own employees well, whether they come from your own tribe or other tribes.
In tribal societies, justice is run through the tribe. People with no families or clans–like orphans and foreigners–therefore cannot access the normal routes to justice.
The new barbarian rulers also disliked the death penalty, but for different reasons. There was a strong feeling that every adult male had a right to use violence and to kill, if need be. This right was of course reciprocal. If you killed a man, his death could be avenged by his brothers and other male kinsmen. The prospect of a vendetta thus created a ‘balance of terror’ that kept violence within limits. So, initially, the barbarians allowed capital punishment only for treason, desertion, and cowardice in combat (Carbasse, 2011, p. 35). [bold mine]
[The Salic Law] is a pact (pactus) “concluded between the Franks and their chiefs,” for the specific purpose of ensuring peace among the people by “cutting short the development of brawls.” This term evidently means private acts of vengeance, the traditional vendettas that went on from generation to generation. In place of the vengeance henceforth forbidden, the law obliged the guilty party to pay the victim (or, in the case of murder, his family) compensation. This was an indemnity whose amount was very precisely set by the law, which described with much detail all of the possible damages, this being to avoid any discussion between the parties and make [murder] settlements as rapid, easy, and peaceful as possible. […] This amount was called the wergild, the “price of a man.” The victim’s family could not refuse the wergild, and once it was paid, the family had to be satisfied. They no longer had the right to avenge themselves (Carbasse, 2011, pp. 33-34).
This situation began to change in the 12th century. One reason was that the State had become stronger. But there also had been an ideological change. The State no longer saw itself as an honest broker for violent disputes that did not challenge its existence. Jurists were now arguing that the king must punish the wicked to ensure that the good may live in peace.
In a tribal system, a victim with no family has no one to bring a suit on their behalf, if they are murdered, there is no one to pay weregild to. This leaves orphans and “foreigners” without any access to justice.
Thus Deuteronomy’s command not to mistreat them (or widows.) They aren’t protected under tribal law, but they are under Yahweh’s.
The threat of divine punishment (and promise of rewards for good behavior,) may have encouraged early Christians to cooperate with strangers. People who would cheat others now have both their own consciences and the moral standards of their Christian neighbors to answer to. The ability to do business with people outside of one’s own family or clan without constant fear of getting ripped off is a necessary prerequisite for the development of free markets, modern economies, and million+ nations. (In short, universalism.)
In the absence of universalist societies that effectively discourage cheating, groups that protect their own will out-compete groups that do not. The Amish, for example, have grown from 5,000 to 300,000 people over the past century (despite significant numbers of Amish children choosing to leave the society every generation.)
(By contrast, my own family has largely failed to reproduce itself–my cousins are all childless, and I have no second cousins.)
The Amish avoid outsiders, keeping their wealth within their own communities. This probably also allows them to steer clear of cheaters and scammers (unlike everyone who lost money in the 2008 housing crash or the 2001 stock market crash.) As insular groups go, the Amish don’t seem too bad–I haven’t heard any reports of them stealing people’s chickens or scamming elderly widows out of their life’s savings.
A great deal of fiction–possibly the majority–is dedicated to the fantasy of having some control over your life. Superman and Batman are strong enough that they can beat up (or otherwise stop) the bad guys, and don’t get sued or put in prison for their vigilante activities. Luke Skywalker gets in a little plane and shoots a laser beam into a hole and thereby brings down an entire Death Star. Voldemort gets pissed off at everyone for treating him shittily and so becomes the world’s most powerful wizard and sets out to make the world burn; Harry Potter uses his own magic power to defeat evil.
One of the most horrible villains in the Harry Potter series isn’t over-the top, sad-backstory Voldemort, but Dolores Umbridge–a plump Hogwartz teacher who dresses in pink, decorates with fluffy pink curtains and china plates with pictures of kittens on them, and makes Harry Potter write apologies in his own blood for, IIRC, having honestly states that Voldemort was back. She is the image of sweetness and propriety while torturing students and helping Voldemort, and there’s nothing Harry and his friends can do to stop her from using the official wizarding world bureaucracy to take over his school, at least until they lure her into the forest and trick her into getting abducted by centaurs.
In real life there are many Doloreses, but no centaurs.
In real life, it is quite illegal to get in a fight (of any kind) with anyone. Even cursing at someone can be “verbal assault.” The desire for revenge against those who’ve wronged you may be a basic human instinct (I am quite certain it is,) but revenge is illegal. Oh, yes, the state can take revenge–the state can lock people up or even put them to death–but ordinary citizens are not allowed to track down miscreants and beat the shit out of them. It is very, very illegal.
What do you do when someone wrongs you?
Here, fill out this form; talk to these people. If your case matches our criteria, something may be done–in months, or years. Here’s some more paperwork.
Nope, sorry, you don’t meet the criteria. There is nothing you can do.
The sheer amount of paperwork to keep track of in American society is overwhelming. I have friends who’ve lived in both America and China; the Chinese do not suffer under half the paperwork burden we do.
“Reducing overhead” remains one of my #1 political agenda items.
Paperwork, bureaucracy, and red tape are crushing our economy. They are probably worse than military spending, welfare, and everything else people hate that the government does combined. And they destroy people’s lives by forcing them to spend their time doing fucking paperwork instead of living.
And we do paperwork because we aren’t allowed to punch each other anymore.
If a mining company destroys a community by dumping poison waste into the local drinking water, the natural consequence is that the affected locals find the CEO, tie him to a chair, and drop him in the river. Today you file a class-action lawsuit and petition the local city officials to switch drinking water sources and groan in frustration as nothing happens for three decades straight.
Living in cities (as most of us do) means coming into constant contact with other people. Some of those people are nice, some are mean, and most are just irrelevant. You pass them on your way to work (or they pass you), ignore them at lunch and try not to make eye contact with them on the street.
Don’t make too much noise; the neighbors might hear you.
I was just talking to someone who was vociferously complaining that their neighbors “slam their car doors” at 2 am. And what will they do? Ask their neighbors to close their doors more softly? Or call the police to report a noise complaint? Probably the latter.
Everyone has to dial down their personalities, close up, avoid the people around themselves to avoid conflicts with the hundreds (or thousands) of people they pass by every day, otherwise lawsuits or police officers get involved.
Cities are intolerable.
There is no power in real life; no one (except maybe lawyers, police officers, and some politicians,) has any power.
For all my disagreement with them, I understand where the BLM crowd and their ilk are coming from: they feel powerless. The system is against them (it’s against everyone.)
Pretty much the only easy way to get power in modern society is to assemble a Twitter mob and attack someone. Maybe you can get them uninvited to a con, or kicked out of a university. Maybe you can just make them cry: power.
It’s the closest we come to bloodying a bully’s nose.
You might say the Twitter mob is the bully.
Yes, that’s the entire point. The bully is the one with the power.
A friend of mine was abused as a child. It’s powerless enough just being a child; everyone else is bigger than you. You must constantly obey others–teachers, parents, even older siblings and bigger kids on the playground. But to be beaten by your parents is another level entirely. And no one saved my friend. They grew up, broken, and devoted their life to becoming the biggest, baddest, meanest person around so they wouldn’t be hurt again.
Of course, then the police got them.
Even when something doesn’t involve conflict–just a simple change that would benefit everyone involved–it’s virtually impossible to get anything done. Take milk. Pediatricians overwhelmingly agree that children should drink regular–4%, full-fat, whole–milk, not low-fat or fat-free milk. The low fat milks are specialty diet products for people who are on a diet, and pediatricians don’t advise putting your kid on a diet unless they truly need to be on one, because calorie restriction can be really unhealthy when your body is supposed to be growing. Despite this, my kids’ school only serves low-fat and fat free milk, and since no one who has the actual power to make purchasing decisions gives a shit that this is actually unhealthy for kids, only an insane amount of protesting on my part (say, convincing a few hundred parents to sign a petition to change the milk) could get them to change the milk to the variety it is supposed to be.
And this is accompanied by the infuriating feeling that people are only pretending to listen, because they never actually change anything.
So the best we can do is put on a movie or pic up a book and read about someone else–the girl who wins the super handsome hunk, the hero who defeats the evil bad guy–who gets to be powerful and control their life.
Update: After many years of unfulfilled promises from the local municipality, the family finally has running water.
A large chunk of my family lives in a part of the country where the wells have run dry due to drought. They survive by filling up a big tank of water when they go into the city and driving it back home. It has been this way for years.
The nearest city has been promising a water pipe out to them for over 7 years. The family gladly and eagerly declares their willingness to pay for running water. Their willingness to help dig the trenches and lay the pipe necessary to get the water. And after seven years, much of the pipe has been laid, but they still can’t get the right people and authorizations out to turn on the water.
Once upon a time, we sent a man to the moon. Now we can’t lay some damn pipes.
The family could have running water with a better, deeper well (maybe not the best water, but hey, they could flush their toilets on a regular basis.) But digging wells is difficult and expensive.
There are multiple charities that dig wells in Africa and other parts of the 3rd world. I have contacted some of them, but they do not have the paperwork and authorizations necessary to dig wells in the US.
We are paperworking ourselves to death.
Another branch of the family, located in a wetter part of the country, belongs to a church that sends aid projects to Ethiopia, digging wells and planting trees (which apparently the Ethiopians keep chopping down). But they do not dig wells for their own kinfolk here in the US.