Monday, April 12, 2010

The True Story of Civilization, Part 1

(Or "How Civilization Really Works")
Since you’re reading this, it’s a safe bet that you’ve heard of Social Contract Theory. I hope you like fairy tales.
Once upon a time, people decided that they wanted a government. How this full-blown concept of government entered their heads, and why, remains a mystery. As it happened, in a wondrous land nearby, there lived a government in need of people. When the government and the people discovered one another, they joyously made an agreement. The people and the government set the conditions by which the government would rule by serving, and the people would serve by ruling. The powers of government would be strictly defined and leave the people otherwise free to pursue their favorite—well—pursuits.
That’s the essence of the Social Contract Theory of government. It’s a sweet little story; but, alas (Alas is Early Elizabethan for, “Oh, hell!), it’s just a fairy tale. It never happened that way. Even the Social Contract theorists will tell you that it never happened that way. Social Contract Theory is just a justification for government, dreamed up thousands of years after the first governments were formed.
Really, now, can you imagine cave men talking as philosophically as all that? Here’s something closer to what really happened:
Through skill and a little luck, a cave man (whom we’ll call Larry) killed a wild animal and carried it home. As his wife Linda was preparing it for supper, along comes Bob and demands half of it. Larry says, “Give me one good reason.”
Bob replies, “I got two good reasons, and each one of them has five knuckles. I’m the meanest, ugliest, and most selfish person that ever gave you nightmares; and, now that you got me upset, I’ll take all of it.” With that, he takes a rock and smashes Larry’s foot.
That’s how government got started. In fact, that’s how civilization as we know it got started.
The strongest and most violent people forced their will on those not as strong or as willing to use force. You’ve often heard that the history of the struggle for freedom is a history of the struggle against tyranny. Tyranny is a political word. Put in psychological terms, this history has been a struggle between mentally healthy people and psychopaths.
Even psychopaths have to sleep sometime. Thus they needed bullies to help them rob and kill, keep them safe from normal people, and share the spoils. That was the first government.
You’ve heard of the Magna Carta. It’s considered a giant leap forward for freedom. Actually, it did nothing for anyone other than the few dozen men who forced King John to sign it. They still went about bullying their serfs. They still went about asserting their supposed “right” to have sex with the bride of a serf on her wedding night. They still went about asserting that raping a virgin guaranteed them victory in battle. (Of course, all that sounds like more after-the-fact justifications for psychopathic behavior.)
I know that sounds a mite prickly, but think. Let’s suppose you lived in a hidden valley or on an uncharted island, and no one there had ever heard of government. How would you propose the idea to them? How would it sound to them? Wouldn’t they think that you’re a con man or a psychopath or both?
Why should they want to give you part of what they’d earned? Why should they go off and kill someone just because you said that you wanted more land or more power to tell someone else what to do and have them do it? Why should you accept paper in exchange for things of value, knowing that each slip of paper you accept will take value away from what you already have?
In Gulliver’s Travels, Lemuel Gulliver found such a place as this, and he offered to reveal to them the secret of making gunpowder. He said that, with gunpowder, they could overpower their enemies by killing vast numbers of them. They thought that he was a psychopath, and they hoped that others in his homeland were not like him.
Like many of you, Gulliver was so accustomed to the supposed prerogatives of government that, to him, those perogatives seemed perfectly normal to him. During the late nineteenth century, a man told an American named Hiram Maxim that Maxim could get rich if he invented a more efficient way for Europeans to kill each other. The result was the Maxim gun, which was the most efficient killing machine of its day.
Here’s another "why" for you: Assuming that you managed to convince these hypothetical people to sign a social contract with you and form a government, how long a period should the contract cover? Just because several living people made the agreement, why must their great grandchildren be bound by it?
This article is not an argument against the existence of government. It’s an effort to get people to think about the limits of authority. Remember the Nuremberg defense: The Holocaust was considered legal under the system of government that existed in Germany at the time of the Holocaust.
The Nuremberg trials established that, even with the backing of government, individuals are responsible for their behavior. Murder is murder, even when ordered by government. Terrorism is terrorism, even when ordered by government. Other violations of human rights are human rights violations, even when ordered by government.
Everywhere in the world, the struggle for human liberty and human rights has always been a struggle between mentally healthy people and psychopaths. In ancient times, King Herod (who was king when Jesus was born), King Arthur, and other kings ordered mass murders of infants in order to secure their thrones.
During the Medieval Era, a third of all popes and European kings were murderers.
Machiavelli described many things people did to gain and hold power. One usurper had his henchman murder everyone even suspected of opposing him. Once his power was secure and he was thoroughly hated, the usurper placed all the blame on the henchman, had him cut in half; and the two halves of his body were placed on either side of the city gate so that people entering or leaving the city would walk between the two halves. Thus the usurper secured the loyalty of the people.
I give this example because politicians have used various forms of this tactic all over the world throughout history. During the Three Kingdoms Period in China a thousand years earlier, Emperor Tsao Tsao’s supply officer reported that half the grain had been spoiled by rats and that there wouldn’t be enough to feed the army. Tsao Tsao ordered him to put the army on half rations. When the supply officer protested that the army would mutiny if he did that, Tsao Tsao told him he would manage it himself. After the supply officer put the army on half rations, the emperor had him beheaded and put his head on display with a sign accusing him of stealing the grain and selling it. This placated the army and the mutiny ended before it could begin.
Do you see the pattern? It’s easier for most people to believe that an underling is guilty of evil than it is to believe that their leader would do evil.
Now let us turn to the Early Modern Era. In 1509, Henry VIII became king of England. The guy had two his wives executed because they didn’t give birth to male children on the first try. Grab your barf bag and take a look here. He had two marriages annulled for the same reason. Does that sound normal to you?
It doesn’t stop there. Over a two hundred year period, every British monarch murdered a family member to gain, hold, or perpetuate personal power.
What about the wars for which Europe is famous? From one end of Europe to another, every monarch was related to every other monarch. They were so inbred that hemophilia, a hereditary disease, was present in most of the royal houses of Europe. The wars of Europe were family squabbles, but the so-called nobles rarely died in those wars. No, the victims were the peasants who’d rather have been left alone. Does that sound as if normal people were running things?
Okay, that was then, and now is now, right? Wrong. Psychopaths are still running things. You’ve heard of Hitler, right? He was a psychopath, right? Okay, we’re on the same page. How does an underemployed paper hanger get the money to run for Germany’s highest office and win? No, he didn’t get it from German blue-collar workers who were so impoverished by inflation that they often couldn’t afford to buy bread. And think about this one: During the closing months of World War II, Germany was thoroughly blockaded, both economically and strategically. How did German manufacturers obtain the materials to construct gas chambers and make enough gas to kill nine million people?
The answer to both questions is that Hitler had outside help, and those people couldn’t have been normal either. I’m sure you’ll require proof for that one. In the conclusion of “The True Story of Civilization,” we’ll take a journey into the heart of darkness, from the rise of Hitler to the present day.

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