Friday, October 12, 2007

Privation Morality II

When times get really desperate “Us vs Them” becomes a real matter of life and death, not just for individuals, who might choose death rather than savage their fellow man, but for those dependent upon those individuals, the women and children of the tribe in other words. So tribal warfare is an almost inevitable result of extreme privation. If you would not loot someone else’s village to save your own children from starvation, you perhaps shouldn’t have children.

Rationalizations follow. I had a psych professor who liked to quote from The Brothers Karamazov: “I once did him dirt and I’ve never forgiven him for it.” Your enemies deserve to be looted. They’d do the same to you. They have too much as it is. They worship a false god. They’re weak, and the world belongs to the strong. They breed like rats. Whatever it takes to make your own actions palatable to you.

And teams are more effective than individuals. The hunting band can hunt people as well as game. The warrior is respected when he is what keeps the tribe from disaster, either by plundering the “other” or keeping the “other” from plundering you.

Furthermore, the warriors must be fed first. They are the seed corn when it all goes zero sum. They are the protectors of the tribe.

But warfare doesn’t just redistribute; it consumes resources and it kills off part of the population, most frequently the men. So the strongest warriors also get more than their share of women (and, more of their share of danger and death).

So the ideas, concepts, and mental models meld into a worldview, the worldview of perpetual struggle. The warrior lives for struggle. It is what he is all about. Valhalla is his heaven.

Good times threaten this worldview. When there is plenty of food and other goods, where is the need for heroes? “We’ve gone soft,” say those who have the worldview of perpetual struggle. “God will punish us for our sins of gluttony, lust, and avarice.”

And God always does—eventually. He’s just that sort of guy. And people fall back into line. And if God seems to be taking a little too long, then he gets a helping hand, because God is so very weak sometimes, or maybe absent-minded. Or maybe he’s just saving it up. No matter, it’s always easy to cook up a war. Or to make your business “lean and mean” with a “take no prisoners attitude.” See? Easy.

When punishment is always just over the horizon, or, more accurately, always in the back of your mind, when privation is just a few streaks of bad luck away, then what? You can never have enough wealth to absolutely guarantee your survival. Indeed, it’s only death that is preordained. If you are wealthy, there is always someone who wants to take it away from you. If you are poor, you’re always on the ragged edge of disaster. For those of us in the middle, both those specters lurk in our shadows.

It is a recipe for the Social Darwinist vision of the world, privation morality even in the midst of plenty. It demands racism, class, and caste. It craves people on top and people at the bottom. It is the well-spring of the authoritarian personality. At its very core is fear, fear of death, fear of failure, fear of loss, not just personal fear, but fear for all you hold dear and the destruction of your way of life. Fear is not a meme. Fear is a primal emotion that overwhelms everything in its path. And it spares no one.

Sometimes you gotta be an s.o.b.
You wanna make a dream reality
Competition? Send ‘em south
If they’re gonna drown
Put a hose in their mouth
Do not pass ‘go’
Go straight to hell
I smell that meat hook smell
Or my name’s not Kroc
That’s Kroc with a ‘k’
Like ‘crocodile’
But not spelled that way, now
It’s dog eat dog
Rat eat rat
Kroc-style
Boom, like that
--Mark Knopfler, “Boom Like That,” Shangri-La

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Can you refer me, please, to the verbatim Dostoievsky quote? I can't find it online. Thanks.