Labour and the Fall of Man.
I have long argued that the most destructive thing ever to happen to human happiness was the discovery and development of agriculture. In return for much larger populations on any given piece of land, we lost freedom, heath and happiness. The evidence is there in the fossil record. Healthy hunter-gatherers had teeth until they died around 60 years of age. They suffered breaks and injury, but were nursed back to health. It was not, as Hobbes suggested, “Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” life. It was relaxed, happy, lazy and healthy. With natural abundance and a low population, there was nothing to fight over – people simply moved into unpopulated areas in search of game. Subsistence farmers on the other hand were (and still are) lucky to make it to 40, and rarely had any teeth when they died. Disease from living with animals, malnutrition from over dependence on a small number of food sources and an inability to move in response to local shortages were (and still are) part of the lot of settled subsistence agriculturalists. Famines, war, death and disease were (and still are) the lot of peasants.
Humans evolved in bands of relatives, perhaps numbering 30 individuals. Everyone knew everyone else and co-operated naturally. Because agriculture, especially its early iterations was a tenuous activity it benefited from top-down organisation – the management of grain storage, the defense of land and the building of irrigation required the co-option of humans natural ability to co-operate into a system where power flowed down a hierarchy. Religions ceased to be polytheistic and nature-worshipping, and became monotheistic and restrictive, especially in relation to women, who became chattels. Castes of warriors, priests and bureaucrats were able to lord it over the peasantry who toiled in the fields.
Our Hunter-Gatherer forebears were able and willing to care for a sick or injured friend without the need for a potentate to tell them to do so, even though such a friend might be a burden on the community for many years. On the other hand, the atrocities settled agricultural societies have heaped upon each other in war, conquest and the imposition of ridiculous ideas is a monstrous litany of misery, torture, suffering and death imposed from above by the actions of demagogues seeking power and manipulating the natural co-operation of people for base and ignoble ends. Top-down government with a bureaucracy facilitates horrors more than anarchy, where people form their own order spontaneously.
Despite the small, weedy, bow-legged and diseased populations of spirit-broken people, their much greater density allowed agricultural populations to easily shift hunter-gatherers off land and co-opt the passing waves of nomadic pastoralists which occasionally swept over them. Despite the misery, agriculture, and the top-down organisation inevitable in these societies, survived.
The happy time – a folk memory of a hunter-gatherer past – survives in religious myths of the Garden of Eden which has analogues in many other cults and religions around the world. The serpent tempts man into knowledge which causes his expulsion from paradise. Power over nature, in the form of agriculture, did not bring happiness. It is this move from natural self-organisation to authoritarian tyranny which removed most peoples’ opportunity for self-actualisation and it is this tyranny which has created the misery which has been the human lot ever since.
This misery of most of the human species, occurred despite gradually increasing material plenty. Over the past 10,000 years, improving farming methods have delivered increasing yields: New crops and livestock species, ploughs, beasts of burden, crop-rotation but until the industrial revolution, and even more importantly the subsequent green revolution of high-technology, high-yield agriculture, the vast majority of human kind have been stuck in this hell of subsistence agriculture. What changed in response to a better harvest is the increasing number of thugs the local potentate can feed from the surplus, or the extravagance of the priestly castes in their temple building programs. Occasional wars and destruction caused by waves of disease did the destruction before the inevitable Malthusian catastrophe.
The industrial revolution changed everything, and did so as fundamentally as the development of agriculture in the Indus, Yellow River and Mesopotamia all those thousands of years ago. For the first time since then, the majority of people on the planet are not subsistence agriculturalists, they do something else.
The trick society has to pull off is use this ‘once in a 10,000 year’ shake-up of civilisation to create something that runs with human nature rather than build yet another society which needs invent savage religions and tyrannical impositions of state control to try and force people to go channel their naturally co-operative nature against their own interests. Agriculture and the societies it created were a response to periodic shortages. We, in the affluent west at least have solved the shortages and now have abundant plenty, as our hunter-gatherer forefathers did for 250,000 years before they were expelled from the Garden. It’s now crucial to work out what created this plenty, and even more crucial to work out what did NOT create this plenty. Human ingenuity which allowed the scattering of seeds to ensure a crop would grow in the same place next year, through irrigation, the plough, the saddle and harness, crop rotation and so on to the steam engine and Internet, it is the endless seeking of a better way of doing things by people which created the plenty. Whilst top down societies were necessary in the early phase of agricultural development because of the need to ensure the surplus is kept and the need to organise the defense of scarse resources; since the industrial revolution, the LEAST authoritarian societies have become the richest. Free market capitalism channels humans innate potential for co-operation from the bottom up. Companies making things and providing services, have driven progress; not, emphatically not, kings, governments and states directing things from the top down.
The Industrial revolution flourished in the 18th century United Kingdom, which believed that that state should only exist to defend its borders. Its ideas spread, not least because the vast surplus wealth it created allowed for the creation of the largest Empire the world has ever seen. And that empire was mostly bought, not conquered. The technology of the industrial revolution came from people, not states. The same is true of the Internet and communications revolutions. Of course states have had a role in facilitating, but without the self-organisation of companies of people motivated by curiosity and profit (let’s call them ‘businesses’, shall we?) there would be no Rail road, no television, no cheap bread and no car.
Now modern government evolved from the people who brought you such advances of civilisation as the Motte and Bailey Castle and the Harrying of the North. Government’s aim is the extraction of as much from the economy as possible. In medieval terms, this was then used for self-aggrandising projects like securing the throne of France for the English king or Vice Versa. However in England, the Barons, and later the Commons realised that the tyrannical imposition of royal vanity must be held in check, first for the good of the barons, and then for the good of the people. Government, insofar as it affected day to day life, withered away in the UK and the country prospered as a result.
Britain’s decline can be traced to the moment that the income tax was retained after the Napoleonic wars. After WW1, the state got involved with education and pensions, after WW2 the state destroyed the highly effective health and welfare systems which relied on mutual assistance. Similar narratives can be constructed for most countries. Government, who have a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence has used technological advance and bureaucracy to make money flow to that power. The technology and habit of bureaucracy has allowed states around the world to take between 1/3 and 1/2 of all the productive energy of its citizens in the form of tax.
Now I am not here to argue that there should not be a state. Nor will I argue that some things aren’t best financed out of taxation. But what I will argue for is a new sort of Government. One that respects its role as protector and facilitator – deliverer of the public goods of law & order, secure borders and a sound currency and DELIVERING little else. Funding health and education out of taxation too MAY make sense, but allow people to DELIVER it themselves. The state is emphatically not there to ensure its citizens behave themselves, or be “productive”. People self-organising will do that. Nor is it to ensure that the goods and services available to the people are equally distributed. No government has achieved that, and any attempt to do so leads to economic collapse or a nomenclature who live in opulence amongst a slave population of miserable serfs. Government should not, as Elizabeth I observed “seek to reach into men’s souls”. Nor should it seek conformity to an arbitrary set of societal norms, be that conformity to an established church or a ‘productive’ set of economic behaviours. It should instead seek to reduce the stress of life, by removing burdens of taxation and the layers of obstusificating bureaucracy. Instead the state should be providing a protected space allowing people to self-organise as they will according to a simple, easily understood set of Laws.
Government, in seeking to be the King who provides, seeks to act in the same way as the aristocratic and priestly castes did in Mesopotamia 10,000 years ago and with the same result in term of human misery. People are not ‘people’ they are economic units to be fought over, controlled and taxed. Because ‘the state’ provides whether you want it or not, the state will see to it that you work, whether you want to or not. Top down bureaucracy seeks to influence behaviour – for our good maybe, but who ever thinks they’re evil? So smoking bans, drug prohibition and laws saying when you can and cannot go and have a pint in the pub all limit the possibility of human happiness. Sure, in some stressed societies of marginal people who exist on state handouts, getting off one’s face is all they have. The desire therefore to see that no-one starves perversly sees to it that everyone starves morally.
The state’s charity crowds out the private charity, to the detriment of the welfare recipient’s self-actualisation and the good feeling that altruistic good work generates in the giver. In seeking to alleviate poverty, the government then feels it has an economic stake in everyones’ good behaviour and seeks to alter it, by force if necessary.
Supporters of the cradle to grave welfare state have visions of Victorian England’s workhouses as what would happen if there were no welfare state to support people. But that was a society crushed not only by a state bureaucracy as much as a stultifying state morality which achieved the same ends. The work-house was not the Dickensian horror, Dickens exaggerated, but the foundling hospitals were. And both were state run. They replaced a much more satisfactory system the poor being in receipt of benefit from their neighbours, being ‘on the parish’ which did not tolerate free loaders, but also supported those who could not support themselves – a self-organised, local system. “Wouldn’t work today”, I hear you cry? Switzerland operates a similar system, and that’s not exactly a hell-hole is it?
And what of the costs of the system? Not just economic costs engendered by a state which allows, nay encourages the poor to engage in destructive and misery making behaviour, but also in the costs imposed by the state having a stake in everyones’ private behaviour. Every time you get chucked out of a full pub at “closing time” the state has impinged on your life. Can’t hear yourself think in the pub with the late license? That’s because the late license comes with an obligation to provide “entertainment” lest you just stay and drink. The state is emphatically imposing its will upon you. And that was because the Government wanted to influence the productivity (and these being purse-lipped late-Victorians, morality too) of munitions workers during WW1. The law has stuck, because the dam of allowing the Government to look into men’s souls had been broken. The bureaucratic state comes with regulations about who can live where, with whom and to what end. Whether you’re shagging your tennant matters in terms of what benefits you recieve, and do you think the state should have any rights in your bedroom of your own home? The need to finance the welfare state comes with a need for the majority of the population to tithe 50% of everything we produce to the government. The most tyrannical king in ancient history would have baulked at that. That is a cost not just in economic terms, but in spiritual ones too. For the majority of that money goes in financing a bureaucracy whose ends are control of the population leading to stress, thwarted ambition and misery.
How has the Labour party, once the party of workers’ co-operatives become the party of the state bureaucratic leviathan, with all the coercive violence that entails? How has the global left been so completely co-opted by the successors to the kings and potentates they once resisted? How can the hypocrisy of leftist moralising be accepted by a sane brain without spitting it out? The labour party in seeking to control every facet of peoples lives (for our own good) via a massive and intrusive surveillance infrastructure controlled by a bureaucracy accountable only to itself. The Labour party is therefore the representative of everything which has made people miserable, diseased, powerless and poor since the fall of man 10,000 years ago.
Freedom to self-organise. The smallest bureaucracy you can get away with. State funding a bit of desirable stuff, but emphatically NOT providing. By not providing for people, it has no incentive to control the rest of us. We, not the Government will provide for the poor, as we used to before the work house, before the bureaucratic tyranny of the state got involved in herding them into workhouses, slums and council estates. John Donne:
No man is an island, entire of itself
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main
if a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were
any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls
it tolls for thee…
I just want the state to leave me alone. That does not mean I want to sit in a cave eschewing company and hoarding baked bean tins awaiting the revolution. It means I don’t want to have anyone control my moral and economic choices, which include my moral and economic choice to serve my fellow man, which I would do were there any money and energy left over once I’ve paid my tax bill. That is why I hate the Labour party – for they are seekers of control, just like and for the same reasons as the first kings of the first city states. Labour are therefore the intellectual descendants of the architects of man’s fall from grace and the bringers of misery, hate, envy and thwarted ambition and wasted human potential, for the last 10,000 years. Human freedom is the paradise of the Garden of Eden was all about, Labour: the agents of the devil, offering fake sustenance which merely brings doom. Which makes Gordon Brown the serpent. Which makes Ed Balls, a skin louse on that serpent. Which is a metaphor I like. That is why I am a libertarian.
That was damned good. The de-humanisation implicit within socialism is there for all to see; has anyone actually read "Family and Kinship in East London"? It is an utter disgrace.
Also worth pointing out that although life was short, its intensity more than compensated.
As for your peasants reference, I found an interesting quote the other day, from Mencius Moldbug, someone I'd never come across before, but is now a regular read….
When gentlemen look at progressivism, they see a movement whose purpose is to help the underclass, those whose plight is no fault of their own. When peasants look at progressivism, they see a movement whose purpose is to employ gentlemen in the business of public policy, by using the peasants’ money to buy votes from varlets. Who, in the peasants’ perception, abuse the patience and generosity of both peasants and gentlemen in almost every imaginable way, and are constantly caressed by every imaginable authority for doing so.
His writing is pretty dense and he comes at things from very oblique angles, but he's worth the effort.
Posts like this are the reason I read this blog. Bloody brilliant Jackart, and don't let the commies convince you otherwise!
Brilliant..Clear,concise and to the point.Why dont you send a copy to the one eyed snot gobbler.
Excellent post, Jackart.
Just one point…
"After WW1, the state got involved with education and pensions, after WW2 the state destroyed the highly effective health and welfare systems which relied on mutual assistance."
Actually, the single biggest destroyer of mutual assistance was the 1911 National Insurance Act—as I outlined in some detail.
Excellent post Mr. J.
You really should know better than to romanticise the unrecorded past. Agriculture won out because it was a superior system, like capitalism… right?
Anon. Better from the point of view of increasing productivity, miserable from the point of view of human happiness.
My point is we now have an opportunity to create a happy and productive society, rather than one which is merely productive, and to do so, we need to remove much of the coercive power from top-down management & government and replace it with more consensual decision-making.
An excellent and detailed blog. However, the modern Conservative party has not, nor is proposing to role back the state to the extent that you or I would like. Sure, there has been tinkering around the edges, sometimes beneficial although sometime not.
So surely a pox on both their houses.