Amerika

Posts Tagged ‘feudalism’

Manna, by Marshall Brain

Friday, January 13th, 2017

Welcome to the automated future. Marshall Brain wrote about it in a novella called Manna in which a cynical future automates work, and then does away with work, and promptly has difficulty figuring out what to do with itself as its population blooms:

Manna was connected to the cash registers, so it knew how many people were flowing through the restaurant. The software could therefore predict with uncanny accuracy when the trash cans would fill up, the toilets would get dirty and the tables needed wiping down. The software was also attached to the time clock, so it knew who was working in the restaurant. Manna also had “help buttons” throughout the restaurant. Small signs on the buttons told customers to push them if they needed help or saw a problem. There was a button in the restroom that a customer could press if the restroom had a problem. There was a button on each trashcan. There was a button near each cash register, one in the kiddie area and so on. These buttons let customers give Manna a heads up when something went wrong.

At any given moment Manna had a list of things that it needed to do. There were orders coming in from the cash registers, so Manna directed employees to prepare those meals. There were also toilets to be scrubbed on a regular basis, floors to mop, tables to wipe, sidewalks to sweep, buns to defrost, inventory to rotate, windows to wash and so on. Manna kept track of the hundreds of tasks that needed to get done, and assigned each task to an employee one at a time.

Manna told employees what to do simply by talking to them. Employees each put on a headset when they punched in. Manna had a voice synthesizer, and with its synthesized voice Manna told everyone exactly what to do through their headsets. Constantly. Manna micro-managed minimum wage employees to create perfect performance.

The story is a fun parable of unintended consequences: humans see imperfection, improve on imperfection, and then realize they have made themselves obsolete. The only flaw in this story is that some people remain gainfully employed when the society in this quasi-realistic fantasy world has enough technology to delegate everything lower than Emperor to the machines.

Another view of the future is this: we return to the past. Namely, we need a time where people serve roles instead of being employed to do tasks. That means people are in curatorship positions, or stewardship positions, over various places and parts of life. These things might be able to be done by machines, but the real question is how society separates the useful from the non-useful, and that question is addressed not by employment, but by seeing who can be responsible, intelligent and wise enough to maintain aspects of civilization. Those must survive, and the rest must fall by the wayside; this is currently a task fulfilled (poorly) by our Communist worker’s society combined with a Gordon Gekko consumerist insanity.

This type of society will necessarily be ruled by culture which mandates certain roles which are more important than their measurement in terms of efficiency and economic necessity. They are things which should always be there, and always have been there, barring the modern interruption. Under this system, every piece of land has a caretaker, especially the wild land, and every social function has someone delegated to do it, in exchange for which they receive payment that allows them to survive. It is like capitalism, but with economic goals replace by cultural, moral and philosophical ones.

Either that, or we can wait around for the automated soulless future and machine existence posited by Manna.

Inflation as a control measure

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

the_world_is_upside_down

¡TRIGGER ALERT! This post contains what may resemble a math-like substance. Should this induce anxiety, breathe deeply into a fast food bag that smells like French fry grease. You can then once more relax.

So let’s say you miss the good old days when a king was a king and peasants knew they’d better kowtow properly lest they be shortened by a head, I’ve got nothing but good news. We’ve got a way to keep those little people exactly in the muddy ditch where they belong. You keep their wages essentially stagnant and you make it very expensive for them to improve themselves or put a roof over their heads. What Charles Hugh Smith sees as a problem, I see as a mechanism. One that our betters seem to find very useful.

It starts by undercutting the value of an hour’s hard work. If I build up the cardio-respiratory endurance to withstand the work-a-day treadmill, I could get uppity and develop some serious delusions of adequacy. What you need is a nice effective algorithm to slap these suck-weasels down hard before they get all full of themselves. According to the Economic Policy Institute, we’ve got just the weapon. The table below shows the changes in income by level of education between 2007 and 2014. It assumes a standard wage of $100, develops an exponential function based on the wage change and then projects what that $100 would be worth if earned twenty years hence.

education_level_and_income_potential

What jumps out immediately is that somebody that straps on the student loan debt to matriculate at Old Ivy and then fails to get the sheepskin is worse off in terms of wage value over time than people I knew who were already cannabis-baked by the 7th grade. How’s that for some Dark Enlightenment?

Then you can press down on them further by steepening the cost of educational credentials so that villains remain villains and the elitists at Yale will never suffer breathing the same air. Here’s what has happened to the cost of college in the last 15 years. The cost of tuition in 2035 will be 7.5 times as much as it was 2000. Ask yourself whether our overlords are going to be 7.5 times as wise and perspicacious.

tuition_rates.

If people manage to squirrel away money and don’t blow it on the college experience, you can make it impossible to keep a sound, dry roof over your head. Ceteris paribus, the monthly rent will be 2.82 times as much as it was back in Y2K. Will the apartment be 2.82 times as spacious and luxurious?

rental_rates

So if the people get too uppity, we can thank our stellar economic overlords for knowing how to put up-jumped upstarts back in their places. You can’t have these types thinking they can bend the blades of grass on Mark Zuckerberg’s elegant lawn. This is why our current Federal Reserve policies are truly brilliant and those cracker-jack geniuses we keep sending to Washington, DC have our economy humming along on 200 cylinders. Keeping people poor, miserable and locked out of any hope of ever advancing prevents them from worrying their pretty little heads over the direction that their society and culture are heading in. Especially if these elites know good and bloody well that it is ultimately a highway to hell.

On capitalism

Friday, July 24th, 2015

the_whore_in_the_markets

Capitalism stands as a superior alternative to socialism as a method; history shows us this. The Western nations adopted a quasi-socialist program in the 1960s, and the further we have gone down this path, the less useful and more indebted we have become. However many of us are appalled by the excesses of capitalism, which leads to criticism of capitalism itself.

Autonomy, not freedom, is the cornerstone of capitalism because that process operates at a more granular level than command economies. Regulation impedes capitalism; sometimes, this may be a good thing, such as some environmental regulations. Generally, however, regulation throws barriers into the process of transaction and makes it less granular by creating normal operating channels that one must undertake to avoid the pitfalls of regulation. When everyone must fill out a 5504 form or be fined, and that form specifies what can and cannot be done, the market changes from whatever it was to a 5504-compliant version of what it was. For this reason, even what we see as “capitalism” sometimes is not.

The worst excesses of capitalism come from another direction: consumerism. Consumers prefer mediocre, convenient and cheap products to quality products, but if those quality products were more widely produced they would be roughly the same price as the cheap ones thanks to economies of scale. The reason products degrade in quality is that it is more profitable to make them cheaper, throw in some advertising, and sell to the 80% of humanity that cannot tell the difference instead of the 20% who can. If I make a quality car, and the brand gets well known, people will start buying those cars because they have heard they are good, their neighbors buy them, and they see them on television. If I then replace the quality design and parts with a cheaper design and materials, I can pocket the profits. Instead of raising price, I lowered cost, and for the same result. This is why American beers, cigarettes and cars are terrible in quality and unreliable in the long term: they are made as perfect products, but not perfect devices, which is left up to the 20% selling to the luxury market.

When we see consumerism in action, or the reckless profit incentive driving corporations to run roughshod over decency and nature, what we are seeing is the motivation to profit by reducing cost (or opening new opportunities for production). What most do not acknowledge is that this is driven by the desires of individuals. Stockholders, most of whom are regular people or funds that benefit regular people such as shared retirement funds, care about only one figure: return. They want to see as much money as possible coming to them. This means that if product A decides to be ethical, it has taken on a cost and is less competitive than product B which just went ahead and cut corners to make more profit. The shareholders will buy more of B than A, and B will increase in value, which is what everyone in the system from employees in the mail room to the CEO to Bob and Susan in Muncie, IN building up their retirement portfolio wants.

That being said, the alternatives are grim. Socialism and distributarian societies require centralized economies; regulation creates the same effect as gradually introduced socialism, and under democracy, laws almost never get repealed or substantially changed. This leaves us with capitalism, but we wonder what other methods might control it. One such method combines the structure of feudalism with the modern economy, and makes sure that money is in the hands of people who find it socially, personally and bad business to cut corners and clear-cut forests or strip-mine picturesque mountains. This requires that a natural elite, as opposed to a “meritocratic elite” which means the most obedient students and workers, control most of the money in society. Egalitarian nations tend to balk at that idea.

Another option is to have a very strong cultural bias toward correct actions such that it is spread uniformly through the population, and people who do not agree are sent elsewhere. This requires an ethno-cultural nation defined by shared heritage, culture and values. Not surprisingly, egalitarian nations shriek at that one as well. However, both of these methods provide restraints on capitalism that are not external, but work within the primary method of capitalism, which is preference of buyers and consumers. That alone can regulate excesses, and does a better job than regulation itself, although it is still imperfect since consumers often do not know or are too distracted/lazy/busy to consider vital information. This is why a hybrid of the two may be our best: capitalism, interpreted by natural elites, with most of the population in agreement but those who are least able having the least say. Originally we called that hierarchy in the textbooks and among ourselves, “social order.”

Advantages of a caste system

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Why, for example, did Britain produce several women novelists of genius during the 19th century — Jane Austen, George Eliot and the Brontës, as well as accomplished lesser artists like Elizabeth Gaskell — while America did not? That question could (and sometimes does) lead to a lot of speculation on the national characters of the English-speaking peoples, but Showalter mentions an equally plausible, practical cause: “While English women novelists, even those as poor as the Brontës, had servants, American women were expected to clean, cook and sew; even in the South, white women in slaveholding families were trained in domestic arts.” Quite a few of the short biographical sketches she offers feature women complaining about being compelled by parents to learn to make pies or mend when they would rather write. In 1877, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps made the heroine of her novel, “The Story of Avis,” fume, “I hate to make my bed, and I hate, hate to sew chemises, and I hate, hate, hate to go cooking round the kitchen.”

Housework in America has never been an uncomplicated matter. The class system in Britain consigned a certain set of people to this humble labor, while America promised the enterprising among them an opportunity to make something more of their lives. Nevertheless, the cooking and cleaning still had to be done — especially on the small family farms that were the economic engines of early America — and so the responsibility for it was transferred from a servant class to the female relatives of the new republic’s self-made men.

America is the first nation united by ideas rather than a shared cultural and racial history, and foremost among those ideas is the paradigm of self-invention, via hard work, in the free territory of the frontier. Our literary culture has always hankered after fiction that, in one way or another, embodies this hope. “The answer to the American quest for originality,” Showalter writes, “seemed to lie in the coming of the poet-hero, a genius who, through divine inspiration, would create immortal works, and an art commensurate with the vastness of the nation and the scope of its dreams.”

Salon

Like most things liberalized, the writers at Salon sometimes seem to be arguing for the other side, as if they’ve tired of the neurotic underpinnings of their own belief and, although they must go on pleasing their audience, they’re going to slip in a joke of their own.

If a woman has high intelligence, like Jane Austen or Emily Dickinson, it makes sense that she has someone else to do the menial tasks of life — whether this means living in a monastery/cloister or having servants; doesn’t matter which. A caste system provides either or both as options.

The Great American Novel is a fiction of the Ego; the idea that each of us creates him or herself, and so at some point, we make brilliance out of who we are through sheer gumption. It’s interesting that the great American novels in existence are mostly negative critiques of that idea.

Serf’s Up!

Sunday, March 26th, 2006

unruly_proles

We like to think well of ourselves, in this modern time, and we like to feel smart — even though the smart people among us are a minority we hound to death for being “different” and daring to think both realistically and creatively. We like to congratulate ourselves on our society much like we would the purchase of a new boat, or car, or house, or the completion of a successful marriage or business merger. We like to look back at history and exclaim, “The horror! The horror!” while smirkingly congratulating ourselves on what we have.

After all, we’re free… no longer are we owned by the king, or the lord of the manor, but we can go anywhere we want and do whatever we desire — if we can afford it, of course. We have the right to move freely, to marry freely, to escape all boundaries of class and accident of birth, except, of course, the need to earn a living. And that is a bit of a rub. While we don’t have a lord of the manor, we do have landlords, or banks to whom we pay quite a lot for housing. And then we go to a grocery store and — well, you don’t want to not buy organic; you might as well smoke a pack of cigarettes a day. And if you send your kids to public school, they might end up stupid. Don’t want to live near a ghetto? Well, now we’re talking yuppie-class housing. Add up the organic food, the security system, the computers and other tools of success, the private schools, the better-than-average car, and of course the house in the suburbs or safe city neighborhood, and wow, you’re talking quite a bundle.

If you’re lucky, you can work from age 22-70 at some job and earn enough money that your family can live like yuppie kings on their own manse, and avoid becoming dropouts, gangsters, illiterates, drug addicts, or crime victim statistics. You’ll be doing okay, of course, until competition comes along; then it’s no longer enough to work eight hours a day and commute one. And of course there’s no limit to competition, because everyone wants the same thing: your yuppie lifestyle. So soon you’re working those sixteen-hour days, knowing that your wife’s diddling the pool guy and your kid’s into pot because you’re not home to anchor a family. At least you don’t live in the ghetto, because if you come from a good zip code, the courts will cut him a break on his first offense.

When you get done with it all, at age 70, you’ll have sent both your kids to college and paid for your wife’s venereal health and psychotherapy, because the poor thing’s bored out of her mind and keeps wondering if she shouldn’t be doing more with her life than yoga, kid-care and the pool putz. Enjoy your freedom. You can take one vacation a year, up to two weeks, anywhere that you can afford — and really, you’re the only one limiting yourself here by noticing that a $10,000 vacation leaves the curve of your kid’s college funding accrual a bit flat. So you drive to the grand canyon, or go to Hawaii, or some thing; enjoy your freedom. Back to work on Monday.

You can now mix races if you so desire, and there are no social classes, so you can marry anyone. You have sexual freedom so you don’t have to marry (although many did not marry in traditional societies, we like to pretend that everyone was hetero Christian and normal or they got speared immediately) and you can have as many partners as you want. When that gets boring, as it inevitably does, you can find a wife who’s as bored as you and you can both try not to scream out the wrong name during intercourse, wondering in the back pocket of your mind what exactly is different between people in this grunting, cycling motion. You can live as weirdly as you want, but if any complaints sneak back to the workplace… well, they don’t fire you for being different, but if the competition isn’t? You come up short. And are replaced.

Good thing we got rid of that medieval stupidity. Lord of the Manse, hah! The only people you owe money to now are the banks for your house, the credit cards you must use to stay competitive, the insurance companies and of course your retirement fund. When you get past 70, you’ll start living off that, so we hope that you didn’t spend too much on your yuppie lifestyle, because you’re going to have to save up investments which will produce $30,000-50,000 a year to pay for retirement homes. You wouldn’t want to be without medical care, or a place to go. Those people end up worse than homeless, or doing granny porn.

It’s amazing how hard people work. All of them want the same thing, but only a few percentage points of the population get a chance to have a life this nice; most people try to get rich, and do not succeed. It’s not always something they could have done something about either, as timing and market forces play a lot into it, as anyone who invested in Netscape in 1998 can tell you. You’re going to have to work harder in the future too, because to make all these new impoverished people and millionaires, we’ve had to expand humanity and now the air and water and even ground are poisoned. So in addition to buying your way out of the ghetto, you need to buy your way into a filter-sealed environment where the outside poisons cannot get you.

True, it is a never-ending cycle, this feedback loop that has us always needing more profit and thus causing more problems we try to avoid. There is no end, and there’s no mercy for those poor dumbshits who couldn’t get this far. Be glad you’re ahead — or are you? Scan those stock reports, job emails, and phone messages now (pay for the pool guy’s venereal test, while you’re at it). Is it any wonder that most of your friends get to bed with three glasses of wine, a sleeping pill, and some mantra that suggests they’ll never die? What are you throwing your life away for? All you do is work and then attend supervised, pre-ordained, purchased entertainment activities like movies, bars, rodeos, yoga classes. You barely know your wife or kids.

Fact is, modern man, you were so clever — you saw what the lord of the manse had, and you desired it, like Cain viewing Abel naked in the shower, resplendent in a natural glory you are in your Gollum-like ugliness not given, resplendent in a natural intelligence that in your Goliath-like stolidity you are not given — cheated! — like Esau viewing Jacob the future inheritor, like a dark-haired girl looking longingly on a blonde until longing turns to hate. You saw what those gifted by nature had and you determined you’d take it. You gathered all you knew and said, now we rule — and you did. You overthrew the Lord of the Manse, you married and impregnated his granddaughters, and now everything’s equal. Yet there’s a new Lord of the Manse and it’s not one person, but millions, hiding behind your credit cards and your house payments, parasitically wanting exactly what you do which is more money all of the time, and thus we all prey on each other, parasitic brothers locked in arms as we descend the whirlpool of our feedback loop rotting society for our profit — but surely it was worth it, because you’re free?

You’re not a serf anymore, or are you? Oh, you outsmarted yourself, and ruined the whole game in the process. Good work. Next time life gets you down, remember that you’ve not only prolonged your servitude but made it bitter and turned every person against all others for — for what? For gold? Oh, there’s no hope. Enjoy what you’ve made. Maybe even embrace depression and low self-esteem, and think about hating your own life and subjecting yourself to the most mindless tasks you can out of pure anger, even turned inward — like suicide, but parasitic and prolonged. There is no hope; leap into the vortex of darkness. Last one in’s a rotten egg. Serf’s up!

Caste

Sunday, November 28th, 2004

prole_takeover

When I was a little kid, I was shocked by inequality. Some children never had sweaters that were bought new, and they went home to dingy little apartments and TV dinners. They wouldn’t know what to do in a proper restaurant, and their language was awkward; they’d stumble over irregular words. When we all got to school on the first day, the teacher who had given us a list of supplies in advance put all the supplies in a communal basket, and we never again saw what our parents had bought for us. This was to make the poor kids feel less poor.

Of course, this was horrible to anyone whose parent had taken them painstakingly to a store and selected even just reasonable options, such as the pencils that don’t fragment into shards of sharp wood, or the lined paper whose printing isn’t blurry. Even things such as watercolor, true to the “freedom” of capitalism, ranged from paints that made dingy water in a certain tone to paints a kid could actually use. While this was happening, the drunken and impoverished parents hauled off down to the discount store and, “saving money,” bought every single lowest-quality piece of crap they could and sent the kids off to school with it.

And it all went into the box, and you got whatever came out by random draw – that’s “fairness.” This idea comes from the grand tradition of making people feel better by making the inequalities of their situation center stage. Trot the retarded kids out to perform with the jazz band, so every single person in the audience can uncomfortably pretend they aren’t making discoordinated noise. Why not appoint the ugly fat girl prom queen? We’ll make the impoverished feel better by forcing everyone in the class to submit to equality, so that resentment widens.

It was always unsettling, like some judgment had passed over us making some of us normal and some poor and a few, rich. Through college and the halcyon years immediately after, I believed that the only way to end the disparity between rich and poor was to dump all the supplies in the basket, so that the poor kids and rich kids alike were using the same stuff. Eventually I met a guy who had grown up in a trailer park, and he gave me a brief insight: “Most of the people who were in that trailer park, belonged in that trailer park.”

He told me about the different paths into poverty. Being clueless about money and unable to plan for the future. Being dumb. Being on drugs, or drink. Or being criminal, and prone to destructive including self-destructive acts. He said there were those too who were born into poverty and stayed into it because they simply couldn’t muster the energy for long-term improvements, like patching the trailer or going to high school or buying something other than on layaway. To them, every disaster was a surprise, and all misfortunes so expected they had little psychological impact.

I didn’t know how to resolve what I’d learned, both from him and from personal experience with the impoverished. They weren’t ready for anything but the kind of life they had; give them extra money, and it went to lottery tickets and booze. If you told them you wanted to help, they would either laugh at you or see what they could finagle out of the deal. It was hopeless. I didn’t see any way these individuals could exist in a society which demanded of them the same things expected from a stockbroker or doctor. And this was my mistake: I thought all people should fit the same form factor, and be treated equally.

For me, the next years involved swallowing this ludicrous proposition in various forms. At one job, the taboo was that Debbie was, gently put, a fucking idiot. Unfortunately, we could not fire her, so we gave her non-essential jobs and hired someone else to fact-check them. The end result was that when the company was in distress, and they hired a “management consultant” to help, he promoted the people with spotless work records. Since Debbie had never had any important projects, all of her work reports indicated full success, so the consultant looking over the numbers concluded she should be our department head. Her first act, of course, was to fire anyone smarter than her. I drive past that empty building every now and then and laugh.

One quiet night here in the bunker, I was reading the Bhagavad-Gita, perusing delightedly its many contortions and metaphors. Like its cousins, the Iliad and the Aneid and Nibelungenlied, this Indo-European epic talks in riddles, describing external events and the reaction of heroes to them as a means of charting the psychology of the human and suggesting an ascendant, warlike direction. It’s not “literature” for college students, drug addicts, soccer moms and greasy hippies; it’s literate for those in the thick of the world.

One aspect of the Gita is its sage advice on statecraft, something like Machiavelli or Dante, in which one theme is that of caste. Call me conditioned, but as soon as I read that, the old creeping feeling – dare we be honest and call it guilt? – crept in, and I found myself thinking of the poor kids with their bargain bin school supplies. Images of faded paints, dingy erasers, garbage lined paper and leaking pens came back to me with the same scent of those classrooms: mixed perfumes, food smells, sweat, flatulence and that strange sawdust they used to soak up vomit.

It’s important to understand that a caste system is fundamentally different than a class system. In a class system, we are all ranked by how much money we have earned, and hence invested, passing the money on to our descendants. If you work in the kitchen of a large hotel, work your way up to supervisor and eventually own the thing, you can buy a chain of hotels and live among the very wealthy. You have gone from lower to upper class via the singular determination of wealth. In natural selectionist language, this means the person who is more devoted to earning money forms the basis of the upper class.

A caste system is based on specialization. Much as each race is formed by a series of specific traits that reflect certain choices taken as a group, such as to use technology to specialize in agrarian or technological living, each caste reflects the inclinations and aptitudes demonstrated by past actions. Some people are more specialized to, and thus healthier as, farmers or plumbers and some as lawyers; whether we officialize this in a caste system or not, it is naturally true.

What is unfortunate about class systems is that they promote derision between these, usually on some presumed Darwinian basis, under the illusion that a lawyer is “more successful” biologically than a plumber. This repugnant oversimplification rests on the assumption of a single career path for all people, with a top (highest-paid) and a bottom (unskilled labor). It allows those who make money to salve their low self-esteem with, “We all had the same goal and the same opportunities, thus there is something wrong with you, and not I.”

This means that in the same way that in a democracy, a homeless drunk has the same vote as a hero, in a class system, your “upper crust” of society are people who made money in any fashion. Intelligent, hard-working people who raised decent business to successes are on par with pornographers, drug dealers, international arms sellers, and people with “genius ideas” like fast food, disposable lighters, and sitcoms. You can imagine the daughter bringing home her fiance to the parents and saying, “I know he is squat, ugly, stupid and mean, but he’s made a billion dollars in anal porn!”

A caste system, in contrast, divides us by duties and endows none with a preferential, singular god-status. If one’s caste is among the leaders, there is no greater value in doing that than being a plumber – after all, it not only wasn’t your choice but it’s the product of your ancestors that you are a leader (and: a test of your own fitness, since no sane society accepts people at face value). Your job is no more important than that of a plumber, but it is more specialized.

You can look at this in the context of a rock band. If any instrumentalism of note is going on, your drummer and guitarist will most likely not be able to switch places, but both are essential. Even though your guitarist could probably sub in for your bassist, he won’t, if possible, because he’s used to thinking in a different role and thus is prone to miss the subtleties of a bassist. Similarly, everyone can sing – but one specializes as a singer. And all are vital; without them, the band doesn’t exist.

In medieval and previous ages, the caste system benefitted those individuals now grouped into the generic category of “the worker” (meaning all those who labor without owning). This was mainly because, freed of monetary competition, they had job security and thus were able to focus on the detail of each task, nuances such as would not be supported by a system which competes according to the “bottom line.” Leaders did not have to pander to get elected, and plumbers didn’t have to cut corners to make their prices “competitive.” Everyone had a place, and while competition existed, it was in the form of the task itself and not the separate but related task of making money from that ability.

Government would localize, as in every local population you have some leaders and some of every other type. Each caste would have its own place and be guaranteed work, with the more competent rising to the top of each role, which would be viewed as being on par with “professions” such as lawyer, doctor, leader. The enmity between people over amount of money earned would be greatly lessened, as all people would no longer be competing for the most of a single thing, but would be working to become the best at what they optimally do.

Most importantly, however, this would enable love to return among peoples who at this time are mostly bitter and vengeful toward one another. Your leaders wouldn’t be any more important than your plumber, but they would be specialized differently. Their role, as those who are ultimately responsible for guiding a people, would not be a “job” but more like that of a familial attachment, and they would thus be able to work directly for their local area and their people. This type of system lets us take different roles and each be important in them, without grading us by how much money we manage to con, inveigle, hype or outright steal.

Speak about this kind of idea in a modern liberal democracy, of course, and people start nattering on about the loss of “freedom.” If you ask them what it means, the best definition is some head-in-the-clouds fond illusion about how any of us can grow up to be president, a sports star, or a magical superhero or martyr. Don’t take our “freedom” away! they chant in unison. Obviously, anything adhered to with such bovine desperation cannot be the balm it promises to be, or these people would have realized the great advantages of “freedom.” Instead they have excuses: I was born under a bad sign, my daddy was a drunk, I was sodomized by wolves as a youngster, and the like. Justifications for not being “free.”

A class system gives you this “freedom” by forcing you and everyone else into the “equal” category of worker, at which point you compete against others for money. If you aren’t fascinated by money, or don’t have rich relatives, or don’t come up with some “brilliant” idea like interracial midget amputee porn, you’re going to be working for peanuts and while no one will come out and say it, everyone earning more than you is going to subtly feel a boost of external confidence for being wealthier. This explains why when this drug of false self-confidence is taken away, so many previously “successful” people self-destruct.

Categorizing us by how much we earn, and assuming that in some Darwin cum Jesus way this is a selection of the “best” among us, is brainless. It makes us hate each other. It doesn’t select for who does the best job, but for who can fool the most people into buying their product for long enough to take the money out of the system and retire. And who can blame them? They have no place granted to them by custom, and thus are at the mercy of every other jerk who wants to rip off the rest of us so he can take his pile home.

In this way, I went from fearing a caste system to liking it. We will never all be equal in wealth, and some kids will get the seven-dollar watercolors while the rest use the fetid three-dollar ones. Trying to equalize that inequality by averaging it means that we all suffer under a system designed for a person who doesn’t exist, the mythical abstract “normal” person, and that as a result, we’re at each others’ throats for tiny pieces of paper and metal tokens and numbers in our bank account. That’s so dumb even Debbie would like it.

Caste

Sunday, November 28th, 2004

When I was a little kid, I was shocked by inequality. Some children never had sweaters that were bought new, and they went home to dingy little apartments and TV dinners. They wouldn’t know what to do in a proper restaurant, and their language was awkward; they’d stumble over irregular words. When we all got to school on the first day, the teacher who had given us a list of supplies in advance put all the supplies in a communal basket, and we never again saw what our parents had bought for us. This was to make the poor kids feel less poor.

Of course, this was horrible to anyone whose parent had taken them painstakingly to a store and selected even just reasonable options, such as the pencils that don’t fragment into shards of sharp wood, or the lined paper whose printing isn’t blurry. Even things such as watercolor, true to the “freedom” of capitalism, ranged from paints that made dingy water in a certain tone to paints a kid could actually use. While this was happening, the drunken and impoverished parents hauled off down to the discount store and, “saving money,” bought every single lowest-quality piece of crap they could and sent the kids off to school with it.

And it all went into the box, and you got whatever came out by random draw – that’s “fairness.” This idea comes from the grand tradition of making people feel better by making the inequalities of their situation center stage. Trot the retarded kids out to perform with the jazz band, so every single person in the audience can uncomfortably pretend they aren’t making discoordinated noise. Why not appoint the ugly fat girl prom queen? We’ll make the impoverished feel better by forcing everyone in the class to submit to equality, so that resentment widens.

It was always unsettling, like some judgment had passed over us making some of us normal and some poor and a few, rich. Through college and the halcyon years immediately after, I believed that the only way to end the disparity between rich and poor was to dump all the supplies in the basket, so that the poor kids and rich kids alike were using the same stuff. Eventually I met a guy who had grown up in a trailer park, and he gave me a brief insight: “Most of the people who were in that trailer park, belonged in that trailer park.”

He told me about the different paths into poverty. Being clueless about money and unable to plan for the future. Being dumb. Being on drugs, or drink. Or being criminal, and prone to destructive including self-destructive acts. He said there were those too who were born into poverty and stayed into it because they simply couldn’t muster the energy for long-term improvements, like patching the trailer or going to high school or buying something other than on layaway. To them, every disaster was a surprise, and all misfortunes so expected they had little psychological impact.

I didn’t know how to resolve what I’d learned, both from him and from personal experience with the impoverished. They weren’t ready for anything but the kind of life they had; give them extra money, and it went to lottery tickets and booze. If you told them you wanted to help, they would either laugh at you or see what they could finagle out of the deal. It was hopeless. I didn’t see any way these individuals could exist in a society which demanded of them the same things expected from a stockbroker or doctor. And this was my mistake: I thought all people should fit the same form factor, and be treated equally.

For me, the next years involved swallowing this ludicrous proposition in various forms. At one job, the taboo was that Debbie was, gently put, a fucking idiot. Unfortunately, we could not fire her, so we gave her non-essential jobs and hired someone else to fact-check them. The end result was that when the company was in distress, and they hired a “management consultant” to help, he promoted the people with spotless work records. Since Debbie had never had any important projects, all of her work reports indicated full success, so the consultant looking over the numbers concluded she should be our department head. Her first act, of course, was to fire anyone smarter than her. I drive past that empty building every now and then and laugh.

One quiet night here in the bunker, I was reading the Bhagavad-Gita, perusing delightedly its many contortions and metaphors. Like its cousins, the Iliad and the Aneid and Nibelungenlied, this Indo-European epic talks in riddles, describing external events and the reaction of heroes to them as a means of charting the psychology of the human and suggesting an ascendant, warlike direction. It’s not “literature” for college students, drug addicts, soccer moms and greasy hippies; it’s literate for those in the thick of the world.

One aspect of the Gita is its sage advice on statecraft, something like Machiavelli or Dante, in which one theme is that of caste. Call me conditioned, but as soon as I read that, the old creeping feeling – dare we be honest and call it guilt? – crept in, and I found myself thinking of the poor kids with their bargain bin school supplies. Images of faded paints, dingy erasers, garbage lined paper and leaking pens came back to me with the same scent of those classrooms: mixed perfumes, food smells, sweat, flatulence and that strange sawdust they used to soak up vomit.

It’s important to understand that a caste system is fundamentally different than a class system. In a class system, we are all ranked by how much money we have earned, and hence invested, passing the money on to our descendants. If you work in the kitchen of a large hotel, work your way up to supervisor and eventually own the thing, you can buy a chain of hotels and live among the very wealthy. You have gone from lower to upper class via the singular determination of wealth. In natural selectionist language, this means the person who is more devoted to earning money forms the basis of the upper class.

A caste system is based on specialization. Much as each race is formed by a series of specific traits that reflect certain choices taken as a group, such as to use technology to specialize in agrarian or technological living, each caste reflects the inclinations and aptitudes demonstrated by past actions. Some people are more specialized to, and thus healthier as, farmers or plumbers and some as lawyers; whether we officialize this in a caste system or not, it is naturally true.

What is unfortunate about class systems is that they promote derision between these, usually on some presumed Darwinian basis, under the illusion that a lawyer is “more successful” biologically than a plumber. This repugnant oversimplification rests on the assumption of a single career path for all people, with a top (highest-paid) and a bottom (unskilled labor). It allows those who make money to salve their low self-esteem with, “We all had the same goal and the same opportunities, thus there is something wrong with you, and not I.”

This means that in the same way that in a democracy, a homeless drunk has the same vote as a hero, in a class system, your “upper crust” of society are people who made money in any fashion. Intelligent, hard-working people who raised decent business to successes are on par with pornographers, drug dealers, international arms sellers, and people with “genius ideas” like fast food, disposable lighters, and sitcoms. You can imagine the daughter bringing home her fiance to the parents and saying, “I know he is squat, ugly, stupid and mean, but he’s made a billion dollars in anal porn!”

A caste system, in contrast, divides us by duties and endows none with a preferential, singular god-status. If one’s caste is among the leaders, there is no greater value in doing that than being a plumber – after all, it not only wasn’t your choice but it’s the product of your ancestors that you are a leader (and: a test of your own fitness, since no sane society accepts people at face value). Your job is no more important than that of a plumber, but it is more specialized.

You can look at this in the context of a rock band. If any instrumentalism of note is going on, your drummer and guitarist will most likely not be able to switch places, but both are essential. Even though your guitarist could probably sub in for your bassist, he won’t, if possible, because he’s used to thinking in a different role and thus is prone to miss the subtleties of a bassist. Similarly, everyone can sing – but one specializes as a singer. And all are vital; without them, the band doesn’t exist.

In medieval and previous ages, the caste system benefitted those individuals now grouped into the generic category of “the worker” (meaning all those who labor without owning). This was mainly because, freed of monetary competition, they had job security and thus were able to focus on the detail of each task, nuances such as would not be supported by a system which competes according to the “bottom line.” Leaders did not have to pander to get elected, and plumbers didn’t have to cut corners to make their prices “competitive.” Everyone had a place, and while competition existed, it was in the form of the task itself and not the separate but related task of making money from that ability.

Government would localize, as in every local population you have some leaders and some of every other type. Each caste would have its own place and be guaranteed work, with the more competent rising to the top of each role, which would be viewed as being on par with “professions” such as lawyer, doctor, leader. The enmity between people over amount of money earned would be greatly lessened, as all people would no longer be competing for the most of a single thing, but would be working to become the best at what they optimally do.

Most importantly, however, this would enable love to return among peoples who at this time are mostly bitter and vengeful toward one another. Your leaders wouldn’t be any more important than your plumber, but they would be specialized differently. Their role, as those who are ultimately responsible for guiding a people, would not be a “job” but more like that of a familial attachment, and they would thus be able to work directly for their local area and their people. This type of system lets us take different roles and each be important in them, without grading us by how much money we manage to con, inveigle, hype or outright steal.

Speak about this kind of idea in a modern liberal democracy, of course, and people start nattering on about the loss of “freedom.” If you ask them what it means, the best definition is some head-in-the-clouds fond illusion about how any of us can grow up to be president, a sports star, or a magical superhero or martyr. Don’t take our “freedom” away! they chant in unison. Obviously, anything adhered to with such bovine desperation cannot be the balm it promises to be, or these people would have realized the great advantages of “freedom.” Instead they have excuses: I was born under a bad sign, my daddy was a drunk, I was sodomized by wolves as a youngster, and the like. Justifications for not being “free.”

A class system gives you this “freedom” by forcing you and everyone else into the “equal” category of worker, at which point you compete against others for money. If you aren’t fascinated by money, or don’t have rich relatives, or don’t come up with some “brilliant” idea like interracial midget amputee porn, you’re going to be working for peanuts and while no one will come out and say it, everyone earning more than you is going to subtly feel a boost of external confidence for being wealthier. This explains why when this drug of false self-confidence is taken away, so many previously “successful” people self-destruct.

Categorizing us by how much we earn, and assuming that in some Darwin cum Jesus way this is a selection of the “best” among us, is brainless. It makes us hate each other. It doesn’t select for who does the best job, but for who can fool the most people into buying their product for long enough to take the money out of the system and retire. And who can blame them? They have no place granted to them by custom, and thus are at the mercy of every other jerk who wants to rip off the rest of us so he can take his pile home.

In this way, I went from fearing a caste system to liking it. We will never all be equal in wealth, and some kids will get the seven-dollar watercolors while the rest use the fetid three-dollar ones. Trying to equalize that inequality by averaging it means that we all suffer under a system designed for a person who doesn’t exist, the mythical abstract “normal” person, and that as a result, we’re at each others’ throats for tiny pieces of paper and metal tokens and numbers in our bank account. That’s so dumb even Debbie would like it.

Recommended Reading