September 21, 2010

"This is mine"

I've been blogging off and on lately about the connections between evolution and our social and political life. It seems that recent research has pretty much busted the bubble of those who thought that people are blank slates on which society writes whatever it will.

If that idea was true, then it might follow that all our nasty traits are due to the corrupting influence of society and could be removed given a different environment. If, on the other hand, we carry a lot of evolutionary baggage from our pre-human ancestors, this might not be so easily done.

In a classic passage, the 18th century philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau finds the source of human corruption in the primal sin of private property:

The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying 'This is mine,' and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: 'Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.'

Rousseau and others in this tradition believed that with a reorganized society, we might be free of this corruption and spare ourselves any number or crimes, wars and murders.

It can't be denied that greed for private wealth has caused all kinds of carnage. And it shouldn't be forgotten that people like Rousseau played an important role in opposing arbitrary tyranny and absolutism and making real social gains. But the utopian vision has run aground these days, and part of the problem might be the raw materials with which the reformer has to work.

DEATH OF A THOUSAND CUTS. Republicans plan to kill or weaken health care reform bit by bit if victorious in November.

HAIR OF THE DOG. This sampling from a new book looks at how right wing "philanthropy" helped pave the way for the Great Recession.

COLD COMFORT. Speaking of the Great Recession, the National Bureau of Economic Research said it officially ended in June 2009. Just not so's anyone could tell.

STEPPING UP. In this op-ed, a wealthy entrepreneur argues for ending Bush era tax cuts for wealthy Americans.

INDULGE ME. Longtime readers of Goat Rope will remember El Cabrero's fondness for the martial arts. Here's an interesting item from the Washington Post about how China's newly wealthy are hiring martial arts experts as bodyguards.

SOME BIRD. Imagine one with teeth and a 17 foot wingspan.



Anonymous said...

El Cabrero,

Perhaps if the economy tanks here you can move to China and become a body guard?

My friends wife is a Chinese Mail order Bride and when he told her about our farm she said "Oh your friend is a peasant!"

El Cabrero said...

I like that idea, anonymous, but I think you have to be really good to get a gig. That would leave me out.