TCS Daily


Is Egalitarianism Instinctual?

By Jackson Kuhl - March 10, 2006 12:00 AM

Is there an "egalitarian instinct" bred into us by millennia of hunter-gatherer living as my colleague Max Borders asserts? And is this instinct channeled by Marxists and other central planners in an attempt to create egalitarian socialist utopias?

"One of the most misunderstood words in evolutionary theory is 'egalitarian.' Nearly all hunting-gathering societies are described as egalitarian; so are most autonomous village societies. Ask ten archaeologists to define an egalitarian society, however, and five will reply, 'a society in which everyone is equal in prestige or status.' That answer is wrong, since there is no society in which everyone is equal in prestige or status."

So wrote archaeologists Joyce Marcus and Kent V. Flannery in their 1996 book Zapotec Civilization, about their work in Mexico's Oaxaca Valley. Like a majority of archaeologists, Marcus and Flannery are concerned with the development of complex society. In their case, they seek to know how and why descendants of small bands of 25 people or less, who entered the Oaxaca Valley not long after the end of the Ice Age, forged large urban states such as Monte Albán.

Marcus and Flannery stress that "egalitarian," as used by ethnologists, describes a society in which prestige is achieved or earned, not inherited.

In other words, it matters what you do, not what your mom or dad did.

They continue:

"Individuals in egalitarian societies can acquire prestige through advanced age, personal accomplishment, or the accumulation of valued goods. ...

"Unfortunately, many archaeologists have taken 'egalitarian' to mean 'homogenous.' They assume that people in such societies are as alike as coins made at the same mint, and when — as inevitably happens — they find evidence for heterogeneity, they wrongly conclude that they have discovered a 'chiefdom.' Which is to say, a culture stratified by lineage-based classes."

How can you tell the difference between an egalitarian society and one that isn't? Usually through their burials. Commonly adults are buried with items they acquired in life. But babies and children whose lives have been cut short have not had time to accumulate things on their own. If they are buried with prestige items that they could not have made in life — shell jewelry, for instance — then clearly they were given these things by others. They may have inherited them. A child buried with nothing suggests an egalitarian society; a child buried with things they could not have acquired themselves indicates inherited prestige. An adult buried with a store of personal property could be from either (i.e. he could have earned or inherited them. In fact, he may have more stuff than the guy in the next plot.)

That's the big misunderstanding about "egalitarian" hunter-gatherers: not only do they have personal property, but the amount and value may differ from individual to individual.

In fact, so-called egalitarian societies can have radical hierarchies. Marcus and Flannery describe two cultures, the Tewa of the American Southwest and the Chimbu of New Guinea, which are ruled by elites who achieve their status through a complex series of religious initiations. The elites become so through ambition, skill and personal connections made over their lifetimes.

This misconception of "egalitarian" has entered our popular vernacular too.

Ask anybody to define the word and they, like those archaeologists Marcus and Flannery mention, will conflate it with a homogeneous distribution of resources. Certainly it has become part and parcel of Folk Marxism that a society with homogenous wealth not only can be created, but should be.

If there was such an "egalitarian" or "sharing instinct" that drove hunter-gatherers to divide all resources equally, then humans would have never developed complex societies such as states in which prestige and property can be passed down as well as earned. At some point, somebody started hoarding, somebody inherited. Perhaps such societies were formed by maladroits whose sharing instinct was broken. Or maybe the sons of made men in a Tewa or Chimbu village realized their dads' connections were the only inheritance they needed.

I think what Mr. Borders is getting at is best demonstrated by the famous !Kung bushmen of southern Africa. Marcus and Flannery cite a practice among the men in which they fashion arrows as gifts for their compatriots. The arrow used to make a kill, therefore, is often not manufactured by the hunter who shot it. This way, two men and not one enjoy the prestige of making the kill. Any tensions that might arise in the group from the meritocratic advantage of one man being a better shot are diffused — the hunter has spread the glow from his spotlight. So the practice of sharing may have less do with an "egalitarian instinct" than with an "anti-jealousy instinct." Is that another way of saying the same thing? I'm not sure.

This assumes such behavior is instinctual to begin with. Evolutionary psychology (EP) has made great contributions answering the macro questions of anthropology — why we choose the mates we do and so forth — but I'm skeptical of any holistic reductionism that strives to reach back thousands of years to explain why I comb my hair from left to right. The !Kung hunters may have just as soon learned that friendship and social cohesion are important to survival. Of course, the evolutionary psychologist will say they are programmed to learn that — which is what makes EP so exasperating.

But if we have an instinct for sharing, then how did we go from the end of the Ice Age to the Pyramids at Giza? Maybe evolutionary psychology can't explain everything, and archaeologists like Marcus and Flannery shouldn't pack it up just yet.

Jackson Kuhl writes about archaeology, history, and travel. His articles have appeared in Reason, the New York Post, Dig, and other publications.

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41 Comments

Sharing
Since we humans spent most of our history in hunting and gathering bands, I guess all attempts at explanation have to start there. It seems reasonable that sharing would become established as a way to miminize the disruptive effects of jealousy and personal agrandizement. On the other hand, once there is a tradition of sharing, it pays to lavish recognition on the superior hunter so he keeps bringing home the bacon.

It may be that it becomes more difficult to sustain voluntary sharing in settled societies, simply because while hunting is episodic, rather fun, and a kind of activity for which it is easy to recognize and reward superior individual talent, agricultural labor has none of those characteristics. Growing and harvesting on a scale large enough to produce a sharable surplus is no fun at all. If everyone contributes to a common store, then that has to be controlled and allocated by somebody. It's all downhill from there.



Statist Utopianism is..
A delusion propagated over and over by idle dreamers who think they can perfect humanity which is inevitably taken over by very realistic and ruthless autocrats.

Marx was so freaking lazy he wouldn't bathe (and then complained about his boils) and lecturered the rest of the world about the plight of the working man. We'd have dismissed him as utterly without merit, except that Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot and Castro found it useful to dominate people.


Safety is instinctual, egalitarianism is not
When I've got more status than you because of characteristics immutable to both of us, then absent some moral, social or legal scheme, the only way you'll advance is to get rid of me. That's the way I read the story of Cain & Abel.

There are several moral, social and legal schemes men can adopt to solve the problem of violent competition for social status. Hence, it is the need for safety that is instinctual and not egalitarianism. For without solving the problem of violent competition for status, men can't live together in a group, and egalitarianism is only one possible solution.

The Judeo-Christian scheme - do not covet, do not steal, do not kill - is burdensome but also gets rights to the point: If you can't be top dog, then learn to live with it. Otherwise, what you do to others will be done to you. And unlike the egalitarianism discussed above, this type of egalitarianism - proportional justice - is instinctual because it's directly linked to the ego.

This is why Marxism needed the bit about how the proletariate have always been cheated by the capitalists, but history was determined to set the balance straight, etc. And this is why America's culture of "victimization" and Folk Marxism have so much in common.

freedom & dominance
Byron has put his finger on the crux. Hunter-gatherer ethics arose with the evolution of the stable nuclear family (Mom, Dad and the kids), probably a result of our ancestors' conversion from arboreal herbivores toward ground-dwelling predatory carnivores. Nuclear families are at once 'socialistic, and egalitarian and heirarchical, tho individual freedom is its matrix, as everyone is free to leave the family unit and go off on his own, or join another unit. This political system extended into larger clan formation. Societal arrangements, often mistakenly conflated with morality and religion, are strictly and empirically determined by what works best. Ants and molerats will have different successful arrangements than eagles and wolves. Democracy and freedom exist because they produce victorious armies.

Byron is also right that the development of agricultural societies, tho immensely successful, militarily, and in food production, are unnatural for bodies and minds designed for hunter-gathering. The starchy diet had bad side effects, and still does. The creation of permanent towns and cities, demanded an administrative aristocracy. We still suffer from this mismatch, while enjoying the great prosperity it engendered. The family dominance instinct that was useful for nomads is destructive in modern society, which has developed some institutions to control it, such as democracy and individual liberty, but needs much more.

Democracy and freedom exist because they produce victorious armies.
So do monarchy and absolutism, and have repeatedly over the long run in the past. Stalinism produced a victorious army. The Athenian democracy lost the Pelopnesian war. Kng Alexander conquered the world.

Better than the original, but still short on biological evidence
There's very little evidence, either in anthopology or biology for egalitarianism being a genetic value. Humans in many hunter gatherer societies do not reproduce monogamously: the most sucessful men have the most children. We see this most other primates (gibbons are an exception) as well.

What does seem to be genetic is another human trait, quite different from 'egalitarianism' -- altruism. Both the evidence and the biological explanation for this are pretty robust.

I'm sure someone can spin this into an explanation for why the left is naturally bad and the right is naturally good, but such partisan politicizing seems both tedious and bogus.

extended, not nuclear family
this sounds great and wonderfully Republican-naturist

>unter-gatherer ethics arose with the evolution of the stable nuclear family (Mom, Dad and the kids), probably a result of our ancestors' conversion from arboreal herbivores toward ground-dwelling predatory carnivores.

But it really doesn't have much connection with reality. Many or most hunter-gatherer societies are strongly polygamous. Successful males have moe wives.

variations
I would say that the huge variation in cultures throughout the world, and throughout time, strongly implies that culture is taught, not inherited.

Altruism
You are right in recognizing that it is actually altruism, not egalitarianism, that there is good sociobiological evidence for. However, recent work in game theory also shows how altruism arises in social species. Communication is vital for there to be communities. HUmans are, after all, social mammals. Further, a more recent article in Science discusses research which shows that 18 mo. old children engage in altruistic behavior -- they will help someone who they think has dropped something, but they won't help someone who they think threw the thing down. So it seems that our natural instinct is to help others. Other social animals help each other too, but humans do so sooner and more often. There's a lot of interesting work going on out there.

It is a revolt against nature
The more provocative questions surrounding egalitarianism relate to what its advocates foist upon the rest of us through the use of government coercion, force and violence. The leveling imperative infects those too ignorant and unthinking to imagine what a perfectly egalitarian society would be like and what devastating effects it would have on incentives, wealth, wellbeing and liberty.

It is, as Murray Rothbard proclaimed a revolt against nature. And its disgusting outcomes are analyzed in depth in his essay Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature. He says in part:

"What, in fact, is 'equality'? The term has been much invoked but little analyzed. A and B are 'equal' if they are identical to each other with respect to a given attribute. Thus, if Smith and Jones are both exactly six feet in height, then they may be said to be 'equal' in height. If two sticks are identical in length, then their lengths are 'equal,' etc. There is one and only one way, then, in which any two people can really be 'equal' in the fullest sense: they must be identical in all of their attributes. This means, of course, that equality of all men – the egalitarian ideal – can only be achieved if all men are precisely uniform, precisely identical with respect to all of their attributes. The egalitarian world would necessarily be a world of horror fiction – a world of faceless and identical creatures, devoid of all individuality, variety, or special creativity.

Indeed, it is precisely in horror fiction where the logical implications of an egalitarian world have been fully drawn. Professor Schoeck has resurrected for us the depiction of such a world in the British anti-Utopian novel Facial Justice, by L.P. Hartley, in which envy is institutionalized by the State's making sure that all girls' faces are equally pretty, with medical operations being performed on both beautiful and ugly girls to bring all of their faces up or down to the general common denominator. A short story by Kurt Vonnegut provides an even more comprehensive description of a fully egalitarian society. Thus, Vonnegut begins his story, 'Harrison Bergeron':


The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.
The 'handicapping' worked partly as follows: Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn't think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.

The horror we all instinctively feel at these stories is the intuitive recognition that men are not uniform, that the species, mankind, is uniquely characterized by a high degree of variety, diversity, differentiation; in short, inequality. An egalitarian society can only hope to achieve its goals by totalitarian methods of coercion; and, even here, we all believe and hope the human spirit of individual man will rise up and thwart any such attempts to achieve an ant-heap world. In short, the portrayal of an egalitarian society is horror fiction because, when the implications of such a world are fully spelled out, we recognize that such a world and such attempts are profoundly antihuman; being antihuman in the deepest sense, the egalitarian goal is, therefore, evil and any attempts in the direction of such a goal must be considered evil as well."

End Point
The Max Borders article and the Jackson Kuhl article were both illustrated by portraits of Karl Marx. Both articles question the nature of man, a question that Marx was supposed (and assumed) to have answered in order to provide a theoretical basis for Marxism; Marx claimed to have the answers to the nature of man and an historically absolute plan to perfect man and his institutions. If Marx in fact did not correctly perceive the nature of man, there is no theoretical basis for Marx's socialism.

Which may offer a clue as to why socialism has never worked. The Soviet Union collapsed in corruption and inefficiency. The socialist EU, after the necessary rebuilding as a result of WWII, is well into its second decade of stagnation, bureaucracy, and social and demographic decline. China was an unmitigated disaster until if opened up its economy; China is rapidly achieving the status of a mitigated disaster. Even in the USA, the Great Society was a failure; welfare alone cost $6.6 trillion, and the only results were the destruction of the black family and economic stagnation, culminating in the Carter Catastrophe and corrected by the Reagan tax cuts and economic reforms.

In Marxist theory, the excesses of capitalism were to give way to socialist egalitarianism. But the capitalists, whatever their perceived faults, created a store of wealth before the socialists came into play. When the socialists take over, they have never, not once, increased the store of wealth, but instead have destroyed wealth. You can redistribute wealth all you want to, but if the sum total of wealth is declining or stagnant, no redistribution scheme is going to improve the lot of the good little socialists.

In contrast, the USA is the most dynamic, fastest growing, successful economy in the world, practicing free-market capitalism. Such diverse states as Chile, Estonia, and Ireland have transformed their economies within a matter of a few years by embracing capitalist practices, not to mention the ongoing successes of the Anglosphere.

But just what end point did Marx expect to accomplish? The dictatorship of the proletariat, followed by the withering away of the state? From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs? The new socialist man? We have paid a terrible price for these socialist generalities that have never worked.

If the definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results", socialists are insane. Regardless, given the repeated failures, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the transformation of China, we still have the EU plodding along in endless circles like a donkey-powered mill, and socialism reviving in Latin America. Go figure.

who living are you talking about?
spare us the cartoons.

Which way you comb your hair
"...but I'm skeptical of any holistic reductionism that strives to reach back thousands of years to explain why I comb my hair from left to right."

You don't need evolutionary psychology for that one. Which way you comb your hair is determined by more proximate biology- what matters is whether your mother is left- or right-handed. After all, she's the one who parted it for the first few years of your life.

Empathy
Empathy I believe is a human trait that can be subverted by society: USSR,Rwanda, Cambodia or the Aztecs for example.

Any government policy, be it left or right, but these days, the left tips the scales on coercive altrusim. In particular, the idea that it is altruistic for society to take from the rich, or the 'advantaged' and give to the poor or 'disadvantaged'. This also subverts empathy, which is essentially the golden rule.

I donot believe is there egalirian society in hunting age
Iam from India, and here there are some very ancient societies till exist, we may call them hunting society. I find out them some kind of class,My theory is man is selfish animal, in hunting society he could not abadoned his selfishness, so in that societies also every body fridt thing for his selfishness, Maxist borrow the idea of agalirian from chiristren doctrin.

Borg
That's one reason the Borg were such a horrible enemy in Star Trek with the only way to combat their terror was their individual liberty.

Bastards
A nuclear family with faithful spouses, can create more stable societies when inheritances are brought into play. If Abraham had only one wife and only had children from one wife, the conflict between Isaac and Ishmael would not exist. This would not eliminate sibling rivalry, but there would be no bastards.
Of course history would be less interesting if people were faithful to each other, but it might have made it more stable.

Levels of Thinking
Since this thread has several days' more life left, I decided to include these lists of attributes of different levels of thinking here.

?TRIBALISM

family unit and nepotism, clans and tribes
embody change in rituals, traditions, symbols
need reassurance
sense of enchantment in life’s mysteries
safe mode of living
honor ancestors
animistic thinking
circular processes – time understood as circular
allegiance to chief, elders, ancestors, clan, parents
preserve sacred objects, places, events, memories
rites of passage
observe seasonal cycles
chanting, dancing, singing
family rituals
athletic teams
ritualistic thinking
equality among kin
we, the clan vs. you, who are not in our clan
sacrifice now for past
fear of spirits
ethnocentrism
tribalism
magic
scary world
superstition
blood oaths
fear unexpected change
subservient behavior

POWER RELIGIONS AND HEROIC CULTURE

seems to come with writing, since the first stories are in this stage – Gilgamesh, Iliad, Odyssey,
Old Testament
people ruled by powerful gods and individuals with no mercy – the enemies must be destroyed,
and it is always an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth
manifested in modern day in gangs
strong, heroic leadership
storytellers and mythology
celebrate heroic feats
respect
true democracy – but of heroic individuals who are the citizens
also, dictatorship and empires (Roman)
power over self
glory
independent
anti-domination and constraint
rock stars
star athletes
power hierarchies
I, the powerful
fear of other predatory men
most radically individualistic
express self impulsively
immediate benefits – look good, feel good, gain
meaningful, tangible prizes as reinforcement
concretely meeting needs with tangible things
demigods
mythic role-models
domination
gangs
egocentric
exploitative
do what you want, regardless
expects attention
no guilt or remorse
rebellious youth
anger
shame-avoidance due to fear of shame
coercion
threats
fear loss of control
fear disrespect
need subservience
tend toward anarchy

AUTHORITY

Christianity an authority religion
So is Islam, tho it also has properties of the previous level as well (in retention of OT ideas)
Jesus moved Judaism from Power to Authority religion
Medieval Christianity
Modern-day political and cultural conservatives
love of order
rigid hierarchies
how to do things the right way
meaning to life from doing duty
reward and punish for doing or not doing duty
mission statements and rules
traditions
fair treatment for all
honor service and loyalty
ideology
authority
search for ultimate peace
future rewards
heritage
religion
sacred principles
military
police
purpose
discipline
obedience
self-sacrifice
eternal, absolute principles determine code of conduct
ethics results in stability
laws, regulations
character and moral fiber
Puritanism
chivalry and honor
charitable good deeds
patriotism
truth-thinking
equality among congregation of believers
we, the True Believers
fear of trespass upon the ordained order
stick with one job, and do what the boss says
doctrine
mandates
sacrifice now for future
good and evil
right and wrong
social stability
civility
sacred duty
moral compass
charity
love
follow rules
imposes order on anarchy
nationalism
theocracy
authoritarianism
absolute, unquestioned and unquestionable order
oppression
repression
belief in only one right way
holy war
pyramidal, hierarchical structures
predetermined outcomes
suicide bombers
self-sacrifice
fundamentalism
conservative of status quo
accept external world was created as it currently is
guilt
dogmatism
rigid thinking
reject those not true believers
fear ambiguity
fear weak authority
fear disorder
fear opposing -isms

CAPITALISM AND THE SCIENTIFIC WORLD VIEW

fluid hierarchies/meritocracies
interested in truth as facts – must be scientifically provable
promotion of political and economic freedom
material rewards for the best work
competition fosters individual growth and improves productivity
“how is this getting me ahead?”
Challenges for improvement
free market
multiparty democratic republicanism
personal rights and liberties
enterprise
search for material pleasure
good life here and now
better living through science
use science to learn nature’s secrets
reason
progress and improvement
possibility thinking
multiplistic
delegative structures
strategic processes
change and advancement inherent in the world
create and spread abundant good life
optimistic
risk-taking
self-reliant
technology
the Enlightenment
disciplinary thinking
personal empowerment
status hierarchies
I, the capable
fear of greediness
pragmatism
do various jobs
learn through carrot and stick
no guilt
flexible
express self calculatedly
facts and observations = facts
need opportunities for individual growth
individual empowerment
fix things
facilitate development
game player needs rules followers
short-sighted
loneliness
deterministic
colonialism
cartels
fear loss of autonomy
fear loss of freedom
fear loss of competence

EGALITARIANISM

Marxism and socialism
Green movements, animal rights
anti-hierarchy – all men are equal in actuality, and man is not above the animals, but their equals –
man is only an equal with nature as a whole
believe that the world is identical regardless of scale
feel accepted
sharing and participating (cooperation)
ends and means in humanistic terms
people important
responsive to feelings
caring socially responsible community
communitarianism
egalitarianism humanism
social transformation
search for affectionate relations
find ourselves
belonging
consensus building
relativistic thinking
consensual processes
pluralism
peace within inner self
free human spirit from greed, dogma, divisiveness
animal rights
deep ecology
multidisicplinary thinking
postmodern
poststructuralist
equality among common interest groups
we, the accepting
fear of social disapproval
treat all the same
carrot-only learning
responsibility for others
sacrifice now for now
need shared reasoning
social democracy
political correctness
communism
fascism
socialism
egalitarian orthodoxy
anti-hierarchy
government is the answer to all problems
feelings over rationality
welfare statism
wealth redistribution
Marxism
Rousseauianism
Darwinism
“folk”
conservative of status quo
redistribution to special interest groups
guilt
rigid
reject those not team players
fear disharmony
fear fragmentation of group

INTEGRATIONISM

new kinds of more complex, nested hierarchies
self-awareness for the first time
interdisciplinary
do what feels natural = enjoyments
free access to information and materials
necessary and aligned outputs
information-rich
multidimensional
complex interactive system
chaos-driven subsystems
physical-economic-social environments
natural ways of living to focus energies
search for respect of self
celebrate and respect life as it is
understand how everything relates to everything else

Levels of Thinking, continued
Got cut off a little short on last one. Here's the rest.

INTEGRATIONISM

new kinds of more complex, nested hierarchies
self-awareness for the first time
interdisciplinary
do what feels natural = enjoyments
free access to information and materials
necessary and aligned outputs
information-rich
multidimensional
complex interactive system
chaos-driven subsystems
physical-economic-social environments
natural ways of living to focus energies
search for respect of self
celebrate and respect life as it is
understand how everything relates to everything else
flexible adaptation to change
connected, big-picture views
systemic thinking
interactive structures
natural hierarchies, systems, and forms
magnificence of existence valued
spontaneity
functionality
knowledge and competency over rank, power, status
integrate differences into interdependent, natural flows
chaos theory
eco-industrial parks
interdisciplinary thinking
free, but principled
knowledge and competency hierarchies
I, the knowing
no fear of self
recognizes carrots and sticks for being so
unemotional individualism, without isolation
express self, not at others’ expense
consider all information, regardless of source
variability good
no absolute certainty
connects particles
connects subsystems
makes natural connections
connect past-present-future
connect value chains
technical
practical
ecological
economical
action-oriented
logic with feelings
competency over sensitivity
knowledge over status
learn anything from anybody
greater good and individual gain
fear no access to knowledge
fear pointless regimentation

HOLISM

seeing the world as it really is, infinite and holy
spiritual bonds
meaningful work for a healthy life
connect everything to everything else in a holistic manner
whole-Earth networking and dynamics
good living of all entities as integrated system
search for peace
macro-level actions
holistic thinking
global structures
flowing, ecological processes
wholeness of existence
world is single, dynamic organism with a collective mind
self distinct and blended (digital-analog)
ecological connection of everything
energy and information
intuitive
cooperative
Gaia hypothesis
Teilhard de Chardin
Frederick Turner
patterns
Feng shui (power of place)
order in chaos
we, the becoming
no fear of world
Zen-like emotions
sacrifice self to all life
long-range health of all
living systems
fuzzy concepts
power centers blend in balanced relationships
bring order to whole
feelings with data

tough isn't it
A dim mind finds it tough to think and respond clearly, so I am not surprised by your nonsense.

I wasn't asking if you were surprised
I was asking you to explain and back up your generalizations with present-day exAmples. Clearly you dn't.

The end of socialism
"If Marx in fact did not correctly perceive the nature of man, there is no theoretical basis for Marx's socialism."

That has generally been accepted. And that is why there are so few socialist states around today. Cuba is the only one I can think of that remains true to the philosophy. Places like NK, Myanmar, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe are just dictatorships with a rudimentary philosophic base, that rely on coercion and do not distribute goods except to the party cadre. This, of course, has nothing to do with Marxist philosophy. We should distinguish between the two.

But you're way off base when you say "the USA is the most dynamic, fastest growing, successful economy in the world, practicing free-market capitalism". The growth rate of the US economy in recent years has been running about half that of Venezuela, or Argentina. Those places are not purely socialist or capitalist, but are practising a middle way. Venezuela, for instance, owns and operates our 14,000 Citgo gas stations. So you have to admit, they must be doing something right.

The ant heap world
What a nightmare world you live in, RSW. Is this what you see all around you when you go outside every morning? It's sad and terrifying. You seem lonely.

I was wondering why the author chose to pontificate on such an off-the-wall theme as egalitarianism, which is not exactly a fashionable subject. But he was reaching out to you, for whom the word conveys a special horror. Is altruism an equally repugnant notion? I would guess so.

Then go the alternate path, friend. Remain alienated from your fellow man, and join secretly in the war of all against all. In contrast I've chosen to enjoy my neighbors and to think myself no better than them.

Great Philosophy
"Cuba is the only one I can think of that remains true to the philosophy."

Must be a wonderful place since so many are trying to escape.

How many Cubans try to escape to those dynamic economies like Venezula and Argentina?

And how much foreign capital is being invested in high flying Venezula and Argentina?

Complete rubbish
Hunting is not "episodic and kind of fun". Look at just about any Neanderthal skeleton and you will find extensive signs of massive, multiple trauma, mostly from hunting injuries. It was anything but fun, it was painful, brutally hard, providing a marginal source of protein for the energy invested. Its failure is shown by the obliteration of hunter-gatherer cultures whenever they came in conflict with those based on agriculture. The notion that such hunter societies were egalitarian is simply absurd, and belied by virtually every such society existing today, let alone those in history.

Second, as others have pointed out, the human social model was the extended family, not the nuclear family, which had little existence for most of the human population prior to the 19th century. This is backcasting 20th century morality and norms at its worst.

Fact is, Max Borders is talking complete rubbish, and the author of this article calls him on it. Social interaction is not genetic, it's learned behavior, and for most of human history, it has been massively elitist. Even the so-called democratic origins in Athens and other parts of Greece institutionalized social and economic differences to a degree abhorrent to any modern society.

Finally, all too many of the posters here misunderstand the issue. Both liberalism (classical, not modern) and Marxism represent an egalitarian opposition to the human social norm, liberalism through egalitarianism of opportunity and Marxism through egalitarianism of distribution. Both are essentially variations of the same theme; that the work you do is more important that who you were born or what you inherited, and that work should be the basis of your role and voice in society.

A fair question
"And how much foreign capital is being invested in high flying Venezula and Argentina?"

Here's a hint: when you're making money you don't have to borrow it from someone else. You can invest your own profits.

Americans think we're not skating on thin ice by living in a borrowed economy. Both individually and nationally, we are in hock up to our eyeballs. And borrowing more to fund a lavish lifestyle than we ever have in the nation's history. We're borrowing the same dollars we spent yesterday.

Will it work? Maybe.

But is living within your means better? Assuredly.

Our loss of individuality
That would be a nice cast to put on his comments. Of course I don't think we're any shorter on individuals now than we have ever been. The whole notion is only about 500 years old. Before people like Cervantes and Cellini there wasn't much of anyone who was an individual. The only people allowed to be unique were the King and the Pope.

In the 1950's, when I was growing up, everyone worried about being the Organization Man-- the Man in the Grey Flannel Suit. The concern was that we were all "outer-directed"-- in other words we defined ourselves as others saw us. The recommendation was to become "inner-directed".

Of course anyone who was an individual to begin with couldn't be cured even with electroshock therapy. And anyone who was a follower-- a herd person-- a ditto head in modern parlance-- couldn't be an individual if they tried. So to me the point is moot.

We should each celebrate what we are, and be thankful that all of us aren't the same. After all, if we were all alike who would clean out our septic tanks?

Safe Bet
People invest their money in ventures they believe will make a profit.
If the world is not investing in Venezula or Argentina, maybe its because they don't believe they will get their money back or make a profit.
So far, the US has a guaranteed return it its debt.
Would you loan money to Chavez?

Freedom from debt
Your question should be, is Chavez asking anyone to loan him money?

Look, it's well known that the nations of Latin America all got themselves into terrible trouble in the 1980's, when every bank in the first world was loaning them billions for "development". All too soon they found the payments to be onerous, even though they were trying their best to be little capitalists. It broke their backs. Then austerity measures turned the experience into a horrible depression for their citizens, going hungry with their pockets full of worthless money.

Few of them still want the kind of free trade that ensnares nations with development loans-- they've already had the experience. Ask Chavez and I'm sure he'll say "Neither a borrower nor a lender be". He likes making money the old fashioned way. Selling product.

In fact he has no choice. Venezuela is still digging itself out from under a mountain of old public debt. Look it up.

Translate to Politics
Let's hope your sentiments can translate to government policies, or the elimination of them: affirmative action, title 9, etc.
It is equal opportunity, not equal outcome.

Can Chavez talk?
Ask Chavez? Hum, Spot would give a more sensible answer. Hey, Spot, good boy, come here, oldfella!!!

Freman

800 lb gorrilla
Venezula has been pumping oil for a while a presume. What happended to all the money the world loaned them for development? If they developed their economy along free market principles and rule of law, they shold not have had any problem repaying the loans.
Whose fault is it? The banks for lending the money or the leaders who stole the money?
I blame them both and the people got screwed, just like they will under a socialist like Chavez.

What happened to all the money?
Since you've asked the question, you should act like a historian and look up the answer. I'm thinking if I just told you you might not believe me.

Your search engine will be happy to show you the trajectory of events that occurred under Venezuela's capitalist oligarchy, up until the point disgusted voters overwhelmingly voted into power a junior officer and poli sci student with a penchant for political activism. That would be pre-1998.

Then you could go on to examine the economic and fiscal condition of Venezuela in 1999 and compare it to the present. Chavez has not been as successful as people would have liked-- but they always vote him back in office as he's so much better than the rich B's.

You would get a more focused picture of what happened at whose hands.

Need free markets
"Since 1959 Venezuela, once viewed as a showcase of democracy, has been run by political and business elites that are unwilling to make needed changes that go against their own immediate self-interest. Furthermore, in the current political culture, market reforms are viewed with enormous suspicion, and the public yearns for the free-spending days of the 1970s.

Like many other Latin American countries faced with economic crises in recent years, Venezuela can resolve its problems only by introducing market reforms. A crucial component of those reforms is the privatization of the oil monopoly, which has been the lifeblood of the nation's mercantilist state. Other necessary changes include the constitutional recognition of widespread property rights and the elimination of corruption through judicial reform. Making those changes requires a wholesale change in the country's political culture, which may not come about until the crisis becomes more severe. "

http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=1110

Problem with the Essay
The argument looks over-simplified. It is as if the writer is implying that owning large tracts of land and controlling billions of dollars in assets is similar to having an extra fur coat or a better spear.

Speak for Yourself
Fort, speak for yourself, please. We all know that you can't handle the truth, which is that the left would love to bring us all down to the lowest common denominator. Well, all EXCEPT the chosen few who will rule from Mount Olympus. Oops, I mean the elites who will rule from the bastions of liberalism (the courts, universities, Washington, Hollywood, etc.).

-Bob

Growth Rate
You cannot compare the growth rate of the United States with backward, nearly third-world countries. Because they have so much farther to go (they are starting with much smaller economies), the rate is nearly meaningless.

The growth in the US has, for the most part, been pretty consistent, such that the standard of living has increased far beyond what is typical in the world. Much of the rest of the world has a long way to catch up, and probably never will (the large growth rates that you identify are not likely to last, if history is any guide).

-Bob

Investing 101
Do you understand the difference between a loan and an investment? Obviously not, considering your answer. The problem with much of the undeveloped world, besides huge debts, is that they do not foster the type of business relationship that allows investors to reap a profit. Without investors, real growth is very difficult. Debt and capital are two different things. Yes, the the industrial nations have foolishly thought that loans would help the third world when, in reality, only transformations away from socialism toward capitalism, along with property rights, will solve the problem. But corrupt dictators like the loans. They can use the money to live lavishly, and they don't repay when it runs out, their people do.

-Bob

"capitalist oligarchy"
The phrase "capitalist oligarchy" is an oxymoron. There really never was any true capitalism in most of South America. True capitalism requires free markets and property rights. Oligarchies don't recognize such rights; They rig their systems for their own benefit.

The left may claim that the US capitalists are an oligarchy, but they would be wrong. Few of the rich remain so for any length of time; there is a huge turnover on a regular basis. Bill Gates made his own money, and it is likely that his great-grandkids will see little of it.

-Bob

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