The American Diamond in the Rough

[intlink id=”348″ type=”post”]Previously,[/intlink] I’ve tried to explain why I don’t like to propose specific solutions–I hope people will use these ideas to develop their own unique solutions. Then a few days ago I got an unusual spam comment accusing me of spending all of my time “talking about things you can’t do anything about, when you should be telling people what to do.” In a way he was right, I can’t do anything about these problems on my own, as I have said. This comment did motivate me to break my own rules and make a list of recommendations, but I still wound up talking about things that can’t be accomplished here and now. The best they can do is point in a specific direction. In addition, any recommendations that can be put into practice now probably won’t prove their value in my lifetime. Anyway, here is the list.

1.  Communities should be organized into small, independent political units, with local government. I’m not advocating an arbitrary, top-down organization.  This should begin small, with people who [intlink id=”226″ type=”post”]choose to be together[/intlink] and who agree on fundamental principles.
2.  Certain individuals in each community should develop an oral tradition. According to legend, the sages predicted that the invention of writing would lead to the loss of knowledge. They apparently knew what they were talking about. Today, books that challenge the predominant worldview are destroyed or taken out of circulation. Without exposure to competing ideas, our children and grandchildren will be defenseless. We should each work on a program of study, develop new stories of origin, collect meaningful history and current events, and put it all in a form that can be memorized and recited.
3.  We should reexamine the institution of initiation. Initiation is part of a process that separates young boys from the clan and encourages them to identify with the male hierarchy. Initiations may not involve a formal ritual, but the results are the same. We might want to study groups such as DeMolay, and customs such as church ordination.
4.  The basic economic and political unit of patriarchal society is patriarchal marriage, which allows a distant and unrelated hierarchy to influence a couple’s personal decisions, particularly the number of children in each family. In addition it enables the hierarchy to oversee the indoctrination of the next generation. This is important because it provides a steady supply of soldiers, taxpayers and cheap labor. Therefore, women should have complete sovereignty in their personal lives.
5.  Matrilineal succession creates a wide circle of kinship, and was probably an important link in the democratic process. Leaders were elected from a pool of eligible candidates. Patriarchy, on the other hand, creates a vertical system where each man is subjected to the man above him. The rulers, who may have no relation to the clan, acquire their position, rather than inherit it, and they strive to pass their power on to their sons. In this process, each ‘nuclear’ family becomes alienated and isolated.

When I started this list I didn’t intend to write a feminist manifesto; I was looking for customs that would encourage autonomous communities and better political representation. However, it is interesting that such goals work against the major tendencies of patriarchal systems. The following is a description of the political organization of the British Isles after the transition from a kin-based tribal society to an early state organization. It demonstrates the importance to rulers of a political hierarchy, centralized authority and a large tax base.

Throughout the British Isles the prehistoric period saw the rise of warlike heroic kings who ruled over definite territories. This was true of both Argyll and Pictland and was, in part, a result of Roman withdrawal and the end of the formal government and social order. Although the Picts had not been directly influenced by Roman occupation it is likely that Pictish tribes formed alliances against this common enemy and that these alliances broke down once the threat disappeared. After the Roman withdrawal, local aristocrats began to compete for access to wealth and political prestige, which they mastered by access to material resources and the use of violence and personal charisma. Territories became more formal because they marked the extent of the areas in which leaders could protect people and grant them rights to land. At the same time tribal society, which was kin-based, began the transition to an early state organization, which was institutionalized and hierarchical, and where clientship played an important part. Clientship extended the distance over which authority could operate and led to the establishment of new elites whose authority was acquired rather than inherited. Clientship consisted of payment by the clients of food renders, or other tribute, such as labor and military services, in exchange for land, protection and patronage. This chain of relationships included all levels of society. At the top were nobles, clergy and kings, usually men, who were both socially and geographically mobile. Power was exchanged between them through agreed modes of inheritance and/or aggression. The degree of power was determined by the number and type of clients one could support, which depended on the ability to exploit agricultural resources. Territories expanded when the lord of one area accepted the authority of another. Conflict resulted if this was disputed. Conflict was a common occurrence.

However, throughout this period, the individual household remained the primary economic unit. Contemporary Ireland was divided into tuatha, tribes or territories consisting of larger groupings of households ruled by a king who was supported by a specialist staff. These kings of individual tuatha owed allegiance to kings of groups of tuatha, who owed their allegiance to kings of provinces. These were bound to the king of all Ireland.[ref]”Foster, Sally M. Picts, Gaels and Scots: early historic Scotland. Sterling Publishing Co. New York. 2004″[/ref]

The Occupy Wall Street protests have been a reminder that Marxism hasn’t given up its role as the political rival of Capitalism. Unfortunately, Marxism is as patriarchal as any of its competitors. Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that Marxists claimed to represent the worker, even as they plotted to exploit the worker. As the British example illustrates, wealth and power go to those who are able to control the land and the people who work the land. Patriarchy is the organizational system that makes this possible.

At this point, you might be wondering whether we can do anything about these realities.  Obviously, I think we can do something about them or I wouldn’t be talking about them. Ideas make a difference.  Why do you think individuals and organizations work so hard to influence the way we think? It seems to me that if more people were able to see through the lies, maybe they wouldn’t be so willing to go to war, women wouldn’t be trapped in pro-natalist organizations that masquerade as religion, there would be fewer ideological differences between members of the same class, and elections would really mean something.

That said, some debates are more urgent than others. The Great Recession, with the help of OWS activists, has reintroduced Marx’s answer to the depredations of Capitalism; this would be the claim that the Capitalist system is fundamentally flawed and therefore it must give way to Marxism. Of course, publicly they are only saying that they have no interest in getting out the vote, influencing elected officials, or cooperating within the system. They think this kind of participation would only validate a defunct government. We should carefully examine this idea–not so much the question of whether Capitalism is worth saving; in my opinion, it is not. However that doesn’t naturally imply that the entire system must go.

Capitalism does not represent the sum of American life. An interesting perspective is offered by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson in their discussion of American political and economic institutions. They argue that it was America’s inclusive institutions that were responsible for the relative justice and equality accorded to the people. Contrary to what we have been told, these institutions were not the natural outcome of the founders’ belief in liberty and equality. The first British colonies in North America were business propositions and were created for one reason, to make a profit. Therefore, the British would have been happy to enslave both the natives and the colonists if necessary, as the Europeans had done elsewhere. However, the British had to contend with a sparse population and diverse economic opportunity. According to Acemoglu and Robinson, inclusive institutions were created by the rulers as incentives to secure the workers’ cooperation.[ref]”Acemoglu, Daron and James A. Robinson. The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty: Why Nations Fail. Crown Publishers. New York. 2012[/ref]

This might explain why recent appeals to justice and fairness have not resulted in justice or fairness from the administration or the Congress. In this view, the American way of life wasn’t bequeathed by kindly, wise forebears, but by inclusive institutions limiting the avarice of the rulers. If this is true, and if those institutions were to disappear, it would be a great loss. Unfortunately, through determination and patience, many political victories have been reversed.

In the early part of the last century, Americans created antitrust legislation to break up the monopolies. This effort was spearheaded by small farmers, who were directly affected by those monopolies. Is it coincidence that the following decades have witnessed the destruction of that segment of society?

One Comment Add yours

  1. Manish says:

    On the Lafer piece, there is a general tennedcy right now to claim that the Occupy movement will never be associated with a legislative agenda because they have all realized the system is irredeemably corrupt and can’t be reformed through electoral politics and legislation.I don’t buy that, and I believe that as 2012 evolves, we will indeed see a clear and very ambitiously progressive, and even radical, legislative agenda take hold that is shaped and ultimately endorsed by the Occupy movement..The idea that the system is too broken to be fixed electorally is based on the idea that money rules electoral politics, and there is no way to take that money out of electoral politics. But the whole reason money plays a role in electoral politics is that getting elected requires a mass communication effort, and money buys access to the standard means of communication and travel. Can OWS take the money out of politics? They are already succeeding in doing just that. Each day, they succeed further in speaking over and around the gatekeepers of the mass media. It is not to far-fetched to believe that by the summer of 2012, many tens or hundreds of millions of Americans may be getting their information through online access to publications such as the Occupy Oakland Tribune , or through local Occupy chapters that are even now in the process of spreading out from the large cities, to small cities to towns.There is nothing wrong with this country that can’t be fixed by throwing out each and every millionaire member of Congress, and replacing him or her by a right-thinking progressive from the 99%. If we get two vigorously progressive houses of Congress, the transactions tax will just be the smallest of changes on the table. We can get radical transformations of corporate governance and workplace rules, a much more egalitarian income and compensation system, a national full employment program, a public sector banking system, a publicly run health care system and an expanded public sector program for building up and democratically controlling our national infrastructure.

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