To a great extent, it seems that human nature has a fatal flaw which undermines every civilization we build. It does, but not the one we think.
The usual conservative theory goes, humans labor for generations to create prosperity, to invent technologies that make our lives easier, to gain a measure of safety for ourselves. The first generation to reap the benefit of all this effort grows up spoiled, thinks it can do whatever it wants, and destroys all that the last several generations have built.
I don’t think that’s how it works.
As civilization advances, it can support more parasites. There is no other way to put it. There was no enormous government bureaucracy in the medieval era, because the farms and industries couldn’t have supported one. Universities used to be populated solely by the sons of the aristocracy, because no one else could afford to have grown sons be idle for that long; everyone else needed their sons to be working and contributing. It required a lot of prosperity for a majority of people to send both sons and daughters for years of indoctrination. Indeed, a century ago, many children only went to school for a couple of years, enough to learn reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, before returning to work in a farm or factory. It is not a higher level of enlightenment which has made it possible for the government to force all children to spend their entire lives listening to lectures. Doubtless governments of previous generations would have enjoyed the opportunity for such indoctrination, but very few parents could afford to support children who weren’t working at all for that many years. Compulsory education is a modern luxury: “While there were compulsory school laws starting in 1852, they were rarely enforced until the late 19th century in cities and generally were not enforced at a certain age until the majority of children were attending voluntarily.”
A comment I made a few weeks ago:
Harsh working conditions were a fact of life from time immemorial. The sad fact is that without advanced technology, there was no other way for civilization to progress. Monumental architecture, mining, trade with other lands (in ships powered by galley slaves), enough agriculture to support a more leisured class that can create works of art or scientific advances – these things require a lot of labor, and for most of history that labor had to be more or less forced.
The Industrial Revolution changed this, but not immediately. At first, labor conditions remained as they always had been: horrible. But as the technology continued to advance, working conditions improved because human muscles were no longer the only form of power and because society in general became wealthier. Progressives love to dwell on the unpleasant conditions in many factories, but the fact is that it still increased the standard of living and the population.
In a nutshell, working conditions improved, not as the result of any unions or political maneuverings, but because more advanced technology and the attendant wealth made it possible for them to improve. Suppose someone had petitioned a king, centuries ago, to pass laws limiting the shifts which galley slaves had to work, or improving the lot of the serfs who did the farming. Little improvement would have been made, because there was no way for society to survive without working these people half to death.
In one of my posts on this blog, I mentioned an article in which some conceited journalist declared that without the noble crusades of earlier journalists, children would still be sweeping out chimneys – very unpleasant and sometimes dangerous work which was assigned to children because they were small enough to fit in the chimneys. I wish I could have asked this journalist, “Who cleans out your chimney?” He probably doesn’t even have one. Why? Because smart men invented the electric stove and central heating. Journalists posturing heroically, parading their compassion for the unfortunate, had nothing to do with it.
Basically, improved technology made improved working conditions affordable. It also created enough of a monetary surplus to support a parasite class, the unions, which extort money from the actual workers and entrepreneurs in return for generating a great deal of publicity in which they claim the credit for these benefits of technology.
One especially glaring example of labor unions claiming credit for the achievements of others is a bumper sticker I see occasionally: “The Labor Movement: The folks who brought you the weekend.” The “weekend” was brought to the world by the Jews, with our commandment to rest on one day out of seven. If you read the Torah, you will see that not only can we not work, we also are not permitted to make our gentile servants or even our animals work. (My cat was deeply relieved to learn that he would never have to work on Saturday. However, since cats can’t read calendars, he rests every day, just to be on the safe side.) This was not a normal part of life before that; the Greeks and Romans both insisted that the Jews would never amount to anything because we idled a seventh of our lives away. Until the last century, Christians took the day of rest very seriously as well. Even medieval serfs and antebellum slaves had one day off every week. The “weekend” – the idea that everyone deserves two days to himself for every five on which he contributes to society – is just an extension of the original idea of the Sabbath. And the doubling of the weekly days of rest might actually have come about because Jewish immigrants to America wanted to be able to not work on our Sabbath, rather than on that of the gentiles.
The best references I know for this are:
Hugh Cunningham, “The Employment and Unemployment of Children in England c.1680-1851.” Past and Present. Feb., 1990
Murray Rothbard, Down With Primitivism: A Thorough Critique of Polanyi Ludwig Von Mises Institute, reprint of June 1961 article
DeGregori, Thomas R., “Child Labor or Child Prostitution?” Cato Institute
Ayn Rand’s The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution
Months ago I quoted The Revolt Against Civilization by Lothrop Stoddard.
And this answer is that, in the last analysis, civilization always depends upon the qualities of the people who are the bearers of it. All these vast accumulations of instruments and ideas, massed and welded into marvelous structures rising harmoniously in glittering majesty, rest upon living foundations — upon the men and women who create and sustain them. So long as those men and women are able to support it, the structure rises, broad-based and serene; but let the living foundations prove unequal to the task, and the mightiest civilization sags, cracks, and at last crashes down into chaotic ruin.
Civilization thus depends absolutely upon the quality of its human supporters.
This fact is that, while hereditary qualities are implanted in the individual with no action on his part, social acquirements are taken over only at the cost of distinct effort. How great this effort may become is easily seen by the long years of strenuous mental labor required in modern youth to assimilate the knowledge already gained by adults. That old saying, “There is no royal road to learning,” illustrates the hard fact that each successive generation must tread the same thorny path if the acquirements of the past are to be retained. Of course, it is obvious that the more acquirements increase, the longer and steeper the path must be. And this raises the query: May there not come a point where the youthful traveller will be unable to scale the height — where the effort required will be beyond his powers?
Well, this is precisely what has happened numberless times in the past. It is happening to multitudes of individuals about us every day.
Now, among our human categories we have observed that progress is primarily due to the superiors. It is they who found and further civilizations. As for the intermediate mass, it accepts the achievements of its creative pioneers. Its attitude is receptive. This receptivity is due to the fact that most of the intermediate grades are near enough to the superiors to understand and assimilate what the superiors have initiated.
But what about the inferiors? Hitherto we have not analyzed their attitude. We have seen that they are incapable of either creating of furthering civilization, and are thus a negative hindrance to progress. But the inferiors are not mere negative factors in civilized life; they are also positive — in an inverse, destructive sense. The inferior elements are, instinctively or consciously, the enemies of civilization. And they are its enemies, not by chance, but because they are more or less uncivilizable.
The word inferior has, however, been so often employed as a synonym for degenerate that it tends to produce confusion of thought, and to avoid this I have coined a term which seems to describe collectively all those kinds of persons whom I have just discussed. This term is The Under-Man – the man who measures under the standards of capacity and adaptability imposed by the social order in which he lives. And this term I shall henceforth employ.
Now how does the Under-Man look at civilization? This civilization offers him few benefits and fewer hopes. It usually affords him little beyond a meagre subsistence. And, sooner or later, he instinctively senses that he is a failure; that civilization’s prizes are not for him. But this civilization, which withholds benefits, does not hesitate to impose burdens. We have previously stated that civilization’s heaviest burdens are borne by the superior. Absolutely, this is true; relatively the Under-Man’s intrinsically lighter burdens feel heavier because of his innate incapacity. The very discipline of the social order oppresses the Under-Man; it thwarts and chastises him at every turn. To wild natures society is a torment, while the congenital caveman, placed in civilization, is always in trouble and usually in jail.
Such is the Under-Man’s unhappy lot. Now, what is his attitude toward that civilization from which he has so little to hope? What but instinctive opposition and discontent? These feelings, of course, vary all the way from dull, unreasoning dislike to flaming hatred and rebellion. But, in the last analysis, they are directed not merely against imperfections in the social order, but against the social order itself. This is a point which is rarely mentioned, and still more rarely understood. Yet it is the meat of the whole matter. We must realize clearly that the basic attitude of the Under-Man is an instinctive and natural revolt against civilization. The reform of abuses may diminish the intensity of social discontent.
Lastly, there is the “misguided superior.” He is a strange phenomenon! Placed by nature in the van of civilization, he goes over to its enemies. This seems inexplicable. Yet it can be explained. As the Under-Man revolts because civilization is so far ahead of him, so the misguided superior revolts because it is so far behind. Exasperated by its slow progress, shocked at its faults, and erroneously ascribing to mankind in general his own lofty impulses, the misguided superior dreams short cuts to the millennium and joins the forces of social revolt, not realizing that their ends are profoundly different even though their methods may be somewhat the same. The misguided superior is probably the most pathetic figure in human history. Flattered by designing scoundrels, used to sanctify sinister schemes, and pushed forward as a figurehead during the early stages of revolutionary agitation, the triumph of the revolution brings him to a tragic end. Horrified at sight of barbarism’s unmasked face, he tries to stay its destructive course. In vain! The Under-Man turns upon his former champion with a snarl and tramples him into the mud.
The people who are inclined to be parasites get born all the time. In less prosperous eras, they reluctantly do the minimum of work they could get away with, or be petty criminals or beggars, or simply die out. But when society is prosperous enough to support them, they increase and prove that they can be very creative in one area at least: that of thinking up things that they can compell the productive to pay them to do.
The problem is not so much in their leeching. That is annoying, but with advanced technology, we can provide for them. Indeed, usually all we ask to is to be left in peace to do so.
No, the problem is in their envy. The problem is not that they steal from us, but that they destroy us. A wise parasite does not murder its host, but that is precisely what they are doing. Not satisfied with stealing the fruits of our labor, they also demand the license to destroy us. They hamper us so much with excessive regulation that soon there is little left to loot. They steal so much of our money to support shiftless aliens that we cannot afford to support children of our own. They strive to deprive us of innocent pleasures. They destroy our reputations with spurious charges of “racism”. Every one of our children is turned over, at gunpoint if necessary, to the vilest members of our society for the express purpose of having their minds destroyed. Natural parasites have no trouble in brainwashing camp. Those who can be trained to be such similarly thrive. But those who have too much innate decency as well as too much ability to be made useless are trapped in the merciless clutches of harridans driven by hatred of their betters, with an unparalleled opportunity to avenge themselves on their superiors before those superiors are able to defend themselves.
It is not that prosperous advanced civilizations give otherwise decent people the leeway to turn to destructive self-indulgence. We are as conscientious as we have ever been. It is that it supports enough of the evil that they can propagate themselves and do on a grand scale what in most eras they can only do on a trivial level.
I have no effective solution to propose.