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Life Arts    H4'ed 2/24/19

Daily Inspiration — The Story of Man

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Once upon a time, there were no norms, no social organization, no system of rewards and punishments to keep people doing the right things and prevent them doing the wrong things.

How did that work out? Was it red in tooth and claw, nasty, brutish, and short? Or was it heaven on earth?

Garden of Earthyl Delights by Heironymus Bosch
Garden of Earthyl Delights by Heironymus Bosch
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I don't know. It was so long ago I haven't been able to find anybody who remembers.

Because, long ago, it came to pass that shamans and tribal leaders and philosopher kings put forward the idea that people were inherently uncaring, selfish and dishonest. What we need is social norms, organization, and a system of rewards and punishments to keep people doing the right thing.

How did that work out? Did people behave well toward one another?

I do know the answer to that one. The rules all sounded reasonable enough, indeed beautiful. People were to be rewarded for acts of love and caring and honesty, punished for doing things that benefited only themselves at others' expense, or for spreading false rumors. But in practice, it was a handful of the most selfish and dishonest people who got into the positions of greatest power, where the philosopher-kings were supposed to be. It was they who enforced the rules and the result was disastrous. Cynicism abounded. People would do what they could get away with. And whatever there was of the milk of human kindness evaporated as they behaved the way they were expected to behave-selfishly and violently.

I'm understating the disaster. Wherever people organized, whether under the banner of "capitalism" or "socialism" or "Christianity" or even "anarcho-syndicalism", autocracy soon evolved and took over. Unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity were assimilated into everyday human behaviors, along with systems to hide these ugly behaviors from public view. How do you explain Hiroshima to a child?

So, did they abandon the experiment in short order?

Curiously, no. The system generated a great deal of novelty. Projects were possible with cooperation on a grand scale that could never have been accomplished when people were more independent. There were pyramids made of ten-ton stones piled 500 feet tall, and there were computers that could fit in the palm of your hand that could talk to anyone in the world. A case was made that these collective accomplishments were worth more than the autonomy and sense of OK-ness that people gave up for their participation in the grand design.

Is it possible to have both?

We're the generation that gets to find out.

- JJM

 

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Josh Mitteldorf, a senior editor at OpEdNews, blogs on aging at http://JoshMitteldorf.ScienceBlog.com. Read how to stay young at http://AgingAdvice.org.
Educated to be an astrophysicist, he has branched out from there to mathematical (more...)
 

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