"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Social Inequality–Always Has Been, Always Will Be

If God wanted to make us like ants – trillions of identical creatures with antennae who follow orders to the letter, not unique, differently-talented and –qualified higher order beings who don’t follow orders very well (he learned that lesson in the Garden of Eden), he would have.

Instead he created what turned out to be a hodgepodge of races, genotypes, ethnicities, dummies, and Einsteins.  Of course he knew what he was doing, but still, even in his omniscience wasn’t he just a little bit surprised at what Free Will wrought and that the descendants of Adam and Eve turned out so badly?

Be that as it may, and whether God intended this free-for-all or not, we are stuck with it. Animal nature hasn’t changed since the first organisms battled it out for supremacy, and although when God decided that apes had evolved enough as soulless creatures and created Man as a next step, he decided to leave animal nature intact.  The soul, Man’s essential ability to choose right from wrong, and God’s divine guidance would be enough to blunt the primitive passions of aggression, self-interest, expansionism, and territorial imperatives that had for so long characterized lower animals. As hard as this is to imagine, he was wrong.

Man turned out to be no different from apes, mergansers, marmots, and timber rattlers.

One of the most iconic symbols in the natural world that shows how little Man has evolved from the apes is that of head-butting Bighorn sheep:

Life, especially, on some days, seems pretty primitive.  Our children fight over who got more orange juice.  Our colleagues scramble for purchase, design elaborate plots to derail us on our path to the top.  Our boss puts us down to keep her place in the hierarchy secure.  The CFO duns us because we have slacked off and our company is losing ground to the competition.  Our wives, having barely survived the same kind of day, comes home ready to drink rather than cook.

Which brings me to the question of inequality.  Why couldn’t God have created a level playing field, or at least one where most people have a fair chance at survival if not happiness?  What divine perversity created so much inequality and consigned so many millions to an inferior place in the pecking order with little chance of moving up?

If Eve had never been tempted by the Devil to taste the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, we would still be gamboling in Paradise where there would be abundant food for all, plenty of shelter, no bugs, and enough space for eternal life.  She was tempted, however, and since God decided to leave animal nature intact, a dog-eat-dog world, the refuge for our first parents, was the result. 

As everyone from evolutionary biologists to social historians know, God actually created the best of all possible post-Paradise worlds.  Leaving us with this potent, in-built, hardwired will to survive, and the free will to make bad choices of marriage partners, he created an unequal world but one which would build civilizations of which he would be proud. Progress, he knew, was based on competition and the survival of the fittest

Ant colonies, as all of know from Third Grade, are composed of drones, workers, soldiers, and queens; and the social organization of which, as we learned in Sixth Grade, was no different from our own.  And in Tenth Grade we learned that all human civilizations have been structured in the very same way – kings and queens, knights, merchants, and serfs.  The battles between rival ant colonies and the titanic one between Napoleon’s armies and those of the Russians at Borodino in 1812 were no different.

Some civilizations like India took social distinctions to the nth degree.  The number of castes and sub-castes is bewildering.  The Aryans wanted a complaisant, well-ordered society over which to rule, and went a little overboard.  The idea they propagated was this – stay in your assigned place and you won’t be distracted by ambition.  Your mind will be free to focus on spiritual evolution, the only thing that matters. 

In Dostoevsky’s famous encounter between Ivan Karamazov and the risen Christ, he calls Jesus out for having sold Man a bill of goods.  Free will and the promise of eternal salvation is worth more than bread on the table, Christ told the Devil when tempted in the desert, and by so doing consigned Man to misery, penury, and disappointment.  No different than Aryan priests told their faithful back in 1500 BC

The promise of spiritual salvation was all well and good, but not good enough to stop the more primal struggles over land, resources, and power; so inter-caste struggles, violent pitched battles between kingdoms and princely states, and international warfare was common everywhere.

So the current apoplexy over social inequality seems naïve at best and ignorant at worst.  Even a cursory look at history or ant colonies demonstrates an essential, innate, and ineluctable animal nature which is designed to assure survival; a social class system to ensure the regulation of this powerful force; and the creation of great empires, civilizations, and scientific and artistic achievement which result.  In other words, why get so upset over a system which in the first place you can’t change; and second has resulted in the best that life can offer?

The answer is simple, of course.  ‘Progressives’ say that progress does not only mean the celebration of human achievement, but the satisfaction of human wants.  Yet the Bible itself tells us that this is not possible.  Either you live in Paradise where all wants and needs are taken care of but where there is no evolution, no creativity, not greatness resulting from competing principles, talents, and abilities; or you take your licks, grapple your way up Darwin’s ladder, and make something of yourself.  Adam and Eve got booted out of the Garden, so it has to be the latter.

As Levin told his wife Dolly in Anna Karenina, he was not working for the betterment of the peasants or to create a more equal world.  He was out to develop a system where he could make more money; and if the serfs benefitted, so much the better. In other words, individual achievement, ambition, and enterprise are the engines for social progress.  An ant colony would be in disarray and destroyed by its enemies in hours if the drones and worker ants ran the place.

The issue of inequality all boils down to a philosophical difference between those who believe – despite the weight of historical and bio-evolutionary evidence – that Man is perfectible, and that a classless, harmonious, and cooperative society is possible; and those who believe that such ideas are poppycock.  Human society has always been unequal, aggressive, territorial, and acquisitive and in the final accounting we are all better off for it.  Society as a whole benefits from the enterprise, courage, and genius of the best of us. 

What about wars, depredation, and wanton destruction, howl the progressives?  God’s fault, reply the conservatives.  He made us this way, so take advantage of the good parts.

Of course there is a middle ground.  Laissez-faire capitalism has evolved into what George W. Bush called ‘Capitalism with a Human Face’; and although he exaggerated slightly, it is true that the law of the jungle has been replaced by a modest compromise. Social and economic equality will never happen; but if all ships can rise and that prosperity increases overall, then the issues of penury, ignorance, and poor health can be improved, allowing more talented individuals to emerge.

Income and social inequality, then is a red herring, for history has shown it has never been possible or even desirable.  Rising income for all is a valid goal. Competition is enhanced because of a larger pool of able competitors.

The Devil tells Ivan Karamazov that if there were nothing but good in the world, life would be pretty damn boring. “I’m here to spice things up a little.”; and this is what I would call one of the unintended consequences of The Fall.  Shakespeare knew that human nature ruled all, and that history would keep repeating itself because of it; but that there was no accounting for the infinite diversity of expression in his failed but vital human race.  So he created Iago, Goneril, Regan, Lady Macbeth, Richard III alongside of Lear, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet.  The villains among us spice things up.

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