So, I was watching a thing on income inequality today, and the strangest thought hit me:
Why are we so in love with Feudalism?
(Okay, if you don’t know what that term means, stop reading and go look it up right now. I’ll wait…
…All read up? Good. We can continue.)
At first blush, I think most people would disagree with the idea that we’re in love with feudalism at all, much less so in love with it. But, most people consider themselves reasonable and modern and rather cosmopolitan about the issue. “We have so obviously evolved beyond the concept, as a culture, frankly I don’t even think about it any more. Harrumph.”
1) Yes, I realize you don’t think about it any more. Most people don’t.
2) You’re totally wrong about the evolving beyond it thing.
Allow me to illustrate.
The basic concept of feudalism is one, (or more), powerful person(s), under whom the vast majority of others are subordinated. That one person has the power, and the control. The rest of the people don’t. That one person is the authority, to whom everyone defers.
We like to think that, in our modern democratic republic, we are naturally beyond such institutions. Maybe, in the distant past, but that was hundreds of years ago, right?
Look at the structures to which we defer in (for the purposes of this discussion), our culture:
Government: even though we possess the technology and the free time to have a direct democracy, we still operate under a representative democracy system. A system that, as the population increases, and becomes increasingly isolated, eventually begins to fail to actually represent the people it claims to be made of, by, and for. Too many citizens and not enough representatives. And if we had enough, it would quickly become unwieldy and choke in it’s own poisons. This is something you may have been noticing in recent years. There is certainly a cultural feeling that our government no longer adequately represents the citizenry.
Religion: All religions, the ones worth calling religions at least, have a hierarchy, and usually some leader, to whom the supplicants defer. Someone or some ones at the top, making the decisions and handing down edicts.
Business: We seem to think that it is best for a very unrepresentative few to control the majority of the wealth. (I say we seem to think that it is best because doing nothing about it, at the very least, is tacitly agreeing with it. Also, doing nothing about it suggests that we can’t think of a better way.)
In each of these, rather major cases, intelligent – at least partially educated – human adults defer and are generally subservient to people who have power. Some of them we give power to. Some maneuver into it, (by hook or by crook). And some are born into power.
Ask yourself this question: Are you more likely to welcome or follow advice if it is given to you by someone who is possessed of status, regardless of what that status is or how it was achieved?
The studies into human psychology and behavior seem to suggest we do.
It is possible, and I have no evidence for this, that it is a hold over from our primitive days as a species; perhaps from long before that. In small, social groups, often one person is deferred to in decisions that affect the whole group.
If that is the case, I’m wondering why we haven’t socially and culturally conditioned that annoying tendency towards deference out of ourselves yet?
Let’s return to the question: Why are we so in love with Feudalism?
Do we want to be protected? Do we want to abnegate responsibility? Are we, generally, just too stupid and inept to make these large decisions as a group of interrelated individuals?
I’m not sure.
Some say we’re lazy. Some, stupid. Some will claim we’re frightened, and some will say that it’s in our genes and is a facet of the human experience that we can’t modify or escape.
(Okay, I know, no one – outside of a freshman essay – will actually say the last one there, but you get the gist.)
At this point, you may be asking how I got this particular burr stuck in my craw.
Fair point, well made.
I was thinking about income inequality, and the system that encourages it.
For the vast majority of human history, power and wealth have accumulated in the few. I don’t know why this is, only that it seems to be a fact that isn’t particularly in dispute. I think we now notice the difference, the imbalance, because of The New Deal.
Okay, for something like 30 years following the inception of The New Deal, the middle class in the country grew. Wages went up. Working conditions got better. The standard of living for a large portion of the citizens of the United States increased. And that, if you take a wide angle view of history, was an aberration. An anomaly.
(The closest example from history is the various mercantile classes, and since they became something of a new aristocracy in and of themselves, they don’t really map on to the idea of the middle class as it arose in the US post WW2.)
For the vast majority of human history, those who could take power by force, or by guile, did. Once they had it, whether it be land or gold or weapons or soldiers, or crops, it became easier to accumulate more because, well, they must have been doing something right to get to where they got? Right?
(From this you can see a whole garden of dismal flowers spring: the divine right of kings, the great chain of being, social darwinism, the elect, et cetera…).
But, does income inequality equate to feudalism?
Yeah, I kind of think it does, at least to the degree we have been experiencing it.
Since the 1970s, wages for the majority of American workers have stagnated or gone down, and the richest among us have gotten richer, to an obscene degree. We have become more educated and more skilled, as a populace, and yet our share of the wealth has been steadily shrinking. We may have more now than previous generations (that’s debatable) but our total percentage oft he wealth has been steadily withering.
As an aside, do you know what we are told? How we are told to combat this trend? Yeah, thought you did. The answer is always the same: get more education, that way you can get better paying jobs.
The problem with education as a cure for income inequality is that it keeps the majority of the people struggling for position on the middle rungs of a ladder that is continuously losing rungs. It simply reinforces the system as it exists and de-proportions itself. If the trend in income inequality continues, those skilled, educated jobs will still pay less, and less, and less, until one day we will be told that we would have been fine if we had only had the good sense to be born rich.
(Blaming the poor and the middle class for their place in a rigged system is another aneurysm inducing anger management issue for me, but I’ll leave that for another post. This one’s getting long and my train of thought has derailed, like, three times already.)
Where was I? Oh Yeah.
Say we all get educated, and skilled, and get better jobs. What will that matter if our access to and control over wealth becomes vanishingly thin?
Also, at some point in time, we will reach the limit of what a human being can learn, keep track of , and be skilled in.
What do we do then?
It is not that I am against Capitalism. I think, properly tended, Capitalism produces the best effects in terms of skill, innovation, and advancement. I think it is just that we have left the vine of Capitalism to grow un-minded and now we are beginning feel the squeeze as it chokes out the rest of the garden.
(Also note, I’m not a proponent of Communism. Communism and socialism – different animals by the way – only really work on a scale of small – 150 people or less – tribes. Too much bigger and it loses its egalitarianism. Once that is lost, it grows out of control as badly, if not worse than Capitalism. Have I beaten this particular metaphor to death yet? Good.)
So, what does all of this have to do with Feudalism?
Think about your life. As time moves forward, your share – unless you are very lucky – of the pie gets smaller and smaller. As the population grows, your vote means less and less; if it means anything now.
As power, wealth, land, the media, the government is consolidated into fewer and fewer hands, where do you stand in all of it?
What power do you have?
What power can you get?
As your wealth/ income dwindle so too do your choices; what options are available to you. More and more you become a slave to corporations, to debt, to jobs you are afraid to give up, to religions you are afraid to rebuke, and to a government you’re afraid doesn’t represent you anymore.
A slave. A serf.
So, why are we so in love with feudalism?
Because if we didn’t think this was the best way we would do something to change it, right?