The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Free and Prosperous Societies Occur Only When the Basis of Power Is the People

Any apparent exception will end quickly, and is usually a legacy from a time when the people were needed.

Franchise tracks the dominant military arm pretty close to exactly. The Swiss are free because of their fights in Pike formations.  Most of Dark Ages and Medieval Europe’s were not free, because the dominant military arm was cavalry. As the dominant military arm moves to infantry, the franchise and freedom expand.

When a society becomes militarily mass-mobilized, all the men get the vote. When a society is militarily mass-mobilized and it’s industrialized, all the women get the vote because they are needed to run the industry while the men are away fighting.

Militarily mass-mobilized societies require that the citizens be healthy enough to fight. In WWI, the British were aghast at the number of men who were ineligible for the draft because their health was too weak, or they were too short, and so on. They did something about it.

Agricultural societies tend towards the patriarchal, because much of the work requires men’s heavy muscles. Horticultural societies, where women can do the work, tend towards egalitarianism. Likewise, hunter-gatherer societies in climes where gathering provides most of the food, tend towards egalitarianism; the exception here is when the most valued food is gathered by the men. In traditional Eskimo society, for instance, where the men provided essentially all the meat and the women processed it, was not egalitarian.

Humans have three sources of power: military, productive, and (in modern societies) consumptive. Consumers are not useless in our society, but consumption is still the weakest leg of the tripod. The rich are happy to consume more, after all.

The conditions for widespread prosperity have faded. We no longer have mass-mobilized armies, but professional standing armies, and we are moving towards smaller armies with more robots, both autonomous and remote-guided.

Technological progress has made manufacturing far more efficient, and it requires far less people. The rest of the economy, unless it is required for manufacturing, now matters far less. Most service work is not highly valued and does not translate into military power, and extraction labor is a minor part of most economies.

The final source of power for ordinary individuals is simply the threat they pose to elites. As we move away from the mass-mobilized “just need a rifle” military, this fades as well. To the extent it still exists, it is being managed by the time-honored “oppression” method, with new technology allowing for a Panopticon State which would have made Orwell pine for the weak and limited surveillance of Big Brother.

This is not to say the commoners are entirely powerless. The full power of denial of area techniques shown in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere hasn’t been properly appreciated.  These strategies would have worked just fine in the First World. Drones are cheap, and, in principle, could be manufactured by ordinary technicians. These aren’t F-16’s; you can make them in your garage.

Still, mass mobilization warfare is no longer the model, factories are not begging for more workers, there exists no longer any large expanses of land needing to be conquered in the name of colonialism, administered, or farmed.

As for money, banks make it, not people. We may move to a world where we fully appreciate that money is made out of thin air and reclaim control of money for the public, but so far the movement has been in the other direction–printing more and more of it for rich people.

At this point, most people are superfluous. As such there is no reason for elites to allow them freedom, power, or prosperity.

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Why Inequality Is Intrinsically Bad


On Meditation


  1. brian

    You forgot about the creative class. The creation of Art, Beauty, Entertainment – and the New Idea. Creativity comes from the masses living different experiences and banging against each other. The elites get trapped in a bubble – tired of their same old ideas. They look for the spice of new things – new `tech creations` and new `reality tv stars` to follow. This is another way how the masses serve the elites which you did not mention.

  2. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    There would be one reason for the elites to be kind to the masses–but alas, most of the elites don’t really believe in afterlife and judgement, whatever lip service they may pay to the concepts.

  3. Bruce Wilder

    I have long thought that a plausible nightmare scenario is a graduate student in the 11th year of his Ph.D. program, with the knowledge, skills and lab to design a lethal flu, deciding that the solution to peak everything cum climate change is in his hands.

    Drones are emblematic of how tech is breaking the social assumptions on which institutions have been assembled. The primary safety feature of an aircraft is putting the pilot on board. All the secondary ones are embedding the manufacture and operation in vast hierarchies.

    We really are screwed if we lose both constraints on chaos.

  4. subgenius

    Robots, drones, electronics…

    …are useless once the opposition starts getting technical. The attack surface on any technological weapon etc is so wide as to be essentially undefendable.

    And you don’t need to take control, just disrupt it.

    Never mind the power supply issues.

  5. Richard McGee

    Take the case of a hypothetical perfectly efficient technological manufacturing process. Even an economy that requires zero workers still requires consumers. The rich cannot maintain an economy by selling to each other, simply because the numbers are vanishingly small. Profits in a debt-money based economy require large numbers of transactions. Where are these numbers going to come from?

  6. “Most people are superfluous”.
    Somehow this still doesn’t discourage so many from still having children.
    People are still reproducing as much as they always have. And a lot of these offspring are not among the most exemplary in the overview of the human race in general.

  7. markfromireland

    @ brian January 5, 2016

    Historically the “creative class” as you put it were mostly servants or skilled craftsmen. Think of the status of a J S Bach or Franz Josef Haydn for music or how Michelangelo was treated by the Popes or how pretty much any painter you care to think of was treated. The idea that such people were anything other than servants – admittedly somewhat special servants, or as outsiders with a workshop dependent upon patronage, is historically fairly new. As we move away from romanticism and its notions about “the artist” it could well be that we return to the status quo ante.

    Not sure what you mean by this:

    Creativity comes from the masses living different experiences and banging against each other.

    Are you saying there’s such a thing as mass creativity? Or have I misunderstood you? Creativity is surely an individual characteristic rather than a group one. You can train people as the numerous “school of” creations attest but original inspiration is, I submit, individual.


  8. brian

    I meant that creativity and inspiration can come from the most unlikely places. The more different ideas that come into contact with each other, by people sharing them, the more likely a new idea will be thought of. That is the theory anyways. The more people there are (and the people are receptive to sharing and creating new ideas) the more likely a new idea will be sparked. Perhaps like a network effect.

  9. dfds

    People are still reproducing as much as they always have.

    I can’t think of any angle from which this statement isn’t flat-out wrong.

  10. Bruce Wilder

    mfi: Creativity is surely an individual characteristic rather than a group one.

    It seems a trifle self-delusional to think so. Creativity is embedded in a series of dialectics, that tie the individual to various social groups. Every art must find its audience and its appreciative critics and its patrons, not to mention its forms for performance and display. There’s the master and apprentice and guild. If the master of any art breaks the rules to creative purpose, there must be rules to break.

  11. Hegesias

    @Tal Hartsfeld

    People are still reproducing as much as they always have.

    This is Myth 5 in Nature’s recent article: “The science myths that will not die”

  12. Erin Gannon

    Re: The Rich and how they get bored with their bubble, this is why they embraced Mick Jagger in the 70s and it’s why they embrace people like Anthony Bourdain now. They love it when “creative” people are disdainful of them. Definitely one way to float through the coming Neo-Feudalism is to try to ingratiate oneself to the elites, a la Dorothy Parker, who drank her way through the depression insulting people at parties on Long Island.

    Too bad I don’t have an entree to that crowd.

  13. Belize is also such a little nation, under 350,000 individuals in the
    entire country, that we discovered our own selves continually running into the same people, albeit vacationers.

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