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

Simple Ethics For Groups And Individuals

The simplest thing we require in the social world, after food, water and shelter, is safety. Without safety, everything else is precarious and to live in constant fear destroys people’s psyches and health.

The basic rules required for a safe group are as follows.

First: each individual must not prey on others. Under no circumstances must they hurt another person or take from them just because they are weak and they can.

Second: anyone who does prey on others must be removed from the group. This may mean ostracism; it may mean confinement; or it may mean death.

Anyone who will prey on someone else who is weak, just because they are weak is a threat to you. One day you will be weaker than them, and if you have something they want they will take it. That could mean theft, violence or rape.

Whenever you encounter a predator or abuser, they are someone you cannot and should not trust. They have already said what they are, the only question is who they will do it to.

There are some complexities to this, mostly to do with “property” and “accumulation.” In a good society, the only time anyone would go hungry or without shelter is if there wasn’t enough, and only in cases where there was not enough would those who can “work” be prioritized. (Working means creating that which people need. Wall street jobs are almost all predator jobs.) In a vast surplus world like our current world, there is no reason for everyone not to fed, have a home and medical care.

People who have way more than they need while others don’t have enough are predators: abusers who prey on the weak. We have built up entire ideologies about why this OK, the most recent of which is modern capitalism.

Basically, you can’t, ever, tolerate predators or predation. Predation includes every job which preys on other people: health insurance in the US; most pharma jobs (except creating the drugs, and even many of those, since they create palliatives rather than cures in most cases), most financial jobs, almost all lobbying, the vast majority of the military-industrial complex and almost all “intellegence” agency jobs.

It is less important that everyone work, than that jobs be positive sum: creating more than they destroy, which includes not destroying the environment. It is better that a million people are supported, doing nothing, than that Jamie Dimon has a job.

The worst predators in most societies are the very rich and politicians. They kill and impoverish the most people with their actions and inactions, and they work for other predators.


First: each individual must not prey on others. Under no circumstances must they hurt another person or take from them just because they are weak and they can.

Second: anyone who does prey on others must be removed from the group. This may mean ostracism; it may mean confinement; or it may mean death.

These rules and guidelines may seem to be about ethics, but they are also the only way to create good prosperous societies and groups which last, which aren’t “suckers” (no violence ever) and which last. Any society or group which tolerates predators is eventually taken over by them, and any “prosperity” built in such ways is built on blood, bones and misery, and will eventually be lost.

Anyone who preys on others, will prey on you if they decide they can get away with it and your misery or death will benefit them.



Another Stock Up Moment


The US. Europe, China And the New Poorer Western World


  1. sbt42

    There’s a missing word, and it’s a complete and total cliff-hanger… “We have built up entire ideologies about why this OK, the most recent of which is ___ ”

    I presume you mean to include something like, “neoliberalism,” but I just wanted to be sure of what you intended there.

  2. Thank you, Ian. In 1942 FDR proposed a maximum wage of US$25,000 after taxes; That’s the equivalent of US$400,000 today. A maximum wage is the simplest mechanism for keeping the most pernicious predators at bay. It does, however, require that a community have defensible financial borders (autarky). It also entails close governmental supervision of bank accounts. The probability of achieving this in the US (or its satellites) are nil under the current constitution which cedes all final power to the oligarchic Senate and Supreme Court. Perhaps Chile has a current shot at implementing a maximum wage, but only if China and/or Russia would support the attempt. I have my doubts about that.

  3. anon y'mouse

    “People who have way more than they need while others don’t have enough are predators: abusers who prey on the weak. We have built up entire ideologies about why this OK, the most recent of which is_____________________[?]”

    i am assuming that something on free-market capitalism, a la Adam Smith goes here.

    just FYI

  4. Ché Pasa


    I was involved a bit in intentional community building during Occupy, and I learned to my chagrin that it was nigh impossible under the circumstances despite the best of intentions.

    It only takes one predator or antagonist to upend the whole project, and encampments I was part of or visited there were dozens. No, it didn’t work, and realistically it couldn’t.

    What happened though was perhaps surprising. Many of those who witnessed the disintegration of the encampments — which took place well before the coordinated attacks by police — saw how to create and keep future intentional communities together, and quite a few have come into being and survived since those days.

    Not to put too rosy a gloss on it, many have not survived, but participants have continued on with the communitarian ideals that have inspired so many to do better and live better — as I put it, “living lightly on the land.”

    This is not a pseudo-Darwinian vision of all against all, ever red in tooth and claw.

    But that vision is what so many of us are conditioned to believe is the inevitable and only end result of collapse.

    It doesn’t have to be that way, but our overlords seem so intent on making it that way. Now they’re so dependent on technology, you’d think some Clever Dick could figure out a way to pull the plug on them, eh? 😉

  5. Bazarov

    The problem with this is that it’s self-defeating.

    Let’s say you have a group of weak people, and they find that they’re being abused in some way by another faction. They’re weak, so they can’t really do much about it themselves (or else they wouldn’t be weak). So who do they turn to? Well, they turn to assertive people willing to extirpate their enemies.

    Which leaves them under the control of this assertive group. The instincts or tendencies of personality that lead to “predation” are really just the instincts and tendencies of assertive types. One of the hallmarks of such types is paranoia–they look for dangers and, being assertive, suppress them.

    Once they’ve been enlisted on behalf of the weak to protect them and once they’ve been successful in extirpating the threatening element, the strong will then look inward. First, the strong will grow suspicious of one another, necessitating that the “weak” who’re caught up in the division choose sides.

    This creates a dynamic wherein the two strong factions carefully police the weak under their “protection,” lest they defect to the other side. Many of the weak will be made examples of via humiliating abuse or will fall victim to the natural expression of paranoia in the assertive and strong.

    Remember, this paranoia–though it can get out of control and is often misdirected–serves the strong well. It allows them to identify and destroy enemies. Yes, there are many “false positives” (see Stalin) but there are also many real positives–as in real threats to their authority that the paranoia helps them remove before these threats strengthen enough to challenge them openly.

    The best way forward for the weak is to therefore support a policy that maintains at the center of the state a class of strong people who’re unified and who feel secure. By helping to maintain unity, the weak prevent divisions among the strong which’ll make their lives much worse. By maintaining security, the weak promote a political atmosphere hostile to paranoia.

    The weak, thus seen to support the strong core they cannot do without, will hopefully succeed in cultivating favor. In robust, stable societies, the ruling classes often times feel genuine paternal fondness for those under their yoke.

    The reduced suspicion and increased security allows the strong to recruit those among the weak who have potential to become strong. This serves as a security feedback loop: those with great potential, rather than founding a new “strong” camp among the weak that divides the state, are siphoned off and become part of the unified core.

    As paranoia is reduced, the weak open up conduits to this governing core. Communication increases. The weak are permitted a role in governing their own affairs. Their interests are attended to in some limited fashion.

    Though such a condition as I outline above can continue on in relative stability for a long time, like all equilibriums they eventually break down. The center cannot hold forever.

    Sometimes the equilibrium breaks down because the core, being so secure, loses its strength. It’s unable to see and address threats like it used to. The core finds that it’s actually weaker than the people it rules over. Soon, it must rely on elements in the periphery to maintain its authority, and those elements eventually move to the center and take power for themselves.

    Thus begins the cycle anew.

  6. anon y'mouse

    Che Pasa said:

    “This is not a pseudo-Darwinian vision of all against all, ever red in tooth and claw.”

    the only reason that will come to be is because our society, the West, believes that it is inevitable. therefore it will adhere to a course of action making this a self-fulfilling prophecy. in fact, that is exactly what they think human beings are, absent “free market ‘democratic’ liberal enlightenment”.

  7. Ian Welsh

    Not everyone who is strong is a predator and many people who are weak are only not predators because they are weak. When they find someone weaker, or become strong, they are revealed as predators.

    You run a system like this constantly, so that no groups of predators form. If somehow they do, you go to war.

    Most “strong” people are strong because of position, more accurately they are powerful, not strong.

    The most important principle of running decent societies is probably to make sure no one gets too powerful, and to keep the rich poor (since money is power.)

  8. StewartM

    Bazarov, is this a Neo-Nietzchean argument of sorts?

    The problem with it I see is the same as with Nietzsche: “strong” and “weak” are not nouns, but adjectives, and address a temporary condition at that. All people start out life weak and end it weak, in terms of power and independence; and only a few become ‘strong’ in the middle. More often than not, them being in a position of power has nothing to do with their intrinsic capabilities (a lot of idiots are in charge of institutions). While I don’t deny that there are capable people who rise from modest means to become leaders, both good and bad, by their own talents, they are the minority.

    What Ian response reminds of me is the way that hunter-gatherers address potential sociopaths: by vigorously defending the notion of equality. As Richard Lee reported with the !Kung San, anyone who pretended to be ‘better’ than the rest in any way or who tried to boss others around got put in his place. However, in the worst cases, the sociopath for whom ‘all of life is about me’ eventually wore out his or her welcome in all the campsites they joined, and ended up isolated (and isolated, you’re dead). Sometimes then the men folk would form a posse to hunt them down and kill them.

  9. Willy

    I once advocated for the removal of all professionally diagnosed psychopaths from society. I’d witnessed the outsized damage they can do to, relative to the more normal and typical everyday pricks and assholes we always encounter. I’d witnessed that psychopaths cannot ever be trusted to do the right thing, sometimes even if it’s beneficial for them personally, because it can be more pleasurable for them to do the wrong thing even if it’s wrong for them personally.

    Still, that group accused me of supporting genocide. Some called me a Nazi and wanted to have me removed from that society. The crazy one wanted to have me invaded. But this isn’t about that.

    It might be helpful to break the players down further, into more than just strong and weak, into more precise groups which have been consistently observed throughout human history. Cambridge Analytica attempted this in their goal to persuade and manipulate every kind of potential voter. I’m not saying that we should do that as well, but that we should at least be able to counter those using nefarious “techniques” for the evil goal of enhancing a culture which favors the few to be better predators.

    One such group I’ve noted here before, far more influential because of their numbers than their intelligence, once proclaimed that Americans were at risk of living under Sharia Law. As if 0.5% of the American population which was Muslim could overpower the 99.5% which is not. Even if they’ve upped their game since (proclaiming that the 4% of the American nation which is LGBT will overpower the 96% rest) they still seem pretty idiocratic to me. Based on my experiences, I don’t think they can be persuaded of “Simple Ethics For Groups And Individuals”. At least not persuaded with reason. We may need to resort to “techniques”.

    I’d suggest forced repeated viewings of that Idiocracy movie until they pass some basic tests, if we were certain this would work. Maybe somebody else has some better ideas.

  10. Jim Harmon

    If only our”strong” billionaires could be content with one or two billion, we’d be living in a relative paradise.

    But that would be communism, haw haw haw.

  11. different clue


    We achieved a semi-weakish version of this during the New Deal period. The social class predators and predator-wannabes found the New Deal laws and regulations effective enough against the wildest-dream realization of their desires that they had to spend several decades patiently undermining the New Deal ReguLegal systems and preparing to overthrow them. After they got them overthrown, they were then able to re-establish their rule of the predasites. ( That’s a made up word, combining predator and parasite).

    Clinton achieved the Predasite Empowerment which Carter, Reagan, Bush, Mulroney, etc. carefully teed up for someone to finally achieve. And Clinton/Salinas de Gortari and Chretien were the Great Historic NeoLiberal leaders to finally achieve it.

    The point is, it didn’t just happen. Somebody happened it. And the rest of us will have to figure out all the mechanics and schematics of how they happened it and work out whether we can reverse-happen it over the decades to come. And if we decide we can’t, then decide what to do down at smaller levels to immunize ourselves against the worst effects and developments yet to come.

    As smallish groups of people, we will probably be too poor to be able to afford to confine incipient or potential predators. So we will have to expel them or kill them as they become visible. I believe thats what the Indian Nations did. They didn’t invest money in “jails” and “prisons”.

  12. bruce wilder

    Ian wrote, “predator” but from context I infer that he may have meant “parasite”. Either term is making use of a metaphor to identify a social function taken up by some as anti-social. But, pay attention to the differences in source of the metaphor and ask whether “predator” applies as well as “parasite” to what we observe is sociopathic in economic structure and roles.

    In the natural world, a predator is generally equipped to kill its prey and lives by eating the (dead) prey. There may be some predators in human society who assault or even kill their victims to rob them. Maybe we can stretch the metaphor to cover extortion or even frauds, where the victim is abandoned once the economic value is transferred.

    “Predator” might be almost flattering to our oligarchs and banksters, but I think the reality of socio-economic dysfunction is better identified as parasitism. Real predators include some of our nicer creatures — dogs and cats can be loyal, affectionate, intelligent, etc. Parasites, on the other hand, are nasty and set up their victims for prolonged exploitation. Isn’t that closer fit to the political reality?

    Parasites can be physically small and weaker than their victims, but are known in some cases to take control of the larger organism on which they feed.

    When critics of political economy attack the rich and powerful capitalists and the entrepreneurial bosses as predators, they are handicapping their ethical argument in the broad court of public opinion, because building vast, productive and efficient enterprise has its obvious upside.

    It is the parasites, who weaken the society, sapping its strength to feed and enrich themselves, that we ought to fear most and seek to reliably identify and it is the parasitical activity of psychopaths/sociopaths that the rest of us need to constrain in order to prosper ethically ourselves.

    In 21st century neoliberal financialized capitalism, the credentialled professional and managerial class, it can be argued, has a parasitical role and hides from ethical responsibility for the effects of its incompetent and malevolent management of institutions.

  13. @different clue, I put it down to The Bomb. Once Truman let the sociopaths drop it ( not discounting his own immoral motivations), global paranoia was unleashed (see for example discussions of Stalin in these comments), the MIC exploited it, both here and elsewhere. The balance of terror kept alive the war motivation that allowed 90% top marginal rates in the first place. After “resolving” the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK proposed dropping tax rates across-the-board as a peace dividend. This brought top rates down to 70% in the mid-sixties. Within twenty years Reagan brought them down to 28%. Sigh.

  14. Lex

    Thanks, Ian, for a succinct statement like this and thanks to all else for the thought provoking conversation on it.

    I’m with Bruce that parasite is better than predator. I also agree that the model we might look to is pre-agricultural society. The Graeber/Wengrow book is important; nothing really “new” in it but it brings together actual findings about how humans used to organize. As opposed to the English capitalism, social Darwinism backdating of human development we’ve been conditioned to accept axiomatically.

    Dimitrov’s definition of fascism is the best I’ve ever read: the political manifestation of finance capitalism. I find it fascinating that a real communist would modify capitalism so precisely. It’s an important shade of grey that carefully focuses on the fundamental problem. Financial capitalism is always parasitic.

  15. Willy

    Simple ethics against predators and parasites, for the simpleminded?

    Did Marx forget about pre-agricultural communes (AFAIK), where the group small enough to know how to have all members function best as a self-sustaining unit, would also know who the predators and parasites amongst them were, and deal accordingly?

    Not to mention the idiots.

    Speaking of General Mark Milley, who previously said that Ukraine would fall in 72 hours, is now predicting that it’ll be taking years. I thought he was supposed to be the leading authority about such things. How the hell do people like that get such a job?

    Predator, parasite, or idiocratic poster boy? Maybe something for a later discussion.

  16. Lex

    I don’t think Marx forgot about pre-agricultural societies, I think he wouldn’t have known much about them. And what he could have known would have been wrong. Plus he believed in progress, perhaps a conceit of his time to go along with axiomatic acceptance of man as a rational animal.

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