Envy and Civilization

So, we had someone come in here the last few days and maintain – with a straight face yet – that civilization equals collectivism.  Listen all, the collective farms were the most advanced thing ever on this Earth.  No?  Not buying it?  Sigh.  You and your disbelieving ways.  What am I doing to do with you? Don’t you know our species has been evolving towards this sort of Earthly paradise, where everyone has everything in common, and nothing is ever made, stolen or even broken in an envious rage?

Well, if you don’t either your school was different from mine in the seventies, or, like me, you sat there and thought cooey.  And who is going to replace all humans with ants?

However, at least in my high school it was openly taught.  In the past, before agriculture, all societies were communitarian.  (Also, matriarchal, but that was the icing on the cake, though the feminists said that’s why they were communitarian because women are all shary and stuff.) Agriculture brought in the idea of private property, and then capitalism – which according to these people started with agriculture back in pre-history, because they define capitalism down to “you have stuff you sell”, brought with it pillage, war, and rape, because capitalism meant women were property and there was sexual jealousy.

Then as civilization came in, piece by piece it started to rebuild that lost, ancient communitarian past, only with more stuff.  And eventually in the future, we shall all be like angels, with tons of cool stuff.

I wish I were joking.  I also wish you regulars on this blog would stop laughing like hyenas.  If you must laugh at other people’s religion, do it politely.

Or not. After all they’re not aware it’s a religion.  They think it’s a fact and treat it as such, and teach it as such.

And if you’re sitting there going “It’s a fact” oh, my aching behind, where do I start?

Do I start with the fact that we do know of tribes that were never in fact settled or agricultural, or in any way touched unless we swooped down to do studies, and they’re not living in some sort of earthly paradise with no fighting or jealousy or private property.  They are in fact fully human and have all the characteristics of humans – and other apes – who have fighting and jealousy.  A lot of them have some private property as well. Oh, yes, sure, some things might be in common, like, since these are usually family groups, the one who hunts distributes his kill to everyone (though even there there are ranks who get the meat first, or the best part, or whatever.)  But if you have a particular stone knife you made, it’s yours.

We see this in grave goods, including the women who were buried with special pots that they were good at making.  And the men buried with war maces (and sometimes skulls.  Yes, some women too, but less frequently.)

Do I start with the oldest epics of mankind?  Gilgamesh has violence aplenty and contains nothing that could be described as a functioning communitarian society.  The corpses and possessions of  ancient hunter-gatherers we’ve found do not in fact seem to imply anything of the sort.  The Bible which in some of its stories preserves the oldest stories of mankind does make reference to a garden of Eden, but it only contained two people, and even there things went astray

As for the lost paradise of woman rule, where everything was perfect until men rebelled because, you know, they’re men, and perfect wasn’t good for them (so, it wasn’t perfect?) let’s just say that the fact that Gimbutas confused bull’s heads with uteri cannot be pointed at and mocked enough.

Of course, my distinguished visitor was caught between this belief, and the belief that all ancient humans were “individualistic” and that the progress of civilization can be judged by how communitarian we’ve become.  (Rolls eyes so hard they fall off.)

This is why at least twice he seemed to be arguing against himself.  These schisms in messianic religions always leave me baffled.  Maybe they’re in the middle of a reformation and he’s not thought it through yet?

Anyway, that theory is even more farcical.  A single man, with no claws, no fangs, no fur, stands as much chance individually against the elements as a… as a single man standing against the elements.  This is why Man Versus Wild is a thing.

Ahah, the distinguished visitor (supposing his reading comprehension will hold up this far) will say.  “Then you admit civilization is communism!”

I admit nothing of the sort.  I admit that civilization applies only to groups – duh – as does culture, btw, so stop telling me I need to respect the “culture” of someone adopted into another culture at birth.  Culture is transmitted by learning not by genes.  To maintain otherwise is stupid and racist.

However, how the communities are organized – whether with common property or not (actually was any ancient society – any lasting society—ever organized with communal property?  Other than monastic orders, that is?  Because to my knowledge in most of these societies, what belonged to “all” actually belonged to the ruler, who was the only one who got to use it.) Whether with private property or not, whether with rape or marriage or sexual jealousy or not, in fact makes no difference to the fact that they’re communities.

So, let me lay it out right here – risky, I know – that according to what we know of today’s hunting gathering societies; the traces of the past; the workings of the human mind; the lives of our closest ape-relatives, there was never a perfect communitarian society of more than three non-related people, unless they were bound by strong religious conviction. (And even those had a designated leader who laid down the law and weren’t PERFECTLY equalitarian.)

In fact, everything we know from the past is that it was red in tooth and flint knife.  Yes, family groups (which most human bands were, far back enough in history) could also startlingly show the quality of mercy and look after the crippled and the old and throw massive funerals for deformed babies.

That means only that they were human.  Neither the innocents in the garden, nor the horrors of Desmond Morris The Naked Ape. He was wrong at any rate.  Other apes kill too. We just figured out how not to kill others every time we want something they have: territory, women or cool possessions.

Maybe that is at the root of what makes us different from out ape brothers.  There’s no way to know, of course, because this would be so far back in time that we weren’t even fully human.  However, it makes more sense than their story of mythical communism past and senseless fall.  And it could have happened this way.  It certainly is a story our species has repeated throughout the millennia, and it could be called the very engine of civilization.

We know that chimps and others use tools, but they never seem to progress up the scale of civilization.

Perhaps the difference is that in the dim distant past one of our not quite human ancestors had found a really sharp piece of flint, but hadn’t managed to hunt for it.  On the way home, he comes across a member of the same species, not of the same band, who is carrying two rabbits, but who doesn’t seem to have any implement to skin them with.

Instead of using the knife to kill the man and make off with both rabbits, he shows the man the knife, shows him how to use it to skin the rabbits and then, by gestures or sounds (depending on how human they were) he trades the flint shard for a rabbit.

There, my friends, civilization began, allowing men to accumulate wealth without having it stolen until it was destroyed, giving men incentive to work for something (“I must look for more pieces of flint,” proto Og would think “in case I don’t catch anything tomorrow.”) It even in a way started division of labor.

It allowed men to band in communities larger than the band, and not kill everyone not of their blood, and work together and accumulate generational wealth.

Oh, sure, not all was peaceful trade.  In those towns there was plenty of the old way of “knock on head, take what you want.”

But by and large – with some truly disgusting back sliding intervals – the movement has been from theft to trade.

There is always the tension between the savage envy (even if cloaked in “that’s not fair” and the brutal force of the state) and the civilized trading between humans.

To the extent trading prevails, there is civilization.

268 responses to “Envy and Civilization

  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    There’s evidence of “trading networks” even in the “hunter-gather” time frame. Artifacts (and other items) have been found far from where they “naturally” occur and far from where they had to be manufactured.

    • Yes. Flint artifacts are found in Finland, but there is no flint to be found in the bedrock. Nearest deposits are in modern Russia, and not particularly close to us either.

    • There have been obsidian artifacts found in Ohio, and the obsidian traced to the Rocky Mountains. Near Peoria, IL, archaeologists unearthed a hammered copper hawk figure, and the copper likely came from Michigan’s UP.

      There’s a site in Florida which shows signs of pre-Columbian trade with central America.

      Trade, as far as I’m concerned, is as human an activity as gossip and sex.

  2. Calmer Half and I may come from opposite ends of the globe, but we both understand nature in a way few who are on the road system do: “Mother Nature”, when not yoked and harnessed by generations of civilization, is awe-some and awe-full in its beauty. However, it is a beauty that is utterly callous, and will kill you any chance you give it, and sometimes when you do everything right and are unlucky. To that end, people have always banded together in tribes to survive it.

    Many people raised with the trappings of Marxism in their education make a very basic mistake when dealing with tribal societies – they mistake cooperation for collectivism. When the margin for survival is very thin, people are still human, and still try to care for the old, the young, and the sick. While it doesn’t “take a village to raise a child” in the sense Hillary Clinton meant it, the entire village does participate in the raising of children, and co-operate to share the burdens. However, you just try treating one woman’s sheets or another man’s sled dog as your own… I’ll watch and wince a little at your screams, while shaking my head and muttering about fools and fire.

    That said, the tribal unit does not allow for much in the way of individual rights. In fact, it’s not a part of the culture at all – and when you’re on a subsistence level existence, it can’t be. On a bad month, the refusal of one individual to cooperate on a hunt, or the birth of one more baby, or the injury of one hunter, can be the difference between everyone eating and everyone starving to death. As women, the elderly, and children are not hunters, and therefore are a burden to the hunters, they are worth less. And if times are tight, the mothers will take their children for a walk, and leave behind the ones they choose to let die that the rest of the tribe will survive. The elderly are expected to go out and get killed / freeze to death so that they are not a burden on the tribe. Should you refuse, because you believe your life is worth saving at the expense of the tribe, the chief will send hunters to take care of you, and remove the “infection.”

    Female infantcide dropped drastically in the Alaskan tribes due to two reasons: the first was the introduction of Christianity, with its strange and radical proposition that individual souls matter, and individual lives are worth saving. The second reason is because we ship a lot of welfare aid out to the tribes. Part of this is to encourage the nomadic ones to stay in the fish camps and hunting camps where we found them until they acquire a settled culture, but part of this is also to keep them from killing their female children and their elderly when the fishing and hunting are bad. It’s a multi-billion dollar, multi-generational experiment to try to make them into modern, civilized culture without going through an agricultural stage first (the arctic won’t support agriculture) – and so far, it’s going very well in parts, completely disastrously in others, or about what you can expect.

    As for being more collectivist when they moved to cities – no, not at all. Cities exist on trade routes, where individuals go to make their fortunes, and to engage in trading their items or their labour for others that will make their life better. If the trade route stops for one reason or another, the city goes away – we have plenty of ruins across the world to prove that. But I’ll stop here before my cuppa goes cold.

    • Canning and other “new” food preservation techniques seem to have made life in the Arctic a lot more bearable. I think we may have talked about this before, but there was a show or article recently about life on Alaskan islands; everybody works like mad during the summer to can and preserve and freeze enough salmon and berries and whatever else. They were going through Mason jars like they were a factory. (And my grandma’s from Tennessee, so I’ve seen people do a lot of canning. This was more than Grandma would ever have done by a factor of ten or more, probably because winter’s longer in Alaska.)

    • There’s an excellent “Wired” article by Neal Stephenson included at the end of the Cryptonomicon where he mentions that while the Library of Alexandria no longer exists, you can still go to that intersection and look at the space it occupied, because trade has existed there so long and so consistently, that the site, the market, the intersections have all stayed, and the roads have resisted getting built over.

    • The women are responsible for more than half the food found among the !Kung — and probably other hunters and gatherers. That’s because the skill sets of hunting animals and gathering plants are distinct enough that specialization helps, once you have ability to talk and so trade off.

      So, no, the women are not less valuable than the men. Indeed, the women formed the baseline of good; hunting was more erratic both in that it was less reliable as a source and that the men hunted more erratically (though for longer than the women’s daily forages).

      • Hmm — forgot to note that Alaska issue is indeed distinct, because the Artic is not a good place for plant gathering. It is, however, an anomoly, not the typical.

        • It is actually a fairly good example of how a large portion of the worlds primitive cultures lived in the wintertime, when plant gathering was limited. Alaska has berries and such, but it is just a more extreme example of much of the world, where you can’t gather enough plants for extended survival in a primitive situation.

  3. Being in a timezone halfway around the world from most of you means most of the trolls come by while I’m asleep. But since trolls tend to irritate me more than amuse me, perhaps that’s a good thing.

    To comment on the actual subject of the post, most of the tribes I’m aware of that did the “share all the meat from the hunt with (some of, or all of) the group” thing… were people living in hot climates without any kind of refrigeration technology. For them, there is very little “cost” to giving away the meat you can’t eat today, because it would spoil by tomorrow anyway. And if you examine that culture’s traditions with an anthropologist’s mindset, you’ll usually find that the guy who brings home lots of meat is getting “paid” for it in some form or another. It may not be currency, but maybe he gains social status and attractiveness to the opposite sex (he’d be a great provider!), so he can have pretty much any unmarried woman he chooses. (And in some cases, could probably seduce some of the married women as well — some men are more scrupulous about that than others.) Or maybe besides getting to pick the best cuts of meat, he gets to pick the best spot in the clearing to set up his house, and others who don’t have as much social status have to pick their spots second or third or fourth. Wealth comes in all sorts of forms, not all of which are measured with coins.

    • Actually the !Kung practice ritual insulting whenever a hunter brings some meat home about how horrible it is, so he will not get a swollen head.

      • Yeah, but this is obvious ritual, and presumably understood as such by both hunter and insulters. I doubt that you get more status as a !Kung man by not hunting! And I would suspect that the best hunters are admired, even as they are being ritually insulted.

        Think of arm-punches and towel-slaps delivered to successful athletes by their team mates in American sports.

        • Heck, think of the way that “F-er” is used among some groups; it’d get anybody else killed, but when individuals know how it’s meant….

          Or when my husband calls me a silly sap, or I call him a goofball, or more serious insults we aim at ourselves.

          I rather like the ritual insults, they make it so a quiet word of praise isn’t devalued. (…that may be my bugaboos, though, I can’t take a complement because I never know if they’re sincere or offered out of nice-ness)

        • It’s ritual warning that you had best not get a swollen head about being a hunter or they’ll really come down on you.

  4. I do recall watching with some interest a while back a show exploring a fairly sophisticated and extensive mining operation, in Britain I believe. The material being sought? Flint. Seems the area produced a particularly useful grade of rock that took an edge exceptionally well, so enterprising pre bronze era folk sought it out with vigor.
    As for that perfect matriarchal society, this isn’t laughter on my face, it’s me clenching my facial muscles to suppress the vomit. Women are genetically predisposed to embrace with enthusiasm the “us vs them” approach to societal relationships. As long as you are part of “us” a woman will move heaven and earth to protect and care for you. Fall in the “them” category and you are no longer human and deserve whatever is done to you. Men much the same, but never to the extremes that females can reach.
    The warrior’s wisdom has ever been: you may fall in battle, that is a warrior’s lot, but for Ghod’s sake never let them capture you and turn you over to the women.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      There’s also the idea that men compete but always know that they will have to work together with the other man. Women compete but often to the point of “destroying” the other woman. Of course, I have long heard about women fighting over little things (especially in the work place) that a man who think “why bother”.

      Obviously, this is a general observation and there will always be exceptions. (Don’t want the women to get after me. [Wink])

      • Usually, it’s not about the thing being fought about (although yeah, sometimes little things really bother some women). Usually it’s about exerting a woman’s dominance over other women, which for many means “total control of what is done and how.”

        Men usually don’t worry about how something is done as long as it’s done (unless it’s something like the Army where style is also substance and method is discipline). Women generally are programmed to develop methods that work and then have everyone else in the home/household (ie, kids and helpers) follow the method.

        So if you’ve got an office, and you don’t clearly define everybody’s desk/responsibilities/”home” as being their own business as long as the work gets done, there’s a temptation to tell other people how to do things, how to dress, etc. (And of course mothers and mothers-in-law often do this in home life also, even though they do live somewhere else.)

        Women are also kinda programmed to pay attention to what other people are doing (ie, kids, husband, helpers). Some women use this to adopt strategies that work and correct ones that don’t. Some women use this to obsess over keeping up with the Joneses and to talk down people who aren’t up to standards. Some use it to nitpick (guilty!).

        But yeah, I think it’s probably fair to say that, in very general terms, men are interested in being on top of the local dominance structure, and women are interested in controlling everything in their territory. (What Chaucer talks about with the Wife of Bath, how women love having their will.) Guys who are totally jealous or micromanaging control freaks are perhaps showing their more feminine qualities. 🙂

        • Much of women’s competition is inherently subjective — it is a battle over who gets to set the standards. Fashion, for example, is a competition for cultural dominance based on arbitrary standards. It typically relies on “soft” power: the ability to persuade others to accept your standards as proper — “Do as I say or I will ostracize your ass.”

          Male competition tends to be centered on objective standards: who is strongest, fastest, shoots straightest or has the bigger dick. “Hard” power is commonly the rule here — “Do as I say or I will kick your ass.”

          • Stepmothers… 🙂

            Well, in my case probably worse because I was an adult. A lot of the early friction happened when I either did something in their house on my visits – which was, actually, owned half by me because it had been my mother’s, not jointly owned or owned by my father, which presumably made the whole thing worse – or her first refusing help when I asked if I could do something and then complaining I never did anything. I didn’t clean right or wash dishes right and there was too much of my stuff there on the way and so on. So I stopped asking and doing, since the end result was pretty much the same anyway, and then she just complained that I never did anything.

            It really pretty much seemed to be a case of power to her. I was an adult woman on her territory and she wanted me out. Worked too, I never stopped completely visiting but I don’t visit them all that often and I never stay long since constantly waiting for the nagging to start (and even when that doesn’t happen there will be at least some digs directed at me) can be rather stressful. So now she is complaining that I don’t and I am horrible daughter because of it. Cant’ win with her.

            • And if you some day encounter a nag in one of my stories… 😀 Who knows, I may even write one where the villain is a stepmother. I mean, they are very traditional and all that. 😉

              • And I actually did kind of half buy that matriarchy idea before I encountered her. Most of the women I had known by that age had been pretty reasonable and nice ones. I also really thought you could always talk things out, at least when the problems were about some everyday kind of stuff.

                So maybe I should thank her for getting me acquainted with reality.

            • Which brings to mind: it is generally accepted that girls are more responsive to affirmation, approval, external validation. Might that be a factor in the different power structures in female versus male dominated societies?

              It certainly sounds as if your stepmother was threatened by the presence a female whose self-worth was not derived from her approval. It also sounds as if she was insecure in her own position in the household and thus reacted to you as threat (possibly because you held the ability to validate/invalidate her?)

              • I guess nobody much likes the possibility of being compared to the previous wife, even if dead, or maybe especially if dead since then the marriage didn’t end in a way which might have made him dislike that previous wife and automatically see the new one as an improvement.

      • “Women compete but often to the point of “destroying” the other woman.”

        Want to know what a matriarchy would be like? Look at a junior high school. Not for the immaturity, but for the gossiping, clique-forming, and status games.

        I love ya, women, but I’ve also kept my eyes open.

        • I’ve known even feminists to laugh at the comment that the Movie “Mean Girls” is a documentary.

          Actually, outside of a few gratuitous swipes at the usual liberal shibboleths, the movie is chock full of skewering of liberal platitudes and attitudes.

    • “For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.”

      • When I wrote that, little did I know it would apply to Uncle Lar & Paul’s comments!

      • I really wish people would stop repeating this line like it’s universally true — until I came here, I’d yet to meet a female outside my own family (to be specific: My mother — who’s a better welder than I am… 🙂 ) who was any more danger to me than a loaf of bread. Most of the females I knew growing up were weak, submissive, and at best only a hazard to one’s ego; they could be (and all too many *were*) brought back into line with a few shouted words, or possibly a good backhand. (One of the many reasons I didn’t date in school: The female population was Weakness personified.)

        On that: You’ll notice the women in the Kipling work cited are only a danger to *males who have already been defeated*. To paraphrase yet another overused quotation: “You keep quoting that line — I do not think it means what you think it means.”

        • I’ve always read the poem as a warning that women are inclined by nature to be all or nothing, in that since childbirth and protecting their children meant so much, they approached other causes in the same way. As a result, men should not be surprised when women politicians and activists are less amenable to compromise and discussion than men are. And given what I’ve read about some of the mot prominent (as in, made the papers the most) Victorian women crusaders, I can see where he’s coming from. That and being married to a bit of a battleax.

          • I think it’s simpler than that. You’ll see different strategies exercised by a group of people experiencing a power imbalance. Women on average are physically more vulnerable than men. We don’t have to posit a complicated evolutionary drift toward a certain personality type to figure out that they’re going to fight more like an insurgent than like a heavyweight champ. Change the power differential and you may find that women and men aren’t that much different in how they are “evolutionarily hardwired” to fight.

  5. I cannot remember my source on this – I first came across it in a 200-level survey course on world theologies and belief systems in the mid-seventies and can’t find my class notes.

    Looking at the timelines of many cultures, three things tend to develop in close proximity – close enough to suggest a causal relationship.
    This is a very broad and simplified theory based on those observations:

    Prior to the development of agriculture, communities were on the whole matrilneal (and perhaps matriarchal) and theologies attributed life-giving and life-sustaining to female spirits or deities. The woman was the source of life and any resemblance between her children and her male partner(s) were attributed to spiritual influences.

    Shortly after the development of agriculture the status of women fell dramatically, the more powerful/essential gods became male, and the community became patriarchal.
    What happened?
    Some think agriculture taught them that life came from the seed planted in the ground. Therefore it was not the woman who created life – she merely bore it as the land bore fruit. Life itself was held in the seed of the male just as it was held in a seed of corn or wheat. Agriculture also explained family resemblances. Melons raised in one type of soil looked different from those raised in another – appearance, size, flavor, etc., were affected by the quality of the soil. By extension of these observable facts the conclusion that men were the source of life and women metaphorically dirt made sense.

    For the last several centuries the Judeo-Christian practice of calling God “father” has been taken to mean he is the ultimate patriarchal authority figure. There is contextual evidence that the title was originally used to aver God is the source of all life. Scriptures are quite clear on God having no gender, and though he is usually addressed or referred to in the male form, in all references to God’s spirit causing anything to occur on Earth – any direct interactions between people and God – the gender is female. (Though in every English translation of which I’m aware it’s male.) This father=life source model can be seen as one reason Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans (Rom. 8:15) that having been adopted by God through Christ Christians are in a previously unavailable relationship with God, one that allows them to call God not by the formal title of Father but as the familiar Abba. (Roughly congruent to Daddy.)

    The theory holds together and is consistent with the body of data, though there are certain to be outliers – cultures that did not follow this pattern. I suspect that until we have access to a TARDIS or can start sentient cultures of our own from scratch we’ll never know exactly what happened or why.

    • There is no evidence — none — for pre-agriculture societies being either matrilineal or matriarchal. It was all dreamed up by Gimbutas. Actually — see Dorothy’s post below — the hunter gatherer societies tend to strongly DE-value women.

      • Surprised I’d never heard of Gimbutas before. Strikes me like the old saying about buttons and vests.


      • I know that now, but in the 1970s – whjen I was introduced to this theory – the matriarchal model was widely accepted. Probably our better understanding of the past is one reason it’s not around much these days. However, many primitive cultures – those that have not worked out the connection between men and babies and some that have – are matrilineal. I’m thinking there are examples of these communities in Amazon basin and on Papua/New Guinea. Some modern cultures are matrilineal as well, though I can’t think of any that are matriarchal. If I’m remembering correctly, traditional property inheritance in Japan is (or was) mother-to-daughter and I think it’s equally traditional that the husband becomes a part of the wife’s family.

        • There are other reasons for matrilineal — in a culture where marauders might rape women, it strengthens genetic variety, rather than casting out babies (and often women)

        • I think I may have read that with some American Indian cultures at least some of the property went from mother to daughter too. Maybe Navajo?

          • There are a number of matrilineal societies, including a number of North American cultures.

            They can be divided into two types, according to whether power moves from a man to his nephew, or from a man to his son-in-law.

            • Jewishness — traced matrilineally. (Ironically: I know this mainly from study of the Nuremberg “Blood and Honor” laws….)

      • Hmmm, matrilineal cultures…

        I’ve sometimes toyed with the idea of inventing a fictional matrilineal culture, and having a character from that culture express surprise that you would trace heritage any other way. “What?” he would ask his friend from a patrilineal culture. “Are the women in your culture always faithful to their husbands, so that you can be always certain who the father is? With our way of doing things, at least there’s never any doubt about which last name the child should carry.”

        I thought this reasoning up on my own, but now I’m beginning to wonder if that actually plays a part in some matrinineal cultures. I may have to do a bit of research.

        • In a variety of matrilineal cultures it was the duty of the mother’s brothers to “father” the boy. Another reason for doing this might be as a way of precluding men from raping women as a way of begetting sons — in that no matter how many sons he sired he could never be a father, would never be able to take “title” to his get.

        • Edgar Rice Burroughs had just such a society in Beyond Forty.

          It was indeed a commonplace of Victorian anthropology that matrilineality was the primitive system for that reason, and mankind only rose to patrilineality after domesticating animals. Apparenlty on the theory that they managed to notice a connection only in other animals.

      • Point of fact, my training in physical anthropology did address Gimbutas, back about a dozen years ago. Mostly just to say “don’t do this.” Goddess theory has been pretty well debunked in serious archaeological literature, or at least it had back in the early 2000s, if not in “popular” anthropology.

        Goddess figurines do exists dating back into prehistory. The idea that there was a whole religion about them, complete with matrilineal/matriarchal band structures is utterly without support. *Nothing* that complex can be shown in the archaeological record- there just isn’t the physical evidence for it. It is, bluntly, a theory made from whole cloth and wishful thinking.

        • A secondary point here is the possibility of a lagging indicator effect of the softer sciences in SF. The “serious” sciences — e.g., Physics — will often be cutting edge or sharper because that is the area of expertise of writers/readers. “Popular” science theories will filter into the genre more languidly and be slower to get flushed out.

          In the same way, demographic changes are often obscured by the fact that a significant portion of the population is present at the time of the change, so that a drop in birth rate will not show up in mass population figures if there is a concurrent extension in life expectancy. Even though the overall population may be increasing, it is increasing for the “wrong” reason.

          To determine where a field or a society is going requires looking at the key variables likely to change in the coming years, not at those variable two decades passed.

        • Figures of female figures exist back into prehistory. The “goddess” element is less well-supported.

          • So it is possible we are mistaking pre-historic porn for religious iconography?

            I shudder at the thought that fifty centuries from now our social mores will be imputed from Fifty Shades of Gray and the toy display counter at some unearthed “love emporium.” [Insert vibrator joke here]

            • If everyone knows, but no one believes, then you save money and effort by not needing to suppress the knowledge, and the public knowledge doesn’t impair your ability to exercise control because no one believes you’re exercising any anyway:-).

            • You had to use “insert” didn’t you?

            • That point has been made in several circles over the years, mostly to the tune of “Yeah, there’s as much evidence for Goddess figurines being religious totems as there is for them being the very first instance of porn.”

              Considering these shaped figurines were found in middens (and we’ve found a bunch of ’em), not placed in burial sites, they’re more likely children’s toys. That’s the best we can cautiously suggest absent, oh, a system of written history. Even pictograms or cave paintings would give support to the religious theory, but there ain’t none.

              As to the earlier point, anthropology is a twisted marriage of science and “soft science.” The latter being sociology, psychology, etc, we get infested with some really odd ideas at times. For the more scientific minded, physical anthropology is the draw.

              Classification is based on hard numbers and provable research. It has to be. Looking at pieces of a defleshed skeleton, first question is “what species?” so we have to know how to differentiate and say “this is a piece of a dead deer’s femur” rather than part of a female or effeminate male thighbone. The police get rather upset when their forensic technician gets that wrong, I am given to understand.

              One of the problems is that part of the work is dry and boring to the public. It’s not Indiana Jones, it’s not sexy, and it causes spontaneous narcoleptic episodes in journalism majors. The most exciting parts that I really loved were the interrelationship of medical anthropology and genetics. We can use the tools of other sciences to inform and improve our work.

              Another is that we too often are asked (and expected) to do things we should not do. People want to know things about the past we just can’t tell reliably them, like how they lived >4,000 years ago. We might be able to deduce clues, but those are bare probabilities with a high chance of error. We can reliably tell the age and sec of an individual, especially if the right parts of the pelvic girdle survive- if you could fit a baby head through that opening, chances are extremely good it’s female. *chuckle*

              But race? Hah! Even partially defleshed corpses are problematic when trying to ascertain something that vague. Morphologically, race is pretty useless for classification because outside melanin content it doesn’t have physically distinctive characteristics in modern humans. Genetic markers are so mixed that this can be unreliable, too. We get asked to determine race quite often, anyway, because it is useful for someone else to do their job.

              Crap. Didn’t mean to turn that into a long digression. Long short of it is, Mary’s right, and while most pop anthropology is very much a soft science, parts of it ain’t. You can get useful data from the latter more often than the former, in my experience.

              • Considering these shaped figurines were found in middens … not placed in burial sites, they’re more likely children’s toys.

                Delete earlier remark about fifty centuries from now, replace with: So, they’ll think we worshiped My Little Ponies and Trolls?

                Considering how an actual woman with Barbie’s proportions would look, that lends support to the children’s toys thesis.

                • That brings up an odd idea. Given that societies can support a higher level of stupid the more advanced they are (since in subsistence level groupings a lot of stupid ideas tend to be lethal), in the future how crazy dumb will their version of moonbat crazy be?


                  • And what if those societies went so moonbat crazy that they actually legislated policy based on their collective insanity?

                    Never mind, I’m going back to my happy place now.

          • I strongly suspect that the introduction of agriculture led to an increased importance of women and hence goddess-based religions, but then the introduction of smithing and other professions, coupled with the development of professional warriors, led to an increased importance of men and hence god-based religions. That seems to have been the case in the Fertile Crescent and East Mediterranean in particular, anyway.

            We don’t know if any of these goddess-based cultures were actual matriarchies, though.

            • Why hasn’t anyone made a crack about how women are smart enough to put a meat shield up as the figurehead, and run stuff from behind the scenes?

              It’s got a bit of truth to it, like most good jokes– famously phrased as “behind every successful man is a woman.”
              Or, in military terms, protect your support.

              Guys do tend to be better spearheads, while gals tend to be better… organizers? I don’t have the right word for it, it’s like…the folks who make sure everybody is focused in the same direction, with a bunch of little steering things. Vathara’s “Embers” comes to mind, where water benders have the ability to pull on folks’ emotion, very useful to “keep everyone’s spears pointed the same way” when there’s a lot of small conflicts inside of the band.

              And now I’ve got some half-baked metaphor about how a samuri sword has a strong but brittle edge and a flexible but weak body and only together are they awesome….

              • I don’t have the right word for it, it’s like…the folks who make sure everybody is focused in the same direction, with a bunch of little steering things.

                I believe the word you are seeking is coxswains.

                Some puns make themselves.

                • In a just world, they wouldn’t.

                • ….Isn’t that the… person… yelling “STROKE! STORKE! STROKE! STROKE!”?

                  • Shucks. Now i regret not embedding the Wiki-link. Fortunately, i also had not gotten around to closing the page I used to confirm the spelling

                    The coxswain /ˈkɒksən/ is the person in charge of a boat, particularly its navigation and steering. The etymology of the word gives a literal meaning of “boat servant” since it comes from cox, a coxboat or other small vessel kept aboard a ship, and swain, an Old English term derived from the Old Norse sveinn meaning boy or servant.


                    n rowing, the coxswain sits in either the bow or the stern of the boat (depending on the type of boat) and verbally controls the boat’s steering, speed, timing, and fluidity. The primary duty of a coxswain is to ensure the safety of those in the boat. In a race setting, the coxswain is tasked with motivating the crew as well as steering as straight of a course as possible to minimize the distance to the finish line. Coxswains are also responsible for knowing proper rowing technique and running drills to improve technique.


                    In the Royal Navy in the days of sail, the coxswain was a petty officer or chief petty officer who commanded a captain’s or admiral’s barge. Later the coxswain was the senior chief petty officer aboard a smaller vessel such as a corvette or submarine, who was responsible for the steering and also assumed the duties which would be performed by the chief boatswain’s mate and master-at-arms aboard larger vessels.


                    In the United States Coast Guard and United States Coast Guard Auxiliary the coxswain has the authority to direct all boat and crew activities during the mission and modify planned missions to provide for the safety of the boat and the crew. Before a person can be assigned to be a coxswain, they have to go through a qualification procedure, be certified and maintain the certification to be a coxswain. Upon certification, they are awarded the Coxswain Badge. This qualification procedure requires a significant amount of practice in boat handling as well as previous experience as a boat crew member. Any Coast Guard member (enlisted or officer) may become a coxswain upon proper qualification. An advancement to BM2 (Boatswain’s Mate second class) requires that …

                    • See also: Bosun or Boatswain:
                      A boatswain (/ˈboʊsən/, formerly and dialectally also /ˈboʊtsweɪn/), bo’s’n, bos’n, or bosun, is the senior crewman of the deck department and is responsible for the components of a ship’s hull. The boatswain supervises the other members of the ship’s deck department, and typically is not a watchstander, except on vessels with small crews. …

                      This has been your Naval Term Of The Day Double Shot.

                  • Foxfier! I have a baby cat* on my knees. Do you know what a sudden shout of laugh does?
                    *ten years old. YOU tell him he’s not a baby.

              • “Why hasn’t anyone made a crack about how women are smart enough to put a meat shield up as the figurehead, and run stuff from behind the scenes?”

                And by now someone should have said “Valerie Jarrett”.

    • I cannot remember my source on this – I first came across it in a 200-level survey course on world theologies and belief systems in the mid-seventies and can’t find my class notes.

      It’s one of those things that tends to be taught without giving you a lot of direct exposure to what they’re saying supports it, and the stuff that opposes– it reminds me of how a lot of conspiracy boards will talk about how this or that council of whatever in XYZ year put forth a teaching, and in the end you’ll find out that it wasn’t a council, it wasn’t in that area or the year is wrong– pick two– and that the thing that was actually decided is only arguable with either a lot of squinting or a really, really, REALLY bad translation.

      For bonus ouch, the folks teaching it are usually acting in good faith and may even be incredibly well informed in various other aspects, they just trusted the wrong source.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        I’ve come to hate the line “the victors write the histories”. While there’s a grain of truth in it, the line has been used to “support” some of the craziest conspiracy ideas. [Frown]

        • “Grain”? Do you know why you’ve never heard of George Thomas? Or the Battle of Missionary Ridge? Or indeed most of the Tennessee Campaign in the American Civil War?

          It all ties into one event: U. S. Grant’s POTUS election campaign. Any ACW event which didn’t portray Grant as the all-conquering, all-competent Hero (and Missionary Ridge in particular was a *spectacular* demonstration of his incompetence) was vanished in a way to make Stalin proud. it took almost a century for someone to bring Thomas (the only general *on either* side who never lost a battle — and if you look at what Bragg was trying to accomplish at Chickamauga: The Rebs lost that one — badly), and the Army of the Cumberland, back to the light.

          “Winners write the history” is Fact. That some colossal wackaloons take that fact and go pole-vaulting over the edge of Sanity with it is another matter.

        • I’ve started responding “no, the survivors do.”

          As folks have pointed out, the old “kill the men, take the women” means that unless you keep them from teaching the kids, they’re writing the history.

          • One advantage Christianity had was demographic. From the start, Christians did not expose their daughters. They soon picked up the habit of collecting pagans’ exposed children, mostly daughters. This meant that a lot of pagan men had to marry Christian women or none at all. And then their wives raised their children as Christians. (Plus of course the larger Christian families.)

  6. The “civilization equals collectivism” argument derives from a contorted definition of all three terms. For one thing, acting collectively is not the same as acting as a collective. But then, people who engage in such sloppy thinking and commingling of concepts tend to be prone to collectivism — a philosophy which enables people to claim title to property without turning a hand to developing it.

    I suspect a stronger argument could be made that it is development of the concept of private property that is the basis for civilization.

    • I almost said “collectivists confuse voluntary cooperation with collectivism” but then a recent realization came back to me:

      The collectivists HATE voluntary cooperation, with a burning passion.

      • YES. This. This right here. They also seem to hate voluntary organizations. Such as the Boy Scouts.

        Or they just don’t understand it – it doesn’t exist in their world. (Perhaps they have a slight predisposition not to cooperate voluntarily, and then project that attitude on the rest of the world? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time I’ve seen projection from the vile progs.)

  7. One of the grand things about this blog: Somebody stumbles in with a mishmash of unresolved thought, presents it as high wisdom, denounces the regulars (and the host!) as ‘true believers’ living in a bubble (mighty big bubble, by my estimates), drops a couple more pointless responses…and spawns a useful post refuting the thoughts he wished he could put together thus bringing about comments that flesh the idea out to such an extent that people should take notes!

    Manly squee, anyone? Or is that just me?

    • Dorothy Grant

      Yes, indeed worthy of a squee. The other side of the coin is the rough & tumble way of the commentry, wherein even after “you, sir, are an idiot” is exchanged, the commenter is welcomed back by the community to join in if they can defend themselves well or agreeably end a long thread. It’s such a difference from the “convert-or-be-ostracized” of some net communities that it’s quite refreshing.

      Evidence the fact that the hostess has yet to ban me, even when I comment on less than one cuppa, more than one glass of mead, or lack of cool-down and careful editing before hitting send.

      • The one cuppa, one (more) tankard, thermal radiation comments are the fun ones!

        Regarding those “convert-or-be-ostracized” communities, I guess they’re prevalent enough that the knee-jerk of many visitors is that this is one as well. Else, how to explain their ‘truth to power’ squawking without addressing any of the comments that come their way? They don’t expect anybody to be listening, assume they’ve sown what disruption they could and move on without taking anything in…

        But this ain’t a monolithic community.

      • That hasn’t been my experience here. I believe I’m not alone. I will not renew my subscription.

        • I don’t recognize your screen name. Have you been taking lots of hits, even though you feel you’ve been trying to respond substantively to comments? It seems to me that the main complaint against Mike yesterday was that people challenged him and asked him questions, which he ignored. I know he ignored mine.

          Of course, that usually makes me assume I’ve stated an unanswerable point, but it’s also possible that he just couldn’t be bothered to engage. That makes his somewhat vinegarish comments seem more like sniping than providing an alternative view to the people who (in his view) so badly need one.

          • gs has been around a while.

          • There are a lot of reasons a point might go unanswered. As example only and not trying to lay down a law or anything, I try to give the benefit of the doubt, as I would ask it for myself. I might not have the time or the mentis compos-ness to write a coherent statement. I might not come back to read it. (I would imagine that happens a lot.) Und so weiter. I kind of assume something the like in unresponsive interlocutors and not do an end zone dance in the bloody corpses of their effigies or anything shouting :”I’m right. I’m right. I’m right.” for the camera. ‘Cause that’s not classy.

            And, I find, it’s less stressful that way, too.


            Seal of funny just in case: 🙂

            • Sure, but then it doesn’t make sense to complain that one’s audience isn’t paying enough respectful attention to one’s divergent viewpoint, or accuse them of living in a bubble.

            • How many people are here who live somewhere else than USA? I can’t, most times, take part in discussions in real time because even though my schedule is screwed up for my timezone, I am awake part of the time when you Americans are, I also work then but not at the same time as you do. The discussions usually start to get going about the time I leave for work, and are winding down when I come back. So I either may not answer if somebody has said something to me, or I may answer when there is already another discussion going and maybe the answer never gets read.

              • Pohjalainen,
                Try posting something totally outrageous but not unreasonable, like “there is no gravity, but the Earth sucks!” Or slightly dogmatic like “God is coming and boy is She pissed!” Seems like most people post here more for fun than attempting to change the world.
                I, at least, tend to re-read threads a day or two later so being out of phase may not be that big a deal. YMMV. Most of my comments sink like a stone, don’t take it personally, so far this is for fun.

              • *Waves hand*

                GMT+7 here.

              • I live in the US, but I keep odd hours because I work second shift, so often I find myself making the first comment on a new post, or what is surely the last, often ignored one, and otherwise missing the fun.

                • You and me both. It’s one thing when work is slow and I can internet there, but when things pick up – 12 hour shifts are a lot harder to do when you get paid bi-weekly – the ability to stay connected to the important things drops precipitously.

                  Maybe we should start a campaign to support the rights of the diurnally challenged. We can consider Europeans – who are challenged in other areas – honorary members.

                  • I used to work 7 12 hours in a row (off 7) and on the week of work, was mostly gone from the intratubular world. This was before smart phones though, likely I’d be even more involved now (Fueling airplanes really isn’t a lot of time working, it is waiting … mostly). Now I work 4 10s and from Noon to Midnight often can’t even look around. And I have found posting here on my old android can be a bit rough (as an aside, thus far after my last phone post, I have not received a notification via the “dashboard” atop the page of replies to any comment or snark I have posted anywhere on W.P.) So I often come in late, or if I see the post before leaving for work get an early reply in … then any re-reply is gonna likely be far later.

                • Bummer! But you could probably get first shot on some great overseas sites.

            • Dorothy Grant

              Eh, about the only time I don’t assume the person I’m conversing with / teasing / punning against / questioning / debating has something come up is when they stop arguing the thread they’re on, and either start claiming that the answer doesn’t fit this redefined term / moved goalposts, or suddenly switch to a different level/thread and start on a different attack.

              That counts as a response, much the same as when the lovely Mrs. Correia and I were debating a gentleman at Libertycon, and after destroying his argument about why “only the right people” should be allowed to carry guns, he suddenly switched to “Well, guns are the cause of the drug war’s death toll, so if we ban guns, the Mexican Cartels will become peaceful and law-abiding citizens…” Otherwise known as the tactic of “I can’t admit you’re right, so I’m going to suddenly ignore this logic you present and start in on this other argument where I’m clearly right instead.”

              • When I first read your comment, I assumed that Larry Correia was also involved in the discussion, and that it was he who was making the nonsense “if guns were banned, the Mexican cartels would become peaceful” argument as a kind of reductio ad absurdum: “see what ridiculous notions your line of reasoning leads to?”

                Only on re-reading it did I notice that you said Mrs. Correia, not Mr. Correia, was the one with you, and in fact you never said that Larry was anywhere near that discussion. Which means the “he” in your “he suddenly switched to (nonsense argument)” sentence was the gentleman you were debating, which in turn means that he was presenting that argument with a straight face, as if it was persuasive or even remotely plausible. Wow. I should really stop being surprised by how many people fail to understand basic human nature. (A gun is a tool for killing* — but the volition for killing comes from humans, and if they didn’t have one tool, they would find another. More pithy version: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”) And yet, every time I encounter this basic fundamental misunderstanding of human nature, I’m still surprised.

                * Yes, it can also be a tool for fun in the form of target practice (great fun, in fact!) — but when used seriously, that’s its purpose. The reason showing a gun often works as self-defense without the gun needing to be fired is because of the inherent threat: “If you attack me, I have the means and the will to kill you if necessary to defend myself.”

              • “I can’t admit you’re right, so I’m going to suddenly ignore this logic you present and start in on this other argument where I’m clearly right instead.”

                Sigh. My wife does that all the time.

      • The other side of the coin is the rough & tumble way of the commentry, wherein even after “you, sir, are an idiot” is exchanged, the commenter is welcomed back by the community to join in if they can defend themselves well or agreeably end a long thread.

        And the folks can get along afterwards, too, if they’re inclined.

  8. If you want to see smoke come out their ears, respond “civilization is capitalism” 😀 It means we’re all together in an arrangement stable enough that Og, with piss-poor hunting skills but superlative flint-knapping abilities knows he can always count on Grud or Thwack or Nook to trade enough meat for flints he won’t ever starve. He can focus on the things he’s good at (which he can’t eat) making it easier for those who do hunt to do even better. Focus and efficiency means one person specializing is more effective than each person having to be “good enough” for all needed tasks.

    • It’s also a good reason not to kill off the less optimal members of your population. As the Havamal says, as part of several verses about how it’s better to be alive than to be dead and rich:

      The lame can ride horse, the handless drive cattle,
      the deaf one can fight and prevail,
      ’tis happier for the blind than for him on the bale-fire,
      but no man hath care for a corpse.

    • Then you have Uug who does nothing but sit by the fire and make sarcastic grunts about Grud’s hunting ability when he comes back empty-handed. Grud may be a great hunter, but he is a little wiry runt of a man, while Og has a club foot, so he can’t run down game or stalk silently easily, but he is a big dude with powerful hands and arms from knapping flint for years. So he gets tired of Uug making fun of Grud, but still expecting to get part of his kills when he brings them in, so he throttles Uug. Grud is so greatful he gives Og the prime slices of his next stag and the idea of mercenaries is born. 😉

      • When I started that comment it was to show the ridiculousness of believing primitive hunter-gatherer cultures were collectivist.

      • And he gloved himself and departed, and he heard his father, behind:
        “Son that can see so clearly, rejoice that thy tribe is blind!”

        Straight on the glittering ice-field, by the caves of the lost Dordogne,
        Ung, a maker of pictures, fell to his scribing on bone
        Even to mammoth editions. Gaily he whistled and sung,
        Blessing his tribe for their blindness. Heed ye the Story of Ung!

  9. As for the lost paradise of woman rule, where everything was perfect until men rebelled because, you know, they’re men, and perfect wasn’t good for them (so, it wasn’t perfect?) let’s just say that the fact that Gimbutas confused bull’s heads with uteri cannot be pointed at and mocked enough.

    Wow… I guess I can see it as justified by claims of artistic license, but… with the mythical “women are all nice and sweet” view, how did she think they knew what a uterus looked like?
    In a realistic, giant “society run by women” I can see vivisections centered around a defining characteristic of women like “makes babies,” but that wouldn’t be a very stable society. (When people go bad, they tend to be violent. Women are scarier because, not being as strong, they tend to be more subtle….and much less easy to dodge than a punch. Then there’s the whole “and eliminate possible future threats” thing… Hm, it’s almost like Himself made people so our flaws complement each other, as much as our strengths do; deformation in either direction makes stuff crash.)

    • Human uteruses aren’t that different in structure from other mammal uteruses. Butchers generally have a certain practical knowledge of anatomy. Whether or not they know what all the bits are for, they would know what they look like when dead.

      But I don’t think most of the Gimbutas school was interested in Grammy’s secret knowledge of how to kill and disassemble chickens and goats. Practical knowledge wasn’t their thing.

      • Probably right, but I do try to play along with the established ground-rules when it seems there’s a contradiction….

        If they were willing to look at animals to figure out humans, then why aren’t there any other examples of it? Even if their figuring on what it was for was cruddy– not so much as a stomach or heart or spleen….

        • Kill something pregnant and cut it open, compare to something female which was not pregnant at the moment. Presumably one part where the function would be easier than usual to figure out? Stomach and gut would be the others. Kidneys too, at least sorta kinda, they do smell of urine.

          • To figure out correctly, sure, but getting it right hasn’t been a big thing– plus, the method of figuring you point to is pretty scientific rather than the whole “mystical power of women to make life” thing.

            Never mind that it assumes folks are bone stupid about making babies….

    • Oh, and if folks are wondering what a civilization run entirely by men looks like– I’d point towards the more hellish areas of the middle east, stoning rape victims and all.

      • The contributions of women in those societies are a particular hell of their own sort. Not to contradict the idea of the male dominated society, but…run entirely by men is a bit off in this case.

        • As would one run entirely by women– unless you eliminate one sex entirely, there’s going to be some hellish contributions by the other’s sub-group, and they won’t be able to last. (Although “ten minutes” is too long for my taste.)

  10. Monasticism is both a model of voluntary communities based on sharing, and a model of a business corporation. The Benedictine model had elected abbots (or abbesses), a board of elected officers, terms of office, various appointed officials, recordkeeping and audits of the records, and a responsibility to think ahead for the next generation of monastics. But even monasteries which had appointed leadership (appointed by the king, the local family funding the place, or the previous abbot) still had accountability in that they had to make it work, or be really really effective at praying. You also had to have surpluses, because monasteries had an obligation to provide hospitality to travelers, and this also was important to their reputation (which provided them trading partners, donors, new monastic recruits, etc., as well as news and gifts and good company while the travelers were there).

    That’s why you hear so much about rich abbeys; they usually did a good job with production of food, services, and products. If they didn’t, the monastery dissolved, the bishop or order sent fixers to make it work, or another community was brought in to take over the physical plant.

    As you get deeper into the Middle Ages, you have some ethical stuff show up with how lay brothers were treated versus choir brothers, and with whether monasteries were responsible landlords and employers to laypeople on their lands or working in their manufacturing enterprises. Obviously, some abbots and abbesses were bound to be better and more moral leaders than others.

    But there were also some really big enterprises that multigenerational monasteries attached to multinational orders were in a great position to develop. The Carthusian iron and steel manufactories at the Grand Chartreuse were probably the most important. (You don’t hear about them, because they were so successful that the King of France stole them, stole all the big forest and mine land, and basically made the Carthusians gather herbs and make Chartreuse to survive instead.) Similarly, the monks up in the north of England were building a more advanced metal industry when Henry VIII grabbed their stuff, but he wasn’t smart enough to steal the industrial part too.

    • It is no coincidence that double-entry bookkeeping was invented by a monk, the 15th century Franciscan friar Luca Pacioli.

      Jesuits will probably sniff about it having been a Franciscan.

  11. I spend a lot of time arguing with collectivists. One of the most common ways they go wrong is to assume that private property and free markets mean “I own this useful thing and no one else can touch it or benefit from it in any way, ever.” That’s a recipe for starving to death all my yourself in the woods. In fact, private property and free markets mean “I fully intend to cooperate with other people regarding both my property and theirs, to our very great mutual advantage. I may even give my stuff away for free to people I care about, but when it comes time to decide whether I’ll give it or sell it or keep it, the one who’s going to make that decision is me, not some guy 2,000 miles away who thinks he knows best.”

    Now, I may be subject to all kinds of hard choices about whether to say yes or no in parting with my property. I may have a crying need for something my neighbor has got that I’d love to trade him for if I can only interest him in what I’ve got, or that I’d love to persuade him to give me if I can only engage his sympathy and concern. I may be unable to resist the longing look in my sister’s eyes. But the fact remains that each of us will get to make up his own mind about the property we call “ours,” which means “the property that we assert control over and can make the claim stick.”

    Humans are so constituted that they create more useful stuff when they have this right to control the decision. If it were otherwise–if people exploded in productivity and generosity when that decision was taken away–we’d have a different economic system. Indeed, you can see something like that happening in close-knit groups, which work better when no one tries to keep score and everyone gives in to whoever expresses the most compelling need. But it doesn’t scale up well. As soon as someone finds a way to make it scale up well, I look forward to living in a huge, communitarian paradise. (Even small ones are quite pleasant.) Again, however, people want to decide who lives in their small communitarian group, not have some schmo in D.C. (or on the Internet) dictate to them about it.

  12. Yeah, it was funny last semester how quickly (six minutes, tops) the students decided that while communal property and living worked very well at the convents in the area, the same idea would NOT scale up to a group the size of the school, or to town. Especially since, unlike the convents, you’d have a goodly percentage of unwilling commune members.

    • Actually, there were some Italian commune towns in the Middle Ages. But they were pretty much a case of everybody in town choosing to become a corporation/co-op that was also a big religious club, and there were lots of social and material incentives to stick with the communal thing. It wasn’t a very communistic sort of commune system. Fr. Augustine Thompson wrote a big book about it; I think I need to read it again to absorb it better.

      Italy was very big into social experimentation in the Middle Ages, just as a function of all the squabbling and voting and coups and voting some more. At one point, Siena went through something like six different forms of municipal government in a year.

      • Okay, I guess I do have to read that book again.

        Italian medieval communes were basically just free towns with the citizens agreeing to mutual defense and other laws, as opposed to towns where the lord provided the defenses and they just paid taxes. I think I was getting confused by the ones that ran sort of co-op things to get better prices on their goods elsewhere. “Comune” in Italian today means something like a “township.”

        Sorry about that. At least my brainos are entertaining mistakes….

        • “brainos”. That’s awesome. Not to be confused with “Brain-O” the brain unclogger.

          • Or “Brain-Ohs” the Halloween breakfast cereal.

            Dang. Now, I want to get a cereal manufacturer to make little brain-shaped cereal (think Cookie Crisp-like) for Halloween.

            • You could try walnuts dipped in suitably colored something (I’m not much of a cook, especially I’m not a baker, so no idea what, but there are these dried pieces of banana and other fruits and nuts covered in something whitish and sold as ‘yogurt’ this or that ). They kind of look like brains, so if you can confuse the identification as ‘walnuts’ a bit it might be possible to make them look more like brains. 🙂

      • It’s not that communes can’t work, it’s that they’re an unstable equilibrium.

        If they get too small they don’t have enough people to provide the needs and desires of the community (either directly or through producing surpluses for trade) so people start leaving for greener pastures in a classic death-spiral.

        If they get too large then the social mechanisms to prevent the tragedy of the commons break down and/or it becomes impossible to arrive at collective decisions so someone gets appointed (often by themselves) to “get things done” and “ensure everyone pays their fair share.” Such organizations can survive, but they’re hardly communes.

    • I lived in a commune for many years. The most discouraging thing about it was the realization that it’s a system that inexorably draws a certain number of people who go completely limp as soon as they realize that, in a pinch, someone else will cover their basic expenses of a roof and food. They may have seemed like responsible adults before they moved in, but right away they piss off the boss or quit their jobs, or lose their money in some disastrous deal, and pretty soon every single month they’re a little short on rent and groceries. It was as if the very atmosphere corroded them. Others did quite well in the same atmosphere, but it’s awfully hard to cull out the ones who dissolve, especially since they seem so helpless and pitiful. Often the only way the community can get it together and kick them out is if they really go over the line and start behaving abusively. Once on the outside, they magically pull it together and find a way to pay for their room and board somewhere else.

  13. The problem with pre-history is that it is before history, and hence, we don’t know what happened then. So it easy to posit any sort of world we want and then use our invented reality to judge the real world and find it wanting.

    Personally, I think we should emulate the lost Selenites. Before recorded history there was a vast lunar civilization with advanced technology and a system of laws that was just and fair and involved free ice cream. But then a massive disaster rendered the moon uninhabitable and killed all of the Selenites, except of course for the few who escaped to Earth to become our ancestors.

    What? You can’t prove it didn’t happen, and it’s certainly no goofier than most of the crap coming out of anthropology departments these days.

    • Do’nt forget about the Great Conspiracy that keeps the Truth hidden.:-)

      • Shhhh… you’re not supposed to mention the Great Conspiracy!

        • Ehhh, it ain’t so great. I rate it about a six on a scale of one to ten — a “better than average conspiracy”, possibly even a “pretty good conspiracy” but certainly not “great.”

          • That’s because of your Terrestrial Privilege. You’re threatened by any conspiracy that doesn’t originate on your own planet, and so you seek to marginalize all others.

        • The first rule of the Great Conspiracy is nobody mentions the Great Conpiracy

          • Christopher M. Chupik

            Yes. Exactly.

            Question: if there is a Conspiracy that controls everything, how come everybody knows about it? 😉

            • They’re powerful enough to control the fate of the human race, but too weak to silence Alex Jones. It’s a window of negative width.

              • They don’t have to totally silence him, all they have to do is marginalize the truth. It must be progressives running it. 😉

                • Hey, that works too. Make fun of the truth long enough, and nobody will ever take any proof seriously, no matter how good they will just dismiss it as more of the crazy stuff without ever taking closer look.

                  Now should I start looking behind my back for the lizard men?

                  Seriously speaking, the best way to marginalize something is to make fun of it long enough, and it doesn’t matter what we are speaking of here, scientific theory, political views, new products… if everybody we presume knows their stuff seems to be scoffing at something most of us never really do bother to look at it. Especially not after the kooks start to gather around it, get them interested and you could hide anything in plain sight, quite safely. 😀

                  Although there presumably hardly ever is an actual conspiracy behind when that happens, it’s just normal human behavior. Turf wars.

                  But one reason why I have a tendency to try and keep looking at things generally not taken seriously more closely is that I keep thinking of Alfred Wegener. A lot of the funny stuff is just that, but some may one day turn out to be where some missing parts of the puzzle have been hiding the whole time. And meanwhile, all of it can be highly entertaining. Besides, as long as I keep it mostly to books and what everybody can easily find on internet there is not much of a risk I might manage to run into an actual conspiracy badly enough that I might have to start worrying about my safety, right? Unless it’s by demons in which case I may be screwed since I do practice magic… hm.

              • no. but it gets really entertaining when encountering Buzz Aldrin

              • No, no… The REAL Great Conspiracy uses Alex Jones to blather about things that help to distract from their actual operations, by feeding him bad infor… Hold on, there’s someone at the door…

              • *considers the callers to Coast to Coast who have to stop to yell at the fairies to leave their cats alone* I think I could come up with a story where that’s a feature, not a bug….

      • That’s a different Conspiracy than the one with the Illuminati, Second-Coming-of-the-Temple-Masonic-Lodge, and Elvis, I take it? I ask because my scorecard may be out of date. *very serious expression*

        • Dorothy Grant

          Does anyone besides Art Bell have a current scorecard?

          • I think Art Bell is the current scorecard.

            • He’s still alive? I thought he died years ago!

              • He’s halfway retired and living in the Philippines because our brilliant state department decided to be twerps about his daughter’s citizenship, IIRC.

                I’m not a fan, but I really like Coast to Coast AM’s weekday host. (He’s the dark haired guy with a nice moustache and a really epic voice on most of the “ancient alien” shows, George Noory.)

              • I don’t listen to him, (except sometimes going across Montana at night, when Coast to Coast is the ONLY radio station available) but occasionally hear him on the radio, so unless they are doing reruns I believe he is still alive.

    • So that’s where David Weber got that …

      • Christopher M. Chupik

        I thought he was using the old Russian theory that the Moon was a spaceship, with big helping of classic BSG.

  14. “So, we had someone come in here the last few days and maintain – with a straight face yet – that civilization equals collectivism.”

    Well, what I actually said was “Collectivist political orientations have been a feature of human civilization for many, many centuries.”


    This is somewhat different than saying civilization equals collectivism.

    I also am using collectivism in the broad meaning, not limited to the extreme applications made under Marxism or Communism. For example, the US Army or any Army is a very collectivist organization. An army places much higher priority on the group goals than it does on the goals of the individual members.

    • Dorothy Grant

      “Human civilization is about collectivism. As humans evolved from hunter gathers to a city/state society we became more collective. We sacrificed some of the good of the individual for the good of the collective.”


      That’s pretty civilization equals collectivism, there. You’re right, that wasn’t your first comment – but it was your second, after we pointed out that not only was our hostess not labeling all collective impulses marxist, she was labeling recent marxist collective impulses driven by explicit marxists as marxist, but also that the original communitarian settlers abandoned that as a religious & state-driven philosophy in less than a year after founding.

    • Human civilization is about collectivism.

      October 18, 2013 at 1:38 pm

      Selective citation is sorta disingenuous, don’cha think?

      When you define “collectivism” so broadly as your most recent attempt — “any Army is a very collectivist organization” — you effectively strip any meaning from the term. You could as rationally argue that any business or corporation — the essence of capitalism — is “collectivist.”

    • I really think you need to consider what you want collectivism to mean, and then clearly state that meaning here. Then we’ll be able to address your actual argument and it’ll feel less like you’ve strapped the goal posts to your back and are dodging ever further down field.

      As to armies being collectivist?? Hm. No. Strictly disciplined hierarchies with defined group goals? Yes. Tradition of sacrifice when necessary to achieve those goals in service of higher ideals? Sure. Centralized command structures to ensure tasks are mission oriented? Yep. Collectivist? Oh, hell no!

      I’ll wait to see if you address this minor rebuttal before I try to illuminate further.

      • Of course armies are collectivist. That’s why any sailor can help themselves to anything they find in any rack.

        • Yep. That sounds like something with a happy ending.

          • Well it is if you’re like the guy who thinks “Romeo and Juliet” is a comedy. Or if you like watching people getting the stuffing beat out of them.

    • Are the armed forces a good model for the ideal society? Remember that our army doesn’t produce any wealth; it relies on a free society to create the prosperity that pays for the tanks and the soldiers’ pensions.

      • No they aren’t a good model for society. They are a subset of society. If you think of society as a body, the armed forces are the are, I believe, the white blood cells and possibly the antibodies. They fight off the body’s enemies.

        • Exactly. They have a specialized function that appears to work best when individuals are less free than they are in the broader free-market society. Which is no kind of argument for either Marxist or even more generally collectivist social or economic arrangements. As Hayek said, if you put everyone in the army, we’d have full employment, and nothing to eat. Societies that try to run their economies more like armies stay poor and hungry, though they can be pretty good at war as long as there’s pillage to be had.

          • Societies that try to run their economies more like armies stay poor and hungry

            We call this North Korea

    • Military establishments are one of the few sorts of enterprise that actually work better the more socialist their organization. This is because they exist for the purpose of dealing out death and destruction — even when they are only used for defensive purposes — and must be able to survive the dealing out of death and destruction to themselves by other military establishments.

      It is not in the individual self-interest of a given soldier to stay in a battle, it is in his individual self-interest to flee or hide. But if most flee or hide, the battle will be lost and most (including those who tried to flee or hide) be killed or captured. Here, a free-enterprise communication and behavioral system would promote collective defeat and collapse rather than success and growth.

      This is (one reason) why socialist societies also tend to be militaristic, in rough proportion to their socialism.

      • I think where I keep hitting my head on the military is socialism/collectivism statement is in practice rather than theory.

        For instance: while equipment is owned by the organization, there is a sliding scale on the quality of the maintenance of that equipment. And the care with which that equipment is treated while in operation. And that scale is calibrated to the degree that individuals are given ‘ownership’ of the equipment during their tenure. The more collectivized the equipment, the more likely it is to be run down and marginally functional. The more individualized, the more likely time, care and attention will be paid to it’s operation, maintenance and even aesthetic appearance.

        The other is the assumptions inherent in the system. In collectivism, the group is paramount and the individual incidental. But in practice, the American military does not treat the individual as incidental, nor the group as paramount. The mission is paramount and that mission may require the sacrifice of individuals or even the entire group. But at heart that sacrifice is not for the greater good of the group, and the loss of any given individual is not treated as incidental to the whole.

        My brain is fighting me a bit, so I’m not sure I’m achieving clarity.

        When you sign on the line, you know you may be signing away your life. And when you take orders, you know those orders may be to abandon your life. But there’s an assumption in there: Use me, use me up, sacrifice me as necessary but use me well! I’m agreeing to your authority and subordinating myself to the needs of the mission but my individuality matters and my sacrifice matters and the commander’s responsibility is to make it count.

        And as an individual within the military structure you have not subsumed your identity to the identity of the whole, you’ve aligned them. But your individual identity remains important to you, to your fellows, and to the group. It’s why people talk about fighting for the people to their right and left. And why individuals, alone and in groups, will take phenomenal risks to their own lives to recover their fellows. Because within the organization the individual people matter.

        Long, and perhaps meandering, as my brain is being twitchy. But at heart I reject the collectivist interpretation because it lessens the actions of individuals who make individual decisions, not for the abstract group but for their fellows. For other individuals.

        If that all comes across as BS, I’ll try again later.

    • You know the argument could be made that the military is fascist, but I fail to see it being collectivist. Besides, the military is a small portion of society, it cannot function on its own as civilization. Using the military as an example of how (or how not) a civilization should work, is like using a family and pointing out they are collectivist, so civilization must be collectivist. Should I take a tire, and point out it is rubber, so cars are made of rubber?

  15. “Ahah, the distinguished visitor (supposing his reading comprehension will hold up this far) will say. “Then you admit civilization is communism!”

    Ah,… no.

    The point I was trying to make, which apparently was totally misunderstood, is that all civilizations have some collectivist features to them. Not extreme collectivism. Not collective ownership of everything.

    By collectivism I mean people being asked to prioritize some of their individual goals lower than the goals of the group/organization/community/state. State ownership of everything is an extreme form of collectivism. Even in the Soviet Union individuals were still allowed to have money and possessions.

    What I was trying to point out is that you can find some collectivism in the USA today. You can find some collectivism in any civilization. There was collectivism long before Marx and collectivism is not equal to Marxism or Communism.

    • “By collectivism I mean people being asked to prioritize some of their individual goals lower than the goals of the group/organization/community/state.

      So … by redefining a term so completely that no one recognizes “it”, you prove that all of humanity has “it”.


    • Not reflective of collectivism, reflective of cooperation.

    • I can certainly agree with you that all societies have some element of collectivism, and that they did so long before Marx showed up. Marx himself lived off of his father (a prosperous Jewish merchant whom he despised), and then off of Engels, for decades. A good thing for him, too, because if he’d had to live off of his own useful production, he’d have starved.

      Your complaint to our hostess was that she was too ignorant and/or alien to recognize that collectivism predated Marx even here in the red-white-and-blue U.S. Many of us responded in wonder or irritation that our hostess never claimed Marx invented collectivism, only that he pushed a particularly ineffectual and all-consuming form of it. She also argued that his discredited ideas continue to infect current politics even if people are reluctant to acknowledge how close their notions remain to his (particularly his looney ideas about how products gain their value).

      • Like many things, collectivism in moderation and applied in the right way, is a good thing. Collectivism in the extreme, is a bad thing. Marx tried to apply collectivism in ways that simply do not work.

        On the other hand, most people will agree that paying taxes to support a local fire department makes sense. It is more efficient for a society to provide collective fire protection supported through taxes than to make each individual responsible for fire protection of his own property. Marx had nothing to do with the idea of tax supported fire departments.

        In the original post our hostess was pointing to many things in modern America that she feels are derived from Marxism. I disagree. My point is collectivism is not Marxism. Moderate application of collectivism are all around us.

        It is a legitimate political question to discuss what things should be addressed collectively and what should be left to the individual. Labeling collectivist ideas as Marxist is just name calling. Collectivist ideas were around long before Marx, and the ideas being seriously discussed in the USA today have nothing to do with Marx.

        • You continue to point to things that are cooperative in nature, not collectivist. Whether fire departments are funded publicly or privately, they are not collectivist.

          And she wasn’t labeling collectivist ideas as Marxist, she was labeling Marxist ideas as Marxist. Since she has clearly stated that she attended an educational institution that explicitly taught Marxist theory I suspect she has a leg up on the average American in identifying Marxist theory manifesting in common discourse.

          I really, truly, honestly believe you need to examine your terms and establish whether or not you are using them in the common way. Perhaps opposition would dissolve if your presentation were clear, as in presented in the common parlance.

          • For clarity on the fire department bit, if you truly believe it is collectivist, go grab one of the engines at your local department and use it water your lawn. Report the results.

            • But on the other hand, I not only can but should go grab the nearest fire engine when it’s time to respond to a fire. We don’t issue a special fire engine to each member of the department. We each have our own bunker gear, but the air tanks and hoses are equally available to all of us, and we’re all equally involved in maintaining them and finding the funds to pay for them. It’s a mix of individual responsibility and collectivized availability that’s governed by what seems most efficient and helpful in achieving our shared goals. Also, we put out any fire that comes up, not just the ones in our own houses.

              It works because we’re small and bound to each other by ties of community and loyalty, and because participation is voluntary.

              • Yes, but it’s cooperative organization not collectivist. Voluntarily pooling some resources is not collectivist. Yes, I’m using a tight (and clean) definition of collectivism. Because that promotes clarity. And because Mike CA keeps broadening his definition to attempt to both: refute other’s points and make his own.

                Note: I’m not arguing with you, I think these sorts of cooperative arrangements are what many people think of when they envision collectivist programs, because there are similarities in activity at the small level. But I think the tighter definition lets us avoid the rest of the collectivist follies.

                • If it wouldn’t be a rehash of “50 shades of Marx”, a post on the difference between co-operation and collectivism would be good. The difference between voluntary and forced action would fit in nicely.

                • It’s true that we don’t dragoon property from anyone. We just pool some resources voluntarily.

          • Collectivism is a concept that long predated Marxism. Marx advocated widespread application of collectivism in society and collectivist organization of many parts of the economy, like agriculture and manufacturing. These application of forced collectivism were a spectacular failure.

            Communism gave a bad name to collectivism. Some people today seem to only associate collectivism with the communist miss-applications of it, but all governments have aspects of collectivism.

            Collectivism is all around us in the USA today. While there can be private toll roads, generally most roads are built and maintained by governments using tax money. Most people agree that the government is more efficient at building roads than leaving it to private companies. The government would have to use its eminent domain right to obtain the right away for most private roads anyway. People are uncomfortable with the government using eminent domain to benefit private companies. When things similar have been done, it is very controversial with good reason.

            There is nothing inherently evil in collectivism. There are some things that can be done better collectively and some that cannot. The idea of doing things collectively did not originate with Marx, he just took the idea too far.

            What I know about the Marx’s theory of the value of labor and goods is that it is all about the value of commodity manufactured goods and the labor to create them. It totally misses many of the fine points of the real world, like the quality of the goods affecting the price. Maybe Marx had that in there somewhere that i missed. It doesn’t seem something worth studying. The basic concept that the amount of labor required to produce a product is related to the products value long predates Marx. Some people trace this concept to Thomas Aquinas (1225 -1274)

            Marx adapted ideas of others, put them together and applied them in novel ways (that did not work very well). It is a serious mistake to confuse Marxism with the underlying ideas he borrowed.

            To me it seems totally nonsensical to be calling the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) which requires people to purchase insurance from private, for profit insurance companies (ok, they could be private non-profit companies too) a Marxist idea. Marx must be turning over in his grave every time someone says that.

            Most people just role their eyes when some equates ACA to Marxism or Communism and dismiss them as a wing-nut. Calling the ACA Marxist allows you to label it as evil without ever thinking about what is wrong with it. The ACA is not Marxist, but it has other flaws. It was a political compromise and most political compromises are flawed.

            If you want to talking convincingly with other people, you have to learn what other people think words mean. Not everyone agrees with your narrow definition of collectivism or your expansive definition of Marxism.

            • Mandatorily requiring you by law, to buy something (regardless of whether you are buying from a private or public source) is a socialist (aka Marxist) idea. The fact that everybody with half a brain knows (and the proponents of Obamacare have even stated in their more truthful moments) that it is designed as a step on the road to a single-payer (government) system is conveniently ignored when you claim it isn’t Marxist. The fact that the government will decide what kind of healthcare you need, how much you have to pay for it (or decide you don’t have to pay for it, that the rest of the taxpayers can pay for it, for you) and the value of said care to your doctor, is so inherently Marxist that I choke on your inability to comprehend that.

              “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” Marx.

            • “If you want to talking[SIC] convincingly with other people, you have to learn what other people think words mean.” Not everyone agrees with your expansive definition of collectivism or your narrow definition of Marxism. In fact, it seems nobody does.

              As you have demonstrated no willingness to exert yourself to comprehend what has been said but instead insist on foisting your interpretations upon the “collective” there seems little point attempting to further engage the unengageable. The one confusing Marxism with the underlying ideas he borrowed has been you — Sarah’s original post was quite clear in her distinctions, distinctions which you inverted.

            • Apologies for the delay, my spam filter became ravenous and devoured @wordpress.

              Mike CA, you seem to be using a sociological definition of collectivism (which is a remarkable mishmash of arbitrary assumptions, but, then – sociology) rather than a political one. And from this comes the confusion.

              For my part, I think the sociological definition is flawed, as is much of sociology, by an attempt to define human behaviors in the abstract. Sociology needs this for analysis. Inevitably abstract templates break down when compared to actual squishy humans. And this undermines your arguments.

              More importantly, responding to a post discussing political systems and theories with sociological definitions and examples is a cross-contamination error.

              As RES noted, you don’t seem to be willing to respond to direct refutations and counter-arguments. This makes it remarkably difficult to engage or clarify.

              As a final aside, you’ve used “most people” a couple of times up there without any indication of why this would be so. And I know a number of people inclined to argue the use of government and efficiency in the same sentence.

        • Mandatory collectivism rarely works. Limited voluntary collectivism often does. My own fire department is funded entirely by voluntary contributions, which works for us. It’s not as though we had to make a stark choice between taxes and every-man-for-himself. A great many problems with overweening government and exploded deficits could be ameliorated if people quit assuming that cooperation can be achieved only through government funded by mandatory taxes and enforced by the police power. Private, voluntary institutions do a fine job of allowing people to work cooperatively in complex, predictable, efficient ways.

          • “Private, voluntary institutions do a fine job of allowing people to work cooperatively in complex, predictable, efficient ways.”

            Until they don’t, and then they fail spectacularly. I’m willing to bet that your fire department is rather small, probably a rural or small-town force, where social, rather than legal, forces can work to prevent failure.

            Fire departments are a classic case of a public good. I don’t gain much benefit from the fire department putting out a fire in my own house, the costs from repairing fire, smoke, and water damage are nearly as much as the costs of replacing and entire structure, I do benefit greatly from the fire department putting out the fire in my neighbor’s house and preventing it from spreading to mine. In a small community social pressure is enough to keep a sufficient number of people in the system, but those pressures fall off rapidly with population size. That’s why you’ll never see the NYFD funded from voluntary contributions.

            And we’ve tried private fire companies. We quickly realized that paying people to put out fires created an incentive to start fires.

            • Slightly OT, but Troy’s ( a small town not far from me) fire department likes to brag that they have never lost a foundation.

              • Is this Troy, NY, Troy, MI or some other Troy?

                I went to high school in Troy, MI. At that time the Troy fire department was mostly volunteer. The fire chief was a city employee and of course the fire engines and equipment were were bought by the city. Last time I was in Troy it had all kinds of high rise office buildings, so I doubt they still have an all volunteer fire department.

            • Yes, and mandatory collectivism works until it doesn’t, too, like most things. The trick is to figure out the functions that must be mandatory (national defense; epidemiology) and the ones that needn’t. We have to get away from the silly idea that “government is just a name for the things we do together.” We do things together in all kinds of ways, and only in some limited instances do we need to do them mandatorily. To my way of thinking, we need to do them mandatorily a lot less often than a bunch of control-freaks assume we do.

              You’re correct, of course, about my small, rural fire department. It goes back to what I was saying about how collectivism works in small, intimate communities with personal bonds. When it’s necessary to scale up, the question is, which part do you jettison? The mandatory nature, or the collectivist nature?

            • “And we’ve tried private fire companies. We quickly realized that paying people to put out fires created an incentive to start fires.”

              And it turns out that firefighters still – as public employees – have a higher than average rate of arson. Friends of mine almost died in a fire in California set in a home improvement store by a arson investigator of a local fire department. And several wildfires have been set by seasonal firefighters wanting work including a very devastating one in Arizona.

        • Mike, you probably ought re-read the Fifty Shades of Marx post, as you’ve managed to get it entirely backwards. Our hoystess made the argument that Marxist ideas have undue influence, including a) the concept that the value of a good or service ought be determined by any measure other than free market exchange, b) literary criticism (the measure of a book is its “social relevancy” rather than its readability) c) guilt and punishment can and should be collective — that individuals bear guilt and ought be punished (or excused punishment) not for any action of their own but because of the group with which they are identified — which she attributed to Marx’s theory of Classes.

          There was more, but nowhere did she claim “collectivism” was the problem, merely condemned Marx’s interpretation of collectivism. She mentioned “collective” exactly three times:

          That last about teachers being more important to society than professional athletes? Marx again. We’re supposed to prioritize the good of the collective over the good of the individual. … Then we get into sociology/politics/moral/religion, where the idea of collective guilt and collective punishment has taken hold.

          Put in the abstract, she condemned squares and you, sir, have spoken up in defense of rectangles.

          • As an instance of Social Justice = Individual Injustice and the abuse of collective guilt, I read this at Instapundit

            AMY ALKON: About The Bora Controversy: If There’s Anything That Makes Women Unequal To Men, It’s The Need To Be Treated Like Fragile Pieces Of China. “Treating women equally means expecting them to buck up and act like adults and speak their piece when they want something to stop. And again, what went on does not rise to the legal definition of sexual harassment, but now, some women have elevated any talk of sex, jokes about sex, or compliments about a woman’s new boots to sexual harassment. . . . It is a violation of Bora’s privacy that she blogged their private lunch conversation simply over being offended by a conversation that veered off into sex, and why? Because she was too fragile a lily to speak up and say ‘Let’s change the subject.’”

            21st Century feminism is the argument that a women who drinks one beer is morally and intellectually inferior to a man who drinks twelve, and that a woman with professional accomplishments can be reduced to jelly by a single glance from a man.

            — which reminded me of an tale I read recently.

            At the Ohio State University homecoming parade a drunken couple were observed engaged in an activity which normally occurs in private. Pictures and videos posted show the female perched against a shop window enjoying the oral attentions of a male partner, at one point clutching his head closer to her. The next day, sober(er) and (apparently) mortified that her actions had been recorded she charged “rape!” — and was upheld by the University, which takes the view that any male, however drunk, has superior moral agency and is thus culpable.

        • And we called you on your faux “definition”.

      • If you want to push the definitional boundaries sufficiently, marriage is a “collectivist” institution: one body, one flesh, what’s mine is thine and what’s thine is mine. Of course, traditionally (and still ongoing in many parts of the world) that ended with one party being chattel of the other …

        And any individual human is a collective of cells, organs, systems which subordinate their self interest to the common good.

        We can even push the reductio to the ad absurdum extent that all human life on the Earth is part of a single “collective” requiring us to elevate Mother Gaea above out individual interests. I volunteer to take charge of managing things. It is a great personal sacrifice but I am willing to make it for the common good.

        • My own marriage is a highly socialist institution: from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. With all my worldly goods I thee endow. My husband’s happiness is essential to my own, so I wouldn’t get anywhere refusing to take his needs into account even if I thought it was OK morally for me to adopt that attitude.

          But our marriage is also a state the two of us chose for ourselves. We’re not itching to invite 350 million other Americans to join us in it.

          • Traditionally– maybe “theologically” would be a better word– failure to do that is grounds for an annulment because you aren’t willing yourself into a marriage, even if that’s what you’re calling it.

            Digression: the more I find out about annulments, the more I’m thinking that the huge jump in them is a genuine reaction to a societal sickness that’s preventing valid marriages from being formed.

          • Socialism is workable in very small and very friendly populations. A family with minor children, or composed of a few surviving siblings, constitutes precisely such a very small and very friendly population.

            “Very small” is important because it solves the Von Mises communication problem: you don’t need a market price mechanism if there are so few people involved that you can literally share out rations. “Very friendly” is important because it means that the members of the collective are mutually benevolent and disinclined to cheat each other.

            Having said that, families are authoritarian socialist systems, run by an autocrat or at best diumvirate (married couples usually divvy up the decision-making authority on a task-oriented basis to avoid squabbles), with the junior members (the children) mostly forced to do what the senior members (the parents) want them to do. And this only works because the children know that they will eventually become adults and found their own households — it can become very unpleasant if the children are for some reason unable to become productive adults, especially when the children realize this.

            The larger the family, the greater the degree of exploitation of the juniors by the seniors, and of the more competent by the less competent. Make a family on a national level, and you don’t get Equestria, you get North Korea. (And Equestria, come to think of it, solves most of its routine production problems on a private-enterprise basis, as Applejack and Rarity could attest).

  16. Civilization equals collective cooperation: lots and lots of people have to be able to engage in coordinated efforts to get big things done, such as building cities, roads, aqueducts, farms, factories etc. There are various ways to coordinate this collective cooperation, of varying degrees of individualism versus collectivism.

    The mistake that socialists make is to assume that the best way to organize such efforts is through social ownership of the means of production. There are some fields (particularly war-fighting) where this is true, but in most cases the best way to ensure that people use resources efficiently towards actually-desired ends of production is through a system of private ownership, so that the owners reap a good share of the returns or suffer a good share of the losses based on the profitability of the enterprise.

    This acts as a communicative mechanism, making it possible for economic signals to be generated by the users of the product and received and appropriately acted-upon by the makers of the product. With such communication, one can create a large-scale economy that consumes resources and labor from the whole world and produces goods and services to be consumed all over the world, resulting in vast wealth for all. Absent such communication, decision-makers are liable to be primarily-governed by local-political rather than economic considerations, which results in an economy full of impressive-looking enterprises that convert vast quantities of resources and labor into vast quantities of often-undesired product, resulting in privation and suffering for all.

    Clear examples of both sorts of economy exist. The tremendous growth of wealth in Britain, America and the West in general in the 18th-20th centuries show the power of private economic action; as does the tremendous wastage of natural resources in 20th-century Russia and China show the weakness of socialist economies.

    If it weren’t for the seductive thrill of having People Like Themselves (they imagine: usually it’s People more like inept versions of Dexter Morgan) running everything, I don’t think that intellectuals would be so drawn to the siren song of socialism.

    • “If it weren’t for the seductive thrill of having People Like Themselves (they imagine: usually it’s People more like inept versions of Dexter Morgan)”

      Heh. They ARE the inept versions of Dexter Morgan. Given the vastness of the evidence, and their claims to be informed, I no longer accept the lie that they only have the best of intentions.

      They desperately want the power to choose who lives and how dies. Look at the recent screeches calling for the arrest and prosecution of Republican politicians for the crime of not cooperating with Dear Leader.

      • At least Dexter Morgan is self-aware enough to realize that being a sociopathic serial killer, even a self-fettered one, mostly sucks. The intellectuals don’t seem to be this intelligent.

      • They desperately want the power to choose who lives and how dies. Look at the recent screeches calling for the arrest and prosecution of Republican politicians for the crime of not cooperating with Dear Leader.

        They don’t seem to get that, once they’ve criminalized political dissent, they will wind up themselves hunted as criminals once they either discover themselves at odds with their Dear Leader, or the other party or parties returns to power (and yes, this happens even in dictatorships, just not as non-violently as it does in democracies).

  17. Also, matriarchal, but that was the icing on the cake, though the feminists said that’s why they were communitarian because women are all shary and stuff.

    Does this mean that the definition of “feminist” includes “grew up without any actual sisters, or do they imagine that fighting over clothes etc. is all the fault of the Evil Patriarchy? Anyway, there is evidence that as archaic societies developed greater specialization and professionalization of labor (including war-fighting), and metal weapons became more important, cultures became on the average more patriarchal. But this trend is clearly sociobiological in nature, since it’s because women alone can bear babies and on the average tend to be physically-weaker than men.

  18. One thing that I’ve noticed about all the socialists/communists/progressives or whatever else they might wish to be called is that they believe quite firmly that what’s yours should belong to the “community”. On the other hand what’s “theirs” belongs to them so keep yer dirty hands off! After all they’ve worked for what they have (or so they believe), while you and I have only obtained what we have through outright theft or maybe something sneakier but still immoral and should be illegal.

    Communism might work in a perfect society with perfect people and perfect this and that and the other thing. Unfortunately, as a brief view of recent history reveals nobody’s perfect, so there’s no perfect society. Thus communism can’t work, and socialism only works as long as you can convince people to feel guilty that they have more than someone else (who likely hasn’t worked a lick in his/her/its life).

    • If people were perfect then Communism wouldn’t be necessary.

      Communism only works if people are perfect.

      • They passed one resolution: — “Your sub-committee believe
        You can lighten the curse of Adam when you’ve lifted the curse of Eve.
        But till we are built like angels — with hammer and chisel and pen,
        We will work for ourself and a woman, for ever and ever, amen.”

        Now this is the tale of the Council the German Kaiser held —
        The day that they razored the Grindstone, the day that the Cat was belled,
        The day of the Figs from Thistles, the day of the Twisted Sands,
        The day that the laugh of a maiden made light of the Lords of Their Hands.

  19. Dorothy Grant

    Here, let’s make this easy. Straight from the horse’s mouth of marxist.org (sorry for defacing your blog with this propagndist trash, Sarah)

    “Individualism is the ethos which emphasises the autonomy of the individual as against the community or social group. The word was first used in a translation of de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America in 1835.

    Collectivism is the ethos which emphasizes the priority of the community as a whole or the group as against the individual. The word came into the language in the 1880s as a direct result of the work of the First International, originally as a synonym for common ownership of the means of production.

    The growth of individualism in the 18th century played a crucial role in further bolstering the development of bourgeois society upon which it had been founded, and the thorough breakdown of feudalism.

    In Tribal Society, individual consciousness is absent, and only begins to develop on the basis of a social division of labour and in particular, the emergence of private property. In feudal and ancient society, individual consciousness is quite undeveloped; while the names of kings and queens are well-known, the craftspeople who built the great mediaeval cathedrals, for instance, remain anonymous.” (this is pure horse apples, flat out lies, blatant stupidity, and willful ignorance of reality, mind you, but doesn’t it sound nice? So this is what they believe in their religious fervor)

    “Collectivism is the dominant ethos in communities where private property is not dominant, and this includes poor working class communities”yeah, right. You try taking Ice Dawg’s athletic shoes and bling, eh? See how that works out. ” in modern capitalist societies; powerful social movements also tend to overshadow individualism and trade unions, national liberation and other struggles are generally characterised by a strong collectivist ethos.”right up until we remember the individuals who made themselves more equal than others, looted the country in the name of organizing it for the eventual eden, and killed millions upon millions because reality kept interfering with their religious vision.

    Socialism entails a collectivism which does not suppress the individualism of bourgeois society, and in contrast to the ‘crude’ collectivism of very poor working class communities, is a collectivism which transcends (or sublates) individualism.”

    For sublate – “To supersede, put an end to, but simultaneously maintain, preserve” -Lenin, that asshole who killed millions.

    • “Collectivism is the dominant ethos in communities where private property is not dominant, and this includes poor working class communities”yeah, right. You try taking Ice Dawg’s athletic shoes and bling, eh? See how that works out. ”

      Somehow I don’t think Ice Dawg is part of the ‘working class’. But yeah he would probably not agree with having collectivism applied to him.

    • Collectivism: A political or economic theory advocating collective control, especially over production and distribution; also, a system marked by such control.

    • “In Tribal Society, individual consciousness is absent”

      So there’s no such thing as first-person singular pronouns in the languages of tribal societies?

      By Finagle’s beard marxists are dumb.

      • I tried reading a novel about the Lewis and Clark expedition where the author assumed that Sakagawea would never have known of or have used the first-person-singular pronoun. And it was semi-stream-of-consciousness. After a few dozen pages of “this one runs. This one hides from” and so on, it hit the wall.

        • What was the title of that? I want to make sure I can avoid it. 😉

        • It sounds as if the book’s author was deeply influenced by Steve Englehart’s run on The Avengers in the mid-Seventies and thought that Mantis‘ faux Vietnamese speech pattern was cool. This one thinks that is ample reason to read nothing by that one.

          • Using “this one” is still first person singular in the mind of the user; it’s just a sophisticated grammar/synonym form of politeness. Similarly, many European languages have used second person plural as a more formally polite synonym for second person singular, and first person plural as a majestic synonym for first person singular.

            If the king really thinks he’s multiple people, the king is a wacko, not a wonderful example of his rich diverse culture.

      • Yep, and they TEACH this stuff.

        • Willful suspension of understanding.

          There’s no other way to look at actual, squishy humans and teach this pap.

  20. Civilization is a communitarian thing. There’s no arguing that point. But the community is not the state.

    • Oh, there is arguing. “Communitarian” means something civilization ISN’T — not large scale. Cooperative is what civilization is.

      • “Communitarianism” as a political philosophy is simply wrong, because it confuses the community with the State, and sees the coercive force of the State as a proper tool for building the community. In truth, the strength of a community is in its voluntary associations. And the strength of a civilization is in the strength of exactly those associations. And not in the strength of the State.

    • There’s always arguing. Most particularly with social theory.

    • Communitarianism huh,

      “The term is primarily used in two senses:
      Philosophical communitarianism considers classical liberalism to be ontologically and epistemologically incoherent, and opposes it on those grounds. Unlike classical liberalism, which construes communities as originating from the voluntary acts of pre-community individuals, it emphasizes the role of the community in defining and shaping individuals. Communitarians believe that the value of community is not sufficiently recognized in liberal theories of justice.
      Ideological communitarianism is characterized as a radical centrist ideology that is sometimes marked by leftism on economic issues and moralism or conservatism on social issues. This usage was coined recently. When the term is capitalized, it usually refers to the Responsive Communitarian movement of Amitai Etzioni and other philosophers.”

      Nope, I wouldn’t call civilization a communitarian thing, civilization CAN be a communitarian thing, but it doesn’t HAVE to be. As a matter of fact the most successful civilizations generally are the LESS communitarian.

  21. I know I am late to the party but was anyone actually arguing with the child or was every reply just pointing and laughing at the stupid?

  22. http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/148162/young-intellectuals-find-marx?all=1

    Youngsters whose earliest memory is the 2008 crash decide that capitalism doesn’t work, so let’s try Marxism again.

  23. Timely:

    Garry Kasparov ✔ @Kasparov63

    Sorry, but I’m from a place where everything was “shared equally” and it wasn’t as nice as some of you seem to think it would be.