Power, ownership and freedom
Power, ownership and freedom is one of a series of documents analysing dysfunctional social, or group, behaviour in modern society.
|authoritarianism and liberty||citizen's wage|
|socialist religions||power, ownership and freedom|
| fascism is socialism ||corporate corruption, politics and the law|
|papal encyclicals and marx - some extracts||British establishment interference with civil liberties during the 20th century—the example of Diana and Oswald Mosley|
|ends and means and the individual|
|introduction to franchise discussion documents||sustainable futures briefings documents|
If all people were intelligent and able, it would be possible for them to discuss their objectives, and to co-operate in arranging their affairs in such a way that friction would be minimised and comfort maximised.
In times of stress, such as war or poverty, or under other severe environmental pressures, co-operation is widely observed. Under such conditions, without co-operation, survival would come even more into question.
Why, then, is there any inclination for individuals to exert power over one another in normal conditions of plenty?
There are three main situations where power is exercised:-
These categories tend to merge one into another.
In the first category, it is clear that children have insufficient knowledge to survive and thrive without adult supervision; for individuals are not born strong and learned. Mitigating the worst elements of this necessary use of power is increasingly explored in books such as those recommended at relationship training.
The main available attack on the need for this form of power is the extension of effective education. Much of the purpose of the abelard site is laying the conditions for progress toward that objective.
In the meanwhile, such use of power is a necessity for the optimisation of resource usage. Without those of greater ability organising those of little ability and knowledge; the general standards of living of society would be much reduced in present circumstances, very likely to the point of social chaos and threats to the survival of all.
Perhaps Thomas Jefferson was too optimistic when he said,
But Jefferson was clearly pointing in the most profitable direction for solving the problems of ignorance.(See also franchise by examination, education and intelligence.)
This section is appropriate for law (see the logic of ethics – from'of practical ethics' onwards). Such behaviour is much founded in evolutionary strategies as organisms seek advantage; it has now become an embarrassment and vexation to human advance as our technology and societies have evolved beyond the simplistic imperatives of our genes. We sensibly control these atavistic drives by rational enforced social 'laws'.
The combination and interactions of situations 2 and 3 are fundamental in generating major current human social problems.
The world changed fundamentally at Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. For millennia, humans had fought and attacked one another with any rock or lump of iron or device that came to hand, or that could be fashioned by their growing knowledge and ingenuity. Since 1945, humans have developed nuclear-tipped spears and so gained the ability to wipe themselves from the evolutionary score board. Recently, as populations have rapidly grown, a multitude of other unpleasant, unintended consequences of success assail us on every side. The likelihood of dying in a muddy ditch on the end of a rusty pike has receded, but these other annoyances must now be confronted if the human success story is to have further chapters.
In a world where some gain power and others widely follow the instructions of those who lead, for the first time, the nuclear spears are ever bit as likely to take out the leaders as the foot soldiers. The interests of the leaders and the led are increasingly becoming inseparable. It is technology that drives change, not increasing altruism. The growing awareness that we are all in the same boat tends to generate co-operation between officers and crew.
When leaders exercise control over the less able in societies where the majority are not very competent, the gains in production are very great indeed (see Ford [in preparation]). Those who lead tend also to accumulate a better standard of living than the masses who follow.
Production is a product of
knowledge times work times resources
In a society where some are more able and thereby obtain greater resources, a small group tends to accumulate a disproportionate share of those resources. When a society institutes the legally enforced concept of 'ownership' together with the practice of directed inheritance, those who lead that society soon come to glean benefits. They ensure a superior education for 'their' children with networks of supportive relationships, and they write self-serving 'laws' in order to protect their advantages. Such a system sets up a gradual separation into a class of farmers and a domesticated class, with interests and attitudes at variance with one another.
This is not some form of 'exploitation' of the poor by the rich, as the collectivist revolutionaries usually seek to persuade their victims when grubbing after a bit more power for themselves. There are dividends to be obtained from the relationships by both groups. The 'workers', as they are anomalously called in a modern society, tend to gain by having little in the way of responsibility: they do not have to take their work home, or worry about how to pay next week wages or sell the product.
After their 35 hour week, the 'workers' usually retire to gawp passively at the mind-drug called television and stuff themselves with instant food produced by the local pizzeria or chip shop. Most of them run a car or two, receive much free time and go on exotic holidays. They have access to foods from around the globe and to a cornucopia of other diversions and distractions, completely unknown to the serfs both of a quite recent past and from other places even now.
If the workers should wish to work and save and study, they can gradually lift themselves, their families and their mates into the position of running their own 'farm' and employing peasants themselves. If they choose not to take such a route, they even have the luxury of someone to blame and cuss for their dreadful and demeaning condition.
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"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
Unfortunately, this is the extant human condition. One of the best works ever written on the nature of power is George Orwell's Animal Farm. Reading this book is an essential requirement for a modern education. There is no way out of the trap he presents without extending the educational scope of society (see also citizenship curriculum). No approach to 'equality' is available when the populace is poorly educated. It is not possible to legislate 'equality' into being; it is only possible to cause more chaos by attempting that. Until education is attended to, society must remain a system of farmers and sheep if it is to function at all effectively.
The (sane) farmers will constantly resent the requirement to run the lives of the sheep in place of pursuing their own interests; while the sheep will constantly resent the control exercised by their betters.
The drive to control is dangerous, particularly the drive to control and own other people (see also the logic of ethics). Therefore, groups attempt to put into play consensus decision-making (more in discussion outline on juries, in preparation). The consensus process takes much effort and even intelligence. The average person can only make close relationships with about 12 people and slight relationships with maybe up to 200 others. As groups grow, various voting systems are attempted, with the agreement to action the preferences of the majority. Clearly within a voting system, the preferences of many are likely to be overridden or even crushed. As systems extend ever wider, and the complexity of the group and its activities increases, some method of representative 'government' develops.
Soon, the interests of the 'representatives' tend to diverge from the interests of those they are supposedly representing. The representatives become specialised in 'political' manoeuvring. Perks and powers of office increasingly become accessible only to specialists and those with 'contacts'. The complexities of government get way beyond the knowledge of the average person; after all, most cannot spend their lives studying abstruse 'laws', or take the time making the personal contacts. Thus, the power structure tends to get heavily loaded with lawyers and those with personal connections.
'Law' and 'politics' become specialised subjects, which can look dull and uninteresting to those unaware of the returns in power and money available to those 'in government'. The inner circle set their own 'wages', make laws specifically directed to enhancing their own power and interests, groom their own children for succession, see that their friends and those who can enhance their advantages are 'promoted' and cultivated. Gorbachev said that his main contribution to Russia was to allow for a change of leaders without bloodshed, an interesting insight on 'democracy'. Churchill put it as, "that system which is the worst form of Government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time". Gorbachev's comment gives some idea why that should be so.
Societies have attempted various devices to offset this 'corruption' of power but, invariably, an inner group apply much creativity to manipulating and changing the system in order to reflect their own objectives and drives. Victorians, such as Acton, worried much about 'democracy' becoming the dictatorship of the mob or, more politely, the masses. Indeed, modern politicians greatly pander to the worst instincts of the mob in order to keep their own places at the trough. As Juvenal put it, "bread and circuses".
These problems are, in my view, pretty well inherent in the present structure of large societies and systems of 'universal' franchise (see franchise by examination, education and intelligence). So what, if anything, can be done?
Collectivist dogmas endanger societies and threaten your life
Collective identity is an illusion
People may be thought of in two major different ways, as individuals or alternatively as a crowd or herd (see feedback and crowding).
The manner in which humans think of the world effects the way they behave, and the ways in which they react to the world. To think of all humans as, in some sense, ≴being the same≵ may have some utility for a surgeon, but it is highly counter productive to a psychologist or, indeed, for the effective functioning of human institutions.
Thinking about humans en masse has been at the foundation of a very great deal of human misery. It is at the heart of why institutional religions, including that modern religion called socialism, have so often and so monumentally failed decent human aspirations.
Every human has individual experience and objectives. It isn't crowds that eat meals or wield pikes in battle; it is individuals. A lot of people fighting against an 'enemy' may be termed an 'army'; but it remains individuals that are taking decisions, performing actions and surviving or dying. It is not the army that fights or dies; it is individual people with individual agendas.
It is useful to consider just how individuals decide that they are 'part of an army' or 'members of a religion'. A 'religion' is a system of 'beliefs', and yet it is not possible to know very fully what is in the mind of another. I have asked many people what they mean by the words 'god' or 'spirit', and have been surprised by the considerable range of answers I have received; yet widely, these people have the strange and, clearly, erroneous opinion that they "all believe the same thing". On the basis of such beliefs, they happily go off to fight another group whom, they have become convinced, believe something slightly different. They readily persecute and kill those within their own milieu who profess to dissent from the supposedly common local views.
One may decide that a line on a map defines a nation and then fight to defend that 'owned' territory, even robins and tigers do that. It is possible to gather with other interested parties to 'play' chess or football or to view a film, for these activities are simple and defined by formal rules. But how do people come to imagine that they 'believe' the 'same' as others, for clearly such a belief is irrational (see the error of equality). One cannot know what another 'believes', only what they may say, or the manner in which they may choose to act (see also the authoritarianism of Rome and the Trinity in Logic has made me hated among men).
People follow flags and they rally to people called leaders, who may wear a funny hat in order to give the herd a focal point and organised direction. Two herds usually tend to wear differentiated odd uniforms, or war paint, in order to indicate the 'side' for which they are playing. This behaviour is clearly atavistic and, to a great extent, mindless. But to refuse to join such a team, or even to join the wrong team, can be seriously deleterious to one's health. As long as there is a mob 'over there', determined upon rape and pillage, the necessity to stop 'them' rather constrains one's freedom of action.
It is easy to tell a young, defenceless mind that 'father Christmas' comes down their chimney while they are sleeping and that 'he' leaves them presents. Some adults even think it is 'nice' or even 'funny', to fool young minds thus.
One can make a young child believe anything, and societies throughout the planet have always so done without compunction or awareness. Society and parents treat the young as property, not as actualising  individuals. The young are still widely regarded by parents as a pension fund and by politicians as a source of taxation and cannon fodder in pursuit of their ambitions. It is time to review these practices and to advance society.
Amazingly, almost every little Roman becomes a catholic, while up the road in Russia most became little commies. Get born in Arabia and there is a minimal chance you will grow up as anything but a Moslem. Arrange to be born in Germany and you will speak German and hail the fatherland, be an American and you will surely cheer for the land of the free and the brave. Be born in England and you will be taught of 'your' glorious empire. This is all rather beyond explaining easily as coincidence.
Societies have a great penchant for teaching the young that they have been born into the greatest culture ever known in ten planets, and that only a complete and utter idiot would ever think of questioning the truth of that obvious fact. Thus, by numerous steps, is the young mind steadily entrapped and enslaved to the purposes of the elders of the tribe.
Consider two fellows doing the showdown at the OK Corral; both have a gun pointed at the other. One of these fellows may take the notion that there are better ways to proceed, and suggest that they both put down their guns and discuss the problem in an intelligent manner, with some hope that a more sensible course be available to them. "Yes", says the rival, "but you put down your gun first".
A culture that imbues a sense (or should that be a non-sense) of 'belonging' is more able perhaps to cohere and defeat the vandals at the gate, but it is not well placed to innovate or allow its citizens to lead a happy, free and productive life. Modern war has, in fact, shown that the more free and productive societies can generally defeat the massed bands of marching zombified clones. It is accurately directed firepower and technology that wins wars, not just a dead weight of numbers and mindless obedience.
How are we to stop these problems as long as people differentiate themselves through irrational 'beliefs' and by distinctions without realistic meaning? Clearly, to achieve such an objective it is necessary to educate people to think realistically, and to learn to negotiate effectively with others. For foundations of such a process, see Feedback and crowding and Why Aristotelian logic does not work.
So much damage has come to humanity from idealists selling their collectivist dreams: 'leaders' who imagined that some utopia could be established, if only people would behave rationally and follow them! Many such people have been inclined to try and achieve that happy state by force.
In real society, however, individuals act to the optimum within their local limited perception. No individual can do any more than that; a grand simplistic plan for society can only originate from the limited information some particular individual may have. Such a plan cannot take into account the data held by millions acting independently within their knowledge. Thus such plans are by their nature doomed to simplism and idiocy.
The only way to encourage a society to function more effectively is to teach individuals how to think and to judge; not by attempting to teach individuals what to think—in some crazed notion that by forcing all think 'identical' thoughts, solidarity and happiness is some how to be achieved. Of course, experience shows that the real-world outcomes from these dreams are anything but peace and contentment.
The greater the proportion of people who can think clearly, and the more clearly they can think, the more society will advance. Society does not advance by grand plans, progress develops over time by the small and large acts of millions; it is not achieved in one mighty leap forward.
As long as only a few people can think clearly in a society of the ignorant, Hobbes is correct to suggest that
But this need not continue as ever-greater proportions of the populace can think and fend adequately without constant supervision.
It is useful to have a definition of fundamentalism: I put forward the following:
In order to educate a free society, in order to encourage and to keep societies free and thoughtful, it also seems to me that it is time to introduce legislation outlawing the promotion of fundamentalist dogmas, or the establishment of brainwashing closed 'schools' for the young. I would like to see structures developed that legislate against such behaviour being promoted, or accepted, in the education of children. (See also section on brainwashing in citizenship curriculum, including current, related British law on this subject.)
The more people learn to rule themselves, the more can decision-making be effectively taken by local communities, thus mitigating the problems of alienation attendant upon the mass state.
A fundamental rule I have is, when a person does act in such a foolhardy manner, it is perfectly legitimate to lower oneself to their 'ethical' standards if there be no other safe way of dealing with aggression and immaturity. However, the objective must be to raise the reasoning ability and, thus, the ethical standards of individuals (see the logic of ethics).
Remember that power is a function of resources, that there are more options available now than ever before in history, and that increase is accelerating. A vast variety of products come from around the world. Even a hairdresser can afford to fly at hundreds of miles per hour to places unknown to Roman emperors.
The numbers of 'millionaires' is growing at an expanding rate, some are rich enough to buy politicians and countries. A Bin Laden can set himself up with daddy's money as a modern Blofeld  and threaten mass chaos, or capture the resources of states to pursue his daffy delusions.
In the meanwhile, others struggle to get by. We have a system of franchise by money. A great deal of it is inherited money, and with the money comes divers power and control. Supposed 'representative democracy' is not solving this difficulty (see franchise by examination, education and intelligence).
Sex, brains, money, power; these are tradable, interchangeable assets for the human monkey. Ideas of ownership are fundamental, and unconscious, background assumptions to human behaviour in modern civilisations. The most basic asset you have is your own body; that asset is expressed through time. Your life is measurable in time.
If you are murdered, all assets are taken from you; if your purse and money are stolen, that amount of time and effort required to fill your purse has been stolen. That is, part of your life has been removed from you. If you 'earn' some money and the tax bandits remove 40% of your earnings, as is common in modern states, then 4/10th of your time at work has been appropriated by others. Whether you value the 'benefits' returned by the tax mafia, in terms of 'education' provision, health insurance or roads at 40% of your 'earned' efforts, is a calculation only you may make.
The more a state attempts to tax, the more its citizens will spend efforts avoiding the taxes; in place of producing useful goods. Thus, the higher the taxes, the greater the public 'dishonesty' and, ultimately, corruption.
While you work for another, that part of your life is purchased. If you are enslaved or imprisoned, your life is further curtailed. However, you still remain alive and have some freedom of action. Your freedom of action is not absolute, but always exists on a continuum.
A reasonable model of human behaviour is: that humans tend to act to maximise what they perceive to be their returns, while seeking to minimise their costs. As an American saying has it, "money is just a means of keeping score".
Only part of any economy is 'monetarised'. For example, if 'your' granny looks after 'your' child while you go down the disco or pub for a rave, and you do not pay cash for this service; maybe the tax Mafia will not charge granny tax. If you pay granny £20 for the service, they may well try for a cut.
One hears claims such as a billion people live on less than a dollar a day. Of course, this is sheer non-sense. They could not even buy a sandwich for such a price in Western society. The reality is that much of their economy is not monetarised. These people simply take in each other's washing, or look after the infants, without using dollars or marks to calculate the favours.
Modern states attempt to monetarise everything they can, they also attempt to set up a money monopoly that they can control. Then these states attempt to take a cut from every possible transaction (see also the mechanics of inflation and the references regarding private money in E.M.U. is bad for you).
The concept of ownership is quite complex. Your ice cream is more firmly owned by you once you have ingested it. That car outside 'your' house is easier to steal than the ice cream you just ate. 'Your' house is even more difficult to carry away.
Those who think they are 'the government' may considerably qualify much of your 'ownership'. They will likely steal 'your' car from you if you insist on driving it along the pavement; they may even steal your body and put it in a prison cage. In some bergs, they may even steal your life if you use 'your' car to run down and steal the life of another.
Consider 'your' house built upon 'your' land. For strange notions, most governments imagine that your house is a place into which they may intrude by force. Naturally, they always have 'reasons'.
Governments have a tendency to proclaim that state goods are owned in common, then to run them in a manner that suits themselves rather than the customers. Next, they demand a 'fare' if you to occupy a seat on 'your' train, or demand that you to pay for posting letters using 'your' system. It further suits politicians to appoint their mates to the board, and to give the unionised workers who vote for them wages well above the market rates; in the meanwhile accepting very low standards of performance from those 'workers'.
You travel on aeroplanes owned by corporations and you obtain a mortgage for a house from the bank (see also the mechanics of inflation). Various tax subsidies causing market distortions are developed for large corporations, who pay into political parties, who then rig the 'laws'. This enables the corporations to maintain cartels and near cartels and, therefore, high prices, excessive profits and mediocre service.
If you were free to spend your own money instead of having it filtered through endemic government interference, waste and corruption, it is likely that your standard of living would rise substantially.
It is easy to con a politically uneducated electorate. Hence, I advocate the putting in place of detailed citizenship education, allied to franchise by examination. I see no other manner in which society can progress much further.
Do you want another hospital or a brand new dvd player? Individuals may want cars, whereas societies may want roads; yet most sane people would like to be able to breathe and hear themselves think. Such decisions cannot be made by ignorant masses on a vote once every 4 or 5 years; nor is it rational to leave the decisions to career politicians, deep in hock to corrupting bribes from vested interests. Voting for an organised club once every few years does not provide you a voice in deciding whether you prefer the community to spend out on that new hospital or to buy the dvd player.
You will not own your life and decisions as long as you abnegate responsibility to a corrupt and venal Mafia who take ever increasing parts of your work, time and life in pursuit of their own objectives.
Money has an entirely different function for a poor person and for a rich person. For a poor person, money is pocket money used to obtain food and other everyday items. While money does serve this purpose for the rich, for them money has an other entirely different function as an arbiter of power. The rich buy the labour of the poor, and usually 'own' the property in which the poor live; they own the land upon which the food is grown and the supermarkets in which the food is sold.
The poor are taught to imagine that they are 'independent' if they pay rent to the property owner or interest to the banks, and are free if they work for the owners of the banks and the owners of the toy manufacturers. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Humans buy toys to impress others and to attract mates. A pair of fashion trainers, a bicycle, a car, a fancy yacht, a country estate; it makes little difference. Any sane person can live comfortably in a studio flat with a few toys, and live without an ocean-going ship.
Work is becoming ever more optional, especially work done directly for others. Increasing numbers are simply opting out and living off the taxes levied upon others, while usually supplementing the charity money with 'grey' economy odd jobs: a bit of window cleaning, a drug deal or three, perhaps even some shoplifting and burglary. Some of this causes social nuisance and some causes very little.
Much would be rationalised if every person were allocated a standard citizen's wage, clawed back on a sliding scale at higher earning levels. This would leave each person entirely free to top up their citizen's wage according to taste and desired standard of living. Such a practice would remove vast swathes of government make-work, spies and paper shifters, while very greatly increasing freedom and independence.
Our western societies are now so vastly rich that government takes approximately 35-60% of all that is produced, and gives it to those that cannot produce enough to obtain a decent standard of living. In the process, the government destroys wealth on a massive scale through corruption and inefficiency, whilst encouraging dependence and fraud among the poor. This demotivates and interferes with the effectiveness and productivity of the producers.
Just about everything that government touches, it ruins. Our growing standard of living comes from independent people and shippers of goods around the world, from the research and development of car manufacturers, and the hi-fi toy producers of Japan. Meanwhile, hospitals and schools remain substandard government monopolies, which anyone with sufficient money avoids by using the private sector. Governments destroy value and intrude anywhere they can obtain a foothold. Government is usually the problem, not the solution. Yet silly people constantly demand that 'government do something', where the common good would be much better served if the governments did much less.
As Keynes wrote, "The important thing for Government is not to do things which individuals are doing already, and to do them a little better or a little worse; but to do those things which at present are not done at all".
By sticking to ensuring the transfer of a basic standard of living to the feckless or incompetent, much excuse for disruptive behaviour may be removed; while markets may be set free to produce what they will. Great tracts of government interference and make-work would become redundant, and the labour released to more productive usage where they were able. In my view, western societies are now quite rich enough to start upon the process of introducing a system of citizens' wages starting at a low level.Such a system would also remove much of the government excuses for nuisance intrusions into the lives of citizens.
The human being is, by a long way, the most useful type of object to other humans. A major part of society's daily commerce is activity of the old to ensnare and condition the young to their own ends and purposes. Real independence is fought, like a poison, at every level of society. The young become more useful by the month and by the year. As the child grows, many an adult whispers in their ears, "trust no-one—except me, of course". Raising this expensive piece of property to potential takes very considerable resources. Thus, most adults discover that they have to tend to the ox that has fallen in the ditch, rather than to nurture the young.
As the person matures, corporations watching the growth of the individual to increasing usefulness start to blandish 'wages', which may tempt the blossoming property to leave behind all those who did invest in the child's development.
"Please come and work for Corporation Eatgunge, stacking shelves"; or "Collect tax for the government of the People's Republic of Altruista"; or, perhaps, "Here's a career inventing new interesting and patentable properties at the Whizit Armaments Corporation (who will of course immediately claim the patents as its own)."
The prettiest young miss will be proffered diamond rings and rides in sparkling motor cars, if only she will donate her desirable services: "Leave your family, you don't need them any more, see how well we treat you and what a drag they are; you know it makes sense!"
"Be a hero, march off to war, get a medal, fight for the glorious flag and the one true god."
Or, in greater depth: "My parents and teachers have put me into this position where I can earn a mighty fortune. Just why are these snakes offering me such a vast wage already, just what's in it for them? If I am worth all this to them, just how much am I really worth? For how much are they selling on my services? Why aren't they paying my parents or teachers part of this dividend?" And the most dangerous question of all for the aspiring slave master, "Could I perhaps negotiate directly with the end customer?"
Well, of course someone has to pay for the shelves I stack or the supertanker I am going to drive. Someone has to drill the hole out of which the oil spurts so readily. Someone has to build the refinery and set up the garages and go around selling the sticky stuff. Hey, but how come these people own the tankers and the refineries in the first place? I couldn't earn enough to do that in a lifetime. How come they have?
Now, of course, mostly these owners didn't, they inherited, or traded their way to a fortune, or received backhanders for being the sheikh of araby or the president of the united republic—for being in the right place to make a convenient 'law' or 'grant' a useful concession. And how were they in that position? Perhaps great granddad took Happy Valley away from the local natives, or granny married the boss's son. 
Who else 'owns' these great tranches of wealth? Well, there is the pension fund with small amounts collected from trillions of little people, or a singer who has become popular and powerful enough to get a cut from the millions of wonderfully tuneful renditions that the multitudes buy by the million. Let me divert awhile to 'pensions'.
Remember your ever-loving parents who changed your napkins and listened to your bawling demands? Remember those teachers who patiently watched over your reading and childhood arrogance? They are getting on a bit now, not so much use as they once were, their skills are being overtaken, they can't fill the shelves so fast, they are slowing down. Time for you to replace them on the treadmill. Hope it doesn't happen to you one day, forget it, don't worry; you're invulnerable – at the moment!
Who do you think will pay your pension? Well, that is not a sane way to think about it, but that is the way 'they' want you to think about it. 'They' will tell you of private and public 'pensions'. But what will really happen when you can't keep up—or even if you can and they won't let you work—because the young ones are easier to bully and fool and cheat.
The reality is that you will be dependent on the handouts from the work of others. No, I am not 'being bitter'; I am attempting to teach you about the world before it suddenly impinges on you rather late in the day. The great advantage of a good teacher is that they can save you time in learning the hard way, or before it is too late to take corrective action.
The money 'they' tell you to put away for your 'pension', and the very great amounts they 'promise' you, will almost certainly not be there when you need them and the time comes to collect. The money will be worth vastly less than such an amount would have been worth at the time they tempted you to contribute, week by week, the cumulatively very large sums from your wages; sums that, in the meantime, they have appropriated to their own ends. (mechanics of inflation).
The governments of most countries in continental Europe have been promising marvellous pensions which they probably will never be able to pay (see why e.m.u. Is bad for you). What you will need to live is not vast numbers written on paper, but actual objects like food and clothes, and maybe even a bit of help with the old bones. Those objects you want, or need, will have to be manufactured by others for you, if you no longer have skills, the strength or things with which to trade.
Sure as blazes you ain't free to walk through a wall, or to take off and fly to the moon by flapping your ears. Neither are you free to win an Olympic discus title if you have the genes of a seven-stone weakling. If you were born in a ghetto, it is most unlikely that you will become a dollar multimillionaire, but it is a simple task if your parent is a billionaire. Thus, physics, your genes and your ancestors all tend to circumscribe your options. If you are realistic, these factors may also somewhat effect your ambitions and aspirations.
Had you been born in a cave 20,000 years ago, very likely you would not have been much more or much less 'clever' than you are right now, but your culture could not have offered you a computer, or a flight around the world. Even now those options may not be readily accessible in Afghanistan or Angola.
Is a prostitute under duress because her child is starving? Is a prostitute under duress because he wants £50,000 a year to appease a coke habit? Is an executive under duress because 'his' 'wife' has a spending habit? Is an islamic fundamentalist under duress because he was conditioned from birth to fight for allah? Is a £1,000,000 a year executive under duress because his company is on the verge of bankruptcy due to government taxes, and he is attempting to sell a product, while keeping 10,000 workers in jobs? Or are all these people making choices based on their previous conditioning in society? Or are they making rational calculations?
Choices are not 'either' free or 'not free'; there are many degrees of 'freedom'. How free you perceive yourself is also a matter of self-image and awareness (see 'meditation' or stones). We increasingly live in a 'victim' culture, where there is often profit to be made by claiming someone dun you wrong, despite your having made choices according to your circumstances and experiences at the time. The courts are sometimes inclined to pay you by giving you what you want, the gutter press is prepared to pay you, and there are even government 'compensation' schedules. A good story can make a lot of money, bring fame and attendant fortune, make you a hero or a 'plucky survivor' to your contemporaries, exact revenge upon those who spurned you, gain custody of a child, and much more.
Governments will even assist you to take such non-sense to court, so you don't have to take much risk either. Go join a company, don't tell them you are pregnant until after you have the job, then tell them, ≴Sorry, I can't really do the job, I really can't lift weights or climb ladders≵; and get 'compensated'. Jam your foot on the brake at the roundabout, then claim the person who shunted your car has caused you to have a bad back. Claim your workmate wouldn't promote you, or a firm would not employ you because of your colour, sex or religion. Claim you have some obscure 'syndrome' with no visible objective symptoms. Such games are a major modern industry, employing thousands: lawyers, social 'workers', insurance companies, government bodies, 'expert' witnesses.
Humans are brilliant dissemblers, it is buried in the genes, even our chimp ancestors and the cuckoos are at it. I am hardly convinced it is a very productive way to run human society. Religions down the ages have tended to imbue people with a sense of responsibility, a sense that people are responsible for their own actions. Under the delusions and part truths of 'causation', now people look to 'abuse' in childhood, poverty or even more recently, 'criminality' by virtue of one's genes. Always look for someone to 'blame' or, if that won't cut it, try pleading bad luck. Never accept responsibility, unless it was 'good' luck or causes that enhanced your life.
Of course property 'rights' look different to the starving poor in the streets and to the 'duke' in the castle, but a too easy acceptance of negative behaviour tends to sanction and encourage unpleasantness; thereby encouraging it to spread. To object to easy acceptance of 'theft' is not an answer to great disparities of wealth; both behaviours make for an uncomfortable society.
Consider an all too common selection table:
Religion, in the past, often taught people to accept their situation, to work hard and to be honourable; all rather good ideas for a satisfactory and productive life. Now we are less superstitious, and less inclined to fear hobgoblins, or to seek eternal bliss with 72 submissive slave virgins. People are less inclined to accept misfortune, and constantly try to live for now. This is hardly a silly notion, but if it is done over the bodies of any who stand in the way, then society can become a fraught dangerous state for us all.
We are not going to get out of this mess unless we start to instigate a citizen's wage, and educate people to conduct their lives with some independence and sense. There are great differences between those with time, energy and the resources to educate and set up their progeny, and those who must struggle and sell themselves to those controlling massive resources. These differences are not designed to build a sound kindly and comfortable society. Nor will the good life be achieved by encouraging a society of blame and excuse.
As the compensation market-place develops, ever more complex, increasingly convoluted ways of conning the transfer of resources are developed by the creative and devious human monkey. Adam Smith's not-so-invisible hand trades, not only goods, but also power and connections, acting ability and guile. A great deal of this does not often enough meet Smith's optimistic hope, to "advance the interest of the society". A great deal, instead, moves to corrupt and to destroy people's time, and worse. A market-place in flummery does not produce goods; it tends to produce, instead, hosts of charlatans. It tends to produce distrust and paranoia, not the common good.
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© abelard, 2002, 8 january
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