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Why Envy Might Be Good for Us (sapiens.org)
160 points by anarbadalov 75 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 118 comments



> Everyone jealously scrutinised everybody else all the time – something easy to do when all social life was conducted in a public space. They took careful note of what others ate, what others owned, what others received or gave as gifts, and whether or not they were sufficiently generous in return.

This was typical small village behavior in Nordics less than 100 years ago. When your survival depends on the village coming to your help when you are in trouble, you pay for it by giving up some freedoms. Social control is used to keep everyone in line.

Economic historians have noticed how egalitarian small village farming limited the innovation in agriculture. You could not adopt new crop or radical new technology easily unless everybody was on board even if everyone was farming their own piece of land (you need to come together for investments, risk sharing and emergency work). In contrast, independent big landowner changing something was just one man doing the decision.

What is the best socioeconomic system depends on the circumstances. For long term survival purposes conservative, cohesive and close willage/tribe and demand sharing/palace economy is probably the best.


I found your comment quite enlightning, and I thought it ended well with an open-ended "What is the best socioeconomic system depends on the circumstances."

But you then pick out a specific socioeconomic system as "probably the best" without specifying those circumstances - unless you mean "long term survival" to be those circumstances? If so, survival of what? Village/tribe systems? The problem seems circular, put this way. I'd even suggest that circularity is the root of the uncertainty in your "probably."

I hope I don't sound like I'm picking a fight; my reaction is just what springs to mind, and you're touching on a topic I find important.


I did specify it "long term survival purposes".

Maybe I should have been more specific. In a environment where survival is uncertain survival values and system that maximizes survival is the best. Innovation and individuality succeed in a systems where basics are covered and system can be trusted to work.

Example of wrong system: preppers with single family bunkers loaded with weapons and food. If the society collapses the best way to guarantee your survival is to join into tight group with shared values who take care of their own (like Amish). in Mad Max situations conservative evangelical communities with medieval values would wipe the floor with roaming biker gangs.


I believe I follow: your advice is to the individual looking to maximise their own survival chance. I read your original comment in a more abstract way, I suppose - 'long term survival,' to me, evoked way to preserve what we value as humanity, elusive as that might be, for ITS survival - if that makes sense.

I must say I'm very fond of this hypothetical amish vs. biker gangs throwdown.


sounds like you got your first sci-fi short story right there.


I used to watch 'doomsday preppers' the TV show, and I always found the differences between the community preppers and the individual preppers really interesting. The people in the community-based ones always seemed more sane to me, haha!


> What is the best socioeconomic system depends on the circumstances.

Yes, just as life must bend to the contours of the environment it inhabits or otherwise perish, and there are a lot of permutations to the environment so life has evolved in so many ways, the best socioeconomic system is the one that serves the unique needs of a population. Whether it's encouraging social cohesion, resource sharing, trade, resource management, religion etc. it needs to be considerate of the people it binds.

The right tool for the job.


> "For while a particularly spectacular kill was always cause for celebration, the hunter responsible was insulted rather than flattered."

This seems to have the same purpose as the Law of Jante[1] we have in the Nordic countries.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_Jante


As somebody who lives in the nordic countries but is a foreigner I think that the law is not really a specific thing to Nordic countries but just an amusing social commentary of certain types of society. It's the same nearly everywhere that 'boasting' is a bad thing and the most respectable person is the one who silently gets stuff done.


The "Law of Jante" is formulated in a novel by the Danish-Norwegian author Axel Sandemose. He explicitly states that the law is used by the proletariat to keep each other down, and that it is a universal phenomenon - just as strong in Brooklyn as in Jante, the (semi-fictional) Danish town of the book. A critical part of the book is his description of the "Law of Jante" among a dysfunctional multinational crew of sailors on a ship. (He ends up murdering one of the crew-members, and blames the "Law of Jante" for the murder!)

It is rather interesting that it is more often interpreted as a national characteristic - something uniquely Scandinavian - than a characteristic of the lower classes, which was the intention of the author.


Cultures tend towards believing that something they have is unique about them. I do not know why this is but I suppose believing in something such as a national identity presupposes that there is something distinct about that identity.

As somebody from the UK it's strange that I find a certain source of solace from this kind of culture even though practically it doesn't seem to make sense to dislike those who are succesful.


The only people i see claiming this as some national characteristic are foreigners and people that has already gotten slapped for being an asshole by society.


>and the most respectable person is the one who silently gets stuff done.

Except even in this case, others must be aware of the person getting things done. If you managed to do a lot of work and people literally didn't notice or attributed the work to someone else, you won't be respected by them. So what ends up earning the most respect is the ability to spread knowing of your accomplishments without appearing like you are boasting about your accomplishments. That said, in such a system the people likely think they are valuing the person quietly getting things done, ignorant of what they actually value.


Depends on the scale of course, but the US the best are idolized and boasting is expected (even encouraged), and this is true in other countries as well (though it is my experience the US is by far the leader).

As someone who have lived in a few countries and visited many more, I think the law of jante is a description of the social dynamics of scandinavian societies much more than of anywhere else (Denmark much more than Sweden)

There are other dynamics with somewhat similar results - a French friend told me that 10 years ago, starting your own company in France was the thing you did after you failed to get a job delivering the mail - leading to very little entrepreneurship - though he said it is changing in the last 5 years.


This is why I mentioned -certain types- of societies. I find my native british culture very similar to denmark indeed on this front. In fact I do not believe for a minuite that the nordic countries are the most representative of such a thing. That dubious honour goes to places such as singapore where work ethics and not sticking out are extremely deeply ingrained.


Have you ever lived in a Mediterranean country?


That would be why I mentioned -certain types- of societies. I do not think this is applicable to all cultures but many of them.

I have visited them and indeed I find a certain split between my experience of people's cultures and values say in the south of france and italy than I do in germany or russia.

I'm not sure if I really want to make the conjecture that there are two kinds of societies but I feel that on this issue it would certainly seem that way.


Yes, I believe all of our emotions probably serve some evolutionary purpose.

Does that mean they're useful in modern society? Not necessarily.

Being anxious might have helped my ancestors prepare for unexpected famines. Being aggressive might have helped them lock down the resources they needed to survive.

Do those emotions help me as an adult software engineer in Houston? Heck no. Anxiety and aggression just get in the way of a well-lived life.


That's a very misguided view of things. Aggression will help you fight for higher wages for yourself more often than if you weren't as aggressive. Anxiety will drive you towards actions that will decrease your anxiety, and those actions will generally be useful for you and sometimes the people employing you.

I think you're not really in touch and being honest with yourself if you don't think both aggression and anxiety play a crucial role in your life. Or maybe you just have different definitions of those words than I do.


No, it won't. Anxiety lasts long after the actions have been made and the initial threat eliminated because a lot of people with anxiety disorders will tend to ruminate on their actions and possibly even catastrophize about them, creating to a whole different kind of anxiety that are at times unactionable. This is how people end up with PTSD.

I've been trying very hard to break out of this cycle and can tell you first hand it's not in anyway beneficial or pleasant and is actually very very destructive.


Ultimately, your genes don't care about your happiness or anxiety. They are driven for you to be reproductively successful.


What does that even mean?


The dose makes the poison.


To piggy back with you on to this point --

I see your grandparent may have something I've noticed is a common misconception, not just in the analysis of the value of human traits, but also in the analysis of modules in software, and other engineering projects.

This misconception boils down to believing that just because a trait/emotion/module is not being used for the "reason" it was originally intended (scare quotes to prevent implied creator relationship to evolution) that the trait/emotion/module is unusable, or bad.


Or, what is usable/unusable or good/bad anyway? Fear may be undesirable, and aggression has major shortcomings, but the point is moot. They are here to stay, and they will be both desirable and undesirable at some point. Trying to assess the utility of something as fleeting as emotions is a silly thing to do, IMO.


Diplomacy gets you promoted. Discipline and focus make you better at interviewing when you shop around. Aggression rarely interacts with earning potential in a positive way.


> Diplomacy gets you promoted

That's an interesting viewpoint, usually coming from people who believe that their world is governed by fairness. I'm not sure that's reflected in reality.


Getting your management chain to like you isn’t the same as being good at your job. It’s not fair. But it also isn’t aggression.


Well its kinda both, no?

Sometimes aggression is constructive or useful in situations like negotiating. Sometimes it is counterproductive and considered harmful.

What I took away from the OP is that we cannot blindly act on our emotions - that having an intermediate, self-reflective and self-questioning step in how we act and think is vital in order to be happy and successful in the world in which we live.

And, of course, this includes questioning the self-questioning. Sometimes it's the wrong time to question, and it is the right time to act on unfettered emotion.

The question is, when? ;)


You can seek out your best interests without powerful emotions that cripple your sense of well being.

For instance, rather than worry constantly about impending doom you can just calmly go about preparing for worst case circumstances. Same result -- perhaps a better result -- and far less suffering.

We should all seek to calmly and rationally seek the best interests of ourselves and people around us, without having to be paralyzed by fear, anxiety and other negative emotions.


Without emotion, why would one prepare for circumstances?

All motive lies with emotion and feeling. Who gets fat without taste buds?


Where the problem arises is the degree to which one is affected by these emotions. Too much anxiety can lead to paranoia, schizophrenia and anti-social behavior, too little can lead to life threatening situations. Too much aggression can lead to irrational mass murder, too little can lead to slavery.


> Do those emotions help me as an adult software engineer in Houston? Heck no. Anxiety and aggression just get in the way of a well-lived life.

Heck yes!

Anxiety instills fear in the consequences of bad code being released into the wild.

Aggression allows speaking your mind when others around do not meet the standards you espouse.


Your examples still suggest a significantly decreased magnitude of need for those characteristics.


That does sound anxious (and one could read aggression into it, too). But there are so many more emotions below and on top, that maybe they serve at least some coordination effort. Here you exaggerate the emotion for display, but you virtue signal that you are concerned and signal the concern itself, not to be anxious. So it's a reflexive emotion.

Such things remind me all too often of the fix point combinator and what not. But I'm anxious to miss the point, because at some point logical reasoning doesn't work anymore and leads into a trap, e.g. in case of greed.


Your comment reminded me saying:

Hard times create strong men, Strong men create good times, Good times create weak men, Weak men create hard times.

Anxiety makes you consider consequences of your choices and take action based on it. Aggression helps you fight for what you think is important.


As always, we notice bad things and forget about good. Maybe your life wasn’t so well-lived if these emotions were turned off for you or, e.g. for entire Houston.


Also known as the Crab Effect, where the other crabs in a bucket will pull an escaping crab down if he tries to escape - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crab_mentality

There is a lot of this in the West too, although to a lesser degree and in a less open way. Its one of those ancient behaviors and systems of values that we keep applying today that don't make much sense anymore.

We don't live in small villages anymore, doing hunter-gathering or communal agriculture.

In today's society, everyone should feel free to try new things, learn and achieve their full potential, without having to deal with this constant social pressure that leads us to be as average as possible, in order to avoid standing out from the group and get punished for that.

It's not clear if this pull to be as average as possible is something embedded in our genes or if its purely cultural.


Wow. I did not know that there was such a thing as crab effect! I thought was anecdotal similar to the story of frog doing because of water heating slowly. Would you know if the frog story is true or anecdotal?


Likening it to crab buckets misses a key point: That "status" has value, and is transferable. Pulling a "human crab" isn't a purely destructive act, as it prevents a peer from gaining status and power that could be dangerous to the one pulling down.

Even among crabs (where the wikipedia page doesn't provide source to back up its claims as to the crab's intent), pulling another crab down creates a stepping stone opportunity for another crab to climb out. In the absence of clear trusting coordination (like you see in army ants, ignoring the fact that many ants sacrifice their lives toward a goal), crab-bucket fighting maximizes individual survival chance.


>gaining status and power that could be dangerous to the one pulling down

Or it could be beneficial. It goes both ways. Putting a talented person in the position to succeed can create enormous value for a lot of people, not just themself.


What an odd site to link to.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crab_mentality


Indeed LOL :-) fixed, did not notice that huge ebook thing at the bottom.


I was taught that it is okay to be envious, what isnt okay was to wish that someone will lose the things we envied about.

When I see someone bought a new car, I will pray “I hope his car is useful and he can benefit from it, I hope that someday I will have a car like his or even better”.

While it might be hard in practice, so far it helped me stay positive to everyone.


In the german language there are the two words Neid and Missgunst.

Both could be translated as enviousness but have a slightly different meanings. While Missgunst is definitely negative and maybe even destructive, Neid does not need to be negative and can have the meaning like in the example you gave.


Interesting, in Swedish we have two (main) words too. The most common word, avundsjuk, even though it has sjuk in it (meaning sick or ill), doesn't necessarily have to be negative. E.g. "I'm so avundsjuk on your vacation to the Bahamas but I hope you have a nice trip." Missunnsam (sounds related to Missgunst) OTOH means that you refuse to let someone enjoy the object of envy. "I guess you must do some pretty heavy tax-evasion in order to afford that trip to the Bahamas."


Same in Swedish, there's one word for "You have it, and I also want it" (avundsjuka), and one word for "You have it, but I don't want you to have it" (missunnsamhet).


This distinction also exists in Russian, though not in single words: белая зависть translated literally as "white envy" and черная зависть i.e. "black envy".


Colour-coding of emotions in different languages is fascinating!

In Swedish, envy is green (grön av avund), but jealousy is black (svartsjuk).


Wow, it is interesting to see that some language actually have different words for this situation.


Most languages develop words for ideas people care about.

English has "emulous", mentioned upthread, and also "admiration" and "inspiration".


The correct word for the positive emotion is feeling emulous -- which means you are filled with admiration and the motivation to emulate the achievement you see, or to do even better. To feel envious involves a grudge and a desire to take away/undermine the achievement or possession of another person.

Example: do you wish you had a beautiful, new, fast car like your acquaintance; or do you wish they had an accident and lost their car (and/or got injured while in it)?

Helmut Schoeck wrote a great treatise on the subject of Envy. [1]

[1] https://www.amazon.com/dp/0865970645


My experience is that envy when you have nothing can be really demoralizing. But envy when you're comfortable but others a thriving can be motivating.


Nobody ever truly has nothing. You still have something most people that have ever existed in the world don't, life. You can respond, learn, and grow. No matter how far you've gone down a path, you can always turn back.

We can only ever trick ourselves into believing we truly have nothing.


Whether you can learn and grow depends on various factors, actually. Some people can’t learn and grow due to internal and external issues, living relatively crappy live until death. And by ‘some’ I mean many. You may have a potential but may not see a way to discharge it.

>trick ourselves

In a way a broken engine tricks itself into not working. “You’re 300HP, just start, dude!”


People aren't engines. They don't just break.


It's true that people aren't engines, but it's also true that people break, and often in ways that are much more difficult to diagnose and fix (or even notice).

I think depression, suicide, and much of the time addiction are clear signs that humans can break and not have the strength to 'turn back', at least not with a ton of help.


Help can be asked for. From people or from God. It's when we choose not to ask, choose not to avail ourselves of the many many resources that society has to offer, that people fall into deep holes.

They may feel very very far from making the choice to ask for help, but a choice it remains and it never goes away. Asking for help from God in these situations and opening your heart to the possibility of salvation can be extremely powerful. I've met people with severe, debilitating depression that immediately lifted upon setting foot in a church, never to return. It's a lot more common than you'd think. The religious angle should not be overlooked.

Nobody is so broken that they can't be fixed.


(Personally, I wouldn’t even consider life if religion was the only way in it. But I don’t want to go deeper on this and will treat it as a regular option here.)

Fact is that ‘choice’ is obviously a part of problem itself, not something you ‘just’ do or do not. Look, you can likewise say that you know people who chose to go to long vacation, get/drop a family, buy something, get happy with it – and they never looked back. Religion is not special in this regard, because you have to choose it before it helps. But some people can’t choose, because they are broken, like an engine.


Having to choose something before it helps you is the whole point of having a choice. Your choices may not always get you to where you want to go, you always have them, and they're always meaningful. To say otherwise is to dehumanise.


I think you're making it too black and white. It's absolutely possible for people to be robbed of choice, sometimes to extreme degrees, both practically and especially psychologically.

If what you're saying is as black and white as you put it, it means cult members, those severely abused in relationships, the psychological tortured, severely addicted, and so on ultimately only have themselves to blame. I'd say that is more dehumanizing than the alternative.

Of course those are extreme examples, and of course in all of those cases some have been able to make choices. But I find it callous and presumptuous to argue that those who didn't choose to be helped somehow just... chose not to choose? didn't try hard enough?

In reality choice is a murky concept. Philosophical debates about free will aside, practically speaking the most generous and human assumption is that depending on all sorts of factors, we have various degrees of choice. And sometimes the best help we can give people is to, with as much respect and wisdom as possible, choose for them.

Going even further, I find the whole idea of independent choice rather murky. I think we have consciousness, and experience a degree of choice, and avoiding learned helplessness is important. But so much of what I consider 'me', is so obviously strongly affected by those around me who shape and shaped me, that I cannot help but conclude that I'm not even remotely a product of my own choices in more ways than I'd like to admit. And that's not even getting into the whole issue of the subconscious playing a significant role in much of what I do!


Anybody can be robbed of a choice. Nobody can be robbed of all choice.


The author's final conclusions take, as a matter of fact, that inequality is what drove revolutions of the past. It seems that the more precise cause of these revolutions throughout time has not been the lack of equality, but the lack of fairness. And these are two very different things. If we take 1000 people and give rewards in proportion to performance at some task, it will be extremely unequal - yet fair. If we take these 1000 people and instead give identical rewards in accordance with who a grand arbiter thinks would be somehow 'better', it would be radically unfair. Even if the final result in the distribution of rewards is the same, the general view and tolerance of such distribution would be very different.

The example most commonly cited as a revolution of inequality is the French Revolution, yet the people did not protest because the ruling class enjoyed feasts of wine and meat while they ate grain and water, as had been the case since time immemorial. It happened because the masses were required to pay ever larger taxes to subsidize a government that was increasingly in debt with very little to show for it, all because of the actions of those that lived in luxury. And this happened at the same time that famine was sweeping the nation magnifying the absurdity of it all. Put another way, those in power were destroying their nation and demanding the poor pay for their failures. That's not about inequality, it's about unfairness.

And I think this generalizes to the entire article. People do not generally seem to care about equality -- they care about fairness. The Waltons and Elon Musk are both billionaires, but they are perceived in vastly different ways. Imagine if we lived exactly as we do today, yet the vast majority of wealthy obtained their wealth and behaved in a fashion similar to the Waltons. The stability of this nation would be quite different.


> If we take 1000 people and give rewards in proportion to performance at some task, it will be extremely unequal - yet fair.

How can you possibly claim it's fair if those 1000 all started with different opportunities, different abilities, and different privileges?


Imagine you and I decided to have a race in a couple of years with some reasonably incentivizing prize. Who would win? Would it come down to genetics, background, our physiological development in youth? Probably not. It's mostly just going to be decided by who puts more effort into training and preparing for it. It's only when we speak of the best of the best that things like genetics and developmental history start playing significant roles. For us mere mortals in most things, the winner is just the person who puts more into it.

And this is the standard for life. In most things just putting in the blood, sweat, and tears is enough to end up well above average - and that's well more than what's needed to succeed. And this gets even nicer in real life since it's not just a race. There are a practically unlimited number of fields enabling people to try whatever they want and aim to put their unique characteristics to optimal usage letting them be the one with the 'homefield advantage.'


This is a really interesting take, and I think explains why so many young Americans feel disillusioned. It's not the inequality that bothers them per se, it's the fact that they can't afford to buy homes and that their educations have put them in a lifetime of debt. It's the fact that millennials will end up poorer than their parents and won't achieve the standard milestones of adulthood until later in life.


I agree, fairness != equality. While I'm a great believer in fairness, the problem with it is that it opens up to arbitration. What I consider fair may not be what you consider fair. Equality OTOH is measurable.


> yet the people did not protest because the bourgeois enjoyed feasts of wine and meat while they ate grain and water, as had been the case since time immemorial.

Well, no, the food crises immediately preceding the revolution meant that the people weren't even getting their expected grain and water. But the bourgeoisie (a class that was the middle class in the pre-capitalist economy of the time and which hadn't really existed “since time immemorial”) wasn't the target of the Revolution, indeed, while the masses and their discontent were powering it, the bourgeoisie was largely leading the Revolution.


Good point. My choice of terminology there was going to be, at best, distracting. Edited.


> For while a particularly spectacular kill was always cause for celebration, the hunter responsible was insulted rather than flattered. Regardless of the size or condition of the carcass, those due a share of the meat would complain that the kill was trifling, that it was barely worth the effort of carrying it back to camp, or that there wouldn’t be enough meat to go around

Seems to me, a lot of people in modern society still excercise this ritual.


Yes they do.

Perhaps the insulting was ritual in the sense that an airport check-in person asks if you packed your own bag today. They're listening to the tone of your reply rather than the words. Similarly, if the insulters of the successful hunter are truly envious then there will be a different tone to their insults. Then a problem is exposed. Note that this ritual isn't encouraging envy (which is a harmful emotion). Rather it is helping to expose any envy that may have arisen, in a safe manner.

The flipside is that some people try to arouse envy in others. In modern times by conspicuous consumption, bling, expensive shoes, super-yachts, bragging on social media, etc. Such people deserve to be mocked until they've updated their idea of success.

Yet we are morally obliged to differentiate between them and those who've made original contributions: artists, inventors, innovators, problem-solvers and so on. Our survival in the long term actually depends on the latter group. After all we shouldn't be aiming to thrive for an 'extraordinarily long period of time', but indefinitely, just as the Ju/’hoansi would no doubt have preferred to.


> Perhaps the insulting was ritual in the sense that an airport check-in person asks if you packed your own bag today. They're listening to the tone of your reply rather than the words.

Are you sure that's not just checking to see if honest innocent victims might have been conned by a criminal?


Good point. Tone + words.


“Namibian hunter-gatherers deride those who stand out.“

It depends on what the goal is. If the goal is to produce abnormal outsized returns: they likely come from standing out. Being somewhat contrarian against the tribe helps with finding new pastures - infact it might be the only way.

If the goal is to maximize egalitarianism, which is a worth-while goal, then having mimetic/conforming attitudes would be a virtue. Envy is a by-product of our mimetic desires.


Feeling envious might be good as long as it enforces you to take a positive change in your life.

Feeling envious for someone who has purchased a new house, a new car or established a new business would make you strive to have one for yourself would be regarded as a positive influence of envy.


That sounds more like aspiration than envy to me.


Envy might be a virtue?

Virtues of a software developer:

1. Lazyness. Lazyness is the first step towards efficiency. Why was the dishwasher invented?

2. Impatience. Impatience is the first step towards performance optimization.

3. Being Anti Social. This allows hyper focus.

4. Pride. The desire to strive ever harder for better code, simplicity, maintainability, more features, etc.


Those interested in this topic should read Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour by Helmut Shoeck


Suppose you are playing go and losing. You can see in the future and know you will lose. Now imagine go is life. Pray for reincarnation, to play again.


I've figured there's exactly one place where envy makes sense: If someone else has more than you because some authority is distributing things, and is supposed to do it one way but is doing it another way, then it makes sense to be mad... at that authority. It still doesn't make sense to be mad at the recipient of the extra stuff, unless they are in some way aiding and abetting the authority in its unfair behavior.


I think you should be mad at the whole disgraceful debacle. The expropriator and the recipient of expropriated goods/services are in a collaborative effort to harm you. They're both willing and delighted participants in your demise and the incentive structure created by these actions undertaken by both parties ensure that you continue to suffer in their collective hands.

I honestly don't know where you're going with this and I'm not even trying to malign you.


> The expropriator and the recipient of expropriated goods/services are in a collaborative effort ... They're both willing and delighted participants in your demise

This is an assumption, and I think it is manifestly not always true. Have you ever benefited from some piece of regulatory unfairness, which was set up without your knowledge or consent (possibly before you were even born)? For example, if you use services that are partly or fully paid for by taxes, are you aware of exactly where all the tax money comes from, and who is taxed more than you think is fair and who is taxed less? (I'll take it as a given that no one thinks the tax code is totally fair, though people disagree on what would be fair.)


Similarly, having grown up in a Socialist Republic with a Communist party, envy was a big motivator for crime against your neighbor.

While some would never have a thought of harming another over perceived better off neighbor, most would take action as some form of irrational justice. And if they were found out or caught, the 'actual' justice would never be forgiven, despite all this being their own doing.

Many leave this type of village environment for different cultures and more maturity.


Envy is deplorable and there are few to zero things that would justify it. It quite frankly is very strange to see it being somewhat justified or even outright glorified by some here.

I'm of the opinion that egalitarianism is not a desirable outcome. Hierarchies (but not necessarily ultra-hierarchies as I like to call them) are much more preferable and have demonstrated to be the better pick for humanity.


> I'm of the opinion that egalitarianism is not a desirable outcome. Hierarchies [...] are much more preferable and have demonstrated to be the better pick for humanity.

Better in what way? The Ju/’hoansi have lived in this egalitarian society for some 200k yrs[1]. It has obviously served them quite well.

[1] Original article


I’m of libertarian persuasion but it has to be noted that periods of human history where one faction was souvereign over it’s dominion, were generally more peaceful and conducive to trade and human cooperation.

Empirialism, dispite all of it’s atrocities, have resulted in more stable and peaceful periods during which cultural and technological progress is made.

Personally, I believe it might be better to have a single source of coercion, which is transparent and democratically scrutinized, than to have those dispersed in order to diffuse influence. Many nowadays will argue for more distributed government, taking hints from the apparent successes of “coopetition” in the marketplace. But that space was carefully constructed over millenia of trail and error by governing bureaucracies. It works well because there’s a leviathan that took away every individual’s opportunity for coercive action AND instituted a justice system to distribute justice in a controlled fashion. It also enforces property rights so you don’t end up with robberies out of spite. Without it you get people distributing justice among themselves, resulting in bloody family feuds and cycles of revenge killings.

I feel people arguing for anarchism (and I like anarchism in theory) typically do not seem to appreciate just how violent most of human history has been before highly centralized state and justice systems.


I don't necessarily disagree, but I can't help but wonder if the increase in peace and progress, assuming that's actually true (imperialism has caused quite a bit of suffering, just often not in our back-yard), cannot be explained by factors other than the 'leviathan'.

Furthermore, there's no reason to assume that a less centralized, less coercive approach might not be the next step in our 'progress'. Our technological developments, among other things, might make that more possible.

(I think that any such change would might not work very well if implemented revolutionary-style though, and I'm unsure what other approach might work)


> I feel people arguing for anarchism (and I like anarchism in theory) typically do not seem to appreciate just how violent most of human history has been before highly centralized state and justice systems.

Just how violent was it? This seems a difficult assertion to make. The modern state arose at some point in the 15th century; I don't recall the Renaissance being that much more peaceful than Medieval times in Europe.


Am I right in assuming that your libertarianism leans left? Could you explain your libertarian ideals in a little more detail for someone curious?


> Better in what way?

Better in the way that western civilization (with America leading the way) has been built on hierarchies. People in the States don't even realize how good they have it there because of this fact alone. Many egalitarian models have been attempted elsewhere and failed terribly only leading to mass deaths or eating out of the garbage can as is the case in Venezuela. Majority of the attempts at egalitarianism (if not all) are dehumanizing at best and murderous at worst.

A lot of people would want to come to America - myself included - but I've come to detest the perils of illegal immigration as is the case in my country where we have our own version of the same problem being faced by America with illegal aliens pouring in in droves. Luckily we have strong borders and Americans should also be thankful for a president that cares about these issues and is willing to take the heat for it.


America has not "led the way" of Western civilisation. It presides America by a couple of millennia, and has been developed much further, subtler, and deeper as a civilisation in Europe (where all of its traditions, and thinkers, and laws originated).

America for example invented neither the scientific process, nor the enlightenment, nor democracy, nor philosophy, and so on. Even the legal system is based on ole Roman traditions.

If you mean it's more prosperous, then yes. Though places like the nordic countries and Switzerland would beg to differ, at least on average.

And what America did offer wasn't because of "hierarchies". If anything America offered individualism, and being more independent. And it was way more egalitarian before inequality rose after the 80s.


I think its America's individualism that led to America's roaring success and increase in inequality. If you let people have more individual liberty, some are going to be highly motivated and intelligent and excel while others are going to be lazy and slow. Throw in a few years of selective breeding and you're going to get rising inequality


>* If you let people have more individual liberty, some are going to be highly motivated and intelligent and excel while others are going to be lazy and slow. Throw in a few years of selective breeding and you're going to get rising inequality*

I don't think that exhaust the causes. Not to mention it borders on the racist (the lazy self-selected breed of the poor, and the high achievers smart rich).

Instead, if you people have more individual liberty, they'll be less likely to work together and stop politicians and corporations from stomping on them.

Add grubby moguls that stop at nothing (the never ending legacy of the robber-baron) and have politicians, media, and judges in their pockets, and you're going to get rising inequality.


I really don't understand how motivated people preferring to marry motivated people is racist in anyway. Can you elaborate?


Meant "precedes" of course.


> Better in the way that western civilization (with America leading the way) has been built on hierarchies.

Despite that that is an incorrect statement (it has been addressed by coldtea's comment), my original question tried to hint towards a wider view. It's not as simple as saying western civilization is better. Is it better for the individual? How? Is it better for humanity? How? Is it better because we have cars, computers, airplanes and what not? Would all humans have starved to death without it? And then what is the cost of western civilization? Does it carry those costs? After all, hierarchical systems have stood for some of the worst atrocities in both historic and more modern times. When a ruler can send millions to war with some other ruler because he (let's be honest it's mostly a he) has the power over "his" people.

Western civilization is what we have and know but what is to say that the world couldn't have been in a better place if history had taken some other turns?


American dominance can be explained entirely by its geography. Socioeconomic systems exist to exploit geography. No socioeconomic system can create resources that don't exist.


What makes you think the problems of immigration are not just Trumped up (heh) to distract from the much bigger problem that is the very hierarchy and filthy-rich class (that your president represents) of people that has steadily been fucking over the lower- and middle class, and reduced much of your country to a pretty shit place for the latter compared to more socialism-inspired countries?

Scapegoating is an age-old tactic used by the powerful and there's tons of evidence that inequality on the level seen in the US is not a good thing. On the other hand, the evidence that immigration is terrible and that stronger elements of socialism (at least Europe-style) don't work is quite lacking.

I'm not saying we should go for full on state socialism USSR-style, but there's a lot in between.


"What makes you think the problems of immigration are not just Trumped up (heh) " - what do you mean? Certainly most people who own houses in the suburbs have been aware for many years that some of the problems with illegal immigration are making for an uneven playing field for small business and average workers. I'm not sure if city living folks are as exposed to the business dealings in the same way. In what ways "very hierarchy and filthy-rich class... of people that has steadily been fucking over the lower- and middle class," In what ways do you mean? My only guess is you mean the wealthy have convinced both democrats and republicans for years to avoid minimum wage increases that match living wages?

"filthy-rich class (that your president represents)" - If you mean he represents the rich because he used similar methods to get rich in the past, okay - like a token symbol? IF you mean he represents them in his current government role, I think you are wrong. I think many of his policies are very contradictory to what the wealthy wanted. From replacing O-care to the illegal immigration enforcement, these issues are things most of the wealthy have been against from what I understand.

Scapegoating as a tactic for either side is annoying.

When you say "evidence that immigration is terrible", please understand some in the US are rallying for complete open borders, most are saying legal immigration is not terrible, it's good for the country, and we want the process to be better. A small few are against immigration, however it appears that certain media outlets and those who want to change the course of democrat vs republican want people to think that enforcing the laws that have been on the books for years means people are evil, racist, and want no one to enter the country.

Both sides are saying different things about the same thing. It appears the republicans / conservatives are listening the to media and social justice warriors, hearing what they are saying.

Stronger elements of socialism? Europe style? What do you mean? Work or don't work, we've tried more and less feed stamps, rent vouchers, healthcare things for the whole country and state by state these things have varied and swung a bit one way and then the other. So yes there is a lot in between.

I don't think most of those things are going to make much difference with the rich vs poor actually. I do envy some of the programs I have read about in the UK and other countries that are close, but the populations here are very different, and country wide things are major.

One of the things that actually is working to put pressure on wealthy to put more money in the pockets of the lower and middle class is limiting the amount of readily available people who will work and live illegally.

You say "your president" and then later say "we should go for" - so I am confused as to whether you are outside the US or in it.

There are many pieces to these complex issues, what works in Detroit is not going to work in Burbank. Scapegoating a person or class you don't like is not helping to put facts on the table, just appealing to emotions and encouraging others to buy into the group feels.


The normalisation of envy as a means of social control is a key element in the socialist playbook. Without envy, there is no point to socialism; if I don't care what my neighbour has, why would I ask the state to enforce its redistribution?

So, just be aware that what we're seeing in this article is a pro-socialist/-communist stance, broadly dressed up in anthropological mythos in order to make a political point, which seems to be "envy is a moderator of inequality", whereas there is a big point missed: not being envious of anyone, equalises everyone.


So it’s a propaganda piece?

I read it as an evolutionary biology/psychology explaination for much of human political sentiment. It’s well established that hunter gatherer tribes (the predominant mode during most of human evolution) are very egalitarian.


> So it’s a propaganda piece?

Science and studies can be utilized to skew towards a specific and deliberate narrative.

Somewhat tangentially, this is why science and conservatism have always had a tumultuous relationship. Most scientists are curious by their very nature whereas conservatism requires that status quo be observed and if questions must be asked then it has to be, as Burke alluded to, in small digestible portions. Revolutions are typically uncalled for and most of the time things tend to degenerate into worse conditions than what was being fought against initially. Case in point, a country that is on my continent - Libya. Things are worse now than under the revolutionarily deposed Muammar.


> not being envious of anyone, equalises everyone.

This is a very 1st world sentiment. If you live on less than $1/day, you are not equalized even if you're too hungry to feel any envy.


> Without envy, there is no point to socialism; if I don't care what my neighbour has, why would I ask the state to enforce its redistribution?

I don't agree, you can ask for redistribution so the weakest in society are helped.


What do you personally gain from having a stronger society of individuals who are no longer weak? No longer afflicted with pity?


Safety. When people see no other way out they can do anything. Making sure everyone's basic needs are cared for makes it a safer and more stable society for everyone.


It’s insurance against life events outside one’s control. Anyone can end up poor or disabled at any time.


"Personal gain" need not factor into things at all. Humans have some degree of natural altruism.


You're being downvoted but it's a good question, and there is a great answer.

The more people can fully help themselves, the less I have to help them, the more of my production I get to keep.

The increased standards of living of all people, increases the potential for all. More wealth in the economy, more capital that can be invested, more income, more potential jobs.

Speaking simplistically, if my neighbor is doing better, now we can trade. Whereas perhaps he previously, in poverty, could not afford to trade with me. I just gained a new customer and perhaps he can fulfill a demand I have the other direction.

The human mind in general is extraordinary when taken to its potential. Even people with median IQs are capable of tremendous productivity and contribution when they're unleashed.

Violent crime in the US has declined dramatically at exactly the same time the US has dramatically expanded its welfare state. It's highly unlikely that's a coincidence (or solely to be chalked up to removing lead from the environment). People that are less desperate are going to be less violent, they will commit fewer crimes, it will produce a safer society.

At the far end of the scale, I dramatically benefit from there being more Einsteins, not less. I benefit from more Edisons and Teslas, not less. A stronger society ensures that less Teslas die in childhood, and reach their full potential rather than otherwise languishing.

How many great inventors were lost in Mao's genocides and famines? Or otherwise languished in 40 years of extreme, forced poverty with minimal education and sustenance? Plausibly a lot.

The higher the income of the bottom ~2/3, the less welfare they require, the lower taxes can be, and the more they can net contribute to society. The lower taxes are, the more capital becomes available in the private sector to save and invest. As an example, if you considerably move up the incomes of the people in the 30% directly below the median (not the bottom 20%), then they require less of the tax revenue to go to them for social welfare purposes, and they can become greater net contributors to helping the 20% at the very bottom (whether through paying taxes or charity).

At national levels, this has enabled for example the dramatic reduction in aid that needs to go to a country like China or South Korea, as they've climbed out of poverty and into greater prosperity. That aid can now go to the other remaining poor nations, and those countries like China & South Korea can become considerable net contributors to global aid. The whole process dramatically accelerates in a virtuous cycle. The exact same concept applies within a country as well, when it comes to lifting people out of poverty such that less aid needs to go to them and that those people can become net contributors.


I'm not sure your comment is an accurate description of any form of socialism I'm aware of. What forms of socialism are based around "asking the state to enforce redistribution"?

What does that have to do with social ownership of the means of production??


"Socially owning the means of production" requires a state to enforce, with threat of force, the ownership of those resources of production..


That's definitely an opinion which a lot of people would disagree with.


Sure though it's not a question of picking. Nature doles out competence in unequal measure; thus hierarchies are inevitable. As we observe, in the aftermath of revolutions they rapidly reconstitute. Fortunately hierarchies of competence also compete. Since competence is not the same as human value, optimists trust that decent ideals prevail.


I’m not even sure competence is the right term here. People have different inate characters which will trust them into different positions. There’s also plenty of incompetence by a good portion of those at the top of hierarchies. Those usually do not get replaced because of network effects, parasitism, coercion, etc.


would love to read more about this if you have recommended resources


This [1] is perhaps not a source of the sort you're probably looking for, but it's insightful nonetheless. It's a list of various 'jokes' from Russia during the soviet era. The stories they implicitly tell provide a broad overview of many issues. The reason I think those 'jokes' are appropriate is because the stories they implicitly tell are ones I've heard spoken of innumerous times prior.

I enjoy chess, which thrived during the soviet era. Consequently, I've found myself listening to and on occasion chatting with countless individuals who lived through these times. Even given the great privilege players were granted of the times (yeah, everybody is equal in #ism - some just more so than others), it is absolutely phenomenal to hear how abysmal it all was. These stories invariably come up, particularly given the complete ignorance of many on the topic today.

One anecdote that stuck with me was Peter Svidler [2] recalling how much of a shift in culture there was when Donald Duck made its way to Russia. How the people, even grown men, became deeply fond of it - not as a character, but as a symbol of the opening of culture and the freedom of the people. It's a world that's even difficult to imagine, but I think that through an abundance of tales one can begin to at least somewhat grasp the society that their communism created, and more generally that communism seems to inherently create - as one might note the parallels between the Bolshevik Revolution, China's Great Leap Forward, and the numerous smaller tales that all seem to effect the same catastrophic result.

[1] - http://johndclare.net/Russ12_Jokes.htm

[2] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Svidler


That was insightful. Thank you.


The title is easily misunderstood - the article describes a type of envy in Namibian hunter-gatherers which resulted in a behaviour that is not usually seen as ok in most Western societies. They would insult and demean whatever windfall or wealth the person got, and also demand some of it.

This meant that those who were successful hunter gatherers didn't start believing they were superior or more deserving than their fellow tribesmen:

> just as the humility shown by good hunters and others with something to brag about was ascribed to “embarrassment.”

The article goes on to say how this behaviour has discouraged members of this group taking on higher management and political roles, which mean this community are under-represented on a national level, and also still very poor.

I found it a thought-provoking article. I seem to remember a time when the rich I met were somewhat embarrassed about their money, whereas I feel like at the moment people seem to be showing off their wealth a lot more. But maybe that is more to do with my social circles, or the facebook effect, or a different time in my life.

Personally, I find envy to be a very toxic emotion, which sways me and others to make life-choices that don't necessarily increase our happiness. I find I'm starting to avoid people who seem to care too much about their own and other's financial (and other) types of achievement.

Maybe I should take a leaf from the Ju/Hoansi and start insulting people's bragging rights. 'My! That is a shit bathroom you've got! And to think you spent that much...'




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