11/29/2010

A Burden on Peasants

Something I read in Jared Diamond's Collapse has stuck with me all week. "Construction of royal monuments glorifying kings was especially massive between A.D. 650 and 750. After A.D. 700, nobles other than kings also got into the act and began erecting their own palaces . . . All of those nobles and their courts would have increased the burden that the king and his own court imposed on the peasants." Diamond was talking about one of the factors that contributed to the decline and dissolution of the Mayan Empire, but he probably wouldn't object to that statement being applied to the cause of death for practically every failed empire in human history.

Near the end of the Mayan society, the elite class really found their stride. They began increasing the distance between themselves and the working class and expanding their power, wealth, and attaching even more religious significance to their self-defined superiority. When we visit the ruins of a failed empire, we marvel at the incredible structures they left, as if there is something complicated about enslaving skilled people to make monuments for the inbred spawn of our masters. Those castles of kings, palaces of priests, and fortresses of robber barons are evidence that humans are destined to funnel power and wealth into the hands of the greedy and incompetent who will reward that society with collapse, famine, and the opportunity to become another tourist curiosity for the next generation.

Humans appear to be a significantly defective species. We are desperate for "leaders"; people who tell us we are inferior, who sell us fear and foolish superstition, and who give us "something to look up to." We will toss out liberty, justice, security, and our future to make a small portion of our society supremely comfortable and powerful. We do it willingly, or not, but we have done it over and over from the beginning of human history and we'll keep doing it until our species has found a way to wipe itself (and most of life) from the planet.

The fact is the existence of an elite ruling class is a burden on all of the working classes that can not be sustained. Wealth is either fairly and justly distributed or it exhausts and corrodes the culture until it self-destructs under moderate pressure from environmental, economic, and/or outside competition or invasion. The position the Republican Party has taken regarding the protection of wealth and power for the minority ruling class is consistent with conservative politics throughout the history of humanity. It is also a consistent cause of cultural death.

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