A Leftist History of Humans
My talk is about the agrarian revolution, the scientific revolution, and the revolution we need now.
For our first 200,000 years we were hunter-gatherers. The tribe was like a big family, everyone taking care of everyone else, sharing as equals. There was no incentive for greed or corruption, because there was no way to gain personal advantage: One could only “get ahead ” by bringing the whole community ahead.
That’s still who we are genetically, and it’s still visible as our heritage. Sharing is still what we teach our kids, still where we turn in times of crisis. The separateness that we took on 12,000 years ago is as removable as a bad coat.
Around 12,000 years ago, the last ice age ended, and we invented agriculture and private property. Property was a big mistake: It separates us economically and psychologically, so we care less about others despite shared threats such as global warming and pandemic. And anyone with a streak of bad luck gets tossed on the trash heap.
Economic inequality has grown huge: We are a few kings and lots of paupers. It’s been that way consistently for thousands of years; that must be from something fundamentally wrong in our economic system. Economists may point to interest on debts or to the labor theory of value, but those are special cases of the following simpler principle:
If we don’t share, we must trade – in barter or in money – for food, labor, rent, interest, influence – for everything. A trade happens when both traders profit – that is, when something is worth more to a buyer than to a seller. That sounds like a win-win – right?
But here’s what many people miss: Yes, both traders profit, but not equally. More profit goes to the trader in the stronger bargaining position, making him stronger still, concentrating wealth.
Money is influence, so the rich rule. That’s plutocracy. Oligarchy, rule by the few, is the same thing, because the rich are few. And they run things to make themselves still richer at everyone else’s expense.
Our so-called “democracy” is just an illusion: Regardless of elections, the rich get the public policies they want, and the rest of us don’t; that has been proved statistically.
And a real democracy wouldn’t be much improvement anyway: We can’t vote wisely when bipartisan lies, echoed in the corporate press, are misleading us. And we can’t agree on much when, thanks to property separating us, we don’t care about each other.
So power is concentrated, by markets and by hierarchies. Power corrupts the powerful, because they lose touch with everyone else. And power attracts the corrupt: Sociopaths are the best climbers of competitive hierarchies.
Our corrupt rulers do terrible things. War and poverty have tormented most of us for 12,000 years. But the evil is not just in our rulers. The rest of us are forced to compete against each other to survive, and that kills empathy, leaving fear, greed, hate, lies, and madness.
The scientific revolution began just a few centuries ago. It hasn’t changed our socioeconomic system – we still have poverty, war, etc. But technology magnifies all we do, good and bad. The bad includes pollution and weapons, so if present trends continue, global warming or nuclear war will soon kill us all.
Corporations act concerned about the ecosystem, and arms dealers offer us defense from alleged threats, but that’s just greenwashing and propaganda: To survive, corporations must put short-term profits ahead of all else, including truth. Mere reforms won’t clean up this mess – it’s built into the very foundation of our economic system.
In summary, private property was a big mistake, and we must end it soon or it will end us. We need to resume sharing everything. But it’s hard to imagine how to do that, so we all need to start talking about it. Help spread the word. Thank you for thinking about these things.
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This talk was prepared for the Illegal Lessons Teach-In organized by the Foster Woods Folk School on June 12, 2021. Underlined words and phrases are links to related materials. I didn’t plan this for a leaflet, but it does fit on two sides of a half page.