The social cage

With all the current interest in the paleolithic lifestyle and the paleo-diet it is not surprising that some people will wonder what kind of social-political environment is most suited for hunter-gatherer descendants. One attempt to answer this question is provided in Alexandra Maryanski and Jonathan H. Turner’s The Social Cage: Human Nature and the Evolution of Society. They write:

For individualistic primates, whose most “natural” state is hunting and gathering, state power and crushing stratification are hardly compatible with humans’ basic genetic tendencies. Hence, it is not surprising that, when possible, members of agrarian systems have traditionally revolted, migrated, and otherwise sought to escape the sociocultural cage of state power.

According to the authors, individualist (post) industrial society is more compatible with our inherited psychology and offers a prospect to escape from “the social cage” of the agrarian societies. They do not necessarily idealize modern (post) industrial societies, and even seem somewhat confused about “exploitation” in early industrial societies, but claim that, broadly speaking, the transition from an agrarian (aristocratic) to an industrial organization of society returns humans to conditions that are more line with the environment of hunter-gatherers.

In the final chapter they address the question why such an encouraging development is rarely recognized and appreciated by scholars and thinkers, and identify two major  reasons: (1) the collectivist bias of sociologists and intellectuals, and (2) the neglect of the biological basis of human conduct in sociology:

..modernists and post-modernists often appear to believe that humans are a monkey, requiring embeddedness in tightly woven social structures. They are not: humans are an evolved ape, a primate that has little trouble with weak tie relations, loose and fluid communities, mobility, and fluctuating social structures.

The authors are not blind to the emergence of new forms of social bondage and note correctly that modern democracies tend to produce big governments as a result of pressure group politics and the expansion of “rights.” To this one could also add that some of these developments (such as the demand for equality and income redistribution) are the consequences of people not biologically equipped to recognize the new non-zero sum nature of modern capitalism, a perspective that is worked out in great detail in Paul H. Rubin’s excellent book, Darwinian Politics.

One major weakness of this book is that it invariably talks about “humanity” as a homogenous concept and does not treat the topic of human biodiversity at all. One of the most robust observations of daily life is that the desire for freedom from bondage and aversion to state interference varies greatly within groups of people and between groups of people. The framework that is adapted in this book does not allow for a systematic treatment of this issue. As such, the book fails to explain the increasing polarization of human society into those who support the existing size of government (and benefit from it) and those who resist government control and seek to escape it.

Anti-Political Quotes

“Political action involves mental vulgarity, not merely because it entails the occurrence and support of those who are mentally vulgar, but because of the simplification of human life implied in even the best of it purposes.”
Michael Oakeshott

“The typical citizen drops down to a lower level of mental performance as soon as he enters the political field. He argues and analyzes in a way which he would readily recognize as infantile within the sphere of his real interests. He becomes primitive again.”
Joseph Schumpeter

“The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.”
Thomas Sowell

“The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don’t have to waste your time voting.”
Charles Bukowski

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”
Groucho Marx

“In daily life, reality gives us material incentives to restrain our irrationality. But what incentive do we have to think rationally about politics?”
Bryan Caplan

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace in a continual state of alarm (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing them with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
H.L. Mencken

“Politics is the art of making your selfish desires seem like the national interest.”
Thomas Sowell

“He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.”
George Bernard Shaw

It is inaccurate to say that I hate everything. I am strongly in favour of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office.
H. L. Mencken

“Idealism is the noble toga that political gentlemen drape over their will to power.”
Aldous Huxley

Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.”
Ambrose Bierce

“Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.”
Mark Twain

“Whenever a man has cast a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct.”
Thomas Jefferson

“People who consider themselves political, who follow political developments most rigorously, are often those who view the political process with the greatest lack of perspective.”
Boyd Rice

“The role of the scholar is to destroy chimeras, that of the statesman is to make use of them.”
Gustave Le Bon

“Politics in the Third World starts with a soap box, proceeds to a ballot box, and ends with a cartridge box.”
Proverbial among journalists

“In order to become the master, the politician poses as the servant.”
Charles de Gaulle

“A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.
H.L. Mencken

“In politics we face the choice between warmongering, nation-state loving, big-business agents on one hand; and risk-blind, top-down, epistemic arrogant big servants of large employers on the other. But we have a choice.”
Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Continuing to believe the same thing, even in the face of new evidence to the contrary, is the definition of insanity – except in politics where it’s called leadership.”
Scott Adams

“Politics, as any observer of the modern world knows, is the enemy of economics, everywhere and always.”
John Derbyshire

“Politics is the entertainment division of the military industrial complex.”
Frank Zappa

“There is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.”
Mark Twain

“Biophobia is as much a part of a politician’s basic equipment as a sharp suit.”
John Derbyshire

“No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems. They are trying to solve their own problems — of which getting elected and re-elected are number one and number two. Whatever is number three is far behind.”
Thomas Sowell

“It is a stupidity second to none, to busy oneself with the correction of the world.”