The Biggest Danger to Our Freedom … [UPDATED YET AGAIN]

May 23, 2009 at 1:21 am (By Amba) (, , , )

. . . is, it strikes me, our incompetence.

The inability of so many of us (in the societal sense of “us”) to take care of ourselves, if we had to, in the most basic, practical ways; our dependence on the electrical grid (I felt so stupid reflexively flipping switches during the last power blackout), on experts, on supermarkets and the vast supply systems that fill them . . . this is at the root of “our” willingness to be taken care of and taken charge of by government.  It has trained us not to be the masters of our own lives, to be needy, willing, dependent.

Participating in these vast systems makes us at once more and less powerful and free.  We do not, each household of us, have to spend our days splitting wood and canning fruit, duplicating these basic survival activities and having little time or energy left to get beyond them.  We have recreational and intellectual lives that were limited to ancient aristocrats — or to children in the century or so since nonworking “childhood” was invented.  No wonder we grow up so late.  The educated “elites” can be particularly — harsh word — parasitic in this regard.

I remember visiting Romania in the 1970s and being astonished by the number of Jacques’ friends and relatives who, as a matter of course, and of necessity, could build, wire, and plumb a house, maintain their own cars, make their own booze, hunt and gather wild food and medicinal plants in the woods, raise and butcher pigs and chickens (callous skills my dislike of which I knew to be a luxury), and (the women) preserve food, cook and bake on a wood stove, make and repair their own clothing.  These were traditional skills that had not yet been lost in that country village, and they were a way that people preserved their independence under Communist privation and tyranny.

I wonder whether basic physical competence tends to breed political conservatism and independence.  People who can take care of themselves would rather be left alone to do so.  There were certainly a good number of American hippies who moved to the country with idealized dreams of self-sufficiency.  A lot of them came back.  Of those who stayed, and became genuinely competent, did their politics change?  Maybe not.  That would make short work of my theory.  But I wonder if many didn’t need to learn from their neighbors and end up learning more than just how to.

If you could put together a short course in basic survival skills, what would the essential ones be?  What would you equip people with to restore their sense that they could take care of themselves if they had to?  Do you think it would change their outlook on life?  Or can such things not be taught in abstraction from actual lived life?

UPDATE: In my inbox just now and surprisingly apropos, the New York Times waxes nostalgic for manual labor:

[N]ow as ever, somebody has to actually do things: fix our cars, unclog our toilets, build our houses. . . . what if such work answers as well to a basic human need of the one who does it?

High-school shop-class programs were widely dismantled in the 1990s as educators prepared students to become “knowledge workers.” The imperative of the last 20 years to round up every warm body and send it to college, then to the cubicle, was tied to a vision of the future in which we somehow take leave of material reality and glide about in a pure information economy. This has not come to pass.

[T]here is wide use of drugs to medicate boys, especially, against their
natural tendency toward action, the better to “keep things on track.” I taught briefly in a public high school and would have loved to have set up a Ritalin fogger in my classroom. It is a rare person, male or female, who is naturally inclined to sit still for 17 years in school, and then indefinitely at work.

Over the next six months I spent a lot of time at Fred’s shop, learning, and put in only occasional appearances at the university. This was something of a regression: I worked on cars throughout high school and college, and one of my early jobs was at a Porsche repair shop. Now I was rediscovering the intensely absorbing nature of the work, and it got me thinking about possible livelihoods.

UPDATE II:  In the comments, Edgewise.Sigma links to a proposal for a Museum of Skills — what would really amount to a video library of how-to manuals, as Icepick almost suggested, also in the comments.  (Ice said you would need to be able to read, but in some increasingly postliterate, shoot-me-a-YouTube sectors of our world, video would be safer, and having a known library of these would solve the problem of where to find them.)

People have been pointing out the disaster if the skills of farmers are lost as they are driven from the land. Other skills are being lost as our industries go off-shore. What of all the other skills we will need if ever we must defend our shores or can no longer import everything except restaurants and real estate?

We need videos made of all the skills that are disappearing, before the factories, tools, and workpeople are gone. The Arts Councils, or some other body, should divert their less urgent funding into ensuring that as each skill disappears overseas, some tangible and video record is kept so it can be resurrected if necessary. There could even be a register of surviving skillspersons – and an annual march of survivors – people who know how to make yarn or boots or a sewing machine or an electric kettle or a hotwater bottle . . or how to make machines to make them . .. There could be a television program, and libraries could have DVDs.

The author of this proposal is Valerie Yule.  And she turns out to be a completely fascinating 80-year-old Australian psychologist!  Described as “a writer and researcher on imagination, literacy and social issues,” she has a lot to say — bluntly, concisely — about the state of the world.

UPDATE III:Civilization . . . is a prison . . . but you get American Idol and Cool Ranch Doritos, so it’s not that bad.”


  1. Bruce B. (chickenlittle) said,


    “Dependent” has become such a slavish sounding word lately. How about “co-dependent”? Does that sound better?

    In a survival scenario, I would put skills like negotiation at the top, because certainly one would have to procure essentials from others as needed. If you mean survival skiils like “what can I do to ensure my survival”, I would rate knowledge of getting water out of the ground, and also how to recognize caloric value vs. input energy/risk pretty high. Am I being too basic? I guess I’m thinking earthquake survival here.

    I try to simplify my life at all the times in terms of efficiency, but there comes a point when one realizes that “two heads are better than one” and that it’s better to depend on co-dependency.

  2. amba12 said,

    Better codependent on one another than dependent on large impersonal institutions. Or, fine to depend on them provisionally as long as all is well, but they are so fragile! And they don’t know you. Oh, they know your social security number, your credit rating, who you called on the telephone, what sites you surfed . . .

  3. Ron said,

    See, ideally, this is where art and culture should step in. If you are free from physical labor, ( and make no mistake it IS freedom!) then the creation and burnishing of the self takes on greater importance. I think art and culture has sort of let us down in that respect , by being too self-referential and too willing to align with a class/power structure. The net and blogging are closer to this ‘culture ideal’ to me than the top-down religiosity of the university.

  4. amba12 said,

    Nice points. I wouldn’t have thought of negotiation as a key survival skill, but you’re so right. And I very much agree about the ‘net and blogging — akin to this point here.

  5. Icepick said,

    The most important survival skills for a modern human are the ability to read and knowledge of where to get pertinent how-to manuals.

  6. amba12 said,

    I guess there are people who can’t follow them. Me, I even learned how to have an orgasm from a book.

  7. amba12 said,

    When I was 13.

  8. jaed said,

    build, wire, and plumb a house, maintain their own cars, make their own booze, hunt and gather wild food and medicinal plants in the woods, raise and butcher pigs and chickens (callous skills my dislike of which I knew to be a luxury), and (the women) preserve food, cook and bake on a wood stove, make and repair their own clothing

    It strikes me how much of this is illegal (or a violation of such things as HOAs) here, at least in your average city. I don’t think you can build a shed, much less a house, here without being a licensed contractor and going through a fairly onerous permits process, and plumbing and wiring are right out. Car maintenance may run into environmental regulations, and so does raising or butchering animals, or using a wood stove, or cutting wood. Even vegetable gardening is something you’ll have trouble with in some places.

    In a lot of these cases, you can get away with breaking laws or regulations as long as it’s not too noticeable, but it does reduce the tendency to do it – and when you do, you feel a sense of contingency about it because you know someone can stop in and make you get rid of your chickens, tear down your shed, etc. So you don’t put your heart into it. Also, if parents don’t do things like this, their children don’t tend to see it as normal and take up doing it.

    The kind of social and legal regulation that tends to grow up when a larger proportion of the population lives in cities and suburbs tends to enforce dependence, in other words.

  9. amba12 said,

    Sorry it took me so long to approve this comment as we always have to do the first one, only. I hope you’ll come back; you’ll be able to comment directly and immediately.

    Cities have always been the sites of greatest specialization and division of labor, which makes people more dependent on each other to begin with. But it’s very interesting to think about the fact that so many of the activities that once made people self-sufficient (and still could) are legally defined as nuisances, or unsanitary, or health hazards, in the city. (And if many people did them, maybe they actually would be.) It also has to do with something that has been written about quite a bit — in some cases by thoughtful feminists: the Industrial Revolution’s removing the site of productive work from the home. The separation of the strictly private “bedroom community” from the site of productive labor. For the majority of people, that goes with working for others.

  10. PatHMV said,

    What they won’t do, in the NY Times article, is highlight that those bad decisions, to try to steer EVERYBODY into the “knowledge economy,” were fundamentally made by government, through the government-run school system. It was not that parents were up in arms demanding that their schools stop teaching shop, it’s that bureaucrats and politicians decided that that’s not what was “best” for everybody. They made those decisions for people, rather than providing options and letting folks pick for themselves what they wanted to do.

    You may be onto something that, as a tendency, folks who CAN support themselves independently on a very physical level lean toward a conservative philosophy which says “leave me alone.”

    One of the reasons I don’t favor the Obama & Congressional Democrats proposal to expand all these youth volunteer programs is because I think it teaches those folks a bad lesson. They learn to do something (usually make-work, in my opinion) for other people before they’ve learned to take care of themselves, to earn their own keep. While volunteering and helping people is certainly an admirable thing to do, one’s first obligation as a citizen is to support oneself, to not be a burden or drag to the rest of the economy. Not everybody can do that, always, and I support some government programs to help them, but that’s the first obligation. Somebody who chooses to go and give all they have to the poor is to be celebrated, but not put on the government dole as a consequence.

    It’s like flying. The flight attendant reminds you to put the oxygen mask on YOURSELF first, and then your child. If you put the mask on the kid first, you’re liable to pass out and lose the ability to help him or her. If you don’t have a productive job, adding value to the economy, you’re not actually going to be able to help people that much, in the long run.

  11. PatHMV said,

    jaed… in most jurisdictions, you can do whatever work you want on your own house without being a licensed contractor. You still have to get the requisite permits and pass inspections, but you can do the work yourself.

    I read a short story once, a science fiction piece set in the future. They had increased productivity so much that they had too much of just about everything. They couldn’t just stop producing, because that would entail laying people off. So in their society, the poor had consumption quotas… not limits, but minimums. The poorer you were, the more time you had to spend wearing out your clothes, your tools, your car, whatever. The poor had to work constantly to go through 2 or 3 pairs of jeans each week. As you increased in status in society, your consumption quota was reduced, so you could spend more of your leisure time relaxing rather than consuming.

  12. Edgewise.Sigma said,

    Here’s something that touches on what’s discussed here–an idea for a “Museum of Skills”:

    And here’s yet another:

  13. Icepick said,

    I guess there are people who can’t follow them. Me, I even learned how to have an orgasm from a book.

    Knowledge is power!

  14. Icepick said,

    Pat wrote: What they won’t do, in the NY Times article, is highlight that those bad decisions, to try to steer EVERYBODY into the “knowledge economy,” were fundamentally made by government, through the government-run school system. It was not that parents were up in arms demanding that their schools stop teaching shop, it’s that bureaucrats and politicians decided that that’s not what was “best” for everybody. They made those decisions for people, rather than providing options and letting folks pick for themselves what they wanted to do.

    Pat, I’ve recently been wondering if the public school system isn’t more of a hinderence than a benefit to our society. Reading US Grant’s memoirs started that particular line of thinking. He could write better than any of our current politicians, and with a minimal education. Other than West Point none of it was public, and certainly none of it was “free”.

  15. amba12 said,

    Public schools also eliminated both recess and physical education. That is INSANE. It’s murder on boys, and not a whole lot better for girls though they can tolerate it better (this from a girl who ran around like a nut at recess and loved PE).

  16. Icepick said,

    Video libraries will have a limited utility in the case of a total breakdown. For example, if an extraordinary solar event were to knock out the power grid, one would need to have one’s own (undamaged) generator and all the appropriate equipment for the medium the video were stored on. Plus, the media for video keep changing. If someone had done this 25 years ago and put everything on VHS, or worse laser disk, then they would be hard pressed to us it these days.

    On the up side, in the case of a failure of the power grid, there would be widespread starvation inside of two weeks, so anyone that didn’t already have crops planted or a large store of supplies (and the means to defend them) would be humped anyway.

  17. Icepick said,

    My wife points out that the show “Burn Notice” is full of all kinds of helful how-to advice. My favorite was how to use sex toys to foil hi-tech surveillance methods.

    Okay, you choose YOUR survival skills, I’ll choose mine.

  18. Icepick said,

    Public schools also eliminated both recess and physical education.

    I believe art and music classes have also been hit. What I can’t figure out is how the society got wealthier since I was a child AND raised spending on education while simultaneously cutting back on the type and quality of education offered.

  19. wj said,

    Ice, it’s one of the great mysteries: where is all the money going?

    In the 1950s and early 1960s, here in California we built a highway system, a public school system for the baby boomers (complete with music, art, PE, etc.), the greatest public university system in the world, and a statewide water project which (whatever its merits) was damned expensive. And somehow the economy flourished, even under the taxes that paid for it. In the past decade, the roads are becoming ever worse for lack of maintenance (nobody is even thinking of building a new one!), the schools are cutting everything in sight, the university is ramping up tuition and fees rapidly, etc., etc. Oh yes, and taxes don’t feel particularly light (indeed, they are cited as a reason businesses keep moving out of state). And still, we are managing to go bankrupt. So, where is all the money going, that it didn’t go before???

    Somebody can probably get a PhD thesis and a best-selling book out of crunching the data and coming up with a clear answer.

  20. Donna B. said,

    There’s a lot this post brought to mind.

    1. A neighbor of my Dad’s mentioned that a recent fundraiser for their small-town senior citizens’ center included the auction of a 1/2 gallon of moonshine. Apparently some skills are being retained.

    2. My husband is doing an experiment on growing potatoes vertically using discarded tires. I’ll let you know how this turns how. It’s four tires high now and so far sprouts keep appearing. This would be a great way to garden in limited space. If it works like he was told.

    3. My youngest daughter has started taking sewing lessons and this weekend, she shared some “professional” techniques she had learned and I taught her some things I learned from my mother. It’s interesting that her paid instructor has taught nothing about how a sewing machine works. She had “inherited” my 30 year old sewing machine given to my oldest daughter (who has finally learned to sew on a button) and this weekend she upgraded to the 20 year old sewing machine I inherited from my mother. Those 10 years hold a lot of technological innovations.

    I now have only three sewing machines in the house… the oldest almost 100 years old. It doesn’t require electricity, just coordinated feet and a good sense of rhythm. I need to get someone to come service it and buy an extra belt.

    4. We have limited garden space and poor rocky soil populated with oak trees (unless we decide to plow our front yard) so we garden mostly for flavor — peppers and herbs. A little goes a long way toward making plain food palatable.

    5. My dear husband would love to live on a farm, but we’d have to pack if we moved. So we’re stuck (fortunately) in a neighborhood with large lots bordering on wilderness and none of neighbors care if he raises small farm animals. This year, it’s turkeys. We have two, but he’s named them, therefore we can’t eat them. There are modern sensibility problems with growing your own protein.

    6. Power. While my Dad, brothers, uncles, and various friends have wonderful knowledge on how to make tools (it’s nice having a personal machinist) what they don’t remember — even in their late 80s — is making some of these tools without electricity. Though my father remembers steam-powered tools, he did not learn to build them. Even though our house… er, shack, had no electricity, the sawmill that supported us was powered with a diesel generator. (It eventually made us quite well off, so I’m not fishing for sympathy.)

    7. I’m old enough to have taken home economics in high school where I learned how to can vegetables and make jelly. My youngest daughter also got to experience dealing with berries growing wild this weekend. We had a wonderful dewberry cobbler from fresh berries gathered by one of my step-brothers.

    8. My niece (daughter of my favorite step-brother) finally got engaged. She’s 28 and has had many previous boyfriends who all had failed one test or another. One did not know how to change a tire. Another couldn’t figure out how to operate a trolling motor. And yet another refused to fire a gun. This dear woman isn’t a “hick” or a “redneck” but rather a highly paid audit accountant whose job requires extensive travel. I’m looking forward to meeting the guy who finally met all her requirements.

    I note this because all my sons-in-law have similar “manly” skills. I use quotes because my daughters were taught, for example, how to change a tire before they were allowed out of the driveway on their own. It’s notable that my sons-in-law are at least (in one case, more) proficient than my daughters in domestic skills such as cooking.

    I have much faith in the next generation, yet I fully agree that the skills of prior generations must be retained. What is a bit scary is that I feel pressure to learn quickly from my elders things I thought would not be necessary. As an example, it’s much easier to freeze garden vegetables than to can them. But, if we cannot depend on a reliable supply of electricity, knowing how to freeze home-grown vegetables won’t be that useful, will it?

  21. Ennui said,

    I’m not sure that we’re in quite as much trouble as it might seem. Like the fellow in the NY Times article, I have an Ph.D. in political science (first area: political theory), albeit not from the University of Chicago. I spent a few years doing IT work; however, for the last few years I’ve been working for the family manufacturing business (industrial equipment). It’s been an education all unto itself. Principal object lesson: there are a heck of a lot of people in this country who know how to do a heck a lot of things. It’s easy to miss this point when you spend most of your time around the soft professions.

    Now I’m going to slice the question a little differently than the “knowlege worker/body worker” distinction. Instead let me pursue an overlapping distinction between “hard professions” and “soft professions.”

    For my purposes, I’ll call the soft professionals people who earn their living by creating an effect in other people or predicting what other people are going to do. I include here economists, managers, psychologists, writers, academics (outside of pure research), attorney’s, sales people, customer service people, etc.

    The “hard professionals” earn their living by manipulating things.

    I believe that to the extent that we have a problem, its one of incentives. When I started in the manufacturing biz, I used to mutter to myself “never, ever take a job where you can be proven to be objectively wrong.” That is the nut of it. Our legal system wreaks hell on endeavors subject to objective analysis (engineering, manufacturing, medicine, accounting (heh!)) but cannot reach errors made in the soft arena. When was the last time you heard of a psychologist (who didn’t sleep with their patient or the like) being sued for malpractice or a web designer sued for a bad website or an attorney sued for a bad argument, etc.). These things may happen but the bar for the plaintiff is pretty high (I don’t remember any billion dollar cases, though I could be wrong).

    I don’t think this arises from any ill will or bad moral fiber or any such thing – it’s just in the nature of the thing: an objective result is easier to judge than a subjective result (it’s easy to prosecute a robbery case not so easy to prosecute a nasty rumor that, in some cases, may have a more terrible effect).

    The effect of this is to make doing things in the “hard arena” more costly than doing things in the soft arena. At every level. The education is more intense (because its “for real”), the codes more precise, the personal stakes, in general, much higher. Ponder this: imagine that the coursework required to get an undergraduate degree in psychology, for instance, was exactly as rigorous as the coursework to get an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. I submit that the number of degrees in Psychology would fall. The rigor of coursework for any given field is correlated with what the public, broadly speaking, expects from someone with such a degree. In fields where the public cannot have objective expectations, its enough to get the student to the point where they sound like they know what they’re talking about.

    Enough on higher ed. This same slicing of the subject applies to plumbing codes, electrical codes, building codes, etc. No lack of moral fiber. No sign of the American people going soft. It’s simply the case that there are some ways of doing things that are demonstrably better, safer than other ways (okay, maybe we could throw in some professional organization monopolizing in the mix). No codes regarding how sales calls should be conducted, or how investments should be allocated. For that matter, no codes on giving advice or choosing who to marry (although an error in either case can be every bit as devastating as bad wiring).

    Moreover, even where there are no official codes, the hyper professionalization of the “hard professions” permeates everything. Have you ever canned your own tomatoes? Are you sure you know what you doing? You could get botulism. Which would be stupid, inasmuch as there are people doing this who know exactly what they’re doing. You should buy from them. I sensed that some of this changed after 9/11 (I put the “don’t resist, don’t be hero” in the face of violence down to the same sensibility, i.e. non-professionals only screw things up and get everyone killed).

    I don’t know how this could be remedied on the grand scale. The marketplace doesn’t know whether a profession is hard or soft. It only knows what the customer will pay. And people will pay a lot for the subjective experience of achieving closure or watching the numbers on a computer screen increase. And if they don’t achieve closure or the numbers trend down – well, nobody said it was an exact science …

    On the plus, people genuinely like to know how to do things. And there’s a whole big internet full of the most arcane “how to” stuff that you could imagine.

    I guess that’s a screed.

  22. amba said,

    I knew exactly what you meant by “soft professions” before reading further. “Lawyer” was the first one that came to my mind. And I’d just been watching “In Treatment” so “psychotherapist” was a close second.

    It’s interesting that medicine is a hard profession though it deals with soft things. Which explains high malpractice premiums: it’s the intersection of hard and soft where you’d better know exactly what you’re doing . . . but you can’t. Building a bridge that doesn’t fall down is much more straightforward than, say, delivering a baby. There is much more variation in living tissue than in, say, steel (though I’m sure there’s much more variation in steel than I’m aware of). Dogs can recognize countless unique individuals’ smells. Two people may react to the same drug totally differently.

    We like knowing how to do things, and I think we sneakily and instinctively have more respect for the hard professions than the soft even when the latter have more prestige.

  23. amba said,

    This year, it’s turkeys. We have two, but he’s named them, therefore we can’t eat them

    Memories of a 1950s book of kids’ writings titled DON’T GET PERCONEL WITH A CHICKEN.

  24. amba said,

    Donna — really interesting how many associations this triggers. As if it’s something we’re hungry for. Competence at building, making & fixing things was always extremely attractive to me in a man. I’d have loved to marry it and then learn it. Didn’t work out that way — married a former fighter and learned how to knock someone out instead.

  25. Donna B. said,

    I thought you’d made a typo until I clicked the link. Now I want the book!

    One thing I fear about the push from government and insurance companies to use only treatments proven most effective and cost efficient is that the average person (whoever that is) will be the only one getting effective treatment. Hard codes don’t work well in soft professions.

  26. PatHMV said,

    At my grandfather’s funeral, my grandmother made a funny joke which seems relevant here. Out of the last 5 generations (counting me) in the patrilineal line, all 5 of us have shared the same name (the “V” at the end of my nickname here is for “the fifth”). Of the 5 of us, 4 have been lawyers. My grandmother joked that my grandfather, an engineer, did not become a lawyer because he was the only one of the 5 who could do math!

    Me? I say, long live the soft professions!

    On a serious note, one of my professional responsibilities is to review contracts for performance in the soft professions (taking that in its broadest sense, any area where you can’t show something objectively to be wrong). This includes everything from legal services contracts to advertising to providing food services to a large institution. It’s murder trying to write contract specs for that sort of thing. Heck, it’s a pain just to evaluate the services actually rendered after the fact.

    That’s actually a huge problem for government, generally. In private industry, you can in the end just about always measure performance of an entity as a whole based on the bottom dollar. Government, being “above” such mundane concerns as the bottom dollar, can’t measure performance the same way. My state of Louisiana has been trying for many years to adopt “performance based budgeting.” It’s a great concept, but the execution has been wretched, because of the near impossibility of measuring the real performance of most state agencies.

    Most performance measures we actually adopt involve easy to quantify tasks, like number of phone calls handled, number of cases processed, number of meals served. That’s better than nothing, I suppose, but it doesn’t really address whether the government programs are really helping, in the long term, the people they’re supposed to help.

    Let’s take education as an example. You can’t measure a teacher’s performance simply from the test scores of her class, because each class starts out at a different level of achievement, different sorts of problems which need to be addressed. Now you could, in theory, measure student performance at the beginning of the year, and compare it to the performance at the end of the year, but even with that, you expect kids from affluent areas to improve more over the course of the year than impoverished areas, so at best any measure has to be comparative rather than absolute.

    Look at the economic gamesmanship being played with unemployment rates and the stimulus package. The unemployment rate is currently below the level which the President warned us we would see if we failed to pass the stimulus package. But he still takes credit for saving jobs, by claiming it would have been even worse without the stimulus. Because economics is partly a soft science (and also because nobody really demands that proper methods be followed when making such predictions in public), he can get away with that.

    Has the move to workfare instead of welfare reduced the poverty level? There are so many variables involved, it’s impossible to say.

    In short, government is the ultimate in soft professions.

  27. amba said,

    If that ain’t the punchline of the month, I dunno what is!

  28. Maxwell said,

    I don’t buy for a second that Americans today are significantly lacking in the ability to take care of ourselves. As has always been the case, we choose to develop the skills most called for by our circumstances, independently of what is being taught in schools. And the internet and the DIY movements have provided a great boost to “survival skills” that might otherwise have been in decline.

    But what we have done is released the reins of governance, that “ultimate of soft professions.” And in so doing we’ve delegated it to career politicians and lawyers. The complete failure of the American people to rein in the excesses of either ruling party is testament to this fact.

  29. Donna B. said,

    Considering that I can’t stand Cool Ranch Doritos and have never seen American Idol, what’s in it for me?

    Plenty of work was required to obtain those “free” items in early human existence. It’s also not accurate to assume a tribal existence lacked civilization (as the commenter to that post does). I think civilization is perhaps one of the defining characteristics of a tribe!

    Our civilization has changed much since then, but the fact that we depend on others and on things that only the tribe as a whole can provide (defense?) makes me believe it’s a matter of technological progress rather than a different idea.

  30. Maxwell said,

    Pat –

    They had increased productivity so much that they had too much of just about everything. They couldn’t just stop producing, because that would entail laying people off. So in their society, the poor had consumption quotas… not limits, but minimums.

    Missed this previously. What was it? It sounds like a classic Kilgore Trout story!

  31. wj said,

    Maxwell, it was Frederik Pohl’s “The Midas Plague.” From the mid-1950s, as I recall. I forget whether it was Astounding (as Analog was then) or Galaxy that first published it, but it’s been in some anthologies since.

  32. Maxwell said,

    Thanks, wj.

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