A collection of essays by Bill (website@ccjj.info) accompanied by feedback from his friends.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Book Report: Systems of Survival

Systems of Survival, by Jane Jacobs

The most fascinating book about anthropology and politics I've ever read. I kept seeing things in it that I had thought of before, but never heard from anyone else.

The idea is the observation that nomadic societies are very different in their values systems than are agricultural ones. One example is given of a nomadic tribe in Africa that was told by a government to settle down and become farmers. They were provided with adequate land, equipment and training. They hated it, the whole experiment just didn't work. To apply themselves to an agricultural lifestyle would have required a big values shift. This is one of the most difficult transitions for a society to make. It means acts which used to be morally contemptible are now acceptable, and some acts previously considered commendable are no longer tolerated.

The book describes these two values systems in detail, goes through various examples of these two systems, and we see how capitalists are in the agricultural values system, and communists in the nomadic values system. Very much so. This means that the formerly communist countries that are trying to develop a working capitalism are dealing with a major values shift, and that's hard, and difficult, and takes time. Not only do they have to change the laws, they have to adjust to entirely new concepts of right and wrong.

It is interesting that the Cherokee Indians, who did the best among all the tribes I've heard of at coping with the injustice of the white onslaught, were an agricultural society before we showed up.

Most of the book is discussing the values systems of different societies around the world. This is very valuable, since values of different societies are one of the key issues determining the success of these societies.

It always struck me how those who condemn capitalism would have this overwhelming disgust at actions that I felt were completely acceptable trading practices. The values systems.differed, and it is the norm for people with different values systems to condemn each other. After all, it is easier to condemn someone as having no values than to understand how his values might in some ways be superior to your own.

For most of my life, especially during the cold war, politics were dominated by the conflict between capitalism and communism. Most people, even the capitalists, felt the communist system was "more moral" and defended capitalism on strictly pragmatic grounds. The Libertarians tend to defend capitalism and denounce communism on moral grounds, but they are so few in number that theirs is a viewpoint that is rarely heard.

The book describes the values systems as "Guardian" (communist or government) syndrome, and "Commercial" (capitalist, business) syndrome.

Guardian rules:
  • Shun trading
  • Exert prowess
  • Be obedient and disciplined
  • Adhere to tradition
  • Respect hierarchy
  • Be loyal
  • Take vengeance
  • Deceive for the sake of the task
  • Make rich use of leisure
  • Be ostentatious
  • Dispense largess
  • Be exclusive
  • Show fortitude
  • Be fatalistic
  • Treasure honor
Commercial rules:
  • Shun force
  • Come to voluntary agreements
  • Be honest
  • Collaborate easily with strangers and aliens
  • Compete
  • Respect contracts
  • Use initiative and enterprise
  • Be open to inventiveness and novelty
  • Be efficient
  • Promote comfort and convenience
  • Dissent for the sake of the task
  • Invest for productive purposes
  • Be industrious
  • Be thrifty
  • Be optimistic
This book does, in my opinion, have a capitalist bias.
For example, they feel that honesty is value cherished primarily by the commercial syndrome but not the Guardian syndrome. But in the US military, which is about as heavily in the Guardian syndrome as you can get, it is considered a very serious offense for one officer to lie to another -- people are subject to severe discipline at West Point for telling even the most harmless lie.
The book says the scientific world is heavily in the commercial syndrome, which is not really true, most of the most important scientific work is funded by philanthropists and government, and the scientists just give away the fruit of their labor for free.
The rules say ostentation is a quality of the Guardian syndrome, but many businessmen, especially sales types, feel it is very important to have luxuries to impress clients.

No comments:

Post a Comment