A short story of lovable, life-giving, foolish, idiotic and dangerous mental confusion concerning oneself in particular and the human species in general
In our time, almost every mentally sane person willingly admits that no madness is greater than that of war, where people treat each other as if they were born with the purpose of ending up slaughtered for the sake of political gamblers who in this way live out their need for power and glory. Just because there are still wars even in our allegedly so progressive times, I would suggest that our kind should be denied once and for all the right to be called „(Homo) sapiens“. A realistic self-assessment as „Homo stupidus“ – or even „stupidissimus“ would be more to the point. Let’s not forget that wars have become much more murderous in the course of the past centuries.
At the time of the Renaissance,
an armed confrontation between Pisa and Florence still could be ended with a few mercenaries falling from the back of their horse. Since mercenaries wanted to profit from war but not to die from it, such an accident was enough to decide the battle and hence to conclude a peace treaty. This is what war looked like in the age of humanism in happy Italy. But meanwhile we may look back at half a millennium of progress! The surface bombings of World War II pursued the goal of exterminating people en masse, only that was considered real victory. But the still more progressive warlords of the present time are still not satisfied – they look scornfully at such backwardness. For them real progress consists in nothing less than comprehensive bacterial, chemical and nuclear warfare. In Japan, atomic bombs had already wiped out the entire populations of the two large cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
But do not not believe that Homo stupidissimus considers this the final goal to be reached. Progress craves for a still more ambitious aim. It aims at the ultimate destruction of our species. And with some confidence we may assert that for the first time in history, man can boast that he has indeed come very close to this goal. No doubt, the war against man and nature has now entered its final stage – humanity is preparing for its collective end. Homo stupidissimus is about to live up to his name. Has he become tired of his own superfluous existence? That is how it looks. Despairing of his wisdom, he abandons himself to endless progress, that is to his longing for death and self-extinction.
Regarding our apparently relentless endeavor
for the final destruction of man and the environment that supports him, we cannot but be amazed by human madness in its purest, most perfect, one might even say, it its most beautiful form. But please beware of drawing the all too trivial conclusion that madness in a less pure, less spectacular shape were something not to be found in times of peace. No, on closer look homo stupidissimus proves to be mad all the time, even when our leading scientists do not happen to work on a new generation of even more lethal bombs.
As you know, competition is a civil variant of war,
it is a mutual trial of strength, with the aim of rushing ahead of other people, to be better and to surpass them, or to throw them off course driving them into bankruptcy. If rules did not ensure that competition is kept within boundaries, companies would no longer improve their goods in small, often very laborious steps in order to find more buyers, but would send saboteurs and murderers against their competitors – as the Mafia does up to the present day. In other words, competition would turn into open and bloody war unless the state guarantees that it does not trespass the limits of civilized interaction.
But the rules of civilization apply only within a state and only as long as it is able to enforce them against the private interests of its most powerful subjects.Between states, these rules and regulations may be repealed at any moment. There is a continuous transition from trade to war, the first of its stages being appropriately called „trade war“. In this process, competitors are removed, currencies get into a race of devaluation against each other, unabashed dumping – initiated by strong states against weaker ones – unsettle the industries of competing countries. To be sure, international treaties are able to temporarily tame the predatory nature of homo stupidissimus, but so far this has never been possible in the long run.
Is a „better world“ therefore impossible?
We are wont to regard as unforgivable madness that people fight each other even in times of peace – if not with the weapons of bloody and direct destruction, then at least with economic weapons. These too enrich some but plunge many more into poverty. Is there really no other world possible, a world where no one would be obsessed with being better, smarter, richer, more powerful than his neighbor? Do we always have to live on the brink of war, a world where the state, with an enormous apparatus of justice and police, has to ensure that we do not cause our neighbor any physical pain when triumphantly pushing him aside – but still do not refrain from causing mental agony and insult?
Competition necessarily causes a few people to win, while most are losers. Does not such mental injury resemble a mass epidemic that makes entire societies mentally unhappy? After all, competition remains akin to war even if tamed – do we have to endure this madness forever only because modern society has made competition its ideological cornerstone and perfected it to the point of excess in modern neoliberalism?
Yes – it does exist: such a different and better world
Beware of asserting that a world without competition never existed and cannot possibly exist – this objection is simply untrue. It does not apply to our present time and certainly not to history as we know it. Almost everyone has experienced a completely different world when he was very young: the world of the family, where we gave according to our abilities, while we could take according to our needs. In the best of cases, there was not even a trace of competition. A mother cares for her child not because she expects any return from it, but for the simple reason that she loves it and it deserves her unselfish love because of its mere existence. This world of unconditional devotion and love marks the beginning in the life of almost every human being; it does, of course, stand in the greatest conceivable contrast to the world of competition, where nobody is allowed to take according to his needs and give according to his abilities, but must prove the latter if he wants to satisfy the former.
Probably, every utopia has its origin in this glorious past,
because everyone enjoying the privilege of being raised by a loving mother preserves this memory of what we may call the golden age of any personal biography. Yes, it seems hardly exaggerated to assert that the whole of humanity keeps this memory alive whenever it reflects on its own destiny. For in all utopias relating to a happy original state or a future paradise, neither competition nor, of course, open war may be found. In the utopian dream, happiness is granted to all people solely because they exist. The mere fact of being born gives them a right to happiness. Against this background, competition appears to be a sad aberration that leads people from happiness to misfortune. In other words, it is regarded as unforgivable madness. Even an enlightened, modern thinker like Karl Marx dedicated himself to such an utopia. To each according to his abilities, from each according to his needs– that was the type of paradise he wanted to establish.
was meant to end the madness of competition for all time to come. Karl Marx’s fantasies of a classless society which would be a worldly paradise differs from similar utopias only by its pretension to bring utopia from heaven to earth. Marx thought that this lofty ideal could be realized even if the state were completely abolished as an organ of sovereign violence. Yes, according to Marx the state necessarily disappears for the very reason that classless society has eliminated all interpersonal conflicts. If people no longer have any reason to argue and fight with each other, what do they still need the state for?
Karl Marx understood the art of logical reasoning
Unfortunately, however, logic is often based on assumptions that condemn it to be nothing better than madness in the seductive guise of intelligence. Reality refuted the radical thinker from Trier not only during his lifetime, but with even greater evidence after his death. Under the bloody regime of an almighty state, then embodied in one single person, namely Mao Zedong, millions of people had to die in order to temporarily create a nation of little blue men who, at least from an external point of view, could be viewed as equal. Under Mao, the ideal of a classless society seemed to have been realized for the first time in a populous mass society. However, even idealists soon had to admit that its implementation required the use of murderous violence and even then, it could be upheld for a few years only. Far from dying, the state proved to be more powerful than ever. Indeed, classless society could only be realized by a state with the all the brutal strength of Leviathan.
Marx should have known
that his beautiful utopia, was, historically speaking, a building constructed on quicksand. As long as we are satisfied with a cursory glance on society, competition may indeed appear as deplorable madness. Without a doubt, it represents a form of war, albeit one that is bloodless and governed by rules. And it is also true that despite all taming it always and even inevitably creates wounds, because only winners are happy, but it always offends a lot more losers.
All of this is correct,
and yet when carefully weighing up pros and cons reason sees itself compelled to conclude that competition is indeed madness, but a life-promoting and in this sense a quite indispensable one. No healthy society can live without such madness.
At this point, the historian is bound to assist
the philosopher. After all, it is solely thanks to competition that since the eighteenth century a majority of people were able to free themselves from their slave-like subservience for the first time since the Neolithic Revolution! After about ten thousand years, even the masses were allowed to aspire to happiness!
To be sure, competition means struggle, and struggle is the opposite of inclination and love. But it would be a fallacy to believe that love and inclination prevail when and where competition is absent. After all, it is a historical fact that competition played only a marginal role all over the world until the rise of industry. In all the old major cultures, such as India, China, Central America and the leading countries of Europe, about ninety per cent of the population were condemned to serve as quasi-enslaved food suppliers for the top ten per cent. They were farmers when born and remained so until death because there was no competition that would have allowed them to prove their abilities and rise from their serving position. It was not competition that decided which privileges a man enjoyed or which miserable fate he had to endure until death, but the status conferred on him by his birth. For ninety percent of the population, this resulted in a „life sentence“ of undeserved toil or happy privilege. Furthermore, in the majority of all cultures (especially the most populous ones), the food suppliers – the lower ninety percent – were so squeezed by both their secular and their spiritual masters that what was left of their work was a bare minimum for survival. Peasant uprisings – the very opposite of harmony based on the absence of competition – were endemic all over the world, but even these uprisings never really changed the peasant’s miserable condition. Even in Luther’s day – and with his blessing – they were suppressed with unrestrained brutality by the top ten percent.
And peasants all over the world
used to be excluded from what counted as the high culture of their respective countries. Apart from very few exceptions, they could not and were not even allowed to read or write. What use would such knowledge bring them if their only purpose in life was to give the top ten percent a carefree existence, unworried by the hardship of daily toil? Until the 18th century, the books of history used to be written almost exclusively by those who belonged to the lucky few at the top of the social pyramid.
So, this is what society looked like,
before competition was allowed to emerge. Between the lower ninety percent and their masters competition was out of the question anyway. People died in the same position they had been born in. But even among the disadvantaged majority competition was virtually out of the question, because as a rule it only caused harm. If due to better methods or more individual endeavor a farmer succeeded in producing a better harvest than his neighbors, the tax collector immediately became aware of the surplus, and the next year the hapless farmer was forced to pay higher taxes. For this and no other reason – certainly not because of a lack of intelligence – farmers used to be arch-conservatives. They regarded every innovation with utmost suspicion, as they were required to pay for every additional yield. This was the merciless reality in societies bereft of competition. Freedom from competition far from creating a lucky and harmonious society was the real cause of its misfortune.
Only in the 18th century
did the world gradually came to change. Through industrial revolution, an overwhelming majority that in all large states had led a slave-like existence, was now exposed to competition. Not immediately – conditions at the first stage of industrialization proved to be even more brutal than previous conditions (here Karl Marx was perfectly right). But this was a transient evil. After some time the toiling masses found themselves liberated from the life-long impotence imposed upon them for several thousand years. In developed countries, three percent of farmers now suffice to produce the food for the remaining ninety-seven percent. And even these three percent enjoy a free choice of occupation. They are no longer condemned by birth to pursue this or any other profession. In an almost symmetrical way, history’s previous model was turned downside up.
The first step
of this greatest turning point after the so-called Neolithic Revolution consisted in the introduction of a general system of education. This was the necessary prerequisite for giving all people the opportunity to prove their abilities in competition. From now on, birth was no longer allowed to play a major role, in principle it should play no role at all. Social positions should be conferred on the basis of proven abilities. Thus, the most visible outcome of this institutionalized revolution were schools and universities. Now people were selected on the basis of ubiquitous competition.
Was this but rejuvenated madness
that was to put all people against each other, while before they had lived in comparative peace without competition? We have seen that such an assertion diametrically contradicts all historical evidence. Previously there had been far more cruel struggles: the struggles of a tiny minorities at the head of states against the overwhelming majority of rural populations, who were forced by threat of arms to work for the luxury of their masters. These were relentless struggles, reflected in permanent lamentations of the oppressed, but they were rarely recorded, since the masters wrote history and not their illiterate servants and slaves. Of course, uprisings now and then led to the overthrow of princes, but as long as no new sources of energy other than the muscles of humans and animals could be used on a great scale, i.e. until the 18th century, such coups d’état did not alter overall distribution. Only in states with quite small populations, it could happen that resources were more equally distributed. But in all major populous cultures, only heads were exchanged, without the relationship between a serving majority and an exploiting minority being at all modified. Indeed, there was no way out of this predicament. As long as most if not all physical work had to be carried out by means of human and animal muscles, there could be no real change. If ten per cent were to be released from work in the fields, then it was inevitable that a total of about ninety per cent would have to produce the food to maintain these and themselves.
have a hard time with utopias – even if they would like them to come true. Of course, they are well aware that competition has never produced an ideal society. Nor will it succeed in doing so in the future. But competition has certainly inflicted far fewer wounds and injuries on its victims than the nearly competition-free regime of inherited privileges and handicaps mankind had to live with during the past ten thousand years. As long as a serving position or a title of nobility was simply placed in people’s cradle, an overwhelming majority were forced to remain lifelong losers.
There is no way to deny or embellish this evidence. Historically, it remains an undeniable fact that the great cultures and their masters ruthlessly exploited the serving majority. For them, the latter represented nothing more than human cattle or what today we use to call „human material“, destined to provide the lucky few at the top with the wherewithal of splendor and luxury.
But this evidence should not tempt the philosopher
to commit the opposite mistake of glorifying competition. The latter is always in danger of turning from its tamed, life-promoting function into open, unrestrained war. Much more serious, however, is the fact that competition, if not constantly kept within limits, always and indeed inevitably leads to an ever greater predominance of the victors, because in the course of time the latter infallibly manage to channel a steadily growing portion of social wealth into their own pockets, so that the gap between rich and poor becomes successively wider. This is the real danger inherent to competition and which up to now has never been overcome. In time, this advantage confers to the originally most competent players so much power that their descendants no longer have to be competent in order to maintain their position and even to fortify and extend it. The result soon becomes obvious. The privileges of birth, which competition had so successfully destroyed at the beginning, now creep back through the back door. Soon, the new monopolists of money and power again form a very small layer at the top of society. In the US they represent just one percent of overall population. This new aristocracy – a plutocracy – replaces the old one behaving just like its predecessor – it increasingly stifles competition for the highest available social positions.
In emerging countries such as China and India
this danger is hardly perceived, because the majority still enjoys its liberation from immemorial subservience. So, people pay little attention to the fact that the number of billionaires is constantly rising too. But the old industrial nations are all the more in the grip of wealth concentration, because the poor no longer increase their material well-being, but on the contrary begin to lose it – that is, relative to the rich top. Hence the ever louder protest against neoliberal capitalism.
This dangerous development, which through social unrest threatens to destroy all previous achievements, should be the main topic among social theorists and reformers – not Karl Marx‘ dream of a classless society, which against all historical evidence creates paradise on earth without competition.
Even if history were not to provide us
with overwhelming evidence to the contrary, such a dream could have easily been exposed as what it really is: well-intentioned madness made digestible only because of its highly complex and intellectually seductive theoretical overhead. We need only look into the individual history of almost every human being in order to hit at a convincing proof that competition plays a crucial role in the very biology of our species. While the infant still lives in inseparable symbiosis with his mother because his own self has not yet been fully developed, three-year-old children already tend to assert their ego with amazing stubbornness. There can be no doubt that even at this early age they start to compete with other persons for attention and praise. Later on, puberty and the years following it lead to an even deeper break. The adolescent often consciously rebels against his own parents and sometimes even against the rest of the world. This competition between generationsis a biological fact, and so is the resultant rebellion against traditional rules and teachings. Silence, cowardice, anxious restraint – i.e. harmony bereft of competition – are by no means put into our cradle, but are almost always forced upon us by the powers that be. We have seen that this has happened for nearly ten thousand years after the Neolithic Revolution.
Certainly, it would be just as much madness
to constantly oppose one’s own ego to those of all others – there must be refuges where man can find a rest from his militant inclinations – but it would be just as unforgivable madness to stifle the life-promoting, socially enriching and invigorating power of competition that results in the maximum development of all the talents slumbering within us. Among the enemies of a healthy society we find the extremists of both opposite camps. On the one hand, neo-liberalism, which has been given a great boost since the collapse of socialism at the start of 1990s. In ancient Rome already, its excesses led to the rich being first put on proscription lists and after that being physically murdered. However, for the reasons mentioned above, the cutting of heads did not produce any lasting change – the old plutocracy was merely replaced by a new one. The two great revolutions of modern times, continued this game without basically changing it. First of all, and in a very short time, civil war did indeed lead to greater equality, but quite soon refeudalization – the victory of the strong over the weak – reversed the trend and again made the rich still richer while the poor were left farther and farther behind – a trend which provoked social unrest.
This was to remain the blueprint of human madness
right up to the present time. Not competition was to blame for it, but the inability of Homo stupidissimus to tame competition in such a way that it would really be exercised for the benefit of all. It would be a mistake to assume that a temporary victory of the strong over the weak would produce lasting damage. Since intelligence and ability tend to be distributed among different individuals in each generation, competition has, on the contrary, the potential to completely prevent the formation of social classes – in other words, to produce a truly classless society. Only when wealth is acquired by birth and not by the selection of the best and the ablest, does it inevitably lead to social classes and even to social castes.
By means of redistribution
from top to bottom, trade unions succeeded up to a certain degree in slowing the process, but they were never able to stop it. The rich very much surpassed the poor in increasing their share of wealth. In order to really contain this process, the state should have chosen another point of attack, namely all those assets that do not grow due to individual performance but due to privilege.
However, economists as well as politicians were not really concerned with these ups and downs, becausein the short term deregulation often has an invigorating effect, especially in developing countries. The liberation of the individual and his abilities through competition is likely to multiply all individual energies that up to then had been frozen. Adam Smith was absolutely right when he said that the egoism of the baker and other individual economic actors had beneficial effects not only for himself but also for the common good. Only in a long-term perspective does it become obvious that, without the regulatory intervention of the state, wealth becomes increasingly concentrated, until finally, with the one percent of the super-rich at the top of a society, the rule of people (democracy) has become the rule of wealth (plutocracy). Even in a time-honored democracy like the United States of America, the process of refeudalization has been carried to new extremes. No wonder the country has at its head a president who bears the greatest resemblance to a soldier emperor of imperial Rome.
Let us be clear, those who appeal to egoism,
rarely win our sympathy because it is hard to regard egoism as a virtue. Rather, those utopias can count on a large following that refer to what they believe to be man’s innate benevolence. The demand for the suppression of competition may therefore count on much emotional resonance, although there has never been a large society (unlike small religious sects) which has been able to achieve equality without a murderous pressure from above. But, under such pressure, very few people are encouraged to mobilize their latent abilities – given that they are not supposed to derive any advantage from them. Hence economic activity becomes dead and petrified. Talent and inventiveness are not encouraged, instead they are nipped in the bud.
of the right ultra-liberal camp, as well as the utopists of the extreme left, show in their own way how blind they are to human nature and history. Let us conclude that almost every kind of human madness prefers as its permanent place of settlement the heads of radicals – whatever their political color. They constitute the true and eternal avantgarde of Homo stupidissimus.*1*
1) These and similar considerations are discussed in more detail in the following books:
Peace, War and Climate Change – A Call for New Stragtegies
The meaning and purpose of history – The destiny of mankind in the 21st century.