Sunday, August 12, 2012
What Do You Know How To Do?
I mean, actually do? Not lord over. Not feast on. Not interpolate. Not pontificate about. Not sit astraddle until you're given a piece. What can you do, and do productively enough to make it worth your while to do it, with at least something left over for others when you're done?
My brethren the Celts were the first in Europe to figure out iron. Bronze folks couldn't compete with iron when push came to shove (and stab). But societies can quickly become more sophisticated than a bellows, some mud, and a hammer -- and what one man can do, another can learn. To achieve true sophistication is to swim forward, like a shark. If you stand still, you can't breathe, never mind go backwards. Backwards is death.
Well, you can lard rather a lot of supervision on top of the iron age. The division of labor yields economies of scale that produce much greater wealth with less effort. The iron age version of fellows with green eyeshades can add value. Management and innovation increase yields. You can mass-produce pointy things to poke your neighbors if they invade and still have enough to eat. Pretty soon Bessemer is converting while Carnegie counts the beans.
But there's a limit to it. Eventually people who aren't adding anything to the finished products insinuate themselves between the goodies and the people that produce the goodies. They are parasitical. The parasitical are generally good at only one thing: Blame. It's someone else's fault that there are fewer pointy metal things than before they cashed their first paycheck, and why there's less to eat, too, though they look like a dirigible while everyone else looks like broomsticks.
Sophisticated economies have a lot of places to hide in and around them. Not contributing, but not missing any meals because of it. The process from the genesis to the dissemination of wealth is obscured by the complexity that is required to avoid having everyone approximately as skilled at everything as everyone else -- no more, no less.
Lots of people desire economies to be returned at least partway to a state of nature, so that they can understand them again. Gold bugs and communists have more in common than you might think. But I ask them, and you, once again, what exactly do you know how to do? That man in the video can make a pointy iron thing out of mud and sticks. If civilization goes pear-shaped, as so many seem to be fervently praying for, what use are you to him? Gisele Bundchen will be camped outside this guy's door instead of Tom Brady's if we go neolithic again. His only question to her might be, "How are you going to stomp straw into my mud with those stilettos on?" The rest is conversation.
The dogs have died, or run away. The fleas are abroad in the land. What do you know how to do?