Partner, Milsal + McCaull


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Are flatter/ more egalitarian societies possible? What beliefs, processes & systems would enable them? What are the risks?

Whether its political (eg, a dictator diverting foreign aid while the people live in poverty, growing income gaps between the rich and poor in the US, or (see last month's Atlantic cover) the emergence of a global "ruling elite" and everyone else.) or in the structure of work (eg, one to many governance, top down governance)- human societies as they scale up truly seem to divide the spoils incredibly unevenly. There must be some embedded belief systems about our fellow humans that create this. For example, we might believe that there is a limited pie of good. We might believe that poverty and subjugation is karma or choice. We might believe that we are in competition with others in our pack. What kinds of beliefs, governance structures, and incentives might help create a more egalitarian and respectful world?

  • Mar 2 2011: Very good topic.

    My observation is that when people grew without much emotional support from their parents, they tend to be more right-wing. Because they had to work hard for everything and they were taught that noone will help them in their lives.

    So maybe a step towards more just society would be giving love to children at schools when they cannot get it at home. To show them how to be generous and show them that helping each other pays off. To let them experience that someone is caring for them without expecting anything in return.

    But it puts new requirements on teacher training and school systems - diverging from cognitive side towards emotional curriculum.
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    Mar 6 2011: Yes, I think they are possible but not at this time. What is needed first is that everyone be really valued for their unique strengths. This would require a different educational system. When we learn to appreciate that leadership is one skill that is only made real by good followers and when we see artistic ability as an endowment just as mental accuity is, then we will begin to have flatter societies where we empower the people on the front lines to work and solve problems because they are the expert int he problem. As a mother of 5 I am constantly astounded by how enriched we are by differences. My twins share a best friend and the three young men have learned how to defeat a new video games in one night by rotating according to their strengths. I think they could solve a world crisis if they were given a chance.
  • Mar 4 2011: @tobias > Always something to be learned at the edge case.... so, the man who lives in isolation (the ultimate libertarian) is sort of living without a superior or an inferior, in isolation he is a pretty flat organization. He wouldn't be a citizen of any place, so no tax would be imposed for the common good. On the other hand, in his ignorance of climate change and lack of trade relationships, let's say there are theoretical salinity shifts caused by other nations and people not related to him or his actions- and these cause all of his machines to fail. So the lack of attention to the collective comes back around and bites him in the butt, and his underwater lair and in fact, he himself, dies. This question about the balance between the individual and the collective is somewhat intertwined with the question of a society that has less hierarchy.

    I would also explore this assumption that it's hard work by the individual that differentiates reward, not crafty working of the systems for one's own advantage- whether circumstances of birth or connectedness, most of these hierarchy systems seem to self perpetuate, and have little to do with the individual. I need data on this, because the mythos is that bootstrapping your own self is the way MOST people win, but I have this sense that while there are many stories about individuals pulling themselves from nothing to something, but that the bulk of the prosperous/ ruling class are transgenerational. What do you think?

    @marek> Thank you. That is a pretty good cognitive answer- it seems earlier than school, though.
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    Mar 1 2011: I don't think you can force egalitarianism without destroying someone's freedom. You will always have people who believe that if they are smarter and work much harder than the average Joe they deserve the fruits of their labor no matter how far Joe lags behind.
    Imagine a person that decides to build his house at the bottom of the sea .Lets say he is a brilliant mad scientist with ridiculous resources at his disposal. He learns to transmute seawater into wonderful structures he can live in where no one else can even venture. He thrives in his lair and produces riches of all sorts but hoards them to himself in his underwater kingdom.
    He trades with no one.
    He takes no resources to produce his wealth other than small amounts of raw seawater.
    Should this ridiculous , hypothetical being be taxed??