History's solutions to runaway inequality: warfare, revolution, state collapse and plague

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/09/11/eat-the-rich-4.html


Yep, we’re just about overdue for a field-leveling cataclysm; the only real questions left are the “when?” and “how?”


Those are the levelling options that have commonly applied in recorded history-- but by its nature, history mostly records states and empires. I’m hoping that a democracy would have available to it some of the other options that humans used for the vast majority of our existence to maintain egalitarianism.

OK, edited to try to fix the link: Grant S. McCall & Karl Widerquist (2015) The Evolution of Equality: Rethinking Variability and Egalitarianism Among Modern Forager Societies, Ethnoarchaeology, 7:1, 21-44 https://doi.org/10.1179/1944289015Z.00000000023

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I tend to think we’re in for a combination of those levelling events thanks to the runaway greed enabled by the neoliberal consensus.

How bad it will be will be dependent on the motivation of a given country’s polity to strive to maintain some semblance of the liberal democracy afforded to many nations in the West during the post-war economic anomaly. This is why so many of us who study history understand that it imperative to push back at right-wing populists and their enablers at every opportunity.


Sadly, that link appears broken.

Or to put it another way… does anyone think the wealthy will give up that wealth without a fight? Do you think they will allow our government to enact a fair system of taxation?


First thing is, you have to get past the Pinks. The rest is a cake walk.

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Let’s just hope that my vast collection of Fallout or Command and Conquer experience doesn’t become relevant, that would be nice.

Given the supply of nuts who insist that trivial tweaks to capital gains rates are pretty much identical to ripping out the gold fillings as you shove the bodies into the ovens, never mind the “there’s no oppression like being forbidden to inflict a negative externality” club (for growth, usually); I’m not getting on people arriving at this answer voluntarily; but it can still quite plausibly be the case that buying off the rabble is simply cheaper and less stressful than fighting them off.

Obviously this goes out the window if the first person to reach post-scarcity flips humanity the bird as dramatically as possible by setting the replicator to “enough killbots to defend the mine I’ve already got”; but unless you have the tech to full emancipate yourself from historical examples the business of maintaining enough violence professionals to deter tour inferiors and your neighbors without bankrupting yourself or (not) waking up one morning to discover that your help have awarded themselves a promotion is both tricky and unpleasant.


I haven’t scrolled further than your post.

If you, of all mutants on board, utter phrases like this which could be read as defeatist…

I’m going to weep myself to sleep. Of course I’d also do that without your post. But I’m shocked. Shocked!

But I am still shocked.

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Aw, my bad, dude.

I didn’t think of it as defeatist, because humanity is pretty much always like one step away from blowing ourselves the fuck up.

Even without mankind’s “help,” the scientifically minded believe that there have been at least 7 extinction level events in the earth’s history.

That said, I’m expecting a major catastrophe ( as I have been ever since my early 20’s) but not necessarily “Armageddon.”

Take heart:

Some folks will likely survive, and hopefully they’ll relearn the lessons that most of humanity seems to have forgotten and actually put that hindight to good use.


The major catastrophe is already underway in slow motion, as these greedheads continue to do nothing about global warming (what the Biblical types would have lumped in under “Famine”). The older ones thought that it wouldn’t truly hit them in their lifetimes but here we are with their houses being destroyed by more frequent and stronger hurricanes and wildfires.


Sorry! I think it’s fixed now but pay-walled. I tried to link to the full pdf before; you can find it via Google Scholar. Grant S. McCall; Karl Widerquist (2015) The Evolution of Equality: Rethinking Variability and Egalitarianism Among Modern Forager Societies, Ethnoarchaeology, 7:1, 21-44

Just part of a large literature on foragers’ levelling mechanisms.



As I said, I’ve been living in trepidation of it for ages;

“Mother Nature” gone mad

It could be any or all of these things combined.


Lemme go fetch my pitchfork.


Here’s a suggestion, Brazil’s Lula had the Bolsa Familia program, which gave cash transfers to the poorest families (conditional on their kids being vaccinated and having 85% school attendance) and it very successful
in reducing poverty.
Give Poor People Cash

though I don’t see it happening under this administration.


I was expecting Hobbes the tiger.


They’re specifically researching that:


The fatal flaw of the super rich apocalypse hidey holes is that they are often in a fixed and known location. There is one of those not far from us.
Part of my apocalypse plan is to give the angry hordes of starving city people specific directions to their front gate when they show up in our valley.


And they’d be foolish not to. Unless they plan on taking 23 levels in benevolence between now and then they’ll need it; and they probably have good reason to suspect that some of their colleagues won’t be taking the high road, in which case they’ll also need it.

That said, barring a rather dramatic technological discontinuity (that is both powerful enough and durable enough to win an attrition match with desperate angry squalor, a state that is very good at winning attrition matches without even being aware that what you think is war is notably different than all the other lousy days); I suspect they’ll find that challenging; it’s been a well recognized problem since shortly after dirt but never really pleasingly solved.

It seemed appropriate that the authors says:

“When the hedge funders asked me the best way to maintain authority over their security forces after “the event,” I suggested that their best bet would be to treat those people really well, right now. They should be engaging with their security staffs as if they were members of their own family.”

In the event of the collapse of modernity, small scale feudalism probably isn’t the worst strategy to pick; but its track record is not one of domestic tranquility.