Reason for a New Age

How Racism Saved the World

Posted by publius2point0 on 2011/01/01


Mankind is, by nature, a pack animal. When we are among just our pack, we are naturally friendly and giving.

What this has meant on a historical, economical level is that the earliest tribes of people shared nearly everything. You had your hut with a wide-open door and if someone needed something, he might just walk right in and (without asking) take whatever it is that he needs at that moment. There was no particular need or reason to keep things private to yourself. The pack was small enough that you knew everyone and everything that was happening in the village. If you needed the whatever again, you’d know where to find it.

When your life is in constant threat from starvation, wild beasts, flash floods, or other disasters, this method of sharing is probably a wise idea. It’s very efficient.

If you walked down the street of some average, modern day suburb, you could probably go into each house and find a box of tools. We all need tools, but 99% of the time, that box sits closed with everything in it, tucked away on a shelf in the garage. If it’s only being used 1% of the time, 100 different households could be adequately served by the one box and it’s simply wasteful to force everyone in the village to go out and work enough to be able to earn their own toolbox, just to have it sit unused most of the time. And when simply surviving is difficult enough as it is, wasting labor on luxuries is simply not an option. A wise chieftan would pick some people to each work towards creating one tool, until a full box-worth’s have been created, and then everyone would share that set of tools. This gives nearly everyone time to do nothing but hunt for food, and keep the village alive.

The closest equivalent to this sort of economy in modern day is the family household. If I need the cellophane tape, I take it. If someone else in the family needs it, they find out where it is and take it when I’m done. We don’t each have our own tape, our own toolbox, our own refrigerator, our own TV set, etc. which we keep in our own room. We have a decent number of communal items that we share.

But now imagine that some blue-colored man from another planet walks into your home and he tells you that you’re doing this all wrong. He tells you that everyone in the family must have their own tape, their own toolbox, their own television; you might nod and thank him for his advice, but you’re unlikely to actually do it. This is your family, you trust each other, it’s wasteful to gather all these extra things when you can share, and overall it’s none of his business.

Why should we listen to the blue man from Mars? Well thing is, in a village where everyone shares everything, no one is rich and no one is poor. I can’t do a better job of earning goods than others, because if I work harder to gather more things, the rest of the village will simply take them all when they need them. In a system like this the question is always, “How do I divide up this pie in the most reasonable way?” It’s never, “How do we make more pies?”

The problem is that even if the blue man is right, as said we’ll ignore him regardless. What he’s asking us to do is wasteful and it’s “selfish”.

Now obviously, we’re the Blue Man from Mars. The communal family could be considered to be Mexico, most of Africa, Communist nations, or wherever. Somehow our ancestors broke out of this tribal, communal way of doing things whereas theirs didn’t (or, in the case of Communist nations, they went back to it). How did this happen?

Going back to our example of the family home in modern day, let’s say that we have rented out a room to a lodger. In this case, we might tell him that he’s got his section of the refrigerator, we might tell him that it’s up to him to repair his own stuff in his room with his own tools, we might tell him that he has to pay to use the space he’s living in. Why are we so mean to this lodger, when there’s no particular need to do so? Well, because he’s not part of our pack. He’s an outsider.

When we take on that lodger, we might have a contract that we both sign before we let him come into our house and live. It clearly lays out what we provide, what we won’t, how he has to behave, and what we will do if he doesn’t agree to our terms. From day one, we are already taking a very hostile approach to our relationship. We’re assuming that he won’t behave as one of the pack and that he will never be one of the pack. But, we still want to profit off of him, so we figure out a compromise.

The basic history of modern economics is directly linked to this a priori distrust in dealing with the people around us. The most likely explanation for its growth is in just the sort of thing as I gave as an example. First, our ancestors began to trade with other packs — leading to the development of currency — and then eventually began to allow foreigners to come live in the midst of their towns — developing the concepts of private property and contractual obligations as they did so. My personal best-guess for who this was is the Jews. For the last 700 years, the Jews lived as a foreign people in every city of Europe, never fully integrating until the post-WWII world came into being. Europeans despised and distrusted the Jews, but still tolerated their existence in their cities. In turn, the Jews were probably fairly suspicious of all of the locals as well. Overall, this created a genesis point for writing up contracts and profiting off your neighbor. And of course it lead to fences, locked doors, and distrust of your neighbors.

As it turned out, this bit of racism was good. With the rise of hatred towards the Jews in Europe starting around 1300 AD due to the increasing strength of the Roman Catholic Church (that influence probably radiating out from Italy) and the idea that the Jews were to be blamed for killing Jesus, the two groups started to work towards profiting off one another. The Jews loaned money to the local people via contract, who then used that money to start factories which produced paper (first in Italy), which both then led to the Renaissance (starting, again, in Italy). When we can profit off one another and keep those proceeds to ourselves, thanks to locked doors and an idea of personal property, then people start working towards ways of producing an excess of products so that everyone can have their own set of tools or whatever else. A class of wealthy are created who then want to show off. They employ artists to decorate their homes or build grand buildings that show off the magnificence of their territory (Renaissance artists), and they hire scientists to create weapons of war so that they can show off the strength of their territory. Of course, those scientists then need a method of producing real, verifiable results so they develop or bring in the scientific method. And of course with the desire for real, reliable results and the ability to get more than your neighbor, we eventually develop meritocracy. Private property and meritocracy then lead into the idea of the idea of the natural rights of man where government is held to be beholden to its people, not to the monarch.

In its history, the worst thing that the Catholic Church ever did is almost certainly that it forbid usury. Ironically, the best thing the Church ever did was to persecute the Jews (ironic because the persecution of the Jews is what allowed mass European usury to rise in spite of the ban).

If you like the internet, airplanes, a far lower infant mortality rate than 30%, pizza delivery, and all of the other luxuries of modern life, the sad truth is that it is likely all thanks to 700 years of cruelty, persecution, and distrust. The Jewish people paid the price for our world and so — to go a bit off topic — if you’ve ever questioned the merit of the post-WWII decision to create the state of Israel in the Middle East, I think it’s reasonable to say that the next several decades of continued terrorist activity is entirely reasonable. The Jews have earned to have a place of their own. It’s our turn to pay a little (and a shame that the Israelis are suffering terrorism along with us).

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2 Responses to “How Racism Saved the World”

  1. Roberta said

    You are correct that the Jews were the main ‘usurers’ during the Medieval/Renaissance period (bankers, insurers, money managers, jewelers) due to the Christians, by Catholic law, not being able to do so. And, you are correct that that set up the Jews to be envied (because they became rich and good business people) and also hated because of the misguided belief that they were responsible for Jesus’s death. (Yes — fortunate for our modern ideas of economies, but, unfortunate for the Jews as they are still hated throughout much of the world.)

    But — there were economies, bankers, insurers, jewelers, etc. before the Medieval period: The Romans, and the Greeks –and probably the Egyptians and even the Sumerians before them, had people who performed these services. Usury and business was common in those days; the Romans were quite rich, for instance.

    It’s really that, after the fall of Rome, and during the Dark Ages when the Roman Catholic Church became dominant in Europe, that the Jew as usurer in Europe really developed…and did become the tool of building up Europe’s economy, even in spite of themselves and their misguided aversion to usury.

    • Loans are only one piece of the puzzle. The Islamics had the scientific method and paper; the ancient Greeks had currency; the Romans had a Republic and loans. None of these powered on to become the modern world because other elements were missing from that area during those times. The Romans couldn’t import paper because it hadn’t been invented yet. The Islamics actually practiced (and still practice) a ban on usury which is effective. None of these places had modern concepts of private property quite the way we think of it in modern day life.

      Several things all had to come together at the same time in the same place to create the modern world. As it happens, that time and place was Renaissance Europe.

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